What do we actually mean by ‘representing all transport users’?

This post is about London TravelWatch, but it could really be about transport in Britain more generally, and about how ‘transport users’ are conceptualised – in particular, those who use bicycles, or might want to use them.

London TravelWatch describe themselves as follows

London TravelWatch is the official watchdog organisation representing the interests of transport users in and around the capital. Officially known as London Transport Users Committee, we were established in July 2000.

They also state

Funded by the London Assembly, we speak for all London transport users on all modes of transport.

But what does this actually amount to? Who are the ‘transport users’, using all modes, that they claim to represent?

As we’ll see, the interests of ‘transport users’ in London are not particularly well represented by London Travelwatch if the mode of transport they happen to be using is a bike. They’re even less well represented if these transport users might want to use a bike, but are discouraged from doing so because of hostile conditions for cycling.

Children getting to school are ‘transport users’. If they are using the bus, their interests are well represented by London Travelwatch. If, however, these same children are attempting to get to school by bike, their interests are essentially ignored.

To take one example, London Travelwatch responded to Camden’s consultation on their West End Project, last year. This is a major scheme, costing tens of millions of pounds, and involves major changes to the roads in the Tottenham Court Road area. There was a significant opportunity to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Yet from the summary of responses collected by Camden Council, London Travelwatch essentially had nothing to say about the comfort, convenience and attractiveness of cycling in the scheme. Indeed, their only mention of cycling appears to be

Concerns about the use of light segregation and the potential for this to be a hazard to pedestrians crossing the street.

Namely, concern that the only (inadequate) separation from motor traffic initially proposed by Camden could be a hazard to pedestrians. London Travelwatch had nothing to say about the safety or comfort of cycling on either of the main roads in the scheme, particularly cycling mixed with motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road, which will be a busy two-way road open to all motor traffic after 7pm, and all day on Sunday.

Similarly, in their response to Transport for London’s proposals for Superhighway 5, between Oval and Victoria, which involves (for the most part) a bi-directional cycle track physically separated from motor traffic, London Travelwatch opposed these proposals, arguing instead for cycling to be accommodated within ‘4.5 metre wide bus lanes to facilitate buses overtaking cyclists’.

This is in accordance with London Travelwatch’s latest policy update on cycling, from September last year, which states that 

The best practicable solution for cycles on many of London‟s roads would be to accommodate them in wide bus lanes (4.5m) or wide (4.5m) inside lanes in order that cycle can pass wide vehicles and wide vehicles can pass cycle

So a group which professes to represent the interests of ‘transport users’ suggests that the best way to accommodate cycling is… mixed in with motor traffic on main roads, in lanes that will often be busy with taxis and large, intimidating vehicles.

Some ‘interests’ may be being represented here, but it’s doubtful that it includes those of people who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses. 

This failure of representation flows, I think, from a failure to reflect on whether existing patterns of transport use in Britain are natural. By ‘natural’ I mean that those patterns arise out of a genuinely free choice between modes of transport. It is more than likely that bus use (and indeed driving and walking) is much more popular than cycling in London (and other towns and cities across Britain) because cycling is quite a scary and intimidating mode of transport for most ordinary people. Many ‘transport users’ who might opt for the bicycle if it were a safe and attractive choice are consequently not doing so, even if that mode of transport would make a great deal of sense for them, not least in terms of time and money saved. Their interests are not being represented because of a lazy assumption that the interests of ‘cyclists’ correspond to the behaviour and habits of the minority of existing users.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 02.39.09

The interests of the young girl in the picture above – a genuine ‘transport user’ like anyone else – are being represented by the road layout she is riding a bike on. She can navigate otherwise hostile road environments, like the large junction shown in the picture, because that environment has been designed with her interests in mind when she is riding a bike, just as the footways here are designed for young girls to walk on, or buses that pass through this junction are designed for young girls to use. She is separated – either physically or temporally – from heavy motor traffic as she cycles along this road.

By contrast it is extremely unlikely that her interests would be represented by shared bus lanes, even if they are slightly wider than normal.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 02.44.00

We know this because young children are not seen riding bikes in these kinds of environments. They, and their parents, haven’t made a free choice between cycling in this kind of environment and walking, driving, or getting the bus through it. Instead, riding a bike in this kind of environment with young children is genuinely unthinkable to most people, just as it would be to walk with young children along a busy road that doesn’t have a pavement.

Indeed, more broadly, framing the debate in terms of specific ‘transport users’ is an unhelpful way of defending interests, because people are, essentially, multi-modal. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to present the interests of ‘bus users’ in opposition to ‘cyclists’ (as London Travelwatch appear to do) because with a sensibly designed transport network everybody would be a potential bus user or bike user, every single day. Indeed, this is typical in the Netherlands, where cycling and getting the bus are extremely well integrated.

Hundreds of bikes at a bus station in Assen

Hundreds of bikes at a bus station in Assen

Dutch people use bikes to cycle to bus stops, and then catch the bus for the longer stages of their journeys that would be less convenient to cycle.

Nobody is born a ‘bus user’ or a ‘pedestrian’ or a ‘cyclist’ – they are all human beings who happen to be choosing a particular mode of transport at a particular time. On that basis a proper defence of ‘transport users’ interests’ should examine whether people have a genuine choice between the modes of transport that would make sense for them, for the trips they make on a daily basis. To take just one example, if it turns out that cycling (for instance) would make a great deal of sense for children to make their way to school, and yet few children do actually cycle for these trips, then quite plainly the interests of these transport users are not being represented, even if they are not ‘cyclists’ at the present time.

To ignore this and other ways in which choice of transport mode is constrained when examining the kinds of improvements that could be made to our transport environment would be a fundamental failure.


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17 Responses to What do we actually mean by ‘representing all transport users’?

  1. Terry says:

    Another trenchant criticism of an official body. I wonder if you let them know about your articles? It would make them think a bit more, probably squirm a bit, and it would be interesting to see their responses, if any.

  2. Notak says:

    Just a really quick comment – the new font is slightlyless ‘inviting’ to read, being smaller and paler. IMO.

    • Notak says:

      Hmmm. Something odd going on. It looks normal again now, but the layout’s different. Not sure if the blog itself has changed in look or if my connection’s distorting things (a bit slow at times).

    • Carlos O. says:

      Have you tried to zoom in? The website adapts pretty well to it. You can do it by pressing at the same time: Ctrl + +

  3. Cyclestrian says:

    Great post. They have public meetings coming up – a board meeting on 12th May and a policy meeting in June. http://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/calendar/event/view?id=1779http://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/calendar/event/view?id=1780

    Seems like a relatively open organisation assuming the public allowed to speak / influence. They say they are “Independent, Authentic – Evidence Based, Open, Collaborative and
    Inclusive”. Would be fantastic if they could make a statement here 🙂

  4. Andy Clarke says:

    With Hackney Councillor, Vincent Stops, acting as one of Travelwatch’s Policy Officers, a fanatically anti-segregationist attitude is guaranteed. He’s doing his best to ruin CS1 (or super quietway) by avoiding any form of protection on main roads, and even opposing the east-west and north-south superhighways. Quite simply, he’s an inadvertent urban motorist’s champion!

  5. Henz says:

    IIRC, London Travelwatch occasionally advertise positions on their board [1], and there were 2 openings a couple of years ago. These are then vetted by the London Assembly. At least 2 of the current board members express an interest in cycling.

    [1] http://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/about/london_travelwatch_board_members

  6. Tim says:

    I always just assumed they’d inadvertently left the word “public” (as in public transport) out of their formal title and description.

    They clearly don’t represent people like me.

  7. bikemapper says:

    As often, Mark, you make a powerfully emotive argument in favour of your cause, which is, of course, to make riding a bike as easy as riding a bike, for everyone, of all ages and abilities.

    In the spirit of your message to London Travel Watch, who is it that you and the Cycling Embassy represent? Would it be fair to say that you represent everyone interested in cycling, including the “mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again” (aka the Enthused and Confident)? Or are you more narrowly focused on those people “who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses” (aka the Interested but Concerned)?

    Only asking.

    • Iain says:

      Hopefully this will answer your question: http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/mission

      I’m a bit confused by your definition of Enthused and Confident, perhaps you made a typo?

      • bikemapper says:

        Thank you for reply, Iain. To clear up your confusion first, Roger Geller from Portland, Oregon, identified four types of cyclist: the Strong and Fearless (1%) – the Embassy mission statement refers to these as the Quick and Brave – the Enthused and Confident (7%), the Interested but Concerned (60%), and the No Way No How (32%). This taxonomy was confirmed by Professor Jennifer Gill in a follow-up study.

        Given our current starting point, providing for the needs of the Enthused and Confident is hard enough, but is relatively a walk in the park compared to the task of providing for the needs of the Interested but Concerned. But, in London at any rate, that is what the authoities are trying to do. The consequence of this is that everything is being done piecemeal, and that routes such as CS1 and CS5 (in Westminster) are being installed not where they are most useful, but where they are the least dangerous. This strategy will not significantly encourage more cycling, as time will tell.

        David Hembrow has recently written that “the most important enabler of mass cycling” is a very fine grid of efficient cycling routes. “For a grid of routes to enable cycling,” he explained, “it must be high density and go everywhere.” This strategy – which does work, at least for the Enthused and Confident cyclist – is not even on the table. And the reason for that, I believe, is because of false thinking and false ideology.

        The Embassy mission is (in part) to: “Gather and disseminate information about the best practice in design and transport [from] around the world”. However, as Kevin Love said in the comments to David Hembrow’s latest blog, “Let’s not let ‘the best’ be the enemy of ‘better'”.

        My first comment was directed at Mark, and now I am talking to you, because Mark won’t answer me. But I’ll ask him again: Mark, would you please consider a ‘network first’ approach and discuss it openly and honestly?

        • Iain says:

          Maybe the CEoGB haven’t explicitly said much about the Grid but they do say its essential.

          I got confused by “non-cyclists” being labeled as “Enthused and Confident” but I think I know what you mean!

          Of course, once there is a proper network for the “Interested but Concerned”, the other cycling demographics are taken care of. http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2008/09/speed.html

        • Mark Williams says:

          What makes you think it’s `inadvertent’?

        • Mark Williams says:

          CS1 is being proposed where there is least resistance from the usual anti-cycling suspects inside and outside the groups supposedly `representing all transport users’ and consequently where it is least likely to succeed (in terms of actual levels of use by `enthused’, `confident’, `interested’, `concerned’ or otherwise). It is not being proposed where it is least dangerous, unless you consider a scarcity of cycling casualties due to a virtually nil rate of cycling to be a massive victory for `safety’ ala. Norman Baker. Reduced danger for cycling is practically the last thing on the designers’ mind, as evidenced by the plans to remove allegedly `redundant’ existing [optional] speed cushions and existing narrow protected contraflow and replace them with a free-for-all. I doubt that the thinking behind CS5 (or any other CS) is markedly different.

          Given that repeatedly asking the same hostile question in a passive aggressive manner has so far failed to elicit the response you desire, why don’t you try a different tack? Explain how your `network first’ approach differs from the `paint a 0.5m advisory cycle lane along roads in a very fine grid and then express a studied indifference when it makes no difference to the decline in cycling’ which has already been tried many times, including nationwide only fifteen years ago.

          • Jimm@frasier.com says:

            The only speed bumps being removed from CS1 are where another hump or a speed table is being built next to it.

            You will not find a contra-example.

  8. Ian S says:

    Copenhagenize did a cracker of an article on Vehicular Cyclists and their carcinogenic influence on bike infrastructure.


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