The language of compromise

Along with many others, I’ve banged on for a long time about the inherent problems of ‘dual provision’ – the idea that you can provide two different types of cycle provision, in parallel, for different types of users. Typically this might involve a shared use footway for ‘less confident cyclists’, alongside some half-hearted measures on the carriageway like advanced stop lines and narrow painted cycle lanes.

Classic dual provision - a shared use footway, in parallel with cycle lanes on the outside of parked cars, on a 40mph road

Classic dual provision – a shared use footway, in parallel with cycle lanes on the outside of parked cars, on a 40mph road

The shared use footway might provide some more comfort, but at the expense of convenience and directness, while the painted stuff on the road is direct, but at the expense of comfort and safety. They both fail, but in different ways. Neither are suitable for all users; both are flawed.

By contrast, high-quality cycling infrastructure should have uniformity of provision. It should be uniformly suitable for any potential users – convenience should not be traded off against safety; directness should not be traded off against comfort, and so on. All parts of a cycle network should reach a high standard of comfort, safety, directness and attractiveness. If parts of it don’t match a high standard for all of these criteria, then it’s not good enough.

Blackfriars Road cycleway

An example of uniformity of provision, that we are happily starting to see in the UK. This is suitable for everyone; the fast, the slow, the confident, the nervous.

So I’m a little bit troubled by this recent piece on the Sustrans blog, by Will Haynes, principally because it argues that we should set out to expect compromise, and to trade off requirements against one another. I’ve quoted the relevant part below.

… I would like to suggest that the reality of most situations means that there is rarely a perfect solution that can be lifted from the design guidance.

At Sustrans we consider the key is the way in which designs are arrived at. Our Handbook for Cycle-friendly design and accompanying design manual recommends 10 top tips that designers should follow.

One of these relates to the adherence to the widely quoted Five Core Principles (Coherence, Directness, Safety, Comfort and Attractiveness). However, how the principles are actually implemented is often relatively subjective and in many cases may conflict.

One way to objectively consider the principles is to use a level of service or route audit tool, such as the Cycling Level of Service assessment tool in the London Cycling Design Standards and Cycle Route Audit tool in the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 Design Guidance.

In most cases different route options within a corridor, or different types of provision for a particular route, will have a number of advantages and disadvantages. By applying these tools it is possible to compare different options for a particular route, or to compare different options for a corridor and have meaningful information on which to make a decision as to which is the best solution.

For example a traffic free greenway is likely to provide a high level of safety in terms of being segregated from motor traffic, but is likely to be less advantageous in terms of personal safety at night and directness.

Alternatively, a high quality segregated cycle track may provide good levels of safety and directness but by increasing severance for pedestrians wanting to cross a route it may not contribute to an attractive provision where a high place function is desired.

In summary designing good places to cycle is more than just implementing standard solutions, no matter how high quality they are.

I don’t think this stands up to much scrutiny, to be honest. Nobody is saying a cycle route has to be absolutely perfect. However, the impression given here is that compromise is inevitable, and that delivering a route from A to B will necessarily involve sacrificing one of the key requirements.

For one thing, the audit tools mentioned here shouldn’t be used to choose the least worst option – as implied – but instead should be used to identify failings, to remedy them, and to ensure that what is being built meets the highest possible standard.

Nor should the route that is built necessarily sacrifice on one or more of the requirements for high-quality infrastructure. The examples given are unconvincing. Why should greenways through parks be indirect or socially unsafe? Make them direct. Make them feel safe, with street lighting, and activity.

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Routes through parks can and should be direct, and should also feel safe.

Likewise, why should cycleways on main roads be unattractive, or contribute to ‘severance for pedestrians’? They are necessary on main roads, and they should be built to a good standard, in keeping with their surroundings, and easy for pedestrians to cross.

Cycleways don't have to be unattractive, or hard to cross. Just build them properly.

Cycleways don’t have to be unattractive, or hard to cross. Just build them properly.

I simply don’t recognise these kinds of trade-offs when I cycle around the Netherlands, be it in towns, cities, villages or in the countryside. The routes I use feel safe; they are direct; they are comfortable, and they are attractive. Where they are not, there is an obvious problem that needs remedying, and that almost certainly will be remedied when the route or the road comes up for review. The problems are not ones without a solution.

Of course, it’s harder to do things properly. Ensuring that cycle routes are direct, and that they feel safe, comfortable and attractive, requires political commitment, particularly when it comes to reallocating road space, or reducing the amount of motor traffic travelling on residential streets, through physical interventions. But these are problems of political will, not insurmountable problems inherent with delivering cycling infrastructure itself. (It’s no surprise that the highest quality infrastructure in cities like London has required the most coherent and sustained campaign to persuade those in power to deliver it). By contrast, it takes next to no effort at all to deliver rubbish, be it an alleged ‘cycle route’ that disappears off onto indirect and socially unsafe backstreets and alleyways, or shared use footways, or painted rubbish, on main roads because protected cycleways are just too difficult.

Indeed, for that reason, it’s actually quite dangerous to suggest that cycling infrastructure can’t be done to a high standard, because it provides politicians, planners and highway engineers with a ready-made excuse for doing a poor job. That’s not what I want to see at a time when cities in the UK are – in a number of places, and in piecemeal fashion – actually starting to deliver infrastructure that doesn’t compromise.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

How to respond to a cycling scheme – an objector’s guide

A while back I wrote a helpful guide for journalists thinking about writing a lazy article about cycling.

In a similar vein – and with so much attention now being focused on new cycling infrastructure, particularly from objectors – I thought it would be similarly constructive to provide some handy hints and tips for people who want to complain about a cycling scheme.

Read on…

The first step, and perhaps the most important one of all is – don’t bother reading about what’s actually being proposed. Why bother informing yourself? That would waste valuable time, time that could instead be spent moaning, or signing an angry petition, or appearing in the local newspaper with your arms folded. Just respond to what you think is rumoured to be happening. Evidence and facts are for chumps.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this – engaging with the consultation might lead to you discovering that the proposals you are so angry about don’t actually represent any kind of earth-shattering change. How unsettling would that be!

When you do write something – either on a petition, or on Facebook or Twitter, SCRAWL in CAPITAL letters, seemingly at RANDOM. That’s the best WAY to get YOUR point ACROSS.

Good effort, but more caps lock could be used. Try GOING for EVERY other WORD.

Good effort, but more capital letters needed. Try GOING for EVERY other WORD.

You are the expert. Highway engineers and transport planners – so called ‘experts’  – are responsible for the scheme. However, you sometimes drive on the roads in question, so remember, that makes you the real expert. They might have done modelling on traffic flows, and examined all potential permutations, but because you live nearby you already know they must have got their facts wrong. It’s obvious this cycling scheme will inevitably cause ten hour delays to drivers. (Just pluck a scary figure out of thin air; it’s bound to be more accurate than anything the ‘experts’ could come up with).

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Dame Janet gets into the spirit. But she’s clearly not a proper expert; she’s severely underestimated the delay from a junction redesign at a mere five hours.

Expand your horizons. Does the cycle scheme only involve one small stretch of road? That might not be much to get excited about, so it’s important to emphasise the effects this scheme will have on all roads and streets within a ten mile radius. Or even more! Go for it! See the example of Raymond, who predicts (correctly) that a slight change to the route drivers have to use to get into a park will have a profound effect on the whole of north London.

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Textbook response from Raymond, but he is a little conservative – why not argue that the whole of London will be brought to a halt?

Don’t be shy – remember, you are the traffic expert.

Don’t hold back on the language. Use words like ‘catastrophic’; ‘mayhem’; ‘destruction’; ‘chaos’; ‘insane’; ‘punitive’; ‘will create a ghetto’; ‘a living hell’; ‘armageddon’. Be creative! The more apocalyptic, the better – this is all about speaking truth to power.

You absolutely have to convey how this cycle scheme will bring about the downfall of civilisation, as surely as if it were connecting your street with Hades. (Which it probably will be – you haven’t checked the consultation details, remember).

B+ for effort.

B+ for effort – unfortunately let down by not stating clearly that this cycle lane will destroy the whole of London, not just Hampstead.

Superficially, this might just be a bit of cycling infrastructure, but you know better. It’s actually a sinister plot to devastate your city.

It’s all about a minority. This is an easy one to get right. Remember, it’s only weirdo cyclists who want these changes. Why should they be privileged at the expense of cars?Forget about all those normal-looking people in ordinary clothes, cycling about where you live –  they’re quite happy mixing with motor traffic, obviously. Just look at them! No, it’s only Lycra Louts and The Spandex Taliban who want special treatment in the form of cycling infrastructure.

Emphasise the weirdness. Nobody likes weirdos. 

Think of the children. A cycling scheme – it is claimed! – might actually allow children to cycle around by themselves, but we all know that is preposterous lunacy.

The proper place for a child is on the back seat of a car, being ferried everywhere in safety. So these cycling schemes will actually harm children – it will delay them getting to school, trap them indoors, and also fill their lungs with pollution. Literally. Speaking of which…

Think of the pollution. It’s a well-known fact that the air in our towns and cities is sweet and fragrant. But if a cycling scheme goes ahead in your area, think again! A cloud of thick, noxious fumes will descend over your town or city, a direct result of all motor vehicles everywhere being brought to a complete standstill. All thanks to that innocent-sounding cycling scheme.

Of course, we all know pollution is caused by cycling – it’s just common sense! – but don’t forget to hammer home the message. It’s so important to ensure that all available space on our roads and streets is used for motor traffic – that’s the only way to stop pollution.

Think of the gridlock and traffic jams. ‘What’s a traffic jam’? I hear you ask. Well, you might not have heard of them, or seen one actually happening, because they’re very, very rare – but it’s when motor vehicles start queuing behind each other.

Yes, it does sound unbelievable! We all know that roads and streets flow smoothly at all times. But if you let a cycling scheme go ahead, these so-called ‘traffic jams’ will suddenly appear, and you will be ‘gridlocked’, stuck in your car for days on end.

Illustrate your point with a picture of all the stationary motor traffic that has suddenly appeared once a cycle scheme has been built.

Illustrate your point with a picture of all the stationary motor traffic that has suddenly appeared once a cycle scheme has been built.

The choice is simple – either start preparing food, provisions and supplies for every single car trip, trips that could take days or even weeks, or stop the cycling scheme. Which brings us to…

Don’t bother engaging with the consultation, or even responding to it. Sign an angry petition; yell at people at public meetings; provide flowery quotes for the local newspaper. Anything! But whatever you do, don’t make your views known through the proper channels – that’s how they trick you.

Finally, if all these unstoppably brilliant tactics don’t succeed, it doesn’t really matter. Because there’s one tactic left that can’t possibly fail…. the expensive legal challenge!

Good luck!


Posted in Campaigning | 20 Comments

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

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

Why am I having to say this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Some people might cycle fast here, apparently.

Some people might cycle fast here, apparently.

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


Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Cycling privilege

One particularly puzzling aspect of attitudes to cycling in Britain is how this simple mode of transport is seen (or misrepresented) as being elitist, or exclusive, in some way, shape or form.

Whether it’s the claim that it’s male-dominated, or white, or the preserve of the rich or the middle class, or only for people of a certain age, or only for those who are able-bodied – or a combination of all of the above – these arguments have come to be used to resist changes to the urban environment in favour of cycling, presumably on the basis that those changes favour the rich over the poor, men over women, or whites over ethnic minorities, or able-bodied people over disabled people, or that they are ‘against’ children or the elderly. Witness the protest yesterday in Regents Park, arguing that the park should be kept open ‘for everyone’, rather than having motor traffic removed.

Picture by Ross Lydall

Picture by Ross Lydall

Or a host of comments on the petition organised against Superhighway 11, of which this one by Dan is sadly typical –

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 02.19.51What’s going on here? Is there any truth to these claims that cycling is for a privileged minority, and that measures to make cycling an easy way to get about will therefore inevitably harm those less fortunate?

The idea that reallocating road space used by private motor vehicles in favour of cycling (or reducing the routes available to motor traffic) favours the rich and middle classes over the poor is particularly baffling. A quick glance at statistics shows that, in reality, richer people make a greater proportion of their trips by car than those of lower incomes.

From that same study –

Over 70% of the trips made by the highest income group are by car compared with fewer than 50% by the lowest income group… almost half of those from the poorest quintile do not [even] have access to a car.

And of course car use can be painfully expensive. For those in the lowest income quintile who do own cars, up to a quarter of household income is spent on the cost of motoring.

As for cycling itself, it pales into insignificance as a mode of transport in Britain, but even at these low levels it is pretty clear that it’s evenly distributed across incomes. Yes, richer income groups might make more cycling trips, but that’s only because these groups make more trips overall. For both the lowest and the highest income groups, cycling forms about 1.8% of all trips made. There’s no difference.

This very low level of cycling across all income groups suggests that it is suppressed as a mode of transport by hostile conditions, not by class. Whether you are rich or poor, it’s not much fun to cycle on roads that are uncomfortably full of fast motor traffic. Being rich or middle class doesn’t somehow automatically inoculate you from the basic, rational human fear response that comes from dealing with these kinds of conditions.

Were we to see more cycling-friendly conditions across Britain, I think it’s likely the cycling distribution across incomes would resemble that of walking, with a higher level of trips made by lower income groups both as an absolute number, and as a share of all trips made. Walking makes up 33% of trips made by the lowest income group; it makes up only  17% of trips made by the highest income group.

Cycling isn’t as cost-free as walking, of course – you have to buy a bike – but my hunch is that cycling share would resemble walking, across income groups, if it was a mode of transport that was ‘environmentally available’ to all. (By that I mean that the environment allows cycling from A to B with relative ease, as much ease as walking or driving.) It would open up transport options for those who can’t afford cars, particularly for those kinds of trips that are awkward, inconvenient, difficult or even impossible without them – the kind of trips that involve walking longer distances, or long waits for unreliable or intermittent (and often expensive) public transport.

The claim that designing for cycling is discriminatory against children or the elderly is equally puzzling. Children under 17 – for obvious reasons – can’t even drive. If they are travelling in cars, they are reliant on their parents, or other adults, ferrying them about, very often for trips that they could be making independently, if the environment was designed to support those kinds of trips. The only way in which cycling is discriminatory against children is if you can’t possibly imagine children cycling around independently. That’s not inevitable; we just need to design the environment to allow it.

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Much the same is true of the elderly. Three of my four grandparents either chose to give up driving, or surrendered their driving licence. They just didn’t feel comfortable driving anymore. Cycling was my grandmother’s remaining way of getting about, until her increasing frailty meant she could no longer cope with the demands of the busy roads where she lived. She didn’t want to stop – she was essentially forced off her bike.

You might think that elderly people can’t possibly ride bikes, because you don’t see many of them doing so. But that doesn’t mean that cycling is inevitably a mode of transport that the elderly can’t use, or don’t want to use. Just like my grandmother, it’s more than likely that road conditions are just too hostile for this age group, even for those who might want to cycle. A bicycle or adapted cycle is an amazing way for elderly people to maintain independence when they don’t have a motor vehicle, or if they start to feel uncertain or uncomfortable using them, as my grandparents did.

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You might not see it, or can’t imagine it happening, but that’s not a very good basis for assuming that the elderly can’t or don’t want to cycle. Especially if you are trying to block schemes that will create conditions which will make cycling a reasonable possibility for those elderly people (and indeed children) who actually want to cycle about.

And – contrary to the blanket assumption that cycling is something that people who have a disability are excluded from – for many people cycling is (or could be) actually a mobility aid, either in the straightforward form of a bicycle itself, or in the form of trikes, handcycles, or adapted wheelchairs.

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Cycling gives these users independence. All too often the obstacles standing in their way are not problems or issues with cycling per se, but with a road and street environment that makes the choice of cycling difficult or impossible.

This is even before we appreciate that cycling infrastructure represents a better environment for a variety of mobility aids, not just cycles. Even in the early, tentative days of good quality cycling infrastructure emerging on the streets of London, these users are  already starting to appear, taking advantage of what obviously works for them.

What am I getting at here?

That the way cycling is portrayed as ‘exclusive’ is completely back to front. Rather than being a mode of transport for the privileged, the wealthy, and the able-bodied, it’s actually the complete opposite. It’s the great enabler – a mode of transport for everyone, especially for those who have limited transport choices. For those who don’t have access to cars. For those who can’t afford them, or can’t drive them, or choose not to. For those for whom walking is a struggle, and a bicycle makes the simple act of getting from A to B much easier. For those who don’t even use a cycle, but rely on other mobility aids like scooters and wheelchairs.

The terrible irony is that these claims about cycling being a minority pursuit are being used to resist changes to the urban environment that would bring about these benefits, for everyone.

Posted in Cycle Superhighways, Infrastructure, Mobility | 31 Comments

A second attempt at the A24 in Morden – and it’s still not good enough

I went to an interesting talk at the Guardian’s offices in London yesterday evening, entitled ‘What Can We Do to Get More People Cycling in London?’, featuring a panel of Chris Boardman, Andrew Gilligan, Rachel Aldred, Peter Walker and – as the token ‘opposing’ voice – Steve Macnamara of the LTDA.

The debate was wide-ranging, and largely consensual, with even Steve MacNamara stating that he ‘agreed with 90%’ of what Transport for London was building in central London, and making the reasonable point that taxi drivers don’t really want to be sharing space with people cycling on main roads – it doesn’t really work for either mode of transport. He also made the case for more cycling across London, arguing that more cycling means fewer motor vehicles on the road, and that (humorously) ‘we don’t really want anyone else on the road apart from cabbies’.

But a feature of the discussion that leapt out – for me at least – was delivery. For instance, despite Chris Boardman’s willingness to see improvements in his home town, any potential for change petered out in the face of council indifference and reluctance to do things that weren’t officially approved by central government.

Andrew Gilligan stated that he was ‘jealous’ of New York’s Janette Sadik Khan, who had control over all of that city’s roads, while in London TfL only controls about 5% of the road network. That means boroughs have a big say in whether schemes go ahead, and can effectively block cycling infrastructure if a few awkward individuals have a particular antipathy to it. This is the reason the E-W Superhighway completely bypasses the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, and why Superhighway 9 was cancelled.

And while there is obviously some very exciting stuff happening on a number of roads in central London, delivery in outer London is very patchy indeed, even when schemes are on TfL roads, designed by TfL. A case in point is the A24 in Morden. This is a road where, way back in 2012, TfL proposed some very poor changes ‘for cyclists’, which I reported on at the time. It essentially consisted of retaining 3-4 lanes of motor traffic, with shared use footways and narrow cycle lanes – repeatedly interrupted by parking bays – running in parallel with each other. I wrote that

with just a little more imagination, and a bit more budgetary commitment, there is great potential for good, separated infrastructure, suitable for all cyclists of all ages and abilities, to be provided along this road. The consultation proposals also bear the hallmarks of compliance with the Hierarchy of Provision; that is, conversion of pavements to shared use in the event that the authority responsible is unwilling to reduce traffic, slow it, or reallocate carriageway space. Likewise it is presumed that those using the pavement are willing to sacrifice their journey time for the privilege of cycling away from traffic.

I also wrote that

I’m not entirely convinced that the A24 immediately to the south of this area has to remain a four (and in places, five) lane road. There is scope for the reallocation of a vehicle lane for a cycle track, at least along the section until the junction with Central Road (but note that reallocation is not strictly necessary, given the existing width available).

I reached that conclusion because, although this road is 3 or 4 lanes wide at the moment, long sections of it are effectively only 2 lanes, because of the parking bays that take up most of one lane.

Well… it turns out that there is a new consultation on this road, or at least a part of it – the southern end – and the proposal is indeed to reduce the four lanes for private motor traffic to just two. But what is proposed for cycling is barely any better than before.

We have a mandatory cycle lane, yes. But it is directly on the outside of parked cars, in a dangerous position, rather than between those cars and the footway.

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There’s a bus lane in the opposite direction, which wasn’t there before, but that is the extent of the cycling provision. Right at the bus stop itself, the footway becomes shared use. A ‘bus stop bypass’, but not a very good one.Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.24.25

And that’s pretty much the extent of this scheme – a bus lane in one direction, and an unfriendly and dangerously-positioned cycle lane in the other.Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.24.41

A cycle lane which also gives up at a bus stop –
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And in the opposite direction, a cycle lane starts from behind a parking bay, leading you into a three lane-wide ASL. Good luck turning right here.

Given the width of this road – it is really very wide! – and the fact that two of the four lanes for motor traffic are now being lost, this is pretty thin gruel.

A very wide road. And two lanes for motor traffic are going. Is a shared bus lane and a poor cycle lane really the best we can do?

A very wide road. On which two lanes for motor traffic will be going. Is a shared bus lane and a poor cycle lane really the best we can do here?

The wide grassy median is of course being retained too – valuable space that could have been used for cycling, and would also help to reduce vehicle speeds if it were to be removed.

This is the second attempt at sorting this road in barely three years, and although it is progress of a some degree, what is proposed is very far away from the kind of inclusive cycling design that we are starting to see in central London, and in other British towns and cities. We need more – a lot more – of this higher-quality infrastructure if cycling is going to continue growing; it’s the only thing that will reach those parts of the population that aren’t cycling now. Cycling in bus lanes, or cycling between parked cars and fast motor traffic, on busy roads really isn’t going to cut it.

I’m not quite sure what the root problem is with this scheme. It might be that it hasn’t been allocated enough funding to alter the road properly, to create decent, parking- and kerb-protected cycleways in both directions, and to remove the median. It might be that officers and planners just don’t care enough. Or it might be that there’s only a relatively small amount of people in TfL who ‘get’ how to design for cycling.

Whatever the explanation – it’s still not good enough. If you can, respond this evening to the (very brief) consultation, saying exactly that.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Removing isn’t always better – the problem with the ‘shared space’ term

John Dales’ recent column for TransportXtra argued that the term ‘shared space’ should be quietly phased out. In fact he doesn’t even use the words in the article, replacing them with Sh… !

… the use of the term Sh… has increasingly become a hindrance to the creation of better streets for all. That’s not just my opinion; it was shared by most, if not all, of the 50+ attendees at a street design seminar I spoke at last month. It’s a term that has led to babies being thrown out with the bathwater; it has led to schemes being implemented that some people find particularly difficult to use; and it has led to streets being shunned by people who could enjoy them simply because they assume, from the description, that they won’t.

I think this is exactly right. ‘Shared space’ (or Sh…!) has become a catch-all word for street treatments that apparently solve problems, or make roads and streets better, often with little regard for the context or nature of the roads and streets in question. I’d much rather see highway engineers and urban designers looking at what works for all potential users, rather than employing ‘shared space’ in the hope that it works (or at least won’t make things worse). In particular, I’d like to see an abandonment of the lazy assumption that ‘removing things’ – crossings, signs, distinction between footway and carriageway, and so on – will always represent an improvement.

To be clear, I think some of the things that might fall out of the ‘shared space’ toolbox do work, in certain contexts. I think there can be a role for reducing the height difference between footway and carriageway in low traffic environments. For one thing, it makes it easier for people with mobility issues to get from one side to the other.

Reduced height differences between footway and carriageway make it easier to cross the road.

Reduced height differences between footway and carriageway make it easier to cross the road.

There’s also a role for reducing visual distinction between carriageway and footway, again, in low traffic streets. It makes it clearer to drivers (and indeed to people walking and cycling) that this is a different kind of environment, and different behaviour should be expected.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 16.50.29

This looks more like a ‘room’, than a road; it’s reasonably clear that different behaviour is needed.

These are all sensible techniques that can be used to improve streets, and they work in their own right. The problems start to emerge, however, when ‘shared space’ (or Sh…) is picked up and used in an attempt to solve the problems with a road or street, ignoring the reality that some of the elements that come with it might actually be poor design solutions for the particular context.

I’m thinking here particularly of Frideswide Square in Oxford, where a ‘shared space’ design has been pushed through with little sensitivity for the needs and wishes of the users of this busy area. Cycling – a significant mode of transport here – has been totally ignored, despite vociferous objections, with no cycle-specific provision. Crossings of the roundabouts – the main route into the city centre from the train station, and from the west – are ‘informal’, which essentially means pedestrians have to make their own way across busy roads without the reassurance of a zebra crossing, or other types of formal crossing.

The overall ‘vision’ – a nice-looking, symmetrical road layout, with pretty paving – appears to have been more important than actual usability. The ‘shared space’ concept trumps the concerns of users.

That’s why the term itself is a hindrance; it appears to have limited the ability of the people responsible for this road design to think clearly about what kind of road design would actually work best. And at the other end of scale – exactly as John suggests – lumping all this together as ‘shared space’ can lead to people being afraid or scared of streets that are very different in nature and character, simply because they’ve been proudly described with exactly the same term.

This is, officially, a 'shared space' street; but plainly a very different context from Frideswide Square, with next to no motor traffic.

This is, officially, a ‘shared space’ street; but plainly a very different context from Frideswide Square, with next to no motor traffic.

So the ‘shared space’ term inhibits clear thinking about how we want our roads and streets to work, and how to go about achieving the best outcomes.

A good example of this is the recent changes to Seven Dials in Bath, allegedly improvements for walking and cycling, paid for with £1.2 of DfT ‘Cycle City Ambition’ cash. Apparently the plan was to

re-establish Seven Dials as a key public space with a greater focus on cyclist and pedestrian needs through the use of shared space, which ackowledges the significantly higher pedestrian to traffic ratio. Conventional road signage is removed and perceived hierarchies between users are broken down, enabling greater freedom for pedestrians to use the space. This is encouraged through the use of surfaces and street furniture which reduces the distinction between road and footway.

Here we see the classic, quasi-religious belief in the magical properties of ‘shared space’ to break down ‘perceived hierarchies’, simply by ‘removing stuff’. This ‘ breaking down’ turns out, in the same paragraph, to be merely ‘encouraged’. It’s up to the individual to challenge the perceived hierarchy, rather than the road or street changing it for them.

On the approaches to this scheme, there are signs asking or advising us (certainly not telling us!) to ‘Share Space’.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.15.00

Unfortunately, despite the flush surfaces and new paving, there was little sharing in evidence, largely because the section of road in the distance is a busy bus corridor.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.17.53Queues form behind these buses, creating ‘platoons’ of private motor vehicles too, an impenetrable stream of traffic that essentially makes it impossible to cross the road, despite signs informing you that this area is ‘shared’.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.20.50The amount of motor traffic suggested that this is a busy through-route – at least, with the way the roads are currently configured. I don’t really think there’s any ‘greater freedom’ for people to walk across this space than there was before, when the road was surfaced with asphalt, or that any ‘perceived hierarchies been broken down’. A bus is still a bus, cars are still cars, and you will keep out of their way, even if the road they are being driven on looks a bit more like the footway you are standing on.

If the council here were really interested in ‘breaking down hierarchies’, then this kind of scheme should surely involve crossings that establish pedestrian priority, rather than attempting to do so. (Or measures to reduce the amount of through traffic). But that kind of pragmatism is harder to achieve if you are setting out to build a ‘shared space’ scheme, which in John’s words can often lead to ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. The concept is everything; what might actually work best is in a given location is secondary. ‘Removing’ must be good, because thats’ what ‘shared space’ involves; ‘adding’ a crossing stands contrary to that dogma.

What was most interesting to me is that, just around the corner from this expensive new ‘shared space’ scheme, there are a series of streets that appeared to be genuinely shared, with pedestrians crossing when and where they wanted to.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.39.55 Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.40.42 Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.41.09These are streets where people are quite happy to linger in the road, even if they don’t have the design cues associated with ‘shared space’. They’re happy to do so because there are very low motor traffic levels on them; measures have been taken to eliminate through traffic.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 15.45.43But although there was more sharing in evidence here than in the ‘shared space’,  these aren’t particularly sexy streets. The road surface is crumbling asphalt, and they could certainly do with sprucing up. In fact, they’re precisely the kind of streets that would benefit from less (or no) distinction between footway and carriageway, and surfacing and paving that would make them look more like ‘rooms’ than ‘roads’. That’s fine! These are design elements that would make the environment better, given the background context and the nature and function of these low-traffic streets.

The issue is when the same design elements are lumped together and used in the hope of fixing problems they can’t possibly solve, particularly on busy streets. Yes, they might improve things a bit, but if you are spending millions of pounds on a short stretch of road, you really need to engage with what it is you are trying to achieve, rather than supposing that a pretty street design that looks a bit less like a road is automatically going to be better for users than a design which might involve thinking outside the fixed template that the ‘shared space’ term implies. And that might be why the term itself is a problem.

Posted in Bath, Infrastructure, Oxford, Shared Space, The Netherlands, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Dangerous is legal, safe is illegal

This (short) post is going to look at a paradoxical situation in British road road design, one that means that a very dangerous way of dealing with turning conflicts is legal, while a much safer way of dealing with those turning conflicts is illegal.

Here’s the legal situation. Take any signal-controlled crossroads. It’s perfectly acceptable to paint a cycle lane, against the kerb, on the inside of a lane of left-turning motor traffic. We are then quite happy to release, with a green signal, both a person on a bike in that cycle lane – who might be going straight ahead – at exactly the same time as a driver turning left from the lane on that cyclist’s right.

We even do this with fairly new road layouts.

Someone in that cycle lane could be going ahead - they have a green signal at exactly the same time as the bus.

Someone in that cycle lane could be going ahead – and they have a green signal at exactly the same time as the bus which is turning left, from their right.

In other words, we’re completely okay with this kind of conflict being designed into new roads, as long as there’s only a line of paint separating you from the bus or the lorry waiting alongside you on your right.

Itchen Bridge plans with conflict

But let’s say we change this arrangement slightly; change the position the person on the bike is waiting at, relative to the driver of the car, bus, or lorry. Something like this.

St John's Street junction Islington

Plans for the Clerkenwell Road/St John St junction in Islington, which may go to consultation later this year (but not allowing this conflicting movement!)

The person cycling is moved forward into the junction, where the driver can see them, so far forward, in fact, that if they get a green light simultaneously, the person cycling will have cleared the junction before the driver makes his or her turn. Even if they do happen to meet, they will do so at a perpendicular angle, so both parties can see that a conflict is about to occur, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There’s even a nice BicycleDutch video explaining the advantages of this design.

But of course in Britain it’s not possible to do this, because it amounts to a ‘conflicting green’. Drivers turning left with a green must not meet someone crossing their path with a green signal.

So there we have it. It’s completely acceptable for drivers to turn left across someone cycling if that person on a bike is right next to them, separated only a bit of paint – that’s not a conflicting green. Meanwhile if that person on a bike is situated in a much safer position, more visible, and more likely to be out of the driver’s way before the turn is completed – that is a ‘conflict’, and not legal.

Such is the British approach to road safety!

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Transport choice

What does ‘mass cycling’ mean?

It doesn’t mean everyone has to cycle, for every single trip. It’s worth bearing in mind that, even in the Netherlands, where cycling is a universal mode of transport, cycling only accounts for 27% of all trips the Dutch make. The Dutch drive, they catch buses, trains, trams, and walk, just as much as we do. Car ownership levels are very similar to Britain; the train network is extensive and efficient; and it’s easy to walk around.

These are all ‘mass’ forms of transport here, just as they are there. The difference is that, for the Dutch, cycling is essentially an optional extra that they are able to take advantage of. That 27% figure represents the proportion of all trips that cycling makes sense for. The Dutch will only choose cycling when it is the best option, not because they have any kind of innate attachment to the bike, or because they are ‘cyclists’. They have cars, and use them when they make sense; likewise they will cycle or walk, when that makes sense.

Cycling in the paradise of Houten. But there is plenty of car parking for the residents here; and they will use cars when they make sense.

Cycling in the paradise of Houten. But there is plenty of car parking for the residents here; and they will use cars when they make sense.

So ‘mass cycling’ simply means that everyone has the option to cycle, for any given trip, in much the same way that walking, driving and public transport are already available. It is about having transport choice; a better range of transport options to pick from.

Public transport, walking and cycling on one street in Utrecht. The Dutch are free to choose the mode of transport that suits their needs for a given journey.

Public transport, walking and cycling on one street in Utrecht. The Dutch are free to choose the mode of transport that suits their needs for a given journey.

I think this is often lost in debates about cycling, particularly in the way we refer to ‘cyclists’ and ‘motorists’ almost as distinct categories, and present binary oppositions like ‘bikes vs cars’. This is something that both cycling campaigners do, and opponents of designing for cycling, who are all too happy to point that people can’t cycle for every single trip, or that cycling isn’t a universal solution. It is deeply unhelpful – it creates the impression that to be ‘a cyclist’ you must cease to be ‘a motorist’, and vice versa.

Building cycling infrastructure isn’t about forcing everyone to be ‘a cyclist’, but about creating another transport option for people to get around, alongside walking, driving and public transport. Doing so reduces pressure on the road network for people who are driving; the same people who might be cycling for a different trip.

The problem in Britain is that this beneficial extra option simply isn’t available to most people, because of the hostility of road conditions. Cycling just isn’t a practical or easy mode of transport for the vast majority of Britons. 79% of British women never cycle. 

The elderly man in the photograph below is cycling into the city of Delft, from a village about three miles away.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.00.10He could get public transport; he could drive. He has chosen to cycle, however. This isn’t an option available to his equivalent in Britain, because thunderous main roads, with HGVs travelling at 80km/h along them, do not have this kind of separated provision alongside them.

Likewise here in the town of de Bilt a couple are using the cycling infrastructure to get into the town centre – because it’s easy to do so. The cycling infrastructure happens to work wonderfully well for people who aren’t using bicycles, too. This is a trip that might have been driven, or involved public transport, but was cycled instead. Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.10.26

In Assen, children cycle to and from primary school in huge numbers, rather than relying on their parents to ferry them to and fro at the start and end of the day.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.24.18It’s so easy to do this that these children are actually heading home for lunch; cycling provides an extra amount of flexibility into the daily routine. Parents would have to make six driving trips every day without the presence of cycling infrastructure that allows their children to cycle independently.

Likewise teenagers can get around to after school activities, completely independently – for instance, hockey practice.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.28.09 Obviously their parents could choose to drive them, but cycling creates more flexibility. Stand around in any Dutch town or city at around 4pm and you will see children and teenagers cycling around in all directions, heading off to sport, music practice, leisure, visiting their friends, all completely independently.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.30.11

There is no parents’ ‘taxi service’. Children just get about by themselves, because it is easy and safe to do so. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in Britain, where over 50% of trips British children make are in cars – being driven! This is a tremendous waste of effort.

And for adults who might well have driven to and from work during the day, cycling represents a wonderful way to get in and out of town in the evening, without worrying about parking, or having a drink. Bars and restaurants in Dutch towns and cities are surrounded by swathes of bicycles of an evening; people who have driven through the day, and yet chose to cycle here in the evening, because it is their best option for a night out.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.33.14Cycling is also perfect in combination with other modes of transport in the Netherlands – it’s easy to get to train stations and find parking spots, without worrying about delays caused by congestion or having to rely on other people for a lift.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.00.03

And in general the bicycle is a fantastic way to make short trips if you don’t want to have to worry about congestion or delay on the road, or paying for petrol, or finding a convenient parking spot, or hurrying back before ticket runs out. It’s the ultimate in reliability.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.02.34

But, crucially, this flexibility is in addition to other modes of transport, not as a replacement for them. Mass cycling is about making life easier, creating conditions that allow everyone the freedom to choose a practical mode of transport, when it suits them. It most certainly isn’t about converting everyone into a ‘cyclist’ or expecting them to cycle for every single trip. It’s about choice.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.08.59

Posted in Car dependence, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, The Netherlands, Transport choice | 7 Comments

Cycling along a new Highways Agency scheme

Between 2011 and 2014, a relatively short 2.5 mile stretch of the A23 (the trunk road running between London and Brighton, on the south coast) was widened from two lanes in each direction, to three. This was a £79 million project – the plans for which are available here –  which brought this short stretch of 4 lane dual carriageway into the line with the six-lane nature of the rest of the road.  The A23 is now very much a motorway-style road.

Part of this upgrade included a properly separated walking and cycling route. Prior to the widening project, if you wanted to cycle along this stretch of the A23, you had to do so… on the carriageway itself.

The A23 cycling environment, in 2008.

The A23 cycling environment, in 2008.

This road carried (and still carries) around 60-70,000 vehicles a day, travelling at high speeds, so really, anything would be an improvement, compared to cycling in this kind of environment, which is only something the most hardcore nutters would even consider.

I’ve been told that the Highways Agency are proud of what they’ve done for cycling as part of this project – that they think it’s really excellent. So, my curiosity piqued, I headed out to have a look at it.

The first thing to say is, it’s much, much better than anything else I’ve seen built for cycling in this area. There aren’t any barriers along it, the path is smooth, and it looks like it’s been well-built (I guess it helps if motorway contractors are building it as part of a much larger scheme), and it’s reasonably direct. I’ve been passed comments by local cycling campaigners who have used words like ‘excellent’ to describe it, and ‘pleasantly surprised’.

To be fair, I was actually pleasantly surprised myself – it was better than I expected. But (and here’s the ‘but’) – ‘much, much better’ than infrastructure that’s been built in West Sussex is the definition of faint praise. It’s not really that hard to exceed expectations here, because the infrastructure is either non-existent, or dismally bad – even stuff that’s being built in 2015.

So while this section of the A23 is usable, and good by local standards, by Dutch standards – and by the standards we should be aspiring to – it’s pretty poor. It’s not of an acceptable width, and on the few occasions where it does have to deal with ‘technicalities’ (i.e. crossing roads and entrances) it fails dismally.

I’m reluctant to criticise the Highways Agency here. They have at least thought about designing for cycling, and done a reasonable job. But given that this was a £79m project, involving substantial engineering, basics like building the path wider than an (in my opinion, unsafe) width of two metres should really have happened as a matter of course. It would have cost next to nothing extra, in relative terms, set against the massive overall cost. But let’s have a look at it.

I cycled from south to north, and then back again; most of my photographs were taken on the northbound trip. I joined the scheme pretty much where it starts, at the ‘Warninglid’ junction, where the Cuckfield Road crosses the A23 on a bridge.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.17.42

Looking north, heading down towards the A23, on the right of the photograph.

It was a little unnerving cycling down here, towards a slip road onto a massive trunk road. It just didn’t feel like somewhere you should be on a bike, given the long history of abandoning cycling on these kinds of roads in Britain. It’s the kind of environment I’ve approached in trepidation before, carefully assessing where I might need to bail out and retrace my steps. But sure enough, at the roundabout there were small cycling signs pointing in the direction of Handcross, sending me down a service road, marked as a ‘dead end’.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.17.58

We really need to start putting exemption plates on these signs; it’s a dead end for motor traffic, but it isn’t for walking and cycling. It’s a route.

This turned out to be absolutely fine. The service road leads to two businesses – a car dealership, and a garden centre. That’s it. The entrances and exits to these businesses that used to exist on the A23 have been closed off, and the A23 is fenced away, on the right.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.18.09

I only met one vehicle going down this stretch of road. Perhaps the road itself it could be designed a little bit better. The limit is marked at 40mph, which seemed a bit too high for a cycle route, and given the likely volume of motor traffic here it might make more sense to adopt ‘Dutch style’ cycle lane markings on either side, and no centre line. But despite that I think it works – service roads like this can be good cycling environments if traffic volumes are low, and that appears to be the case here.

At the end of the service road, there is another set of (confusing) ‘dead end’ signs. If you’re walking or cycling, again, you have to ignore these, because the ‘dead end’ is your route.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.18.16

As the service road comes to an end, you are directed onto a 2m path, pretty close to the A23, but still shielded by a wooden fence. It feels okay, but (and this is my major quibble) it’s just not wide enough for a two-way path.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.18.27

The path then meanders around a spill pond, presumably designed to ‘capture’ run-off from the A23 to prevent flooding. This pond must requires motor vehicle access, because the path immediately widens to 4m.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.18.46

The stingy 2m path instantly becomes 4m at the point motor vehicle access is required.

This was the best bit of the entire ‘upgraded’ route. The path was beautifully wide and smooth, and a good distance away from the A23 itself. Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.18.50We then meet Slaugham Lane, a minor country lane that used to have entry and exit slips onto the A23 – dangerous ones, which have sensibly now been closed, just like the direct entry and exit points for the garden centre, which is now only on a service road.

This is the right thing to do – it doesn’t make sense to have a motorway-style road butting immediately onto a small country lane, or onto businesses. There were some local objections to the loss of this junction, because they now have to drive further, but if you’re going to turn an A-road into something like a motorway, then that should also mean decreasing the number of access points. Motorways (and trunk roads) should be for long-distance trips, not for enabling short ones.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.04This ‘closure’ now means this country lane is completely separated from the A23 (except on foot and bike, of course), so it’s even quieter than it was before. This is definitely a positive outcome. We do, however, have to cross under the A23 (on the bridges in the photograph above), because the path switches sides and continues northwards on the other side of it, the east side.Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.09

Here we turn left onto the old entry/exit slip road leading back up to the southbound A23, which is now only an access to a farm and to the continuing cycle path beside the main road. (Annoyingly, it’s another misleading ‘dead end’ sign).

This section is, unfortunately, not as good – we’re back to a measly 2m. Meanwhile the farm has a nice and generous new 4m concrete road, as if to say, here’s what you could have won.Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.17

And it is very close to the road. HGVs come whistling past you a few metres away, as there’s no hard shoulder.Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.22

People commented on Twitter when I shared this picture that they would ‘take this’, given that it is on the correct side of the crash barrier, and that many UK A-roads don’t have anything like this, at all. That’s fair enough, but I don’t think our current low horizons and low expectations should mean being satisfied with something that is substandard. It can and should be better. In fact at this width I think this path is dangerously narrow for two-way cycling, given that this section of the A23 is on a reasonably steep hill.

This is what a path beside a major road should look like.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 00.37.41

Wide enough to not have to worry about oncoming traffic. But clearly the people who built the path beside the A23 think, like me, that it is dangerously narrow, because there are six ‘SLOW’ markings painted on the path in the downhill direction.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 23.28.43

It’s very easy to pick up speed here, given a continuous gradient of 6-8%. Just freewheeling on the way back down my speed quickly got up to 20mph, which felt very fast on such a narrow path. If I’d met anyone coming the other way I would have felt the need to slow down a lot more, and that’s really not good enough on a path built beside a motorway, designed for 70mph+ speeds. It’s the same basic template as the motorway – no bends, good sightlines – that should allow high speeds, but the width is so miserly ‘SLOW’ signs have had to be painted on it. That’s pretty embarrassing.

Slightly alarmingly the path is littered with debris from motor vehicles, particularly the legacy of HGV tyre blowouts. This reminds you just how close you are to the road, in case you had forgotten.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.33

On the approach to Handcross, the northern end of this upgraded and ‘cycle proofed’ road, we encounter the one and only side road this project had to deal with. And it’s a big fat failure.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.19.49

The cycleway quickly shows its true colours, reverting to footway-specific design, with sharp corners, no markings to indicate what you should be doing if you are on a bike (just like a pavement) and some tactiles to bump over.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 16.20.11

This isn’t even really a side road; it’s just an entrance to a business, and not even a major one at that, just a chap selling vintage sculptures out of what looks like a a caravan. I suspect it would be quite easy to give cycling priority across the side road, given the very, very limited use of this entrance, and the fact it’s on the slip road, not the A23 itself. But priority or no priority isn’t really the issue. I wouldn’t have minded a two-stage non-priority cycle crossing. The real problem here is the ambiguity, and the lazy, easy (and crap) option of just designing a footway and then plonking cycling on it with a blue roundel, the kind of thing that is just so awfully typical in new ‘design’ for cycling in places that just don’t care. A two-way cycle-route crossing an entrance like this could be so much better.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 09.42.24

So the ‘test’ of the one side road that had to be dealt with was flunked. That’s not particularly confidence-inspiring, if the Highways Agency think this a good scheme.

The path then goes up the slip road coming out Handcross village. Unfortunately the path stops halfway up the slip road, meaning you have to cross it (heading either south or north) just at the point motorists are accelerating towards motorway speeds, to join the A23.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 00.12.00

Again, this is poor design. Cycling out of the village in the direction the photograph is taken, I have to look back through 180° over my left shoulder to see whether any motor vehicles are coming (at ever increasing speeds at this point) before attempting to cross, again on some bumpy tactiles that require 90° turns. ‘Box ticked’, in that some ‘cycle provision’ is here, but if this is the kind of thing that the Highways Agency are doing across Britain, then I think we should be concerned.

From what I’ve seen from this short stretch of the A23, ‘providing for cycling’ seems to involve putting a 2m footway alongside the road in question, designing it for walking, and then…. just allowing cycling on it. The sections of this ‘improved’ stretch of the A23 that are good – the service road, and the access road to the pond – are good simply because they’ve been designed for motor vehicles. If people weren’t going to be driving on these stretches, they would be the same 2m path as the rest of it. And of course the ‘cycle provision’ disappears at junctions, where you have to cross the road like a pedestrian. For schemes beside trunk roads – fast, arterial roads – that simply shouldn’t be happening.

The other problem – and this isn’t the Highways Agency’s fault – is that these schemes are built in isolation from the surrounding area. So while this section of cycle facilities – despite its faults – does allow people to cycle along the A23, it simply doesn’t connect up with anything else, because it is surrounded by roads and bridleways controlled by West Sussex, who are still living in the Dark Ages as far as cycling infrastructure is concerned. Really, the Highways Agency’s engagement with ‘cycle proofing’ has to extend to the surrounding network controlled by local authorities, otherwise it is pretty meaningless – you simply won’t be able to get to the roads that are ‘cycle proofed’.

So it’s a start. But there’s a huge amount of room for improvement.


Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

A Roetz omafiets

For a while now, we’ve been looking for a bike for my other half. She hasn’t owned one since she was a child, but she’s started enjoying cycling again when we’ve been on holiday. We’ve hired bikes in the Netherlands, where she’s been able to ride without any difficulty at all, despite being off a bike for decades, and we’ve also hired them in Bath, where we’ve made use of the Two Tunnels path to get out into the countryside in traffic-free conditions.

She wanted something that was quite small and easy to manage, but also something that was obviously practical. A good number of modern Dutch bikes didn’t really fit with her – they looked clunky and heavy. She liked the look of old-fashioned bicycles, with more slender steel tubing. Peering at bikes as we walked around Dutch cities, we did spot some candidates – in particular, this bike we saw on the Oudegracht in Utrecht.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.05.43It was just right. Cute-looking, old-fashioned, small and nimble (and – to my eyes – practical!)

We spotted another one of these bikes in Gouda, and a bit of investigation revealed that they are Roetz bikes. It turns out that the reason these bikes look old-fashioned, despite being new, is because they are old. They are recycled bikes. The frames are second-hand, and have been restored, and fitted with new components. It’s a really nice idea – giving an old or discarded bike a new life.

So once we got back to the UK we set about ordering one of these omafiets! You can choose your frame colour, and what kinds of components you want. We opted for a basic black, and chose the ‘geared’ option (as opposed to a single speed, coaster brake version, which she didn’t feel she would be comfortable using, and is probably legally suspect in the UK), along with a practical rear rack.

It was quite a wait for it to arrive from the Netherlands, but it was well worth it, because it’s a really beautiful bike.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.16.43It looks, well, like an old bike, partly because it is (the frame being recycled), but also because the modern components are in keeping with it.

The hubs, gearing and brakes are all Sturmey Archer, and feel satisfyingly dependable. The brakes are drum brakes, within the hubs, meaning there’s no messy brake dust mucking up the wheels.

It’s a five-speed rear hub, with a clunky, certain, twist grip on the handlebars.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.19.51The chain is fully enclosed in a Hebie Chainglider, meaning there’s no need to worry about clothing getting oily or greasy.

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There’s a convenient AXA wheel lock with the ability to ‘plug in’ a chain, meaning you can either take the key out and leave the bicycle parked up (but unable to be ridden), or lock the wheel in combination with chaining it to a suitable object.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.22.04The saddle is lovely and comfy, a Dutch-made sprung leather affair. The rear rack (as you can see) comes with elastic straps to hold items on the top.

All the cabling is completely enclosed, meaning it’s protected from the elements. And there are some lovely details that give this bike a real ‘vintage’ feel, particularly the shiny handlebars and bell, the laminated wooden mudguards, the cream tyres, and the cork handlebar grips.

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I have made a couple of ‘upgrades’ since it arrived. It did come with a kickstand, but a single leg one that, while perfectly adequate, isn’t quite as good as the Hebie ‘twin leg’ design that’s now fitted.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.29.35The other was to change the lighting. The bike came with some really good Spanning lights, mounted solidly (and permanently) on it. They were battery-powered, and nice and bright. It wasn’t really necessary to change them, but I wanted a fun winter project, so I offered to change the bicycle over to dynamo power, meaning the lights will just come on as soon as she starts pedalling, with no need to worry about switches, or ever replacing batteries (she was worried about being forgetful!)

The change was simple enough, but did require rebuilding the front wheel with a (Sturmey Archer) hub dynamo. (I like building wheels). The Spanninga lights were switched for a B&M Secula rear light and Lumotec front light, in a ‘classic’ housing, shown below.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 19.34.43This is the light I’ve got on my own omafiets, and it really does the job – it’s nice and bright, with a standlight meaning it keeps running for at least five minutes once you’ve stopped, and even a ‘sensor’ system that turns the light on automatically if it gets a bit gloomy.

With the reflective strips built into the (Marathon) tyres, the reflectors in the pedals, and the front and rear reflectors, this is a nicely visible bike under all conditions, despite its vintage appearance.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 09.46.23It’s a modern machine, built around a classic frame.

My omafiets is larger and heavier, so on the few occasions I’ve been able to ‘borrow’ it I can say that it’s a really fun ride, a smaller, bouncier version of my own bike, but still upright and comfortable, with the classic riding position that we basically got right in the 19th century.

The only problem now is that we just need to find somewhere for her to ride it. The choices of routes in Horsham are (sadly) pretty limited (or even non-existent) for someone who really doesn’t want to ride on busy roads. It’s frustrating seeing her enjoying herself on the (reasonably) quiet residential streets around where we live, but being unable to go anywhere else in the town, without walking. It’s a bike that deserves to be ridden, on quality infrastructure.

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