Sunday 30 September 2012

Reflections on what was said

By the end of next year, TfL plan to have made improvements to 35 priority junctions. These will be interim measures, seeking to mitigate the worst effects of a different set of priorities inherited from a previous generation. One thing to bear in mind here, according to an EU publication entitled Promotion of Cycling, is that it is vital that cyclists can be seen by motorists at junctions. This does not mean kitting cyclists out in hi-viz gear, of course, but enabling them to position themselves in the right place relative to the motor traffic.

Also by the end of next year, TfL plan to have completed the CS2 extension and all of CS5. TfL are mindful of the lessons which have already been learned during the implementation of the CS programme to date, they say. Most notable of these is the importance of developing an infrastructure which draws in many more people, and not just those from within a fairly narrow demographic. 

TfL have indicated that the next phase of the CS programme will seek to do as much as possible in accordance with the Go Dutch principles, as identified by the London Cycle Campaign. These can be summarised as follows: 

Equality: Cyclists do not have the protection that occupants of motor vehicles enjoy, so equality of transport choice means priority provision for safe cycling. 

Continuity: The everyday journeys we know many Londoners would like to make by bike need to be continuous, unobstructed, and built into a network.

Quality: Whatever their age or experience, cyclists must be welcomed by high quality, end-to-end provision. [...] The subjective experience is important, but so is a technical commitment to quality. 

Rachel Aldred said that the current TfL campaigns on cycling show images of people riding their bikes through parks and along quiet streets. Rachel is sure that this campaign has been well-researched, and this suggests to her that what the images show is what people actually want; that is, to be able to cycle in pleasant conditions, away from lots of motor traffic. And so, she says, we need to replicate those conditions wherever possible.

Rachel said that we don’t need to segregate every single road in London, but rather, segregated routes should form the backbone of a network that is friendly to people of all abilities. Karen Dee from the Freight Trade Association agreed, in a roundabout way, in the sense that she thought segregation might be the answer in some places. You’ve just got to look and see what's going on in each location, she said: where are most of the cyclists going to be? what sort of times of day? do goods vehicles need to be there or not?

This is quite interesting, actually, because at the committee hearing, Ben Plowden thought the time had come to ask what sort of road network we want. For myself, I don't believe it is possible to consider the ongoing development of a cycle network without also considering what should be happening to the road network. David Arditti and the CEoGB propose a systematic approach, arguing that you should begin by establishing what type of road it is, and what its purpose should be in both the car and bike network. The treatment of the road, be it segregation or something else, would then follow on from this automatically, as surely as a dog follows its nose. The FTA have a somewhat different but not entirely dissimilar view. They argue that it's not going to be same solution for every part of London, of course; it’s such a big place, after all. But as far as they are concerned, all of the tools that are available to us have got to be used, in the most appropriate places.  

In response to a slightly different but related question, Ben said that TfL would develop a network for cyclists in phases. Probably the first phase of building would include lots and lots of "interim measures". However, also planned is the CS2 extension and all of CS5, and these really ought to set the standard. 

I am particularly interested in the CS5 route, probably for historical reasons. 

Version 1 of the CS programme (image from

You can see that it was originally intended that CS5 should connect to Hyde Park Corner. The arguments in favour of restoring the full length of this 'backbone' route are compelling. KenningtonPeople on Bikes has recently been able to establish that the Mayor is planning a rather radical programme for Vauxhall Cross—"better than Amsterdam", apparently. And not just Vauxhall Cross, either: the whole of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area as well, which would suggest that TfL might also be looking at the original CS8 route, though maybe not, for the time being, as far as Kingston Vale.

It would make so much more of a difference if this route connected to other parts of the existing cycle infrastructure (which an extension to Hyde Park Corner would provide, as opposed to simply leaving the route dangling like a loose thread). As Londonneur has recently explained: "The Cycle Superhighways have been widely criticised on engineering grounds, but their design is flawed at a much deeper level. They capture existing commuter trips but fail to potentiate new journeys, because the routes do not intersect to form a network." 

Cyclists in the City recently highlighted a piece from the New York Daily News which captured this sentiment very well: 

"We need an intelligent, systemic plan [...]. This plan should connect the dots [...] with a rational network of bike lanes that not only guide cyclists between the places they want to travel to, but also along the routes that are best-suited to absorbing large numbers of bikers and interfering the least with pedestrians and motorists.

"This plan cannot be developed piecemeal, with bits of bike lanes that stop and start within one Community District (which might be more welcoming to bikers), skip the next, then start up again on some distant street that doesn’t lead bikers to where they really want to go anyway.

"Bike paths need to flow like bloodstreams: We need networks, not snippets."

In fairness to TfL, they do seem to have taken this point on board. 


Just recently, CTC's Hierarchy of Provision has come in for a bit of stick. But what would CTC's critics do instead? As one commentator pointed out at the beginning of this year: "First, we need to articulate what’s wrong with HoP and [explain] why it’s failed. Second, we need to say what we’d put in its place."  

My own list reads as follows:

1. Think in terms of a network: "the key word," Steffen Rasmussen said, “is an holistic approach.”

2. Plan the network: Ben Plowden said that TfL would be working with the boroughs to identify those routes which would complement the Cycle Superhighways.

3. Study the feasibility of the network: if TfL and the Mayor were minded to deliver a cycle network, Ben said they would first establish what would need to be done in order for the network plan to be realised. This would include an assessment of how much it would cost to implement.

4. Introduce the network: Ben said that TfL would develop a cycle network in phases.

5. Develop the network further according to priority interventions and a timetable: the key here is sustained investment. 

I will mention this just in passing. All I know about cycling in York is what I have read from Freewheeler, where he reports that the cycling modal share has stagnated, and may even now be falling back. This is almost certainly due to a lack of sustained investment; that is, the authorities (and CTC?) have failed to build on the momentum that was built up during the earlier, more formative stages. The idea, of course, is to progressively reprioritise our towns and cities in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, to create an environment which is more focused on activity, on people and places, rather than on the car. This doesn't appear to have happened in York beyond a fairly rudimentary level.

Anyway, Steffen said that research had shown that 88% of people would choose cycling if it was easy, quick and direct, not every day perhaps, but on a regular basis at least. Rachel made the point that the people who cycle in London—and the people who would like to cycle—want dedicated, safe, fast and pleasant infrastructure. They don't want a choice between infrastructure that's pleasant and infrastructure that's direct—they want both! 

Rachel thought we could create this infrastructure. "We need to be ambitious," she said. Roelof echoed this idea by saying that if we can accelerate the development of an amenable cycling environment, mainstream, then we should do it.

Rachel explained that fears about traffic chaos resulting from a reallocation of the road space are often ill-founded. People adapt. We need to have faith in that, she said. However, as Roelof also said, "Do not underestimate that you have to come a long way."

Both Ben Plowden and Richard Tracey indicated as much. We have [only just] started the journey towards a more cyclised city, Ben said, and we're doing so from a very different place than our continental neighbours. The cycling population of Amsterdam never fell below one in four, for example. As Matthew Wright has recently observed: "In the 1970s, when the Dutch began [redeveloping] their cycling infrastructure, modal share across the country was approx 25%. It had come down from over 50% in the previous 20 years. So, there was a massive voting population of active and recently active cyclists who could see the benefit of, and vote for, improvements in facilities."

Ben also made the point that we have inherited a road network from an earlier generation who, quite simply, had different priorities and different ideas. This cannot be changed with a click of the fingers. This being the case, if cyclists want routes which are meaningful and direct—and they do—then there has to be some acceptance from them that if it's going to get better, it's going to take time.

Ben told the committee hearing that the Cycle Superhighways were designed to appeal to commuter cyclists. If a cycle network is going to be developed, who would it be for? Caroline Pidgeon has said: “We cannot have a situation where more people are being encouraged to cycle at the same time as more cyclists are being killed or injured." Thus, if a wider network is going to be developed—and in particular if it is going to be developed in phases—then in the early days it clearly would not be suitable for everyone. This, I think, would need to be emphasised.

Monday 17 September 2012

What was said

On 18 June this year, the London Assembly Transport Committee launched an investigation aimed at drawing together issues around cycling in the capital, assessing how effectively improvements are being delivered and identifying further solutions.

Cyclist safety in London has become the subject of growing concern following the deaths of 16 cyclists in 2011, and further fatalities this year.  

The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in the capital has failed to fall in line with TfL targets, and has actually increased over the past two years.

At the moment, concern about safety is the reason most often given by non-cyclists to explain why they do not cycle, yet the Mayor wants to see the number of cycle journeys in London increase by 400 per cent in little over a decade.  

Chair of the Transport Committee, Caroline Pidgeon AM, said: “We cannot have a situation where more people are being encouraged to cycle at the same time as more cyclists are being killed or injured. We intend to sit down with cyclists and hear their concerns before working with experts both here and internationally to identify solutions that will make London’s streets a safer bet for cyclists.”

The terms of reference for the investigation are:
  • To understand the issues facing current cyclists and the barriers to potential cyclists;
  • To examine the plans proposed by the Mayor and TfL to improve cycling safety and increase cycling modal share; and
  •  To generate recommendations to the Mayor and TfL to improve the cycling environment and cycle safety in London.

The Committee held two public meetings as part of its investigation. On 12 July Members heard from cyclists and other stakeholders about their concerns and potential solutions. This was followed by a meeting on 11 September 2012 with expert testimonies being provided from home and overseas.

Present at the second GLA session were:

Roelof Wittink, Director, Dutch Cycling Embassy
Steffen Rasmussen, Head of Traffic Design, City of Copenhagen
Dr Rachel Aldred, Director of the Sustainable Mobilities Research Group, University of East London
Karen Dee, Director of Policy, Freight Transport Association
Ben Plowden, Director of Integrated Programme Delivery, TfL


Caroline Pidgeon kicked off the session by asking their international guests to give a key example of best practice, both in terms of cycle safety and encouraging more people to cycle. 

Roelof was the first to respond. He said that in the Netherlands, they take as the norm the idea that all people should be enabled to ride a bicycle, including children and the elderly. He said that cycling is mentally demanding, in the sense that you do need to keep your wits about you. Even so cyclists are vulnerable, and even relatively small mistakes, either by cyclists or by motorists, immediately increases the chance of a serious incident. Therefore traffic systems are needed that forgive the mistakes of all road users. [This is the approach of Sustainable Safety.] Roelof said that what he sees in London is the starting—the developing—of cycle facilities, but that, as things currently stand, children and the elderly would generally not be able to cope with the quality that we have in our towns and cities. 

Steffen began by giving us the key word, which is an holistic approach, and then a separation of functions. He had made a count of cyclists crossing Tower Bridge that morning—about 1500, he said—but noted that pretty much all of them were men. In order to widen the appeal of cycling, therefore, the cycling environment needs to be made more safe. And not just safe in the sense of fewer recorded accidents, but also the feeling of safety. He said that there is a very extended road network in London, and that we ought to choose some places where we can give priority to pedestrians and cyclists. So a strategy for making available room, space, time in the traffic environment is very important. 

Rachel said that if we are going to learn from best practice, we've got to look outside of the UK. That's not to denigrate the efforts of those who have been involved with the development of cycling here—there's been a lot of effort, and a lot of initiatives—but we don't have a cycling system in this country. That is, we simply do not have the ensemble of support for cycling that exists on the continent. She said that historically we do have a problem in providing effectively for cycling, which is linked to a tradition of a lack of respect for cyclists, and a lack of understanding of what cyclists need: a broader cultural problem, then. But anyway, we need to learn from success; and we also need to consider what people in London are saying, because if developments are made, we need to make sure that these would be useful. She also made the point that whilst the Dutch and the Danes have much to teach us, we might also be guided by the experiences of those cities which developed their cycling environments from a relatively much lower base; places such as Seville, Berlin, Portland and Paris. But going back to the Netherlands and Denmark, the point was made that we do have some problems in common, and that maybe the Dutch and the Danes are better at dealing with those problems than we are, e.g., car dominance. This said, in London we do have a lot going for us. There's a lot of talk about pressure on available road space, for instance, but since the mid-90s, motor traffic volume has fallen by 20%. This is a big change! The number of cars on the road is not going up despite the rise in population. We do public transport pretty well, Rachel said, but we need to learn from those places that do cycling pretty well, and we need to be ambitious.

In terms of what Londoners are saying, the evidence suggests that people do want what they have in places like the Netherlands and Denmark. People who cycle—people who want to cycle—want dedicated, safe, fast and pleasant infrastructure. They don't want a choice between infrastructure that's pleasant and infrastructure that's direct—they want both! And Rachel thinks we could do that. But we need to listen to what's being said, and to learn.

Karen commented on those things within her industry which have made a difference in terms of improving the safety of HGVs. She thought that in the UK we have one of the best systems of Goods Vehicle Operator Licensing, which is the envy of many other European countries, and which the FTA members are very proud of and want to retain. The focus is on making sure that UK operators stick to those rules, and the way that they are enforced ensures that the vehicles are maintained to the highest quality, and are used correctly. She made the point that technology is placing an ever-more important role in making HGVs safer. In terms of best practice, the FTA is working very hard with other organisations to try to reduce the number of incidents between HGVs and cyclists, and for them it's about working to find a solution that allows the crowded road space to be shared by all those that have demands on it, and shared in a safe way. For them, education is very important in helping people to understand each other's needs and habits. This she regards as the key going forward.

Ben thought it was critical that TfL understand what other cities in Europe and North America have done over the past fifteen, twenty, even thirty years to make cycling grow—sometimes from much higher bases—and to make it safer. There already is an exchange of information taking place, he said. The idea behind the Cycling Superhighways, with their blue paint, is borrowed pretty directly from Copenhagen, and the early start at Bow is modelled on European best practice [not true!], given the constraints currently imposed by DfT regulations [these regulations concern the height at which traffic lights can be placed, not the separation of cyclists and motorists in time]. TfL need to take on board what's worked well in other cities, Ben said, but it is also important to understand the context in which these improvements to the cycling environment have to be made. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen they started from a much higher base than here in London, and this makes the relative task of creating a more cycle-friendly city start from a very different point. This, in conjunction with the legal context, the political context, the geographical context, and the infrastructure legacy of a city is all part of the setting which must be considered when looking at the physical measures that need to be implemented on the ground. 

So is cycling in London anything like as good as it is in Copenhagen and Amsterdam? No, it's not. Are TfL taking the sort of broad, comprehensive approach now—certainly in the last four or five years—that those cities have adopted? Ben thinks they definitely are. There's plenty more to do, however; neither Ben nor his colleagues are complacent about that. But he thinks we're on a similar trajectory in terms of the rate at which cycling is growing, albeit from a much later start and from a much lower base, compared to those cities about which we have heard.

Caroline suggested that investment is going to be key in all of this, and asked Ben to outline how much is being invested per capita per year. Ben said that it was currently running at about £10 per head, and that this is about forty times more than it was in 2003/4. Most of this money was spent on the Bike Hire scheme and Cycle Superhighways, it is true, but he thinks we are now on a trajectory towards levels of investment which other European cities have had in place for a generation or more. To be blunt, Ben said, the real investment in cycling has only been in place for the last four or five years. In 2003/4 the total TfL spend on cycling was £2.6m, and in 2010/11 it was just under £100m, so he thinks we're in a very different place now compared to the early days.

Caroline then pointed to the evidence given by the public, and suggested that to get the step-change that is needed, TfL is going to need to spend considerably more even than that. Ben agreed. That is, he said, you need to commit enough money to pay for the things that need to be paid for. And that's partly about infrastructure, which is relatively expensive thing to provide for per unit, partly about cycle training and education, and partly about cycle promotion and publicity campaigns. But yes, Ben said, you do have to invest resources into this effort—both in terms of manpower and hard cash—in such a way as to give you the best return for your investment. The TfL business plan is to go before the TfL Board at the end of this year.

Richard Tracey began by establishing that London is a very big place. He then asked if cycling is regarded as the main form of transport in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, rather as we regard the Underground or buses or mainline trains. 

In Amsterdam cycling certainly is regarded as the main form of transport, Roelof said, especially in the city, where almost half of the population ride bikes. And in the city they have taken a lot of measures to restrict the unfettered use of the car and to improve the appeal of the bike. Public transport is not as well used in Amsterdam as it is in London.

As Richard correctly pointed out, London is a very much bigger place than Amsterdam. Perhaps then, Roelof thought, it would be more instructive to compare London with what the Dutch call the Randstadt, which is a conurbation of 7.1m people in the western part of their country. Because actually a lot of the residents of Amsterdam commute to other parts of the Randstadt, and those that do very often use the public transport system. And so there is the situation where people would ride their bikes to the rail station [where there is abundant cycle parking], take the train to wherever it is that they are going, and then use another bike to reach their final destination. But yes, cycling is definitely the main mode of transport in Dutch cities, Roelof said.

Steffen said that if you look at the broader perspective, what they strive for is one third of all journeys to be made by public transport, one third by car, and one third by bicycle. But cycling is very competitive for short trips. Within the city borders of Copenhagen, for example, 55% of all trips to educational institutions or the workplace are made by bike. So over half of all the short trips are made by bike.

So clearly, Richard suggested, it is quicker [?], cheaper [!?] and easier to make journeys by bike in your cities than it is in London. Richard said he was very pleased to see that we have a fast-growing population of cyclists, but we really are looking at rather different cities, aren't we?

Well maybe, Roelof said, it's a little bit relative. He is always surprised to learn the share of short trips made within a city. In India, where they have these huge metropolitan areas, the majority of trips are within a cycling distance. He doesn't know exactly how it is here in London—it might be a little bit different—but it is reasonably certain that we would be making a considerable number of short trips, and if we could make these trips attractive for cycling, he thinks we could make a lot of progress.

Picking up on this point, Ben said that TfL now has a very good understanding of the number of potentially cycle-able trips, where they are geographically, and who they might be made by. And the investments that TfL are making in terms of infrastructure, cycle training, and all the other activities they are currently undertaking are very much designed at providing for those trips which have the greatest potential. The next phase, if you like—or rather, a part of it—is to direct their focus to the outer London boroughs, where a lot of the journeys currently being made by car are within cycling distance. Ben also pointed out that in the case of the Netherlands, their very impressive growth in cycling has come mainly from people who previously either used public transport or walked, which means to say, there hasn't actually been much of a car-bike shift there. He thought this noteworthy, because in London they do want to encourage people to swap the car for the bike for those short trips, certainly in outer London. Caroline then made reference to the fact that in outer London more than a million car journeys a day would take less than ten minutes to cycle. 

Darren Johnson said that we have seen a disproportionate increase in the number of cycling fatalities in recent years, notwithstanding the big growth in cycle numbers, and asked Ben to outline TfL's assessment as to what the causes might be. Ben replied by saying that there was a big spike in the number of KSI in 2011, and that we needed to be cautious about reading too much into a single year's figures. (Steffen later strongly supported this view.) Ben also said that in consideration of the rate of cycling fatalities, the long-term trend is down. But even so, both the Mayor and the Commissioner are very concerned by what has happened in the last couple of years.

In terms of the causes, Ben said that there is clearly an issue with HGVs, particularly construction lorries, where there seems to be a specific concern with both the design of these vehicles and the way in which they are driven. More generally, TfL is worried about the way that HGVs interact with cyclists at junctions. The other issue is what TfL calls 'close proximity collisions', which are essentially where road users are not giving each other enough space on the carriageway. This is partly about how much space they've got, and partly about how they relate to each other when moving along the carriageway.

Much more was said about the 2011 figures, including the fact that the previous year was relatively nowhere near as bad. But in sum, Ben said that TfL need to understand what has happened to the relative rate of safety, or risk, and then understand what is happening underneath the data, insofar as it suggests a change of direction [smoothing the traffic flow?].

Turning to the Netherlands, Roelof was also not satisfied with the current trend that they have there. It's not so much of a problem with fatal accidents, he said, but rather the fact that overall the number of accidents is increasing. But anyway, be that as it may, if you look at the history, he said, going back to the 1970s, that was the time when they saw the highest number of people being killed on their roads—and not just in the Netherlands either, but all over Europe. If you look at the Dutch data, you will see that cycling was growing in popularity in the 70s and 80s, because of their policies, and at the same time, the number of fatal accidents was decreasing. If you look at other countries, you will also see the same trend: the more cycling, the fewer fatalities.

Darren interrupted at this point, wondering if this had anything to do with the concept of critical mass. Roelof agreed that this was important. But firstly, he explained, the more people there are who cycle, the fewer cars there are on the road. [This creates a virtuous circle: more cyclists – fewer cars – better quality of alternatives.] Second is that drivers become more experienced and therefore better able to drive safely around cyclists (which was Darren’s point about a critical mass of cyclists). And lastly, very importantly, are the measures taken to improve road safety, such as the segregation of traffic on those roads where cars travel in excess of 20mph. They also ensure that there is a ‘disconnect’ between the main routes for cycling and the main routes for cars, so that there are fewer interactions between the two. Where those interactions are unavoidable, measures need to be added to reduce the dangers. In fact, the same kind of problems that affect us here in Britain with regard to HGVs, they also have in the Netherlands [though obviously to a much lesser extent]. Roelof thought that we should not expect to solve all our problems with engineering, and that education also has an important role to play. A lot of it has to do with give and take actually.

Darren confirmed with Roelof that in terms of physical engineering, segregation and the design of junctions is key. It’s very important, Roelof agreed, and yesterday he had a look at some of our roundabouts, and noted that they allowed car speeds of 30-40mph. This would be impossible in the Netherlands. (Mini-roundabouts, he said, are much more effective in reducing car speeds.)

As for the experiences of Copenhagen, cycle traffic has increased by approximately 50% since 1995. At the same time, the number of people killed on the roads [I presume not just cyclists] fell from about a hundred to around 25/30. All in all, the risk to cyclists has been much reduced over the past fifteen years. In fact, it is about four times safer, so it’s actually a very positive trend.

Steffen agreed that there might be something about a critical mass of cyclists. As a motorist, you become more used to navigating in a complex traffic environment with many cyclists, many pedestrians, so that over the years you become “trained”. He also thinks that cyclists become more competent road users year by year. But really we need more research on the issue of “critical mass”. Steffen is not aware of any specific research for the European cities. He was very clear on that point.

Steffen concurred with the suggestion from Darren that segregated routes, design of junctions and roundabouts was “extremely important” in reducing the danger posed to cyclists. In fact, they still have a lot more work to do in Copenhagen, particularly with regard to the way that junctions are made to work. Looking at accidents between cars and cyclists/pedestrians, targeted work would very often result in reductions in the number of incidents of 40-50-60%.

Rachel wanted to look at the figures from London. When Ben talked about the risk going down year on year, that is true, but you would expect that anyway, she said, at least in terms of the number of people being killed. One reason for this is that healthcare gets better, and you’re therefore more likely to survive a serious injury. What worries Rachel is that if you compare modes, and see how much the risk is reduced for different modes, the risk for cyclists has gone down a lot less than for other modes, except for motorcyclists. Somehow it’s becoming safer for car drivers, car passengers and pedestrians, but that improvement in the risk to cyclists is much less, and that she finds worrying.

She also thought it important to look at the relative rate for people cycling versus the rate for people in cars. Because that’s something that people think about. For example, if you’re going to cycle five or ten miles to work, what would be the risk to you as a cyclist compared to as a driver or a passenger in a car? Earlier this year, TfL released the figures for 2010. (This is the good year by the way, as opposed to 2011, where, as we know, the figures may be showing a statistical blip.) What concerns Rachel about those figures is that the KSI rate per kilometre is thirty times greater for cyclists than for motorists, and that seems a very big disparity. She calculated yesterday with what were reasonably comparable figures from the Netherlands that the rate there is just four to one.

So 30:1 in London, around 4:1 in the Netherlands, and around 25:1 in the UK as a whole. So clearly there is an issue there, particularly as we’re trying to encourage more people to switch from cars to cycling. Incidentally, she believes that in the Netherlands in 2010, there were just four right-hook deaths involving HGVs—obviously it would be a left-hook problem that we have here—but that’s for the whole country, so clearly they’ve got to grips with this better than we have.

Rachel then talked about the safety in numbers theory, which gathered legs as a result from a paper by Jacobsen in 2003. Now Jacobsen used five data sets: three of them were cross-sectional, which means that there is in fact a methodological issue at stake here. He used two other data sets, and these were longitudinal, which give you a much better insight. One of them was from the Netherlands, where he concluded that cycling was becoming safer as more people cycled. The other case he looked at was the UK, where he found that something very different was happening: it was all over the place! It wasn’t showing any consistent improvement in safety! To conclude, Rachel thought that there are a number of mechanisms going on, but she doesn’t think you can always say that more cyclists always leads to safer cycling. One would also need to take account of the infrastructural, the cultural and the legal context in effect in each country.

Darren was curious to know if the relatively small numbers of people cycling in Britain was relevant. Rachel answered by saying that acceptable levels of risk are decided socially. Is it at one per cent, two per cent, or five per cent that the risk becomes acceptably safe? But it’s also confounded, because as you get more cycling, you get more pressure for better cycling conditions, so that will then feed into better cycling safety, so there’s a lot of things going on.

Ben thought it must also be true, mustn’t it, that in a city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen where […] both the physical presence of large numbers of cyclists, and the state of mind of the drivers, must be helping to create a situation where "people behave in a way which puts cycling very much in the frame as part of what people are thinking about"? (That was pure speculation on his part, he said.)

Moving on, Ben doesn’t know whether you can even begin to say at what point in a population of road users does that tipping point start to happen. It’s certainly a long way above one per cent, he thinks. It might be five to ten per cent, it might even be more than ten per cent; he doesn’t think you can do it scientifically. But there must be some critical point where there are enough people who cycle some of the time, and are driving the rest of the time, that actually creates a situation where things change quite significantly.

Darren thought we might still be a long way off that tipping point. Ben responded by saying that he’s been cycling into London for thirty years, he’s ashamed to say, and we have now reached the point at certain junctions, on certain busy routes, where you get forty or fifty cyclists going through the junction at each cycle of the lights. That must be having an effect on people’s perceptions as to who is on the road, he thought, particularly on those busy commuter corridors, and the question is, At what point does that start to feed through into people’s behaviour and their willingness to give way at junctions, and so on?

Rachel then pointed out that Jacobsen’s original idea about safety in numbers was about presence on the road, not a long-term cultural shift. So what concerns her about safety in numbers is that it might be relatively pleasant to cycle through junctions accompanied by forty or fifty other cyclists, but if you’re cycling back home on your own after a late meeting, say, and the motor traffic is flowing freely at 30-35mph, the experience is quite different. So for her the issue is about continuity and having consistency.

For the FTA, Karen thought that with regard to segregation, they wanted the right kinds of infrastructure put into the right kinds of places. In some places, segregation might be the answer, and in other places it wouldn’t be cost-effective or it would be wrong. Their view is that you’ve got to look at what’s going on in each locale: where are most of the cyclists going to be? what sort of times of day? do goods vehicles need to be there or not? And it’s not going to be the same in every part of London. It’s such a big place, after all, and you can’t expect to get one solution to fit every part of the city. So you’ve got to use all of the tools that are available to you, in the most appropriate places.

Joanne McCartney asked about the enforcement of road traffic laws and regulations, and good manners. Because in the evidence given by the public, it was felt that minor infractions by motorists were often waved on by the police. So is there a strong enforcement of the rules on the continent?

Roelof said that that in the Netherlands, motorists always have a certain accountability whenever there is an accident involving a pedestrian or a cyclist. Motorists can never say that the pedestrian or cyclist is 100% to blame: they are held to be at least 50% responsible for any accident involving a cyclist or a pedestrian. Roelof thought this might have an influence on driver behaviour, but acknowledged that it would be very difficult to prove what exactly that would be.

They also have a lot of informal rules, which allow for a good deal of flexibility, particularly when the road is busy. Visitors to the Netherlands always feel it is very well organised, but the Dutch themselves tend to regard it more as organised chaos. But by slowing down the speed of car traffic, people are not so intimidated by it. It’s still a difficult situation to try and deal with, but if you have low speeds, it becomes very much easier to manage it in a fair way. Therefore the enforcement of speed limits is something to which the Dutch police give a lot of attention. Joanne confirmed with Roelof that in the Netherlands there is a dedicated traffic police.

Steffen said that the general police force deal with traffic violations in Denmark. Steffen agreed with Roelof on the need to focus on speeding offences, drink-driving (of course), and to some extent, reckless driving by young men (18-24). There’s also an ongoing discussion in Denmark about the behaviour of cyclists, particularly those who use the pavement as a short-cut to somewhere. Their actions don’t necessarily result in many injuries, but it is an irritating aspect of city-life for many pedestrians. There are publicity campaigns urging cyclists not to do this.

Joanne pointed to a survey from Denmark which suggested that both cyclists and non-cyclists want cyclists to behave better. In Copenhagen, Steffen said, if you ask cyclists what makes them feel unsafe, about 45% said it was the behaviour of other cyclists. Maybe this is due to the congestion. 55% said it was because of motor traffic.

Ben was then asked about the TfL-funded Metropolitan Police Cycling Tasking Force, which is made up of 50 officers. Ben thought their establishment was very important, firstly because they provide a visible presence, and secondly because of their enforcement role. Since the team was set up a couple of years ago, they have issued about 7,000 fixed penalty notices. About a quarter have gone to cyclists for things like red-light jumping, another quarter to commercial drivers, and about a half to motorists for things like not wearing a seat-belt or using a mobile phone. TfL see their role as an important part of the overall package.

Rachel said that we have a tradition in this country of taking motorist offences very lightly. We have a phrase, she said: “No previous offences, except traffic offences.” It’s as if traffic offences don’t really count! They’re just something that might happen to anyone. She also felt that the stigmatisation of cyclists needs to be looked at: it’s often seen to be their fault if they get injured. In order for cycling to be seen as more legitimate, cyclists can’t keep on getting blamed if they’re involved in an accident, and motoring offences have to be taken more seriously. For example, where there is free-flowing traffic, 50% of the cars travelling along a road with a 30mph speed limit will be speeding; and that figure has improved!

Val Shawcross then oversaw a forthright debate about the design and operation of HGVs, which lasted very nearly twenty minutes. Things discussed included side-bars, blind-spots, overloading drivers with too much information, mandatory training, driver position, the operation of construction lorries, a zero per cent tolerance from the public regarding the shoddy operation of these very big and potentially lethal vehicles, delivery times and final mile deliveries.

Val then asked Ben about TfL’s junction review. Ben confirmed that just because this is being funded separately, this does not mean these works would be carried out in isolation, which was Val’s point exactly. With regard to the junction review itself, the existing layouts of the junctions are as a direct result of a different set of priorities, inherited from an earlier generation. The short-term imperative is to mitigate the worst effects of this legacy. TfL started by looking at 500 junctions, but that was soon whittled down to 100 priority junctions. Ten of those will be upgraded this year, Ben said, and a further 15 by the summer of next year. What they are looking at are things like early start signals for cyclists, extending the depth of ASLs where this is not possible, segregation perhaps where circumstances currently allow.

Val asked how TfL are planning to ensure that future road schemes do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Ben said that the London Cycle Design standards are being reviewed, and that lessons have been learned about the way the Cycle Superhighways were installed, and that these are now feeding into the process by which decisions will be taken henceforth.

Val asked whether Ben had any concerns about constraints which may limit the effectiveness of the review, be that sufficient resources, DfT regulations, and so forth. Ben said he didn’t foresee any problems in the short-term. He did say that maybe we need to think about what sort of road network we want for London.

Richard asked Ben about how TfL are planning to work with the boroughs, highlighting a poorly designed junction at Queenstown Circus in Battersea as evidence that the needs of all users had not been properly taken into account when the junction was remodelled. Ben thought that TfL do have a very good working relationship with the boroughs.

Richard then asked Roelof to talk about arrangements in the Netherlands for co-ordinating these sorts of projects. Roelof stressed the importance of installing a cycling commissioner or co-ordinator to oversee the development of the network. Nowadays, he said, the cycling co-ordinators in the Netherlands only work about half-a-day a week because all the traffic engineers now understand the need to incorporate cyclists and pedestrians into their plans; but it wasn’t always so. He said that if we would take the needs of cyclists and pedestrians as central to our approach, the result is that we would improve our whole system: traffic would flow better and road safety would be improved. This is a long-term process, because the way that traffic engineers are educated has all been to do with motorised traffic.

Do not under-estimate that you have to come a long way, he said, but if you can accelerate that, mainstream, do it.

Steffen was asked to comment about junctions. He said that they test the cost-effectiveness of each of the measures proposed. Indeed, as Val had mentioned, the council in Copenhagen is very keen to ensure that road programmes always take cyclists into account. They were urged to look closely at all junctions in the city where there had been three or more injuries to cyclists in their analysis. Steffen also mentioned that a great number of accidents are under-reported by the police, so they have started to look at hospital data.

They have the same problems with left- and right-turning traffic in Denmark, of course, and they have found that it is very important to have fixed-turning phases in the signals so that there is separation in time between motor traffic and cycle traffic [unlike at Bow].

Richard was also interested to learn about the trade-offs that are required to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists are not placed in perpetual conflict with each other, either when developing schemes such as the Cycle Superhighways, or when providing for cyclists’ needs more generally. Steffen said that for shorter journeys, there really isn’t much in the way of competition for the bicycle [it is so much quicker and easier]; but for longer journeys, as would be provided by the Cycle Superhighways, there are more alternatives available to people. There’s a greater number of people who would use public transport or the car for journeys of 5km or more. So they’re looking at providing more for cyclists wishing to travel between 5 and 10km, and even up to 20-25km. And to that end, they have to co-operate with neighbouring municipalities, because Copenhagen itself is only about 10-12km across.

The Dutch idea of Cycling Superhighways is something else. Very smooth, very wide, and not much need to keep stopping. But these connect different towns and cities within the Randstadt [and would probably go through the countryside to a large extent]. They have found that the economic benefits are two to one, so for every Euro they spend in building them, they save two Euros elsewhere.

Rachel said that in the UK, we regard cyclists either like pedestrians, or like cars. So we either get slow, circuitous routes where cyclists often have to give way all the time, or we get routes on main roads where cyclists are expected to be behave like cars. She doesn’t think either of those options is particularly satisfactory. One of the lessons we can learn from Denmark and the Netherlands is that they treat the bicycle as a mode of transport in its own right. One thing that stems from this is that, in some contexts, high quality segregated cycle infrastructure is very desirable, because it means that cyclists don’t have to be on the main road behaving like motorists, and neither do they have to be pootling on the pavement getting in the way of mums with buggies. Segregated cycle lanes would therefore help to reduce conflict. In the Netherlands and Denmark, cyclists are not expected to be slow—you can be slow, the space is there to be slow—but the green wave in Copenhagen which prioritises cyclists assumes that they will be travelling at 20km/h. The other point to make about segregated cycle infrastructure is that it’s not just about safety—it’s also about pleasantness, and it’s also about not having to wait in traffic, so you don’t get stuck behind Heavy Goods Vehicles waiting at junctions: you are prioritised.

We also need to remember that when you remove lanes from traffic, all the predictions of traffic chaos are mostly unfounded. People adapt. She thinks we need to have faith in that. We need to think that actually this would make people’s journeys more pleasant, quicker, and so on. Obviously we don’t need to segregate every single road, but segregated routes should form the backbone of a network that is friendly to people of all abilities

Richard suggested to Ben that the Cycle Superhighways are not universally popular with cyclists. How does he feel about that? Does he feel that in part TfL got the Cycle Superhighway structure wrong? Ben thought it quite interesting that in London, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, they are all exploring—and in our case delivering—routes that are designed to attract slightly longer distance cycle traffic, predominantly commuter trips, and to that extent the Cycle Superhighways that have gone in over the last two or three years have been a big success.

He thinks that TfL are learning as they go. He made the point that the routes themselves need to be introduced into an existing road network. TfL plan to revisit some of these routes as they go [reaffirming that the design process often takes many iterations or cycles before you are happy with the final result]. The data that Ben has seen suggests that conditions have been made safer: according to their market research, 70-80% of users say that they feel safer on them than they did before [which gives the lie to the suggestion from LCC that route confirmation markers laid down on the road surface would do “NOTHING to enhance the safety of cyclists in London”]. And they do incorporate some quite significant safety improvements at junctions, as well as the 1.5 metre-wide cycle lanes. TfL are working with employers to encourage them to provide shower facilities and cycle parking and cycle training at the workplace. And at the “home” end they’re working with the boroughs to provide more cycle parking in residential areas and cycle training.

It’s a mixture of the physical infrastructure improvements—and obviously in this regard they are learning as they go—and the other supporting measures, which make the experience of using the highways as safe and as convenient as it can be. For the commuter market, which is the market that the Cycle Superhighways were aimed at, they have been a big success, he thinks. But there are questions about how else to draw in people who are not in the demographic of 25-45 year-old males wishing to cycle into central London. As he said before, there’s a great deal of potential in the outer London boroughs to increase more cycling. But taking on board Rachel’s point that cycle routes need to be pleasant and direct, it’s also worth thinking about the potential options for developing parallel routes, which would be quieter and probably more suitable for less confident, slower cyclists. And so they need to look now with the boroughs at identifying those routes which would complement the Cycle Superhighways, and to deliver those.

Rachel felt compelled to point out that CS2, which mostly runs along the Mile End Road, and which mostly consists of a 1.5 metre-wide cycle lane, should have been got right in the first place. The Mile End Road is a dual-carriageway for most of its length, and also has extra-wide pavements in many places, and so her feeling would be that if TfL had put in a high quality segregated route that had plenty of space to enable people to overtake, that many people would use that, and that TfL would not now have to be worrying about parallel routes [actually there isn’t one in this case]. Obviously there are challenges—there are street markets along the way—but that doesn’t seem to Rachel as something that would have been impossible to work through. And had it been done properly, that would have enabled people like Rachel to use the superhighway, which to be honest, she feels uncomfortable about doing at the moment.

After a brief discussion about a newspaper story, Roger Evans wanted to know if the residents in Ilford would be able to join in on the cycle revolution, which has thus far passed them by. Currently CS2 stops in Stratford, and he was told that this was because Newham Council did not want it installed prior to the Olympic Games. Now that the Games are over, does that mean that TfL will be renewing efforts to make sure the route gets extended? Ben confirmed that the remainder of CS2 and all of CS5 would be developed to European standards by the end of next year.

Tom Copley asked Ben about the proposal for a raised cycle network, which obviously I have no interest in reporting. Except to point out, that as Ben said, any resources which were spent on this might actually be better spent on something else. To be very clear about this, Ben said, we need to be as creative as we can be, in the context of where we find ourselves, as to how we make available safe space and time on the network for cyclists and pedestrians, and all the other people who need to get around the city.

If they were to pursue the idea of a raised network, they would need to work out practically what would need to be done in order to make the proposal happen, and that would include the cost of developing the idea. Then you would look at how much it would cost to implement. If you did decide to see it through, he said, then obviously you would do that in phases. And finally you would find out if anybody was interested in contributing to the costs.

Rachel felt we probably ought to be start thinking about reallocating road space before we consider building something like this.

The last item up for discussion concerned cycling potential. Caroline said that according to TfL data, there are 4.3 million potential cycle-able journeys in London every day, and that would equate to 23% of all trips, which would be a much more impressive and suitably ambitious target for the Mayor to aim for. She said that we’ve seen lots of cycle training programmes over the years, lots of marketing, a big cycling festival to take place next year. What sort of impact do these measures have in broadening the appeal of cycling across all groups?

Rachel talked about the TfL report on cycling potential, which she thought a very good piece of work. According to that report, amongst cyclists and non-cyclists alike, the most significant barrier to cycling is safety concerns, so objective safety measures are really important to all groups.

Regarding TfL’s marketing, there is clearly a shift away from the image of sporty, lycra-clad cyclists—the kind of cyclists that Steffen saw riding over Tower Bridge—and to try to create a more diversified image. The recent campaign shows images of people cycling through parks and quiet streets. So whilst there is an attempt to convey a more diversified image, does this image match the reality of cycling in London? You might be able to encourage people to start cycling, she said, but the reality has to be routes which are safe, pleasant, reliable, direct, and so on, in order for them to keep cycling. For example, cycle training. One group which is particularly amenable to cycle training is ethnic-minority women, but are these people actually going out and cycling on the streets after they’ve done their cycle training? That is the question. 

As for the RideLondon festival, it’s an acknowledgement that people love the idea of riding on roads which are closed to motor traffic. It’s a two-day festival and will attract loads of people, which is great. But she thinks if we’re going to have such events, they should be more regular, as in Paris and Bogotá for example, where they take place every week. This said, she thinks we need to develop a cycling environment which enables more people to cycle every day. In the UK, about 30% of children say they would like to cycle to school, whereas only about 2-3% actually do. So we need to meet people’s demands. And of course popular things don’t need so much advertising. We don’t have many adverts saying things like, Use the Tube, or, Catch the Bus. The current TfL campaigns on cycling—which Rachel is sure are well researched—do show what people want. They want to cycle in pleasant conditions, away from lots of motor traffic, and so we need to replicate those kinds of conditions where possible.

Roelof thought that traditional marketing had a role to play, but the particular aspect of marketing in which he is most interested is the opportunity it provides to get to know your customer better. If people can be encouraged to cycle once, would they do it a second time, and if not why not?

Steffen believes that we still have a challenge to provide for the appropriate physical environment that would encourage more cyclists. 88% of people say that they will choose cycling if it is easy, quick and direct. And then there’s the feeling of safety. They know from Copenhagen that cyclists will choose other routes to get from A to B if it means they can avoid certain dangerous junctions, because the feeling of safety is not good enough. Not that necessarily the police record many accidents at these junctions: it might have traffic travelling at high speed or lots of lorries, so then they would choose other routes. So the challenge is to create a physical environment which allows people to feel safe, as well as enabling them to travel on routes which are easy, quick and direct.

With regards to marketing, Steffen thought it would be useful to emphasise the health benefits. An average 30 year-old man would live on average six years longer if he incorporated cycling into his daily routine; and they would be six healthy years.

Karen again emphasised the need for training, and Ben provided more clarity on the cycling potential data. Of the 4.3 million potentially cycle-able journeys, about 3 million of those are being made by people within the right sort of demographic. In order for the Mayor’s target to be met, about a million of those would actually have to start up and continue cycling. This would represent a considerable shift in the travelling habits of a significant number of people. TfL aim to reach this target firstly by enabling short-hops within central London, secondly by further developing the Cycling Superhighways to provide for the slightly longer radial commutes, and thirdly by working with the Biking Boroughs in outer London.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Daring to redistribute space and means

Mobility may be regarded as the ability to travel, although its meaning could be much broader, since mobility encompasses not only the activity of travel, but also, more importantly, the possibility for the traveller to decide when and where to travel, by being aware of, and making use of, an information set for optimising the journey. 

The foregoing is the opening paragraph of the Executive Summary to a policy document produced for the European Parliament entitled Promotion of Cycling. The same paragraph is repeated, word for word, in the Introduction.

Mobility, it suggests, is not just about getting from A to B, but also about knowing how to get from A to B, whichever method of transport is used. The top tip for cycling safely in Amsterdam, by the way, is: "know where to ride".

The report found that people mostly choose to use a bicycle for positive reasons, i.e., it is fun, it is healthy, it is environmentally-friendly, it is fast (in congested urban areas) and it is inexpensive. The major cycling-related benefits are thus classified into the following categories:

> transport efficiency; 
> environmental protection; 
> cyclists’ health and fitness; 
> economic and social impact. 

Despite these positive features, however, the report also noted that cycling has several negative aspects. These relate to: 

> lack or inadequacy of road and parking infrastructure; 
> cyclists’ safety and security; 
> weather conditions; 
> poor intermodality.

The report aims to give an overview of the main policies that promote cycling in the built-up area. These are:

> the provision of good and safe infrastructures in cities and neighbourhoods;
> cycling education, and the promotion of safety for cyclists;
> the importance of intermodality, in giving cyclists the opportunity to make medium- to long-distance trips;
> the challenge of improving security, to prevent theft and avoid aggression towards cyclists.

The report recognises that cyclists are vulnerable to motorised vehicles, and that they may feel more at risk under poor cycling conditions. Safety and a sense of security are therefore significant factors in making cycling a better option. 

The report points out that the development of well-designed segregated cycle infrastructures would obviously be a big help in this regard, though it is acknowledged that many factors contribute to a bicycle-friendly environment. It is vital, for instance, that cyclists are visible to motorists at junctions, and also that cyclists are aware of cars.

The report makes mention of a number of soft measures that could be implemented in the short-term, including changing the way that traffic lights are phased, opening one-way streets to two-way cycle traffic, reducing the speed limit of motor vehicles, and "the safety of bicycle lanes, including good signage".

Good infrastructure for cyclists, the report makes clear, should go hand-in-hand with car traffic restrictions in city centres and residential areas. Indeed, the development of the cycling network cannot be considered in isolation. The availability of safe and convenient parking, for example, is as critical for cyclists as it is for motorists.

The report describes the five main requirements for bicycle-friendly infrastructures, first identified by the Dutch National Information and Technology Platform for Transport, Infrastructure and Public Space (CROW) in 1993: 

> Improved traffic safety;
> Directness: short, fast routes from origin to destination;
> Comfort: good surfaces, generous space and little hindrance from other road users;
> Attractiveness: a pleasant, socially safe environment, without smell or noise nuisance;
> Cohesion: logical, cohesive routes.

The report also outlines the measures for cycling infrastructures in Copenhagen. They have developed an extensive system of cycle-friendly facilities, which means in practice:

> Well maintained, fully integrated paths, lanes and bicycle streets in the city and surrounding regions
> Fully coordinated system of colour-coded signs for bicyclists
> Intersection modifications and priority traffic signals:
  • Advanced green lights for cyclists at most intersections
  • Advanced cyclist waiting positions (ahead of cars) fed by special bicycle lanes make crossing and turning safer and quicker
  • Cyclist short cuts to make right-hand turns before intersections and exemption from red traffic signals at T-intersections
  • Bicycle paths become brightly-coloured bicycle lanes when crossing intersections
> Plenty of good bicycle parking throughout the city
> Improved lighting and security of bike-parking facilities, often featuring guards, video surveillance and priority parking for women

The main features of the report are the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and 'hard' measures in the medium-term.


The report also makes the following point about national cycling policies:

"Currently it is not compulsory for EU Member States to adopt a national bicycle plan and there are no compulsory legal or financial frameworks. Nevertheless, an increasing number of countries are voluntarily developing national cycling plans and strategic policies. The handbook for urban cycling policies is Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities published by the European Commission in 1999. This handbook promotes bicycle use in cities to decrease transport-related pollutant emission."

And with regard to the role of the EU, it says:

"Promoting cycling is the responsibility of the national and local authorities, since it is an integral part of urban policy. It depends very much on local political will and the allocation of financial resources.

"The EU, as supranational coordinator and facilitator member, should continue to fund EU initiatives and projects whose aim is to divulge the best practices and their transferability among EU cities. Beginning with the handbook, Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, published in 1999, the EU still continues to promote cycling initiatives through the annual European Mobility Week."

I hope you get the idea from the foregoing that Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities is still regarded in Europe as a very credible piece of work.


This is taken from the chapter entitled 'Daring to redistribute space and means':

When town centres have been remodelled for pedestrians, cyclists often find their place in them quite naturally. Wherever cars are no longer taking up all the space, bicycles pop up. But if decisions have to be taken between making room for car traffic and for cyclists, the choices made are sometimes draconian. How is one to choose between the demand for cycling facilities on the one hand and the ‘requirements’ of car traffic on the other? What limitations can we allow to be imposed on one mode of transport in order to give the other its chance?

The majority of the population is in favour of cycling facilities

Some towns are short of space, even on the major routes. Taking a political decision to reduce the space allotted to cars (whether for traffic or for parking) in order to create facilities for cyclists requires a certain amount of skill, entails explanations for the population and has to be implemented gradually.

Let us recall that the Eurobarometer survey quoted above shows that there is an overwhelming majority of people who approve of cycling in all countries of the European Union.

More local surveys always come up with results which concur with this. In connection with the promulgation and application of the new law on air quality in France , it was reported that:

> more than six out of ten respondents in France feel that it is difficult to put up with car traffic in town
> more than seven out of ten respondents in France say that they favour closing town centres to traffic at least on some days
> more than nine out of ten respondents in France would like cycling facilities to be introduced.

It is important to emphasise that, even among motorists, there are few who believe that the car must remain a priority mode of transport in spite of everything [their emphasis]. Very often motorists themselves are amenable to safety and quality of life arguments

Investing in proper information for the public

A major factor in the success and acceptability of any innovatory policy concerning journeys in towns is the communication strategy used.

If arguments in favour of a redistribution of space and in favour of certain restrictions are spelt out clearly to motorists, they are happy to support a reduction in traffic or in traffic speed, and will not let themselves be influenced by any recalcitrant pro-car lobbyist.

Before introducing measures to reduce the speed in Graz ( Austria ), for example, the town conducted a publicity campaign which lasted several months. Through this campaign, motorists became aware of the risks to which they were exposing others by driving at 50 km/h in local streets and also the small amount of time they would lose when 50 km/h would be authorised only on major routes. The introduction of the 30 km/h speed limit was implemented at a stroke when the school term recommenced in order to stress the safety aspects. The only measures taken were to install signs and to paint the ground with reminders of the maximum speed authorised in local streets.

Supervision is required to remind motorists of the 30 km/h limit and a small number of motorists are charged with offences, but the vast majority of the population and motorists approve of and accept this speed moderation strategy.

Adopting a gradual approach and alternative solutions

The creation of infrastructures to encourage people to take up cycling again does not inevitably give rise to a mass of insoluble problems regarding the distribution of space. Quite apart from the creation of signposted cycle routes on roads where through-traffic is low or has been reduced, some physical installations carried out at key places can make a powerful contribution to improving cyclists’ safety.

These include:

> the quality of road surfaces (reducing the risks of falling or sudden turns so that cyclists can concentrate their attention on traffic),
> bright lighting at crossroads (leading to fewer conflicts),
> changes to the phasing of traffic lights (fewer conflicts),
> an increased use of small roundabouts (which should reduce conflicts and enable cyclists to waste less time),
> cycle lanes.

The best guarantees for finding intelligent solutions, which must very often be adapted to the specific situation in hand, include taking into account the experience of people who cycle on a daily basis and the imagination and subtlety of analysis of those in charge of the projects.

Only by studying a cycle route network, however, will it be possible to truly grasp the situation, to draw up a list of black spots and to act in a targeted and highly efficient fashion [their emphasis].

When defining cycle routes, there are certain imperatives: they must be simultaneously intelligently chosen, direct and pleasant, and any installations made on these routes must be simultaneously safe and comfortable.

Depending on the size and layout of your particular town, it is quite possible that defining cycling routes will not give rise to any major problems regarding the redistribution of public space. Indeed, the cycle routes appreciated by beginners are preferably separated from the major car traffic flows (criterion of comfort) which can thus follow more local roads, as long as the trip remains direct, without pointless or excessive detours.

As long as the cycle routes are following local roadways, the main measures taken can be those of moderating speed and, as far as possible, cutting down the volume of traffic. In cases such as this, there are few restrictions placed on car traffic and any opposition from the car lobby can easily be defused by a good information campaign and by encouraging the participation of motorists.

The introduction of specific amenities which may require a reduction in the size of the road (including the occasional elimination of parking places) becomes indispensable only when the cycling network is situated on a major route or when obstacles have to be circumvented (bridges, tunnels).

Often, reasonable traffic moderation measures aimed at ensuring that the maximum authorised speed is respected (generally 50 km/h) will make it possible to reduce the width of the traffic lanes and thus create the space needed for cyclists.

Taking account of motorists

When designing facilities for cyclists, account must be taken of the fact that motorists are not accustomed to sharing the road with such small vehicles and whose trajectory they are unable to predict with any accuracy. Facilities can also make a very powerful contribution to eliminating the element of surprise in encounters between cars and bicycles.

One of the defects of cycle tracks is precisely the fact that cyclists and motorists forget each others’ existence until they reach the crossroads, where cyclists have to be integrated into mainstream traffic. In order for cyclists to be more visible to motorists and to avoid this kind of surprise, crossroads should be kept clear of obstacles for a length of at least 20 metres in each direction or space should be provided for cyclists on the roadway.

This argument, that the needs of both motorists and of cyclists must be taken jointly into account, must be stressed in any communication strategy.

The relationship between safety and amenities for cyclists

Cycle tracks (conceived as spaces reserved for cyclists, separate from the main roadway and generally provided on pavements alongside the roadway) require space. They cannot usually be introduced everywhere (it is impossible to construct an entire network of cycle tracks in an existing town). They must be therefore be planned carefully depending on the connections that have to be made and in accordance with the rules of the art:

> If they are incorrectly conceived, cycle tracks induce a false sense of security in both motorists and cyclists (each believing himself to be ‘on his territory’ and with a right to force the other to conform. Nowadays we know that cycle tracks are only a realistic solution in some situations and that they only improve safety for cyclists under certain very strict conditions. Indeed, badly conceived cycle tracks increase the risks of accidents.

> Laying cycle tracks is only realistic if one has the resources for meticulous planning (because, if an error of choice is made, the tracks are not used and the space which has been set aside for them and any investment made will be wasted).

Monday 10 September 2012

In our profession

"In our profession, a plan that everyone dislikes for different reasons is a success. A plan everyone dislikes for the same reason is a failure. And a plan that everyone likes for the same reason is an act of God."
                                                (Richard Carson, a planner from Portland, Oregon)

This article follows on from an earlier piece that was published on the Movement for Liveable London website entitled Towards a revitalised London Cycling Network. It seeks to look more closely at the reasons which have been put forward in opposition to my proposal.

My proposal comes in two parts: a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network introduced to a minimum level of functioning; and a signing strategy which uses colours to distinguish one route from the next, compass colours. The first part of my proposal is largely informed by European best practice, as elucidated in a seminal publication entitled Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities

The introduction of a network to a minimum level of functioning ought to be fairly self-explanatory, but just to be clear, it means doing as much as possible at least bureaucracy first. Following this course would obviously mean that the network could be set up and made to work relatively quickly and relatively cheaply.

To what advantage? Well, there is a group of cyclists in London, whom we might call The Enthused and the Confident, and over the last fifteen years they have been killed on their bikes roughly every twenty-odd days. I believe that the introduction of a network of well-signed routes would make cycling relatively much safer for them than it is now, although in the short-term, I regret to say, there's simply no accounting for some people.

This group is not to be confused with The Strong and the Fearless, by the way. As far as they're concerned, we already have a vast road network, and it doesn't merit wholesale redesign: we just need to think about changing the culture of road users.

Thankfully, views such as this are becoming increasingly marginalised. Most advocates of cycling now agree that the short-term goal is to develop a network which could be used by The Interested but Concerned, and not to maintain a situation which makes cycling available only to a doughty few. However, since the development of such a network would take more than a few years, it is important to prioritise—between the pressing and achievable demands of existing cyclists on the one hand, and the harder-to-deliver and longer-term demands of would-be cyclists on the other.

"Try to see what is worth doing," said Alcyone; "and remember that you must not judge by the size of the thing. A small thing which is directly useful is far better worth doing than a large thing which the world would call good. You must distinguish not only the useful from the useless, but the more useful from the less useful."

Indeed, there's a whole load of stuff that people could be doing, which would not in any way be constrained by the planning process, but which would make cycling in London safer for people. Specifically, in the words of a regular commentator on many blogs, Paul M:

“Using back streets would be excellent advice, apart from one thing. They are generally quieter, less scary, less polluted, and generally more interesting to view the scenery as you pass. Some of them even have interesting shops, cafes, etc. The 'one thing' is one-way systems. Apart from a little bit of wiggling, because we don’t have a grid system like many US cities, we could make relatively straight lines if only we could ride both ways down each street, or even if the this-way streets and the that-way streets were at least roughly lined up with each other. But they are not.”

Having set out my stall, let us now consider how some of the major players regard my proposal, beginning with the London Cycling Campaign. Mike Cavenett, LCC's Communications Manager, has recently suggested that route confirmation markers, laid down on the road surface, as per the Cycling Superhighways, would do "NOTHING to enhance the safety of cyclists in London. A brief look at the map," says he, "sees coloured lines running through some of the most dangerous junctions in London, with no clue as to how to make them safe for cyclists."

On 20 July this year, Transport for London announced "a multi-million pound safety improvement programme for cyclists at major junctions across the Capital". You can see their map here [pdf]. For Mike's criticism to have any validity, he would need to identify those junctions which TfL are not planning to improve, but which appear in my design for a revitalised London Cycling Network. This, I can tell you now, he will not do.

According to the TfL press release, "An initial review of 500 locations has now been completed, which has allowed TfL to identify a priority list of 100 junctions, based on a range of measures such as user feedback, cyclist numbers and collision data. Work to explore initial design options at these priority locations is now well under way, with TfL committed to completing the review and having detailed designs for all of these 100 junctions by the end of 2013." 

At the same time as the above announcement was made, the Mayor said: "I am one hundred per cent committed to making London's roads safer for cyclists and other vulnerable road users." This ought to be taking us on towards deeper discussions, as indeed it is, despite LCC's insistence that the only way for London to be a cycle-friendly city is for there to be "an unprecedented show of political will from the Mayor and all of London's political leaders"; meaning, this is the only way their 42 policy recommendations have any chance at all of being implemented. 

I suggest that there already is an unprecedented show of political will in support of the bicycle. More than this, the country now has a 'can-do' attitude following what has largely been a successful Olympics. Several media outlets are talking seriously about the bicycle as a mode of transport, and many businesses and organisations also recognise the need for some sort of change, including the AA.

"Cycling needs to be incorporated into the planning stage of developments," the AA has made clear, "not added as an afterthought." Obviously what is needed, then, is a good plan; for good plans shape good decisions.

Let's move on. 

Chris Peck, Policy Coordinator at CTC, has said of my proposal: “It seems to depend on vast amounts of specialist route signage (as opposed to general directional signage), which is an unrealistic thing to ask for when all it seems to do is replicate the existing road network...”

The more observant of you will note that Chris twice uses the word 'seems'. It seems to depend on vast amounts of specialist route signage ... it seems to replicate the existing road network. 

Does my proposal depend on vast amounts of specialist route signage? No, not at all. In fact, I argued several months ago on the Cycle Lifestyle website that there is no particular need for any specialist route signage, never mind vast amounts! All that is really needed are route confirmation markers, laid down on the road surface, as per the Cycling Superhighways. Away from the busy roads, these markers can even be spaced quite widely apart, since their 'awareness-raising' role is not nearly so important.

Awareness-raising markers on the road are really not a very good long-term solution. In a very narrow sense one could argue that they are only marginally better than, say, the Share the Road [pdf] campaign, which both LCC and CTC supported when it launched in 2006. Even so, it has been suggested that drivers would expect to encounter people on two wheels if they saw these markers regularly repeated on the road. “It’s a shame this principle didn’t save Brian Dorling’s life,” Mike Cavenett chided, “when he was run over on the highly visible Cycle Superhighway 2 at Bow roundabout last year.” Just so.

The cover photo of the Share the Road campaign Outcomes Report

Whereas Mike (LCC) thinks route confirmation markers painted onto the road surface would be ineffective, Chris (CTC) thinks they're an unrealistic thing to ask for! Are they? It depends how you look at things. According to Mark Syndenham of the Edinburgh Bike Station, “Most people would say that navigating around using a map is fraught with problems, even Google mapping. What is needed are clearly defined routes to remove the ambiguity and uncertainty around cycling and moving around.”

Does my design for a revitalised London Cycling Network replicate the existing road network? Does it heck. More than half the routes are on quiet back streets. To what extent do these constitute "the existing road network"?

"What we wanted to do was to make people think slightly differently of their town and city. Most people view a place through a prism of their usual journey, which is generally made on the main roads. Maps contribute to this world view. Any regular map of a town will show the main roads in bold, and these effectively become the 'skeleton' of the town, with everything else seemingly built around them. This elevates them to a status that they don't deserve. Why is an A road any more important than a B road or a path across a path? It is all viewed from the perspective of the motor car, and it constrains how people think and view their surroundings, and therefore pre-determines how they travel from A to B."  (Mark Syndenham, Edinburgh  Bike Station)

Let's move on. 

The Vole, David Arditti, has recently blogged about how excessive red tape can strangle cycling provision. Perhaps mischievously, certainly debatably, Ben Irvine from Cycle Lifestyle has commented:

“This is the first time I've heard a plausible reason why Simon Parker's London Cycle Map proposal might not be viable. It's sad, though, that the problem comes not from anything internal to Simon's idea, but to the diffuse cultural phenomenon you've eloquently identified: ‘a mad system of red tape, legalism, and excessive emphasis on expensive public consultation over small matters currently strangles attempts to provide for cycling in our cities.’”

David was talking about a tiny little street off the Harrow Road which cyclists use as a short-cut to somewhere. The local council are keen that they should be able to do this without let or hindrance, but there is a pedestrianised section at the top, and whilst there no issues with a lack of space or anything like that, there is a traffic order in place that excludes all wheeled traffic from using it.

Hazel Road, Kensal Green (Photo:

Thus, what on the face of it looks like a very modest change in terms of engineering, in practice turns out to be vastly more complicated. “Multiply this by the many other small changes that are needed all over London to create even the most rudimentary cycling network,” David explains, “and you can readily see why such a project seems unaffordable.”

As I have previously explained, the development of networks can be approached either from the bottom-up (adjustment policy) or from the top-down (voluntarist policy). The LCC have long pursued the former approach, with the result that, on each and every occasion that a situation like this crops up, cycling officers find themselves having to jump through the same hoops, fill out the same paperwork, issue the same public notices, advertise in the same newspapers, produce the same consultation documents and argue the same points, maybe even to the same people. I would be astonished if anybody thought this “a prudent course to follow”. Approach this from the top-down, however—look at the problem holistically—"and lo! creation widens to our view."

But as I say, the London Cycling Campaign favour the bottom-up approach. Consider how they set about the development of the LCN+ [source]: 

“In 2001 the LCN+ replaced the earlier London Cycle Network project with the aim to produce a smaller but higher quality network.”

Why? Why was it considered necessary to abandon two-thirds of the LCN simply in order to create a network of cycle priority routes?

“The LCN+ includes provision at junctions, measures on main roads, signed routes on back streets, contra-flows in one-way streets, cycle tracks and routes through parks.”

According to Mike Cavenett, the LCN+ is “60% complete, with the 40% unfinished [bits] creating the worst barriers to cycling.” Mike has been asked to produce a map to show those sections which have been finished and those which have not. This request, I note, has been completely ignored.

Incidentally, I cannot allow LCC’s claim that the LCN+ incorporated “routes through parks” to go unchecked. I’ve had a look, and yes, there are some routes through parks, but it rather appears as though the only route not to have been inherited from the original LCN is an east-west route in Kensington Gardens (adjacent to the Bayswater Road), which, needless to say, is not yet functioning.

“The aim is to make it easier and safer to cycle to work, to the shops, to school or college; to commute, refresh or socialise. It aims to give cyclists priority where possible.”

I ask again, why was it considered necessary to abandon two-thirds of the LCN simply in order to create a network of cycle priority routes?

“LCC wishes to see many existing facilities improved as well as a speedy completion of the whole network. Its members provide advice to ensure new cycle routes serve cyclists’ needs [and] are safe and practical.”

As David Arditti has explained: "You can't change everything at once, and it is important to realise how the Dutch got to where they are now. They started by doing the easy things, and that is what we will have to do in the UK. They then kept working on it and improving things, little by little. As David Hembrow always says, you just have to start, and then keep working on it, like the Dutch did. But you do have to start."

"It's never too late to start doing the right thing. You just need to actually
make a decent start." (Words and image: David Hembrow)

“The process can be frustratingly slow as the LCN+ team has to collaborate with TfL, local authorities and local stakeholders. The significant innovation [my emphasis] in the process is the Cycle Route Implementation Stakeholder Plan, or CRISP, which allows LCC’s local groups to contribute to the design process before, rather than after, the JCBs and tarmac-laying machines get going.”

By the summer of 2006, more than four years into the project, a total of 92 CRISP studies had been commissioned, covering around 340km of the network. However, less than a third of these studies had been ‘finalised’, with the result that on just 29km of the network was there any work done. The overall expenditure up to that point is estimated to be somewhere in the region of £50m. 

“Once a route has been identified, a cycle route inspection meeting (CRIM) is organised. Some LCC groups have organised pre-CRIM social rides to check routes out. The CRIM itself is an on-road audit of the proposed route attended by TfL and LCN representatives, the local authority cycling officer or engineer, a consultant, an LCC volunteer and sometimes other stakeholders.”

Mike recently said: “Anyone who blames the failure of the LCN+ on the London Cycling Campaign could barely be less informed. LCC put hundreds if not thousands of staff and volunteer hours into working with the boroughs and TfL to analyse the barriers (largely junctions) on the LCN+, and come up with safer solutions. We still have hundreds of these route inspection documents on file, as no doubt do the LCN+ team.

“Despite the best efforts of LCC and the LCN+ team, many boroughs did a poor job of implementing their part of the network, Transport for London failed to tackle most of its major barriers, and then Boris cancelled the project entirely in [2010]. It’s a shame some people choose to characterise this as an LCC failure."

Firstly, it is not enough that the LCC were busy. The question is: What were they busy about? Secondly, are we seriously to accept that to the architects of the project we should apportion no blame whatsoever? Was it really Everybody Else's fault?

Their plan was flawed. Specificlly, how did the London Cycling Campaign expect "a speedy completion of the network" when it was being introduced one piece at a time?

As Freewheeler has observed: “At the very centre of the problem is something which another cycling blog has noted: the LCC doesn't know what form of cycling it wants."

Freewheeler continued: “The LCC has no coherent philosophy at all as a campaigning organisation. If you look at its five year plan for 2008-2013, entitled One in Five by 2025, all you find there is aspiration. There’s nothing tangible. It’s a collection of platitudes orbiting a dead moon of buoyant optimism.

London is a failed cycling city with an atrocious modal share but you’d never know it from anything put out by the LCC. It is in denial about the state of things and in denial about its own role in that historic and catastrophic failure. For more than three decades the LCC has basically functioned as a vehicular cycling organisation with a deeply provincial outlook. Its energies have gone into trying to ameliorate the conditions of vehicular cycling at a local level. It has small local successes to its credit but it has never had a holistic approach to transport …


“Even as a vehicular cycling campaigning organisation the LCC is fundamentally incoherent. It has no core principles. This void at the centre of the LCC means that individual groups can cheerfully pursue any campaigning strategy they want to, irrespective of how effective this might be. Some branches are lively and vibrant, others lacklustre and exhausted. Anyone who joins LCC is automatically deemed to be a member of their local branch, even if they never attend a single meeting. In reality these branches, ostensibly representing anything from 200-800 cyclists, are usually run by half a dozen activists. Some of them will have been campaigning for over twenty years. They are hardened vehicular cyclists who have long since lost touch with the reasons why most Londoners don’t cycle. Cycle campaigning becomes a way of life, often not much more than a social club. Yes, there is a hurricane of activity, lots of meetings and small local victories. But a broader perspective is lacking …”

This lack of a broader perspective, David Arditti has argued, has meant that LCC has been reduced to fighting over scraps. He suggests that this “advanced-stop area here, lead-in lane there” approach is “a good example of a problem that cycle campaigning in the UK urban environment tends to get into. It tends to become a fight for little scraps of road-space.”

“It is very hard to enthuse people about campaigning for these scraps,” he points out later on in his article, “which will only ever make a marginal difference, at best, to the experience of cycling in heavy, aggressive, London traffic. Therefore I think campaigners should never lose sight of a bigger picture.”

Now, I am not necessarily looking to pick fights with the LCC, but given that they purport to be the voice of cyclists in London, it is reasonable to insist that they express themselves in a way that demonstrates clarity of thought. Because I have to question whether or not they have taken on board the process by which a city the size of London would be enabled to develop an amenable cycling environment.

For instance, one of their policy recommendations demands that a coherent network of cycle routes, built to high standards, be implemented in London. But how? From the bottom-up or from the top-down? It does matter.

The LCC's submission to the London Assembly Transport Committee's Investigation into Cycling gives not even the smallest hint as to their preference, and Mike Cavenett's vacant suggestion that the LCC would fully support the completion of the LCN+ with continental standards of cycling facilities "if the Mayor were to wave his chequebook" is next-door to hopeless.

The Mayor has talked about now as being "the moment for the great leap forward in cycling". What greater leap could there be for cycling in London than the study and introduction of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network? Seriously, I’d like to know.

And we can be hopeful that the introduction of such a network even to a minimum level of functioning would lead to much grander things, for

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” (Vaclav Havel)