Sunday 23 November 2014

Shared Use Paths create conflict and cause complaints about "speed"

Many countries build combined infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Wherever these shared-use (aka multi-use) paths exist, there are complaints due to the conflicts which occur. Many of the complaints are from pedestrians who find the speed of cyclists unacceptable on paths which they use for walking. This is a wholly avoidable problem.

The cyclists in the video above demonstrate well how most take extraordinary care around pedestrians. Every cyclist in the video has his or her journey made inconvenient by the presence of the pedestrians but they all slow down, even slowing so far as slowing to walking pace to climb an incline, a situation where cyclists naturally would like to keep their momentum as it requires less effort to climb without braking first.

What you see in the video is quite typical behaviour for cyclists anywhere in the world when they encounter pedestrians, but taking care in this way isn't enough to stop there being complaints. Cyclists are still likely to be regarded as a problem because their behaviour is different to that of pedestrians. Cyclists appear to invade personal space around pedestrians, to "squeeze past", to wobble and to swerve in and out. Even when taking care, their behaviour seems aggressive and unpredictable to many pedestrians. Complaints about excessive speed of cyclists on shared paths are often a result of perception by pedestrians rather than being due to cyclists riding past pedestrians at genuinely high speeds.

A short distance away from the location in the video
there is separate infrastructure for pedestrians, but
unfortunately not yet for cyclists. Cyclists have to
choose between "safe" on the path or "fast" on road.
A few metres away from the bridge there are roads much like those in many countries on which motor vehicles routinely and legally travel at considerably higher speed than any cyclists in the video. Pedestrians rarely complain about excessive speed of motor vehicles on roads like this because those vehicles are driven on infrastructure segregated from pedestrians. Unless drivers leave the road and drive on the pavement (sidewalk), there is no invasion of pedestrian space and no close passing. Conflict between pedestrians and motorists is reduced by separating them.

Pedestrian zone in the centre of Assen with a "road" for
cyclists only. A language which everyone understands. This
design reduces conflict and complaints
All countries seem to understand how to build roads to cope with the speeds of motor vehicles and also how to build separate infrastructure for pedestrians to reduce conflict. The benefit of giving different and incompatible modes of transport their own space and not expecting them to share are understood widely. Why is there a blind spot when it comes to cycling infrastructure ? The aim is the same. Cyclists are neither car drivers nor pedestrians and should not be treated as if they were identical to either of these other two groups.

The only place with "sharing" in Assen city centre is a
central square. It's a destination not a through route, and
its size means that there is plenty of space for everyone.
The requirements for cycling infrastructure are not even particularly difficult to meet. Even the fastest of cyclists make their journeys at a fraction of the speed which can be reached by a car and the much lower mass combined with that speed presents a fraction of the danger of motor vehicles. Cycle-paths do not need to be so wide as roads for cars and infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels do not need to cater for such large vehicles or large weights as equivalent infrastructure for motor vehicles.

Where conflict between cyclists and pedestrians occurs, it is almost always due to cyclists being forced to use infrastructure which is not designed for them at all.

Infrastructure on which cyclists and pedestrians are expected to share equally does not properly take the requirements of either group of users into account and creates conflict situations.

The Jeremy Vine incident

A Royal Parks spokesman suggested
later that the speed limit perhaps
should not be applied to bikes
An incident this week in London gave a good example of what happens where there is a pretense that pedestrian infrastructure can also be used by bicycle. Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was stopped by police for speeding when cycling. How did he come to be stopped ? He was exceeding a speed limit of just 5 mph (8 km/h) on a path through a London park. The police saw this as a high enough priority that police officers were in the park to stop errant cyclists.

Despite considerably hype from the city, London is still a very difficult and dangerous place for cycling. Paths within parks in the city are well used by cyclists because they offer a rare opportunity for cyclists to make part of their journeys away from traffic. They also can offer relatively direct routes. Extremely low speeds might be acceptable for some cyclists making recreational trips but anyone trying to get somewhere at a speed competitive with other modes of transport needs to travel at more than jogging pace. 5 mph is much slower than a normal cycling speed. Almost anyone on a bicycle will exceed that speed without trying. It's clear that such a limit makes no sense for cyclists.

There followed some debate about whether or not the law applies in this specific case, but that's not really the point. Whether or not it's legal to cycle here at above 5 mph, there's still a problem: Infrastructure in parks in London which supposedly allows cycling is not good enough to make for safe and convenient journeys at normal cycling speeds. The shared nature of paths like this is itself a very large part of the reason why there is conflict. Police were present to stop cyclists in this park because there have been complaints in the past due to previous conflicts. Trying to impose an extremely low speed limit on one of the slowest means of transport is not a solution to the problem. What needs to happen is that proper consideration is made of why conflict occurs and action taken to improve infrastructure to the point that the conflict is reduced. In a city there will almost always be too many pedestrians and cyclists to allow them to share paths without conflict. Shared-use paths don't make sense in crowded cities.

Blaming victims of bad design
The idea that "speeding cyclists" are a problem which needs addressing is not new. Low speed limits to control cyclists are also remarkably common. Glasgow, for instance, wanted a 5 mph limit like that in London "to ensure other parks users’ safety" while allowing motor vehicles to travel at twice the speed. San Francisco discussed a 10 mph limit for cyclists crossing the Golden Gate bridge (the speed limit for motorists is higher of course), Sydney has a 10 km/h "advisory" speed limit over a bridge. Christchurch is planning for 15 km/h on "major cycleways".

Yes, the Sydney Morning Herald actually sent a reporter to check whether any cyclists crossing this bridge might perhaps exceed a 10 km/h advisory speed limit. Are drivers anywhere in Sydney expected to go so slowly ? If not, then why cyclists ? (and yes, it's that Sydney. The one where drivers apparently hate cyclists)
The video from Sydney is worth watching. Note first that the bridge really is very wide. It could easily allow for normal cycling speeds if only there was a separate area marked for cyclists to reduce conflict (this should preferably look like a road as in the Assen photo above to reduce confusion). Also note that the fastest cyclist was travelling at just 23 km/h. 23 km/h is not fast at all for a regular cyclist. It's well within the range of normal speeds for cycling, a speed which in my experience is exceeded by many Dutch people on standard town bikes when going shopping. Participants on one of our study tours earlier this year may remember following a young student in Groningen who was applying her make-up while cycling at a consistent 27 km/h on a normal upright Dutch bike. I don't actually believe that speeds above 10 km/h are considered to be high speeds in Sydney except when the people under observation are cyclists. Perhaps Sydney residents can tell me whether there is any place at all within the city where drivers of cars are expected to observe a 10 km/h speed limit on one of their main through routes.

Ignoring the real danger
Each year, there are more than 1.2 million deaths across the world due to crashes involving motor vehicles and tens of millions more people are injured. Cyclists and pedestrians are often the victims of such crashes. There are no similar figures for deaths and injuries due to cyclists because the scale of the problem is infinitesimally smaller. Despite this, it is cyclists who are emphasized as a risk. You may wonder where these attitudes come from. What type of organisations would support such a notion as that cyclists go "too fast" and cause danger when it's so clear that morgues and hospitals the world are full of the victims of motor vehicle crashes, not of bicycle crashes.

A code of conduct for cyclists consisting
almost entirely of asking the users of paths to
compensate for the problems caused by low
quality design
of those very same paths.
Sustrans. For 'cycling' but against cyclists ?
Sustrans is a British organisation which claims to be interested in "enabling people to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys" and which is behind the UK's "National Cycle Network". Unfortunately, in a scramble to be able to claim to have a large quantity of cycling facilities they long ago forgot about the importance of quality and as a result they are now in the position of defending inadequately designed shared-use paths which make up a significant proportion of their network. Many people, including myself, have criticised the inept designs of infrastructure which Sustrans still approves of, pointing out that they create conflict and danger. Sustrans' reaction to conflicts caused by the design of their infrastructure has been to publish a "code of conduct" for cyclists.

In their code of conduct, Sustrans point out themselves that their paths "aren’t suitable for high speeds" and suggest that "if you wish to travel quickly [...] this is better done on quiet roads". For all their claims about having provided a network of cycling infrastructure, they're actually admitting that this network is not suitable for cycling. All the emphasis is on cyclists being told to modify their behaviour except for just one clause each regarding dog walkers and pedestrians. When not telling cyclists to go elsewhere than to ride on the cycling infrastructure, Sustrans tell them to "slow down", "be patient" or use a "sensible speed" in order to work around the needs of other path users.

But what is a "sensible speed" for cycling ? That rather depends on one's perspective. If Sustrans were genuinely building routes for "SUStainable TRANSport" then these routes would be usable at normal cycling speeds. If Sustrans' National Cycle Network already truly met "the highest possible standards" then there would be no complaints, no reasons for Sustrans to tell cyclists to go elsewhere and no reason to impose limits.

Cyclist speeds cannot compete with motor vehicle speeds. The speed of cyclists is naturally limited by the limited power available from a human body. The highest speeds achieved by cyclists are comparable with the lowest speed limits imposed on motor vehicles. Countries which have no difficulty in building an extensive network of roads on which motor vehicles travel at 50-120 km/h shouldn't have any difficulty at all in building cycle-paths which can cope with cycling speeds which on the flat are seldom consistently above 30 km/h and peak speeds rarely above 50 km/h.

It's an absurdity for cycling infrastructure to be designed such that it is unable to cope with the relatively modest speeds which even fit cyclists achieve on their everyday journeys.

A photo chosen by Sustrans to illustrate their National Cycling
Network shows why there are problems with it. The cyclist
has to ride on the wrong side of a narrow path facing any
oncoming cyclists because the path is narrow and full of
pedestrians. Any path with that many pedestrians on it is not
a cycle-path. This pattern of usage on such a narrow path
guarantees that conflict will occur.
Sack-cloth and ashes
Sadly, Sustrans representatives have been repeatedly vocal about cyclists being "a menace that needs taming".

You might wonder how other cycling organisations in the UK reacted to an organisation which puts such a point of view and publishes a code of conflict which puts emphasis firmly on their members, fellow cyclists, as being a cause of trouble rather than pointing out that planners had done an inadequate job. Surprisingly, the answer is that many other organisations joined in. British Cycling gave its support and CTC endorsed the Sustrans code of conduct.

What's more, spokespeople from CTC and Sustrans got together to ask other cyclists to pick on an "anti-social minority", requesting that people "take action by pointing the finger" at other riders. It seems they'd all rather encourage a minor form of vigilantism and create an out-group of cyclists to blame instead of addressing head-on the problem of inadequate infrastructure which causes the conflicts to occur. It's hardly a secret that Sustrans' shared use paths are inadequate as even the photos chosen by Sustrans to illustrate their network actually demonstrate the problems with it.

With friends like this...

2016 update: Roger Geffen of Cycling UK (new name for CTC) replied to this blog post concerned about the "take action by pointing the finger" quote above. This suggestion was made by Sustrans' then chief executive. See his comment and my reply to him below.

A meandering network
There's nothing wrong with building a network of meandering walking routes for people to enjoy by foot. But call it what it is. That's not how you create a network of convenient cycling routes which provide a realistic alternative to driving a car to make journeys. There's something very wrong indeed with pretending to have created cycling infrastructure or indeed an entire cycling network if actually cyclists are only welcome to use this network at a pace which makes cycling inconvenient.

If your cycling infrastructure can't cope with the speed of bicycles then it's simply not of high enough quality. A bridge which divides instead of connecting is not a success.

Racing cyclists, children, pensioners, we all need the same
efficient grid of go-everywhere infrastructure.
What's really required
To encourage people to cycle, cycling must be fast. It is important that cycling journeys are made efficient and safe as otherwise cycling does not compete with other modes of transport. The Sustrans representative draws false equivalences with the Netherlands and Denmark as being places where people cycle slower, but it's simply not true. No-one has time to waste on inadequate infrastructure which slows them down. There is no demographic group in this country or any other which wants their journeys to take longer than they have to and no excuse whatsoever for building infrastructure which has that result.

Infrastructure which requires cyclists and pedestrians to use the same paths can be acceptable where there will be almost no usage by one of the groups but it will always leads to conflicts in any place where numbers of users are high, especially when there are large numbers of pedestrians. Normal Dutch practice is to build cycle-paths without separate pedestrian paths between towns where distances are relatively large and there will be few pedestrians, but paths inside villages and towns should almost always have separate paths for pedestrians. This avoids the need to built a separate pedestrian path in places where there will be little if any conflict due to the low numbers of users, but also avoids conflict where we know there will be many users.

The first video was made in Norway a few weeks back but the problems demonstrated by it are are common to anywhere that cyclists and pedestrians are forced to mix.

Sadly, the main Dutch campaigning organisation has also fallen into the trap of campaigning against cyclists rather than concentrating on where real danger comes from.

Monday 10 November 2014

City centre streets. Perfect for children on their own bicycles, if the city is truly planned for cycling. Cargo bikes shouldn't be required.

Something which people who visit Assen often notice is the lack of cargo-bikes. Somehow an expectation has grown up that cargo bikes are the way of transporting children by bicycle. Actually, children have their own legs and really should be able to use them to transport themselves as soon as they have the ability to ride a bicycle. This of course is only possible if the infrastructure is very very good, and over most of this city that is indeed the case. It wasn't always like this, but motor vehicles were removed from the centre several years ago and that left behind conditions where everyone is safe.

The photos below were taken within ten minutes a little after three o'clock on an afternoon a couple of weeks ago:

All ages and abilities served by one type of infrastructure. The youngest daughter in this family rides on the front of Mum's bike while her slightly older sister rides her own bike. They're heading directly towards the city centre. Directly towards the same streets as shown in the following photos. It's not unusual to see children this young cycling to the city centre. A comprehensive grid of very high quality infrastructure makes this possible.

The city centre streets are used by bicycle by people of all ages. The woman in the centre has more experience, but lots of experience isn't required to be safe here. The youngsters on the right are already able to make their way through the city without an adult to accompany them.

Of course some children are accompanied by parents. These two are heading towards a large square in the middle of the city which was once a car-park.

The youngest child sits on Dad's bike while her older sister rides her own bike.

Mother and son.

Young teenagers have complete independence. This group rode through together. Presumably the lessons for the day had ended. The light grey concrete on the left of the cyclists is textured to help blind people find their way. Paving like this is laid throughout the city centre.

Another mother and son. The mother's bike has a fold down child-seat on the back, which is possibly used sometimes for a younger sibling.

They're all moving in the same direction, but they're not all looking in the same direction. Cycling is very social in the city centre. People are always looking out for their friends and family. A lot of smiles, a lot of waves.

More youngsters riding home from school together. The city centre streets make a good route to many locations.

Teenagers attending secondary school (age 12 upwards) are likely to have further to travel. 

Eating while cycling and riding no hands. These are comparatively safe things to do when there are no cars on city centre streets.

Mum indicates a right turn. The children also will turn up onto the forgiving sloped kerb .

Teens again, riding sociably side by side.

Very young children ride on the back of their parents' bikes. But those who cycle on their own bike are often also very young.

Where have the cars gone ?
Red dots show the locations which feature in the photos
Traffic lights are no longer needed because through
traffic has been removed. The car park no longer exists.
There are now zebra crossings to make it easier for
pedestrians to cross the "road" for bikes.
The photos above show very typical views of the centre of Assen in 2014. Many other Dutch cities look similar. However, it wasn't always like this.

In the 1970s, the number of children being killed on the roads reached a peak. Cycling was in decline in the Netherlands at that time.

Assen, like other cities, was full of motor vehicles. Cars, buses and trucks dominated the city centre streets. Cyclists who remained on these streets were under pressure. The situation was much like that of many cities now. There was "no space for cycling infrastructure" and car parks were full.

If Assen had continued on the path which the city was on, it's unlikely that people would cycle so much in the city as they do now.
Pedestrian zone.
Cycling allowed
on given routes.
Note generous
delivery times.
The problems in the centre of the city were turned around by a second revolution which returned old streets which pre-date motor vehicles to people rather than allowing the problems due to allowing motor vehicles to dominate them to grow.

The city centre area is now a large pedestrian zone. What looks like a road in all the photos above (except the first one) is actually a stripe through the pedestrian zone on which cycling is permitted. This is a design which works very well because it is familiar. "Road" for bikes, "pavement" for pedestrians result in no clashes between cyclists and pedestrians within this pedestrianized area. Signage at each entrance to the pedestrian zone points out this status.

Cycling and walking are the most popular means of transport for shoppers in Assen and these are the modes which are best catered for in the city centre.

Of course it's not just the city centre which has cycling infrastructure. An extensive and fine-grained grid of high quality infrastructure stretches across the entire city so that no-one has to cycle in conditions which are not subjectively safe. This is the only way of making cycling accessible to everyone.

When our children were young we still
lived in the UK. The streets were not
safe enough for them to ride their own
bikes so we used this Ken Rogers trike
with child seats. It worked well, but
we wouldn't have needed it in Assen.
What about parents ?
In many places, people who didn't bother with a car before they had children find that they need one once they have children. Of course it is in many ways better if people switch to using cargo bikes to carry their children rather than using a car, however the experience of the children themselves is not so different if they're transported by a parent with a bicycle rather than being transported by a parent with a car.

A high percentage of parents using cargo bikes to transport their children is better than having the same parents driving cars, but while a growing number of cargo bikes might indicate a growing confidence amongst parents it should be seen as a step in the right direction but not as an end in itself.

There are quite a lot of cargo bikes in
Assen. They're used for many other
reasons than to transport children.
Why not cargo bikes ?
So long as they're used for carrying cargo, there's nothing wrong with cargo-bikes at all. There's also nothing wrong with them for carrying small children.

It is only when cargo bikes are seen as a solution for carrying children who are old enough to ride their own bikes (i.e. 4+) that this indicates a problem. The problem is not with the bikes or their riders but with the environment for cycling.

If parents don't think that the local cycling infrastructure is sufficiently safe for their children to have control over their own movement then this indicates that the infrastructure is sub-standard. Children should have conditions safe enough that they can have control over their own movement and not have to rely upon their parents for lifts, either by bike or by car.

Mother of three in Groningen
Where the cycling infrastructure is very good, cargo bikes are relatively rare and mostly used for carrying cargo. It's better for parents and for children if children can be given the freedom to control their own movement.

I'm not criticizing anyone for using a cargo bike to transport their children. People who do this in difficult environments should be applauded for making a positive choice which is not always rewarded by society. We made a similar choice when we lived in the UK and our children were small. We first used a tricycle and later moved on to trailerbikes (also uncommon in the Netherlands for the same reason). It was not always easy to do this because other parents could be quite critical and drivers were sometimes quite aggressive around our children.

It's not always so good as this in the Netherlands
Cities across the Netherlands vary in how easy it is for everyone to ride bicycles. For instance:

The Netherlands is still far and away the most successful country on earth at encouraging people to cycle, and at encouraging people to let their children cycle. Assen is a stand-out city even within the Netherlands. But I always warn that you should never assume that this country always gets everything right.

A truly high cycling modal share requires that everyone should be able to cycle everywhere. That is what true mass cycling is all about.