Monday 3 May 2010

A look back on British policy. The National Cycling Strategy 1996

I just came across an old copy of the newsletter of my local cycling campaign group from when we lived in the UK. This is the cover of Issue 7 of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter from July 1996.

We were all very confident back then as the National Cycling Strategy had just been published. The stated aim was "to double the number of cycle trips in Britain by 2002, and to double them again by 2012."

Amongst bullet point items in the strategy were:
  1. Develop convenient cycle access to key destinations (has this been done?)
  2. Improve cycle safety. (in fact, cycling safety has improved less than other modes)
  3. Allocate priority in road space to cycling (British cyclists can judge for themselves whether this actually happened. The much written about london superhighways are not much of an example.
  4. Provide cycle parking at all major destinations (London still has less than half the number of cycle parking spaces at all its 50 railway stations added together than Groningen, a city with a 40th of the population, has at one of its three stations)
  5. Reduce cycle theft (Has this happened ?).
  6. Raise awareness of the advantages of cycling (training courses, "continuing professional development", and also including school cycle training. Sadly, the rate of children being driven to school has risen dramatically since then and more training did not result in more children cycling).
  7. Unlock resources to meet the objectives of the strategy (Could that be "jargon" ? I feel that if I knew what it meant I might be able to comment).
  8. Set up a national cycling forum, producing an annual progress report
The level of cycling in the UK was under 2% of journeys in 1996 (just the same as now) but if the strategy had been a success perhaps that would have increased to around 8% of trips by this date.

It might have helped if there was a bit more concrete stuff being discussed instead of so many "soft measures", but sadly, of course, the proposals were ignored and the strategy was dropped before it achieved anything. A review was written, which starts with "The Government is committed to encouraging more cycling in England" and carries on to explain that actually they'd achieved no increase at all.

The National Cycling Strategy from 1996 is archived online here. Lots of big words, which led to no real action.

This is one of the big problems with cycling in Britain. It's a talking shop. There are many proposals, much time is consumed in discussing things. However, little actually gets done, and what does get done is all too often done extraordinarily badly.

History to be repeated
At the time of writing there is a new National Cycling Plan for England in the offing. It would be nice to think this was a guaranteed success, but there are already criticisms about it - such as that the aim is to increase the level of expenditure on cycling to a paltry 0.3% of the transport budget. That's really not taking the problem seriously. Is it really too much to hope for a more positive start and a more outcome this time around ?

Update: with the benefit of hindsight it's now possible to report that the National Cycling Plan referred to in the paragraph above came and went very quickly without any obvious progress being made.

It's never too late to start doing the right thing. You just need to actually make a decent start. Until that happens, cycling in Britain will continue to flatline.

Amongst other items in the newsletter were dangerous build-outs on a crossing which was built in a way which was unsafe for cyclists - still unchanged and news that Butt Lane was to be made better for cycling - which didn't happen, though there was recently another inadequate proposal in the same place. This isn't really progress...


freewheeler said...

"This is one of the big problems with cycling in Britain. It's a talking shop."

Exactly. Back in 2000, the London Cycling Campaign was looking forward optimistically to cycling having a 10 per cent modal share in London by 2012. That is plainly not going to be achieved, even though the London boroughs all claimed to be enthusiastic about promoting cycling.

Unfortunately the talking goes on, while conditions for cycling get worse, not better. In my outer London borough, where cycling's modal share is just one per cent, road space continues to be re-allocated from pedestrians and cyclists to motorists. The infrastructure encourages driving and discourages cycling by making it unpleasant, dangerous and inconvenient. The local cycling group's survey of local cyclists showed that people really only enjoy cycling off-road, away from traffic.

Unfortunately Britain's main cycling organisation, the CTC, is committed to so-called vehicular cycling (i.e. sharing the road with motor vehicles), even though this strategy has demonstrably failed to bring about mass cycling in Britain. There's a basic unwillingness to acknowledge the reason why the Dutch cycle in such large numbers.

I think the future for cycling in Britain is very bleak indeed, since there is no desire on anyone's part to introduce Dutch-style cycling infrastructure.

Andy in Germany said...

"This is one of the big problems with cycling in Britain. It's a talking shop. There are many proposals, much time is consumed in discussing things. However, little actually gets done, and what does get done is all too often done extraordinarily badly."

Unfortunately I found that to be true of a lot of things that could have been useful: it's one reason I live here.

Pet projects of the politicians, on the other hand were pushed through with little trouble...

Isla... said...

To coin a fellow blogger's username, isn't the elephant in the room the "Inconvenient Truth"?

...the 'truth' being that for Britain to achieve anything like what David describes as being good for cycling, would mean the powers that be making motoring 'inconvenient'.

As someone who owns a car, that isn't an intolerable situation, but given how bone idle & selfish most of our population are, I haven't yet seen a mainstream politician with big enough balls to lead such a course of change from the top down.

On the other hand, in defence of the CTC (of which I'm not a member), encouraging vehicular cycling is not such a bad thing in that it does encourage most motorists to think bike. It also doesn't seek to facilitate bad driving, which although not intended, taking bikes away from the roads does follow this path by avoiding, rather than solving the root problem.

It also acknowledges that segregation also has its problems at junctions, where 'right of way' becomes an issue. Even a sign explicitly stating right of way for a crossing cyclist would be ignored by most daydreaming or aggressive UK drivers thinking of nothing but their own little bubble :>/

And then there are pedestrians. A half decent segregated cycle path alongside a 40mph road I use for work is frequented by as many pedestrians as cyclists, despite an adjacent footpath!

There are some tricky circumstances here in the UK. There appears to be some good examples of infrastructure, which is often outweighed by the bad. This is set against a backdrop of a motor vehicle biased leadership & a culture of acceptance for bad driving.

David Hembrow said...

Ian: Yes, to some extent motoring needs to be made "inconvenient." It could be said that this has happened in Groningen and other cities in NL where it is not possible to easily drive from one end to the other (you must go out to the ring road, around, and back in). However, this can be overstated. Driving in NL is actually quite easy, and quite a lot of Dutch people own cars.

What is different here is that cycling has been made very attractive.

Problems at junctions can be solved by decent junction design. It is rare around here to come into conflict with motorists at junctions, and you can see some reasons why here. It's not just about signs and relying on drivers to do the right thing.

Vehicular cycling has a place as a survival technique on roads designed without taking the interests of cyclists into account, but it's never going to lead to mass cycling.

Neil said...

"And then there are pedestrians." - who are not doing anything wrong by being on the part that cyclists are allowed on.

Anonymous said...

1996 always sounds recent to me, but as 14 years have passed by I have to admit it is a long time. Does the increase in car use mean that holding on to a 2% journey share is actually good and it may have been much worse?
The UK government is considering a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham at a cost of £17,000,000,000. That sort of money would buy a lot of zero carbon public health friendly cycling infrastructure.
I challenged my local library about the lack of cycle parking - it has six car bays yet you have to chain your bike to a lamp post or fence - and they claimed that there was no budget for such extras.
So just how much is a simple bike stand? I shall keep on at them until they find the money, in the UK it is the only way to get public facilities.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

sheffield cycle chic said...

"Unlock resources to meet the objectives of the strategy"

I think this means -

there is no money allocated to these plans and we have yet to figure out how this can be done with no money

This pretty much sums up UK cycling infrastructure - no money, no ambition and consequently no improvement in cycling rates

Isla... said...

Hi David,

I had a look at your examples of junction designs & two things struck me straightaway:-

* All relied on greater space than exists around the majority of roads where I live, and in most of the built up areas I've visited also, making the possibility of doing the same unachievable without knocking down buildings or taking space away from motor traffic;

* Apart from the underpass, all the other examples were at traffic lighted junctions, which form a small amount of junctions overall in the UK.

I cannot deny that the pics you show of infrastructure look pleasant to use & the Groningen figures an eye opener. The gradual change is interesting in Groningen, but looking at what the last 14 years have provided over here, where even the newer efforts are laughable...well, I know you get the gist having criticised them yourself over & over ;>)

Isla... said...


See rules 2, 12 & 13 here:

You are quite right of course, pedestrians always have right of way, but then you don't see many walking purposely in the middle of the road instead of on the pavement do you?

How can a segregated cycle path full of pedestrians be an alternative to riding along a decent road, unless you ride very slowly? (for which I'm thankful to CTC, for tackling a proposed change to the highway code!)

I'm not against pedestrians by the way - as a family we probably walk more than cycle. Despite being a driver I'm more anti-car.

David Hembrow said...

Ian: The Netherlands is one of the densest populated countries in the world.

Many examples are not in greater spaces than in the UK. One example is this one which is the same width as a road in Cambridge. There is simply good use made of the available space.

Oh, and traffic lights aren't at all junctions here either. You saw lots of traffic lights because you followed my link to stories tagged "traffic lights". However, this link also gives other examples of cyclists being prioritized.

J.. said...

I don't see how pedestrians are going to be a problem. If you have an adequate (preferably slightly elevated) footpath ajacent to the cycle path, pedestrians will typically not stray onto your precious roadspace, much unlike cars, who often view a cycle lane as a parking space and cyclist as irritating obstacles. The only places where the problem may occur is on crowded highstreets, where crouds are sometimes simply bigger than the walkways or where people cross from one side of the street to the other very often.

I see this argument simply as a lame excuse by "vehicular cycling advocates" who still fail to acknowledge that the socalled Dutch Model is the only model (for achieving mass cycling in an affluent society) that has ever been succesful. The incoherent ramblings of John Forester not withstanding, all of the numerous attempts at "mass vehicular cycling" that have ever been tried, have without exception been dismal failures. Why would anyone advocate a system that is a guarentied failure?

Neil said...

@J - that might make it more obvious, but in UK we get cycle lanes that just look like good bits of pavement. Mostly because they are pavement that has just been re-designated shared use or cycle path, or with a line painted down the middle.

Neil said...

I would love to understand what the Dutch design patterns are for various road widths, as like Ian I don't see very many roads that can accommodate what you show us.

e.g. what happens if the minimum widths for motor lanes, cycle lanes, pavements + borders add up to more than the width of the whole highway. (which would be all but the dual carriageways round here as far as I can see).

I can see various options that you have mentioned, but can't envisage them working if there are no full size roads to connect them. i.e. I can't see how I could replan our town with Dutch standards - not that I know exactly what those would be.

David Hembrow said...

Neil: We started running Study Tours four years ago precisely to demonstrate all of this. Suffice to say that the Netherlands has town centres as ancient as those in the UK (Assen, for instance, is 750 years old and was not built with cars in mind) and there are also developments just as new as the newest in the UK. In all cases, cycles are catered for.

There are a few before and after photos of Assen here and other examples here.

However, you only really see how it all fits together by coming and seeing it for yourself.

J.. said...

@Neil: You said: "but in UK we get cycle lanes that just look like good bits of pavement."

Correct! And why do you get these sub-standard cycle lanes? Because nobody's demanding proper ones. This is exactly what David is arguing in this post. You are getting crap facilities because that's what your cycling advocates are asking for. They commit themselves to vehicular cycling, so they ask for crap, and thus the result is crap. Like I said earlier, you're not the first. Lots of people in lots of places have commited themselves to vehicular cycling and the results have been, without exception, complete crap. So it shouldn't be a big surprise.

If you're sceptical about segregated cycle paths (with regards to pedestrians) it's because you've never encountered a good one.

J.. said...

On road width: I think you're approaching the problem the wrong way. You are thinking in terms of: "I need such and such lanes and width and that's too little." while you should be approaching the problem thinking: "I have x feet of road width, now how can I best allocate that space?".

The only problem with that second approach is the logical conclusion that will follow in a lot of places, because you will find that cars get way too much space, both in road space and parking space. So in practice, space would have to be taken away from cars, and that's not going to go down well with what Freewheeler would call the "car supremacists".

Ofcourse in practice, scaling back the space for cars is not a problem, because over time traffic is constant. You build an extra lane for cars, over time it fills up until traffic is just as bad as it was before. Take a car lane away, the same thing happens.

So I think you've fallen victim to the same sort of car supremacist thinking, if you believe that streets are too narrow.

Isla... said...

Hi David,

I've had a look at your other links and still maintain that space over here is an issue - most built up areas I'm aware of would fall into the 'simply good use made of the available space' catagory, and that would only be on the roads with as much space as Groningerstraat; looking at Groningerstraat, the engineers there have done a great job, but over here for anything similar to happen, there needs to be a massive change in priority. Here people consider driving a 'right', as do the planners - one of the reasons many of us cyclists oppose 'cycle facilities', is because behind the painted lines & cycle route signs the culture of 'driving' remains in the planners mindset.

Similarly, the non-traffic lighted junctions giving you priority would be a problem over here with motorists - no cyclist in their right mind would ride across one carelessly. It is a real shame, a real bad situation but put somebody behind a steering wheel in the UK and their attitude changes for the worse.

The traffic engineer on my local council cycle forum has an answer for every 'cycle specific' question regarding junctions (i.e: request for an advance stop line or request for having, advanced green light phase for cyclists, toucan crossings etc etc.,). "It won't work because the software says it causes a build up of traffic further back. We must maintain traffic flow". Amidst cycle policys and strategys, the priority of the motorist remains. Without that being changed beforehand, what facilities we do get over here will always be second or third rate.


Sorry to be forward here but in the example of the segregated path I mentioned, pedestrians are a problem, so the case as you 'see' it or otherwise is irrelevant. It 'is' also a problem on most of the segregated paths we rode on in York last year. Lame excuse? I think not J, real examples yes.

I might be what you would call a 'vehicular cyclist' in that I cycle on the roads, but then I've never known any different. The only thing that has changed since riding my Raleigh Grifter as a kid, is the volume of traffic, the selfish attitude of the motorist & the abundance of road features that don't consider the cyclist.

Our vehicular cycling advocate in the UK is a guy called John Franklin and his book 'Cyclecraft' is anything but incoherent.

Regarding your reply to Neil, I won't use profanity on somebody else's blog so won't quote, but as I see it, CTC do a lot to maintain our right to cycle on the road, which IMHO is good of them.
If you can point to any advocates who have campaigned for poor facilities then shame on them, but what is wrong with campaigning for lower speed limits, more cycle parking in towns, less unfriendly road features and such like?

If I went to my local council cycle forum meeting (next Monday) and was told by the other side of the table that the council was to put cyclists priorities above that of the motorist, I wouldn't hesitate to pass on Davids details...but don't hold your breath till Monday because unfortunately, they aren't likely to do anything so radical!

David Hembrow said...

Ian: I lived for most of my life in the UK and know exactly what it's like.

There is a difference between British people and Dutch people. The British make excuses, while the Dutch find solutions.

There is no physical reason why British cities can't accommodate cyclists as well as Dutch cities can. It is only the lack of will which prevents it from happening.

The junctions here, btw, are different from those in the UK in more ways that you probably realise. Corner radii are much tighter, for instance, and the driver will almost certainly have to climb a steep "kerb" as they make the turn (in order that the cycle path can remain at the same level). These things make it extremely difficult for drivers to whiz around the corner in front of you even if they want to. Drivers are forced by the design of streets to take more care than they do in the UK.

I've seen the quality of provision in York. It's not great, and of course you will have problems with such things. Until there is the will in the UK to do a proper job of cycling, cyclists will remain the "villains" (always in conflict with either drivers or with pedestrians).

While I was in the UK, I also always used the roads. Shared use paths as built in the UK simply don't work for efficient cycling.

However, while "vehicular cycling" might be a reasonable survival technique where conditions for cycling are bad, it's not something which is ever going to grow the rate of cycling. If you want cycling to become something other than the minority pursuit that it currently is in the UK, there is one way to achieve it. You need proper cycling provision as seen over here.

AndrewRH said...

Well, there is one positive - the world, including London, are taking up free cycle hire. That will add more voices who demand better infrastructure.

Just saw these tweets from meeting between ‏@allpartycycling and Transport for London: Mar 2012 - 818,209 hires, a record month Total hires - 13.33 million
% of all cycling trips is 6%, 17% of users have increased cycling, There are more than 150,000 registered members,
The ave weekday hire is 30,000 hires - each bike being used 4-5 times each,
Serco approached 2-3 times a month by other cities in the UK and worldwide asking about the scheme. Main issue is how to make it affordable,
How many bikes have been stolen asks @Meg_HillierMP. 19 have been stolen and not recovered
"It's so obvious that cycling is part of Dutch culture"- Dutch Colleagues' Response: "For the Dutch it isn't."
There have been 40 serious injuries on the bikes, none are life changing and no fatalities.

David Hembrow said...

AndrewRH: Bike share is a phenomena from countries with low cycling modal shares.

There is no proven success with any of the systems and it can never have a capacity which is enough to make a real difference.

London, just like all the other places that have installed such systems, makes a lot of press out of what are actually a very small proportion of journeys being made on these bikes.

They're pulling the wool over your eyes. Actually, the level of use of London's bike share system is equal to each Londoner making a round trip approximately once every three years, and for that round trip to the pub, the system is subsidized at a rate of 112 pounds per user.

It's a crazy system which can never grow into something which accounts for a significant part of any city's transport needs.

Bike share schemes are not where you will see real growth in cycling because it is impossible for them to provide adequate capacity.

Conditions which make cycling convenient and easy for everyone are what are required, not flagship schemes like this which absorb a staggering amount of money to achieve very little.