Institutional priorities

A few months ago I attended the Hackney Cycling Conference, and heard a presentation by Robin Lovelace, entitled Cycling and transport policy: embedding active travel in every stage of the planning process.

Unsurprisingly – given the title – there was an interesting section of the talk on how weakly embedded walking and cycling is within the Department for Transport. In particular, Robin focused on the board structure of the Department, showing precisely how small a priority these important modes of transport are within it. He used the equivalent of the chart below, which has of course changed following the cabinet reshuffle.

Out of all the people shown on this chart, just one civil servant – highlighted right at the bottom – has explicit responsibility for walking and cycling.


We can see this more clearly by zooming in on this bottom left section.

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Tellingly, ‘Local Transport’ is itself embedded within the ‘Roads, Devolution and Motoring Group’, and even within ‘Local Transport’ walking and cycling comes right at the bottom – not even mentioned explicitly by name, instead bundled up as ‘sustainable accessible travel’. It really is the lowest of the low.

Given this structure, is it any surprise that walking and cycling garner so little attention and such low levels of investment, despite their fundamental importance?

The priorities of the Department for Transport also emerge from the imagery they use. This stock photo – spotted by @AlternativeDfT – appears frequently on their website.

Amongst other things, it has been used for road safety announcements –

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… and, amazingly, even for an announcement of Local Sustainable Transport Funding.

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The junction shown in the photograph is Tower Gateway, right by the Tower of London. It is a particularly revealing choice, because while the photograph shows motor traffic smoothly flowing across the junction, it is a truly dreadful environment for walking and cycling.

To take just one example, let’s imagine we wanted to walk from the left of the photograph, to the right – from the north side of Mansell Street, to the Tower of London. You might imagine you could just cross the road in one go – the green arrow. But as it turns out travelling this short distance actually involves eight separate pedestrian crossings.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 16.08.16This is how pedestrians are expected to cross the road at a junction the Department for Transport has chosen to illustrate its role. Needless to say the cycling environment is, if anything, even worse – a vast expanse of tarmac, shared with HGVs and heavy traffic, somewhere only a small minority of people would even consider cycling in the first place. The east-west superhighway does now run across the top of this junction – with improved pedestrian crossings to the west – but that’s about it. Anyone cycling here has essentially been abandoned.

This isn’t just any junction; it’s a junction in the heart of our capital city, a place teeming with people. It’s somewhere that walking and cycling should be explicitly prioritised. But instead people walking and cycling here are treated with contempt – marginalised, and ignored. And this is the image of transport that the DfT is using.

The priorities that this junction embodies are an exact parallel of the board structure of the organisation. Cycling and walking as an afterthought, if that, the very bottom of the heap when it comes to consideration. And this is how the Department of Transport will continue to function, without institutional change. Still stuck in the past, still focused on prioritising motoring at the expense of sensible, space-efficient ways of making short trips, the kinds of trips that form the bulk of all the trips we make.

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A visit to the Leeds-Bradford Cycle Superhighway

Last month I took the opportunity to cycle along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway, kindly escorted by Martin Stanley of Leeds Cycling Campaign. While London’s cycling new infrastructure is hitting the headlines, there are other projects taking place elsewhere in the country, of which this is one of the more high profile (albeit for perhaps not all the right reasons).

Indeed, I did go with very low expectations – I’d seen the pictures being shared on social media and on blogs of what can only be described as very poor infrastructure. And it has to be said that the route between the two cities is not of a high quality, certainly nowhere near as high as the routes being built in London. Perhaps a lower level of quality might be expected given the lower level of expertise and investment, along with some ‘higher order’ problems we’ll come to in this post. But what was particularly frustrating for me wasn’t actually the low quality. It was the inconsistency. Some sections have been built and designed reasonably well. But other sections – dealing with identical problems – have been bodged, and bodged badly, which left me wondering why a more consistent level of quality couldn’t have been achieved.

We’ll come to these issues, and others, in the post, but all the same I did come away from the day cycling to Bradford and back feeling a little positive. This was, perhaps, just because the sun had come out in the afternoon, on what had started as a miserable day. But mainly I think it was because, despite all the flaws of this northern ‘superhighway’, I had managed to travel by bike between the two cities in some comfort, and with a reasonable degree of safety. Roads that I wouldn’t even have considered cycling on for pleasure, and would have struggled to justify cycling on for practical purposes – fast, busy roads – now have somewhere that it feels safe and comfortable to cycle, for the most part, and for all the flaws. That means cycling is a possibility, not just for more confident types like me, but for everyone else.

Despite the route only just having opened – and despite the bad weather earlier in the day – we did see people starting to use the cycling infrastructure. Not in huge numbers, admittedly, but enough to indicate that there is potential to shift and change behaviour, and the way people travel about.


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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 02.24.07So, the good news is that there is now a long route consisting almost entirely of protected infrastructure, that could open up cycling as a mode of transport for ordinary people.

The bad news, however, is that the quality is patchy, and in places actually quite dangerous. As I’ve mentioned already, the frustrating thing is the inconsistency, in that good design and build quality was interspersed with bad. I’m not sure why this was the case; it might be the inevitable consequence of having to build what amounts to quite a long route from A to B in a short space of time, with a fixed budget, starting essentially from a very low base in terms of experience, knowledge and expertise in building cycling infrastructure – a problem I suspect that is pervasive across Britain, just because there is so little good stuff, and so few people building it. It also seems to stem from what I have heard is a reluctance to impinge on driving in any way along this route, which means that compromises on quality will be inevitable.

The reluctance to give even an inch to cycling from motoring led in many places to quite comical outcomes.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 02.24.52The photograph shows that, alongside a six-lane road for motor traffic, not only will users have to swerve around traffic light posts right in the middle of the cycleway, they will then have to deal with a ‘door zone’ (indicated by the pale surfacing) created by new parking bays installed on the road – parking bays that didn’t exist before, and that, if in use, will actually block in people parking legitimately off the carriageway. In the context of such an enormous road this is very thin gruel indeed, especially when we consider that on the opposite side we have to put up with just a shared use footway.

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The bus stop bypasses are definitely one of the more serious problems. Some of them are again just comically bad, absurdly narrow for one-way cycling, let alone two-way cycling.

Yes, that is a two-way cycleway

Yes, that is a two-way cycleway

At one of these stops, I heard a couple of men waiting fora bus grumbling about how ‘they hate cyclists – they’re even on the pavement now’ as we rolled past, and it was easy to understand the source of their annoyance, given that we were almost trundling on their toes, by design.

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In most of these cases, the failure to design a proper bus stop bypass, with adequate space for all users, seems to have flowed either from the aforementioned reluctance to take any space from motor traffic, or to spend any money adjusting kerb lines, or both – with, frankly, very silly results.

That's just one lane of motor traffic on the right, heading away from the camera. The 'bypass' is at most 18 inches wide

That’s just one lane of motor traffic on the right, heading away from the camera. The ‘bypass’ is at most 18 inches wide

The surfacing was also frustratingly bad. While very smooth in many places, other sections had a dreadful surface, that looked like it had been shovelled in and patted down – usually next to a beautifully smooth road surface.

The rain earlier in the day was at least helpful in showing up surface deficiencies

The rain earlier in the day was at least helpful in showing up surface deficiencies

Why could some parts be surfaced well, and others not? Did some contractors just not care?

Another problem with inconsistency – and a more dangerous one – is the design of many of the side road treatments, where the cycleway (either in uni-directional, or bi-directional form) crosses side roads. This was where the inconsistency was particularly stark. Some were designed reasonably well, with at least some degree of visual continuity, and the kerbs only stopping at the junction, ensuring that the geometry for drivers is reasonably tight.

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But far too many junctions appear to have adopted a design technique that involves simply stopping the kerbs some 20 or 30 metres before the junction, dumping you out onto a cycle lane, which felt horribly exposed.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 02.33.39This is, I suspect, the dead hand of LTN 2/08 informing design, with its recommendation that cyclists should be ‘reintroduced to the main road’ before a junction, passing the junction ‘on the carriageway’. Presumably the intention is to ‘reintegrate’ anyone cycling with motor traffic before the junction, but in reality no ‘reintegration’ or ‘reintroduction’ will take place. You are just left at the side of the road with no engineering or design to slow or modify the behaviour of drivers turning across your path. It’s bad, and dangerous, we simply shouldn’t be building junctions like this in 2016. We need continuity, clear priority, and design that slows drivers, and makes them careful. Not this.

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There are other (admittedly less serious) problems with visual continuity at side roads. Treatments that could work well are undermined by markings that still suggest people cycling should yield, when they shouldn’t.

Double yellows, the green paint and the kerb line all remove any visual continuity and priority for cycling

Double yellows, the green paint and the kerb line all remove any visual continuity and priority for cycling

The same problem again. Note that this is an exit-only side road

The same problem again. Note that this is an exit-only side road

Other mistakes point to a lack of experience in how to design for cycling. One stood out for me, shown in the photograph below.

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Here the cycleway (on the right) could merge into the cul-de-sac, a low traffic environment that could very easily form part of the route. Yet instead the designers have opted to continue the cycleway on a tiny, thin stretch of pavement on the right, sandwiched between parked cars and fast motor traffic only a few feet to the right.

Signs telling you where to go are helpful – but not when they are positioned right in the middle of where you actually want to cycle.

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Again, this points to a lack of experience in considering the specific needs and requirements of cycling as mode of transport, along with designing a cycleway that bumps up and down for every single residential entrance, leaving a corrugated cycleway!

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One final, major problem is the town centre of Stanningley, about halfway along the route. Here there simply isn’t room for cycling infrastructure, so in brute terms the town has a motor traffic problem. There’s too much motor traffic on the high street, especially given the town has a bypass.

This motor traffic problem hasn’t been resolved. Instead the road through the town has been given a nice new gravel-infused tarmac surface (tellingly, the smoothest tarmac of the entire Leeds-Bradford superhighway!).

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And the junctions in the town have been replaced with some very superficial hints at ‘shared space’ in roundabout form, a design that offers very little comfort to anyone cycling or walking. We saw an elderly lady hesitantly and very nervously attempting to cross the road here. To my mind a series of zebra crossings on the desire lines at the junction would be much more useful, and more beneficial to cycling too than the current half-hearted markings that are something of a free-for-all.

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But really the problem is one of an excess of motor traffic – putting down nice, village-ish markings on what remains a very busy road won’t turn your town into a nice village, nor will it actually help people trying to get about within it on foot, or by bike. That motor traffic needs to be diverted onto the bypass, with access retained for residents and people visiting shops and properties.

More broadly, this fudge hints at some of the underlying problems with creating a high profile ‘route’ between two cities in a short space of time, given the inevitable problems of experience and expertise, combined with constraints imposed by councils unwilling to adversely impact drivers to even the slightest degree.

I came away from my visit to Leeds and Bradford with very mixed feelings. Positively, the route demonstrates that things can happen in other towns and cities across Britain, away from London, which attracts so much attention. Infrastructure can be built that will open up cycling as a mode of transport to people who might never have considered it. And there is at least now something established on the ground along these roads, good in places, bad in others, but something that can be improved upon.

On the negative side, the Leeds-Bradford cycleway demonstrates to me the need for clear, strong leadership in design, investment and implementation, to ensure that money being spent on cycling isn’t wasted on poor (and even dangerous) designs that will inevitably have to be fixed at a later date, as I suspect is true for a good deal of the route. It also demonstrates the need for clear political leadership at a national and local level, leadership that makes the case for modal shift, is willing to make tough choices in favour of it, and to face up to objections.

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Barriers to cycling mean doing more, not less

One of the most commonly heard myths about cycling and the Netherlands is that of ‘flatness’. Namely, that the reason cycling level are so high there – and so dismally low in Britain – is because the Netherlands is a flat country.

There are many reasons why this isn’t a very good explanation. In particular, it can’t account for why flat parts of Britain, areas just as flat as the Netherlands, have next to no cycling. Nor can it account for why hillier parts of the Netherlands have cycling levels far in excess of anywhere in Britain.

My bike and a hill, Wageningen, NL

My bike and a hill, Wageningen, NL

Both these problems of explanation point to the fact that ‘hilliness’ and ‘flatness’ are not important factors behind why cycling is so regular, everyday and ordinary in the Netherlands, and so rare and exceptional in many parts of Britain.

What really matters – and what really explains the difference – is the quality of the cycling environment. The Netherlands has a dense cycling network, of nearly universal high quality, that allows everyone to make journeys from to A to B in safety, in comfort, and with ease, almost entirely free of interactions with motor traffic. Most of Great Britain has nothing like this; it therefore has very little cycling.

It might be flat, but you won't see people cycling here.

It might be flat, but you won’t see people cycling here.

There is, however, a crucial distinction to make here. In pointing out that ‘hills’ really aren’t the reason that cycling levels differ so wildly between the Netherlands and Britain, I am not arguing that hills make no difference at all. Hills are, of course, hard to cycle up. Cycling up a slope is more onerous than cycling on the flat.

So hills are a barrier, of a sort, to cycling. This is indisputable. They just aren’t a very important barrier, relative to the difference in the quality of the overall cycling environment between the Netherlands and Britain.

And much the same is true for other kinds of barriers to cycling. There are, undeniably, cultural barriers to cycling. Immigrants to the Netherlands cycle less than born there; they will often come from countries where cycling is much less normal, or even possible. It naturally takes time to adapt, to start using an unfamiliar mode of transport. Even so, immigrants to the Netherlands cycle a lot more than people from their countries of origin, and far more than people in Britain. (For instance, the cycling mode share for Moroccan immigrants to the Netherlands is 11%). So, again, it seems that this barrier isn’t particularly important, relative to the quality of the cycling environment.

Curiously, these issues are often approached from completely the wrong perspective, in that barriers to cycling are presented as reasons to do nothing. For instance, I’m sure we’ve all heard the argument that, because it’s too hilly in x town or city, people won’t cycle, and there’s therefore no point building any cycling infrastructure. Or, it’s too wet here. Or too hot. Or too cold. Some other people present different levels of cycling between ethnic groups as an argument against building cycling infrastructure – that because white people cycling more than those of ethnic minorities, cycling infrastructure cannot be that important.

By contrast, to my mind, these kinds of barriers mean we should do more, not less. In hilly areas, for instance, we should make sure that the cycling environment is even better; we should provide every assistance to people who want to cycle. If ‘hilliness’ is a problem, then it should be balanced out by a cycling environment of even higher quality.

Likewise, if there are cultural barriers to cycling, then we should strive for much higher quality cycling infrastructure in areas where these barriers exist. Painted lanes (or nothing at all) will be much less persuasive at encouraging ethnic minorities to cycle than comfortable, safe and attractive cycling environments.

Enabling cycling in Utrecht

Enabling cycling in Utrecht

When confronted with issues like underrepresentation of women in politics, or the way in which places at top universities are still disproportionately taken up by people from wealthier backgrounds, we don’t shrug our shoulders about alleged ‘cultural barriers’, and suggest that these ‘barriers’ are reasons in and of themselves to reduce the amount of action required. We should do everything we can to break down those barriers.

Precisely the same is true of barriers like weather, culture, and hilliness. If we think more cycling is desirable, but there are obstacles to participation, then those obstacles themselves should not be seized upon as reasons for inaction. On the contrary; they should compel us to adopt even higher standards, to make cycling as comfortable, safe and desirable a mode of transport as possible.

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The helmet on the handlebars

At the FreeCycle event in central London on Saturday, there were, of course, large numbers of people wearing helmets and hi-viz tabards – not least because the latter were, as always, being handed out to participants.

But as I cycled around the event during the course of the day, I began to notice a distinct phenomenon. Something dangling from people’s handlebars.
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These were people who had set off from home with their cycle helmets, and then, on arriving in an environment which plainly felt very safe, decided those helmets weren’t necessary, and took them off (or perhaps didn’t even bother to don them at all).
Sometimes the helmet didn’t go on the handlebars. Those with practical baskets found a use for them.
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Or the helmet was tucked onto a rack.
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.40.09Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.35.48Even children could be seen cycling around with their helmets visibly discarded.
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.23.27
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.28.03Including ones who were passengers.
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.31.49 Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.32.21This discarding of ‘safety equipment’ extended to the hi-viz bibs too, which were taken off and wrapped around handlebars…
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.30.36… or pushed into baskets.
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Or maybe not even worn in the first place.
Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.36.46By the end of the day, the amount of neon yellow in the crowds of people cycling around had noticeably diminished (at least, that was my impression).Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.44.26Maybe this shedding of helmets and bibs was, in part, due to Saturday being a reasonably warm summer’s day, the temperature prompting people to discard items that were making them hot.

But more importantly, all these people cycling around in an environment free of interactions with motor traffic felt safe enough to discard the safety equipment they had either been issued with, or brought themselves. They even felt safe enough to let their children do the same.

This is why I think focusing on what people are choosing to wear isn’t really an issue that cycle campaigners should get too exercised about. What they are wearing is a response to their environment.  If cycling feels unsafe, then it is not surprising that people will readily adopt items of clothing that make them feel safer, be it protection for their heads, or jackets that they think will make them more conspicuous and ‘visible’ to drivers. A sea of helmets and hi-viz is not a personal failing on the part of people wearing them; it’s a symptom of a failure to provide safe conditions for people to cycle in.

Concern that individuals are making cycling look dangerous through the clothing they’ve chosen to wear is therefore totally misplaced. Don’t blame these people. Blame the conditions they are responding to, quite rationally – those  conditions that they encounter on a daily basis, that make them feel that safety equipment is even necessary for what should be the simple activity of riding a bike.

When safe and comfortable conditions are provided – environments free from interactions with traffic danger – then safety equipment will start to naturally melt away. It happened in a few hours on Saturday; it will happen anywhere the same conditions are replicated for everyday journeys.

Posted in Helmets, Infrastructure, Subjective safety | 30 Comments

Why they hate you

A consistent theme that you will encounter in campaigning circles – and indeed amongst the wider public – is that British people ‘hate cyclists’, or ‘hate cycling’. The explanation here must be that there is something genetic, something innate in the British character, that flares up at the sight of a bicycle, or someone riding one. That we’re culturally disposed to find a certain mode of transport annoying and irritating, along with its user.

But this is obviously a very superficial explanation. It doesn’t provide any account of the origins of that hatred and annoyance, instead, only asserts that it exists.

The reason people actually hate cyclists is, in fact, because we’re in the way. It’s that simple. Cycling is hated not for what it is, but because it causes inconvenience and hassle.

This man is hated not for who he is, or for his mode of transport, but because he is in the way.

This man is hated not for who he is, or for his mode of transport, but because he is in the way.

All the other complaints flow from this central problem. ‘Cycling two abreast’, ‘cycling in the middle of the road’, ‘weaving’, and so on, are all manifestations of this root annoyance at being impeded.

I was reminded of this the other day when I spotted someone expressing annoyance about cyclists in pretty much the same way. Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 15.33.44

Except, of course, that this person was himself using a bike! He was expressing frustration at being ‘held up’ by other Superhighway users in exactly the same way drivers express annoyance – the ‘casualness’ and the ‘non-helmet’ use are, as with driver complaints, merely a garnish, an attempt to reinforce the notion that people in the way are incompetent or irresponsible, and not ‘proper’ users of a road, or a cycleway, unlike the person being held up.

Nobody likes to be held up, whether they are walking along a footway that’s blocked by a crowd of people, or cycling on a cycleway where other users are getting in your way and not letting you get past, or driving a motor vehicle. It’s an innate, human characteristic.

So at root the problem of ‘cyclist hatred’ is really one of space. The reason it flares up so often, and appears to be so ubiquitous, is because cycling doesn’t have its own dedicated domain, and is consequently constantly rubbing against other incompatible modes of transport, with predictable results. This is equally true for cycling on footways, which is just as potent a source of annoyance as cycling in front of motor vehicles.

Take these people, and transfer them onto a system where they are not in the way of either motorists or pedestrians, and all the grounds for hatred disappear.

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Likewise all these people here – cycling on Blackfriars Bridge – are on a separate system to drivers and pedestrians, and consequently all parties are benignly indifferent to each other in a way that would not be possible if they were pushed into the same space.Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 16.01.49And this kind of separated approach is of course universal in the Netherlands. The Dutch system of ensuring that roads without cycling infrastructure are only used by motorists for access purposes means that – even on these roads where cyclists aren’t physically separated – motorists aren’t held up, because there aren’t many other motorists to cause problems.

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It is of course true that these kinds of design approaches also reduce frustration between motorists. In ensuring that these inappropriate residential streets cannot be used as through routes, we prevent rat-running and antagonism between drivers trying to battle their way, often against opposing motor traffic, on narrow streets.

So the solution to hostility between users of different modes – and indeed amongst users of the same mode – is not pleas for tolerance, or attempts to get us to ‘share the road’, or to ‘respect each other’, but one of design. We can’t engineer out basic human frustration. We can engineer streets and roads where that frustration doesn’t even materialise in the first place.

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 38 Comments

Greening the city

One of the nicest things about cycling along the Embankment (apart from the new cycling infrastructure, of course) is… the greenery.

This is particularly obvious as you approach the Houses of Parliament from the north. As the bend of the river unwinds, the Palace of Westminster gradually reveals itself through a lovely forest of trees as you near Parliament Square. And you really notice the trees as this happens.

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I have to say I wasn’t too aware of this on the few occasions I dared to cycle here before this cycling infrastructure had been built. Frankly, I was probably too busy worrying about drivers, and working out where the next potential hazard was going to come from, to properly engage with the scenery. Now, every time I cycle along here, I can relax and fully appreciate the difference these trees make to the urban environment. They are a softening, calming and sheltering presence that add greatly to the beauty of the city.

The Embankment is, unfortunately, something of a rarity for London though. Far too many roads and streets are not this well-endowed with trees, or indeed have no street trees at all. Blackfriars Road is also lovely to cycle on, thanks to a similar combination of cycling infrastructure and greenery.

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But you don’t have to look very far in London to find streets and roads that are barren.

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No trees on Victoria Street

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Nor here, amongst the remains of Superhighway 7

They’re usually barren for a reason – most of the street width is being used to accommodate the flow of motor traffic. Trees literally don’t fit, not without some repurposing of street space.

But even roads and streets that have recently been rebuilt are devoid of trees.

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No trees on the new Regent Street layout (and still a massive one-way road with no cycling infrastructure)

The new layout at Aldgate also

The new layout at Aldgate only seems to have managed to include a couple of trees

This is even true for roads that now have cycling infrastructure. For instance, it looks like a big opportunity has been missed to plant trees as part of the rebuild of Farringdon Street.

Much nicer, but couldn't we have had some trees here too?

Much nicer, but couldn’t we have had some trees here too?

By contrast, it strikes me that trees are an integral part of new street layouts and roads in Dutch cities like Utrecht. They are planned for, and it just happens.

Tne new road layout on Vredenburg has come with new trees

Tne new road layout on Vredenburg has come with new trees.

… As has the cycling infrastructure on St Jacobstraat

Indeed, reviewing my photographs of Utrecht, I’m struck by how universally green the city is. All of my photos have trees in them, without me even noticing at the time.

The city centre is full of trees.
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New street arrangements carefully retain existing trees, and make a feature of them.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 23.28.23Older cycle paths are, of course, accompanied by street trees – you can usually date them by the age of the trees. A few decades old, in the examples below.

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And, naturally, cycle paths in the countryside around Utrecht are framed with trees.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 23.25.58 Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 23.26.05There’s a practical, pragmatic reason for much of this effort – trees help to shelter people walking and cycling from the elements, be it wind, or rain, or sun. A dense line of trees really does make a difference if you are battling a crosswind, and it can stop you getting sunburnt, as well as keeping the worst of the rain off you.

But within urban areas this greenery is vitally important for aesthetic reasons, to soften the urban environment, and to make it calmer, more pleasant and attractive. I’m wondering why opportunities to include them in new road layouts in London – and perhaps elsewhere – are still being missed. Is it cost? Is it an unwillingness to allocate street space away from motor traffic, for these purposes? Or is factoring in greenery something that simply doesn’t appear at the design stage?

We seem keen enough on greenery that we’re apparently willing to spend £180m putting trees on a bridge in the middle of the river – so why are we failing to incorporate greenery into new roads and street designs whenever the opportunity presents itself, as well failing to add it to existing roads and streets?

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Bus stop bypasses – there is no alternative

It seems that Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are still pushing their extraordinary petition to block safe cycling infrastructure design on Westminster Bridge, apparently on ‘safety grounds’.

Concern is obviously fine, but the problem here is that GSTT are arguing against bus stop bypasses – even going so far as to threaten legal action – while conspicuously failing to suggest any reasonable alternative design to the one being proposed by Transport for London. And there’s a very good reason for this.

There isn’t any reasonable alternative.

If you don’t build bus stop bypasses – putting the bus stop on an island, with cycling routed between that island and the footway – you are left with two options.

The first is what I would call ‘business as usual’; mixing people cycling with buses and heavy traffic on the road.

Cycling on the road, at the location where cycling infrastructure is proposed on Westminster Bridge

Cycling on the road, at the location where cycling infrastructure is proposed on Westminster Bridge

This is far from acceptable even for existing users, let alone for the non-cycling demographic that we should be building cycling infrastructure for – children, the elderly, and so on, the kind of people you rarely see cycling in London, because the road conditions, and because of the lack of cycling infrastructure like that being proposed by Transport for London on Westminster Bridge. The people who want to cycle, but can’t, because of conditions like those shown in the photograph above, and who do when infrastructure is provided.

Just for clarity, three people have been killed or seriously injured cycling on this eastern section of the bridge since 2006, including a woman in her fifties, who was killed in January 2006.

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The other alternative, if we don’t build bus stop bypasses, is simply mixing cycling with walking on the footway. As it happens, this is currently the existing situation on the footway outside Guy’s and St Thomas’.

A hire bike user, cycling entirely legally on the footway outside Guy's and St Thomas'

A hire bike user, cycling entirely legally on the footway outside Guy’s and St Thomas’

I don’t think this is acceptable at all; it’s not acceptable for people with visual impairment, or indeed for anyone walking or cycling along here. It’s not good enough. People walking and cycling should be separated from each other, on the grounds of both safety and convenience.

And that’s it. Those are the only two alternatives, if you refuse to build bus stop bypasses. You either expose people cycling to unacceptable levels of danger on the carriageway (while simultaneously limiting cycling as a transport option to the existing narrow demographic willing to cycle in hostile conditions), or you mix them with pedestrians on the footway. There is no magic solution that is waiting to be discovered.

This is why Guy’s and St Thomas’ posturing on this issue is deeply silly. There is no alternative. So instead of trying to block bus stop bypasses altogether, they need to work constructively with Transport for London on ensuring that the design of the bypasses is as safe for all potential users as is possible.

Please do also read Joe Dunkley’s piece on this issue, and sign the petition

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Going bi-directional

The best of the new cycling infrastructure in London is almost entirely composed of bi-directional cycleways, placed on one side of the road. This includes pretty much the entirety of CS3 and CS6 – the former running from Parliament Square to Tower Hill, the latter from Elephant and Castle to just north of Ludgate Circus.

Bi-directional cycleways are often not the best design solution, but the decision to go with bi-directional cycleways is not an accident. Undoubtedly people at Transport for London have thought long and hard about the best way to implement cycling infrastructure given current UK constraints, and have plumped for two-way as the most sensible approach.

To be clear, bi-directional cycleways do have serious downsides – they can lead to more conflict at side roads as cycles will be coming from unexpected directions, and pedestrians in particular may find them harder to deal with. Head-on collisions with other people cycling are also more likely. On ‘conventional’ streets – one lane of motor traffic in each direction – uni-directional cycleways are clearly preferable, all other things being equal.

However, bi-directional cycleways do also have advantages, and one in particular that has probably swayed the decision-makers in London. It’s touched upon in this excellent summary of the advantages and disadvantages of bi-directional and uni-directional approaches by Paul James

Depending on the roadway in question you could have less junctions to deal with, if you have many turnings on one side of the road, running a bi-directional cycleway on the opposite side so as to save on conflicts might be a good idea.

This is clearly the reasoning behind putting a bi-directional cycleway on the ‘river’ side of the Embankment. There are no junctions to deal with, cycling in either direction, so even though people are cycling on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, heading east, that’s a lot safer (and also more convenient) than having to deal with all the side roads that do exist on the non-river side of the road.

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Cycling on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, heading east. But no side roads to deal with, so safer, and more convenient.

But this isn’t the only type of conflict-avoidance that explains why bi-directional cycleways have been chosen in London. Bi-directional cycleways also reduce conflicts at junctions that have to be signalised, by ‘bundling up’ all the cycle flows on one side of the road. This is actually very important, thanks to the limitations of current UK rules, and it’s the subject of this post.

In all the countries in mainland Europe (and also in Canada and the United States) it is an accepted principle that motor traffic turning right (the equivalent of our left) with a green signal should yield to pedestrians (and people cycling) progressing ahead, also with a green signal. Here’s a typical example in Paris; the driver is turning off the main road, with a green signal, but pedestrians also have a green signal to cross at the same time. The driver should yield (and is).

Two 'conflicting' greens, circled

Two ‘conflicting’ greens, circled

This approach actually makes junctions very straightforward, and efficient. A complete cycle of the traffic lights at a conventional crossroads requires only two stages to handle all the movements of people walking, cycling and driving. In the first, walking, cycling and driving all proceed north-south (with all ‘turning’ movements yielding to ‘straight on’ movements), and in the second, the same, but in the east-west direction.

Motor vehicles, red arrows; cycling, blue; pedestrians, green

Motor vehicles, red arrows; cycling, blue; pedestrians, green

Compare that with a typical UK junction, which will have three stages (if it takes account of pedestrians at all) and ignores cycling altogether, lumping it in with motor traffic. First, motor traffic (with cycling included in it) going north-south; then, motor traffic heading east-west; then pedestrians finally get a go on the third stage, with all other movements held.

Motor vehicles in red; pedestrians in green

Motor vehicles in red; pedestrians in green

This arrangement obviously doesn’t allow any turning conflicts (apart, of course, from motor vehicles crossing each other’s paths) – pedestrians don’t get to cross the road until all motor traffic is stopped, with an additional third stage. (This is, effectively, a ‘simultaneous green’ for pedestrians, although we are rarely generous enough to give pedestrians sufficient signal time to cross the junction on the diagonal).

And this gives us a clue to the problem when it comes to adding in cycling, when these kinds of turning conflicts aren’t allowed. You either have to add in stages where motor traffic is prevented from turning, or you have to stop pedestrians from crossing the road while cyclists are moving. Both of these approaches would add in a large amount of signal time, and would make for inefficient junctions.

One possible answer is including cycling in the ‘simultaneous green’ stage, but with sensible design – cycles moving from all arms of the junction at the same time as pedestrians have their green, and pedestrians crossing cycleways on zebra crossings. For whatever reason (from what I hear, DfT resistance) this kind of junction is still not appearing in the UK, forcing highway engineers to improvise within the constraints of the current rules. As Transport for London have done.

If we are trying to build uni-directional cycleways, those UK rules effectively mean we either have to ban turns for motor traffic, or we have to employ very large junctions indeed, to handle signalising different movements. Take the Cambridge Heath junction on Superhighway 2, which has to use three queuing lanes for motor traffic in each direction. One for the left turns (which have to be held while cyclists and motor traffic progress ahead), one for straight ahead, and one for right turns (which have to be separate from straight ahead movements, otherwise the junction will clog up).

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That’s an awful lot of space when you add in the cycling infrastructure – space not many junctions in urban areas will have.

In an ideal world – and with sensible priority rules – these junctions could just be shrunk down to two queuing lanes in each direction. A left turning lane combined with a straight ahead lane, and a right turn lane. All these lanes would run at the same time as cycle traffic progressing ahead (as well as pedestrians), with the left turners yielding.

Unsurprisingly this is – of course – how the Dutch arrange this kind of junction.

A typical Dutch junction with separated cycling infrastructure (flipped for clarity)

A typical Dutch junction with separated cycling infrastructure (flipped for clarity). Motor traffic from this arm will have a green in all directions at the same time as cycling running in parallel.

This is much more compact than the kind of ‘Cambridge Heath’-style junction that we are forced to employ in Britain.

But, given that we unfortunately can’t do this, and that we rarely have the kind of space available that there is on Superhighway 2, bi-directional cycleways are the most obvious answer. As I hinted at in the introduction, this is why they’ve been used by Transport for London – they’re not stupid!

Let’s take one of the junctions on the North-South superhighway, at Ludgate Circus. Space here is much more limited than on CS2 – we can’t add in multiple turning lanes – so that means, given the constraints of UK rules, a bi-directional cycleway is the most sensible option.

'Ahead' movements running in parallel with 'ahead' movements for cycling

‘Ahead’ movements running in parallel with ‘ahead’ movements for cycling. (Arranged with North at the top).

Only two queuing lanes for motor traffic are required, in each direction, making this arrangement much more compact. It helps, of course, that a bi-directional cycleway is more space-efficient than two uni-directional ones, but the main win here is the fact that all the potential conflicts are ‘bundled’ on one side of the road. That means motor traffic flowing south doesn’t have turning conflicts on the inside.

Clearly, as I’ve outlined early on in this post, bi-directional cycleways will, more often than not, be less desirable than uni-directional ones, in urban areas. But they are currently – thanks to UK rules – probably the best way of building inclusive cycling infrastructure when space is genuinely limited, as they are the simplest way of side-stepping around British priority rules. (An additional benefit is that they will typically only involve converting, at most, a single lane of motor traffic, which helps when it comes to persuading reluctant local authorities worried about retaining capacity for drivers.)

Perhaps the way forward is to continue building bi-directional cycleways, but keeping in mind the possibility of adapting bi-directional designs into uni-directional ones, if and when UK rules become more flexible, or if and when ‘simultaneous green’ arrangements start to appear.

Posted in Department for Transport, Infrastructure, London, The Netherlands | 36 Comments

The 25 percenters

So I have to write a tedious blogpost about the story of a nonsense statistic, a statistic that appears in the Begg report covered in yesterday’s blog post.

Namely, the claim that Mayor Boris Johnson exacerbated the problem of congestion in London

by removing the western extension of the congestion zone and by reducing road capacity in central London by 25% on key routes through the introduction of cycle superhighways [my emphasis]

Elsewhere in the report [p.26] this claim is even wilder –

… by removing the western extension of the congestion zone and by reducing road capacity in central London by 25% through the introduction of cycle superhighways 

I’m not even going to bother with that one, because it’s so plainly ludicrous (at best only 3% of roads in central London have protected cycleways) and because it is most likely the result of a mistaken omission of ‘on key routes’.

But even the former claim is mysterious. Given that there are effectively just a handful of new superhighways in central London – CS5, CS6, CS3 and parts of CS2, how on earth has a figure of ‘reducing road capacity in central London on key routes by 25%’ been arrived at?

Charitably, we might interpret the claim as being a reduction in capacity on some key routes in central London by 25%. (This is an explanation some of those who have disseminated the statistic are desperately falling back on). But if that was the claim that was being made, why isn’t the word ‘some’ actually included, anywhere in the report where this claim is repeatedly made?

Further, in the context of the passage, the implication is quite clear – road capacity has been reduced on key routes by (allegedly) 25% overall, enough to justify comment. To put this another way, if road capacity had been reduced on just a handful of main roads, why on earth would that merit comment in a passage about London-wide congestion? This attempt at an explanation is incoherent.

We then come to the problem of ‘key routes’ themselves. Funnily enough TfL were careful to avoid ‘key routes’ for buses as much as possible when they build the E-W and N-S Superhighways, as you can see from this map of key bus routes, spotted by Jono Kenyon.

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These high-profile interventions barely co-exist with these key bus routes, using routes where there is relatively little (or no) TfL bus activity. If there has been a reduction of 25% on ‘key routes’ it isn’t the ones buses are using. The Embankment, which has seen a reduction in the number of motor traffic lanes (a very different thing from capacity) from 4 to 3 (a potential source for a ‘25%’ claim) is very much not a key route for buses.

So where did this dubious statistic even come from in the first place? The answer (thanks to some digging by Carlton Reid and Peter Walker) appears to be from a Transport for London presentation made by Helen Cansick to the London Travel Watch board, on May the 12th last year.

… the 25 percent statistic is not as robust as it was portrayed in the bus report. For a start, it’s not from a written source. Professor Begg told BikeBiz:

“The statistic comes from Transport for London. Helen Canswick of TfL network management gave a presentation to London TravelWatch at which she was asked what the reduction traffic capacity would be as a result of roads modernisation. She told members they had modelled a reduction of network capacity in the central area of 25 percent.”

Extraordinarily Begg himself confirms here that “the statistic” is actually about reduction in capacity due to the road modernisation programmea programme that encompasses improvements for cycling, but also public realm schemes and improvements for walking and public transport – and, err, road schemes.

This much is plain when we look at the minutes of the meeting during which the Canswick presentation was made.

The Policy Officer asked what the total reduction in road capacity would be under the modernisation plan. Ms Cansick said that following completion in December 2016 there would be a reduction of road capacity for motor vehicles of 25% within the inner ring road.

Exactly the same statistic that Begg says he used (albeit erroneously). Who might this Policy Officer be?

Vincent Stops is of course a London TravelWatch policy officer, one who was present at that meeting, and clearly the person who passed the ‘25%’ statistic on to Professor Begg.

The only remaining question is at what point a figure about 25% reduction due to TfL’s overall road modernisation programme became converted into a 25% reduction due specifically to cycling infrastructure, as the claim appeared in Begg’s report.


Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Class war

If by any chance you’ve missed it, do please read Paul Gannon’s forensic analysis of a report produced by David Begg for Greener Journeys, entitled ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers’. I don’t really need to add much to what Paul has written; he has done a great job wading through the detail of a report that has some fairly odd things to say about cycling.

However, there is a curious case of repetition that bears further scrutiny. This paragraph appears on page 30 in the Begg report –

What is less well-known is how relatively affluent cyclists in London are compared with bus passengers. Transport for London describes the London cyclist as “typically white, under 40, male with medium to high household income”. A report by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Transport & Health Group in 2011 describes cycling in London as disproportionately an activity of white, affluent men.

It’s a passage that corresponds closely to this one in a Dave Hill piece from October last year

study by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) published in 2011, explores why in London “cycling is disproportionately an activity of affluent, white men” or, as Transport for London (TfL), has put it, why the London cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income.”

Exactly the same two sources on class, gender and ethnicity and, more tellingly, exactly the same two quoted passages, from those two sources. These are essentially two identical paragraphs, barring some shuffling and switching of words.

Coincidence? That seems extraordinarily unlikely, given a) the wealth of material out there on class and ethnicity, b) the age and relative obscurity of both of these sources, and c) the small chance of these two identical quotes being plucked from them. The blindingly obvious explanation is that exactly the same person has supplied exactly the same two sources to these two different parties, who have both parroted it uncritically.

This wouldn’t matter if the evidence being cited was convincing. However, (and sadly for both Hill and Begg) it isn’t.

As Paul points out, these sources are being used by Begg to present ‘cyclists’ as a more influential lobby than bus users by virtue of their class and wealth; to argue that they have more ‘power’ than bus users and are hence able to twist the urban transport agenda to their advantage more effectively than bus lobbyists. The section on cycling affluence in the Begg report follows closely after this assertion –

The more affluent and generally well-educated the traveller, the more vocal and powerful a lobby they form to be able to effect change that is advantageous to their choice of mode.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they appear to be being fed exactly the same information, this is also a line of argument used by Hill.

And this fairly explicit agenda was ‘recycled’ in an extraordinary TransportXtra piece that extends the class-based argument to Britain as a whole.

Unfortunately – at least as far as London is concerned – this ‘argument of power’ is far from persuasive. Even if we accept that the cycling demographic in the capital is ‘dominated’ by influential middle class professionals, the number of people cycling in London is still tiny relative to those taking the bus (a point that bus lobbyists are of course more than happy to point out). Around ten times more journeys are made by bus every day in London, compared to the number that are cycled. This means that the number of middle class professionals taking the bus in London will far outweigh the number of middle class professionals who cycle, given that ‘bus passengers are not primarily those on lower incomes, but are representative of the profile of Londoners.

What we are left with, then, is the deeply implausible assertion that the ‘influentialness’ of a middle class professional transport lobby flows not from its actual size but from the extent to which it ‘dominates’ its mode of transport. By this logic, if a town has just 100 cyclists (70 of whom are middle class professionals), and 1000 bus users (500 of whom are middle class professionals), its ‘cycle lobby’ will be more influential than its ‘bus lobby’. Make of that what you will.

We might also point out that ‘the London bus lobby’ isn’t simply composed of bus users; it’s also composed of large and relatively powerful bus companies – companies like Stagecoach (2015 revenue, £3.2bn; operating profit, £225m), Abellio (a subsidiary of the Dutch national railways group) and Arriva (a subsidiary of the German national railways group). By comparison, the London cycling lobby has… well, membership organisations like the London Cycling Campaign, and individual campaigners and bloggers. If this motley lot are more influential than bus companies, then I’m a Dutchman.

As for the evidence itself used to make the claims for the wealthiness, whiteness (and therefore influence-mongering ability) of the cycling demographic, well, it is unconvincing. As Paul observes in his piece, the statistic ‘only 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycled compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000’ doesn’t even appear in this study – it appears in another study (this one) that is merely referenced by the first LSTHM study. Paul points out how this statistic has been presented omitting the detail that, in households with an income of £15,000-£35,000, the cyclist percentage is virtually identical to that in households earning over £35,000 – 2.1%, compared to 2.2%. Even if we take these kinds of differences seriously, they really are negligible in the context of overall cycling share – see how these statistics look when they are presented as below.


A 0.1-0.6% difference between household income groups isn’t the issue.

Remember, it is actually being argued here that almost imperceptible differences between income groups at very low overall levels of cycling somehow makes the cycling lobby influential.

Cycling is not ‘disproportionately’ an activity of the affluent. Unfortunately, nor is it ‘disproportionately’ an activity of ‘whites’. More recent TfL research – from last year, not from 2011 – found that ‘cycling levels among BAME Londoners and white Londoners are very similar’ and that ‘there is also very little difference between white and BAME Londoners in frequency of cycling’.

The evidence that cycling is ‘disproportionately’ the activity of allegedly more influential members of society is weak or absent, and even if were present, the theory of ‘cycling influence’ fails to explain how an allegedly powerful cycle lobby is so influential despite being so relatively tiny compared to the numbers of similarly influential people taking the bus.

So here’s the thing. If bus groups want to lobby for more bus priority, they should do exactly that. They should lobby for bus lanes at the expense of private motor traffic, not at the expense of cycling. Crucially, they should be arguing for these bus lanes alongside cycleways, rather than instead of them. If you are concerned about the flow of buses, bus lanes full of people cycling are not efficient, and if you are not providing cycleways, that is where the people cycling will be. They won’t disappear into thin air; they will be in your bus lanes, holding up your buses.

So I’d like to see a bus lobby that is arguing for the right things – a coherent, fast system of bus priority at the expense of private motor traffic, rather than at the expense of cycling. I don’t want to see a bus lobby that is relying on dubious sources to launch a misguided and counterproductive class war against other modes of transport.

Posted in Bus lanes, buses, Transport for London | 16 Comments