Cyclists often win "commuter races" because of their ability to get through traffic jams which hold up both motorists and public transport. Many existing cyclists enjoy the fact that they can make fast journeys have have predictable journey times. These give cyclists major advantages over using other modes of transport.
If cycling is to be spread wider through the population then other people need to see the same advantages. There is no point in giving people a choice between being able to ride slowly on inadequate cycling facilities or having to "take the lane" on the roads. Neither of these two options is good enough. Cycling must be both safe and convenient and we should not be asked to choose between one or the other of those two desirable characteristics.
Making stop-start cycling even slowerUnfortunately, many people who plan for cycling in the UK don't seem to understand the need for efficiency when cycling. Rather than creating cycling facilities which make cycling both convenient and safe, there is a consistent problem across the UK that facilities are designed to such a low standard that they are neither convenient nor safe.
|From a Southend council website, the|
Prittle Brook Greenway. Nice photo of
recreational use on a sunny day but this
is simply too narrow for a bidirectional
shared use path and its inadequate as
a main cycling route. Riders appear
to be approaching one of many places
where they will have to cross a road.
I wrote two weeks ago about Southend's lacklustre attempts at encouraging cycling. Quite apart from having used almost all their funds for two expensive schemes which are designed for motor vehicles and ignore the needs of cyclists, the blind corners, narrow shared-use cycle-paths and road crossings of astonishing slowness seen elsewhere demonstrate how the town is not working seriously to provide efficient go-everywhere routes for cyclists.
In response to my blog post there were several suggestions that I should especially have looked at the Prittle Brook Greenway because this is a highlight.
I decided in any case to look up what I could find about the Prittle Brook Greenway. The first item to come up was Southend's own information, a small part of which is reproduced here. The second item was a local campaigner's description of it as "a 2 mile long, 2 metre wide shared use path that involved 19 road crossings". Follow the link to see a surface which washes away in the rain on a path with blind corners and low social safety. A local civil engineer pointed out the lack of lighting and a previous problem with dog excrement as well as a later post discussing problems with crossings and with vandalism.
|Would cyclists need this|
advice to ride on Southend's
best cycle-path if it were
built to a proper standard ?
The truth is that I missed the Prittle Brook Greenway before because it didn't go anywhere that I was going. The most important result from Dutch research in the 1970s was that a dense grid of very high quality routes is required. i.e. Good infrastructure shouldn't be something that you have to look for, it needs to be everywhere.
Even if it is of very high quality, very direct and socially safe (unfortunately, Prittle Brook doesn't tick those boxes), a single path cannot achieve much on its own because it simply cannot serve every location. Southend has actually spent a lot of money. They could have transformed the town but they've instead directed it at the wrong projects. Neither a high enough quality level of facility nor the required dense grid have been provided for cycling and that's why cycling remains a niche mode of transport in the town.
|Brand new infrastructure|
in London's Olympic park.
Not an uninterrupted and
direct route. It's also very
obviously too narrow for
a bidirectional route.
I visited London last year. From a cycling point of view, I took two things in particular away from the visit:
Firstly, cyclists in London are a rare breed. Just as everywhere else where cycling is for a small minority, those who do it mostly fit into a particular demographic. School trips by bike are difficult to imagine taking place. You don't see a lot of pensioners or disabled people cycling either. Cyclists in London must be alert and constantly looking out for where the next threat will come from. Cycling isn't a way of getting about which anyone can choose as most people simply won't consider it in those conditions. Those who cycle in London have reasons to do so.
Secondly, there was an overwhelming sense of frustration and slowness. On Dutch cycle-paths, I expect to be able to get up to speed and to be able to keep cycling with the minimum of interruptions until I reach my destination. I rarely have to stop at traffic lights and am rarely inconvenienced by motor traffic. That's not at all how it is in London. Cycling in London feels quite competitive. People jostle for position in ASLs, there's a lot of sprinting from one traffic light junction to another, but overall progress is slow. Average speeds over a complete journey, even over short distances, are low. Compared with what I'm used to, I found cycling in London to be irritatingly SLOW and I was amazed by how long it took to cover even a short distance.
London has not learnt the importance of providing infrastructure of a high enough standard. The "superhighways" are well known to be not super at all but rather than copying from best practice and providing adequate funds to do a good job, London is still going its own way, thinking up new and absurd ideas, producing lots of press releases and trying to build the actual infrastructure on the cheap. For instance, less than a year has gone by since London proposed an absurd multi-stage right turn which demonstrated a complete lack of understanding what is required to make cycling both safe and efficient, and they've continued right up to the present time with designing and building infrastructure which is way short of the standard which is required for true mass cycling.
|Amazingly, Bedford once had this|
as a proposal. It's close to a proper
safe Dutch roundabout in design.
But they scrapped that...
The continuing "#Turbogate" scandal in Bedford, where they claim Dutch inspiration for a roundabout design which is fundamentally different from real Dutch roundabouts, dates back a long way. I was first involved in trying to advise a Bedford planner about how Dutch roundabouts really accommodate cyclists way back in 2011.
Sadly, rather than accept the widely published and very reasonable criticism of their flawed design, Bedford and their backers (including Sustrans) have not accepted the widely published criticism but have continued to push a design which divides cyclists into two groups: those who will "take the lane" on the busy roundabout and those who will be too timid to do this and will instead use pedestrian crossings to pass the roundabout. Dutch cyclists never have to choose between "safe" or "fast". With one minor change which might actually make the roundabout more dangerous, building of this flawed and dangerous design started this week.
|On-road cycle-lanes are amongst the more useless types|
of cycling infrastructure and they should never be this
narrow, but this is one of the better examples of
infrastructure in the DOE video. The width problem is
demonstrated in the video by the cyclist swerving out
before the grey car because she thinks the blue car won't
stop for her. via NIgreenways
It's the same problem as seen elsewhere in the UK. Northern Ireland's cycling infrastructure is not fit for the purpose of making cycling attractive and convenient for the entire population. That's why Northern Ireland, like the rest of the UK, has a very low cycling modal share.
I've written quite often about Cambridge because we used to live and campaign there, watching local infrastructure change at a glacial pace.
Cycling in Cambridge has perhaps the greatest help from demographics and local laws of any city in the world, yet it doesn't not have the highest cycling modal share of any city in the world. I suspect that if the city had infrastructure like Dutch cities then Cambridge could quite easily have a higher cycling modal share even than Groningen. Unfortunately, the current level of political commitment and investment prevents cycling in Cambridge from growing to its full potential.
While the city has the highest cycling modal share in the English speaking world, it doesn't make a useful model for other places because the causes of the relatively high cycling rate of Cambridge are not things that can be duplicated. Much of the cycling in Cambridge takes place despite the infrastructure rather than because of it.
Since we left the city there have been changes, but they've not made a very big difference. There is still no sign of the comprehensive grid of high quality infrastructure required to get everyone cycling. For instance, it took 12 years of discussion and a lot of campaigning before the busy Gilbert Road was changed, but the outcome even on this one km length of road wasn't nearly what it could have been.
|It's part of the plan to deliberately|
make the cycle lane narrower when
it passes the bus stop, specifically to
slow cyclists down. That creates
danger for cyclists and should not
be a feature of a real cycling facility.
Source: Cambridgeshire CC
To summarise, they're planning to change just one side of approximately one mile of road (you're on your own on the return journey). There are many problems packed into this distance, which will make for a far too varied and "exciting" mile of cycling. Consistency may be boring but everyone knowing what comes next is a safety feature. Just one of the issues with the plan is enough to illustrate the gulf which exists between what Cambridge really needs to enable cycling for everyone and what the plans which currently exist in the city promise: "the plan is for this already narrow cycle facility to be even narrower and even more dangerous at bus-stops. Here it will shrink to a totally inadequate 1.5 m, and this is to be done deliberately in order to slow cyclists down. If this were a cycling facility designed to actually facilitate cycling then it would try to make cycling faster and more convenient, not to make cycling slower."
|After the bus stop design which makes|
you slow down you then come to this
junction at which you'd better speed
up and "keep your wits about you".
A lethal junction design. New for
Cambridge but exactly like junctions
not seen in Assen since the 1970s.
Rather than seeing the existing level of cycling in Cambridge as good for the city, good for the people of the city and as something to encourage more of, planners in Cambridge view cyclists as if they are a problem which it is somehow their job to solve. This is precisely the attitude which has prevented Cambridge from achieving its potential as a cycling city.
Leeds / Bradford
|What happens at large traffic light and|
roundabout junctions in Leeds now ?
BBC Radio Leeds rode along a cycle-
path new enough not even to be open
yet and found many problems in a
short length of cycle-path. Amongst
them are that the new facility simply
ceases to exist at major junctions,
where it is needed most.
Its telling that the official blog of the project (they have their own strange blog software so it's not possible to link to the correct page) includes statements like the following:
"Cycling in a segregated cycle lane [...] might be slower, for instance when they are congested, or when we are required to make two-stage right turns, waiting for signal phases." i.e. they're planning to make the cycle-paths too narrow so that it's difficult to pass safely and to use junction designs which are already known to be both inefficient and unsafe for cyclists.
"Many current cyclists are used to speeds of 20 miles an hour or more (going downhill) and a lot of current cyclists are, for want of a better phrase, speed freaks. It will not be easy to maintain this along all of the segregated routes." i.e. existing cyclists for whom journey time is important (that's everyone who cycles if they're late for an appointment, for work or for school) as "speed freaks". Rather than being seen as a group of users who need to be supported and assisted to make their journeys in safety, they're seen as a problem. Rather than planning for the entire population, these planners want to design infrastructure for a mythical person who is never late, never in a hurry and has all day to meander around and to work out how to use their complicated design. They are asking people to choose between "safe" on their cycle-paths or "fast" on the road. No-one should be asked to choose between those two things.
There's nothing "super" about these "superhighways". The criticisms which have come up are not of segregated cycling infrastructure in and of itself (there are no speed limits on Dutch cycle-paths) but of the poor designs which are being pursued for this project.
The City Connect project in Leeds and Bradford has designed down to extremely low standards (to read more, see The Alternative Department of Transport's extensive criticisms of the plans). By building cycle-paths too narrow for safe use at speed, and by implementing copies of junction designs known to be both dangerous and inconvenient rather than copies of the safest and most convenient designs of roundabouts and traffic light junctions, they are guaranteeing that the most efficient place for a cyclist to be along this route will remain the road and not the cycle-path.
But aren't these places "making a start" ?
|The King's Hedges estate in Cambridge|
is one of many examples of where not
quite good enough infrastructure for
cycling was not improved upon or
linked with other areas to create a
useful grid. The result is that these
paths are not heavily used because
they do not lead to many destinations.
This could have been "a start" over
30 years ago but it was not.
Unfortunately, none of this is true. There is no "tipping point". i.e. no level of cycle-usage from which only growth is possible and no level of cycle-usage from which an increase in funding for cycling in inevitable.
What's more, none of this is new. There already exist dozens of existing examples of older inadequately designed infrastructure which wasn't quite good enough when first built and which remains not good enough decades later.
We don't need to keep repeating the same experiment and achieving the same result. We have known for decades that isolated islands of not quite good enough infrastructure do not work as this was the most important result from Dutch research in the 1970s. Islands cannot create the comprehensive good conditions which are required for true mass cycling and they cannot demonstrate the potential for such a comprehensive grid. All that is achieved by repeating these errors is that time passes without real progress being made. That is why the UK and other countries are more than forty years behind the Netherlands.
The Dutch already avoid these mistakesWhen you're working towards a high cycling modal share, it's important to make cycling as convenient, as pleasant and as safe as possible. All these things must go together. To encourage everyone to cycle, facilities must enable all types of cycling.
While planners in the UK spend time trying to make cyclists slow down, the Dutch CROW guidelines emphasize the need to speed cyclists up. The Dutch work to remove those things which could slow cyclists down or lead to discomfort when cycling as these can put people off cycling.
|Wide high quality cycle-path in|
Assen. It's good for relaxed cycling
and also for fast cycling. Everyone
is safe here.
|Dutch racing cyclists and other fast|
riders use cycle-paths even when
riding in large groups. And yes,
they all got across in one green light.
Far from seeing cyclists as "speed freaks" who need to be slowed down, the design speed for corners on Dutch urban cycle facilities is set as a minimum of 20 km/h for minor cycle-paths rising to 30 km/h for through routes because "people must be able to cycle at high speed". Yes, the intention is to enable people to safely cycle as fast as they wish to. That is how to make cycling speeds competitive with other modes and therefore make cycling attractive.
|Another Cambridge example. At the|
end of the decline from a bridge there's
a bend which hides dark coloured
bollards just before cyclists must come
to a stop for a road. This does not
come close to Dutch requirements for
"free deceleration space".
Low aspirations lead to a lower cycling modal share. The full potential of where you live can only be achieved with the very best infrastructure. Copying from and starting to emulate the best examples from the leading nation is the most efficient way to make a real start. Until you have caught up, there's no reason to try to re-invent the wheel.
Avoid repeating mistakes: take a Study Tourwhat the best quality cycling infrastructure in the world looks like.
The frequency with which the same mistakes are repeated elsewhere demonstrates that there is a widespread lack of knowledge of how to progress. We can help with this, but only if people seek our advice.
|My daughter went to a music festival over the weekend. She sent me this photo of the cycle-parking: bicycles as far as the eye can see. This is what true mass cycling looks like, but photos like this sometimes mislead. This volume of bikes is not here as the result only of providing cycle-parking. The most important part is the comprehensive grid of extremely high quality infrastructure which goes everywhere, which accommodates all types of cyclists whether or not they're in a hurry and makes everyone safe. That's what enables huge cycle parking facilities across the Netherlands to fill up.|
It's startling how many countries have cycling design guidelines which include ideas which are deliberately designed to slow cyclists down.