You’re not held up by people cycling – you’re held up by other people driving (and yourself)

Imagine a street that carries 14,000 cyclists a day, on the street itself. That equates to around 1,500 people cycling along the street per hour, or 25 every minute.

Imagine driving down that street. Surely a nightmare for any self-respecting driver who wants to make progress. A miserable experience. You’d never be able to overtake, what with all the cyclists trundling in front of you, often two or three abreast, taking up the whole road.

Well… no. Actually overtaking in a car on this street is pretty easy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.47

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.34

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.08

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.46… It’s even easy to overtake with people cycling two abreast, in both directions.Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.17 Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.58Even a very wide three abreast doesn’t present a significant problem.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.04This doesn’t compute, surely!

How on earth can it be easy to overtake when there are so many bloody cyclists in the middle of the road?

The answer is quite simple – the reason drivers can overtake easily is because there aren’t many other drivers using this street.

Take a look at the photographs again. There isn’t oncoming motor traffic to prevent an overtake. There’s also limited on-street parking (just one set of bays, on one side of the road, in designed bays) meaning the road itself is not obstructed by parked vehicles.

Quite clearly it is other motor vehicles – both moving and stationary – that makes overtaking difficult, because a vast amount of cyclists ‘clogging’ a road doesn’t necessarily represent an impediment to motoring progress.

To compare with a British example – struggling to overtake a cyclist heading away from the camera here?

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.35.32Or here? (Looking in the opposite direction on the same street)

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.38.16That’ll be because of the large amount of oncoming motor traffic, preventing you from moving out into the opposing lane, and the amount of parking on both sides of the street, greatly reducing the available width of what is, in reality, a very wide road.

Really, how could it be otherwise? How can a human being two feet wide, on a road that is 35 feet wide, …

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.41.15…. seriously present an impediment to progress, without other big blocky things (including the vehicle that you yourself are driving) greatly reducing the space available?

In reality, hell is other drivers – not other people people cycling.

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Trying it out

Last year I wrote about the stalled attempts to improve Bank junction in the City of London. The problem appears to be the time it is taking the City to model the effects of potential changes to the junction – in fact, the City are developing a new model from scratch, which is taking eighteen months, meaning results won’t even be in until Spring 2016.

Our next task will be to build a computer traffic model to assess what is likely to happen if traffic is prevented from crossing the junction for example in certain directions or times of day. Information from pedestrian and cycling movements will also help to develop solutions. This is likely to be a big piece of work and will take some time to complete but it is very important to have credible options for alterations to the junction. We hope to have this work completed by early 2016.

As I wrote then, this is a very time-consuming and expensive way of finding out something that could be established by trial arrangements, on the street itself; this could involve closing or restricting some of the streets in the area to motor traffic. Such a trial could be temporary, meaning that if genuine chaos did ensue, then the layout could be reverted back to normal very quickly, with alternative arrangements tried at a later date. The results of such a trial – given that they correspond to the real world – would also be much more accurate than those provided a model, even a very expensive one.

Of course tragedy struck at this junction last month, with the death of Ying Tao. If action had been taken more quickly to try out arrangements to improve Bank, rather than waiting years to develop and test a model, then improvements could already have been in place by now.

In a similar vein, in their response to the consultation on Quietway 2 in London, Transport for London rejected closing parts of the Quietway as a through-route to motor traffic, for the following reason –

Some respondents to the consultation felt that closing Calthorpe Street and/or Margery Street to general traffic would be a more appropriate intervention. The changes proposed at this junction are due to be delivered this year, in line with the opening of the new Quietway route. These suggestions would have a wider impact of LB Camden and LB Islington’s road network and would require much further investigation. It is considered this would not be deliverable within the timescale, as investigation would be needed of the impact on adjacent streets.

Such a measure would apparently require ‘much further investigation’, because of the impacts on the surrounding road network.

As it happens, I was passing along this very road – Calthorpe Street – earlier this week, and was amazed to discover that it was actually filtered, in the way respondents to the consultation had been calling for.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.23.59Well, not in exactly the same way – people cycling were bumping up onto the footway to get around the closure. But the effect is the same. What look like some water main repairs have seen the total closure of this street to motor traffic.

Was there carnage on the surrounding streets? Total gridlock? I didn’t come across any, at least nothing out of the ordinary for London. At the very least a simple trial closure like this could be implemented for, say, six weeks to genuinely investigate whether such a closure would cause gridlock elsewhere. It would also give residents (who, by the way, are in favour of such a closure on this street) a chance to experience the benefits in terms of quieter and safer streets for a short period, buying-in support for a permanent closure.

What seems to be at play here, both at Bank and with TfL’s response to closure requests, is what Rachel Aldred has recently called

The terrifying spectre of delays to motor traffic

Fear of holding up drivers, even for a few more minutes, seems to be crippling, to such an extent that rather than just trying out closures we will spend years developing models, or carrying out ‘much further investigation’, to establish what we could find out quickly and easily by on-the-ground trials.

To be fair, some local authorities are much bolder, and are keen and willing to experiment with reducing routes and capacity for motor traffic. Last year Camden coned off a lane on the entry to Royal College Street, just to see what happened.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.36.26Answer – nothing happened. Traffic still flowed.

That means there’s a whole lane’s worth of space that can be (and is now) being re-allocated to cycle provision on St Pancras road, in the form of a stepped cycle track.

And this week Camden announced plans to trial reallocating an entire vehicle lane along the Tavistock Place route to a westbound cycle lane, restricting this road to one-way for motor traffic, in opposing directions (which should mean a large reduction in through motor traffic too). The existing two-way track, grossly over-capacity, will become a one-way track. More about this in a future post.

Waltham Forest are also keen to experiment; their bold mini-Holland scheme of closures to through traffic is now becoming permanent.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.43.24And in Leicester – were the Cycling Embassy spent last weekend for their AGM – the council is apparently keen to trial lane closures in advance of building cycling infrastructure. This cycle track on Newarke Street, built on a vehicle lane, was preceded by a coning off of the lane in question, to examine the effects on motor traffic.

Spot the lawbreaker.

Spot the lawbreaker.

And a similar ‘coning off’ was recently performed by Leicester City Council on the nearby Welford Road – a lane was deliberately taken away to see what happened.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.48.01Again, we were told that the impacts on motor traffic were minimal – and presumably some cycling infrastructure is now planned for this pretty scary road.

Finally, CycleGaz spotted another recent temporary trial arrangement on Norbury Avenue – this one for three months.

These kind of trials don’t really require that much boldness; they’re cheap, quick to install, and can be reversed at the end of the trial if they prove to be unpopular, or if genuine gridlock does actually result.

Why can’t other councils and transport authorities break out of their paralysing fear of effects on motor traffic, and emulate what Camden, Leicester, Waltham Forest, Croydon and other councils are willing to try out?

UPDATE 

Another example!

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School run shenanigans

News from Sussex Police

Woman convicted of driving dangerously outside Crawley school

A Crawley woman has been sentenced for driving dangerously outside a school.

Leanne Andre, 43, of Friars Rookery,  Crawley, pleaded not guilty to driving dangerously in October 2014 when she appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on 11 June, but was found guilty.

Andre received a 12-month Community Order of 90 hours unpaid work, was ordered to pay total court costs of £810 and has been disqualified from driving for 12 months as well as then having to take an extended driving test.

The incident happened in Gales Drive, Three Bridges, on the afternoon of 23 October last year.

Andre had parked her vehicle illegally in the bus stop directly outside Three Bridges primary school whilst picking up her children from the school. The local Three Bridges community policing team was patrolling the area at the time in response to numerous reports of dangerous parking  near the school at opening and closing times.

They put a notice on the windscreen of Andre’s car pointing out that it was parked illegally.

Upon Andre’s return to her car a PCSO approached her explaining why the notice had been issued. She responded by directing verbal abuse at him, and drove off. A Police Constable asked her to stop but instead she accelerated towards the officer, swerving just to avoid contact, and continued gaining speed as she drove away, giving no consideration to the parents and children who were waiting, as she claimed she was in a rush.

Officers had the registration number and description of the car and subsequently went to Andre’s home nearby to arrange to inteview her under caution.

PC Jo Millard said; “Andre’s actions on that day were irresponsible and dangerous. We will take action against offenders driving in such an anti-social and dangerous manner.”

No doubt this would have been a full-page spread in the Daily Mail, coupled with earnest coverage on Radio 4, if Andre had abused and threatened police officers while on a bike. ‘Do cyclists have entitlement issues?’ ‘Is it time for cyclists to wear number plates to curb their bad behaviour?’ ‘Do they need to wear hi-viz identification vests?’

But as it is, it will pass completely under the radar, just another example of everyday traffic violence that passes without comment.

Bloody cyclists.

But this isn’t even why this story caught my attention – I spotted where Andre lives. Friars Rookery. Which is…

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 08.58.10… 300 metres from Three Bridges Primary School.

It is, literally, just down the road – so close the police officers could presumably see her turning back into her own street.

Crawley is a New Town, meaning most of the main roads in it are lovely and wide. Cycling infrastructure (sometimes of reasonable quality, mostly of dubious quality) did arrive on the major roads, but unfortunately residential distributors like Gales Drive didn’t get any.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 09.11.50No continuous footways across the side roads either, meaning young children walking to school have to ‘take responsibility’ for crossing side roads while dangerous and aggressive drivers like Andre emerge out of them to take their own children to school.

Slow clap, Britain.

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Us, not ‘Them’

Sad as it is to say, I suppose there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about another sequence of deaths and serious injuries of people riding bikes – the most troubling and unsettling being yet another woman being crushed by a left-turning tipper truck at a notoriously dangerous London junction – running in parallel with a series of poorly-timed articles and programmes, apparently driven by a media industry that seems determined to pour petrol on the flames of what should be a deeply serious issue, for the sake of ratings.

A feature of these articles in newspapers, or appearances on TV, is the reference to people cycling as ‘them’, or ‘they’. All from the last few days –

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 19.40.18

Exhibit A.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 19.43.00

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

Exhibit C.

Glenda Slagg nonsense there, from Sarah Vine, Fiona Phillips, and Angela Epstein, respectively.

Of course the trick with this kind of ‘journalism’ is to play to what you think is your audience, parroting their prejudice back to them. And sure enough the response was predictable –

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.03.01 Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.03.31 Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.07.49Who is this ‘them’, though? Who are ‘they’?

Pictured below are just some of the 51 people who have been killed riding a bike in Britain so far this year.

Keep the word ‘them’ in mind.

‘Them’? What do these people have in common, beyond the tragedy of their deaths, and their mode of transport at that time?

They are – were – just ordinary people. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. Not ‘them’. Ordinary people who just happened to be riding a bike.

Us.

 

The full list of 2015 fatalities is at Beyond The Kerb.

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The gap

You may or may not have seen this fascinating graph from the Economist in 1981, shared with me by Graham Smith.

Economist graph

Minitram? Of course.

It’s an amazing insight into the way cycling had effectively disappeared as a serious mode of transport for short trips, in the minds of the establishment.

The ‘gap’ between walking and driving for trips of up to 3 miles apparently had to be filled by something – Minitram? with a suggestive question mark – without the apparent realisation that a perfect mode of transport already existed, and had thrived in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

We’re stuck with this legacy today, reinforced by a further three decades of failure to establish cycling as that mode of transport for the ‘gap’ between walking and driving. This ‘cycling oversight’ also has implications for the way we expect people to travel around without a car.

Local authorities expect people to walk to bus stops, rather than cycle, and that often means bus routes have to meander to where people live, rather than taking direct routes. Apparently many local authorities have a requirement that bus stops should be within 300m of anyone’s doorstep – that means the competitiveness and directness of the bus itself is sacrificed to accommodate short walking trips to bus stops.

There are two examples of this in Horsham, one in a large new development to the west of the town that is nearing completion, and another large development to the north of the town that is awaiting planning permission, but looks set to go ahead. The development to the west looks like this –

West of Horsham developmentThe new development lies in the shaded area. The red and orange lines are the (direct) driving routes for private motor traffic (a massive new junction, and extra lanes, have been added to the bypass, running north-south, that bisects the development). The wibbly-wobbly blue line is, sadly, the bus route, through the development, to the town centre.

Clearly the directness of the bus route has been sacrificed, to bring the bus stops close to all the properties within the new development.

The proposed development to the north of Horsham has a very similar bus route.

North of Horsham planAgain, the bus route is a wibbly-wobbly line (running roughly east-west, in blue) skirting all the way through the development, before heading south into the town centre.

Of course this indirectness (and delay in getting to where you actually want to get to on a bus) isn’t the only problem with this kind of ‘doorstep bus route planning’. It also means that buses will often have to fight their way through residential streets that (quite properly) are not designed for through traffic, according to Manual for Streets. We saw an example of this in a new development on the outskirts of Newcastle, on a Cycling Embassy Infrastructure Safari.

DSCN9798This isn’t really the kind of road a bus route should be running down – it’s narrow, has on-street parking, and pinch points and features designed to slow motor traffic. None of these are intrinsically bad things – indeed, they may be desirable on residential streets – but I don’t think they’re compatible with a bus route.

Having to take buses through residential areas, to pass close to doorsteps, effectively means pushing buses – which should be using through-roads to get from A to B – onto access roads. And this is something that Oxfordshire County Council (among others) are now complaining about.

Street design in new housing estates ‘too restrictive for buses’

Oxfordshire County Council has criticised the street design in some of the county’s recently-built housing estates, saying the main streets are too narrow and low-speed for efficient bus operations.

“The recent design orthodoxy for large residential developments in Oxfordshire has been far too restrictive for bus operation and this restricts the eventual range of bus services that can be operated,” says Oxfordshire.

The council’s comments reflect a concern of bus operators across the country that their needs are not being taken into account in the design of new developments, with designers promoting narrow streets and traffic calming features to reduce the dominance of traffic.

I think this is only half the story – clearly the solution to this problem isn’t to widen residential streets to accommodate bus flow, but instead to ensure that bus routes are run on (properly designed) through-roads, away from residential areas. Bus routes simply shouldn’t be running through access roads.

The story is very different in new Dutch developments – the buses run on the main roads that skirt the development, designed to take buses and through-traffic – with people cycling to the stops from within that development.

DSCN9257This means that residential areas only need to accommodate access traffic, and can be designed to slow it, without having to worry about how easy it is for buses to pass through efficiently. Because buses don’t pass along these streets.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.34.11And it also means that – unlike the ludicrous bus routes being proposed in Horsham – the bus is a fast, direct and attractive alternative to driving.

Of course, this does involve the use of a mode of transport that fills ‘the gap’ between walking and taking the bus – one that allows people to travel distances of around 1-2 miles with ease, and allows bus stops to be retained on the direct routes for the bus.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.44.05Taking cycling seriously as a mode of transport would mean that buses would work much more effectively, and be much more competitive with driving – and would also keep buses out of residential streets that are (correctly) not designed to accommodate them.

 

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Fantasy visualisations and ignoring the elephant in the room

Horsham’s going up in the world, because we’re getting a John Lewis, which opens next week.

That means the town’s existing Waitrose supermarket – located pretty centrally in the town centre – is now moving out beyond the town’s four/five lane inner ring road, to join John Lewis on a joint site.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.04.52

It could be worse, of course – the site is at least still within the town, unlike Tesco’s current location, the supermarket having decided to bugger off beyond the town’s bypass in the late 1980s, some two miles from the town centre, and pretty difficult to access if you don’t have a car – so difficult you might as well not bother.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.08.20But of course the town’s inner ring road still presents a significant obstacle. While it’s going to be pretty easy to drive to John Lewis and Waitrose, anyone who wants to access the site on foot or on bike from the town centre – and indeed from most of the town, to the north and east of the new location – is going to have get across those four lanes of motor traffic.

The visualisations I have seen are not inspiring. In fact, they are pretty much the epitome of screwing over people walking and cycling in the interests of preserving motor traffic capacity.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.26.45

The new John Lewis/Waitrose building, mostly out of view, on the left, with a substantial new car park in front of it. The town centre is to the right, with the four lane inner ring road, Albion Way, dividing the two.

In more detail. The main pedestrian movement will be from the top right of this picture – that’s the pedestrianised centre of Horsham. The obvious desire line from this point to the new superstore is marked in red. The routes people will have to take instead are marked in blue.
Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.26.45The crossing at the top of the picture is an existing, staggered, crossing; the one at the bottom will be new, but it’s not entirely clear whether it will even be signalised (see UPDATE at bottom of post).

As for riding a bike to the new superstore? Hahahaha. Oh, seriously. No, no idea. Presumably you just have to cycle on that road. The footways will remain too narrow for acceptable ‘shared use’, but that’s probably what we’re going to get.

Back in 2013 – when these plans were being announced – Horsham District Council were claiming that

The creation of a new vehicular route or the major redesign of Albion Way [the four lane inner ring road] in this area will be encouraged to make the environment more inviting to cycles, buses and pedestrians. A new vehicular route would enable the reduction of traffic on the old section of Albion Way and allow for better connections between this area and the town centre, in particular across Albion Way to West Street.

But that seems to have all been pie in the sky – no substantial changes are being made, and all four lanes of motor traffic are being kept. This road will remain very hostile to cycling. Bear in mind that it currently carries 20-25,000 vehicles a day. The severance here is considerable, and will remain so.

Other visualisations plastered in the vicinity of the development are completely crazy. They show hordes of people ambling across this four lane road, with absolutely no motor traffic on it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.12.16Another image again shows this four lane road with no motor traffic on it, and the narrow pavements teeming with people.

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Reality check, courtesy of Google Streetview. Note also the width of the footways here.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.16.23I’m not sure what the intention is with these visuals – perhaps the most ridiculously optimistic I’ve ever seen.

Presumably the intention is to create the impression that the town centre is ‘connected’ in some way to this new site on the other side of the road; that it will be easy to amble from one side to the other. There was talk at some stage of a ‘shared space’-style area across these four lanes of traffic – that this idea was even seriously considered just goes to show how much councils are willing to stretch credulity to maintain motor traffic flow while pretending to address severance.

The planning application documents described the use of ‘materials’ to create some kind of continuity for pedestrians across this road, visually connecting the new development to the town centre.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.45.04

‘A sequence of paving, lighting and street tree planting as part of a wider signage and wayfinding strategy will link Albion Way with the Bishopric and beyond to West Street and the wider town centre’

But you can’t polish a turd. A four lane road carrying a great deal of motor traffic isn’t going to melt into insignificance simply because some of the surfacing materials have been changed.

A long-term plan for Horsham must involve addressing this inner ring road – it is, frankly, a big mistake to accommodate so much motor traffic right in the town centre when the town itself already has a bypass, that actually predates the construction of most of it. The signs aren’t promising, however – new development outside the bypass will involve a lower speed limit (down to 40 mph from 70 mph), and multiple new junctions with signals, on the bypass itself, which I suspect will make the bypass less attractive, and push more motor traffic through the town centre, as I argued here

With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.

And there doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan for motor traffic in Horsham – the function of roads is being eroded or blurred, perhaps in the vague hope that it will all sort itself out.

There needs to be some kind of vision for Albion Way, that involves motor traffic reduction, and better provision for walking and cycling. As it happens, the construction works taking place right now for this development involve reducing this four lane road to just two lanes.

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That space on the right – on the town centre side of the road – could quite happily be repurposed for a bi-directional cycleway, something like this.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.18.12

Such a design would reduce the dominance of motor traffic on this road in the town centre, create more breathing space between pedestrians and the road, as well as opening up cycling as a transport choice for ordinary people, the people currently struggling their way around it on the margins, like the woman in the picture at the header of this blog, or this family –

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.23.37

… and indeed those people who aren’t even bothering to cycle in the first place, even though they might want to.

Motor traffic levels have fallen by around 20% since the millennium on Albion Way.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.26.52It’s high time we had a proper solution for this road, not fantasy visualisations and hopelessly naive attempts to address severance.

UPDATE

Thanks to Horsham Cycling Forum for some pictures of the site – they’ve spotted that (unsurprisingly) there’s going to be no crossing directly opposite the entrance, at all. But the road has been resurfaced with some fancy tarmac.

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Space Invaders

The Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Richard Wellings, had this to say recently –

Wellings completed a PhD in transport and environmental policy at the LSE.

I am absolutely no fan of the Advanced Stop Line, or ASL, but the argument that they should be removed to make for ‘more efficient use of road space’ – i.e. space for one more car in a length-wise direction – disintegrates rapidly under inspection.

One of the reasons why ASLs at junctions are so ubiquitous in Britain is that they have a negligible effect on motor traffic capacity, or indeed even a beneficial effect, assuming that the number of cyclists remains the same in scenarios with and without an ASL.

 A TRL study on this topic (Wall et al 2003) found that in practice, sites given an ASL plus nearside feeder lane tended to see a slight increase in motor traffic throughput, as long as no motor vehicle lanes were removed. For those seeking to ‘balance all modes’, this is a free gift – extra space for cyclists without taking away space for motor vehicles.

The result is perhaps not surprising. If cyclists are more easily able to reach the ASL during red phases, they can quickly move out of the way of motor traffic, whereas if – as without an ASL – they’re distributed more randomly in the traffic queue, as they are less able to reach the front, the resulting delays to cars may in fact be slightly greater.

So Wellings’ argument is wrong even in its own terms – removing ASLs would actually likely worsen the efficiency of junctions with status quo mode share. Those ten people sitting on bikes in the ASL – apparently ‘inefficiently’ – would instead be dispersed at random amongst the queue of motor traffic, effectively taking up more space, and being more like, well, motor vehicles, rather than being released in one quick burst at the head of the queue.

But much more importantly, Wellings’ argument is also wrong from the perspective of a simple analysis of efficient use of road space. In this now widely-shared picture of the junction on Theobalds Road in London, there are 27 people on bikes taking up space that could be occupied by three cars, at most.

P1020194

3 cars, or 27 bikes – what’s more efficient at shifting people, bearing in mind that average car occupancy in England is 1.5 people?

To take another way of looking at this (moving away from the dreaded ASL) – at this Dutch junction, there are ten people using the cycle infrastructure on the left.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 21.26.10Would the occupants of those cars on the right hand side of the picture prefer to be 5-10 cars further back in the queue? Is that what ‘efficiency’ means?

I suspect part of Wellings’ problem here – and it is a broader problem with transport planning across Britain – is an inability to see cycling as a viable, serious mode of transport, that can function as an alternative to the car.

This perspective – perhaps we can call it the Wellings Perspective – sees cycling as some kind of minor annoyance on the existing road system, an annoyance it would probably be good to get rid of altogether. From the Wellings Perspective, ‘Cyclists’ are seen either as people who can’t afford cars (and who should be walking or getting the bus instead), or as leisure users, clogging up the network while engaging in their hobby. Of course, children cycle too, but we can tolerate them bimbling about on the pavement while their parents walk behind them.

Back in the real world, making changes to the road network that will enable many people to cycle instead of using cars for short trips, therefore freeing up space on the road network for all users, is simple good policy, that is now being grasped by Transport for London as well as by government ministers (and by implication the DfT itself) –

I know one of the common complaint is that there simply isn’t enough space available on our roads for cycling infrastructure.

My response is that there simply isn’t enough room not to put it into place.

But from the Wellings Perspective, these kinds of changes make no sense, because they involve impeding serious, actual transport – i.e. cars – for the sake of a few weirdos and hobbyists.

The Wellings Perspective is apparently unable to grasp that ‘a cyclist’ isn’t some ‘extra’ problem on the road network, that has to somehow be fitted in around drivers (or better yet eradicated altogether). Instead ‘a cyclist’ is someone who could have been driving instead. 

To take just one concrete example.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 22.08.02

All these children cycling and walking home from primary schools across a main road in the Dutch city of Assen – literally, hundreds of them – could be framed as ‘a delay to motorists’, because they’re holding them up as they cross the road. But in reality, due to the fact that they are walking and cycling home, rather than being ferried by car and therefore adding more motorists onto the road network, they are reducing delay to motorists.

This is so simple I can’t quite believe I’ve had to type it – but there you go. Sometimes things have to be explained to ‘Heads of Transport’ at economic think tanks.

This brings me to something Rachel Aldred has also written – in this case, about cars on the road network as ‘positional goods’

There are many items that are what economists call ‘positional goods’ – a key benefit of the object is derived from having something that others don’t, something that is either physically or socially scarce. Fashion largely works on this basis. The opposite is the Internet. If I have the Internet, and virtually no one else does, it’s rubbish – the benefit of the Internet comes from everyone using – and often, contributing to – it. But if I buy a new and expensive pair of shoes, and see many other people wearing them, I’m not going to be happy. Part of what I’m paying for is the hope that you don’t have the shoes.

But motor vehicles take positional goods to a new level. Having a new pair of shoes doesn’t entitle me to kick others off the street. Cars, on the other hand, marginalise non-users not just socially but also physically.

As Rachel goes on to explain, it was the car as a positional good that essentially caused a collapse in cycling levels in Britain. Previously quiet lanes, streets and roads on which most people could happily cycle became increasingly hostile as the use of cars spread, too hostile for these ordinary people, leaving the tiny hardened minority willing to continue cycling on the motor traffic-dominated road network.

But there is another obvious aspect to the car as a positional good. Car driving is attractive in relation to the number of other people who are not engaging in it. Here’s a definition lifted from, err, the Institute of Economic Affairs

Positional goods… have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

Naturally, if everybody drove, for every trip, then the value of driving would diminish rapidly, particularly in urban areas. (Indeed, the value of urban areas themselves would diminish rapidly).

Driving is not much fun when everyone else is doing it.

Driving is not much fun when everyone else is doing it.

By contrast, the early days of motoring must have been glorious by comparison – roads relatively free from other motorists, in the most part.

What I am driving at here (excuse the pun) is that the quality of the driving experience actually depends on large numbers of people not driving. One might even go so far as to say that the urban motorist is to some extent a freeloader; his or her driving convenience is actually purchased thanks to other people’s willingness to walk, to cycle, or to take public transport – often in less than ideal, or hostile, British conditions.

Drivers don’t even have to be moving – precisely the same logic applies to high-street parking. Setting aside the fact that this will involve the use of street space that could be allocated to walking, seating, dining, (or bus lanes or cycling infrastructure), the ready availability of on-street parking again depends upon other people not using it to access high street shops and services. That empty space is only there because of those people walking or cycling past it.

An empty car parking space on a high street in Utrecht. Note also the huge numbers of parked bicycles here; every single one represents less pressure on a car parking space.

An empty car parking space on a high street in Utrecht, behind people accessing shops and services by bike and on foot. Note also the huge numbers of parked bicycles here. Every single one represents less pressure on a car parking space.

Noisy, dangerous, unpleasant, and hostile streets and roads that are confusing and awkward to navigate – even for motorists – are a natural consequence of futile attempts to accommodate more and more driving and parking, and a failure to realise that sensible transport policy relies upon enabling and prioritising the most space-efficient modes, for the benefit of all, including those using the least space-efficent.

We arrived in this position, I suspect, largely through ‘boiling a frog‘ – streets that had always been open to all became increasingly colonised by motor traffic, but at such a gradual pace few thought to stop and question what the actual end point was going to be, and at a time when the answer to streets becoming clogged was to devote more and more urban space to the mode of transport that was causing the problem.

SIngle-occupancy vehicles. Efficient?

SIngle-occupancy vehicles, most undoubtedly making short trips within Horsham. Efficient?

Is this use of road space (indeed, of urban space in our town centres) a sensible way of moving people around for trips of under 2-3 miles?

The outcomes could be so much better for everyone, drivers included, if we stopped focusing on ‘cyclists’ as some kind of impediment to motoring, and instead realised that cycling should be a serious mode of transport like any other, and should be developed as a safe and attractive alternative for those people driving.

Around a hundred people cycling, in a matter of seconds, across a 'simultaneous green' junction in Gouda

Around a hundred people cycling (in a matter of seconds) across a ‘simultaneous green’ junction in Gouda

Prioritising such an efficient mode of transport would free up time and space on the road network for those travelling around in cars.

Perversely it might even restore some of motoring’s positional value.

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Sustrans Cycle-Friendly Design Manual (Part 1)

Last spring Sustrans released their Handbook for Cycle-Friendly Design, a relatively short 35-page document which got a bit of a kicking from many people, including David Hembrow and the Cycling Embassy.

This year they’ve released a much longer document in 16 separate chapters, the Cycle- Friendly Design Manual (not Handbook!). This Manual is a whopper – well over 400 pages long, which makes it rather longer than the Dutch CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic.

Given that the examples contained in this Sustrans Manual are almost entirely from the UK, you would be forgiven for leaping to the assumption that there’s probably a good amount of sub-standard stuff in it, to flesh it out to something that outweighs the CROW manual.

And you would be justified in jumping to that conclusion. Some good stuff is being built in the UK, but unfortunately there’s not a great deal of it, and basing your best practice examples entirely on what is found in Britain almost inevitably means you are going to fall short of actual ‘Cycle-Friendly’ Design.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a great deal of genuinely good advice and guidance contained within these 400+ pages. Probably the majority of it is sound, and in the hands of an enlightened engineer or planner, who wants to do a good job, it could produce some quality cycling infrastructure. The problem is that the good stuff is often accompanied by advice and guidance that really isn’t very good; usually advice that less keen engineers or planners will automatically reach for when things get a bit tricky, or when compromises have to be made – which is, frankly, pretty much all the time, when you are attempting to build cycling infrastructure into a highway environment that has never accommodated cycling properly, ever before.

It’s also not clear what the actual purpose of this Manual will be, particularly at a time that we have a large amount of new stuff from TfL including the new London Cycling Design Standards that will (hopefully) be adopted by the Department for Transport as an England-wide replaced for the pretty dire LTN 2/08, as well as the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance, and good guides being produced by campaigners.

Who is this Sustrans Manual for? How does it sit alongside the aforementioned guidance? This isn’t obvious.

Anyway, I thought I’d post some comments here on the opening chapters – it’s too big to take on all in one go.

Bear in mind that the stuff I’m picking out here is the bad stuff that has caught my eye. This isn’t comprehensive, by any means, nor is it an impartial review. I’m deliberately singling out things that should be changed, to make this a better manual, principally because (as I’ve already described) it’s the crap stuff that people who don’t care, or who have been forced to ‘compromise, will seize upon.

So Chapter 1, which is an overview – ‘Principles and processes for cycle friendly design’.

This is a pretty reasonable chapter, but it gets off to bad start – the opening lines, and Paragraph 2.13, tell us to

Design in line with cycle training – on-highway design should reinforce how people are taught to cycle in National Standards / Bikeability Level 2, in particular primary and secondary road positioning.

This is simply the wrong approach – in fact it’s completely back-to-front. Much contemporary cycle training, while worthy, involves coping mechanisms to deal with inadequate or flawed road and street design. For instance, the primary position is used to control driver behaviour at hazardous areas of the road – pinch points, for example. It also involves cycling well away from parked cars. So Rather than explicitly designing for a way of cycling developed to cope with hazardous road design, the hazardous design itself should be addressed. Don’t build pinch points. Don’t put cycling infrastructure outside car doors. And so on. (There is no ‘Primary Position’ in the Netherlands, because cycling infrastructure is designed in such a way as to make it unnecessary to unnaturally position yourself in the middle of the road).

This is followed up by some suggestions on the dreaded ‘different categories of cyclist’, where it is alleged that ‘experienced cyclists… place particular importance on directness’ because they cycle on the road. Of course, this group really only appears to place a greater importance on directness because other users are not willing to deal with the stresses involved in cycling on the most direct routes, hence opting for a circuitous route that purchases a little comfort at the expense of convenience. It’s not credible to assume that some people don’t mind being sent around the houses – Every user values comfort, safety, directness – choices between these options are only made in the current British cycling environment because it is so inadequate.

Closely related, we also have the advice

Where more confident cyclists choose not to use any facilities provided their needs should also be addressed with separate provision where appropriate; they should not be compromised by the design

Design should of course be good enough such that ‘more confident cyclists’ do not feel the need to avoid it. It is a mistake to provide two inadequate forms of provision for two different categories of user; if you find someone avoiding your design, you should be asking yourself why, not tinkering with another parallel approach somewhere else.

In this regard, Paragraph 4.9 in Chapter 3 of the Manual is more acceptable, in that it highlights how this kind of parallel provision should only be an ‘interim arrangement’ – ‘the longer term aim should be to design all routes as suitable for the full range of target users’, which is right, but leaves me wondering why the door is left open in this manual to councils opting for the easy option of dual provision, in the first place.

Chapter 3 is entitled ‘Placemaking’.

This is a troubling chapter for a ‘Cycle-Friendly’ manual because in many places it recommends sacrificing the comfort and safety of cycling in order to create ‘place’.

We are told that

Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’

and also that

In some streets there is no room to provide standard cycle facilities. Placemaking helps define a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrian and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’

If streets and roads are genuinely not wide enough, or there is not enough room, then measures should be taken to reduce motor traffic volumes to an acceptable level at which it is comfortable to cycle on the carriageway – around 2000 PCU/day.

High traffic levels do not allow cycling to ‘safely integrate’ with motor traffic, particularly if there is a relatively high proportion of HGVs/buses. Many of the examples featured in this chapter – Kensington High Street, Exhibition Road, Ashford, Poynton – have uncomfortably high levels of motor traffic for cycling to be combined with it.

An example from the Sustrans manual. 'Placemaking' in action, but certainly not 'cycle-friendly'

An example from the Sustrans manual. ‘Placemaking’ in action, but certainly not ‘cycle-friendly’

If there is not sufficient width to separate cycling from these traffic levels, then rather than attempting to integrate cycling into it with ‘placemaking’ features, the genuinely cycle-friendly approach is to reduce that motor traffic volume to a comfortable level.

It’s this kind of analysis that is missing from the Sustrans manual – although there are helpful speed/volume diagrams at the start of the manual, describing what kind of provision is appropriate, that approach appears to get jettisoned when the practicalities of designing for cycling on actual streets and roads comes to be discussed.

Indeed, this ‘placemaking’ chapter is essentially all about attempting to accommodate cycling on the carriageway on roads that are still carrying far too much through traffic for acceptable ‘sharing’ – what I have called placefaking, a fudging of the function of roads that are busy with motor traffic. A more helpful approach would be to employ the Dutch Sustainable Safety principle of Monofunctionality, which would involve moving every road and street into a particular category, either one for access (with low motor traffic levels, through design) or a distributor road that serves a through-function, and with appropriately-designed separate cycle provision.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 12.26.23

A former through-route for motor traffic in Assen, too narrow for separate cycle provision. But instead of ‘safe integration’, the through motor traffic has been removed.

Chapter 4 – Streets and roads

This chapter sadly follows on from the previous one, with much of the same cycle-unfriendly advice.

In streets with high place function (e.g. high streets or town squares), segregated cycle tracks will generally not be a suitable provision because of the complex pedestrian movements and competition for space with other social activities and parking and loading requirements.

Again, we see – weirdly for a ‘cycle-friendly manual – that ‘place function’ trumps adequate cycle design, regardless of the amount of motor traffic a particular road or street is carrying.

Of course cycle tracks can and do work well on high street locations, and places with parking and loading requirements.

A c

A cycle track on a high street location, with parking and loading and ‘complex’ pedestrian movements. Not a problem.

The elephant in the room here, however, is volume of motor traffic, just as with the previous ‘placemaking’ chapter. If motor traffic on particular street is above 2000 PCU/day, then separate provision for cycling should be provided, immaterial of the street context. If it is not practicable to achieve this – either due to the width of the street, or genuine complexity with other social activity, then motor traffic levels should be reduced below 2000 PCU/day, to create a genuine place. It is pretty ridiculous to suggest that high streets carrying large amounts of motor traffic can’t accommodate cycling infrastructure because that would interfere with ‘place’, but that appears to be exactly what this Sustrans manual is doing.

As it happens, paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 in this chapter provide sensible limits for motor traffic levels for acceptable sharing with cycling (1500 vehicles/day, or 3000 vehicles/day, in slightly different contexts). However paragraph 3.4 suggests that sharing at up to 6000 vehicles/day ‘should be considered’ in locations with a high place functions. Such a level of motor traffic (600-700 vehicles per hour, or 10-12 a minute, in peak) pretty much renders any ‘place function’ moot.

Again, at this level, some form of separation should be provided, and if it can’t, motor traffic levels should be reduced.

This strange fudging is repeated later in this chapter, under a section on Mixed Priority Routes –

Mixed Priority Routes (MPR) are streets with a mix of land uses (commonly commercial and residential frontages) that also carry high levels of traffic. MPRs have important movement and place functions and need to accommodate a diverse mix of road users – pedestrians, cyclists, passenger service vehicles and passengers, motorists – and parking and deliveries.

Streets that have a ‘movement and place function’ should be moved into one category or the other, as per Sustainable Safety. It really isn’t acceptable to mix in cycling with through traffic on streets that are alleged to have a place function; either the street should have motor traffic levels reduced below 2000 PCU/day, or cycling should be separated from that motor traffic.

Shared space naturally makes an appearance too in this chapter, but there’s far too much emphasis on this design technique as ‘cycle friendly’ without any reference to maximum traffic levels for ‘sharing’.

Shared space design principles can be applied to links and junctions, including junctions with significant traffic flows and HGVs.

I’m sure they can be applied, but is sharing space with significant traffic flow ‘cycle-friendly’? Almost certainly not.

Shared space environments can be convenient and attractive to cycle users. Although many schemes include narrow lane widths, cyclists can mix comfortably with traffic because of the very low speeds.

Poynton is famously invoked as one of these ‘low speed’ shared space environments, but I challenge anyone to argue that this kind of environment – slow or otherwise – is ‘friendly’ for cycling.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 14.20.35 There’s just too much motor traffic; it’s deeply unhelpful to include environments like this in this kind of manual without reference to motor traffic levels.

It’s really disappointing, especially when other stuff in this chapter – like cycle streets – are explained and described well, with clear limits (2000 vehicles per day) on motor traffic levels.

Good recommendations. So why not apply this rigour to other streets and roads?

Good recommendations. So why not apply this rigour to other streets and roads?

Another intervention –  homezones – is described in a peculiar way –

The layout [of homezones] discourages through traffic and reduces vehicle speeds to less than 20mph

Homezones should be designed to prevent through traffic – ‘prevent’ should obviously be substituted for ‘discourage’.

There’s also a lengthy section on ‘Community street design’. While worthy, experience with these kinds of projects is starting to demonstrate that asking the community to make changes they want to see to a street won’t necessarily result in changes that are ‘cycle friendly’.

Community-led highway design. No accommodation of cycling. (An example from this Sustrans manual)

Community-led highway design. No accommodation of cycling. (An example from this Sustrans manual)

It’s pretty naive to expect outcomes from these kind of projects to be ‘cycle-friendly’ – so why include this approach at all in a manual that should be about high-quality cycling design?

There is, unfortunately other rubbish in here too. Pinch points –

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.28.39

The left hand side is a recommendation.

Cycle lanes arranged outside car parking, which should be a complete no-no on through routes for motor traffic –

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.29.44

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.30.47A weird recommendation for a bus stop bypass that sends people cycling on the road onto a shared use footway, right at the bus stop –

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.34.20

… As well as a suggestion that ‘wide general traffic lanes’ are an acceptable way of passing stopped buses. (Again, it would be helpful here for some kind of motor traffic volume indication of when it is acceptable to direct cycling around the outside of stopped buses – presumably <2000 PCU/day).

And finally there are also poor examples of cycle (‘partial’, whatever that means) priority across side roads –

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.41.01 Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.41.39 Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 15.42.54To repeat, this manual is mostly composed of good advice – you might not get that impression from what I’ve focused on here. But there shouldn’t be any place for this kind of inferior design, or substandard recommendations, in such a lengthy manual, because that is what will get picked out by councils who are not committed to doing a good job.

If a council is faced with a choice between reducing motor traffic levels to a genuinely acceptable level for sharing the carriageway, or a Sustrans recommendation that sharing is acceptable on ‘Mixed Priority Routes’, or that cycling can be ‘safely integrated’ on roads with heavy traffic – which will they pick?

If a council is faced with a choice between designing proper protected cycling infrastructure on the inside of parked cars, or painting a crap cycle on the outside of them, as per Sustrans guidance – which will they will pick?

If a council is faced with a choice between removing a pinch point and providing a safe convenient design for people walking and cycling, or painting a bicycle symbol in the middle of a 3.1m pinch – which will they pick?

And so on. The crap needs to go, because that’s the stuff that will be chosen.

More to come on the remaining chapters next week…

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The solution is design

The media storm after that incident now appears to be moving into its final stages as the driver involved has apologised.

Without wishing to comment on the individual behaviour on display, it’s fairly obvious that the layout on the road in question is almost a recipe for conflict. A through-route for motor traffic is combined with a busy route for people cycling, into and out of Richmond Park. Add in a truly terrible piece of cycling provision that very few people are going to be prepared to use, and it’s almost inevitable that this kind of confrontation would occur.Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.07.09Above is the end/start of the ‘cycle provision’ towards the southern end of Priory Road. It may not be entirely obvious but this is a two-way path. There is no similar ‘infrastructure’ to speak of further south along Priory Road.

This footway – I won’t even credit it as a cycle path, because it is just paint on a footway – is plainly totally unsuitable for even minimal volumes of cycle traffic. It’s barely wide enough for two people to stand next to each other on two bikes, let alone to pass each other in opposite directions with a combined passing speed of 20-30mph.

Not just that, but it gives up at side roads, notably at the mini roundabout where the confrontation occurred.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.11.07This ‘path’ incorporates the dangerously ambiguous ‘everyone gives way to everyone else’ gibberish that results in deaths, and has been so justifiably criticised recently in a new design in Bradford.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.13.19This tokenistic crap really has to go, not just because it inflames drivers, but also (and far more importantly) because it is dangerous, and also allows councils to get away with pretending that they’ve ‘provided’ something for cycling on a particular road or street when in reality it will often make a bad situation worse.

 

So what’s the answer?

Straightforwardly, something has to give. Either the carriageway itself should be made attractive for cycling, for everyone – and by for everyone, I mean reducing motor traffic levels down to around 2-3000 PCU per day, something like 200 vehicles per hour in peak, or a 3-4 a minute.

Alternatively, some high-quality parallel cycling infrastructure, again suitable for everyone (that means young children as well as people in lycra, riding fast to or from Richmond Park) should be provided alongside the carriageway.

Given the width constraints here, it’s hard to see how this latter option could be achieved.  The best option might be to convert the whole footway into genuine cycle provision, on which people can walk.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.25.55This would be a 3-4m bi-directional path of road standard. The downside of course is that pedestrian comfort would be sacrificed, and it may well be that there are two many pedestrians using this road for this to be a viable option. The width may still not be sufficient, and I suspect this option is unworkable.

Alternatively more space could be gained by converting this road to one-way for motor traffic, allowing a much wider bi-directional path to be constructed, with a separate footway alongside it. Indeed, looking at this view again –

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.11.07… the entire right-hand lane here (which has few turning conflicts) could become the bi-directional path, separated from the carriageway, with the footway restored to pedestrian use only. This example in Haarlem – perhaps a slightly different urban context – shows what could be achieved. The bi-directional path on the left here was constructed from a vehicle lane.

Haarlem Kruisweg bus and bike road May 2013_0Restricting the road to one-way would obviously entirely cut-out through (motor) traffic in one-direction, lowering traffic levels, while still allowing access to properties and dwellings on Priory Lane.

If this isn’t workable, for whatever reason, then the only remaining option, as previously described, is to lower motor traffic levels on Priory Lane to around 2-3000 PCU/day. This would have to be achieved with point closures at intervals or with opposing one-way sections that still allowed two-way cycling. Access for residents would be retained, and through motor traffic would have to use slightly longer parallel routes. It could even become a genuine cycle street, still open to motor traffic for access, but with very low motor traffic levels, such that cycle traffic dominates.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.45.15

More generally this might be tied to the issue of Richmond Park itself being used as a through-route for motor traffic – Priory Lane is an extension of that through-route, and perhaps the two issues could be considered together, with motor traffic diverted onto the A3 and the A306 (and other main roads skirting the park).

These options will require planning and investment, but will have many benefits. They would reduce conflict between motor traffic and cycle traffic – not just the extreme example that has made the headlines – but the more numerous and mundane day-to-day kinds of conflict that makes cycling unattractive, like being followed by motor traffic (even driven well) for several hundred metres. Reducing motor traffic on Priory Lane (and indeed through Richmond Park) would have added multiple benefits for residents, particularly in the form of a calmer, safer, quieter and less-polluted road on their doorstep.

Just as with the recent example of conflict involving a young child and someone cycling on the pavement, this is the kind of discussion the media should now move on to. A reasoned, sensible analysis of how to reduce conflict between cycling and other modes, while making our streets safer and more attractive in the process (we can but hope).

Alternatively our media can just keep sensationalising these incidents every time they occur, as they inevitably will given the built-in conflict engendered by our road and street system. Their choice, I guess.

 

 

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Are you at risk from people wearing shoes with wheels in them? That vital BBC You and Yours discussion

From here

Wheeled shoe wearers, or Heelyists.

A transcript of a BBC Radio 4 programme, today.

Continuity announcer: Now it’s time for Call You and Yours, with Winifred Robinson.

Robinson: Hello, and welcome to the programme. Today, we’re asking a very important question –

is it time to change the rules for people who wear shoes with little wheels?

Should they have to take a road test, and get insurance, like everyone else? Call us now please, on 0800 A-N-E-C-D-O-T-E. You can also email and text us.

We’re talking about this after those video pictures were published showing a little girl being hit on the pavement by someone wheeling along on little wheels in their shoes, prompting headlines like THE MOST CALLOUS HEELYIST IN BRITAIN, and a report on road safety yesterday revealed that the number of heelyists hurt on the roads has risen sharply in recent years.

Nick Unctuous – one of the founders of the London Heely Challenge back in the seventies – rang us earlier. He thinks the behaviour of wheeled shoeists has deteriorated over the years.

Unctuous: Most heelyists haven’t got a clue. They don’t know how to roll efficiently. They can’t even change their little heely wheels. They don’t look where they’re going. An erratic heelyist is a bad heelyist, a heelyist who is heading for trouble. You get lycra-clad lunatic heelyists whizzing down pavements because they think they’re gods, because they think they can get away with it.

Robinson: Conclusive evidence. Now let’s hear from Chris Sensible, who won Olympic Wheel Shoe gold back in 1992, and is a policy adviser for British Heelying. Chris, do you think we should make heelyists pass tests and have insurance before they venture out on heelies?

Sensible: Firstly let’s put things in context. 34 pedestrians are killed every year when motor vehicles mount the pavement. Only one person has been killed by someone wearing wheeled shoes in the last decade.

Robinson: Yes, but you can prove anything with statistics. Statistics are often at odds. I’ve got statistics here that say that it’s actually two people who have been killed in accidents involving wheeled shoes.

Sensible: People will be daft, whether they’re travelling around by car, by wheeled shoes, or on foot. Let’s look at the risk posed by each of those modes of transport. You might as well ask whether pedestrians should have to pass a test, or have insurance.

Robinson: In Switzerland heelyists have to have insurance. And wheeled shoes have to be registered.

Sensible: Most European countries don’t require any kind of insurance to use wheeled shoes. And let’s keep this in context.

Robinson: What about the rising casualty rate of heelyists? Do you think part of the problem here is that some people can just step into wheeled shoes, without knowing enough about road safety?

Sensible: It’s much more holistic than that. Countries just across the North Sea have a much better heely safety record. Heelying is prioritised, and made safe.

Robinson: But they have big heely lanes. You would have to tear London up to do that here, which is obviously impossible.

Sensible: Do we want more people heelying, or not? The big picture is, we do, and measures like insurance and testing will put people off.

Robinson: Let’s hear from our callers now. Greg Taximan is in Hampshire. Greg, do you think there should be new rules for wheeled shoe wearers?

Taximan: Yes, there should be new rules for heelyists. I hear what our esteemed heely Olympian has to say, but when drivers break rules, there’s a punitive system to punish them. If heelyists could be punished for their bad behaviour, then that would modify their behaviour.

Robinson: Greg, it sounds to me like you’re speaking from very bitter experience about heelyists! You must have had an incident with one. Please, fill our airtime with a precious anecdote about them. What do you do for a living?

Taximan: I’m a taxi driver. There was incident in a local village near me. There was traffic jam the other way. A heelyist was coming down my left, where there was no traffic jam, and I was passing him, the lane was well wide enough for me to pass him, no problem. But a heelyist came the other way, and he made contact with my taxi. And there’s no way to hold him accountable! There was no identification on him, or his heelies. There needs to be some kind of number plates on wheeled shoes, to stop the kind of bad behaviour you never, ever, see from drivers who have number plates.

And another thing – maybe only one heelyist has killed a pedestrian. But plenty of heelyists are killing themselves by getting themselves run over by motor vehicles.

Robinson: Thank you for that Greg. Here is an email, read out loud by Caroline Atkinson.

Atkinson: Yes, someone has just emailed to say ‘I was knocked over yesterday by a someone wearing wheeled shoes on the South Bank in London.’

Robinson: Thank you Caroline. Now Barry Chutney has called us from London. Barry, what do you think? Is it time for a wheeled shoe test, and insurance?

Chutney: [Emphatically] Yes. Certainly. It should be brought back as compulsory.

Robinson: The National Wheeled Shoe Proficiency Test?

Chutney: AND they should also have a roadworthiness certificate for their shoes. And they should pay insurance. And wear a reflective tabard saying I AM A WHEELED SHOEIST – WATCH OUT. Or something like that.

Robinson: What makes you say that Barry?

Chutney: Because of the amount of wheeled shoes you see out there. I see it constantly. There are some good heelyists out there, I haven’t got any hatred towards the wearers of wheeled shoes. But it’s not a minority. I see it every day, on a daily basis, especially young kids. They’re riding around on these little wheels, and basically their shoes consist of two shoes, usually with laces, or velcro straps, a sole, and wheels in the sole. No lights in the shoes, no bell, no horn, no nothing. And they can’t wheel steadily, they’re all over the place, in gangs, and just, like, jump out on you! It’s crazy!

Robinson: Barry, what about the argument that clamping down on heelyists is out of proportion to the problem?

Chutney: Rule One of health and safety is to take care of yourself. I drive a big lorry; I take care of myself. Shouldn’t wheeled shoe wearers be made to care of themselves around my big lorry? At all times? It’s common courtesy! Manners!

Robinson: Barry Chutney, thank you. Turning to Chris Sensible again, you’ve just come back from the continent, where you say it is much safer to wear wheeled shoes. But surely we just haven’t got the room here in Britain?

Sensible: There is a finite amount of roadspace. And we have to choose who we give priority to.

Robinson: Let’s return to the callers. Jessica Backintheday from Suffolk – do you think it’s time for everyone to have compulsory education before they put on shoes with little wheels in them, and also some insurance?

Backintheday: I do, yes. I took the National Wheeled Shoe Proficiency Test back in the seventies. We learnt how to keep a lookout behind us, how to signal, all sorts of things related to using wheeled shoes.

Sensible: Well actually fifty percent of schools currently run Heelability, the modern form of the Wheeled Shoes Proficiency Test.

Robinson: Jessica, what do you think about heelyists having wheeled shoe identification, and insurance? I’m trying to get some uninformed consensus on this issue.

Backintheday: I’m actually not sure about that. For poor people, wheeled shoes could be their only mode of transport. Also children could be priced out of the legal use of wheeled shoes. So… I’m not sure. Although maybe some identification on the shoes could help get them back if they were stolen…

Robinson: More emails now from Caroline Atkinson.

Atkinson: A lot of people are very very agitated about people heelying two abreast, which local people are saying causes hold ups. Tony also says that he feels very strongly that when people wearing wheeled shoes go the wrong way down a one-way street, and they have a driving licence, they should get points on their licence. Also Geoff has written that a drunk man in wheeled shoes bumped into his car, and simply wheeled away. Finally Gillian says, ‘If I were Mayor of London I would make all heelyists take a proficiency test, they would wear hi-viz vests bearing a registered number, and they would be insured!’

Robinson: That’s it for today. We’ll have another informative phone in soon. Do join us.

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