Monday 27 May 2013

Portland: a case study

The City is now shifting its bicycle capital spending to focus on filling in the gaps in the existing network, as well as expanding the network. The City is also focussing on improved bike signage along bike routes; the goal is to develop a network of signed routes that will guide bicycle riders along developed bikeways to major destination points. This approach is intended to emphasise Portland’s interconnected bicycle network and to make bicycling more attractive as a mode of travel.
(Portland's Transportation System Plan, May 2007)

In 1971, Oregon’s political leaders adopted state law ORS 366.514, which requires that cities and counties expend a minimum of one per cent of transportation revenues on bikeways and walkways, and that bikeways and walkways are included as part of roadway construction and reconstruction.

This strikes me as a reasonable place to begin, but the story of what happened thereafter is not entirely an unfamiliar one.

In 1972, the City organised a Bicycle Path Task Force, which produced the 1973 Bicycle Master Plan. By 1976, however, the City’s effort to implement the plan had stalled due to a lack of funding, support, and technical knowledge.

In 1978, the City Council appointed a citizens’ Bicycle Advisory Committee, which was charged with identifying and prioritising improvement plans for the proposed bicycle network. The following year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation initiated the Bicycle Program—one of the country’s first—with one full-time staff person. Over the next five years, the Bicycle Program created a bicycle map, developed bicycle parking code requirements, and installed about 250 bicycle racks and 40 lockers. The program also organised cycle events, such as bicycle-to-work days.

In 1982, the Bicycle Program identified 22 bicycle “corridors”, based on census data and travel-use patterns, and began an implementation process for bikeway improvements along these corridors.

In 1985, the Bicycle Program decided to discontinue holding events and instead placed more emphasis on bikeway corridor implementation schemes. It then finished several corridor projects. The program also initiated other corridor projects—such as NE Knott—but this plan necessitated the removal of on-street parking, and in the face of public opposition, it ultimately failed.

Knott Street, Portland

Finding the implementation of corridor projects to be very time-consuming and difficult, in 1988 the Bicycle Program altered the corridor process in favour of a more flexible process to make improvements on a district-by-district basis (there are seven districts in Portland).

In 1990, the Program implemented the Northeast Bikeway Plan that provided today’s signed bicycle routes.

In 1991, the Bicycle Program reversed an earlier decision not to hold events aimed at "encouraging more bicycle use". For example, it helped plan the 1993 and 1994 Burnside Bridge BikeFests, which attracted more than 10,000 participants.

In 1993, after many years of negotiation, the Council adopted the North Portland Bikeway Plan. Implementation of the plan was completed in the spring of 1995, except for North Willamette Boulevard, which was implemented later.

North Willamette Boulevard, Portland

As of January 1996, there were approximately 67 miles of separated in-road cycle lanes and 49 miles of multi-use trails in the City of Portland. There were also approximately 30 miles of signed routes through residential streets, including 10 miles of 'bicycle boulevards'. These existing 'bikeways' were widely dispersed and did not form a coherent network.

The modal share of trips made by bikes in Portland was "about two per cent".

Even so, just a couple of months earlier, Portland was selected by Bicycling Magazine as the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States.

* * *

In the spring of 1994, members of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and staff from the Bicycle Program hosted a series of 12 two-hour public forums which were attended by over 600 people. At each of these forums, participants discussed the good and the not-so-good features of bicycling in Portland. The most prevalent view was that isolated cycle facilities may get all the kudos, but it was the lack of connections between these facilities that was the cause of the greatest frustration.

Also at this time, the Bicycle Program staff conducted a Bicycle Facility Preference Survey. Input from the public was compiled into the Bicycle Master Plan Phase One Report (June 1994), and used as the basis for the Bicycle Master Plan Preliminary Discussion Draft (March 1995).

In order to try to get more public input on the Preliminary Discussion Draft, the Bicycle Program team sent flyers to over 12,000 households, telling them what they were doing and giving them an opportunity to comment. Public forums were also announced in The Oregonian and in neighbourhood newsletters. All replies were considered, and most of them were incorporated into the Draft Bicycle Master Plan (August 1995).

The routes which made up the Recommended Bikeway Network were selected using the following process:
1. Bicycle Program staff reviewed and assimilated all previous plans for cycle schemes in Portland, going back over twenty years. 
2. These were to be further enhanced by a system of 'bikeways' that met the following criteria:
• Connect cyclists to desired destinations, such as employment centres, commercial districts, transit stations, universities, schools, and recreational destinations;
• Link up to the regional bikeway system, thus providing continuity;
• Provide the most direct routes possible; and
• Provide a bikeway approximately every half mile.

3. On those streets where it was intended that cycle lanes would be installed, staff collected the following information:
• Traffic volume (average daily traffic)
• Street width
• Number of existing traffic lanes
• Availability of parking, parking usage, and the need for on-street parking
4. For those streets to be converted to 'bicycle boulevards', staff collected the following information:
• Traffic volume (average daily traffic)
• Street width
• Availability of parking and parking usage
• Difficulty crossing major intersections
• Surface quality

5. When the most direct route between desired destinations occurred on streets where constraints were known to exist, staff surveyed alternative parallel routes.
The City of Portland Bicycle Master Plan was finally adopted in the autumn of 1996, following a consultation process which had lasted over two years. The purpose of the plan was the establishment of a 20-year framework for changes that would substantially improve the bicycling environment in Portland.

Within 5 years, it was planned that:
• 3% of all journeys would be undertaken by bicycle (5% for Inner Portland);
• there would not be a corresponding rise in the number of bicycle - motor vehicle crashes; and
• 40% of the network would be completed (equating to approximately 250 bikeway miles);
Within 10 years, it was planned that:
• 6% of all journeys would be undertaken by bicycle (10% for Inner Portland);
• the number of bicycle - motor vehicle crashes would come down by 10%; and
• 60% of the network would be completed (equating to approximately 380 bikeway miles);
Within 20 years, it was planned that:
• 10% of all journeys would be undertaken by bicycle (15% for Inner Portland);
• the number of bicycle - motor vehicle crashes would come down by 20%; and
• 100% of the network would be completed (equating to approximately 670 bikeway miles);
* * *

In 2006, Roger Geller, the Bicycle Coordinator at the Portland Office of Transportation, published an article entitled Four Types of Cyclists (updated in 2009).

Based on their relationship to the bicycle as a means of transport, Geller placed the residents of Portland into one of the four following groups: The Strong and Fearless, The Enthused and Confident, The Interested but Concerned, and The No Way No How.

The Strong and Fearless make up maybe just 1% of the population. These are the people for whom riding a bike is a strong part of their identity.

Approximately 1% of the commuting population in cities across America identified the bicycle as their primary means of transportation, and conditions in these cities are generally not conducive to bicycling. Indeed, most of the cycle commuters in the States ride bikes in the absence of any identifiable facilities.

This is the essence of The Strong and Fearless, that they will ride a bicycle regardless of the road conditions. Under the worst of conditions—as is found in most American cities—they are generally the only ones riding.

The Enthused and Confident are those who have been attracted to use a bicycle for utility purposes by "the significant advances the city [of Portland] has made in developing its bikeway network and supporting infrastructure over the past 16 years [i.e. since about 1990]."

Hawthorne Bridge, one of the "bicycle-friendly" bridges in Portland
which saw more than a 300% increase in daily bicycle trips
between the early 1990s and 2006.

In developing an amenable cycling environment, the authorities in Portland have been constrained by "tiny budgets and limited designs", but even so, they have done as much as they can to make bicycling convenient, safe, and comfortable.

We're still talking about a "bare bones infrastructure" here, but this notwithstanding, the authorities have been able to attract a reasonably high proportion of residents to bicycling. Compared to the early years, when Portland’s bicycle systems were either non-existent or less mature than today, this represents a significant positive change.

The case is, the cycling environment in Portland is of sufficient quality to attract a significant subset of people to bicycling. It is a subset that requires only minimal facilities, and whom Roger Geller describes as The Enthused and Confident.

Image courtesy of Portland Bureau of Transportation

Pretty much all of the growth in the number of trips made by bike in Portland is because this demographic of cyclists has responded well to the city's formative attempts at developing an amenable cycling environment.

A much larger demographic, representing the vast majority of Portland’s citizens, are The Interested but Concerned. This group is defined not just by who they are (as revealed by the available data), but also by who they are not. They are not regularly using a bicycle, but if things were different then probably they would be prepared to cycle much more often.

These are the people who, in survey after survey, identify fear for their safety as their primary reason for not riding. It is not that they are disinterested in bicycling; it is simply that they will only ride where they feel safe, and where bicycling makes sense.

They are curious about bicycling, certainly. They are hearing messages from a wide variety of sources about how much easier it is becoming to ride a bicycle in Portland, about how bicycling is booming in the city, about an emerging “bicycle culture”, about Portland being a “bicycle-friendly” city, and about the need for people to lead more active lives. They like the idea of riding a bicycle, remembering back to their childhood, or to the ride they took last summer on the Springwater trail, and they would like to be able to ride more. But they are held back by a fear of the road conditions.

Perhaps one-third of the city’s population falls into the last category, which is described as The No Way No How group. These people have had exceptionally limited exposure to bicycling throughout their lives, and do not have much inclination to change this.

* * *

In July 2011, Professor Jennifer Dill of Portland State University conducted a random phone survey as part of a study on bicycling behaviour.

The objective of Professor Dill's research was to look at Geller's Four Types, with a view either to confirm its validity, or to find a different way to describe Portland's cyclists and non-cyclists. She also sought to identify how to increase levels of utility cycling. As Jonathan Maus from explained: "She wanted to understand the various types of riders better, so that planners and engineers could tailor solutions to their needs and ultimately increase bike usage."

Roger Geller makes the point that understanding the differing needs of the four general categories of transportation cyclists "best precedes a discussion of bikeway treatments". He is absolutely right, of course: you do have to know your market.

Image from Professor Jennifer Dill's presentation to the 2012
Velo-City conference in Vancouver, courtesy of

Regarding the bar-chart shown above, one of the things which stood out for me is that the better the quality of the cycle facility, the less comfortable The Strong and Fearless become (which probably explains a lot). Another thing is that in order for the authorities to encourage The Interested but Concerned to cycle regularly, they would need to put a lot of work in. And the last thing is that the distinction between The Interested but Concerned and The No Way No How is not as clear cut as I was expecting. To quote Professor Dill, it likely incorporates "quite a bit of blurring".

This research goes some way to confirming Geller's postulation that The Enthused and Confident are somewhat comfortable cycling in the absence of any bike facilities, and The Interested but Concerned are not at all comfortable cycling in the absence of separate bike facilities.

* * *

So how did they do in Portland?

To remind you, the target was for 3% of all journeys to be undertaken by bicycle by 2001, 6% of all journeys by 2006, and 10% by 2016.

Calendar year
Portland bike share
National bike share

A summary of the 2012 Bicycle Count is as follows:

• Since the counts began in 2000/2001, the overall trend in bicycle traffic is up 211 per cent—more than a tripling in use.

• 2012 bicycle counts showed a growth of 3.3 per cent on the previous year.

• Since annual counts began, bicycle traffic on Portland’s five principal bicycle-friendly bridges (Broadway, Steel, Burnside, Morrison and Hawthorne) showed the highest number of bicycle trips.

• Bicycle counts showed a one ­year decline in both NW and SW Portland.

• Helmet use is highest in SW Portland (90 per cent) and lowest in East Portland (63 per cent).

On average, 80% of all cyclists in Portland wear helmets
 (Image courtesy of Natural Vitality Sports)

• Helmet use is more prevalent amongst female riders (86 per cent) than amongst male riders (77 per cent).

• Female riders represented 31 per cent of bicyclists city-wide, remaining essentially unchanged since 2003.

The Existing Conditions Report dated 2007 noted that reported crashes between bicycles and motor vehicles remained static between 1996 and 2005. However, based on a significantly decreasing bicycle crash rate, the report concluded that conditions for bicycling are safer today than in 1996.

This is not entirely unreasonable, actually. An article from The Economist dated September 2011 noted that in five of the past ten years, there have been no cycling fatalities in Portland.

Ladd Avenue: a bicycle boulevard / neighbourhood greenway in Portland

When it has come to increasing cycling's modal share and making cycling safer, the authorities have been there or thereabouts, if a little bit behind the curve somewhat. However, when it has come to the development of a coherent cycle network, they have been a long way off-target. As you may recall, in 2001 there should have been 250 'bikeway' miles, and in 2006 there should have been 380 'bikeway' miles.

In 1996, there were:

67 miles of separated in-roadway bike lanes
49 miles of multi-use trails
10 miles of 'bicycle boulevards'
20 miles of signed routes through residential streets

Total: 146 miles

In 2006, there were:

166 miles of separated in-roadway bike lanes
68 miles multi-use trails
30 miles of 'bicycle boulevards'
26 miles of signed routes through residential streets

Total: 290 miles

In 2010, there were:

176 miles of separated in-roadway bike lanes
75 miles of multi-use trails
30 miles of 'bicycle boulevards'
28 miles of signed routes through residential streets

Total: 309 miles

The project was beginning to fall off the rails. There was only one thing to be done about it, therefore ...

And so, in 2030, there will be:

490 miles of separated in-roadway bike lanes
139 miles of multi-use trails
286 miles of 'bicycle boulevards'
0 miles of signed routes through residential streets

Total: 962 miles

* * *

It was The Strong and Fearless and The Enthused and Confident cyclists who helped shape the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan. That plan’s focus was for bicycle lanes on arterial streets, which reflected the thinking prevalent at the time.

Coupled with incremental investments on key bridges, the increasing presence of bike lanes helped to raise the profile of cycling. People who hadn't thought to ride a bike for utility purposes began to see that if they started cycling, the city authorities would be taking their safety seriously. This created a virtuous circle.

Today this group of “Enthused and Confident” riders account for perhaps six to ten percent of the population in Portland, and they are largely responsible for the increase in bicycle use over recent years.

 London's enthused and confident cyclists. Video by ibikelondon.

As the Chief Executive Officer of the ETA, Andrew Davis, once told Radio 5 Live: "It only needs people on the margin [to begin with]: the people who are more likely to do it, to encourage them. Of course there are people who won't do it whatever, but if enough people do it, it does make a change."

* * *

Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities talks about how the development of a bare-bones infrastructure would encourage "the mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again", and in the case of Portland, here we have the proof of it.

Cycling: the way ahead was published a few years after Portland launched its Bicycle Master Plan, and I wonder how different things might have been there if they had been aware of all of its recommendations.

They were so close: they thought in terms of a network; they planned the network; they studied the feasibility of the network; they had a clear idea of who would actually use the network. But either they didn't accept, or they didn't know about, the "prudence" of "introducing" the network to a minimum level of functioning.

Even then they almost got it. 

The map below shows the latest version of the cycle network map. 

Map image courtesy of PELA (view larger map

The routes marked with the dotted red line show a "DIFFICULT CONNECTION in areas with higher speeds and/or volumes, combined with narrow lane widths or other problems for cyclists."

This is one feature which does not appear on any network map that I have seen from the UK, which is surprising actually, because according to The Ranty Highwayman:
Following the famous Gorringe vs Calderdale case, it has been held that road users must be responsible for their own actions - "taking the road as they find it" (unless there was a clear design fault, of course). The essence of this case is that Mrs Gorringe drove too fast towards the crest of a hill she didn't know was ahead and then braked sharply, hitting a bus. She contended that Calderdale Metropolitan Council was at fault not not painting a "SLOW" sign on the road. The case went all the way to the House of Lords where Calderdale were judged not at fault and Mrs Gorringe had a responsibility for her own actions.
I will talk about this another time ...

* * *

One thing you will see in the UK, however, is a route which is marked in different colours on the map, even though it goes along the same road.

On this section you will be sharing the road-space with other traffic: the levels of traffic will be fairly low. There will be awareness-raising markers on the carriageway, and there will also be directional signs to guide you.

On this section you will be sharing the road-space with other traffic: the levels of traffic will be moderate or even fairly high. The carriageway will have a wider outside lane.

This section is closed to motor traffic, and this section has a bike lane. This section goes through a park, and this section is shared with pedestrians.

And so it goes on, as if map-reading and wayfinding weren't already difficult enough as it is.
So I decided to take a closer look at the route shown above. I am heading south to north ...

28th Avenue (near the junction with Steele Street)

28th Avenue (near the junction with Holgate Boulevard)

Gladstone Street

26th Avenue (near the junction with Francis Street)

26th Avenue (near the junction with Brooklyn Street)

26th Avenue (at the junction with Taggart Street)

26th Avenue (at the junction with Ivon Street)

27th Avenue (at the junction with Hawthorne Boulevard)

27th Avenue (at the junction with Washington Street)

28th Avenue (at the junction with Couch Street)

28th Avenue (at the junction with Oregon Street)

28th Avenue (on the bridge over the Banfield Expressway)

28th Avenue (near the junction with Weidler Street)

28th Avenue (at the junction with Broadway)

All in all, the photos above are variously described on the network map using four different colours.

* * *

In 1975, just 200 cyclists a day were recorded as using Hawthorne Bridge. On September 25 last year, the number of bike trips over this bridge was counted at 8,305 (i.e. more than 4,000 cyclists).

Impressive though this sounds, if the authorities in Portland could turn back the clock, would they be better advised to do certain things differently the second time around?

As we have already seen, the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan was largely informed by the views of existing cyclists. They knew what they wanted, and presumably as well they knew that like-minded people would be attracted to cycling, and that cycling would be made safer, if the authorities addressed certain key issues.

However, even now, the network still has gaps in it. The authorities would do well to understand the value of getting the network to function, even if it just to a minimum level to begin with. Remember, in the case of Portland, the City authorities are under a legal obligation to include bikeways as part of any roadway reconstruction. So it ought not to have mattered that bits of would been complete crap in the early days. The important thing was that the network was established, and made to work (if only for The Strong and Fearless and The Enthused and Confident).

* * *

Going forward, the strategy outlined above still has a way to go yet before it runs its course. A much denser network is being planned, which puts all residents (pretty much) within about a quarter-of-a-mile of a bikeway.

My instinct is that developing a network which can be used by The S & F and The E & C may get you to a modal share of about 10-12%, say, on a fine day, and assuming those 'soft' measures which were implemented were done well. But if you're serious about mass cycling, at some point you need to push on to that final step.

Roger Geller remarks that one of the primary differences between Portland and the bicycle-friendly cities of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and so on, is that in those cities cycling is safer and more comfortable. This is borne out by the comparative crash data, he says, by conversations with officials from those countries, and by government policy documents that place a premium on designs that maximise the safety and comfort of bicycling.

Safety and comfort have become fundamental to expanding cycling in these countries, Geller continues, in large part because the authorities need to appeal to their Interested but Concerned populations. The European approach recognises that, in the absence of good quality infrastructure, only the “cyclists” will cycle. If cycling is to be universally adopted as a means of transportation, then the concerns of the majority must be addressed. In this typology, that majority is the Interested but Concerned.

This is absolutely correct. Safety and comfort are indeed basic preconditions of mass cycling. But more than this, if you want to go all the way, it seems to be necessary to create an environment which makes bicycling feel that it is a dignified way to travel.

Sunday 19 May 2013

But then again, you do have to start somewhere

A little while back, Jack Thurston spoke to David Hembrow, "a cult figure in British cycling", for an extended interview broadcast on The Bike Show. Here follows an extract:

DH: "It seems that the lesson that won't be learned in Britain is that you need to keep bikes and cars apart. [...] Another problem with what's happened with the Go Dutch campaigning has been people celebrating [...] the idea of having a single high-quality route. This is something which the Dutch found in the 1970s had almost no influence at all on people's cycling patterns. You actually need a dense grid of high quality routes so that people can make their journeys from A to B without any problems along the way. If you have a single route, it works only if A and B are on that route. Otherwise the majority of people in the city where the new route is are completely unaffected by it."

JT: "But then again, you do have to start somewhere."

DH: "You do have to start somewhere, yes indeed, yeah. But it's ... it's planning of a comprehensive network. You know, you're not going to build it all in one second, clearly: it's going to take time.

David makes the point that Britain is now forty years behind the Netherlands, and this is because we have never started the process by which towns and cities are enabled to develop amenable cycling environments. "The Dutch started forty-odd years ago," he explains, "and they've built on what they had for forty years, to get to the position where they are now." Britain could have "joined in" at any point in those forty years, of course. But we didn't. The best we have ever done is bits and pieces.

Another veteran campaigner, Sam Saunders of Bristol, has said: "Changes of a piecemeal kind, however well-designed, can add to our problems not reduce them. Bristol offers a highly visible warning about the confusion, frustration and downright bewilderment that can arise from idiosyncratic designs and an accumulation of unfinished or unsustained plans." Even so, as Jack makes clear, you do have to start somewhere. So where is the best place to begin? What are the first steps?

Now seems like a good time to look at the engineering design process:

It is rocket science: image taken from NASA

Engineering is a disciplined process. When determining how best to build something - be that a skyscraper, or an amusement park ride, a music player, or whatever - engineers are guided by a series of steps (some of which they repeat). They start by trying to understand the fundamentals. What is the problem? What do they want to accomplish? How can they develop a ______ that will ______? What have others done? What are the project requirements? What are the limitations? What is the goal?

For most people with an interest in the bicycle, the goal is to enable more people to ride bikes. The health benefits alone would be monumental. Just half-an-hour a day of regular cycling is better for you than going to the gym. And then there's the environmental benefits. Oh, and the social benefits as well. According to UNICEF, Britain has the unhappiest children in the developed world. The economic benefits are significant. For every mile that is ridden in the built-up area, as opposed to every mile that is driven, society is better off by something like 20p. And let's not forget that those towns and cities which have developed a decent cycling culture are much better places in which to live and work. An investment in the bicycle, therefore, is an investment in your neighbourhood. Love London, Go Dutch.

David Cameron summed up the case very well just a couple of years ago: "Wellbeing can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society's sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times."

* * *

"Far more people want to cycle than do so now," David Arditti pointed out at the start of his video presentation to the LCC membership, "but the main thing that is putting them off is that they feel that the roads are too dangerous. What is needed is a strategic network of routes which look really attractive to cycle on ..."

This is exactly right. However, the difficulty is - always has been - that developing such a network takes a long time, a lot of money, a lot of public support and a lot of political will, not all of which is universally available. More to the point, I would suggest, none of the people who want to cycle now - but who are put off from doing so because they regard the roads as too dangerous - were actually killed whilst riding their bikes last year - no, not a single one - whereas 122 actual cyclists were.

In 2007, Rosie Wright was killed by a left-turning HGV on Pentonville Road. Her father, Peter, later told Radio 4's You and Yours: "Round about the start of the Tour de France, Ken Livingstone was saying how he hoped that this would encourage cyclists to come out, the six out of seven people who own cycles and don't use them on the road ... I think we have to build a system that is safe for these people before we encourage them to come and make their contribution to reducing global warming. I think that's all correct, but we have to make it safe for them."

When the GLA began their Investigation into Cycling, 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."

I completely agree with this, and not just for ethical reasons. From a practical point of view, developing a strategic network of routes which makes conditions safer for existing cyclists is very much more 'doable' than developing a strategic network of routes which look really attractive to cycle on ...

A few blogs ago I quoted Warren Buffett. He was saying that he doesn't look to jump over 7-foot bars; rather he looks around for 1-foot bars that he can step over. Developing an environment which makes conditions safer for existing cyclists is analogous to stepping over a 1-foot bar, whereas developing an environment which makes conditions attractive for potential cyclists is the equivalent of trying to jump a 7-foot bar.

* * *

Dr Rachel Aldred said of Westminster Council's draft cycling strategy (here) that for her, "the key omission in the document is a clear statement of what people who cycle need / want / require." Rachel also had in mind "those who'd like to cycle but currently find road conditions too scary / difficult / unpleasant". For simplicity's sake, however, I am not going to spend much time considering the needs of potential cyclists.

So what do the people who currently cycle need / want / require?

David Hembrow says in his radio interview: "The most important lesson about the Netherlands is that everything joins up." Rachel herself has noted that cycling needs connectivity. As she goes on to explain, any interventions to improve the cycling experience must "depend on looking broadly across the network."

Cycling also need density. David Hembrow again: "The importance of having a tight grid of high quality routes to encourage the use of bicycles was a lesson learnt way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and is still just as valid today. Don't let your city get away with offering just a few prestige projects or just a few particularly good routes. Such proposals may sound good [...]. However, a few pieces of exceptional infrastructure cannot cause any sort of appreciable change [in the cycling environment] because for most people making most journeys, the experience of cycling will remain the same as it was before."

As long ago as 2008, David reported how good quality cycle routes are of almost no use if they are not close together. Just a few high quality paths were developed in Den Haag and Tilburg in the mid-1970s, and a subsequent evaluation in 1981 showed that overall these had not made any noticeable difference to the cycling experience. These paths were of good quality, but they were too few and far between.

Cycling needs connectivity and it needs density. It also needs routes that are direct, and that go to the places that people most want to go to.

What else? According to a European Parliament publication entitled Promotion of Cycling, "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."

Mobility, therefore, 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".

According to TfL research, not knowing where to go is actually a major problem for people (source). Since about 2002, the authorities in London have attempted to address this problem through the publication of a series of maps.

Image from the University of the Arts London website
Recently I had my attention drawn to a book entitled The Atlas of Design. It says that for many people, maps are solely about data. As far as they're concerned, as long as the content is present and legible, the map "works."

Whilst this view is not necessarily incorrect, a case can and should be made for the importance of aesthetics in cartography. Content must take a form, and how something is said is just as critical as what is said.

Aesthetics are not simply the pretty pictures which appear on the covers: they are the framework in which that data is presented. Design and aesthetics matter, because form is not secondary to function, it is integral to function. A map cannot function if it remains unread.

* * *

Just recently a small group from the Leeds Cycling Campaign went on a tour of the Leeds city centre. "To be honest," their report lamented, "our expectations weren't that great. Most of us already had some experience of cycling in Leeds and had a fair idea of the sort of issues we might face. But the reality of trying to do even the most basic of things was astoundingly bad."

You can read the report in full here, but for the moment I would like to bring your attention to some selected comments from a few of the riders:

"Road layout not always obvious."

"Access to the railway station was embarrassingly bad."

"There were no signs for cyclists anywhere! How are we supposed to know where to go?"

"The whole ride felt disjointed."

The report continues:

"When asked to score the city out of ten for safe, friendly and easy-to-follow cycle routes, someone shouted out, 'Minus two!' - which pretty much summed it up.

"So what does this show us? That a group of fairly experienced cyclists who had at least *some* idea of how to get around the city found the experience deeply unsettling.

"Would someone new to cycling, or new to Leeds, enjoy it? Absolutely not."

* * *

Even when the standard of the infrastructure is of a reasonably good quality, people don't necessarily know which way to go. Mark Treasure posted a blog about Royal College Street, Could this be the best cycling scheme in the UK? One of the commentators, an LCC member who had “been cycling up Camden High Street [...] every couple of weeks for the best part of a decade”, was not even aware of the facility on Royal College Street, this despite the fact that he lives in Kentish Town and needs to get down to Kingsway.

Following the death of Min Joo Lee, Olaf Storbeck at Cycling Intelligence posted a blog entitled How to avoid King’s Cross as a Cyclist. Olaf lives in Highbury, used to live in Angel, and his office is adjacent to King's Place, so he has a fairly good knowledge of the area. Even so, his map of selected routes did not include Royal College Street. This prompted the following comment from David Arditti: "I am surprised you don’t use the Mabledon Place–Ossulton St–Royal College St route going to the north. It gives easier access to Camden Town, Kentish Town, Primrose Hill etc." Olaf replied that he did not know this route, "but it looks good indeed". For myself, I was surprised that David was surprised.

David himself once got lost going from The Young Vic to Blackfriars Station [source]. The distance between the two places is just over two-thirds of a mile. Comparatively, the average journey distance travelled by cyclists in the very much smaller city of Copenhagen is about three-and-a-half miles.

Charlie Lloyd, Campaigns Officer at the LCC, has said that Going Dutch is about "planning for people to have easy, safe access to wherever they want to go." In addition to this, of course, people need to be aware of, and to be able to make use of, "an information set for optimising their journey."

This information set needs to be presented to the public in such a way as to be easily understandable. As Sam Saunders explains: "The development of a settled culture of city transport will depend on consistency, predictability and regular physical cues. Consciously wondering what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation, while trying to find a route or deal with an immediate problem overloads the attention span, increases anxiety and increases errors – for all."

* * *

On the whole I think that there is an awful lot to like in the Mayor's Vision for Cycling. I regard the idea of mini-Hollands as inspired. I think they're a really good idea.

Pleasingly, the Mayor's Vision goes further than the three key tests demanded of him by the LCC. However, in trying to bring all the various components of the plan together, I am sorry to say that it lacks an eye for the bigger picture.

Consider the following passage about 'A Tube network for the bike':

"By 2020 the London Cycling Network will be easily understood and heavily used. We want to change the nature of cycling, attracting thousands of people who do not cycle now. We will offer two clear kinds of branded route: high capacity Superhighways, mostly on main roads - for fast commuters - and slightly slower but still direct Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets - for those wanting a more relaxed journey. Some Quietways will also be attractive green routes, suitable for recreation and family enjoyment. In the City and West End, a mixture of Quietways and new Superhighways will make up the ‘Central London Grid’, joining all the others together. Outside the centre, local links complete the picture."

Setting aside the admission that it will be several years yet before the LCN is "easily understood", what is the problem that would be solved by developing different networks for different cyclists?

When the subject of the Cycle Superhighways came up during the GLA's Investigation into Cycling, Richard Tracey put it to Ben Plowden that the Superhighways were not universally popular with cyclists, and asked him how he felt about that.

To cut a bit of a long story short, Ben said that for commuters, they have been a big success. However, he did concede that there are questions about how else to draw in people who are not in the demographic of 25-45 year-old males.

And so, taking on board Rachel’s point that cycle routes need to be pleasant and direct, Ben suggested it was worth thinking about the potential options for developing parallel routes. These would be quieter, of course, and probably more suitable for less confident, slower cyclists.

Rachel immediately responded by saying that's not really what she meant: she wants to be able to use these Superhighways as well. Take CS2 (soon to be rebranded CS25, of course, because bus route 25 goes along that way). Rachel's feeling is that if TfL were to install a high quality segregated route along here, there would be no need to worry about providing parallel routes.

Some confident, faster cyclists using CS2

Incidentally, I don't know how the idea of parallel routes has gained such currency, because there are very few of them in London. Certainly there isn't much of one anywhere near the Mile End Road.

This section of CS2 is 2.5 miles in length, whereas the "parallel" routes are 
more than 25% further, at 3.2 miles in length .

But anyway, going back to my earlier question, given that cycle facilities in the UK tend to be of the little-bit-here-little-bit-there kind, how on earth have we been able to convince ourselves that the next step should be the development of routes which are "more suitable for less confident, slower cyclists". What is the evidence that this would be a good idea?

Who are these people? How many of them are there? How often do they ride bikes? Where are they going to? What else can you tell us about them?

Some less confident, slower cyclists using CS2

Thus far we have mainly been concerned to consider what the people who currently cycle need / want / require. We have established that they need connectivity and that they need density. More than this, they want cycle routes which are direct and which go to the places that they want to go to. As well as this, routes which are pleasant tend to be very well received.

It is vital to take on board the fact that these things can only be provided for during the 'planning phase'. Routes which are unpleasant now can be made pleasant, it is true, but as a rule of thumb, it may be fairly said that if a route is not pleasant now, it is not likely to be pleasant for a good while yet, if ever.

All cyclists - potential and actual - want routes which are safe and comfortable. Significantly, however, routes that meet these criteria can only be provided for during the 'development phase'.

Please try to keep this in mind when we come to consider how the development of an amenable cycling environment may be taken forward.

Saturday 4 May 2013

A study of Cambridge

The image of the car as a 'perfect and irreplaceable' mode of transport is no longer valid. In practice a car does not fulfil all of our needs. A fairly large number of urban households do not have a car and, even if they do, not everybody within the household necessarily has direct access to it.

When viewed from the collective standpoint, the problems engendered by the thoughtless use of private cars are very serious. Cars are partly responsible for the misuse of urban space, consume enormous resources and are a burden on the environment. Cars constitute not only a threat to our historic heritage but they are also, above all, a health hazard. The cost of road accidents - both in human and economic terms - is coming down, but remains exorbitant, and is not readily acknowledged.

Catholic Church junction

An intrinsic feature of towns and cities is that they provide people with an unparalleled range of choices and possibilities, including a wide array of cultural, commercial, educational, service, social and political infrastructures and facilities. However, in order that the common interest be served, these need to be made accessible to as many different people as possible.

Sidney Street

It was once thought that the car would fulfil this requirement of accessibility. However, as things have turned out, the car’s success has had a boomerang effect. Millions of hours are now wasted in traffic jams. If our towns and cities are to be reclaimed and made more people-friendly, if more active travel is to be encouraged, a reduction in car use is necessary. Survey after survey has established beyond doubt that the majority of people recognise this.

Technical improvements have made modern bicycles efficient and convenient to use, and even if the bicycle is not regarded as the only solution to the traffic and environmental problems experienced in the built-up area, it represents a solution which fits in perfectly with any general policy that seeks to re-enhance the urban environment and improve the quality of life therein. Moreover, it requires comparatively not very much money to finance it.

As the Get Britain Cycling report makes clear: "Suitable road surfaces, arrangements at junctions, and interactions with other traffic are often about planning rather than cost."

* * *

The Get Britain Cycling report points out that in this country, cycle infrastructure is often added as something of an afterthought, and even when it is not, it tends to be installed piecemeal. A review of cycling in Horsham made the following telling observation: "Experience from many areas in the UK has shown that only a small number of schemes can be progressed at any one time for practical reasons, in particular financial restrictions."

I understand that this is how it is, but I do not regard this as any reason at all why the development of a meaningful cycling environment should not be approached holistically. We just need to think in terms of a network, and draw up our plans accordingly. This done, as Cycling: the way ahead explains, the network can then be "introduced" on the basis of such a plan (preliminary plan).

Thus: "All the installation measures which [do not require the public to be consulted (i.e. 'soft' measures)] may be applied without major risk of error or loss. Given their low cost, the small amount of extra work which they entail and the possibilities of corrections in the case of error, such measures may be adopted automatically."

The bottom line is that more highly-engineered changes to the cycling environment are best undertaken within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network. Such a network would also make conditions for cycling safer than they were before, if only just a little bit. To quote Cycling: the way ahead again, even if the impact of such measures is not massive, "it will be real."

* * *

Of all the cities in the UK, Cambridge is one of only a very few which has something like a functioning cycle network (pretty much). In the rest of this blog, I will attempt to show the extent to which this is the case.

The map below shows all of the east-west (red-coloured) routes which feature in my proposed design for a cycling network in Cambridge. (The sections marked in lilac can be ignored for the time being, since it might be some considerable time yet before they get to be developed.)

View Cambridge (ready now) - red in a larger map

Those bits which are marked in blue are thought not to be 'functional'. Before I examine the non-functioning parts in more detail, a quick word about the signing strategy itself. It is an established fact that colour-coding makes route planning easier, but of course, some people are blind to colour. Naturally, this map needs to be readable by as many different people as possible, and something else other than the colours is therefore needed to distinguish one route from the next.

Thus, each route is given a number, which is prefixed by a letter (to identify the colour). In this instance, routes are coded R1, R2, R3, and so on, working from top to bottom.

The R1 route shows a section of route at the Elizabeth Way / Chesterton Road roundabout which is marked as not functional.

Chesterton Road

In truth, the problem is more north-south than east-west, as we shall see, but even so, the east-west route incorporates one feature which I find most irksome, and which I would like now to share with you.

A lady on a Christiana trike waits at a toucan crossing after negotiating
her way through one set of barriers.

A mass of non-descript shrubbery before the tree on the left adds very little
to the streetscape and yet takes up valuable space.

Meanwhile cyclists and pedestrians are forced to squeeze through
a tiny gap.

"The worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas," Cycling: the way ahead suggests, "are not cars, but longheld prejudices." I have absolutely no idea what purpose these barriers are intended to serve, but it seems to me that all they actually do is reinforce the worst ideas that people have of cycling and cyclists.

The R2 route passes through a major roundabout which is marked as not functional.

Newmarket Road

We'll look at this roundabout again later on, but for the moment, a few photos ...

Approaching the roundabout from the east.

The roundabout looms into view.

Heading towards the city centre.

Coming back the other way. Note that even though the traffic is quite
light, the lady cyclist still prefers to use the pavement.

Approaching the roundabout.

Turn left here to head east out of the city.

At the very eastern edge of the R3 route is a tiny section which is marked as non-functional. As the photos below show, there is a fairly narrow path, bordered on each side by a load of useless shrubs. The obligatory barriers have been installed, but no dropped kerb at either end.

Cyclists' tyre-tracks are clearly visible in this photo.

The path should be at least as wide as the gap between the trees.

View Cambridge (ready now) - orange in a larger map

In the case of the orange-coloured routes, there is just one section which has been identified as 'non-functioning', the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout.

Heading south on Coldhams Lane, approaching the roundabout at the
junction with Barnwell Road / Brooks Road.

The route we are looking at here goes straight on. If we wanted to do the same, which would be the best way for us to continue our journey? Clockwise or anti-clockwise?

We'll try clockwise first.

Continuing around the roundabout (note the traffic island in the centre
of picture, and the shared-use path to the left).

There is a dropped kerb on that traffic island, but nothing to connect it
to the shared use path.

Relying entirely on the goodwill of the motorist, this is a big junction
to try and get across. An accident waiting to happen?

Let's see if our prospects are any better going anti-clockwise ...

A fairly narrow footpath, a verge and a cycle lane+ could be joined
together and converted into a decent shared-use path.

There are dropped kerbs in place to connect the shared-use path with the
traffic island.

Cyclists need to pass around the back of that bus-stop on the right.

An alternative layout ought to be possible here (otherwise I don't
know what to suggest).

More useless shrubbery.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign say: "The obvious solution at this location is to create two roundabouts, one inside the other. The inside roundabout would be for motorised vehicles. The outside roundabout would be for cyclists (and include paths usable by pedestrians). [...] The points where the cyclists and motorised vehicles meet would either need to be signalised, or provide priority to the bicycles."

There is one piece of high quality cycle infrastructure already in place, and that is a two-way cycle track which runs the length of Barnwell Road.

The two-way cycle track on Barnwell Road, near the top end, at the
junction with Rayson Way.
It is fairly certain that any north-south cycle traffic would use this cycle track, which means cyclists would approach the roundabout in question on the northern side of the road. After studying the lie of the land, I concluded that it may not be absolutely necessary to enable cycle traffic to go all the way around the roundabout, as per the Cambridge Cycling Campaign recommendation.

In the long-term, it might be possible to have a two-way cycle track on the southern side of Coldhams Lane, which would link up nicely with the cycle bridge further up (the one over the railway line).

Could a two-cycle track be installed on the left-hand side of this road?

Even without this, if only the highlighted sections were engineered, I think this junction could be made to function at a very reasonable level.

A two-way cycle track / shared-use path would need to be installed
along here if the need for cyclists to cross in front of the traffic entering
the roundabout from Barnwell Road is to be negated.

Moving on, there are, I believe, just two sections of route which are non-functioning amongst the light green-coloured routes.

The first section, in the north-east of the city, is a link from Garry Drive to the busway cycle path on the other side of the fence.

To the left of this van, the fence has been pushed down, presumably where
people have clambered across.

The second section, in the south-west of the city, is a link from Barton Road up to Gough Way.

This mud track is marked on the official cycle route map as a local route.

The highlighted sections (in this and subsequent maps) show where Cambridge's first on-road segregated cycle tracks are planned to go.

With the exception of a new bridge to be built over the River Cam (as part of the Science Park railway station project), the only non-functioning section amongst the dark green-coloured routes is, as far as I can tell,  the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout we looked at just a short while ago.

View Cambridge (ready now) - dark blue in a larger map

Route DB1 shows a tiny section of route which is marked as non-functional. The idea is to connect the busway cycle track with this crossing of the A14.

A crossing underneath the A14.

From the point above, this track probably affords the best opportunity
to link up with the busway cycle track.

Route DB2 shows two sections which are marked as non-functional. The first is on Milton Road, but in truth this route could divert onto Cowley Road without diminishing it in any way. However, the official cycle route map shows a route which continues on Milton Road, and I have sought to code as much of the officially-sanctioned network as possible.

Heading south-west.

Heading north-east.

The big roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road / Elizabeth Way / East Road is also incorporated into Route DB2.

Looking towards the roundabout from East Road.

Looking west, towards the city centre.

Looking back the other way.

Joining Elizabeth Way, northbound.

Heading south on Elizabeth Way. The lady cyclist is using the pavement
quite legally, by the way. On the other side of the road, two male
cyclists are evidently comfortable using the carriageway.

Route DB3 shows a section which is not functional. This bit is to be developed as part of the Science Park railway station project, and will not, therefore, be considered here.

Route DB4 incorporates the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout, which we have previously considered in some depth.

On the western side of the roundabout, looking north to south.
Could a two-way cycle track be installed along here?

Amongst the light blue-coloured routes, there are three sections which are regarded as non-functional.

View Cambridge (ready now) - light blue in a larger map

The first is the roundabout at the junction of Chesterton Road and Elizabeth Way.

A lady cyclist heading north on Elizabeth Way is dwarfed by a
double-decker bus.

Where has this lady come from? And where is she going to? Unless it is
from Chesterton Road, and to the Cambridge Nursing Centre, she is going
the wrong way. As I have said before, in order to "optimise their journey",
people need to know the best way to get from A to B.

Whatever the problems at this roundabout, a lack of space certainly
is not one of them.

The second non-functioning section is the roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road and Elizabeth Way. We have seen this roundabout twice before, firstly when looking at the red-coloured routes, and secondly when looking at the dark blue-coloured routes.

As I have previously indicated, I try to incorporate as many of the officially-approved routes as possible. In the case of the route we're about to look at, however, I think the authorities need to have a rethink.

The dark blue route is an officially-approved route, and the light blue route
is a proposed route

One blogger wrote at the beginning of this year, "I'm far from the only person who currently uses Devonshire Road - station car park - south busway as my commute." If that's the way some people prefer to go, it obviously needs looking at. But actually the main problem with the officially-approved route is that, whichever the direction of travel, it directs cyclists to use the pavement on the north side of Newmarket Road.

Cyclists are directed to use the pavement on the 
north side of Newmarket Road.

As the next couple of photos show, the pavement is very narrow at the point where the toucan crossing has been installed.

Looking back, the pavement does get wider, but at other times of the day one
can easily imagine that cyclists would be put into conflict with pedestrians.

The alternative is to approach Newmarket Road not from Abbey Street, but from Occupation Road.

An alternative route between Elizabeth Way / Abbey Road and the
railway station is available via the pedestrian underpass.

The entrance to the pedestrian underpass on Occupation Road.

180° view of the Elizabeth Way underpass.
Photo credit: Hal Blackburn

The western entrance to the pedestrian underpass on Elizabeth Way.
Photo credit: Hal Blackburn

The pedestrian underpass works quite well in both directions in the case of this light blue-coloured route (LB2). For the dark blue-coloured route (DB2) it works quite well in one direction (north-south) but not so well in the other, and for the red-coloured route (R2) it doesn't work very well in either direction.

Elizabeth Way / Newmarket Road roundabout showing routes DB2 and R2.

Even so, knowing which way to go when using this "underground labyrinth" would at least help to make these routes functional, and serve as an acceptable "interim" measure until such time as a more highly-engineered solution can be delivered - which might very well be several years away yet.

There is another section of light blue-coloured route which could be improved, perhaps.

The distance between the two routes is about 400 feet, which may not sound much, but as things currently stand, if you made this journey, back and forth, 200 times a year, you would end up riding an extra 30 miles each year!

There is a road on the other side of those trees.

There is a road on the other side of those trees.

Last but not least, the circular route looks to me to be functional in its entirety.

View Cambridge (ready now) - circular in a larger map


"Going Dutch" is not about putting in a few pieces of infrastructure. It's about civilising the entire experience of cycling for everyone.

Infrastructure is not an end in itself, but that doesn't mean that its importance should be underplayed. For a high level of cycling everywhere, there must be good quality infrastructure everywhere that there are cars. This is what makes cycling accessible to everyone.

Isolated bits and pieces don't work. The network is the infrastructure.

The foregoing was adapted from David Hembrow's latest blog, and it would be nice to think that when somebody with David's knowledge of mass cycling speaks with such clarity, that would be the end of the discussion. However, as Warren Buffett has noted, "What human beings are best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact."

Cambridge could have a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network within the next twelve months, and we have considered what they would need to do in order to bring this about.

View network map of cambridge (uncoded) in a larger map

"The key word," Steffen Rasmussen told the GLA's Investigation into Cycling, "is an holistic approach and then a separation of functions." In order that this second component can be delivered, sustained investment is required.

As the London Cycling Campaign's Go Dutch advocate 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. Then they kept working on it and improving things, little by little."

The main feature of my proposal is the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and 'hard' measures in the medium-term.

The sorts of 'soft' measures I have in mind are encapsulated in this comment from another veteran campaigner, Sam Saunders of Bristol:

"Changes of a piecemeal kind, however well-designed, can add to our problems not reduce them. Bristol offers a highly visible warning about the confusion, frustration and downright bewilderment that can arise from idiosyncratic designs and an accumulation of unfinished or unsustained plans. It would take a long essay to spell this all out, but my point is that the development of a settled culture of city transport will depend on consistency, predictability and regular physical cues. Consciously wondering what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation, while trying to find a route or deal with an immediate problem overloads the attention span, increases anxiety and increases errors – for all. "

Junction of Milton Road and Gilbert Road

Thus: "The best guarantees for finding intelligent solutions [...] 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, [...] and to act in a targeted and highly efficient fashion." (Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities)