Why is it that cycling is regarded as a serious potential risk in ways that motor traffic travelling at greater speeds (and with much greater momentum) is not?

Part of the explanation must lie in the fact that we have lived with motor traffic travelling at great speed around our urban areas for so long that is simply seen as ‘normal’. We don’t even notice it – it’s simply background wallpaper, a fact of life. Cars, lorries, vans and buses travel at 30mph along our roads and streets, and that’s just the way it is.

Meanwhile cycling – a mode of transport for which users rarely attain more than 20mph, and which weighs little more than the human being cycling – is something that has to be controlled; slowed down; enforced.

This isn’t helped by lazy urban design that all too often lumps cycling in with walking, placing it on pedestrian-specific infrastructure that is a recipe for conflict.

Cycling diverted onto a narrow, busy footway. What could possibly go wrong?

But I suspect there’s a little more going on behind the scenes here than simple bad design. As we shall see later in this post, even on high-quality cycling infrastructure that clearly separates cycling from walking, there is an expectation that cycling should be slowed down and controlled in ways that are simply absent on the adjacent road network, where motor traffic continues to thunder past at 30mph (or more).

Of course, the ‘controlling’ mentality has been most powerfully exhibited by the Royal Parks in the last week, who, having already installed a series of cobbled ridges in the western half of Hyde Park, are now proceeding to add another series to the (long-established) cycle path along the Broad Walk, which indirectly connects Hyde Park Corner with Marble Arch on the eastern side of the park. There will be 28 humps on this 1 km section of path.

The justification for doing this is (as always) people apparently cycling too fast. A speed of 32mph has been cited, but notably this is just one person, on one occasion. By contrast 93% of people surveyed by the Royal Parks are cycling below 20mph. A comment from a Royal Parks spokesman provides a little insight into the mentality of the organisation –

“If we have cyclists racing up and down a pathway at speed with pedestrians trying to cross that really doesn’t make for a pleasant visit, especially when we also have cases of pedestrians being shouted at for walking on pathways in the way of cyclists.”

What is deeply inconsistent about this attitude is that the roads running through Hyde Park continue to have 30mph limits, with very little to stop drivers from (entirely legally) travelling at this speed, and with little or no assistance to help pedestrians cross the road at key locations.

The crossing by the Serpentine Gallery on West Carriage Drive, helpfully labelled as a ‘Pedestrian Crossing Point’

The speed limit for drivers in the park is exactly the same as the single cycling outlier that has justified the installation of these cobbles, and  the evidence from other Royal Parks suggest that speeding is rife, with 54% of all drivers exceeding 30mph in the Outer Circle in Regents Park. (The Royal Parks interest in tackling ‘speeding’ in this particular park only seems to have materialised with the prospect of it being closed as a through route to motor traffic, with new cobbled ramps to slow cycling).

Equally there is absolutely no priority for pedestrians attempting to cross these roads, nor any apparent concern in the face of motorists ‘racing’ (not that this word would be used by the Royal Parks) at 30mph or above. Naturally, these are ‘roads’ where that kind of speed is completely fine, while cycling on the Broad Walk is a mere ‘path’ where 10mph is the desired speed.

The inconsistency is even more obvious when we consider that the Broad Walk itself isn’t a particularly direct or convenient route for anyone cycling along the eastern edge of the park – it involves a series of convoluted crossings at both ends to leave and rejoin the road network. The most direct route is of course Park Lane itself, a fast and unpleasant road that (incredibly enough) was built on the park in the early 1960s. So Park Lane is effectively a route through the park, a route where motor traffic travels at great speed and in large quantities, a route where people are killed and seriously injured in numbers, and where pedestrians have to wait minutes to cross the road.

When I cycle on the Broad Walk (for instance, to go to Westminster University) it is not out of choice, but because I have been pushed off Park Lane by the dangerous and inhospitable character of the road.

To punish me (and everyone else cycling on this route) is perverse, given it is a route of last resort. The best way to tackle this issue is not to make all our lives worse, but to provide clear, consistent space for cycling, be it in the park itself, or reclaimed from Park Lane – space that sensibly separates people cycling from people walking. (It’s notable that these latest proposals for the Broad Walk actually create new environments where walking and cycling are pushed into the same space, with no clarity for either type of user). The humps will not solve the ‘speeding’ problem (if it did, people on racing bikes would not cycle through the Arenberg Forest at close to 30mph), and they will create new problems.

The underlying issue here seems to be that pedestrian comfort and convenience only seems to be a matter of concern when cycling is involved.

A textbook example of this is the installation of zebra crossings on new cycling infrastructure in London, giving people on foot priority when they need to cross to bus stops. Now I think these are a good idea. They can now be installed without zig-zag markings and ‘Belisha Beacons’, making them a low-cost and low-hassle intervention that makes walking a bit easier and will barely inconvenience cycling at all, given the dynamics of these two modes.

But where is this degree of concern for ease of crossing on the rest of the road network? Central London boroughs are chock-full of junctions where people are sent on circuitous routes to safely cross the road, or where there are signals for motor traffic, but no separate green signal for pedestrians. Even bog-standard unsignalised junctions can be totally inhospitable for all but the most able-bodied pedestrians.

A sadly all-too-typical junction in Westminster. Once you have walked through the puddle in the dropped kerb you have to traverse, unaided, some 70 feet of tarmac, with motor traffic bearing down on you in this one-way system.

There doesn’t appear to be any particular concern about this neglect of pedestrian safety and comfort, widespread across the capital, yet crossing four metres of tarmac which only carries people cycling necessitates a zebra crossing. That’s fine, of course, and worthy, but it seems a curiously backward approach to leap into action when pedestrians have to deal with cycling, but to leave them totally helpless when they have to cross rivers of motor traffic travelling at 30mph.


I walk a lot in London, and I would love to see a great deal more care and attention paid to pedestrian comfort and convenience. I am not encouraged, however, by a reluctance to install things like zebra crossings anywhere on the road network, except when it involves crossing cycleways. Nor am I encouraged by an enthusiasm to tackle ‘speeding’ by one particular mode, largely travelling at under 20mph, while roads administered by the same authority continue to have 30mph limits, with the majority of drivers exceeding that speed. Is it too much to ask for a rational and consistent approach on these kinds of issues?

This entry was posted in London, Royal Parks, Safety, Sustainable Safety, Walking. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Inconsistency

  1. Matthew says:

    We often have to deal with authorities that are all to eager to throw dangerous obstacles like chicanes up in the way of people cycling “to slow them down” when such measures make no sense whatsoever, cause injuries, and wouldn’t be found on “regular” junctions.

    It’s absurd and shameful. My theory is that the people who put these things in place are simply motor-obsessed and unable to perceive people cycling as human beings.

    There is also the obsession with pedestrian guard railing, which again is an anti walking measure, used because people in power want to slap down people walking, and view them as inferiors.

    The common excuse “it’s for children’s safety” seems to forget that children are capable of turning and running around obstacles too… Safety is a deeper problem that penetrates to the heart of the horrible system of car dominated streets and neighbourhoods. It cannot be solved with a fence.

    • pm says:

      “My theory is that the people who put these things in place are simply motor-obsessed and unable to perceive people cycling as human beings.”

      Absolutely. I am very curious as to the demographic and social character of these people – particularly those in charge of the Royal Parks. Has anyone ever met any of them?

      Who are they, and what is the nature of the strange social bubble in which they seem to reside? How do they manage to avoid even noticing the blatant double-standard they display in relation to car and cycle routes through the park? Do they not ever socially mix with anyone who might challenge them about it?

      • Mark Williams says:

        It's always mystified me that anybody ever thought it was a good idea to allow Royal Parks to be a highway authority for highways carrying through traffic at all, motorised or otherwise. They must own less than, say, 50 km of highways in total—even if you include Richmond and Windsor parks, etc. I've never knowingly met any of their staff, but it wouldn't surprise me to discover that they have at least one permanent, full-time employee running a highways department somewhere. Who am I kidding; in the UK public sector, there are probably tens or hundreds. If this is a sustainable proposition, then why shouldn't there also be separate authorities for the Bixi Johnson memorial cycle tracks, ‘shared’ footways in each town, groups of cycle [non-] ‘quietways’, etc.—presumably inheriting their office space & budgets (and dispensing with services of anti-cycling employees) pro-rata from the previous owners?

        Zebras crossing cycleways and carriageways are equally fine, as long as they really are equitably provided. What is not fine are the ridiculous [roman] ogee speed tables they are installed on when it comes to the former, but not the latter. These always seem designed to impart the maximum impact on the wishbone struts of, err, each pedal cycle passing over—irrespective of whether there are any walkists using them, or not…

  2. Andy R says:

    It’s not just Local Authorities which seem to have a problem with cyclists ‘speeding’. From Sustrans’ ‘Segregation of Shared Use Routes’ Technical Information Note No. 19 dated April 2014, quote:
    “In Sustrans’ experience there are significant advantages with unsegregated paths where the width is shared by all users, particularly on traffic free routes away from the road…
    …Key reasons for preferring unsegregated paths are: Evidence shows that cyclists travel faster on segregated shared use routes…
    …On unsegregated paths consideration should be given to the erection of courtesy signs such as “cyclists give way to pedestrians” or “share with care””.
    At least it does acknowledge the following:
    “It should be noted many cyclists are likely to prefer a high quality segregated path as the higher speed is a positive factor”.
    And I bet there’s not many of you who would have thought that (seems to be the author’s view of his readers).

  3. rdrf says:

    “Is it too much to ask for a rational and consistent approach on these kinds of issues?”.

    It is too much to EXPECT anything other than double standards with the current dominant culture. The whole point is that logical and rational argument – although you should still make it, as you have above – is not what it’s all about. It is about the powers that be seeing motorist rule/law breaking as normal and acceptable, and cyclist errant behaviour (real or imagined) as a problem requiring urgent control. It is about seeing cycling and cyclists as a problem.

    I discuss this in some depth in the current post (in the latter section on bad policing attitudes) .

    My view is that we need to conceptualise the dominant culture as car-centric, car supremacist – call it what you will – and start of from the assumption that policy will be skewed against cycling (and walking). Otherwise even good elements of provision will continue to be balanced out with the bad, with continual pressure against what is good for cycling/walking.

    So carry on being consistent and rational, but we must anticipate continual bias and prejudice against cycling/walking.

  4. Steven Edwards says:

    I cycled the new Hyde Park tracks this morning and, as neat and comfortable as they are, there is no escaping the fact that by preventing through traffic, the job would have been done far more effectively (certainly for pedestrians) with a calmer, less polluted environment. This is particularly apparent at junctions where queues of traffic wait to exit (just as they do to enter also).
    Closing some gates – or simply preventing through-traffic with bollards or ‘bus-gates’ in the centre would have been cheap, easy, and of course very quick to implement. Time, energy and money would have been freed up for issues elsewhere.

    But Val Shawcross seems ready to impose this unneccessarily cumbersome example on Regent’s Park, creating additional problems and delay, for training cyclists and pedestrian visitors alike – such is the eagerness of the ‘new’ mayoral administration to appease the motorist at all costs and avoiding nay conflict with the mouthy NW3 pro-rat-runners’ (and conveniently overlooking the majority support for CS11).

    Campaigners need to be raising the bar to what was even recently considered idealistic. Allowing cars to race through a park is stupid and anti-social by anyone’s standards surely!.
    It’s as if we are drowning in a sea of reason, evidence based facts and stats, bogged down by the stark-staring reality of the sheer unacceptability of the existing transport policy foul-up.

    Sadiq Khan, when he calls for restrictions on driving around schools, sounds like someone who ought to consider writing a letter to the mayor! Seemingly oblivious to having the remotest grasp of his office’s capabilities.
    Through-traffic does not belong on a majority of streets in London or the rest of the UK.
    Campaigners should perhaps now consider going on the offensive to call loudly for a retrieval of the besmirched urban environment from the motorised masses.
    There should be no remaining places where you have four lanes of one way traffic with no segregated contraflow bike lanes! Two lanes either side given over to the task of enabling efficient, rapid and desirable cycle lane.

    How about a call for Park Lane to be returned to it’s original use for starters?
    Might seem an extreme measure now, but it would serve to put eveything else into perspective.

  5. A great post which perfectly summarises everything that is wrong with out towns, cities and even villages in the UK.
    We are obsessed with maintaining a flow of motor vehicles at almost all costs (parking spaces for motor vehicles are about the only thing that may occasionally trump this) and especially at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, children playing in the street (as they should be able to in many residential streets).

    Another example of how far this has gone; one of my local councillors has blocked every attempt to improve life for pedestrians or cyclists in my local area because each proposal would have involved putting restrictions on motorists driving to and parking outside businesses in the area. So quiet residential streets have been made one-way to improve the flow (and speed) of traffic, the bike lanes are full of (legally) parked cars – even where the bike lane is so narrow that the cars are half way across the pavement too (otherwise they would impede the flow of traffic!).
    None of this seems surprising perhaps – until I tell you that this is my local Green Party councillor. I even voted for this person on more than one occasion before discovering her obsession with parking spaces and flow of (motor) traffic.

  6. Jody W says:

    as someone who commutes down the broad walk daily and has experience of fully cobbled streets, i am going to keep riding at 20mph. it’s way more comforrtable. all of the collisions and near-misses i’ve seen on that stretch haven’t been with fast riders, theyve been occasional pedestrians not looking, but mostly with inexperienced riders on hire bikes riding 4- or 5- abreast, wobbling and weaving and panicking when there’s anything in front of them.

  7. Pingback: Inconsistency) As Easy As Riding A Bike

  8. Pete says:

    I don’t know the inns and outs but why are “The Royal Parks” in the business of providing transport infrastructure at all?

    By its very name and nature I would have thought that it would be working tirelessly to remove cars (any bikes doing anything but leisure cycling) from the parks. I mean, they are parks not roads aren’t they?

    What am I missing…?

    • I’ve been wondering this for years. And even ignoring the noise, pollution and danger, there must be significant costs involved with having these roads running through the parks – maintenance, lighting, etc. – what’s in it for the Royal Parks?

      My only conclusion is that the Royal Parks get money for having the roads running through them. It’s pure speculation on my part, but like you I can’t understand why they’re so keen on roads, and that’s the most likely answer I’ve been able to come up with.

  9. Bmblbzzz says:

    On the perceived need to slow down bikes but not cars, I’m reminded of Carlton Reid’s book Roads Were Not Made For Cars, in which he mentions pedestrians in quiet rural lanes being run down by 18th century stage coaches. These travelled at about 12mph, so there was plenty of time to move out of their way but people weren’t used to a vehicle travelling at more than walking speed. Forcing bikes and pedestrians into the same space, which in practice means pushing bikes onto pavements, can only reinforce this perception that bikes should travel at walking speed.

    That said, I find it’s only in busy, urban situations this really leads to conflict, and in other contexts, walkers are quite happy to give way to a ping of the bell. Though it does depend what bell.

    • rdrf says:

      Bikes and pedestrians are not actually forced into the same space on the Broadwalk – there is a dividing line.

  10. Are the cobbles ridges bunny-hoppable?

  11. Another place where it’s obvious the motor vehicle is king is where you have light controlled cycle and pedestrian crossings. After a few seconds of green the pedestrian/cycle lights revert to red even though no cars are approaching from either direction, meaning the deserted road still gets a green light while the growing queue of pedestrians and cyclists has to wait another 60+ seconds for the lights to go green for them again (or, as inevitably happens, just continue cycling/walking across the junction as if the lights haven’t changed).

    Depending where the crossing is it should be possible to have the road light rest on red with the pedestrian/cycle lights on green until a car is approaching – then if the car is at or under the speed limit change to green before it even reaches the crossing (if the crossing is clear of course), and if it’s speeding rest on red until it’s come to a stop (with a red light jumping camera). On the lighter trafficked roads that should be a win win – the local residents have fewer speeding motorists blighting their neighbourhood, law abiding motorists don’t see any difference, and pedestrians and cyclists get across the road with less waiting.

  12. remerson says:

    Here’s an idea. How hard would it be to load up a small tipper truck with some bricks and rubble, and go around in the night dumping piles of the stuff in the middle of one end of rat-runs, wherever the local council should have put a modal filter but couldn’t be bothered?

    We have surely reached a situation where direct action – including civil disobedience and justified offending – has become necessary in order to save lives and counteract the criminal negligence of the authorities.

  13. Clark in Vancouver says:

    It’s called “divide and conquer”. In this case, the two modes that usually are allies, are pitted against each other.

  14. David says:

    Truth-carpet-bombing – new term credited to you, evolving from the singular “truth-bomb” because you just kept dropping them without mercy. If small arms, cracking like semi-automatic rifle fire. Just enough milliseconds pause to catch some hope, before taking another burst of truth bomb body hits.
    Clean up on aisle 3 please.

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