He wrote "The Department of Transport has just published its long-awaited consultation paper on cycling. It took two years to write, contains 43 paragraphs, and will do next to nothing for British cyclists."
The article goes on: "The key to safer cycling is to segregate cyclists from the heavier, faster motor vehicles that are their main source of danger" [...] "yet segregation is specifically rejected in the DoT's cycling paper". The DoT's (Department of Transport's) paper from 1981 gave the well worn excuses of there being "not enough space" and that it's "too expensive".
He also wrote that the consultation paper "amply demonstrates that British thinking lags behind that of its continental neighbours."
Yes indeed. And it still does ! Until Britain starts to actually make progress the country will continue to fall behind the standard set by the Netherlands. While campaigners in Britain continue to make the excuse that the Dutch have a head start, the head start simply becomes larger. When this article was published, only eight years had passed since the stop de kindermoord protests which fermented Dutch opinion and caused change to start.
|"The alternative of running a cycle-path|
outside bus-stops would mean [...] an
inherently more dangerous conflict."
There is talk of a "gentle warning tilt" for cyclists who veer from the path in order to avoid a crash, something which we also see here in Assen in the form of sloped "forgiving" kerbstones.
He also noticed that "where there is space, there is a right filter for cyclists just before the traffic lights" and "where the cycle route is parallel to a main road [...] the cycle route has priority over the minor road".
The article also points out that it was already known that on-road lanes are not so successful as segregated cycle-paths. It also talks of two prestige "demonstration" routes and includes discussion of how it was already recognized that having too few and too widely spread out routes, even if of high quality, is not effective at increasing cycling. This led to the tight grid of cycle routes which is normal today in the Netherlands.
Stats and funding
|It really did look like an upward|
trend in 1981, but why do people
keep claiming this ?
Unfortunately, they couldn't make the other optimistic claim that injuries were dropping as they clearly were not. The roads of Britain were not designed to keep cyclists safe.
There's also an early example of London trying to "baffle with large numbers". The article notes that actual expenditure on cycling is "trivial" in the UK, but nonetheless, London was making claims about the amount to be spent on the "Ambassador" cycling route as an example of a high level of government support for cycling. The author said about the route that it "channels cyclists into several dangerous junctions" and "at the Paddington end is no more than a collection of signposts along heavily trafficked and unsuitable roads". An aside: the "Ambassador" route dates from before my time in cycle campaigning. I couldn't find any trace of it using Google. Do any readers have details of what this route in London was ? Does it still exist ? (read the comments below. The Ambassador route became part of the never finished London Cycling Network)
Please read the article in full. It cuts straight to the point, and describes what was wrong with British policy on cycling in 1981. Unfortunately it could also be said to describe what remains wrong with British policy on cycling thirty years later. If you care about cycling, this perhaps will make you angry.
A campaigning perspective
Thirty years ago I was a 15 year old who had for some years had independent mobility because I rode my bike to school, to go out and to visit friends. At this age I was completely unaware of the differences between different countries for cyclists, or that I was in more danger than I should have been due to an indifference to cyclists on the part of politicians and designers which fed its way into how British roads were built.
These days, I'd be a rarity. In the last thirty years, the rate of youth cycling has plummeted in the UK and other English speaking countries. Even walking has dropped as the car marches ever forwards. Parents have assumed a role of being taxi drivers for their children. Without youngsters cycling, where will new cyclists come from ? The government seems not to be too worried. Their solution appears to be to stop gathering the data on how children get to school.
Cyclists continue to die in greater numbers than they need to on the streets of London and the UK in general. In thirty years, much could have been done to improve the safety record of British streets for vulnerable road users, but that has not been done. More importantly for public safety, people continue not to cycle in the UK. The cost of illness and death due to obesity is extraordinary, and cycling is part of the solution as well as being far less costly than dealing with the consequences.
How long do British people have to wait until British roads start to resemble Dutch roads ? I think it's obvious that it isn't going to happen by itself. The only way to get this change is to fight for it. Unfortunately, the New Scientist article did not cause the outrage that it should have done. Not enough people asked "why don't we have what they have". Thirty years later, with cycling having declined since that date, but with communications having improved, perhaps more can be achieved.
Do something about it
The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain came to see Dutch infrastructure for themselves. They are actively campaigning for infrastructural change in the UK. If you're British, please support them. Other countries need to form similar organisations. Only by organising yourselves will change occur, and sometimes it won't come by working within existing organisations which have a different view of cycling.
|Support the CEoGB.|
They're the best hope
for British cyclists.
Come and see for yourself
We'd be very interested in feedback from Mick Hamer, who remains a consultant to New Scientist magazine, or indeed from anyone else who works at New Scientist who might like to come over here and take a look. We've much to show. Perhaps it's time for a follow-up article.
We run study tours specifically to show how infrastructure in the Netherlands works, and how it is an essential part of having such a high cycling rate. If you want inspiration about how cycling could be, come and see for yourself.
Thanks to Mark Wagenbuur who found this old article when looking for something else but let me write about it. The article presents 30 year old cycling provision in the Netherlands in comparison with that which existed at the same time in the UK. While the UK hasn't changed much, Dutch cycling provision has moved on considerably in the last 30 years. Almost all of what was seen in 1981 will have been replaced and improved by now. Progress is rapid. Assen isn't unusual amongst Dutch cities in trying to renew all cycle-paths and roads regularly. In this case every seven years is the target. The upshot of this being that a very good part, almost certainly over half, of the kilometres we ride in Assen now are on infrastructure which is new or improved since we moved here four years ago.