Wednesday 6 March 2013

What do we want ? Gradual Change. When do we want it ? In due course

This morning I read yet another comment from a member of the British cycle campaigning establishment which said "It’s taken the Netherlands 40 years to get from where they were in the 70s to what you see there now". This excuse is used often in Britain seemingly as a reason why British campaigners should be happy with less than the Dutch have.

New Scientist magazine in 1981. Just eight years after
Stop De Kindermoord, The Dutch were already ahead and
their success was considered to be worth emulating
But how true is it that the Dutch are "Forty years ahead", and how much sense does it make for campaigners who are supposed to be calling for change to repeat this message ? Should cyclists really expect no more than some minor variation of what they already have ? This is an example of defeatism. Campaigners should surely be looking to close the claimed 40 year gap and not making excuses for the country being so far behind.

Still from a video produced in 1990 about the Dutch Bicycle
Masterplan of 1989. In several languages, it was intended to
help planners and campaigners elsewhere. There was already
an emphasis on children.
It didn't really take 40 years in the Netherlands
It is true that the Stop de Kindermoord protests (note: these protests were for the safety of children. i.e. something with wide appeal. Not for "cycling") occurred forty years ago, but it is not true that it took forty years for the Netherlands to achieve a standard of infrastructure vastly ahead of what Britain has now.

In fact, in 1981, just eight years after those protests, an article appeared in New Scientist praising what had been achieved and suggesting that the UK should copy it.

After another 9 years, just seventeen years in total after the Dutch "Stop child murder" protests, cycling infrastructure and policy in the Netherlands were of sufficient quality that it was worth making a film about it. There are several stills from the film in this post. Follow the link to view the film yourself.

A mother cycling with very young children 23 years ago.
These small children are now adult cyclists, perhaps parents.
Useful change was achieved in the Netherlands within the time it took for a toddler to grow up into a teenager. Children for whom campaigning took place in the 1970s actually got to experience the results for themselves before they were adults. These children grew up into adults with the infrastructure which was built in response to the protests of their parents. Fewer of them died than would have been the case if those protests had not been listened to and their children now benefit from the inertia gained during that period of time.

Why so little progress in the UK ?
So what has happened and continues to happen in the UK ? Has the UK really had less time in which to achieve results, or is just that no real effort has been expended in cycling ? Why has progress been so slow that it can't be measured at all ? Where were the campaigners during all this time ? Have they not had time to respond to the lack of progress ?

Dutch School Children with the freedom to cycle to school
23 years ago. They've grown up and their children now cycle
to school. British children just got training. Their children
got yet more training. It still hasn't resulted in
scenes like this, and never will.
I noted a few blog posts ago that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign was established seventeen years ago. The organisation has been in existence for the same amount of time as it took for the Netherlands to change an entire country's streets to the point where the Bicycle Masterplan video first show-cased the quality of Dutch cycling facilities to the world.

But the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is, like many smaller groups, actually a relative newcomer to campaigning. London Cycling Campaign was founded in 1978. 35 years have passed since they began their campaign for London's cyclists.

Parents of those Dutch children cycled to work. Many are
now grandparents who still cycle. Generations of Dutch
people have benefited.
Sustrans was founded a year earlier than LCC so they've had 36 years in which to foment change right across the country, like the LCC, they've existed for twice as long as it took to transform the Netherlands.

This post was prompted by the text quoted in the first paragraph, written by someone who often speaks out on behalf of CTC. It's a common claim in the UK, and I'm not rounding on this individual, but CTC itself should know better. In cycling terms, CTC is an incredibly ancient organisation. Founded in 1878, they're one of the very oldest cycling organisations on the planet and have had a whopping 135 years in which to campaign for cyclists. That's eight times as long as it took to transform the Netherlands. Unlike the newer organisations, CTC has been there fighting for cyclists, for the entire post-second-world-war period over which cycling has declined.

Time is clearly not the issue. There has been plenty of time for Britain to have achieved all that the Dutch have, and more. Many people have worked very hard for cycling, they've given much of their time over many years, yet progress has not been made. Why ?

New housing developments in the Netherlands were already
designed around the bike 23 years ago. When will Britain
make a start ?
So what went wrong ?
Campaigners in Britain seem to suffer from several problems. They have shown themselves to have low aspirations, not daring to ask for the proven success of the Netherlands to be replicated but instead trying to find some alternative route to mass cycling.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign
I've noted before that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign does not hold the council to high enough standards. This has continued since this blog post was written with the group asking members to support a substandard proposal for roads in their city. Other local groups in other areas of the country have done likewise. Local groups, of course, are run in a small budget and have relatively little influence.

LCC still asks for second rate infrastructure in London. They've moved from one campaign to another, and the over-active marketing people have produced a vast pile of press releases along the way. In the PR world of LCC there are always more successes to celebrate, but what they're calling for is lacklustre. For access to the Olympic park in London, LCC requested infrastructure which is worse than that provided for an average Dutch town's small scale sporting facility. "Going Dutch" was accompanied by calls for Advanced Stop Lines and a bizarre requirement for cyclists to turn 270 degrees to the left in order to make a 90 degree right turn was approved of and boasted of by LCC.

For many years, Sustrans has been happy to rubber stamp infrastructure which is of far too low a quality and I've quite a lot of experience with the results. I've pointed out ten years ago that Sustrans routes are impractical because they're often far more indirect than roads to the same locations. In 2006 I had to brake for an underpass through which it was impossible to cycle and then was forced to take to the road because one of their paths proved to be dangerous. Others have also pointed out that Sustrans puts their name on routes which are simply not of a quality that one can cycle on them.

Sustrans continue not to understand how to make cycling useful for the majority of the population.  Since writing this piece, Sustrans have blamed users of their paths for going "too fast". In fact, the conflict which was seen was a direct consequences of Sustrans' design - which mixes walking children with commuting cyclists on a narrow path. They then went on to rubber-stamp a dangerous roundabout design in Bedford which would mix cyclists with trucks on a turbo-roundabout, a junction design which is absolutely not suitable for cyclists even if they're very fast, and which would definitely not work for the independent 11 year olds that Sustrans usually claims to design for (since this blog post was written, the problems with Sustrans have continued. Sustrans have released a cycling infrastructure design standard of appalling quality and backed several other items of bad design in places including Southend).

Quote from 23 years ago: "Making cycling safer, for example
by separating bicycle traffic from car traffic". Why didn't
Britain start 23 years ago ? When will this become official
policy in the UK ?
The other fundamental problem has been the dogged adherence of "cyclists" in Britain to the ideology of riding on the road. This has led to CTC standing firmly in the way of Britain building the infrastructure which is required to grow cycling, while an increasing majority of the population see cycling as something alien to them. CTC has sadly long had difficulty with seeing the benefit of segregated cycling infrastructure. Bizarrely, they did approve of segregated motoring infrastructure in the form of motorways.

CTC's emphasis has largely been on training, though that's been proven not to increase cycling, and indeed the amount of cycling in the UK now is somewhat down from what it was when the CTC was at its greatest. CTC have also been active in approving of bad design including a roundabout in York and joining with Sustrans to approve the lethal Bedford roundabout design. They've leant their name to cheering about such things as small improvements in cycle parking. (2020 update: In April 2016 rebranded itself as Cycling UK. They still promote cycle training despite there still being no evidence of it leading to more cycling).

There remains great suppressed demand for cycling. People gather at events at which they can cycle in safety. However outside of those events the public image of cycling in Britain is largely of an extreme sport that only "cyclists" take part in. Cyclists are viewed as being militant and angry outsiders. In part this is a result of cycle campaigning which has focused only on the needs of "cyclists" and therefore excluded other people from taking part. It also doesn't help that cycle campaigners often take an anti-car stance which separates them from the majority. It's worth bearing in mind that the Netherlands has achieved more than anywhere else for cycling with remarkably few anti-car policies.

Targets for 2010 in the video from 1990
These targets were (pretty much) met
It's not good enough to say that conditions are good enough for everyone to cycle just because you, as a self-selected member of the small percentage of people who cycle find conditions to be good enough now, already cycle. Other people won't do it until it feels safe for them. An emphasis on training cyclists while still asking for infrastructure which suits only those who already cycle has helped the decline of cycling because it does nothing to address the most common reason why the majority do not cycle.

What do we want ? Gradual change. When do we want it ? In due course !
Think what the target actually is. If you want cycling to grow from 1% of journeys to 27% of journeys and for cycling to be normal for everyone then it must be inclusive of everyone.

Dutch railways stations already had enormous bicycle
parks (though they had to grow to keep up with demand)
Cycling should not be just about "cyclists". Cycling is beneficial for all of society. Children should be able to go to school unaccompanied. Parents should be freed from the school run. All adults who currently feel that they have no alternative but to drive and who find it expensive and stressful, should be able to choose to cycle.  Elderly people and those with disabilities should also be able to experience the freedom of cycling. Society suffers from all the well known adverse effects of excess driving, such as rat-running, road rage, obesity, air and noise pollution and the violent deaths of thousands of people every year.

This is why cycle campaigning needs to grow to be inclusive and not be focused on a tiny minority.

There is really only one place worth looking to in order to find the answers, and that is the one place where these things are already true: The Netherlands. Don't dilute demands by asking for what is unproven or by following examples from elsewhere which have achieved less. Ignore anything which was tried and abandoned in the Netherlands because there is no need to copy mistakes from here or elsewhere.

Does this look like the result of
successful policy in the UK ?
The future is what you make it. Demand nothing less than best practice loudly enough, repeat it often enough, and make sure that the full benefits for everyone are known and something just might happen. While a multitude of cycling organisations all of which have multiple ideas about what they want, which between them give a mixed and difficult to understand message and which will often offer government an easy and cheap way out, progress is nearly impossible.

There is nothing magical about what happened in the Netherlands forty years ago. This country simply decided on sensible policies which were good for society and it has stuck with them ever since.

The claim has not always been "40 years"
I can remember when campaigners and officials in the UK claimed that the Netherlands was 20, 25, 30 and 35 years ahead. It's the same claim, but it is periodically for the ever longer period of time while no progress is made in Britain.

What does this mean precisely ? It makes no sense whatsoever to justify a a further delay in making cycling accessible to everyone in Britain just because, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years have already been wasted. Fifty years ? Well, if we don't start to jump on people who make this statement, as well as those who use the other excuses for inaction, we're still going to be hearing the same sad refrain in another ten years time.

Update 29 June 2020: Someone from the UK today told me that "it took 50+ to get to NL standards". Slightly earlier than I expected to hear it, but the excuse has again had a few years added on, exactly as I predicted would happen seven years ago...

Andrew Gilligan, London's Cycling Commissioner
The first comment below this blog post, written just a couple of minutes after it went public, pointed out that Andrew Gilligan, London's "Cycling Czar", said two days ago that "it took 40 years to turn even Amsterdam into Amsterdam" in a post which is a teaser for their "vision" which will be launched tomorrow. This is no more true for London vs. Amsterdam than Britain vs. the Netherlands as a whole. Everything above applies. Come on London, you need to aim much higher than you have before.

This is no accident
Being "forty years behind" is no accident. This didn't suddenly sneak up on people, it took forty years to happen. No, being "forty years behind" in cycling is the result of forty years of making deliberate choices not to build the infrastructure which is required to support cycling. It was enabled by forty years of campaigners not saying enough to stop it.

If you want to see for yourself how the infrastructure and policy have combined to get everyone to ride bikes in the Netherlands, there's a study tour in May on which we demonstrate almost everything featured in the many posts on this blog in just three days.

The chant in the title is Kate Fox's idea of what "a truly English protest march" would sound like. It comes from her book "Watching the English". I find it interesting that the 38 page long "Rules of the Road" section of her book goes to much effort to explain how wonderful British drivers are but doesn't actually mention cycling at all, even though it says in the introduction on the first page of this section that it will discuss cycling. That this mode of transport is practically invisible even to an anthropologist studying the English says something about how commonly people cycle in that country.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain can rest easy for now. They've only been going for about two years and that's only a quarter of the time that it took for the Netherlands to get to the point that journalists from New Scientist were impressed. But has a quarter of that progress been made in Great Britain in the last two years ?


goodwithwords said...

And yet again the 40 years figure is being trotted out by Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor of London's new cycling 'csar' ahead of the launch of his new 'Vision for Cycling in London'. Can't say I hold out much hope for it...

Fonant said...

"But has a quarter of that progress been made in Great Britain in the last two years ?"

It may well have done, perhaps more thanks to The Times than the CEoGB, although many voices have been heard promoting the idea that riding bicycles shouldn't just be something that "cyclists" do. The recent Parliamentary Inquiry was titled "Get Britain Cycling" and heard lots of good evidence pointing in the direction of Dutch-style principles. Even CTC are changing their stance on protected cycle tracks, slowly. LCC very nearly got London to commit to 2% of transport budget for cycling (I know, it's pitiful, but it's a lot more than is currently spent).

We'll see what the "Get Britain Cycling" report looks like, and then whether the politicians back up their rhetoric with actual funding for serious infrastructure change. I have hopes that the tide is turning, certainly the debate has moved on significantly in the last few years.

My children certainly won't be cycling to school on their own, aged 8, this year. But they might be an awful lot safer cycling around ten years later when they reach 18. I wonder if we'll still be driving one-tonne motor vehicles still?

aredbridgeblue said...

The points are well made and we do need to make more progress more quickly for a whole raft of reasons.

However,it is fair to point out that London is a much bigger city with a far larger population. Consequently the task is more challenging. But it is a challenge we have to meet.

Edward said...

Completely agree!

When I was growing up in the UK I had a good friend who lived in Amsterdam. I remember visiting in 1986. It was a great visit. I saw a lot of the country.

The infrastructure was there for all to see. Distinct memories for me are catching the train to Utrecht and seeing separated bike paths alongside the railway line between villages. I also remember not just in Utrecht but whenever we went to a different town on the train, the infrastructure was noticeable as soon as you stepped out of the railway station and on to the bus.

The 40 year claim is just another excuse.

Gareth said...

Amsterdam's Metropol Regio is around 2.3 million or so (and with a lot more bodies of water splitting it up). Yes, London is bigger, but not orders of magnitude bigger, and what happened to the rest of the UK?

Not trying to be intentionally awkward or anything, but these arguments from population size/density aren't especially helpful and seem to involve a lot of cherry picking and shifting of goalposts.

The thousand mile journey begins with the first step, and all that.

KEdas said...

David, I suggest at your organized study tours you should give not only bicycles, but also 2 brilliant books about road safety policies and design principles: „Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic“ and „Road Safety Manual“. Both publications are from CROW, and based on more technical books, such as „ASVV – Recommendations for traffic provisions in built-up areas“.
Seeing is one thing, but to start drawing perfect roundabouts, entrances to access roads, road junctions architect needs exact schemas with exact measurements.

N.B. I will try to bring *architects* to your tours this spring, because from previous tour we already have some movements to the right direction. All of them were made by one person (architect) from 4 of us, who took study tour in 2011.
He would like to go to Netherlands once more, but to more technical tour. Because I already read those mentioned books, I feel confident on explaining and giving practical examples where theory is implemented in practise.

David Hembrow said...

Paul Canal, you confused me with your comment about a "much bigger city with a far larger population" until I realised that you must be comparing London with Amsterdam.

Actually I'm not very interested in Amsterdam (I live 200 km away in a different city which is far better for cycling than is Amsterdam) or even just in cities.

Just doing a city is relatively easy, but that's not what happened in the Netherlands. The cycling network covers the entire country. I can cycle from here to Amsterdam on decent infrastructure.

British people also should not concentrate only on a few points on the map. It's the whole of the UK that needs to be transformed.

Kedas: It would be great to be able to give people copies of such books, but they're expensive and it would increase the cost of the tour. The open Study Tours are run on a shoe-string budget. I only earn minimum wage if enough people come on the tour and sometimes I've run them at a loss.

We don't spend much time looking at books during the tour because they can be read after returning home. What can't be done after returning home is seeing as much good infrastructure as possible and observing how it is used in practice. That is what we concentrate on.

I'm very happy to hear that you have made progress since the tour in 2011. I'll contact you about the possibility of a further tour.

BG said...

[U.S. Version:]

"What do we want? Continual deterioration, masked by fantasies of past grandeur. When do we want it? 1961!"

highwayman said...

BG, I second your slogan. And may I add oy veh to it?

elycycle said...

Not all British cycle campaigns take the "moderate reform, in due course" approach.

We're campaigning for segregated infrastructure, now.