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.
|Pedestrian zone in the centre of Assen|
with a "road" for cyclists. A language
which everyone understands. This
design reduces conflict and complaints
|The only place with "sharing" in Assen|
city centre is a central square. It's a
destination not a through route.
And its size .
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
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)|
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 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.
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.
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.