Monday 3 January 2011

Cyclists' Special

Way back in 1955, this popular film was made of cycling in Britain:

Part two can be viewed on youtube

It's a great film. I find it interesting to see that once-upon-a-time, British Rail bent over itself to make taking bicycles on trains easy even occasionally for large groups - this film was made by an organisation which existed specifically to make films like this.

Britain was a very different place when this film was made. It was normal to cycle. When that film was shot, in 1955, British people still each cycled an average of over 350 km per year, a figure very similar to modern day Germany, and about a third of that now in the Netherlands. This was a time when people travelled in total a lot less than they do now so these are significant figures. British people made these bicycle journeys over the very same landscape as where many people now make excuses about hills and the weather to explain the current low cycling rate in the UK:

Many British people don't realise that even within their own lifetime, before motoring took over from everything else, it was quite normal for all sorts of people to ride bikes for everyday journeys.

Of course, the group in the film aren't entirely average. They're cycle-tourists, and have relatively fancy bikes. You can see that from the dropped handlebars (British touring bikes traditionally have dropped handlebars, usually set a little higher than most racers would have them) and from the derailleur gears which many of them have.

"Hills or headwind don't put me off,
A Sturmey Archer hub gives wings to my bike."
The film was made a time of transition, when tourists started to use derailleurs instead of the same three speed Sturmey Archer hub gears as normal everyday bikes had. Yes, those hills were once ridden on bikes with three gears, and little was made of it. In fact, contemporary advertisements tended to stress how easy it was to climb a hill with the luxury of three gears.

The change in British attitudes regarding cycling took place over many years. Rather like the proverbial frog in a pan of boiling water, many people didn't notice what was taking place around them. Drivers in Britain, who have had the infrastructure of the entire country altered to suit them, now quite commonly believe that they are the victims of a "war on the motorist". Indeed, the government has just taken more steps to placate them.

Meanwhile, many British cycle campaigners have continued to campaign for the same thing as they always have. i.e. the "right to ride on the road", even though those roads have become a far more hostile place for cyclists than they used to be, and decades of campaigning on these same issues have not resulted in any progress. The reason is quite simple: the over-abundance of motor vehicles makes British roads an unpleasant place to be on a bike. This is now the main reason why people don't cycle.

It makes me very happy to see that there is at last a move in the UK now towards campaigning for the same sort of infrastructural change as prevented the Netherlands from suffering from the same fate as befell the UK. You can find examples of this here, here and here. It took time for the decline to occur, and it will take for cycling to grow back. However, there is enormous pent-up demand, as can be seen anywhere that something attractive to ride on exists.

A change in attitudes can come, but only due to a real change in how it feels to cycle. Go back and look at the people in that film again. There are no reflective vests and no helmets. In 1955 people felt safe on a bike on Britain. Remember what I said about pit canaries a while back ?

The chart appeared in a previous post, but I think it worth repeating in a different context. Another small point: Have you ever seen such a large group on a CTC ride ? Touring cycling thrives when more people cycle. All types of touring are popular over here.


wee folding bike said...

Running a mouse over the UK average distance gives a figure for km per year... it appears to 13 decimal places which I think makes it down to 1/1000 of a millimetre.

Not everyone finds UK roads an unpleasant place to cycle. It's an opinion.

I stay less than a mile from Sustrans route 75. I never see anyone use it. I suspect there may be another reason for people in Scotland not cycling and it's not a pleasant one. The people who park their 4x4 on the pavement to avoid walking 100 m to a real parking space aren't going to be using a bike anytime soon.

Anywho, nearly time to get on my bike and go to the pictures for the Tron sequel.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: Of course it's an opinion. An opinion which is held by the majority.

When I lived in Britain, I cycled. That includes cycling in Scotland. Mostly I enjoyed it. That's why I did it.

However, you and I are unusual in this. The majority of British people now never cycle at all.

If there is to be growth in cycling it won't come from those who already cycle, but from those who do not.

It won't hurt anyone, including the keen cyclists, if conditions for cycling become more enjoyable.

wee folding bike said...

How do you know it's an opinion held by the majority?

Why aren't the majority using the Sustrans path in their droves? It's not even used by a small number the only cyclists I see on it are cops.

Could it be the majority here can't be bothered getting off their backside no matter what you do for them?

I'm not convinced that increased off road facilities will do no harm. I've been peeped at by people who thought I should be on the cycle path and you should be aware of the Highway code trying to make us use paths. How long till some smart lawyer tries to have damages reduced because there was a cycle path available and a cyclist didn't use it.

Cycling really isn't that dangerous but if you promote off road paths then people will continue to think that it is.

Then there is Franklin's research which finds off road facilities are not as safe as people had assumed.

If there was a fast separate facility to every destination you might have a case but there isn't. At some point we need to be on the normal road.

I'm not prepared to be pushed off the road, I'm there by right.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: You say "I'm not prepared to be pushed off the road, I'm there by right."

I'm not quite sure why you've brought this up with me as I've never suggested that you should lose that right.

However, the attitude is what makes you a part of one of the biggest problems facing cycling in the UK: i.e. people who can see the small picture but not the big picture.

For you, at your current age, with your current level of fitness, and with your current family situation, cycling works well enough.

However, you are not everyone.

The demographics of British cycling tell a story. There is a dominance of young adult males - the least risk averse group in society. I suspect that you could be classified as a "young adult male". Think about it.

The majority of British people do not cycle. That's a fact.

Why are people not using the Sustrans path near your home ? How should I know ? I've not seen it. Given my previous experience of Sustrans' idea of what cycling infrastructure looks like, it's quite likely that design standards are low enough that it's not usable except at a crawl, that it's got gates across it at regular intervals, that it doesn't actually go anywhere anyway, and that if it does, it takes an incredibly indirect route. What's more, it's apparently about a mile away, which is much too far.

Bad quality cycle infrastructure is not going to help anyone. It takes investment to do a good job. What other infrastructure in Britain has to be built by charities ? The government isn't taking cycling seriously.

It's absurd to suggest that people only view cycling as dangerous because of promotion of off-road paths.

The opposite actually happens, of course. Make cycling feel safe and people cycle. That's why Dutch cyclists are not only more numerous than British cyclists, but also why they don't look like British cyclists.

Meanwhile, it is what Britain's roads actually look like that is causing many people to see cycling as dangerous.

Franklin's "research" ? You actually think that's meaningful ? I suggest you read a bit wider...

amoeba said...

Cycling is much less pleasant than it needs to be. I find as soon as I relax, then some bastard decides to do something dangerous.

Who does this? Seemingly, almost everyone. Men and women, though mostly men, especially in vans / commercial vehicles and self employed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that almost all the careful, decent drivers are cyclists.

Isla... said...

Nice post David.

Maybe the reason train operators no longer bend over backwards to make taking bicycles on trains easy, is because they are now operated for shareholders rather than for the benefit of passengers!

That said, on the couple of holidays we have taken using the railways with our bikes, the conductors have been extremely helpful. It's the lack of space that's always an issue.

christhebull said...

Well, I am a "young adult male", and while I am content riding on the majority of roads, I find that A roads, especially in rural areas, are unpleasent due to the volume and speed of traffic. Cycle lanes, where provided, are carved out of the existing roadspace, leaving the main traffic lane so narrow that buses will straddle it. There are some roads (such as the A3) which I quite simply will not use, and which are effectively off limits to all but the most determined and fearless time trialler.

For some reason, it is legal to ride here, but illegal to ride here at certain times, which sums up how cycling has been effectively excluded from transport policy for, well, decades.

Anonymous said...

In the second part, the narrator uses the word "bonk" in the way I've always used it, to run out of energy, "excessive fatigue." That was surprising: somehow I thought it was a more modern word, at least in that sense.

wee folding bike said...

I note you don't supply data to back your majority claim.

You also seem to be claiming that I have said things which I didn't.

I just cycled though Coatbridge. It's the fattest town in the UK. People refuse to walk a short distance and they don't have the "it's too dangerous" argument for that one they just can't be bothered. Take away their dangerous perception and they will claim it's too hilly. Use old railways and they will claim it's too cold and wet. Take that away in the summer and they still don't cycle so I'm left with the conclusion that they just can't be bothered. It's not something I'm happy about but it's the only reason left.

I note you don't address the Highway code comments on cycle paths.

I never said you suggested that we would lose the right to ride on the road but if you move cycling to a ghetto then that right will be questioned. Motorists already do that when there is a cycle path available. Move us off the roads more and the questions will get louder.

I do nothing unusual in my daily cycling. Other people of normal fitness are capable of doing it too. They choose not to.

I didn't say people only view cycling as dangerous because of off road provision however if you make it something which must be done in a special place then it is seen as dangerous.

Why are you so sure that you see the picture but others are wrong? Sweeping rhetoric and a sack is worth the sack.

I'm 44 with 4 kids. Not really that young anymore but I was perfectly capable of riding on Ayrshire A roads when I was 9 and the A77 from when I was 13. If you got my age so wrong then think it possible that you may be mistaken elsewhere (I missed out the beseech and bowels of Christ because I'm not Cromwell).

Cycling is safe, perhaps you should address the actuality rather than the mistaken perception of danger.

I note the vague criticism of Franklin. I also note the lack of detail or alternative sources.

The Sustrans path is fairly free of bollards. Less so of glass but I use Marathon Plus on one of my Bromptons and my Pashley. The surface is less good than the roads although the holes are smaller.

Are you really planning to run a cycle path to every house, every shop and every cinema?

You seem to have used the A82. That's down to one lane at one section. I don't see anyone putting in a cycle lane there when they don't even bother putting in two lanes for cars.

Promote cycle paths in the UK and you turn it into a niche activity which you drive to and then take your bike off the roof of the SUV. This doesn't happen much with route 75 but it does with the canal path along the south of the Campsies.

Cycling is not a niche activity for me, it's transport and the best place for me to do that is on the roads because they go where I want to be.

fairweathercyclist said...

The increases in VAT and fuel duty will get many people in the UK considering their car usage and the utility cycling proposition could be attractive to many.

I agree with you David, that the majority don't wish to join the yellow lycra clad fraternity on uncomfortable sporting machines.

I live in a village of 5000 where the school has had great success with Bikeability training and Bikers' Breakfasts. There is a ripple effect where parents are buying new bikes to accompany their kids on the ride to school and for other local journeys.

The council has funded a 'home to hub' project to determine safe routes to the school from population clusters. They are also looking at some measures to curb speeds and make some local journeys more convenient by bike than car.

I have resolved to use my bike for local (less than 2 miles) journeys. I cycled the 1.5 miles to the village shop to buy a paper yesterday on B roads. I was overtaken by one car on the way and three on my return. I think the 'roads are too busy' excuse is often overdone.

Isla... said...

I think the 'roads are too busy' excuse is often overdone

That will depend on where you live & time of day though won't it?

Two things in particular have changed my outlook this year on segregation.

The first is actually a really positive one in a way - teaching my eldest Daughter to ride. The gripe is then discovering the obvious. To ride with her anywhere involving roads other than sidestreets, it just isn't safe for her. Argue the toss all you like - I have on this blog previously & am not ashamed to admit it - but seeing things from the perspective of a 9 year old who is perfectly able to handle her bicycle & ride a few miles, it isn't difficult to see that in the UK we have a poor deal.

The second thing was something that happened riding home from work one morning up a (very) wide open 30mph road in the secondary position. An overtaking car clipped my handlebars, knocking me to the ground & drove off. It hasn't put me off riding, but I was lucky. Drivers aren't getting better in the UK. With mobile phones & satnav's for company, they are simply getting worse.

We haven't visited the Netherlands yet, and when we do fully expect to find that not every aspect of the infrastructure is perfect. But pitched against our alternative and comparing the 'stats, I don't think we'll be disappointed.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: You're still missing the fundamental point. You, and others like you, are not everyone. The majority of British people do not cycle. Not ever.

You asked for a reference. How about this: "Over two thirds (69%) reported using a bicycle less than once a year.". Or this: "One in four adults questioned by market researchers Mintel said cycling was too risky". This is the reality of cycling in Britain for most people. It's "unsafe" so they don't do it.

If you've any interest in cycle campaigning in the UK you must surely have seen the same information before.

I find your assertion that cycling risks being turned into a niche activity quite astonishing. What do you think it is now, when under 2% of trips are by bike ?

There is a very simple reason why the Dutch example should not be ignored: it's wildly successful compared with what has been done in any other country.

How has this been achieved ? It's quite simple. Yes, there really is "a cycle path to every house, every shop and every cinema", or at least very nearly so. You have to bear in mind that there are ways of segregating bikes from cars which don't involve building cycle paths. However, the effect is the same. Where you cycle there are rarely any cars.

Having chosen an average Dutch home in a suburb of an average Dutch city, I find that every one of my neighbours cycles for at least some of their journeys. That's from children of just a few months of age right through to all those of school age going by bike, right through working age even to pensioners aged over 90. Non-cyclists are amazingly rare over here. That is the mark of a successful cycling policy. People who are not particularly fussed about bikes use them anyway because it's a convenient way of getting about.

I don't believe there is any fundamental difference between Dutch and British people. To say that the population of Coatbridge "can't be bothered" is to do them a disservice.

People living in places like Coatbridge have delights like this facing them if they decide to try to make journeys by bike. You might find it acceptable, but the majority of the population does not. That's the fundamental reason for the low cycling rate right across Britain. British roads and Dutch roads simply do not look the same.

freewheeler said...

@wee folding bike.

“Cycling is safe, perhaps you should address the actuality rather than the mistaken perception of danger.”

Last month’s published survey by the Department for Transport revealed that two out of every three drivers who gave up their cars and tried cycling gave up and reverted to the car. Why do you think that is?

I know several cyclists who’ve given up and gone back to driving after having bad experiences while cycling. Personally I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be going on cycling on roads filled with drivers chatting on mobile phones, drivers who can’t bear to be behind a cyclist for even five seconds without blowing their horns or screaming abuse, or drivers who overtake in a reckless and aggressive fashion.

Of course there are pockets of Britain where you can pootle around on a bike without experiencing aggression, but they are not typical, and the towns and cities of Britain are not exactly short of cycling bloggers who regularly report on their negative experiences.

Anonymous said...

How things were so different back then.

wee folding bike said...

The piece from Mintel does not tell us the question asked. This devalues it considerably.

Even taking it at to mean what you suggest, saying something seems risky does not mean I would do it if it seemed less risky.

Were you ask me if bungee jumping seemed risky I would say "Yes". If it were shown to be less so I would still not do it. Riskyness is not why I don't do it.

Tennis is four times more likely to kill you per hour than cycling is but I don't not play tennis because of the high risk of death it just looks like a dull game.

Cycling is not dangerous. Why not tackle the misconception instead of reinforcing it as you do?

Have you seen the figures for Boris bike use? Has there been a huge number of injuries?

Your approach tells people cycling is so dangerous that cyclists must be taken off the road. You do not help cycling rates by making it look risky. It's like the FUD effect of helmets and we know what that did.

You have not addressed the point about making cycling into something which you drive you car to a special place for.

"Very nearly" a cycle path to every house means no, there isn't. So you need to be on a road at some point and there will be cars. Cyclists need to know how to deal with them and cars need to know how to deal with cyclists. Again you will make cycling odd if you segregate for most of a journey except some bits. Odd things are difficult to predict. I behave like the rest of the traffic. I'm easy to predict.

If you are right and only 2% of trips are by bike then it is a classic out group activity and the more you push it to a special place the more you reinforce this. This is not the Netherlands. Perhaps you would have been right if this had been done in the '60s but it wasn't.

You don't live in Coatbridge. Have a Google for the Glasgow Fort shopping centre. Look at the car park. Observe where the bus stops are and that there is a car park on the far side. This car park is often almost empty and yet people park on the pavement in the nearer car park. Do they do this because they are scared to cross the street at the bus stop or because they would have to walk 100 m? I see people who are able bodied and on their own parking in the "parent and child" spaces. Do they do this because they forgot their child, because they can't fit their ridiculous 4x4 into a normal space or because they want to avoid a walk? Perhaps I know these people better than you do.

You picked a bad example in Coatbridge to use against someone with local knowledge. Sustrans Route 75 passes right over that section of dual carriage way. I have been cycling past that most days for 9 years and I have never, ever, seen another cyclist use the over pass. The surface is good, it goes directly into Tesco's car park from a couple of housing estates, there are no kids with Buckie bottles there and yet it is not used. I use it as a short cut and to dodge the speed bumps but I've never seen another bike there.

You rather shot yourself in the foot by claiming that Dutch and UK roads do not look the same. Do you really expect them to change everything for the 2% who cycle?

Build it and they will come doesn't always work.

As yet you have failed to demonstrate that lack of infrastructure is a reason for low cycling rates in the UK. You seem to assume that this is the case but you have shown no data to support it.

I still await your critique of Franklin.

I don't see how limiting cyclists to a ghetto will make cycling better for me and I ride a bike every day. I'd rather money was spent on people who do ride a bike rather than people who might do it some day if they felt like it a bit.

i do see how this could become another way to limit the freedom to cycle. It has been tried before as you should be aware. Have a look at comments in the Daily Mail, there are plenty of people who want us off the road and you would be helping them.

wee folding bike said...


I must live in some kind of cycling oasis. I don't get this hassle from other road users. Perhaps you should all move to west central Scotland. hardly anyone rides a bike but it's a Nirvana of good tempered motorists.

In the recent national emergency I was even getting lots of thumbs up and double peeps from people as I rolled along on my Longstaff impervious to the ice and snow.

I regularly get strangers coming up to me and saying "You're the bike guy" and they do this when there is no bike around. To a man they are positive about this and the odd one has even been out on their bike as a result of seeing me. Their reason for not doing it all year is because of the weather. If an ordinary old fart like me can do it then so can they. No special facilities required because cycling is a normal activity.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: Cyclists in Britain are already in a ghetto. It may not be a physical ghetto, what with all that glorious "sharing the road" that goes on, but it's certainly a social one.

If cycling were genuinely the "normal activity" that you suggest it is for you then no-one would refer to you as "the bike guy" (which I notice is singular). No matter how much you like to think you are "normal", you're actually so unusual that complete strangers notice you.

I'm not saying that's bad. Quite the contrary in fact. Good on you for cycling, even if hardly anyone else does.

However, you clearly don't understand much at all about cycling in the Netherlands. In particularly you seem to have completely misunderstood what was meant about segregation without cycle paths. You've also misunderstood what it means to have a useful network of cycle paths. One NCN route running through your town does not make a network which will result in mass cycling. The Dutch did town scale research 30 years or so ago which showed that a tight grid was required. They published their results, too, so that other countries didn't have to repeat the same errors.

But there's the problem. Britain simply ignored these results, and today continues to ignore this most successful example to follow. British cycle campaigners seem particularly averse to considering what worked in the country which has both the highest proportion of journeys by bike and the safest cyclists.

Of course, there's no logic to this at all. However, there's also no logic to John Franklin's outburst that he would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence, or to the utterances of that other VC superstar, John Forester, who writes any amount about how terrible he thinks it might be to cycle in the Netherlands even though he has only ever visited the country once on "a childhood train journey through Holland before World War II".

Anyway, that's enough for one evening, and don't expect me to find time to go over the same ground again tomorrow.

wee folding bike said...

If we are in a social ghetto then your physical solution addresses the wrong problem. You need to change the mind set of Thatcher where someone on a bus is a failure but a silly looking 4x4 BMW is something to aspire to.

I don't mean to replace the BMW with a MAMIL on a Campag Masi. They aren't practical. I got a Campag equipped Dave Yates 20 years but it's in my dad's shed. usually I travel by Brompton or Pashley.

I teach in a secondary school. Kids find it surprising that someone who owns three cars would choose to ride a bike. There is currently one other member of staff who cycles in every day but that will change next year. That's still going to one more cycling staff member than almost every other one of the 40 odd schools I've worked in.

The school is part of Glasgow city's 2005 Schools Bike Loan Scheme (SBLS).

There are safer signed cycle routes from local areas to the school. They are clearly marked with blue signposts, not exactly segregated but at least they tried.

There is a £40K off road cycling course behind the school which was opened by a Scottish off road champ, neither of the two cycling staff were asked along. The PE dept drive to work as they have everywhere else I have worked.

There is a large bike storage facility at the side of the school, and I do mean large, it's about 20 m by 10 m. It's covered over and you need a key from the jannys to get in so bikes are safe there. In the two years it has been in place I have seen one bike there. I'm tempted to ask if I can use it for tomatoes in the spring because it looks like a big green house but it's not heated and there are spaces near the bottom so a frost would kill my crop. However, this is a facility which cost the council thousands, is well known to the pupils and yet nobody uses it.

It was built, they didn't come.

I can email you some URLs about cycling initiatives in the school if you like or you can Google for SBLS. I don't get involved because the council insist on dangerous equipment for cycling.

Normal is not the same as common. I mean that no particular physical attributes are required. An ordinary slightly over weight bloke can do it.

If you can claim I don't understand Holland you would have to concede that you don't understand central Scotland.

I've been to Holland after WWII. It was nice, great cheese and I was chased down a street in Amsterdam by a guy who wanted to check if it was true about the kilt, but it's not here and what works there does not necessarily apply here.

Gary said...

Wee folding bike: I lived 500 metres from the Sustrans route 75 in Linwood and agree with you that this is not well used. However, I personally think this is due to the lack of upkeep (broken glass) and the relative isolation of the facility. For example, I would not be happy for my wife to use this, especially at night.

However, I do not think that you can compare this to the Dutch infrastructure - there is absolutely no similarity. I completely agree with David that "Bad quality cycle infrastructure is not going to help anyone and that it takes investment to do a good job".

Rather that infrastructure for cycling being an afterthought or an appeasment to cyclists it must be a central part of the country's transport network. This did not happen overnight in the Netherlands and it would probably take a couple of decades to implement in the U.K. Unfortunately it will never happen while our policy makers can't see that this is the solution. Until this paradigm shift happens they will continue to prioritise the motor vehicle at the expense of everyone else.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: I am no fan of Thatcher either. But you really can't blame her for this. The rot set in much earlier than 1979 and cycling dropped again after 1990.

"At least they tried" isn't good enough. They didn't try nearly hard enough. This has been going on for decades.

Sadly what you write is a typical story from Britain. Almost anything might be tried so long as it's not too expensive, and so long as it doesn't get in the way of drivers. Therefore it always leaves out the one thing which actually makes a difference, which is to properly reallocate space (and priority) to bikes. It's very important that this is to a high standard. The difference in standards between German and Dutch cycle paths is reflected in the huge difference in cycling rate between the two countries.

However, while I criticise them (and they deserve criticism), even German cycle paths are built to higher standards, and make a much more comprehensive network, than those in the UK. And that's the point. Everywhere that it's been done to a standard which is more than just token, there is a success story which is proportional to the effort put in. This is true even in car-mad Germany.

I don't believe that the UK is a special case. In your location, and across the UK, nothing has been built well enough, and that's why nobody came. Even good quality bike parking is a waste of money if conditions are such that almost no-one will cycle to it.

Please note that Amsterdam is not representative of the rest of the Netherlands. We live in a much more kilt friendly location :-)

Gary: "A couple of decades" is about right. It's not impossible to achieve - but nothing will happen until a proper start is made.

Two decades is enough to do quite a lot. If the publicity surrounding that video had been enough to ferment a change in policy, Britain could now look like NL twenty years ago. Sadly, it was ignored by British cycle campaigners and another twenty years of making excuses went by.

Paul Martin said...

Well, here in Brisbane (Australia) the segregated bikeways that actually go somewhere are always busy. Go much beyond these paths and you'll be hard pressed to find a cyclist on the roads - only the hard-core and yes, they're mostly young males.

Some people actually drive their cars to the bikeway and then cycle the rest of the way to the city - there is certainly pent up demand for separated infrastructure (of a high standard) here, no doubt.

For those that don't drive the the paths they often will slowly cycle on the footpath until they get to a quiet back street.

Give me Dutch Infrastructure any day thanks. And every single member of my family agrees.

Unknown said...

Hi David,

I wouldn't argue that the traffic conditions on many of Britain's roads are intolerable, even to experienced and thick skinned cyclists like me. We now have 10 times the traffic levels that we had in the 1950s I would post a chart but not sure how to do it. You can find it in my presentation here:

The problem is that we do not have a useable alternative here in the UK, and no authority seems prepared to invest in creating an alternative of even the minimum quality.

The awful roadside footway conversions that get built here are quite simply not fit for purpose. They aren't safe, they aren't convenient, they aren't attractive, and they give beligerent drivers an excuse for behaving aggressively towards people who continue to ride in the road. They are not an asset to cycling.

I have invested time and blisters on the Sustrans network, but looking back a decade later I have to say that I think that time and blood was wasted. Even the very best paths here (eg the DNA path in Cambridge) are a very poor imitation of the Dutch networks.

So that is why we (CTC and others) continue to campaign vigorously to retain the right to ride on the road - because the alternative (banning cycling from roads where "cycling infrastructure" has been built) would spell the end of cycling in the UK.

We aren't bloody minded about it. We use Sustrans paths on CTC rides, and we support the building of good quality cycle paths. But they must be appropriate to the need and they mustn't be a "token" alternative to tackling genuine deterrents and dangers. 100m of converted pavement outside a school does nothing to encourage children to cycle to school when they have to negotiate a horribly dangerous roundabout to get there (as is the case in most schemes that I have to deal with).

We would love to have Dutch quality cycle networks in the UK, but there is no political will to build them, and where the will exists it is undermined by the people who design the infrastructure.

It is a lovely dream, but hard to see it happening in my lifetime, or even my childrens' lifetimes.


Anonymous said...

Aren't Franklin's comments about off road paths based on the normal shared use pavements? There are some fundamental differences between that and NL infrastructure.

So, while I would agree that junctions are the key hazard whatever the road/path/lane, the junctions for off road paths in UK and NL are very different in priority and positioning and therefore safety and usability.

Also separating cyclist from cars etc does a huge amount to reduce the fear factor i.e. addressing the fact that people think cycling is more dangerous than it is.

wee folding bike said...

Again you accuse me of something I did not say but you seem to think that I did. I didn't say Mrs T caused it but her views are symptomatic.

The council might not have tried hard enough for you but you don't vote for them and most of the people who do are not interested in your opinion. They have seen thousands spent on something which isn't used and they're not going to support more money being used when there are cut backs elsewhere.

Check one of your own graphs on this page and you find cycling has been dropping since the early '50s in both UK and NL.

You claim that infrastructure is to blame for high cycling rates but the graph you used contradicts this. Cycling levels in the UK fell faster and to a lower rate before improvements in infrastructure 30 years ago. That doesn't add up does it?. Check the graph on the top of page 503.

It doesn't support your case. Even with your infrastructure NL is at roughly 50% of what it was in the '50s. I know the high levels then were down to post war austerity as it was here even so you are still well down but it never dropped as far and as fast as the UK. You can't blame infrastructure because you have said that it wasn't in place then and the paper you cite says the same. Something else was different between the UK and NL. That graph is relative to '50s levels. I didn't see an absolute figure for the '50s.

You haven't addressed the risk which special provision imposes on me.

Will you be surprised when some lawyer uses failure to use a path as contributory negligence? Will you put your hand up and say, yes, I campaigned for those facilities?

I haven't seen a critique of Franklin.

You haven't told me about why people in Coatbridge who will not walk the length of themselves will suddenly agree with you and spend millions on something in which they have no interest. You haven't explained why their elected representatives will support this... although elected in Coatbridge and Airdrie is an interesting idea.

Paul, we all know what Australia did wrong and special cycle paths here will reinforce the idea that cycling is dangerous and a special activity which must be kept apart.

Gary, do you really see the locals of Linwood embracing cycling? Perhaps more than Coatbridge, I used to live in Barrhead and the section of cycle round from Paisley west was busier than here. That could of course be down to the large car park beside Paisley Canal were people can leave their cars and take their recreational bike along the path to Lochwinnoch where there is more parking. I look forward with some interest to seeing Wendy Alexander say she will be pushing for increased spending on cycle paths. Actually I look forward to seeing her say anything as her lips are a source of entertainment to the peasantry.

Dave, I didn't say I was upset by the kilt fan in Amsterdam. I stopped and let him have a look.

freewheeler said...

Alasdair Massie:

“We would love to have Dutch quality cycle networks in the UK, but there is no political will to build them”

Why should there be any political will to build them when cycling campaigners have never asked for them? I think its quite dishonest to pretend that the CTC and the LCC have ever had any enthusiasm for Dutch-style infrastructure. They almost never mention it. Instead there is a long-established tradition of boundless optimism about the future.

For ten years a minority of cycling campaigners have said Dutch infrastructure should be put at the heart of cycle campaigning, but they always get told they are dreamers and it is pointless. Cycling organisations announce defeat before the battle has even started.

Over ten years have passed since this.

@ wee folding bike

I notice you haven’t answered my query:

Last month’s published survey by the Department for Transport revealed that two out of every three drivers who gave up their cars and tried cycling gave up and reverted to the car. Why do you think that is?

“Build it and they will come doesn't always work.” An analogy with the Millennium Dome is a silly one. The principle works very well as far as transport infrastructure is concerned. British motorways, for example. Or cycle paths in Utrecht. (And actually the Millennium Dome is currently a rip-roaring success in its current incarnation as the 02.)

Steve said...

Wee folding bike
Are these things an issue for pupils at your school ?
I am genuinely curious, clearly for people who cycle they produce debate is that reflected at all in the school population

christhebull said...

Ah, early motorists were derided by other road users who regarded them as wreckless speed freaks, and some of them didn't want motorways in case they were forced off normal roads.

Maybe they were scared a sign would tell them to get out of their cars and push them?

wee folding bike said...


I'm not aware of any interest in the off road track and they I've only heard them comment on the cost and emptiness of the cycle storage facility.

Mostly they ask me if I have really cycled in what ever the weather of the day has been, particularly last month, and sometimes where my helmet is.

wee folding bike said...


You know the normal excuses, too hilly, too wet, too cold, big scary cars.

They never seem to mention too lazy funnily enough.

Christhebull, Motorways were seen as a good deal by cyclists in the 20th C as it moved cars to a ghetto instead of moving cyclists there.

fairweathercyclist said...

Comments about public apathy towards cycling go two ways. The majority would be equally indifferent if more public funds were spent on high quality cycling infrastructure.

The reason that more is not spent is because not enough people are lobbying for more. I would encourage anyone who wants to influence highways policy more to get involved in local government - parish or town councils, etc.

I've been researching the issues extensively. Cycling England hasn't delivered because it's a top down programme. The key to change will be pioneering local grass roots projects.

The current Catch-22 is that most keen cyclists are in fear of losing their right to vehicular cycling whereas the 98% who use other modes won't be tempted into utility cycling until they perceive it to be safer, and convenient segregated paths are a key part of that.

The challenge for cycling lobbyists is to sell the benefits of cycle-friendly highways engineering to the public in a way that shows benefits to the whole community.

For example, in our village, two roads serve as a rat run. Cars often exceed the 30 mph limit and residents want it addressed. We are exploring how a combination of blocking off one roads half way down and maybe a 'false one way street' can totally eliminate the through traffic. The residents will get the peace they want, we will create a car-free route to the school and more utility cyclists will be tempted onto the roads. A potential win-win.

I cycled into my village today for a meeting at 10.30 am. I was overtaken by two cars on the way in and four on my return. My resolution for this year is to take the bike - I'm one of those whose excuse used to be 'the road's too busy.' I admit I was wrong.

christhebull said...

Well, in the 1930s a pair of 2.5 metre wide cycle paths were built along Western Avenue, a major arterial road in London, but despite being much better than nearly everything else in the UK since then, the CTC were unimpressed because they saw it as a threat to cyclist's right to the road, with usage compulsory as in Germany, where the new government was keen on driving with the new Autobahnen. (And so Godwin's Law is proven true)

The CTC got what they wanted in 1958 when the Preston Bypass, now part of the M6, was built. They didn't understand induced demand though...

Anonymous said...

That was a lengthy argument, I agree most UK citizens are too lazy to use anything other than a car, but equally I personally would like a network of cycle paths like those in the Netherlands. I don't care if the others then stay in their cars (or if the Government gives a £5000 handout towards an electric car), I won't be thinking of them.

Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

Frits B said...

I wonder about the use of the word ghetto in this discussion. As if providing separate roads tailored to the needs of a specific category of users were wrong. Everybody accepts that canals are for boats, railways are for trains, and pavements are for pedestrians. Why not give cyclists their own roads? Makes them feel a lot safer, and for that reason may lure a lot more people out of their cars. And as for this "right to use the road": yes, most separate cycle paths in Holland are mandatory = for the exclusive use of cyclists. Not a ghetto, luxury. To be appreciated in safety.

Frits B said...

I almost forgot. See here:
The last paragraph of "Back home in Leiden":
"It is so wonderful to be able to ride a bicycle (with ease!) to the store and shop for groceries. It only took a few minutes and was safe and completely convenient. I am very grateful to the city planners, activists, and all who allowed this to happen.
Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!"
(Alicia had just returned from Iowa).

wee folding bike said...


Even in NL dedicated tracks don't run everywhere so you need to be on roads at some part of your journey. This transition is not handled well.

Plenty of people in the UK think we should not be on the road at all and will complain if you use their road instead of some separate facility.

Even the UK government had a line in the Highway code which suggested that we should use an off road facility when there is one available. This was taken out at the request of the CTC. It could have allowed a lawyer to claim contributory negligence if a car hit a cyclist who was on the road when there was an other option.

Have a read at the comments in UK papers when cycling comes up and see some of the attitudes of the peasantry.

No less a guy than Winston CHurchill had road tax ended because he didn't want motorists to feel that they owned the road. Now, I don't know that he rode a bike and I'm not a particular fan of his for some historical reasons, but he saw what would happen in that instance.

I rarely get any aggro from non cyclists on the road but I also get no impression that they are ready to leave their cars. Carrots aren't going to do it. Sticks might but the price of gas will need to go up much more, speed be better controlled and out of town shopping centres stopped before that happens.

wee folding bike said...

Glasgow City Council plan for London Rd.

I just go straight along the road but the council think a detour round a block, wee bit of shared use path and onto the wrong side is a smart idea.

kfg said...

Frits - "Not a ghetto, luxury. To be appreciated in safety."

I do feel an obligation to point out that that is exactly what they said to the people they forced into ghettos.

One might also wonder why it was they should need one for safety.

MKP said...


Ha! Godwin's Law! You Lose!

(Sorry. Cough. Bit overexited)

kfg said...

"Bit overexited"

Indeed. So exited that you have invoked Godwin's Law where it is not applicable.

There were no Nazis in 13th Century Prague.

You lose, with, ummmmmm, prejudice. :)

trailsnet said...

The best, most important point that has been made in all these comments is when David wrote, "If there is to be growth in cycling it won't come from those who already cycle, but from those who do not."
The cycling community is a great bunch of folks, but they're stuck in a rut. It's time to think outside the box and welcome the 99% of people who are non-riders. Unfortunately, they do not feel welcome under the current cycling conditions and mindset.
If we are going to make a difference in the environment, health, recreation, & commuting, we'll have to look at biking in a different way. When we do that, more people will bike, more funding will come available, and we'll have even more people in the biking family.

Frits B said...

@kfg - safety is the key selling point here. Why do you think gated communities are so popular nowadays?

I originally objected to the term ghetto being used for providing a safe environment for cyclists. As David never tires of repeating: subjective safety is one of the main arguments to get people out of their cars. See trailsnet's comment.

kfg said...

"Why do you think gated communities are so popular nowadays?"

Ya got me swingin'.

fairweathercyclist said...


I agree with you. The people who load their bikes up onto their cars to go cycling in country parks are where the growth will come from.

Central government has allocated significant sums towards sustainable transport. Councils have mostly frittered it away on schemes that serve no real purpose.

The reasons for the disconnect? First, elected councillors haven't been sufficiently well-informed to be more challenging of their officers. Second, another slant on the same point - there aren't enough cyclists elected to local councils where they can champion the cause sensibly.

To be clear on being well-informed. It takes many hours of reading to get up to speed on the subject. LTN 2/08 isn't light reading!

If we want change, we have to get inside the power structures where it's possible to be influential. David has written previously that in Dutch towns most of the councillors are also cyclists and the power this gives shouldn't be underestimated.

kfg said...

"The people who load their bikes up onto their cars to go cycling in country parks are where the growth will come from."

I can speak only for the USA, but if that is where the growth is to come from there will be no growth, as this is an area of steady shrinkage.

David is right, the growth will have to come from people who do not cycle, as this is the only place it can come from.

"there aren't enough cyclists elected to local councils"

Is this the chicken, or the egg? Why don't you elect some?

"LTN 2/08 isn't light reading!"

Ooh, it's not that bad. Yeah, it's a little short on conversations, but it's got lots of pictures. It's certainly lighter than, say, Physics for Poets.

"in Dutch towns most of the councillors are also cyclists"

As most of the Dutch cycle, just as in the USA most councilors are drivers, not because the populace made any effort to elect drivers, but because that's what most Americans do.

In every American city that has installed some infrastructure worth at least half a crap it was done because there were already enough cyclists to make the issue political.

The question is how you bootstrap to that level, because it is a prereq for "Build it and they will come."

Edward said...


"Even in NL dedicated tracks don't run everywhere so you need to be on roads at some part of your journey. This transition is not handled well."

Usually it is. Have a look at David's video of his trip to the shops:

Some of it is on separate paths and some is on roads. The transition between them is very good. The roads he rides on are in quiet residential areas and none are open to through traffic. That is how it is done.

Admittedly, even in the Netherlands, there are probably a few places where people have to ride on a stretch of road. I saw a video of one a while ago. The video though was from a news programme on television. The fact that it made the news shows how rare it is I think. I would also be willing to bet money that it has since been improved.

wee folding bike said...

I was watching a documentary about Cumbernaild today. It's a town built after the war where peds and roads are separate to keep the peds safe.

Does this lead to lots of walking? Well not in the three years I lived there. Whenever I go to see friends there it's hard to get to their houses for all the cars in the streets.

Perhaps the flagstones aren't smooth enough.

David Hembrow said...

Wee folding bike: Presumably you mean this place: "The residential structure of Cumbernauld is noteworthy in that there were no pedestrian crossings, i.e. zebra or pelican crossings, or traffic lights —pedestrians traverse roads by bridge or underpass. This remained the case until a set of traffic lights were erected in the Condorrat Village neighbourhood Main Street, soon followed by traffic / pelican lights which were erected beside the new Tesco Extra, opened January 2004. This has led to the suggestion that the town is car-centric, and difficult to navigate by foot."

The "new towns" in the UK all share the same problem of design which is car-centric and does not actually encourage walking or cycling at all.

Feel free to carry on in your own little world, but I'm getting a bit bored of you.

wuppidoc said...

Oh Dear, what a long thread and many repeats. There was one (under many other) important issue mentioned: THE ROAD HAS TO BE ATTRACTIVE FOR THE NINE YEAR OLD TO CYCLE. That is the reference for cycling infrastructure and nothing else.
People do not get into the habit of cycling if they need to be sporty, courageous and specially clad to cycle to the newsagent, to work or to school. And as the numbers of motorists have soared since the 50s, as motorists are dominating the roads, the answers have to change compared to the 50s.

If there are only small numbers of cars (under e.g. 2000 a day) or a speed limit at e.g. 20mph, then you can stop asking for special cycling infrastructure. But main and busy roads need cycle paths or cycle lanes. And they have to be set up so the 9 year old can cycle from A to B without having to sweat because of "car-stress".

And in a country like Britain, where cycling is not a habit and where cycling infrastructure does hardly exist, and that has a major state budget problem, you will have to compromise at the beginning.

Cycle lanes (not advisary but mandatory ones) on roads are a cheaper approach than off road cycle paths. But they have to be wide enough (minimum 1,50 meter) and must have a solid line between cars and cyclists (=mandatory).(And the fast, sporty, or even racing cyclist does not have to use the mandatory cycle lanes). The dotted line can come at exits of drives and at junctions (but the cyclist needs priority over cars).

These are simple first rules for a starter pack of cycling infrastructure. And from there you can later on develop the advanced version à la Holland......And Copenhagen is going exactly that way, comrades.