There is a form of discussion in cycling campaigning circles on the types of policy required to enable cycling in Britain. This discussion ranges along a continuum from (at one end) a belief in what I would call ‘motoring-hostile’ measures, and at the other end, ‘cycling-focused’ measures.
Motoring-hostile measures include things like congestion charging, increasing parking charges, removing parking spaces, and so on; policies that, in and of themselves, don’t do anything to make cycling more attractive, but (it is argued) may force people to consider other modes of transport, including cycling. Meanwhile cycling-focused measures involve ensuring that cycling is a safe and attractive mode of transport, from door-to-door.
I don’t think it’s any great secret that I tend to lie towards the ‘cycling-focused measures’ end of the continuum. I don’t think making driving more difficult will increase cycling to any great extent, principally because –
- it doesn’t do anything to address the main barrier to cycling; unpleasant, unsafe and subjectively hostile cycling environments.
- driving is already a difficult, frustrating and unattractive mode of transport in Britain, particularly in urban areas.
In this post I’m going to look at just one aspect of this debate; namely, whether making journeys for drivers more inconvenient (allegedly, like those journeys might be in the Netherlands) would have any effect on cycling levels.
Back in January I plotted a Dutch network onto a British town (and wrote a blog post about it!). To my slight surprise, it turned out that a very large proportion of the road network of Horsham is composed of access-only roads – roads that are cul-de-sacs for motor traffic, or that make no sense to drive on unless you are a resident, or visiting a property on that street.
Why is this important? Well, it means that the town of Horsham already has what I would describe as a Dutch-style motoring network.
The way drivers will move about the town is very similar to the way they would move about an equivalent Dutch town. They will not be using residential or access roads to make journeys, because it is impossible to use them (they are dead ends!) or because it makes no sense to use them (there is a ‘main road’ route that is quicker, or less circuitous). Their journeys will not be direct. Here’s just one example – driving from a residential street, to join a main road to the north.
A substantial part of the town has this kind of road network. Like many other towns across Britain, it has expanded rapidly since the mid-twentieth century, and is consequently largely composed of a dendritic highway pattern, designed to create safe, quiet streets in the age of the motor car.
Exactly the same kind of road network for drivers that you will find in the Netherlands.
Driving in Horsham will involve the similar kinds of journey patterns (and journey lengths) to equivalent trips in Assen.
Now, the cycling mode share in Horsham is, at best, something like 2% of all trips (cycle to work share in the 2011 census was 1.6%), while in Assen it is around 40%. So, given this intrinsic similarity in driving patterns, how do we account for the large difference in cycling mode share between the two settlements?
There are no stunning geographical differences between Horsham and an equivalent Dutch town; it is flat and reasonably compact – no barriers to cycling in this regard. So if driving in Horsham is just as circuitous, arduous and difficult as it is in Assen (if not more so), then what is the principle reason for the difference?
My view is that it has to be that cycling is too difficult and unpleasant, rather than driving being too easy.
- Principally, we have a hostile (main) road network that the vast majority of the people in the town will not dare to go anywhere near on a bike.
- Secondarily, we have a ‘permeability’ problem. In many places, what could be short trips by bike are converted into very long ones (just as long as the circuitous driving trip) because of an absence of short connections between roads and streets.
Neither of these barriers will be tackled by making driving more circuitous; indeed, it is hard to see how driving could be made substantially more difficult in this regard, given that the town is already largely composed of a dendritic highway pattern for drivers.
The obvious conclusion – if we are interested in increasing cycling levels – is that sensible policy should focus on creating safe and attractive conditions for cycling, and on opening up (or improving) connections for cycling between currently different parts of the town, rather than expecting drivers to be prised out of their cars by making their routes longer – we’ve already done this in Horsham (albeit through historical accident) and we have negligible cycling levels.