When will design guides start thinking about cycling as a mode of transport for all?

This week saw the launch of ‘Street Design for All’ [pdf], spotted by KatsDekker. It’s been produced by PRIAN (the Public Realm Information and Advice Network), with advice from the Charted Institute of Highways and Transportation, and carries the official DfT stamp of approval.

There it is.

There it is.

The title is a curious one as far as cycling is concerned, because while the advice inside includes footways and carriageways that are undoubtedly suitable for all kinds of pedestrians and drivers (although with perhaps some question marks over the suitability for partially-sighted or blind pedestrians) it certainly does not include designs suitable for all potential users of bicycles. Quite the opposite – this guidance only appears to include designs that are suitable for existing cyclists, those people currently using the road network by bike. This isn’t ‘Design for All’, by any means, when it comes to this particular mode of transport.

The cover itself is startling.

Is this really an environment 'for All', when it comes to cycling?

Is this really an environment ‘for All’, when it comes to cycling?

As Kat herself said in relation to this picture, this is not an environment that many people would be happy to cycle in; nor is it even that attractive for people currently cycling.

Roundabouts can, of course, be genuinely inclusive when it comes to cycling.

Children cycling on a roundabout, with physical separation from HGVs, Wageningen, NL

Children cycling on a roundabout, with physical separation from HGVs, Wageningen, NL

The background issue here appears to be the now familiar confusion over ‘place’ and ‘movement’ function, whereby street designers, councils and highway engineers want to emphasise more of the ‘placiness’ (if that’s a word) of their roads and streets, while downplaying the movement function. Unfortunately this is accompanied by an unwillingness to do anything about the actual movement of motor vehicles through these environments.

The end result is the kind of placefaking I’ve talked about before; streets and roads that have been prettified, yet still have similar volumes of motor traffic flowing through them.  And cycle-specific design gets neglected, or ignored altogether, in these arrangements. As I wrote in that piece –

cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed out by placefaking. For instance, I am not aware of any new ‘placemaking’ scheme on a road in Britain that incorporates cycle tracks where they should reasonably be provided…

Presumably this is because they reinforce the impression of a ‘movement’ function, interrupting the ‘placeishness’ of the new design. But there’s a degree of sticking heads in the sand here; cycle tracks are required because of the volume of motor traffic, and if that volume is high enough to demand cycle tracks, then it is fanciful to imagine you are creating a place – there is still too much motor traffic thundering through.

And this new guidance – ‘Street Design for All’ – continues in this trend. Streets look nice and pretty, and the intention is to get drivers to play more nicely, but there is very little, or no, attention being paid to

  • a) whether these streets should even be continuing to carry anything like the volume of motor traffic they are currently carrying
  • b) whether cycling should be separated from motor traffic on streets that are being designed with high volumes of motor traffic in mind.

This is a huge oversight, not just in terms of opening up cycling as a potential mode of transport, but also on a broader level, about the actual purpose and function of our roads and streets in urban areas. Unlike the Netherlands, where there is clarity over what the role of a particular street or road is, with regard to access, or as a through-route, in Britain we seem to be converging on a muddled mess of place and movement simultaneously, accommodating motor traffic movement on all our streets, and attempting to make them places at the same time. (This dichotomy between place and movement also fails to take into account that some kinds of movement – walking and cycling – are considerably more benign than motor traffic movement, and actually contribute to place, as Rachel Aldred argues).

Typifying this approach are the opening paragraphs of ‘Street Design for All’ –

Most streets have been designed, or adapted, over the last fifty years or so primarily for the movement of motor traffic. This function continues to be important but it should no longer dominate in the way it used to – it needs to be balanced with the street’s place function.

Enhancing the sense of the place and maintaining efficient and safe movement of traffic can be achieved by careful design. [my emphasis]

Note here how it is assumed that streets will continue carry the movement of motor traffic; any ‘placemaking’ that will occur is in the context of that continuing motor traffic movement, attempting to reduce its dominance through design, rather than actually addressing the problem at source. This is the template, or the foundation, on which improvements must be made – accommodating motor traffic.


How many people would want to cycle in this kind of environment?

This same junction – complete with traffic signals – is, with the buildings added, and the motor traffic removed, labelled as ‘a place to meet friends’.

A place to meet friends? Here? In the middle of a road that requires traffic signals to help people cross? Okay then!

If it’s got buses and lorries thundering through it, you can meet your friends here – but would you want to stay here for any significant length of time?

It’s noteworthy here that the ‘movement’ elements of the street in the previous diagram include motor vehicles and people cycling – yet the ‘place’ elements just include people walking. Cycling is – unconsciously perhaps – lumped in with motor traffic, as associated with movement. Is this fair? As Rachel argues in the post I’ve just linked to –

Separating ‘movement’ from ‘place’ is inherently problematic. Different types of movement have different impacts on ‘place’. It depends on speed and mass. In city streets mass is critical: London’s slow-moving HGVs regularly cause catastrophic injury.

Non-motorised movement has relatively benign mass-speed combinations. Although cycling and walking can have negative impacts on others, they often instead enhance place. When I walk to the high street I chat to neighbours en route; cycling, I smile at strangers while letting them pass.

So active modes can positively contribute and form part of a place. The same can’t be said for rat-running through motor traffic. So again – in casting movement and place as opposed, or at least separate – the movement/place dichotomy implicitly casts movement as motorised.

A failure to address the real problem of movement on our town and city streets, and lumping in cycling together with that motor traffic movement, unfortunately means that the attitude to cycling – or ‘encouraging cycling’ – in this guidance is really very weak.

'Encourage cycling through attractive, safe, direct routes'

‘Encourage cycling through attractive, safe, direct routes’

If we really want to encourage cycling (or more properly, enable cycling) then we really need to stop pretending that narrow cycle lanes on roads shared with buses are going to cut it. The only people ‘encouraged’ onto roads like this are the people who are already cycling; making a genuine difference requires genuinely different design, not preaching about the cardiovascular benefits of cycling.

And yet the only tangible piece of advice this guidance has on cycling is the following –


There are advantages for cyclists in areas where traffic speeds are 20 mph or lower. Low speed roads are more comfortable for cyclists and allow them more freedom to use the full width of the street.

This does not necessarily require a formal 20mph speed limit. Lower vehicle speed can be achieved by subtle traffic calming, see page 11.

Permitting cyclists to use streets and other places where motor vehicles are prohibited, allows them to take convenient short cuts. Providing convenient and secure cycle parking is also important.

Lower motor vehicle speeds, and cycling in pedestrianised areas. That’s it. No serious engagement with the actual policies we now know are required to get people cycling in serious numbers; principally, separating people from motor traffic through a variety of interventions. Indeed, the implicit attitude behind these paragraphs is making things better for existing ‘cyclists’, those people already out on the roads. Attention is not being paid to the vast majority of the population who don’t cycle on these kinds of roads, and the interventions that would allow them to do so.

The Cut in Lambeth is cited here as an example of good practice, yet as far as I know it is detested by people who are currently cycling on it, because it combines an intimidatingly narrow carriageway with relatively high volumes of motor traffic. Likewise Poynton is also referenced, which whatever the benefits in terms of public realm and safety specifically excludes cycling as a mode of transport. This isn’t ‘Design for All’; it’s only ‘Design for All’ with reference to particular modes of transport.

Unfortunately Sustrans – who really should know better – also appear to fall into this trap. The entire third chapter of their brand new (currently out to consultation!) Cycle-Friendly Design Manual is devoted to… Placemaking.

It begins –

Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.

There is no reference here to whether motor traffic should properly continue to be accommodated in these volumes on these kinds of narrow streets. If they are genuinely too narrow, then rather than attempting to ‘safely integrate’ cycling with motor traffic, measures should surely be taken to reduce or remove that motor traffic, as a first priority, rather than delving straight into the ‘Placemaking’ toolbox.

This approach means that this chapter – which, remember, is from a cycling manual! – is littered with examples of roads and streets where cycling is ‘integrated’, falling far short of the conditions required to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. Poynton, Kensington High Street, Oxford High Street, Ashford, and so on.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 12.17.59

Pretty schemes, I’m sure, but how many of these are genuinely suitable for cycling, for all, rather than just placemaking bodges that attempt to ameliorate motor traffic-dominated environments?

Nice paving, removal of markings and attractive street features simply aren’t good enough; physical separation is required for motor traffic volumes above 2000 PCU. If that can’t be achieved then steps should be taken to remove that motor trafficc.

What’s required in these design manuals is some honesty about the attractiveness of ‘integrating’ cycling on roads and streets that retain a significant through-motor traffic function. It’s no longer acceptable to pretend that we are ‘Designing for All’ without addressing this fundamental issue.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to When will design guides start thinking about cycling as a mode of transport for all?

  1. Ugh… The Cut, SE1 – used as a good example?! I lived a couple of minutes away for four years. It’s awful. The design puts people on bikes in constant danger, with wiggly kerb lines. I almost started a campaign dedicated to blocking off the Cut to motor traffic.

    Because that’s what’s actually needed there – less motor traffic. It serves no purpose as a through-route, no buses use it, yet it’s clogged with taxis using it instead of the main roads around Waterloo station. At some times of day the vast majority of vehicles on the Cut are black cabs.

    I’m sure the businesses and residents on the Cut would benefit massively from it no longer being a through-route.

  2. Bob says:

    In the image of the road junction with the buildings removed, both cyclists should already be in the Primary position if they were to take any notice of Bikeability training. Just saying!

    • Terry says:

      How many riders do you see in primary position? Next to none round my way. People think that being directly in the path of an impatient, distracted, incompetent or aggressive driver is not really a good idea, even if it is often promoted as such.

      • Eric Fraga says:

        Watched a cyclist getting honked at and intimidated by the driver of a black cab this morning on the Euston Road while she took the primary position near the British Library. Disgusting behaviour by the cab driver.

  3. Billy says:

    The reason the Cut is so busy is it is currently the shortest and quickest route for Cabs between the City and the Waterloo cab drop off and pick up ramp. Cab drivers like it also as the traffic generally doesn’t queue along it compared to Stamford Street.

  4. Neil says:

    Think the picture on the front cover sums it up perfectly!! 😦

  5. Simon Still says:

    Kensington high street? Sustrans should be ashamed. Horrible and dangerous to cycle along with central bike parking that needs a prayer to access and another to cross to the shops when you’ve parked your bike.

    The Cut typifies the problems of current placemaking. It would be a lovely place as either a cyclist or a ped if there was no traffic. As it is its unpleasant as either.

  6. I think the naivety of the authors of these designs is shown quite plainly when they harp on about 20mph limits making cycling more appealing! As we all know drivers obey all speed limits at all time….I’ve got 20mph limits near me and have been overtaken whilst doing 20mph on both my bike in and the family car by other drivers who presumably don’t want to be held up. I’d also hardly say 20mph would feel much different to riding on 30mph roads, I consider myself lucky that I can maintain 20mph under my own steam however I doubt my kids, wife or mother could keep up let alone feel safe trying to take the lane.

    The wonderful insistence on maintaining the movement of the widest form of transport on roads they keep telling us are “too narrow” to accommodate the narrowest form, says it all really.

  7. Rob says:

    Kensington High Street has 4 lanes plus a wide central reservation, but is too narrow to provide segregated cycle facilities? It always seems to be held up as a good example of street design but is actually quite unpleasant to cycle along.

  8. The Cut is partly in Lambeth, by the Old Vic, but mainly in Southwark. I’ve been cycling along it each way on workdays for the past month and can testify that it’s an absolutely awful design for those who wish to ride a bike, let alone entice others (such as the pupils on the college located on The Cut) to ride. It has no place in a manual as ‘Good Practice’ but would fit into ‘Bad Practice’.

  9. Richard Truscott says:

    I would suggest shared space / “naked” streets could be a good solution for busy shopping streets & other streets where like Exhibition Road pedestrians dominate the numbers but as this excellent article suggests through vehicular traffic needs to be excluded at busy pedestrian times (generally all day). So Exhibition Road should have raising bollards mid way probably at its mid point, making it a dead end road for access only for vehicles probably from about 10am to 10pm. Many shopping streets should have similar with earlier start and finish times, say 8 til 8 or 9 til 7. This way they would be great for pedestrians when they are busy, OK for cyclists as well, but unlike fully pedestrianised streets (which we need to recognise are not considered to work for most people) not unsafe at night.

  10. Jim says:

    I must admit I’m not entirely convinced of the desirability of the “Dutch”-style roundabouts as pictured. I’m sure it works well in the Netherlands, but presumably drivers there are more used to looking out for cyclists. My worry is that in Britain segregated bike lanes would make drivers pay less attention to cyclists and that collisions coming on and off the roundabout would actually become more likely.

  11. Oh dear God.

    So many wrong things. first thing that struck me about the diagram of the junction with the vehicles, was that the crossing points were blocked by vehicles.

    This highlights that there are still 2 basic issues with UK Street professional psyche (well most of them).

    The first is the continuing belief that vehicles have a right to go anywhere. As you say, we need to separate vehicles from people. I’m of the opinion that that’s one of the main reasons for the success of out of town large shopping centres. The places are designed so that cars are parked on the outside, deliveries go around the back, and people can meander at leisure.

    The second is the refusal whether deliberate or not, to exclude cycling as a distinct mode, and until that happens then we are doomed frankly.

    Sustrans didn’t help with their manual which was basically just an A to Z including all the utter rubbish that’s been installed for the last 20 or 30 years. There was very little guidance in thereabout best practice.

  12. When? Not until the people designing these guides get the personal experience of cycling in an environment that is designed for all. They obviously have no ‘feel’ for what a safe, inclusive cycling environment is. And I seriously doubt if any argument, theory or debate, however well written or worded, is going to change this mindset.
    Now this might be a naive and perhaps impossible suggestion, but the best way to convince these designers of the inadequacy of their plans is to invite them to visit the Netherlands on a study tour. They should be encouraged to leave their urban racer at home and experience cycling around a Dutch town for a couple of days on the most inclusive bicycle type of all, the Dutch hybrid, and see themselves surrounded by other people of all abilities and ages. I can not imagine they would come up with the same sort of lacklustre designs as shown above after such an experience.
    How would one go about arranging this?

  13. KristianCyc says:

    Frightening reliance on 20mph these days. Appealing idea to existing cyclists of course: “if cars go approximately the same speed as me then they won’t have need to do dangerous overtakes”. Putting aside even the obvious counter argument that we are trying to appeal to people who wouldn’t be cycling anywhere near 20mph, and look at the situation when the traffic actually travels at 0mph. A clogged up street.

    Should a cyclist now wait in a queue of traffic, breathing in the fumes of idling motor vehicles and being delayed by something they paid no part in the creation of? Or filter past? Do you filter past on the left side, or the right side? If on the left, how slow do you have to go to make sure you can stop before a car pulls out of line to drop off passengers or turn into a side-street instead? What if the left side is blocked? Do you filter with the motorcyclists on the right, looking out for both overtaking motorcyclists and oncoming traffic? What if there is no space between stopped cars and oncoming cars? Do you push ahead to the next gap, or wait?

    What if, ultimately, we simply can’t expect our young people to get these life-or-death decisions right every day cycling to school and make it to their graduation alive? What use is 20mph then?

    • 20mph in built-up areas with lots of pedestrians and cyclists on or crossing the roads is a GOOD idea. Even without any other measures, a pedestrian or cyclist hit at 20mph is much less likely to die or be badly injured.
      It’s far from a complete solution, but it’s hard enough for campaigners to get the 20mph, so let’s not undermine them by giving the impression that we don’t want it.

  14. MysteryMachine says:

    Sustrans list Kensington High Street as cycling infrastructure? More proof, if any were needed, that they are a bunch of quislings. I cycle along Ken High a fair bit, and it’s like Mad Max with the buses and cabs. The ‘Royal’ Borough is bad enough in terms of blocking any proper cycle lanes in favour of parking for lazy cagers, but to have Sustrans supporting it is just the cherry on top.

  15. Notak says:

    Some interesting views of the Street Design for All document in this blog. It’s good to point out, for instance, that many of the illustrations share the typical architect’s and developer’s failing of showing how a place in its best possible light by leaving out the traffic (including parked cars), while knowing this is totally unrealistic. However, it is completely unfair to criticise this street design manual for showing – recommending – ways to reduce the impact of motor vehicles but failing to remove that traffic. This is a document produced by the Institute of Highway Engineers. They are engineers, they can influence the way traffic behaves on a street or road and hence its effect on that place – place means both the road and the buildings and spaces around it – but they cannot set the policy measures needed at national (or larger) level to reduce that traffic long-term and wide-scale. For that, we need to look to pricing, taxation of fuel, planning policies, public transport regulation and financing – the realm of (unfortunately IMO) politicians not engineers.

    There are a lot of positive things in there that this blog has omitted and that would be lost by panning the whole manual in this way. Perhaps most importantly, there are at least 10 different individual cyclists shown in photographs. Of these 10, only 3 are helmeted and only 2 are wearing hi-viz. Even the 2 in hi-viz and helmet are wearing jeans or some other sort of everyday clothing (and one of these is there to make the point that “High visibility clothes help cyclists be seen, BUT ONLY IF DRIVERS ARE ALSO LOOKING FOR THEM” – my caps, you don’t seem to have any bold or italic on here) – in other words, cycling is presented as an everyday means of transport requiring no special clothes. Just like any other means of getting around.

    • michael says:

      You make a fair point.

      Though I have to say the business of magically vanishing motor traffic in ‘visualisations’ seems to me to be quite a major one. The practice should be pointed out repeatedly until those who do this get the message that its blatantly dishonest and only serves to draw attention to the underlying flaw in their whole approach.

      I can, in fact, understand the practice when its architects showing off a proposed building – as the traffic level is usually completely unrelated to the question of whether its a nice-looking building or not, and all the vehicles do is obscure the view of the architect’s work. But when the same habit carries over into road design I think it becomes a form of dishonesty.

      For the rest of your point, I sympathise, but it just looks to me that this document goes a bit too far in terms of painting a rose-tinted picture of what those producing it are actually in a position to achieve.

      I’d say its a bit like a medical professional, however skilled and well-intentioned, implying they can miraculously completely cure a health condition that is in reality more down to the sufferer being homeless or being exposed to toxins in their unsafe work environment, or something. Surely at some point the professional needs to acknowledge they can’t do that much given the more fundamental problems that need addressing, and has an obligation to at least mention those fundamental problems?

  16. Notak says:

    In fact, the approach recommended there is remarkably similar to the view of Living Streets.

  17. Pingback: Thinking outside the box | As Easy As Riding A Bike

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.