Good road design is not conditional on the good behaviour of users

I can’t really believe I am having to write a piece saying this, but good road design is not conditional on the good behaviour of users.

Why am I having to say this?

Because Boris Johnson and Leon Daniels – respectively, the Chair of Transport for London, and the Managing Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London – have produced some very silly comments in yesterday’s TfL board meeting.

Almost as soon as the discussion turned to delivery on the Mayor’s Cycle Vision, Johnson himself got straight on to one of his personal ‘concerns’. (You can listen for yourself from around the 1:27:00 mark).

Johnson The one thing I am worried about is, on the new Cycle Superhighways, which are really fantastic (although they’re not quite open), the thing I am worried about now is there are people actually going too fast. I think there are some very very aggressive male cyclists out there who are just bombing along when really you should have a climate of tolerance and gentleness on those. And you’ve spent an absolute fortune on these things. They’re wonderful. And people do not need to tear along in such a way as to scare other users.

Daniels And Angela [Knight, TfL board member] referred to things in the Standard recently with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Boardman in which it was indicated, clearly, that as part of being granted segregated road space, and more facilities for safer and higher volume cycling, that cyclists really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.

Johnson I mean cyclists do not make great friends for themselves, sometimes, by the way they conduct themselves on the road. The aggression with which people try and break the land speed record on what should be a, you know… We’ve opened this up to make it safer for everybody, and they should be respecting people who want to get along.

Daniels And there are of course websites where people can post their times between two points.

Johnson Well I think we need to look at all this. I really do.

People are going ‘too fast’ on this new cycling infrastructure, apparently.

The first reasonable question here is – are they? Is there any evidence? None has been produced. If this actually was a genuine problem you would think some monitoring would have taken place.

Then we get to the next question. How fast is ‘too fast’? Bear in mind that these ‘Superhighways’ have all been built alongside roads that continue to have 30mph speed limits for motor traffic. Is it really the case that there are swathes of people cycling around in excess of 30mph, a speed that only fit and powerful athletes can sustain on the flat?

Even if we grant the extremely unlikely possibility that a large number of people are cycling along Superhighways at or close to 30mph, why should this be highlighted as a particular problem, given that it appears to be perfectly fine for the large volumes of motor traffic right next them to be travelling at this speed?

We might even say that cycling between 20 and 30mph is ‘too fast’, but then we would be opening ourselves up to ridicule, given that the speed limit for motor traffic across London remains 30mph on most of the capital’s roads, even on residential streets. Could we really argue, with a straight face, that cycling at these speeds is a problem while we continue to allow 30 tonne HGVs to thunder past houses, shops, businesses, at 30mph?

But this ‘speeding’ silliness isn’t even the worst thing here. It is Leon Daniels’ bizarre suggestion that the building of cycling infrastructure in London is (or was) somehow conditional on good behaviour. That the ‘granting’ of road space (a telling expression) was some kind of pact; we’ll give you what you ask for, as long as you behave. Compliance is a ‘part of having these wonderful new facilities’.

It is actually laughable to imagine any other mode of transport being framed in this way.

It was indicated clearly that, as part of being granted new roads, and better surfaces for driving, and new traffic lights like SCOOT to smooth traffic flow, that drivers really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.


It was indicated clearly that as part of being granted new buses, and better bus routes, and a more comprehensive service, that bus users really must comply with those rules that do exist, including not swearing, or being aggressive, or listening to loud music, as part of having these wonderful new services.

Why? Should good roads, good public transport, good walking and cycling infrastructure really be dependent on everyone behaving themselves? Does anything ever get improved in London with these strange – and indeed rather patronising – covenants in place? ‘We’ll grant you this new tube line, but let it be clearly indicated that, if we do, we really don’t expect any more antisocial behaviour from tubists’?

Of course not – it’s the worst kind of outgroup thinking, along with Boris Johnson’s reference to ‘cyclists not making friends for themselves’, as if people who happen to ride bikes are some neat little collective, rather than a random selection of people making about 600,000 trips every day in London. It’s fantastical to imagine such an enormous amount of humanity trying to police themselves in order to present a better image, without any of them being aware that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. What’s really happening here is the invocation of the ‘bad name’, this persistent canard that the reputation of anyone who rides a bike should be harmed by the behaviour of complete strangers.

Some people might cycle fast here, apparently.

Some people might cycle fast here, apparently.

Enough. I think the new Superhighways are great; I enjoy riding on them. Please don’t pretend that their existence – and indeed future improvements for walking and cycling in the capital – should in any way be conditional on behaviour, or even related to it. Do your job, and design streets and roads that work well for all users, even if – as surely as night follows day – many of those users will be antisocial or lawbreakers.


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24 Responses to Good road design is not conditional on the good behaviour of users

  1. andreengels says:

    I would go a step further: Actual good road design is not depending on good behaviour, it is actively incentivizing it. If people drive (or ride) too fast on a road, good road design slows them down at key spots. If people ride through red lights, good road design makes it clear to them that (or when) this is dangerous or disruptive, and ascertains that they know red time won’t be unduly large. Good design drives good behaviour.

  2. Jo Wood says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your substantial point that it is bizarre (at best) that cycling infrastructure should be conditional on some vague contract with “cyclists” as a single group.

    I would take issue with your first point though that people riding bicycles fast is not a problem, or that it might not exist at all. My normal daily commute on a bicycle is through Hackney in London, mostly along quiet roads. Within the context of London cycling, the range of bikes and riders is reasonably diverse (although still a long way from Dutch cycling diversity) and riding is largely pleasant. For a month last summer my daily commute included following CS8 between Battersea park and Parliament square along Grosvenor Road and Millbank. Despite dedicated space for cycling, the experience was unpleasant as a “slow” rider largely because of fast pelotons of people riding essentially as ‘sports cyclists’ continually passing fast and close. It was an intimidating experience, and not one I’d recommend to a new rider needing to build confidence.

    If we want to bring numbers of people riding bikes up to Dutch levels, it won’t be from that population of enthusiastic strong and competitive sports cyclists. I agree that good design is important in making an environment friendly for all, but there are some specific challenges when it comes to accommodating a wide range of cycling behaviours. In central London at least, motor traffic speed is largely limited by congestion and occasionally by speed limits. As as result the speed differential between motor vehicles is generally not that great. In contrast it is quite normal for there to be some people able and willing to cycle at more than twice the speed of others. It may be true that fast cyclists are travelling no faster than motor traffic along some stretches, but it is their proximity to slower cyclists, such as along CS8 that makes it an intimidating experience for the slower ones. Even if you were to double the width of the dedicated cycle space, I think this would still be an issue.

    Once numbers and diversity of people on bikes reached Dutch levels I think the volume of riders make this a non-problem. But at the moment we do have situation where some of the cycling infrastructure is being used dominantly in a way that is preventing it being an attractive option to potential new cyclists. The solution is in part down to people-friendly road design (e.g. the presence that most of the CS8 riders have to negotiate the horror that is Parliament Square later on is no doubt contributing to the filtering out of slower non-sporty riders), but I think it would be wrong to ignore the fact that fast aggressive riding by some is having a deterrent effect on others.

    • Mark Williams says:

      It is the `close’ and not the `fast’ part which I find unsettling—overtake me as fast as you like, but do it at least several metres away (FSVO dependent on differential), please. This conflict is presumably deliberately baked into UK cycling-specific infrastructure by `granting’ it far too narrow. That is not helped by [recently issued] current guidance which has clearly been copied-and-pasted from walking standards (i.e. small range of very low speeds) by some motorist (who is very comfortable speeding past anyone with tiny clearances, thank-you-very-much).

      Leon Daniels has never been secretive about or shy in expressing his dislike towards cycling as a mode of transport and cyclists as users of that mode. One of the problems is that it is practically impossible to sack someone in the public sector, especially someone who has been propelled to the `top’ by the Peter principle.

  3. awjreynolds says:

    Reblogged this on CycleBath and commented:
    This sort of post reminds me of the debacle that is Radstock’s recently redesigned centre. The council officers designed in a number of places where cyclists are told to dismount and walk, rather than treat them a separate and equally valid form of transport that could have had their own child-safe space.

    How the newly delivered Lower Borough Walls has a 2m wide shared path in front of one of the busiest pasty shops in Bath. When I challenged this, I was told by an officer that I had my chance during the consultation process. These officers are the “experts”.

    How the Seven dials scheme, a cycling ambition grant scheme, can have all the cycling network infrastructure fundamentally compromised because of a loading bay that could have been placed 20m away.

    These officers are failing, us, the residents of BaNES. These officers, are incapable of delivering good designs. They are asking all cyclists to “behave” due to their lack of ability to get it right. Some of them are embarrassingly poor at delivering good design and should be moved to road sweeping.

    We deserve a lot better than this and I hold the senior officers in BaNES to blame for this, in particular Jo Farrer, chief executive for Bath and North East Somerset. Get your house in order. Get your senior officers trained up delivering good public space. Get them trained up and using Bring your senior officers kicking and screaming into the 21st century and if you have to sack them because the type of stuff they are delivering is disgustingly poor.

    • road sweeper says:

      Adam, as the chair of Cycle Bath you are entitled to prioritise the needs of cyclists. But also consider that all councils must accommodate demands from a wide range of groups. If you had been through the arguments with business owners that I have, you would appreciate that moving a loading bay ‘only 20m’ is to some the far side of the moon. Likewise, disabled users will complain that the council doesn’t provide enough on-street parking and will start shouting ‘equalities act’ loudly and repeatedly over any argument made to the contrary.
      Like all UK cities, Bath will have a majority of non-cyclists who do not agree with the expense or requirement for cycle schemes, and make these feelings known through consultation process and their democratically elected representatives.
      Consequently, designs may well be compromised because they have to try and satisfy a range of demands within geographic and financial boundaries, not to mention the democratic process. As such, decisions will frequently have to be pragmatic on what is achievable, not what is ideal. Had you succeeded in your bid for mayor, you may have come to understand these issues first hand. As it is, your contempt for the people who have to manage these conflicting demands and processes is an unfortunate consequence which ultimately is unhelpful in winning advocates for your ambitions.

      • MJ Ray says:

        I think you mean “all UK cities” except one… what’s good for cycling is generally good for everyone because of the reduced pollution and nicer streetscape, though, so I don’t think the majority interest is really in danger here.

      • awjreynolds says:

        In my defence, the Seven Dials scheme was specifically bid for with Cycle Ambition Fund money with a key aspect being the contraflow. This was ‘free’ money provided to the council to deliver this scheme. Interestingly enough, I laser measured some of the pinch points within the scheme. Within the new shared space, they put in a 4.6m wide section for a crossing. This was an unnecessary width restriction designing out the ability for the contraflow to go ahead. At some point we really do have to start asking, when project after project after project seems to come up short, why council officers can get away with this, particularly when schemes are being funded with cycling money.

  4. I agree with this. In my experience its often the case that the “innovator” (and I realise cycling is older than motoring but in this case it is the innovator/disruptive technology) is held up to higher standards than the “incumbent”. This is partly protectionism on the part of the incumbent and its partly because standards/expectations often rise in time and its easier, if illogical, to envisage imposing these higher expectations on something new than on something existing. As a Civil Servant, I’ve often heard companies with new products complain that they expected to meet higher standards than existing technologies and there’s the often quoted idea that neither smoking nor alcohol would be legalised if they were new inventions. I think the only defence is for cyclists to vigourously argue their case, as with CS11 and other Superhighways at the moment.

  5. D. says:

    I think that Gideon should make all of that billions of pounds of funding for upgrades to the primary road network conditional upon all motorists obeying the rules – after all, why should the taxpayer give them that money if they’re speeding, etc? They aren’t making any friends for themselves, you know!

  6. Leon Daniels’s choice of the word ‘granted’ is a very revealing insight into the true attitude of the person in charge of ‘surface transport’ at TfL and his disdain for, and therefore ignorance about, cycling as a transport mode. As the blog rightly points out, it is inconceivable that Daniels would talk about any of the established transport modes being conditionally ‘granted’ roads for example; if anyone were to suggest it they’d be laughed out of court, so to speak . The ‘granted’ word will come to dog Daniels for the rest of his (hopefully short) time at TfL.

    Interestingly, however, Daniels inadvertently provides backing for the arguments put forward by the cycling lobby over the last few years when he talks about “more facilities for safer and higher volume cycling”. The logical implication of this is that not providing such facilities is a policy choice for fewer cyclists (thus more pollution, more congestion, higher transport costs, etc) and lower safety levels for cyclists.

  7. Notak says:

    Who are the people complaining about excessively fast cycling on the CSes? There’s plenty of this on various social media but my impression of it has been it’s other cyclists complaining about the behaviour, as Jo Woods says. Has this now been picked up on in mainstream media then?

    Incidentally, these fast vs slow cyclist behavioural conflicts are not limited to Superhighways or even London: we have them here in little old Bristol on various paths and tracks!

    • MJ Ray says:

      It’s not limited to tracks, though, is it? It happens on the roads too, when a racer whooshes past with little clearance because they’d rather near-miss a slow rider than oncoming motorists. Personally, I think requiring working bells to be left on the bike could help because then an overtaker would have no excuse to at least ping a warning, reducing the surprise to the overtakee and reducing the (already small) risk to the overtaker… but this is minor nicety stuff and there are many far bigger problems which I’d prefer legislators to tackle first, mostly involving the far heavier and more dangerous motor vehicles.

      • Notak says:

        Good point. We’re rather in danger of “doing a Wiggins” here by even giving this somewhat minor issue attention, while overlooking the juggernaut in the room.

    • “Incidentally, these fast vs slow cyclist behavioural conflicts are not limited to Superhighways or even London: we have them here in little old Bristol on various paths and tracks!”

      But it’s actually not something I see in Cambridge, where cycling volumes are high. There are certainly situations where I think people are doing *inappropriate* speeds on, say, shared-use facilities, but it’s still largely people in normal clothes on a beaten up bike, not lycra and carbon.

      There are lycra cyclists, and it’s not unreasonable if you’re doing a 10 mile each way commute to be equipped for it. But they’re a minority, and I don’t see them often: probably because they’re in work and showering before I’ve left the house on a 3 speed!

      Existing cyclists in London tend to be male, middle aged and fast, because that’s the kind of cyclist that the conditions produce. When there are new facilities, the first users are going to be the existing ones, doing a different route. But the profile will change as current non-cyclists have time to get a bike, some good weather, and see the conditions.

      • Notak says:

        I think Cambridge, London and Bristol, supposedly all cycling-friendly cities, each exist in their own cycling bubble, having little in common with each other or the country at large. My experience of Cambridge is limited to a weekend a couple of years ago, but the sheer number of very ordinary looking bikes parked outside the station and around town was impressive.

        The inter-cyclist conflicts I see, or more commonly hear of from friends (I don’t have a regular commute) tend to involve “lycra and carbon”. There are Strava segments all along the Bristol to Bath railway path, which seem to be a factor, and it’s also used by occasional chain gangs from local clubs, though those tend to be fairly disciplined and not so much a problem. The path has been open in some form since the early ’70s, by the way. I used to ride it in the mid-80s and it was pretty empty, so I think the problems reported now are down to the increase in cycle commuting, the “mamil” trend and also a general trend across society to complain about more things, more angrily(!)

        But I think MJRay makes a good point above that this is pointing a finger at a comparatively minor problem and thereby excusing the far greater problem of speeding and other forms of, to use a possibly new term, intolerant driving.

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        Precisely. And wait till all the tourists hop onto the thousands of hire bikes. Wonder if they’ll know how to behave. But I don’t see why Bozza (pace ORiordan) and Dazza are whinging so soon, with the tarmac barely dry, though paulgannonbike + Chris’ comments seem to provide an eminently plausible explanation.

  8. I know very well that often times it is an idea that road designers “must” make cycling slower to ensure “safety”. Apparently that includes a special cycle superhighway that allows for nothing but cycle traffic, no pedestrians, no buses, trams, no cars, HGVs, etc.

    Apparently Britain can build motorways limited to 113 km/h and probably designed for something like 130, possibly 180 km/h, but can’t build cycle superhighways designed for even just 35 km/h?

    I’d support a road regulation that says that the concrete minimum design speed for a primary route along straight or wide curved sections of cycle route must allow for at least 50 km/h unless the road it parallels has a lower speed limit.

    Also David Hembrow also wrote on another group of out-groups, moped riders in the Netherlands. They are allowed on their cycle paths. Sounds strange? Think about it, a 55 kg object not that much bigger than a bicycle at about 30 km/h, that’s fairly similar to bicycles now. 30 kg of groceries on a 25 kg omafiets, that’s as heavy than a moped. He also suggests that there is a benefit because the design speed and the design vehicle of cycle paths must ensure that they are of very high quality. Link to his post here: He also talks about being a member of an outgroup in some ways or another regardless, although how prejudice should include things like being a vegan is something I don’t even understand.

    • Mark Williams says:

      Design speed for virtually all cycle `facilities’ in the UK is the same as for walking, i.e. a big fat `we don’t care about you enough to mandate one’. That is why even painted on-carriageway lanes have cycling-specific vertical signage with an x-height of 25mm—highway engineers would never dream of sanctioning such tiny lettering on signs intended for the benefit of moving motorists. But there is also a fairly big dose of schizophrenia, with most councils and the likes of SUSTRANS being obsessed with painting the word `SLOW’ (interesting fact: they have to use especially small characters to make such a long word fit on the invariably narrow cycle lanes found in the UK) and fitting humps, chicanes, skittles or gravel traps to slow cyclists down.

      p.s. Walkers are not disallowed in London cycle `superhighways’, unfortunately. So we have to make do with running them over and dragging their corpses onto the absurdly wide and often empty footway adjacent ;-).

  9. Brilliant post as usual, hitting the nail square on the head and showing that Boris still doesn’t quite “get” cycling despite making all the right noises when he needs to garner votes…..

    I’ve often commented before that I tend to find, subconsciously mostly, my riding speed varies depending on the environment – I’ll naturally slow down on quieter roads where I’m don’t feel I have to “fight” or try and contend with higher speed motor traffic. Having said that I’ll also admit to being one of those horrid riders who will on occasion speed along the new segregated lane on Embankment however I don’t think that’s a bad part of the design I think it actually shows it’s of very good quality! It’s certainly wide enough (I’ve not used it during peak periods yet) which combined with the wonderfully smooth surface and design that means you don’t get stopped as often as the road next to it, picking up and maintaining speed is quite easy 🙂

    • ORiordan says:

      Boris invariably plays to the gallery and others take their cue from him. He can’t be seen being 100% behind cyclists so he has got to get some digs in as well. As long as the next mayor stands up for cycling schemes and doesn’t back down at the first sign of opposition, I can live with a few digs.

  10. MJ Ray says:

    But we know people cycle fast on Embankment. The ABD (Alliance of B-something? Drivers) proved it recently, quoting a letter from some newspaper that they’d found a Tom Moses on Strava exceeding 30mph along there… that’s Tom Moses, professional racer, who was taking part in the Tour of Britain… 😀

  11. chris says:

    Leon Daniels is a dinosaur that needs to accept his world view is anachronistic, and should just retire already.

  12. And don’t forget that regardless of what mode you chose, people are people anyway, nothing about a particular mode makes you better at not making mistakes. Missing a stop sign could happen to anyone on a bike given the clutter we have on many streets.

    And besides, have we considered why people might run through a stop sign or red light on a bicycle? It’s mainly because in the UK many traffic lights are pointless and make you wait longer than you should, on the verge of being deliberately anti cycle and pedestrian, and also because stopping for any reason makes you need to expend much more energy to get back up to your normal speed. From a single stop to get up to 20 km/h takes about as much energy as keeping on cycling for 550 metres. So stopping as much as possible is avoided by cyclists.

    And also know that red light crashes are mainly causes by people blowing through the red light, If you are very cautious and look both ways and judge a safe gap, then red light running is much less risky.

    And going 40-50 km/h on bike isn’t illegal. Why should it be thought of as anti social? Same with helmets and high viz in the UK. They aren’t prescribed by law. Why should they be seen as obligatory then?

    You also are likely to project stereotypes about the riders that just happen to use a particular means of getting around onto the transportation tool itself. Many people who aren’t Goth (subculture, not referring to the “barbarians” of early medieval Europe) have prejudice against goth people. Criminals are often good people that happen to make mistakes. Very few people commit crimes in absolute disregard for the humanity of their victims. Some have even written sincere apology letters. Same with people who abuse drugs, for the same reasons.

    Think with your brain. Don’t create hate and prejudice on stereotypes. Or really, don’t even create hate and prejudice on pretty much anything. I mean it’s fine to have a picture of Hitler on your bedroom dartboard that you use for target practice, but for pretty much everyone else, there’s no need.

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