Monday 10 August 2009

Is York now "anti-car" ?

A fairly old story from earlier this year, but new to me. Verging on "you couldn't make it up"...

York in England has a higher rate of cycling than most parts of that country. Joe Watt, the "cycling champion" of the city recently quit his job over a new piece of infrastructure.

When asked if it was because the city was becoming anti car, replied that he thought that was the case. More here in the local news article.

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This is the scene of the trouble. The junction of Clifton Green and Water End. This road has perhaps been made ever so slightly more friendly for cyclists than it used to be, but it still falls drastically short of Dutch standards.

The rate of cycling in York remains lower than that anywhere in the Netherlands. You can see why. Cycle facilities need to be much more subjectively safe and give cyclists an advantage in directness if they are to attract the majority of the population to cycling.

Freewheeler's blog points out that Joe Watt's first action on taking the post was to denounce cyclists for taking part in a naked bike ride. Personally, I'm not that fussed about naked bike rides. However, I see such protests as an indication that all is not well with cycling. If conditions were good enough, there would not be much interest in such a protest.

April 2012 Update
More news about this junction. The minor improvement made for cyclists three years ago is now to be removed. One step forwards... one step back again... This is not progress.


  1. Funny how peoples' perceptions are different, isn't it? If you try to maintain the supremacy of the car, you're for Progress, Efficiency, Freedom of Choice, etc. While if you try to make it just a teensy bit easier to ride, you can only possibly be anti-car.


  2. That pushed a button that did. Can I borrow your interesting post for a short moment?

    What is "anti-car" supposed to mean anyway? It is used in a way that implies it is a self-evident Bad Thing, but its badness isn’t at all self evident to me. Either the term is fairly meaningless – like being "anti-washing-machine" – or it's just a piece of shouty rhetoric. It probably originated with the mad petrolheads so why do sensible people give this term any credit by apologetically saying "oh I’m not anti-car but ..."

    Well (dammit) I *am* anti-car in one sense. Yes, it is a useful tool for some purposes but too many of the things make the world a nastier, more dangerous, less pleasant place and I’d like it very much if we stopped paying cultural worship to them.

    As for the York "cycling champion" ... if it is true he gave that as a reason for resigning then words utterly fail me ...

  3. The term "anti-car" is the first thing flying over the air-waves in Toronto and Vancouver when something positive happens with regards to cycling.

    Toronto for example, they opted to remove parking on one fairly major road to install a bike lane. The second that happened everyone was saying the city is going back-wards and is anti-car.

    Now with Vancouver, they just recently closed one lane (in each direction) on a six lane bridge that connects the downtown with the burbs.
    People are calling for the mayors head now.

    It's a shame also, both cities have pro bicycle mayors. Although Toronto has an increasingly amount of anti-bike city councillors.
    One of those councillors in Toronto, even has on his website a petition to force cyclists to wear helmets no matter what the age of the person and that ALL cyclists be insured and licenced.

    As a whole, I'm finding it hard to locate even a mildly bike friendly city in Canada anymore.

  4. What's the width of the short bit of path leading to the ASL?
    I'm always amazed to see that it can be legal to put a bicycle lane which is nowhere large enough to properly accomodate the vehicle it's made for, i.e. a bicycle.

  5. Happily, we don't have any anti-cycling politicians here. In a country where 93% of the population ride a bike at least once a week, it would be rather foolish to take such a stance.

    I'm afraid I don't know the width of the cycle lane in York. By the look of the photo, I'd say it's about a metre wide, which is of course much too narrow. Our standards here call for single direction cycle paths to have a minimum 2.5 m width, and separation of another 1.5 m from the road.

  6. What do you mean is York 'now' anti-car? From my observations York has been anti-car for at least 20 years or more. I mean we haven't been allowed to drive through the town centre, or go in and out of the Bar Walls where we please, for ages. Personally though I don't care, I think it's a good thing. I'm all for using my car to go out of York, but as for going into York I much prefer to walk, cycle or bus it. In fact I would love it if we could go into town and see no cars at all.

  7. Jonathan, I've been to York. Very little has actually been done. The city still has plenty of cars in it, and they are used for a very high proportion of journeys. The cycling rate remains low. Only small steps have yet been taken.

    That's really the point of the post. It seems perverse that there is a perception of an "anti-car" attitude when actually the city could be seen as astonishingly pro-car and anti-cyclist compared with anywhere in this country.

  8. That "cycling champion" is pictured wearing a helmet *and* and high-visibilty vest. He seems pretty anti-car to me: he clearly thinks he is at a high risk of being run over by a car.

  9. I share your scepticism. Apart from what you say, cycle parking is grossly inadequate (take a look outside York station), drivers abuse Advance Stop Lines much as they do everywhere in Britain, and car drivers enjoy a privileged existence.

  10. freewheeler: I think the extent of cycle parking at railway stations is quite a good indicator of the degree to which cycling is taken seriously. Also it gives a glimpse of how much cycling is going on. I've pointed out before that there are villages in NL with more station cycle parking than major cities in the UK.

    Not a million miles from your location, I was amazed a few years ago to see this description of a rather small cycle park: "No, you're not in Belgium, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. You really are in north London, by a railway station and this is cycle parking at its best in the UK.". It's really rather ludicrous given its small scale in one of the world's biggest cities, but of course the hyperbolic language surrounding it is a result of the low expectations of British cyclists.

    There are more cycle parking posts.

  11. It is interesting that the councillor chosen as cycling champion doesn't seem terribly pro cycling from this newspaper report.
    I suspect this was a bit of grandstanding to raise he profile for votes.

  12. Thankfully, Joe Watt has been replaced as cycle champion by Andy D'Agorne, Green party member and sometime York critical masser. He's a good guy, so it'll be interesting to see what's being done when I move back to York shortly.


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