In the way

What is it about cycling in front of motor vehicles that makes for an unpleasant experience?

This is a pertinent question in the light of a number of related issues – principally, how we should go about designing for cycling (and the design of the public realm in general), but also how we should train people to cycle, how cycling and motoring should work as distinct modes of transport, and how advances in car technology might affect cycling.

The last issue relates to driverless cars. Last week saw the release of an official Department for Transport review into this technology. This review was rumoured to contain suggestions that the Highway Code may need to be changed, rumours encapsulated by this rather strange Daily Telegraph article on Tuesday –

The Highway Code may need to be re-written to stop driverless cars from bringing Britain’s city centres to a halt, an official review will say.

Passing distances between cyclists and pedestrians may have to be changed to prevent robot vehicles clogging up roads across the country. Under the current Highway Code, drivers are expected to leave as much room as they would leave for a car when overtaking cyclists. There are fears driverless cars could be left crawling behind cyclists for miles as they wait for enough space to overtake if the rules are not changed.

The implication here being that driverless cars programmed to obey the rules set out in the Highway Code – and thus programmed to overtake in accordance with the Highway Code, moving entirely into the next lane to overtake, as per Rule 163 – will cause gridlock.

Rule 163

Rule 163

I’m not entirely sure whether this is true, of course. Opportunities to overtake properly do present themselves, and if they are absent (when traffic is that heavy), then issues of delay and inconvenience are probably being caused by an excess of motor traffic. In urban areas, being genuinely stuck behind someone cycling at 10-15 miles an hour might only amount to arriving at the next red light, or queue of motor traffic, slightly later.

But equally it may be true that motorists will be delayed in many instances, stuck behind people cycling – which isn’t particularly attractive for either mode, as will be discussed below.

As it turns out, the DfT Review itself didn’t contain any of this speculation, only the mild

The Highway Code may need to be updated in due course to take into account the use of highly automated vehicles on the roads. It may be necessary to wait until experience has been gained with these vehicles and possibly research has been conducted into the interactions between such vehicles and other road users.

… with no mention of gridlock, ‘clogging’, ‘crawling’, or overtaking.

Nevertheless, this issue of how driverless cars will behave does raise broader issues of policy, and about how cycling should be designed for. The discussion actually draws into focus the fact that something is already fundamentally wrong with the way our roads and streets accommodate cycling and driving, even with our current low levels of cycling. Putting cycling and driving in the same space on main roads simply makes no sense at a strategic level – both modes of transport will impede each other, in different ways.

For instance, if we are aiming for cycling to be a mode of transport accessible to anyone, this will inevitably mean that cycling will increasingly be dominated by people who are cycling more slowly than those who are cycling at present. Does it make sense to place these people in front of motor traffic, either from the perspective of the person driving, or of the person pedalling in front of them? Equally, does it make sense to place queues of motor traffic in the way of people cycling?

These are issues that are already emerging in relation to cycling in bus lanes. Tentative research suggests that with increasing cycling levels, putting buses and cycling in the same space simply won’t work, for either mode – a problem recognised by Transport for London themselves

with or without the Cycle Vision investment – population growth, increased cycling levels and increased traffic flows are likely to result in delays occurring for general traffic and buses in central London (if not mitigated). [my emphasis]

More research is obviously required, but even from a ‘common sense’ standpoint, it is plain that high cycling levels in bus lanes are incompatible with an efficient bus service. Buses should be travelling at smooth speeds between bus stops; that’s not going to be possible if bus lanes are clogged with people cycling at slower speeds. (This is to say nothing of the inconvenience and unpleasantness from the perspective of the person cycling).

I suspect that these kinds of issues – both cycling in bus lanes, and the broader issue of cycling with motor traffic – have not been addressed until now principally because cycling has been such a minority mode of transport – with so few people cycling – its impacts on other traffic didn’t need to be considered.

But equally it is likely that the issues have been ignored because our highway engineers have expected people cycling to behave like motor traffic, and also because our politicians, planners and engineers are seemingly happy to completely ignore the needs of those who are not willing or able to cycle like motor traffic – those people who aren’t cycling, but want to. Dishonesty about the fact that cycling and motoring are entirely different modes of transport is politically convenient. The ‘driverless car issue’ is exposing some of that dishonesty, even if the issues and problems are being exaggerated for journalistic effect.

I’ve already written about how the reactions to driverless car technology – both from cycling campaigners, and from those with an interest in driving – will be entirely different in the Netherlands, principally because this is a country that, sensibly, already treats cycling and driving as distinct modes of transport. Consistent application of the principles of sustainable safety – homogeneity of mass, speed and direction, in particular – means that it does not really make any difference who is driving motor vehicles, humans or computers. Cycling and driving are separated from each other where it matters, and only mixed where it doesn’t.

Cycling separated from motor traffic on through roads

Cycling separated from motor traffic on through roads

Cycling is only mixed with driving in low traffic areas, access roads where policy has limited or removed through traffic

… And only mixed with driving in low traffic areas, access roads where policy has limited or removed through traffic

In short, cycling is not in the way of driving, and driving is not in the way of cycling.

Consequently the issues that are provoking discussion in Britain are absent. With or without the presence of driverless cars, the Dutch system is one we should moving towards, simply because it makes sense. Not only does it make cycling (and indeed driving) considerably safer, it also makes both these modes of transport easier and more pleasant. In particular, from a cycling perspective, interactions with motor vehicles are minimised or even eliminated, and that makes a big difference to how enjoyable it is to cycle around.

The contrast with Britain could not be more stark, where something called the ‘primary position’ is official cycle training policy – a policy that explicitly involves cycling in front of motor vehicles, not because this is attractive or pleasant, but in an attempt to mitigate the consequences of bad road design.

To take just one of a million potential examples up and down the country, cycling in the ‘primary position’ on Pall Mall, below, is, thanks to a crappy new design, an absolute necessity. Failing to do so means you risk being squeezed against parked vehicles by overtaking traffic, and/or being ‘doored’. The only safe way to cycle here is to put yourself in front of drivers, deliberately stopping them from overtaking.

Cycling in front of motor vehicles is a safe strategy here

Cycling directly  in front of motor vehicles is the only safe strategy here.

This isn’t good for cycling, or for driving. Forcing people to cycle ‘in the way’ of people driving to keep themselves safe is not good policy.

This design on Pall Mall is probably only accidentally awful – I doubt whether the engineers seriously considered how cycling would even work on this street. Yet placing people in front of motor traffic on main roads continues to be a deliberate feature of new street design.

We have public realm designers –  in reference to designs that explicitly place motorists behind people cycling – describing those people cycling as ‘lock gates… effectively monitoring the speed of motor traffic.‘ That is – putting people in the way.

And, more recently, Urban Design London published guidance, suggesting that

Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow

Again, deliberately placing people in the way, to slow traffic.

There is some logic here – let’s put a slow mode of transport in front of a faster one, and attempt to prevent that faster one from overtaking the slower one, in order to slow down the faster one – but important issues appear to be being ducked completely. Mainly

  • whether this deliberate mixing approach is actually any safer than one that separates cycling from driving on main roads
  • how attractive it might be for the person cycling to be placed in front of motor traffic (and indeed what proportion of the population are even willing to cycle in this way)
  • how ethical it is to use people as a traffic calming device, rather than – say – physical measures
  • whether these kinds of designs actually foster frustration and resentment, instead of allowing people to ‘engage better’

I’ve already touched upon the Dutch approach of sustainable safety, which seeks to reduce the severity of collisions by aiming towards homogeneity (or uniformity) of mass and momentum (and direction). Fast objects, and heavy objects, should not be sharing the same road space as slower ones, or lighter ones. By contrast, ‘mixing’ cycling with objects that carry considerably greater mass and momentum can have disastrous consequences.

The unattractiveness of cycling directly in front of motor traffic rests not just with the innate uncomfortableness of being in front of a large heavy object that can do you harm. Psychologically, I don’t think anyone likes to be ‘in the way’ – causing inconvenience or delay to others. Just as it is natural to want to be able to make progress on foot, or on bike, or while driving, so the flip side of that coin, for empathetic human beings, is that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at obstructing the progress of others. Even if we could persuade the general population that it’s a good idea to cycle in front of motor traffic, it would be very hard to persuade them that it is actually enjoyable or pleasant, for these reasons.

We can already see this at play in those (allegedly) ‘shared space’ streets that function as through routes. Here, despite the obvious design intention of encouraging pedestrians to walk freely where they want, the subjective unpleasantness of walking in front of motor traffic, coupled presumably with an unwillingness to obstruct drivers, leads almost inevitably to streets that are not really shared at all – streets that function like conventional streets, albeit with pretty paving.

Not much sharing. It's easier and more pleasant to walk where you are not in the way

Not much sharing. It’s easier and more pleasant to walk where you are not in the way

People on foot, or on bike, do not take too kindly to being treated as traffic-calming devices. There are a whole host of measures we can employ to slow down motor traffic, that don’t involve placing people in the way of it, including

  • narrow carriageways;
  • removal of centre lines;
  • speed humps and speed tables;
  • cobbled or rough surfacing; 
  • small radius corners;
  • introducing corners, or bends;

And so on. Beyond these self-reinforcing measures, we can even employ enforcement of existing speed limits. These measures involve physical objects and design (and potential conflict with other motor vehicles) to slow drivers down, rather than potential conflict with soft, squishy and unprotected human beings.

Finally, there is the question of whether this kind of approach – deliberately placing people in the way – actually achieves the kind of harmony and good feeling it is purported to. Rather than creating a calm environment, having to trundle behind someone cycling ‘in the way’ could actually foster resentment and frustration, leading to hostile (and potentially dangerous) driving.

So for all these reasons, we should be endeavouring to treat cycling as a distinct mode of transport, with its own network, separate from a driving network, to reduce the extent to which these two modes of transport are ‘in the way’ of each other.

But unfortunately Britain has something of a problematic legacy among cycle campaigners, in that measures to separate out conflict between driving and cycling are framed as getting cycling out of the way of driving, or a ‘surrender’ of the road network. These issues have been covered before at length in that post, and also in this one by David Arditti. At root is an almost umbilical tethering of cycling as a mode of transport with the convenience of motoring; every kind of policy with regard to cycling is viewed through the prism of how it might affect driving.

But this is actually really quite unhelpful, especially when it results in a failure to focus clearly on the kinds of policies that would actually make cycling more attractive to ordinary people. Being ‘in the way’ of motoring is not attractive.

Nor does this kind of attitude make any kind of sense. We don’t think this way in relation to other modes of transport, beyond cycling. We don’t consider how to design for walking through the prism of how it might affect driving; we simply go about creating good routes that feel safe, are convenient, and attractive. The potential impacts on driving of these walking environments are neither here nor there, nor should they be. We don’t think about the fact that walking might be ‘out of the way’ of motoring, because that’s a nonsensical way of looking at things. Walking can be prioritised, even if it is ‘out of the way’.

And precisely the same is true of cycling. We are seeing, with the tremendous political battles to get the first major cycling routes built on main roads in central London, that separating cycling from driving on these roads is itself a way of prioritising cycling, even if this mode is ‘out of the way’ of driving. Not only is capacity for motor vehicles being reduced, but also cycling will become a smoother and more direct mode of transport, absent from conflict with motor traffic, and with reduced delay. No longer being ‘in the way’ is actually beneficial, even if we don’t consider the added benefits of greatly improved safety, and comfort.

The tremendous breakthrough represented by these routes in London is an emergence of designing for cycling in its own right; considering what intervention is required for cycling on each and every road or street to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. On many streets (perhaps the great majority) this will involve changing their nature; turning them into access roads, rather than through roads. But on others – the roads that remain as through routes – it will inevitably involve separating cycling from driving. Treating cycling a distinct mode of transport isn’t anything to do with being in, or out of, the way.

Posted in Cycling policy, Infrastructure, London, Shared Space, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 23 Comments

A timely reminder from Thames Valley Police

The tired stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are especially prone to lawbreaking really isn’t going to go away if public bodies like police forces persist in employing it.

Take this today from Thames Valley Police’s Roads Policing Twitter account –

Would the same Twitter account post this (equivalent) piece of ‘public information’?

Remember motorists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031

No, because that would be nonsense. Someone driving doesn’t stand out from ‘other road users’  in failing to realise they must obey traffic signs and lights. They already know they have to obey them, and when they break speed limits, or jump red lights, or ignore parking restrictions, or talk on their mobile phone, they do so knowing that they are breaking rules, while hoping that they can get away with it. They are not breaking rules because they think they have some kind of special exemption as a ‘motorist’, a misconception upon which they need correcting by Thames Valley Police.

‘Ha! Those other road users are saps! They have to obey laws while I, as a motorist, have liberty to pick and choose which rules I obey!’ 

That, however, is the implication of  the tweet that @tvprp actually posted. That ‘cyclists’ think they have some kind of special exemption to break rules – that they believe themselves to be above the law, and that consequently they needed to be ‘reminded’ of their obligation to obey rules.

It’s total bollocks, of course, but nevertheless a revealing insight into the mindset of a copper who has obviously just seen someone trundling on the pavement, or through a red light, or up a one-way street, and then instead of thinking to themselves –

Oh look, there’s someone breaking the law, who happens to be on a bike. I’ll take a considered, rational assessment of the danger they were posing to themselves and other road users, and have a quiet word.

… instead thought –

Oh look, there’s another typical cyclist who thinks they are above the law, and doesn’t need to obey the rules, because they’re on two wheels. I’m going to post a sermon on Twitter about the behaviour of this entire group of road users.

As I’ve argued before, it’s preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’, because a ‘cyclist’ is an ordinary human being who happens to be using a particular mode of transport, at a given moment. At another moment, that same person could be a pedestrian, a motorist, a ‘train-ist’ or a ‘bus-ist’. Any propensity to lawbreaking, or a belief to be above road rules, cannot be an innate characteristic of ‘cyclists’, because such a group simply doesn’t exist, any more than ‘plane passengers’ can be described as having particular characteristics that distinguish themselves from other human beings.

The individual behind the Thames Valley Police Twitter account evidently thinks differently – that ‘cyclists’, unlike ‘other road users’, need to be reminded that laws must be obeyed.

Not only is this drivel, I think it’s actually very dangerous drivel, because it reinforces in the public mind the (stereotyped) notion that ‘cyclists’ are somehow less worthy of consideration because they are lawbreakers, because they are ‘self-righteous’ and consider themselves to be above rules. On a number of occasions I have had poor, inconsiderate and even dangerous driving around me justified (or ‘justified’) on the basis that ‘you’ (or ‘you lot’) jump red lights, or terrorise grannies on pavements (see the opening paragraphs here for just one of these instances).

I think it’s pretty shameful that a public body which should be aiming to keep all road users safe is actually serving to endorse these harmful attitudes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Total inconsistency from the Royal Parks

I can’t really add much to Cyclists in the City’s excellent and thorough analysis of the problems facing the East-West Superhighway route through the Royal Parks – problems, it seems, that are entirely being caused by the Royal Parks themselves, as the Evening Standard reports.

But I would like to examine the apparent rationale tharee Royal Parks are advancing for blocking a separated route for cycling, on the existing carriageway – a route that would look like this, in the visualisation that Transport for London have already prepared.

How the route would look, if it wasn't being blocked by the Royal Parks

How the route would look, if it wasn’t being blocked by the Royal Parks

As is clear from this visualisation, the route would run on existing road space, separated from motor traffic by what look like removable wands, visible on the right of the image.

It is very important to note here that the Royal Parks are not actually objecting to the principle of a Superhighway running through this area; their objection is specifically about the form cycling provision should take.

As the Superhighway comes down Constitution Hill, instead of running it on the road, the Royal Parks want the route to pass directly through this area of shared use, shown below, at the foot of Green Park.

DSCN0040

The existing area of shared use at the south side of Green Park. This is where the Royal Parks want the Superhighway to go.

This is already a very busy area, heaving with pedestrians who are coming to and from the Palace, or making their way from Hyde Park into central London. I don’t think mixing cycling and walking here works at all, even at present – the numbers of people walking and cycling here are just too high.

Yet the Royal Parks are apparently proposing that this shared footway is appropriate for what will likely be one the busiest cycle routes in London, pushing more people cycling into this area.

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially when – just over that wall, visible in the picture above – there is an ocean of road space that could quite easily be used for a protected cycle route, without having any effect on motor traffic, while simultaneously keeping cycling and walking separated from each other at this very busy location.

The 2014 Parliamentary Bike Ride, passing along TfL's preferred route for the Superhighway.

The 2014 Parliamentary Bike Ride, passing along TfL’s preferred route for the Superhighway. As you can see, there is a vast expanse of tarmac here that can easily accommodate a cycling route.

Locating the cycling route here would therefore actually represent a considerable improvement for pedestrians, because cycling would no longer be mixed in with walking on the existing shared use footway. These issues are summarised very well by Andrew Gilligan in the early part of this BBC report from Tom Edwards.

So what is the reasoning the Royal Parks are employing for blocking a segregated track on the road, and insisting that the crap status quo should be maintained (and indeed worsened, through the addition of more cycle traffic into a shared use area)?

All we have to go on at present are the minutes of their Board meeting back in December, at which Andrew Gilligan and Transport for London representatives were present (thanks to Jon Stone, for uploading them) –

TfL set out the consultation concept designs for the east-west cycle superhighway within the Royal Parks. The Board agreed that TfL could undertake public consultation on the proposed road based scheme through Hyde Park. The proposals for St James and Green Parks were not satisfactory for safety, operational and aesthetic reasons. The Board asked TfL to look again at the concept design and come back with revisions and mitigations.

Unspecified ‘safety, operational and aesthetic reasons’.

I have to say it is not especially clear why an expanse of tarmac is more aesthetically pleasing if it is entirely used for motor traffic – perhaps the Royal Parks could provide more explanation. The ‘operational’ reasons don’t make a great deal of sense either, as we’ve known for some time that the segregation at this location would have to be removable, for events.

As for ‘safety’, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to pretend that running a busy cycle route directly through an area of footway used by huge numbers of pedestrians is safer than separating that cycle route from those pedestrians, by using excess carriageway space.

The total inconsistency of the Royal Parks on this issue is betrayed by the fact that they are simultaneously insisting that it is not safe for the Superhighway to run along Rotten Row –

In response to Royal Parks Agency concerns about pedestrians, the superhighway will not run on Rotten Row

Because of… concerns about pedestrians!

How can the Royal Parks profess concern for conflict between walking and cycling in Hyde Park, while simultaneously blocking a Superhighway route by Buckingham Palace that would serve to remove that conflict?

Posted in Andrew Gilligan, Evening Standard, Infrastructure, London, Royal Parks, Superhighways, Walking | 17 Comments

Marginal gains

There was a anair bit of discussion last week about the value – or lack of value – of promotional marketing campaigns related to cycling. On the one hand, we had the view that any kind of policy, promotional or otherwise, that purports to increase cycling levels is a good thing. On the other, we had the view that these policies are largely pointless without the kinds of conditions on the ground to enable cycling; safe, convenient, attractive and direct routes.

Those who take the former view argue that every little thing helps. Therefore every little thing is good. The phrase ‘marginal gains’ is even employed, echoing Team Sky’s strategy of improving in all areas of performance, to extract maximum benefit. By this logic, glossy promotion is a ‘marginal gain’, a boost to cycling, alongside cycleways. This view, I think, is summarised below, in the words of Carlton Reid

Sir Dave Brailsford’s system of aggregating marginal gain is an example from cycle sport that demonstrates that great things can come from lots of little tweaks. I want brilliant, Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK. I don’t want yet more ‘crap cycle lanes’. I’m not holding my breath. Nevertheless I will campaign long and hard for such infrastructure, as I have been doing for the best part of 30 years.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was Amsterdam’s cycle infrastructure. Before we get a UK version of the wonderful Dutch National Cycling Plan there are many smaller fixes that the UK Government and local authorities could do tomorrow.

By all means aim for the big stuff, but let’s not ignore lots and lots of the little stuff. That’s why I’ve started the Twitter hashtag #nudges4cycling Some great, simple fixes have already started arriving and I’ll compile a list of these to give to the Department for Transport and other relevant Departments.

Marketing presumably being one of these ‘nudges’.

However this ‘marginal gains’ analogy is deeply flawed. Team Sky are applying the aggregation of ‘marginal gains’ while their riders are using extremely expensive Pinarello bikes, honed in wind tunnel testing, and fitted with top-of-the-range components. It makes sense to apply ‘marginal gains’ when you already have fantastic equipment.

However, it would make very little sense for Team Sky to do so if they were equipped with secondhand 1990s Halfords Apollo ‘full suspension’ mountain bikes, with flat tyres and rusty chains.

Bicycle

Wear a skinsuit on this beast

You can hire the best sports psychologists and nutritionists; you can ferry your team about in the fanciest tour buses; put them up in the most expensive hotels; manage their sleep patterns; religiously organise their training programmes; clothe them in the lightest, most aerodynamic skinsuits.

But really, if your riders are bouncing around on creaky £90 specials while the rest of the peloton vanishes over the horizon, is there any point? Indeed, it could justifiably be argued that – while the equipment your riders are forced to use is so deeply sub-optimal – employing Steve Peters to help your riders find their ‘inner chimp’ is a total waste of money.

This is, unfortunately, analogous to the role of promotion with current conditions for cycling in Britain. The equivalent of the rusty mountain bikes is the conditions we expect people to ride in; and the equivalent of Steve Peters is the promotional activity that attempts to persuade people to ride in those conditions.

DSCN0339

Go on. You know you want to. Will this picture of a pretty girl standing beside a bike help?

How about a picture of a granny in a park?

How about a picture of a granny in a park?

The very reason cycling has such a poor image in Britain is due to these hostile conditions. It is a marginal, fringe activity precisely because so few people are willing to cycle on our roads and streets, and those that are prepared to do so choose to wear equipment that they feel – rightly or wrongly – will mitigate that danger and hostility. The image problem flows from the physical environment.

This is why marketing has failed – and will continue to fail – as a strategy to enable cycling in Britain. The conditions need to come first, then promotion needs to follow, just as you need to go out and buy the Pinarellos, before employing Steve Peters. Don’t waste your money employing sports psychologists, when your equipment is so desperately below par.

Meanwhile, marketing remains a very convenient outlet for cycle spending for those authorities who don’t wish to address the unattractive conditions for cycling on their roads. I’m thinking here particularly of Kensington and Chelsea’s Bikeminded, a glossy EU-funded promotional scheme from a borough that continues to block cycleways on its main roads.

'Always be at the front of the queue', says RBKC promotional activity. That's if you can squeeze your way through all the motor traffic clogging the borough's roads.

‘Always be at the front of the queue’, says RBKC promotional activity. That’s if you can squeeze your way through all the motor traffic clogging the borough’s roads.

Spending cycling money on marketing is uncontroversial, and allows many councils to pretend they’re actually doing something while failing to address the largest and most significant barrier to cycling; the unwillingness of the general public to share roadspace with motor traffic. Marketing needs to be employed when you have a product that’s actually worth selling; otherwise it amounts to polishing a turd.

Indeed, this essential point appears to have got lost in all the back-and-forth last week. Nobody is knocking the principle of marketing, any more than critics are knocking the principle of employing sports psychologists. There’s nothing wrong with either. The issue many campaigners have is one of ordering.

Just as you wouldn’t waste money on sports psychologists when your team is equipped with embarrassingly crap bikes, don’t waste money attempting to market a product you already know the public doesn’t want to buy. Develop a good one, then market that.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 14.24.51

 

 

See also Joe Dunckley on the logic – or otherwise – of campaigning for marginal gains

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Sharing and caring

The website The American Conservative has published a deeply, deeply confused piece about road design, apparently inspired by the announcement the cycle ‘Superhighways’ in London will be going ahead.

The tone is set in the opening paragraphs.

 Jacobs eventually prevailed, protecting her community and signaling a shift against the city central planners who had dug up or flattened large swaths of American cities in the name of progress, urban renewal, and the automobile age. Jacobs’s victory against the urban highway is still spoken of in almost reverential tones by many committed to healthy cities and strong communities.

Until, that is, they were offered a highway for bikes.

the effusive praise heaped on these cycle superhighways is strangely reminiscent of the rhetoric of 50 years ago used to coax cities into building the original highways urbanists so lament today.

The superficial logic here appears to be that – because highways were bad when Robert Moses attempted to drive them through Manhattan, knocking down buildings and any other structures that were in their way, any other kind of ‘highway’ must also be bad.

This is so silly it shouldn’t really merit discussion at all, but for the sake of argument let’s examine why. Moses’ highway plans involved destruction on a vast scale – it did, literally, involve flattening, along with community severance, noise, danger, sprawl, and the myriad other problems detailed in Jane Jacobs’ book.

Image from here.

But the ‘highways’ being planned in London don’t involve any destruction, whatsoever. They are merely a reallocation of existing road space, away from motor traffic, and towards the bicycle and, to a lesser, extent,towards walking).

Stopping this project wouldn’t be any kind victory against ‘the highway’, because ‘the highway’ would still exist. It would be composed of four lanes of motor traffic, instead of the proposed two or three, with more space for cycling and walking.To suggest that this kind of intervention has to be opposed by those ‘committed to healthy cities and strong communities’ on the grounds of consistency is utterly ludicrous.

Lurking behind this incoherent introduction, however, is a marginally more substantive argument – namely, that the way to get everyone to behave better, and to increase safety, is to mix everything up – to push all modes together, into the same space.

This is the broad brush argument against ‘segregation’, which makes little or no distinction between the kind of segregation employed by the motor traffic-fixated highway engineers and city planners, of the mid-20th century, and the kinds of segregation represented by London’s proposed cycle Superhighways – and indeed the Dutch and Danish national approach to urban design. (I’ve commented before on this tendency to lump in progressive attempts to separate motor traffic away from people with the ugly, hard and unpleasant designs that got people out of the way of motor traffic).

It is almost as simplistic as the argument that bicycle ‘highways’ must be bad in urban areas, because motorways in urban areas are bad. It suggests that separating walking, cycling and driving from each other is intrinsically bad, for much the same reason – because this was the philosophy of planners like Moses.

So we find the author of this American Conservative piece, Jonathan Coppage, opining that

Urbanists rightly, and often, decry [the] auto-centric legacy that yielded the streets to one mode of traffic alone. But many are also fond of their bicycle, and can’t help but be tempted by the idea of cruising along smoothly, with no cars, no pedestrians, no dangers to worry about on their commute. That is exactly what is wrong with putting highways in cities in the first place.

City streets should be in a continual conversation with the buildings surrounding them, with the people flowing in and out.

To be consistent, anyone taking this position should oppose footways, as these are, of course, a yielding of the street to ‘one mode of traffic alone’. But this isn’t what is being argued.

Instead a concurrent argument is made about ‘segregation’ being unsafe –

Segregated travel lanes make people feel comfortable by separating them. They make them feel safe. And that can make them especially dangerous… Exposure to all the dynamism around them can in fact keep them aware of their surroundings, and keep all the users of a street honest

Likewise, consistency here would involve arguing that footways make people feel safe, and that people walking should be exposed to the ‘dynamism around them’, to ‘keep them honest.’ But no. Apparently it is only bicycle traffic that doesn’t merit its own dedicated space on busy roads.

No sane author would attempt to suggest mingling pedestrians in with motor traffic on a road like the Embankment is appropriate, either on grounds of aesthetics or safety. Because it is a thunderous road carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, including coaches and lorries. Yet this is apparently the place for people on bicycles.

Conversation

People flowing in and out here?

This is the confused world of the ‘shared space’ advocate, who insists that the ‘correct’ approach is to mix cycle traffic with motor traffic, citing ‘powerful examples’ of shared space that aren’t in the least bit shared –

London already has powerful examples of the power of “shared space” on its busy Kensington High Street, which ripped out many of the protective barriers and warning signs as an aesthetic renovation that was subsequently followed by a drop in accidents. To give bicyclists their own carve-out would be a step backwards in the revitalization of the city, not forwards.

Unfortunately Kensington High Street has footways for pedestrians, kerbs, and a highly distinct road, for motor traffic.

Not shared.

And despite all the bleating about keeping people ‘alert’, and ensuring they don’t drift into complacency on busy streets, there is apparently is no consideration of how attractive it is to cycle on these roads mixed in with motor traffic, not just for the tiny minority people currently willing to do so, but (more importantly) for the vast majority of people who wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Would these people really be better off mixed in with motor traffic?

Would this family really be better off mixed in with motor traffic?

The ‘vision’ – such as it is – has no conception of broadening out cycling beyond the current 1-2% share of trips in cities like London. Instead it involves using existing cyclists as a form of sacrificial lamb, in a deluded attempt to keep drivers in check by putting hazards in their way.

It’s an approach to road safety and road design completely divorced from reality.

Posted in Shared Space | 18 Comments

Bodging

Last year, Stop the Killing held a protest at Elephant and Castle following the death of Abdelkhalak Lahyani, who had been killed in a collision with a left-turning HGV at the junction shown in the photograph below. Both he and the lorry were emerging from the junction at the bottom of the picture, and turning left.

2The purpose of the demonstration was to illustrate that this collision need not have happened; a cycle track could have been constructed across the apex of the corner, allowing left turns to be made by people without coming anywhere near HGVs.

But the curious thing is that left turns by bike are already possible like this, at this junction – which remember is relatively new, only a few years old.

The short strip of cycle lane (or track) visible in the photograph above, which appears to end at the traffic signals, actually merges, ambiguously, into a large area of shared use, right around the corner. Of course, the only indication that this is ‘shared use’ is a small blue sign on a lamp column, as well as some tactile paving. That blue sign can just about be seen above; it’s clearer on Streetview.
Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 12.02.31This shared use ends around the corner.Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 12.03.31 No cycling is allowed on the footway beyond this point. There’s a dropped kerb to allow people to rejoin the carriageway, and tactile paving, again, to denote the end of the area of shared use.

So it is entirely possible, and legal, to bypass the signals at this junction to turn left, and to avoid ‘hooking’ conflicts with HGVs.

However this is not entirely obvious to anyone waiting at the signals – the area just looks like a pavement, and not the sort of place someone should be cycling. Likewise, the entry point to the ‘shared use’ is via the short strip of cycle track on the footway; not particularly intuitive to enter, and once you remain on the carriageway, you can’t mount the kerb easily.

How obvious and/or accessible is that entry point?

How obvious and/or accessible is that entry point?

This could have been designed properly; cycling legally around the corner could have been an explicit part of the design for this junction, rather than a vague bodge which isn’t easy to enter and exit, and puts people walking and cycling into conflict. Perhaps something like this arrangement in the city of Gouda, which I’ve flipped to a British left hand turn –

Notice there is a small child turning here,, at this busy junction.

Notice there is a small child turning here,, at this busy junction.

If the Elephant and Castle junction had looked something like this, Abdelkhalak Lahyani would have been using this cycle bypass, and would not have come anywhere near the HGV that killed him. He could – of course – have used the pavement ‘bodge’, but if it doesn’t look like somewhere people should be cycling, or cutting through, he – like many other people – waited at the lights, on the road, with fatal consequences.

It doesn’t make any sense to allow people cycling to behave in a way that will keep them safe, but then not make that option explicit. Why bodge it?

Posted in Elephant and Castle, Infrastructure, London, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 5 Comments

Do you have a problem with ‘fast’ cyclists, or with bad design?

Fast cyclists, eh.

Whizzing around; speeding through; belting around corners; appearing out of nowhere; tearing along.

At twenty miles an hour, even. Sometimes.

Twenty miles an hour.

Hang on. Twenty miles an hour? Twenty miles an hour? Isn’t that the kind of speed society conventionally considers to be quite slow, at least when it comes to motor vehicles? Witness the frothing that presents itself any time a borough, town or city wants to lower a speed limit from 30mph to 20mph.

30mph is seen (rightly or wrongly) as a reasonable, normal urban speed; yet this is the kind of speed that ‘cyclists’ – even the fittest and most powerful – will struggle to attain under normal circumstances. Equally, 20mph for motor vehicles is seen as an acceptably slow speed, yet 20mph on the flat requires serious effort from someone cycling.

So is there really such a thing as a ‘fast cyclist’? How can it be the case that cyclists are considered ‘fast’, when they will almost always be travelling through areas dominated by motor vehicles travelling within the speed limit, yet at greater speed? (Sometimes much greater). What’s going on? Does it even make sense to refer to cyclists as ‘fast’ in this context? If cycling on the road at well under 20mph isn’t ‘too fast’, why should it be ‘too fast’ on cycle-specific infrastructure?

One of the most recent examples of the employment of ‘fast cyclists’ was in this press release from Sustrans about a new bridge in Bristol.

The project will coincide with the first installation of new lighting technology which is used in Copenhagen to encourage faster cyclists to slow their pace. The “green wave” lights will coordinate with the signals at the crossroads on Coronation Road so that cyclists flow more smoothly through the junction.

It turns out that the purpose of the lights is really just to pace people to the traffic signals (at what speed, it is not stated) rather than, specifically, to slow down ‘faster cyclists’ – so this is a poorly-phrased paragraph (and misleading about the purpose of this lighting in Copenhagen). But it fits with a general atmosphere in Britain of blaming people for cycling ‘too fast’ for a situation, attempting to slow them down, without any apparent assessment of why it makes objective sense, in urban areas, to slow down anyone cycling to a speed far below 20mph, when 20mph is the minimum speed limit for motor traffic.

What is really the issue is not speed; it’s poor design. It’s paths that are too narrow to safely accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, in the numbers that are using them. Witness the attempts to get people to ‘behave’ on the Bristol-Bath railway path – ‘anti-social’ issues that simply would not arise if the path was wide enough, and had a separate footway.

It’s poor sightlines, and pinch points, and sharp corners, that bring people into conflict, and necessitate the use of awful barriers and chicanes in an attempt to get people to moderate their speed.

Rather than building this path properly, with good sightlines, and smooth corners, it was done badly, with barriers begin added afterwards to slow people down to a 'safe' speed.

A sadly all-too-typical example.

And another one. Design a cycle path right next to a brick wall, creating a blind corner? Of course. Then add barriers to solve the problem.

And another one. Design a cycle path right next to a brick wall, creating a blind corner? Of course. Then add barriers to solve the problem.

Rather than designing paths to accommodate a range of cycling speeds, paths in Britain are, sadly, often designed for walking speed, and then impediments and obstacles are put in people’s way once it turns out that the natural cycling speed of most people is much higher, and consequently problematic.

It’s awful, and it’s still happening. As I type this, a brand-new walking and cycling bridge is being installed over the A24, the bypass around Horsham. It will have TWO sets of slalom zig-zag gates on the ramp.

I am not going to enjoy cycling on this ramp.

I am not going to enjoy cycling on this ramp.

Why is this? Simply because the bridge has not been designed properly; designed to accommodate people’s natural cycling speed. It will have a ridiculously tight, Alpe d-Huez series of mini hairpin bends at the bottom of the ramp.

Horsham has gained some hairpin bends. But not the exciting kind.

This ramp has come ready-made with obstacles attached to it, to slow people down, all because it has not been designed to accommodate normal cycling speeds in the first place. It’s as simple as that.

The vast majority of the people cycling in the Netherlands will not be getting near speeds of 20mph for everyday cycling. However, a minority will be (and may exceed that speed), and the infrastructure is designed in such a way as to accommodate those higher speeds, and to mitigate potential problems. I’ve set out in a previous post how this works; designing for the bicycle as a vehicle capable of speed.

More broadly, this is the kind of design that is good for cycling regardless of the speed at which people are travelling. The corners will be smooth, with sufficiently large radii, to make turns a pleasure, rather than an inconvenience. And conflict will be avoided, even at higher speeds.

Fast cycling down this ramp won't be a problem, because there's a footway, and the path is wide and open enough to make fast cycling safe

Fast cycling down this ramp won’t be a problem, because there’s a footway, and the path is wide and open enough to make fast cycling safe.

It makes cycling a pleasurable experience; there aren’t obstacles in your way, corners are not sharp, and momentum is not lost. Journeys are smooth and easy, be they on the flat, uphill, or downhill.

By contrast, cycling in Britain  appears to continue being accommodated within pedestrian-specific infrastructure, and is then hobbled to reduce the speed of people cycling to walking speeds.

The problem, therefore, is not with ‘fast cyclists’, but with completely inadequate design.

Posted in Infrastructure, The Netherlands | 36 Comments

Taking responsibility for social safety

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, iniichael Dugher, gave an interview with the Mirror in December, which attracted a fair bit of attention, principally because it resembles a transparent attempt to court the ‘motorist vote’ (whatever that may be) – presenting Labour as being on the side of ‘the motorist’. It included all the usual antique soundbites – ‘cash cows’, ‘war on the motorist’, and so on – as well as the miserably unambitious suggestion

If car drivers switched just one car journey a month

Switched not to walking or cycling, but to buses or coaches. Walking and cycling were entirely absent in this interview, as Caroline Russell pointed out in this excellent response piece.

But there was one detail in the Mirror interview with Dugher that I confess I missed when it first appeared, and I’m grateful to Katja Leyendecker for pointing it out. Dugher argued –

When people demonise the motorist it’s ­offensive. Look at the huge increase in women drivers. That’s been a great thing. It’s about women’s independence and it’s about safety. Often women choose to drive when it’s dark because they feel safer.”

Now it is true that many women will opt for the car to make trips when it is dark, because they feel safer within a motor vehicle, than outside it. (Indeed, I suspect this is true for a number of men too).

But absent from this analysis is the role of government in designing, building, maintaining (and policing) environments in which people feel safe when they travel. The role of ministers (and potential ministers) like Michael Dugher. I don’t think it’s a ‘great thing’ that women who may not even want to drive are forced to do so because the streets on which they should be able to walk or cycle are socially unsafe. In fact I think that’s a pretty appalling thing.

To take an example, is it a surprise that many women might drive to and from Dorking railway station, when the pedestrian underpass beneath the A24 – connecting the station to the town – looks like this?

I wouldn't go in there at night.

I wouldn’t go in there at night.

Is it a surprise that people might not want to cycle or walk through badly-designed underpasses like this one in Stevenage?

DSCN9788I’m sure there are countless examples across the towns and cities of Britain of walking and cycling routes like this – poorly-designed, barely used, not overlooked, and frankly scary. Not to mention the standard stingy walking paths between British housing developments, that almost seem an invitation to a mugging.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 12.44.35

If people feel the need to drive because they don’t feel socially safe walking and cycling, that is a very bad thing, and certainly not something to be welcomed, especially by the people who should be taking responsibility for addressing those issues. The social safety of the environments we walk and cycle in – how safe they feel to us is the responsibility of councils and government.

Social safety is recognised in the Netherlands as being an important element of whether or not people choose to walk or cycle, as this excellent post from David Hembrow explains.

For social safety:

  • You should always be able to see out of any tunnel as you enter it
  • Blind corners on paths are not acceptable
  • Cycle paths should be wide to allow cyclists to move out of the way of others
  • A low crime rate and a good conviction rate are needed. Cyclists should not feel that the police do not take their complaints seriously.
  • Cycle paths should be lit at night so that you can see potential muggers, obstacles on the path etc.
  • Areas that are clean, litter free, graffiti free, where grass is mowed and plants are not allowed to overhang the cycle path have a better feeling of social safety.

So the walking and cycling environment in the Netherlands is designed to feel safe. ‘Attractiveness’ – which covers social safety – is one of the five main elements considered in designing cycling infrastructure. That means that cycling infrastructure is built to a high standard, to ensure that wherever people are walking and cycling about, they feel safe, regardless of the context.

That means underpasses that are open and wide.

DSCN0310

It also means that cycle routes should be well-lit, overlooked and (perhaps most importantly) good enough to be used in sufficiently high numbers.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 12.57.50If there are issues of social safety at night, enough to force people into driving cars for short trips, is that really something to be welcomed?

I’d like to think our Secretary of State for Transport would take action to address the root cause of the problem, not applaud people having to resort to a mode of transport that will often make absolutely no sense in urban areas, in order to ensure their own safety.

Posted in Absurd transport solutions, Infrastructure, Social safety, The Netherlands, Transport policy, Walking | 13 Comments

Space for cycling, Dutch-style

I follow the Amsterdam-based photographer Thomas Schlijper on Twitter, mainly for his excellent photographs of street life, and cycling in particular. He’s well worth a follow.

This photograph of his, from a few weeks ago, caught my attention.

Photograph of Haarlemerplein from the air, by Thomas Schlijper

Photograph of Haarlemerplein from the air, by Thomas Schlijper

It shows the Haarlemerplein, a square to the north west of the city centre, with highly visible (and very new) cycle infrastructure, just completed. The name rang a bell – it’s the same square where the same photographer took this beautiful picture, back in May.

Slightly intrigued, I thought I’d see what this area looked like, before these improvements. Thanks to Google Streetview’s archive feature, we can see the state of  roads and streets here, prior to the changes being put in place.

Looking southwest on Korte Marnixstraat (the street at the bottom right of the aerial view above), there was a poor cycle lane and ASL on the east side of the road, and nothing at all, on the west side –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.04.25

This has been replaced by fully protected cycle tracks, on both sides of the road. The parking also appears to have been removed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.00.21

The north-west approach (over the bridge in the bottom left) had poor (by Dutch standards) cycle tracks.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.07.01These have been replaced by a wide bi-directional track on the south side, and an improved track on the north side. This has come at the expense of two motor traffic lanes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.20.41Approaching the junction from the north-east, a cycle lane, merging into protection at the junction –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.15.52

Has become a wider, kerb-separated cycle track. Again, at the expense of a motor traffic lane.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.16.24Perhaps the most remarkable change has come on the south-eastern arm, in the square itself, where a fairly grotty narrow road, shared with motor traffic (note the token British-style ASL) –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.21.46Has become a lovely, bicycle-only route through the square.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.21.04You can clearly see this ‘bicycle road’ running across the square on the aerial photograph at the top of this post.

These kinds of changes aren’t particularly exciting – certainly not as eye-catching or newsworthy as a fancy bridge, or a solar cycle path. But they encapsulate the way Dutch cycling success is built upon continual improvement, and maximising the safety, comfort and convenience of cycling as a mode of transport.

This junction wasn’t even particularly bad before – certainly many junctions in the UK would benefit hugely from the kind of physical separation, with separate signalling, that was already present. But it’s been substantially improved, regardless. Indeed, every time I visit the Netherlands, I am struck by how quickly many of the paths, routes and tracks that I had used on my previous visit have been upgraded. This path to the university area – the Uithof – had been widened and resurfaced, with lighting, when I visited last year. Given the numbers of people using it, it really does need to be this wide.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 09.27.54

 

The Dutch aren’t standing still – they are continually refining and enhancing (and adding to) their already excellent network. Meanwhile British towns and cities don’t even have a network at all, or, at best, a piecemeal one.

It’s profoundly depressing. The one glimmer of hope is that we have a living, breathing example of the benefits of this kind of design, right on our doorstep, and a template for how to do it.

Posted in Space for Cycling, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 27 Comments

Thinking outside the box

Urban Design London have recently released some new guidance (in draft form), entitled the ‘Slow Streets Sourcebook: designing for 20mph streets’. This manual – like other ones I have commented on recently – has revealing design recommendations for ‘cyclists’.

These are the kinds of recommendations that show the authors are only really thinking about ‘cyclists’ as the people who are cycling already, not anyone who might want to ride a bike – from a very young child, to someone in old age.

To take just some examples from this guidance –

Carriageway widths below 3m encourage cyclists to take up the ‘primary’ position in the middle of the carriageway, making it more difficult for vehicles to overtake cyclists. [my emphasis]

Whether being used as a mobile roadblock is something the person cycling would actually enjoy is, it seems, not considered. Likewise, I doubt the authors of this passage reflected on whether it is reasonable to expect, say, a young child to take up a position in the middle of the carriageway in response to it being 3 metres wide.

A young child cycling beside a bus, in Utrecht.

A young child cycling beside a bus, in her own space, in the city of Utrecht. Should we be expecting children like her to cycle in the middle of the road, in front of that bus?

And, in a longer passage –

There are a variety of ways to indicate that the priority lies with cyclists and/or pedestrians and that drivers should slow down. Segregating or separating suchusers from vehicles may dilute their influence on driver behaviour. Therefore when thinking about designing for sub-20mph behaviours, integration may be the optimum choice. However, when designing with cyclists in mind, their needs should be fully considered to ensure that they are not put at risk.

Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow. This treatment is shown with a bicycle sign painted on the carriageway. Care is needed when designing junctions to ensure cyclists are visible and not ‘squeezed’ by turning vehicles.

There are some photographic illustrations of these kinds of designs.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 16.08.19

Unfortunately the narrow carriageways which ‘integrate’ cycling in this example – note the helpful bicycle symbols ‘encouraging’ people to take up the primary position – also appear to be rather busy in this particular location.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 16.10.59 Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 16.13.01

TfL run five or six bus routes along this road, in addition to the seemingly copious private motor traffic. Is ‘integration’ here really something we should be aspiring to? Is this the kind of environment that will appeal to people who currently don’t feel willing or able to cycle in Britain?

I doubt it. In truth these kinds of designs are a way of integrating existing cyclists into the road network; they are not conceived with the needs of those people who aren’t cycling in mind. Consequently they will do little or nothing to address the problem of Britain’s cripplingly low levels of cycling.

Of course, it’s hard to think outside the box; to think in terms of the people we need to get cycling, rather than the tiny minority of people who are currently bold enough to venture onto our hostile roads. We still tend to think of ‘cyclists’ and ‘cycling’ in terms of the people already doing it.

Without wishing to single any particular comment out, there was a delicious recent example of this way of thinking below Diamond Geezer’s detailed blogpost about the proposed Superhighway 2 upgrade between Aldgate and Bow roundabout.

‘John’ wrote

A busy cycle route yet I did not see any cyclists in your photos.

Well…. duh! The reason there aren’t ‘any cyclists’ is because the road in question is, well, atrocious.

DSCN9799

This upgrade is needed precisely because there aren’t any cyclists; because it’s a hostile, scary and actually lethal road, even for those few who are brave enough to cycle on it. Yet ‘John’ appears to believe that proposals to build cycling infrastructure along this road are unjustified, because very few people are cycling there at present.

This kind of thinking is understandable from members of the public, who simply don’t see cycling as a potentially universal mode of transport, because they are not surrounded by evidence that it is. They need to be persuaded otherwise, to be shown how cycling could work for everyone, if we invested in changes to our roads and streets.

But a failure to ‘think outside the box’ is far less acceptable from politicians, councillors, engineers and transport planners – the people we are relying on to bring about the changes in cycling levels that they all say they want to see. This broader failure is displayed in a hostility to cycling that only makes sense when you appreciate that the objector is thinking in terms of ‘cycling’ as it is now in British towns and cities; something for fast (usually male) adults, or for anti-social yobs.

The town where I live has an unspoken policy of keeping cycling out of the town centre as much as is humanly possible, apparently on the grounds of it introducing danger and uncertainty to ‘pedestrians’. Their attitude betrays that they plainly aren’t thinking about these kinds of Horsham residents when they consider cycling –

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 17.11.17Instead they are thinking only in terms of the cyclists they encounter when they are driving around the town’s roads – people striving to travel at the speeds of the motor traffic that surrounds them. The councillors are not thinking outside the box.

The Royal Parks in London appear to be exhibiting a similarly close-minded view of cycling; in their response to the East-West Superhighway consultation (see this more detailed post from Cyclists in the City), they argue that Serpentine Road (among other roads and routes in Hyde Park) is

not suitable for larger volumes of cyclists because of the scale of other use such as including event activity and vast pedestrian movements

Given that the Serpentine Road looks like this

A very wide road.

A very wide road.

this objection really shows that the Royal Parks are thinking of ‘cyclists’ in terms of a stereotypical lycra-clad horde, tearing through the park, rather than as the kinds of people you see cycling on very similar routes in Amsterdam’s equivalent park, the Vondelpark.

Would these kinds of 'cyclists' be so objectionable on Serpentine Road?

Would these kinds of ‘cyclists’ be so objectionable on Serpentine Road?

The Royal Parks are not thinking outside the box.

Finally, here’s an example from New Zealand of a new ‘cycling’ scheme, built around catering for existing demand, rather than for the people we need to reach.

… let’s put it this way. I always know if a cycleway has been designed right. The #NinjaPrincess is my expert in such matters. She is one of the customers whose needs should be considered most highly when such infrastructure is being designed and built.

… It is certain that every box in the performance specifications, set by the traffic engineers, has been ticked. But that is no guarantee that it will be a design that is conducive to the wider range of the 8-80 demographic. There is a difference between surviving and flourishing.

So while I don’t pretend to have the expertise of the traffic engineers who have installed this new infrastructure, nor do traffic engineers have the same valuable world view that the #NinjaPrincess possesses. It would be nice to think that her view has some value in the process of designing and building cycleways.

Well, exactly. I have my own ‘Ninja Princess’ – my own barometer of whether a scheme that purports to ‘encourage cycling’ will actually do so. My partner. She can’t drive, so cycling can and should fit her like a glove for the short trips she makes in urban areas. But she doesn’t cycle where we live. When we go on holiday to Dutch cities, she’ll leap on a bike; likewise, when we find traffic-free trails in places like Bath or Bristol, she’ll pedal for ten, even twenty miles, without even realising it.

DSCN9916

But please don’t try to ‘integrate’ her into carriageways like this.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 17.00.23

As with the previous example of Hornchurch, this is not somewhere she is going to be happy cycling. At all.

You will fail. She doesn’t want to be ‘integrated’ – she just wants to feel safe and comfortable.

If we’re serious about increasing cycling levels in Britain, shouldn’t we listen to people like her? Think outside the box of existing demand.

Posted in History, London, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands, Transport policy | 15 Comments