Monday, 12 January 2015

Some eye-catching reports

A couple of reports have caught my eye over the last week.

The first is a TfL-funded publication entitled International Cycling Infrastructure Best Practice Study [pdf]. As the title suggests, the main focus of this study is on infrastructure. Particular attention is paid to "design approaches in cities with high levels of cycling and / or recent significant growth in cycling numbers." The difficulties associated with applying these various design approaches here in the UK (governance, policy, funding, legal and regulatory frameworks) are also investigated.

One of the first things to be said is that "the best design solution in any location will arise from the context-appropriate application of sound principles and good standards; not from the cut-and-pasting of rigid design templates." The report also emphasises the importance of sustained investment: "What is needed is concerted action, on several fronts, according to a clear plan, over the long term."

Cycling: the way ahead makes related points in the chapter entitled, 'What needs to be known':

"Depending on the resources available, each town has to decide upon its priorities, and work out which specific actions are the most important. Reproducing apparently effective action taken elsewhere could have negative consequences if the concerted and coherent programme on which such actions were based is not taken into account. On the contrary, it is preferable to draw inspiration from known examples with due caution. Keeping in mind some of the constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy, allow full recourse to the imagination and try to make the best use of locally-available resources."

The constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy, by the way, are as follows:
i. network
ii. parking
iii. information
iv. education
v. training
vi. promotion
vii. sustained investment
Different people reading the TfL-funded report are likely to pick up on different things, but here are a few things that stood out for me:

"There is clarity about the overall cycling network (including planned future development), with connectedness, continuity, directness and legibility all being key attributes."

"There is no differential cycle route branding, simply three principal types of cycle facility that make up well-planned and designed cycle networks."

"Cities with the largest cycling levels and the most cycling-friendly street-use cultures have achieved that status as a result of policy and associated action over the long term, with an incremental approach to improving provision. Continuity of commitment to cycling as a desirable and benign mode, one worthy of major investment, is essential."

"Some cities have shown that it is possible to grow cycling levels significantly over just a few years by employing pragmatic, relatively inexpensive, and sometimes intentionally ‘interim’ means of securing space for cycling. Upgrading this infrastructure to the standard found in mature cycling cities is not precluded (and sometimes consciously provided for) by the measures initially used."

The other thing that caught my attention was a blog by The Cycling Dutchman, Eric van der Horst, about the relevance of signage. He writes:

"'I just didn't know this was here!' I hear this line regularly from locals while doing cycle route surveying work. Completely surprised about the presence of a cycle route, he / she then also often states he / she 'lived here for twenty years'. It painfully shows how many British people hardly ever explore their own area on foot or bike beyond the merits of the main through-roads. Rushing off by car, they just don’t have a clue about other ways to get from A to B."

Missing links on Make A Gif
Useful links in Bristol not shown on the bicycling feature of Google maps
Images from Google StreetView

Eric continues: "The lack of proper signage is an issue which needs great attention. To get a country back on bikes, you need to show clearly in the field, in the public eye, where cycle routes are and where they will take you. Only this will truly encourage people to explore beyond what they know. Free cycle maps, on-line route planners and the occasional sign are all well intended, but generally only serve those who are already on the look out."

In another of Eric's blogs (Cycle lanes, cycle paths - what about a network?), he identifies two key principles of Dutch best practice. Firstly, 'think bike' at the beginning of a design and planning process, and secondly, think in terms of a network.

By thinking in terms of a network, plans are able to be put in place so that people can be connected to each other and to important public facilities such as schools, shops, railway stations, and so on. Extensive signage, Eric says, can make this network visible and is a relatively low-cost investment. Eric goes on to explain that the public must to be able to have confidence in these signs, which means to say, no missing gaps and reasonably direct routes (in Eric's words, "a trustworthy brand").

This lack of brand trustworthiness has been wryly exposed in an "infographic" by Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize.com, entitled A Short History of Traffic Engineering (many thanks to Jitensha Oni for bringing it to my attention). It neatly satirises the cycle-route-starts-cycle-route-stops nature of our current "network strategy", a strategy so amazingly muddle-headed you have to wonder what problem traffic engineers think they are solving when adopting it.
Along with his local campaign group, Eric is currently working on a network design for Barnstaple. He says: "Of course, there are many routes which still need fixing. But if they are ready to go (even with some shortcomings), routes should get properly waymarked."

With a cycling network up and running, the value of Eric's first principle becomes clear. Every time a road is resurfaced, every time a junction is re-designed, every time a hole is dug in the ground, the question is asked: How can things be put back differently so that conditions are improved for cycling? (This is the true meaning of Going Dutch, incidentally.)

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