Monday 29 July 2013

Leaning over backwards

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken.' And then they actually change their minds, and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
Carl Sagan

If there were a verb meaning 'to believe falsely', it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. The most widely-known period of cargo cult activity occurred among the Melanesian islanders in the years during and after World War II.

The indigenous societies of Melanesia are typically characterised by a 'Big Man' political system in which individuals gain prestige through gift exchanges. The more wealth a man can distribute, the more people come to be in his debt, and the greater his renown. Those who are unable to reciprocate are identified as 'Rubbish Men'.

During the war, first the Japanese, and later the Allies, arrived with a great deal of supplies. The vast amounts of materiel that both sides airdropped—or airlifted to airstrips—to troops on these islands meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen outsiders before.

As suddenly as the foreigners had appeared, however, they disappeared. This left the islanders without the foreign riches. Thinking they had fallen out of favour with the gods, the islanders decided to mimic the foreigners in the hope of bringing the cargo back.

Image from Dr Joe Hanson

The physicist, Richard Feynman, continues the story: "So they arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head for headphones, and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he's the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. [...]

"Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones."

Cargo cults arise from the apparent belief that various ritualistic acts lead to a bestowing of material wealth ('cargo'). They tend to develop during times of social stress, and often under the leadership of a charismatic figure. It is likely that this leader has had a 'vision' (or 'myth-dream') of the future.

* * *

Feynman makes the point that he meets lots of people who sooner or later get him into a conversation about UFOs, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And he's concluded that it's not a very scientific world.

"Most people believe so many wonderful things," he explains, "that I decided to investigate why they did. And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk that I became overwhelmed."

Anyway, he spent a bit of time looking at various ideas of mysticism and mystic experiences, and at extrasensory perception, and PSI phenomena, and so on, and after a while he began to think, what else is there that we believe? And he found things that lots and lots of people believe, such as the best way to treat criminals. Bearing in mind Feynamn was speaking in 1974, he says: "We obviously have made no progress—lots of theory, but no progress—in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals."

He continues: "Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way—or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do 'the right thing', according to the experts.

"So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science."

This pseudoscience—this science that isn't science—is what Richard Feynman called Cargo Cult science. And there is one feature of genuine science that is generally missing in Cargo Cult science, he says.

"That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

"Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. [...]

"In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

"The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will—including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

"We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in Cargo Cult science. [...]

"We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit off because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of an electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bit bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

"Why didn't they discover the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of—this history—because it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong—and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number close to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that kind of a disease.

"But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves—of having utter scientific integrity—is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. [...]

"Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this: It had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

"I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person—to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know the the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

"She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, No, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done, and you would be wasting your time. [...]

"So I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organisation, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom."

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Error messages

The other evening, I was reading through one of my earlier blogs when I thought to look more closely at the "parallel" route I had drawn alongside CS2.

View CS2 in a larger map

In the original draft, only the green- and the blue-coloured routes were shown. The route coded in red has now been added. It is slightly longer than the route coded in green—3.21 miles versus 3.19 miles.

The general point I was making, therefore—which is that there isn't actually a very satisfactory "parallel" route running alongside CS2—holds true. Even so, for the sake of completeness, I felt it needed to be added.

* * *

In my last blog on dual networks, I highlighted what I considered to be some very important points:

  • Typically, the aim [of a strategic cycling plan] is to increase the number of cycle trips whilst reducing cyclist injuries. 
  • Strategic cycling plans should consider whether or not it is practical to design facilities so that they are suitable for cyclists of basic competence.
  • Indirect cycle routes may lead cyclists to choose more direct routes with greater risk. 
  • Alternative routes merely supplement the main road routes, and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.

If TfL are intent on developing a separate network of "quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly", in line with the Mayor's Vision for Cycling, I think it would be negligent of them not to take these points on board.

* * *

My proposal is for the development of a single network. In terms of route selection, I would start by including all of the Cycle Superhighways, probably all of the LCN+, the best of the LCN—which is actually the most of it—and then work out if there is anything else still missing.

Once the routes had been identified and the network planned, I would then "introduce" this network as quickly as possible by doing as much as possible at least bureaucracy first. I would then develop it further on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable.

Don't we all love to see that word: 'END'?

The people who paint it, and the planners who inscribe it on the plans—what do they think they're saying to cyclists?

(Words and image from Leeds Cycling Campaign)

I definitely would not have any sign which reads: 'Cycle route ends'. These seem to me to be a total cop-out. If nothing else, I would lay down repeat markers, or route confirmation markers, on the road surface, and mark the map accordingly ("dangerous connection").

I would use alternative routes to supplement the main road routes as much as it is practical to do so.

The main feature of this proposal is the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the speedy implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and the more carefully-considered development of 'hard' measures in the medium-term.

* * *

The most commonly-stated objection to this way ahead is that it would do nothing to enhance the safety of cyclists in London.

Image from Cyclists in the City
Following the recent deaths of cyclists at Aldgate and Holborn, the London Cycling Campaign wrote that advisory blue paint—over which motor traffic is directed to drive—is "worse than useless because it can create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling, and take advantage of the 'new, safe routes' for cycle commuters."

The picture to the right shows a publicity shot produced by TfL to promote the Cycle Superhighways scheme.

Of course, if this thing were for real, and if a young woman cyclist was actually killed wearing clothes like that, most likely it would only be a matter of time before someone started blaming her, the victim, for not wearing a hi-viz jacket or a helmet.

In response to the City of London's plans for Aldgate, Mark Treasure wrote:

"The City of London is designing an environment for existing ‘cyclists’, when instead they should be designing an environment for people on bikes. Tourists. People trundling along with lots of shopping. The elderly. Pupils going to school. An inclusive environment, for all types of bicycle users.

"This isn’t a specious point—there are already large numbers of people cycling in London who will not go anywhere near Aldgate and roads like it, if they can avoid it, particularly those casual Boris bike users who stick to parks and quiet routes, and their numbers are bound to increase as improvements are made across London.

"To exclude people like this—indeed, large swathes of society—from using your roads while on a bike is not just unfair, it’s short-sighted."

I think a lot of what Mark says is entirely reasonable. The junction at Aldgate definitely, definitely, definitely forms part of a worthwhile cycle network. At the eastern end, there is CS2; at the western end, the City; and at the southern end, Tower Bridge. The City authorities are planning to spend £12 million converting the junction from a one-way four-lane inner city gyratory to a much more appropriate two-way two-lane urban A-road. Even so, they were still unable to find any dedicated space here for east-west cycling.

The space is there, I am convinced of it; you've just got to look for it. How many pedestrians walk up and down this street? How many deliveries need to be made in the immediate area? Whereabouts in the pecking order were cyclists placed? What is the long-term vision for this area?

This said, I can see where the City of London is coming from, as well. It needs to be plainly understood that even if the City had planned to develop the Aldgate junction to Dutch standards, large swathes of society would still be excluded from using a bicycle in London. A piecemeal approach does not a safe cycling environment make.

I am very well aware that you do have to start somewhere, but what is the evidence that a few, isolated high-profile schemes are amongst "the constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy"? No, please, don't just avoid this question: what is the evidence?

The case is, as things currently stand, it may be very emphatically said that utility cycling is a long, long way from being a realistic option for that group which is identified as The Interested but Concerned.

Cycle lanes and the like are only "worse than useless" when considered from the perspective of this group. However, for The Enthused and Confident, who value "consistency, predictability and regular physical cues", who are "comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic"—and who, incidentally, are being killed in London at the rate of about one every twenty-four days—the development of a "bare-bones infrastructure" would help to clarify "what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation", and thereby reduce errors—"for all".

* * *

I was talking about the LCC's stated opposition to my proposal. To remind you, they say that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network "introduced" to a minimum level of functioning would do "NOTHING to improve cyclists' safety in any way."

Mark Treasure writes that there is already a large number of people cycling in London who prefer not to go anywhere near roads like Aldgate, if they can possibly help it. Now, the point I am about to make is a general one, but it helps to be able to quote specific examples.

First off, Jemma from Help! My chain came off, who posted a blog entitled And time to dismount. In short, her story is that she needed to get from Crouch End to Waterloo Bridge, that she followed the route suggested by TfL's journey planner, and that she found the final leg of her journey so "terrifying and perilous" that she ended up walking it.

"At the start of my commute, I was at ease with the calm traffic and simple roads," she wrote, "but then I stumbled into territory where cars, black cabs and monstrous lorries rule the streets. I quickly learned where my place was, and it was a difficult decision between the pavement and the gutter."

The central theme of Jemma's blog is that a safe space for cycling is required on London's main roads. I strongly support this, but even so, there is no sense in pretending that the provision of this space is likely to be a short time in the coming. Besides, until these works are completed, it would be possible to make this journey using mostly back street routes.
In David Arditti's latest blog, the subject of a back street route that goes via Great Russell Street - Bury Place - Newton Street - Great Queen Street is brought up. I have shown this route in light blue.

Because of the fact that many one-way roads in London are inaccessible to two-way cycle traffic, the most direct north-south route (via Drury Lane and Museum Street) is only available in one direction (south - north). Going the other way, the route which David describes is probably the best option. 

In fact, it was David's idea to create the contraflow lanes and the track on the northern side of High Holborn. Judging by this comment from Schrödinger's Cat, it has been very well received: "I use the north-south route through Holborn all the time. I didn't realise you were behind it! The best bit is the cycle path along High Holborn. [...] Thanks for creating that route. Without it I wouldn't have cycled half as much as I have done, as it provides a largely non-scary way through [...] For me it's enabled many journeys between Camden and Waterloo."

Despite this positive feedback, David himself is not a fan of back street routes. For him these routes will:
  • always be less efficient and less direct than the main roads; 
  • always involve more give-ways and delays;
  • always be incomplete and interrupted by sections of main road; 
  • inevitably not go to the places cyclists most want to go to; and 
  • often be cramped, full of parked cars and other obstructions, be under-maintained, and have poor subjective safety (though they will probably be absolutely safer than the main roads, where the lorries and buses are). 

He continues: "Whether under the title of the London Cycle Network, LCN+, Greenways, or Quietways, this non-solution is doggedly pursued in official policy. No amount of failure seems to cause a rethink."

* * *

David's commonly-stated belief is that the LCN+ was "mostly conceived of as being on minor roads". This is simply not true.

Brian Deegan, one of the architects of the LCN+, has told me that when they set out to design the network, they began by identifying various key locations throughout the metropolis. They then drew straight lines to connect these points, and then identified the route—be it on a main road or a back street or whatever—that most closely aligned with the direct line.

Yes, there were instances where back streets were used instead of main roads, e.g. LCN10 instead of the A10 (now CS1), or LCN50 instead of the A41 (now CS11). Even so, about a third of the LCN+ was routed on the TLRN, and it also included (to give you a couple of examples of main road routes on borough roads) a route from Uxbridge to Marble Arch via Shepherd's Bush along the A4020 / A402 (LCN40), and a route from Romford to Aldgate via Stratford along the A118 / A11 (now CS2).

Another piece of misinformation attached to the LCN+ is that it was 60% complete by the time the project drew to a close. Excepting those bits which were inherited from the old LCN, I am not aware of any examples of the LCN+ working well.

Indeed, for all David's criticism of the LCN, if there is a single piece of quality infrastructure in London which does not have its origins in the LCN, I would be very surprised to hear about it.

* * *

I don't know why this isn't obvious to other people, but surely the biggest problem with the LCN is that it was never made to function.

All those yellow and pink lines are "non-functioning" sections. In reality, then, the LCN was a not-work, rather than a net-work.

Clearly the "prudence" of "introducing" the whole of this network to a "minimum level of functioning" was never accepted. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is, by and large, still strongly opposed.

Indeed, "London’s principal cycling advocacy group" assert that the "introduction" of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network would do nothing to enhance the safety of cyclists in London. Do you hear me? NOTHING.

* * *

In the case of Jemma, the events she related were not particularly unusual, and the only reason we got to hear her story is that she blogged about it. If Fate had been kinder to the 68 Londoners killed whilst riding a bike during Boris Johnson's time as Mayor, we wouldn't have got to hear their story either.

"Linda, the cyclist who witnessed the after-math of Johannah Bailey's fatal crash on Cavendish Road and posted information on the web, has begun a campaign for improvements to the cycle provision. 

She suggested that an off-carriageway cycle track would improve conditions. She was astounded to be told that a track already existed! The routeing is obscure, the surface is not well marked and the signposting is misleading. [...] She and 80% of the cyclists using the route had no idea that an alternative was available."
(Charlie Lloyd, August 2011)

This said, we generally get to hear precious little about the events surrounding cycling fatalities, which is a shame really, because clearly there are lessons to be learned.

Regarding Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, I would be very interested to learn the origin and destination of her final journey. I only know that she was working at Marks and Spencer, that she was on a day-off, and that she lived in Bromley-by-Bow.

She could have picked up a hire bike pretty much anywhere in London, of course; but it is a general point I am making, and I need to be able to speculate a little in order to make this point.

There are two large M&S stores close to the Aldgate junction, one on Finsbury Pavement and the other on Fenchurch Street. Using the nearest hire bike stations as my hypothetical start points, I have plotted two journeys to a hire bike station in the heart of Bromely-by-Bow.

Blue: 3.74 miles Red: 3.47 miles

In the case of the journey from the hire bike station closest to Finsbury Pavement, you can see that the journey distance is actually less when using the alternative route than when using the main road route.

Blue: 3.48 miles Red: 3.68 miles

From Fenchurch Street, the reverse is true.

Providing alternative routes for non-roadsters is only possible through the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. And the general point I am trying to make is that until all of the high-engineered changes to London's 500 most dangerous junctions are made, a more immediate way for cyclists to deal with junctions like Aldgate is to avoid them.

The purists won't much care for this, I know, but given where we are now, what else is there to do apart from to keep talking about it? We have an immediate problem, and we require immediate solutions.

* * *

Rachel Aldred has written (here): "Like two-way pedestrian flows, two-way cycle flows should be the default, whatever the restrictions on motor traffic." Absolutely. With some very obvious exceptions, a route is not "functional" if it doesn't work in both directions.

Theobalds Road - Vernon Place - Bloomsbury Way works in both directions for pedestrians, and indeed for buses, but only in one direction for cyclists. The London Cycling Campaign suggest: "An immediate solution could involve putting a temporary barrier down Vernon Place and Bloomsbury Way, wide enough to allow cyclists to pass buses in the contraflow bus lane when they're stopped."

In this instance, I note, the LCC would be happy for this route to function at a minimum level.

Would a route such as this create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling?

Could it be used by tourists, or by people trundling along with lots of shopping, or by the elderly, or by pupils going to school?

Or is this simply a pragmatic response to a difficult-to-solve situation?

* * *

I read with interest Paul M's latest blog on his Reflections on Holborn. He writes: "I have no doubt that organised protest and pressure is essential if we are to see anything change. That’s what it took in the Netherlands, four decades ago, and look where it got them!"

What Paul fails to mention is that over the last forty years, the Dutch have been working to a "concerted and coherent programme." They had a plan. They didn't just have a destination in mind; they also had a clear idea of how they were going to get there.

Theobalds Road - Vernon Place - Bloomsbury Way used to be part of the LCN, used to be part of the LCN+, but since about 2009, it has been part of nothing.

Monday 15 July 2013

Dual networks

"And that's why we don't just need 'infrastructure'. We need joined-up infrastructure ..."
(Sara Dorman, Dead Dog Blog)

David Arditti has previously told me: "We all believe in defining the network and then developing it gradually."

If this was universally the case, I wouldn't fret about it nearly so much. But it isn't. I am aware of only one municipal authority which has properly identified all of the routes which it thinks should make up its strategic cycle network, and that is York (map here).

We can bemoan the lack of quality in some of the routes until the cows come home, but the fact of the matter is that the "new" York strategic cycle network is going to have good connectivity, good density, routes which are direct and routes which go to the places that people most want to go to.

As I say, I am not aware of any other municipal authority which has identified such a comprehensive and city-wide cycle network, and I have to wonder, why don't we ever think about that?

To give you just one example, the "cycling city" of Bristol, with a population nearly three times larger, has recently launched a network comprising eight arterial routes into the city (map) [pdf].

The problem is that the majority of UK towns and cities find themselves in a bit of a predicament, in the sense that many of the most meaningful and the most direct routes are also the very same ones which are the busiest with heavy traffic. If they are to be useful to cyclists, routes need to be meaningful and direct. However, they also need to be safe and comfortable.

The difficulty is that making main road routes safe and comfortable for all cyclists is not something which can be done with a flick of a switch. What to do, therefore?

* * *

In a recent blog on Aldgate, Mark Treasure reported: "The City of London, it seems, is adhering to a two-tier strategy, where children and the elderly (and, frankly, anyone who doesn’t fancy riding on busy roads) will have to stick to ‘Quietways’, while the ‘Superhighways’ remain the preserve of the existing, confident cyclists."

Westminster City Council have recently produced a working draft of their cycling strategy for 2013-2026. It says: "Fear of injury is the most commonly cited barrier to cycling, particularly amongst non-cyclists [...]. The Council will therefore aim to deliver a range of improved routes for cyclists of different abilities."

Both the City of London and the City of Westminster are pursuing a strategy which is entirely consistent with the Mayor's Vision for Cycling. As he explains in the Foreword:

"As well as the admirable Lycra-wearers, and the enviable east Londoners on their fixed-gear bikes, I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often clunky steeds. I will do all this by creating a variety of routes for the variety of cyclists I seek.

"There will be greatly-improved fast routes on busy roads for cyclists in a hurry. And there will be direct, continuous, quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly."

So we're going to have two different networks for two different types of cyclist. Okay? The rationale, of course, is that some cyclists value off-road and backstreet options, and some cyclists prefer to be able to go quickly using the most direct route. By providing choice, each type of cyclist can choose the route that suits them best.

However, consider this criticism of dual networks by Kim Harding, who is based in Edinburgh:

"Why isn’t utility cycling taking off, when cycling is apparently booming? [...] Part of the problem is the 'dual network' approach. This is based on the idea that people will start off on the 'family network', which caters for 'less confident cyclists', and then, as they gain confidence (and maybe have some training), they will 'graduate' to using the 'Quality Bike Corridors'."

(In London, for 'family network', read 'Quietways'; for 'Quality Bike Corridors', read 'Cycle Superhighways'.)

Whilst it is assuredly true that experienced cyclists value more pleasant alternatives as long as they are reasonably direct, it is also true that less experienced cyclists are uncomfortable sharing the road with heavy traffic.

* * *

According to The Cycling Dutchman, Eric van der Horst, the successful cycling model of The Netherlands is a mix of both sharing the road and segregated cycle paths alongside busier roads. He explains: "It will always be a combination of “sharing the road” and “segregated” models. It can never be one or the other."

Incidentally, I was interested to read another of Eric's blogs entitled Just a different lick of paint! He notes that an essential ingredient of the share-the-road principle is the slowing down of motorised traffic, and that this can often be achieved simply and cheaply by painting the road surface in a different way.

         The picture on the left shows a typical UK-style road. Many equivalent-sized
         roads in the Netherlands, carrying similar volumes of motor traffic,
         used to look the same.

Rachel Aldred told a GLA committee hearing that where there is free-flowing traffic, 50% of the cars travelling along a road with a 30mph speed limit will be speeding. Why? Because, says Eric, that white line running down the middle of the road says they can. In practice, it doesn't seem to make a great deal of difference what the sign says. To the driver of a car, these signs are a poor 'nudge' (speed cameras are barely better). What that white line basically says is: As long as you stick to your side of the road, you should be able to avoid any oncoming traffic. It doesn't really say anything at all about having to share this space with other, more vulnerable users.

The message that UK-style roads gives to many cyclists is this: You're not welcome! You don't belong here! Start paying road tax! Get out of the way! Vrrroooom!

"... I ride just to feel a buzz.
And it annoys me that some people look at us
like we are doing something wrong,
as we ride along a path where the marks say we belong.
I'm not a trouble-maker or a troubled teenager
just because I ride;
the world outside is mine as well:
I own these roads outside as well."

(Hollie McNish, Why we ride: a film by and for Cambridge's young riders)

In the Netherlands, when the road needs to be resurfaced, it is put back differently. By consistently applying this strategy over a long period, a remarkable transformation of the cycling environment has been accomplished. The road layout pictured here not only assures cyclists and drivers that this is a shared space, it also helps to modify driver behaviour.

Dutch cycling infrastructure and road calming are the result of a 40-year evolution, and Dutch people are completely accustomed to it. British people have been brainwashed by five decades of motorised priority, says Eric, and generally have a low opinion of cycling and cyclists. "This means that many Dutch concepts will need to be adjusted to the UK situation and carefully introduced."

* * *

During the course of my research into this subject, I came across the Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide [pdf]. Published by the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand in 2004, and peer-reviewed by Søren Underlien Jensen of Atkins Global Consultants (Denmark), its aim is to promote a consistent, "world’s best practice" approach to cycle network and route planning.

Substantially, the guide is made up of two parts: the principles and the process. I am just going to have a look at the first part, and to bring to your attention those things which caught my eye.

Cycle network planning, it says, is a process of improving community mobility by providing interconnected routes and facilities based on bicycle users’ needs.

Cycle route planning, therefore, aims to provide cycle routes that:

• convey cyclists safely, comfortably and conveniently for the greater part of their journey; and
• minimise conflicts with other users.

It involves the organisation of the most appropriate facilities and treatments. These can often differ, depending on the environment through which the route passes.

Strategic cycling plans need to address the four Es—engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement. Typically, the aim is to increase the number of cycle trips whilst reducing cyclist injuries. Because traffic dangers deter cycling, improving cycle safety is an essential part of cycle promotion.

Depending on the circumstances, reducing traffic volumes and speeds may do more to improve the safety of cyclists than providing dedicated facilities. Thus, whilst the development of a strategic cycling plan would help to raise the profile of cycling, it is likely to be most effective as part of an overall Integrated Transport policy.

Even so, it may be fairly said that the quality of provision for cyclists reflects the commitment to increasing cycling’s share of total journeys. Lower quality facilities require more skill to negotiate, and would therefore do little to attract new, less confident cyclists.

* * *

Cycling generally has two main purposes: utility and leisure.

Utility cycling involves making a journey for the main purpose of doing an activity at the journey’s end, such as work, education or shopping. Time is often an important consideration.

Leisure cycling is done for the journey itself. Leisure cyclists include sports training cyclists, recreation riders and cycle tourists. They also include children playing on their bikes near their homes.

The LTSA report says that for the purpose of planning, cyclists may be grouped into three skill levels:

• child/novice;
• basic competence; and
• experienced.

Child/novice: Depending on their age, children have serious knowledge, perceptual and cognitive limitations in relation to roads. They can be unpredictable, do not have a good appreciation of road hazards and are generally unfamiliar with road rules.

These cyclists most commonly ride to school, to the local shops, and for recreation near their homes. This local environment should be safe for them. They cannot safely interact with traffic apart from on traffic-calmed neighbourhood roads. They prefer full separation from other traffic if travelling along busier roads and grade separation or traffic signals for crossing them.

Basic competence: With appropriate training, children are able to achieve basic competence from about 10 years of age. Their utility trips generally extend further than their younger counterparts, to secondary schools, say, or to leisure and sporting amenities.

These cyclists are able to ride on quiet two-lane roads, manoeuvre past parked cars, and merge across and turn right from beside the centre-line. They can cope with simple traffic signals and single-lane roundabouts that are well designed to slow through-traffic.

On busier roads they prefer cycle lanes and facilities at junctions. They are not equipped to interact with faster traffic, multi-lane roads and multi-lane roundabouts. They usually lack the confidence to defend a lane in narrow situations.

Strategic cycling plans should consider whether or not it is practical to design facilities so that they are suitable for cyclists of basic competence. If not, more advanced training from about the age of 13 could be beneficial.

Experienced: These cyclists have usually learnt by long experience how best to interact assertively with traffic. They typically make longer commuting trips, sports training rides and even cycle touring journeys. (Image from London Cycling Campaign.)

They do not require specific cycle facilities. They can defend the primary position where there is not enough room, judge the right-turn across fast-moving traffic, use multi-lane roundabouts (sometimes apprehensively), and tend not to divert onto cycle paths.

Incidentally, this list is incomplete. What, for example, are we to make of the cyclists shown in this picture? (Image from ibikelondon.) Are they 'basically competent' or 'experienced'? I would suggest they are neither one nor the other, but rather, somewhere in between (i.e. 'competent').

The LTSA report came out two years before Roger Geller published his taxonomy of cyclists. The following summarises the key features of a group of cyclists described by him as 'The Enthused and Confident':

• They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities. They appreciate bicycle lanes and 'bicycle boulevards'.

• They have been attracted to use a bicycle for transportation purposes following the construction of Portland’s "bare bones infrastructure".

• This enthused and confident demographic of cyclists are the primary reason why measured bicycle trips on Portland’s four main bicycle-friendly bridges saw more than a 300% increase in daily bicycle trips between the early 1990s and 2006.

• They make up perhaps 7% of the population.

* * *

Cycle routes should provide:

• safety
• comfort
• directness
• coherence
• attractiveness.


Cycle routes should be safe, provide personal security, and limit conflict between cyclists and others.

Traffic speed and volume affect cyclists’ safety. As these increase, it may be more desirable to separate cyclists from motorists. Safe provision at intersections is crucial.

Cyclists should always have available a convenient route that provides a high level of personal safety. Routes used at night should have lighting.

Cyclists’ perceptions of safety are important. Appropriate infrastructure standards and design will help cyclists feel more secure.


Cycling routes should be smooth, non-slip, well maintained and free of debris, have gentle slopes, and be designed to avoid complicated manoeuvres.


Cycle routes should be direct, based on desire lines, and result in minimal delays door-to-door. Parking facilities should be in convenient locations.

Indirect cycle routes or excessive delays may lead cyclists to choose more direct routes with greater risk.


Cycle routes should be continuous and recognisable, link all potential origins and destinations, and offer a consistent standard of protection throughout.

To be recognisable, cycling routes should use consistent standards and design.


Cycle routes should integrate with and complement their surroundings, enhance public security, look attractive and contribute in a positive way to a pleasant cycling experience.

* * *

When it comes to route selection, what are the relative advantages and disadvantages of choosing one route over another? I won't go through the entire list, because it's quite a long one; but I will consider what the report has to say about main roads and back streets.

Main roads are generally well used by cyclists, and have several benefits for those with experience enough to be able to use them confidently. Most main roads are flatter than the surrounding local roads, and have better surface conditions and maintenance standards. They are also coherent and direct, and favour the major flow of traffic.

Main roads often have safety advantages for competent cyclists, but high traffic volumes and speeds make them unattractive for less confident cyclists and for those who ride for pleasure. Even where cycle lanes are provided, main roads are unsuitable for children and novices.

The main constraints to developing high-quality cycle routes on main roads are a lack of sufficient space at junctions, parking demands, and conflict with adjacent commercial activities. The trade-offs may involve politically unpalatable decisions.

Back street cycle routes can work well on grid-based road systems, since most destinations would still be directly accessible when using them. However, as a general rule, alternative routes merely supplement the main road routes, and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.

Many cyclists undertaking inter-suburban trips prefer quiet routes, especially if they are not confident mixing with busy traffic. Local roads can provide for these, and commuter cyclists are prepared to use them, but only if they make for a more convenient, more direct journey.

* * *

The report also sets out a process for deciding what cycle provision, if any, is desirable, and where it is needed. Many factors influence whether roads or paths best suit cyclists’ needs, the report says. For example:

• Increased segregation from motor traffic is usually accompanied by increased interference from pedestrians, pets, skateboarders, slower cyclists, etc.
• One choice is not inherently safer than another; both can be hazardous and both require high-quality design to achieve safety—‘the devil is in the detail’.
• Paths tend to be safer between intersections, whereas cycling through a junction on the roadway is generally safer than from a path.
• Geometric design standards for roads are often higher than for paths.
• It is incorrect to suggest that roads can only satisfy commuters’ needs, or that paths cannot satisfy commuter cyclists’ needs. Most leisure cycling takes place on roads, and many commuters enjoy well designed paths.
• It is usually easier and less expensive to accommodate the needs of commuter cyclists on roads than on separate paths.
• It is difficult to provide a coherent and direct path system that is as convenient for commuters as the arterial road network.
• Where origins and destinations are on the same side of an arterial road, a two-way cycle path means cyclists don’t have to cross the road twice to get there. However, such two-way paths are generally not recommended.

Relative advantages

Subject to appropriate design standards being achieved, roads generally have the following advantages over paths.

They are:

• direct
• coherent
• convenient
• efficient
• available everywhere

and also:

• have established intersection controls
• serve well the needs of experienced cyclists
• have high levels of surveillance and therefore personal security.

Between intersections, isolated paths generally have the following advantages over roads. They have:

• no motor traffic
• slower speeds
• low stress
• an attractive environment

and also:

• provide extra links that advantage all cyclists
• serve well the needs of novice/child cyclists.

Depending on the circumstances and design detail, there is usually no clear advantage between roads and paths in relation to:

• safety
• conflict with other users
• expense
• maintenance

* * *

Different people reading this would have picked up on different things, but this is a blog about dual networks, and that being so, I would like you to consider what I think are four very important points:

i. Typically, the aim [of a strategic cycling plan] is to increase the number of cycle trips whilst reducing cyclist injuries. 

ii. Strategic cycling plans should consider whether or not it is practical to design facilities so that they are suitable for cyclists of basic competence.

(Local cycle plans, of course, are something else.)

iii. Indirect cycle routes may lead cyclists to choose more direct routes with greater risk.

iv. Alternative routes merely supplement the main road routes, and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.

* * *

I feel I must say a word or two about the recent cycling fatalities, though I do so recognising that we can't just keep talking about it. At some point we actually have to start doing something. You know?

Just over a week ago, I left a comment on the Cyclists in the City blog:

"It can be predicted with a fair degree of statistical certainty that within the next four weeks a cyclist will be killed in London. What can not be predicted is where this fatality will occur. It could be anywhere. So yes, don't ever hold back from making things safe just because the places we don't improve will be relatively less safe. Indeed, we must do as much as possible as quickly as possible.

"By necessity, and as a rule of thumb, this would mean accepting interim measures..."

Now, the problem is that the LCC, and their supporters, take the view that doing something, however small, "does NOTHING to improve cyclists' safety in any way."

Clearly they're not permaculturists. It seems to me, however, that as a consequence of this way of thinking, the focus of our attention has been allowed to switch from thousands of small initiatives to a few grandiose engineering schemes. As The Ranty Highwayman pointed out in this comment on the Cyclists in the City blog: "Our casualty-reduction budget under Boris [...] is almost a third of what it was under Ken—the Mayor seems to like his big schemes and likes the boroughs to have big schemes."

I am certain that, to some extent at least, this is a response to the if-you're-going-to-do-something-then-do-it-properly attitude expressed by many, nearly all cycle advocates.

I did another Google search on this, by the way, and it threw up a blog by The Turtle Bear. She is married now, with two sons, but she grew up in a household where both parents were undiagnosed OCD, and where order and organisation were de rigeur. "I didn't think it was odd," she writes, "because I knew nothing else."

She goes on to explain that a few years back she went to a seminar on Time Management. Within the first couple of minutes, the instructor brought up the idea of 'if you're going to do something, then do it right', and asked the audience if they had ever been told this. She continues: "Most of us nodded. He said that it was DEAD WRONG. He suggested that instead we should substitute the following: "If you're going to do something, then do it." Leaving off the "right" alluded to the fact that it's better to get something done than to leave [it] undone just because you can't do it "right" or perfectly [the first time around]. One would hope that this epiphany would have changed my life, but old habits die hard."

Tuesday 9 July 2013


I am going to confine my thoughts here to the very singular point of 'networks'.

Mark Treasure has recently written: "Encouragingly there will be a cycle route running north-south across this area [...]. Without this link, anyone coming from the south on a bike would have to travel around three sides of a large, busy rectangle, so it is pleasing that it has been included."

Image from aseasyasriding.
A close-up of the north-south route is shown below:

Image from aseasyasriding

The problem is that the road heading 'south' doesn't really go south at all: it goes west.

Jewry Street, the 'north-south' route south of Aldgate, is marked in yellow.

Anyone coming from the south, from Tower Bridge, say, would probably want to use Minories. (The parallel route, Vine Street, is a relatively poor alternative at the moment.)

Vine Street

Looking back at the images from aseasyasriding, it is far from certain that any serious consideration has been given to a north-south route which joins up to Tower Bridge (even if this route would only be available to existing cyclists for the time being).

Minories (as it is currently configured).

Currently Minories is one-way southbound. Under the new plans, it is to be returned to its original state. Now, never mind that any serious pro-cycling policy is also about taking away from the car, and not just about cycle networks and cycle infrastructure, and so forth. Never mind that for the moment.

Image from aseasyasriding

Minories is that road coming up from the south, in the bottom left of the image above.

Mark writes: "The only useful function of an ASL is to allow you to position yourself ahead of stationary traffic to make a right turn, but the City plans to install three of these ASLs in locations where you can’t even turn right."

However, in the two places where you would need to make a right turn (into Minories heading south, and onto the new cycle path heading north), there is nothing.

Actually I am not suggesting that we should be thinking in terms of ASLs here. I think a similar sort of layout to the one proposed for Jewry Street is the least that would be acceptable.

But it has to be said that, even if all we set out to do was to develop a cycling environment which, in the early years, could only be used by The Enthused and Confident, say, the reason things like this are happening is because we are not thinking in terms of a network. You can't explain it any other way.

Saturday 6 July 2013

What needs to be known

This blog is an adaptation of Chapter 6 from Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities.

The number of potential cyclists is high because almost everyone enjoys cycling. However, since most people are no longer in the habit, so to speak, they need to be reminded that cycling can be an efficient and pleasant way of getting around. Pointers must be given to encourage people to start thinking about cycling. What is the relationship between cycling for pleasure and daily cycling? Apart from these two major components, what other elements constitute a pro-cycling policy? How much would a policy favouring cycling cost? What needs to be known to take the first (right) steps?

The components of a pro-cycling policy and their interactions

A return to cycling is likely to be most successful if the aims of the overall transport strategy are framed within the context of a balanced mobility policy. Such a policy would of course be environmentally-friendly, and would also give rise to a relaxed and convivial urban atmosphere which is favourable to shops, pedestrians and public transport, with cars being given their rightful place.

‘Measures in favour of cycling’ are generally thought of as being confined to those of a technical order, such as developing quality infrastructure and providing a 'complementarity' between cycling and public transport. But there are a range of other accompanying measures which must also be addressed.

In addition, since the bicycle is often perceived as an instrument of leisure, efforts must be made simultaneously to promote leisure routes and daily cycling routes. These two areas of activity complement each other, and are of mutual benefit.

Market laws: you have to know in order to choose

Surveys carried out amongst non-cyclists indicate that the general public is poorly informed when it comes to cycling. In a study carried out in the Netherlands, car drivers who were obliged to use a bicycle for a while—if their car was in for repair, say—indicated how pleasantly surprised they were by the objective qualities of the bike, about which they had previously held a low opinion.

Also true is that very few car owners are really aware what their car costs to run, and of the considerable savings to be made by cycling.

One of the first obstacles which may be tackled in any information campaign is this lack of awareness of the advantages of cycling.

A pragmatic approach

Instituting a pro-cycling policy should involve the cooperation of several sectors of the administration (town planning and public works, public transport organisations, teachers, the police) and of the private sector (shopkeepers, companies and cyclists).

The ideal situation would be for the political authority to decide to introduce a policy in favour of cycling, to set aside a budget for this policy, to organise a team of staff to carry out practical measures, and to ensure that selection criteria which promote cycling are applied at all levels of the administration.

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

What will the cost be?

The cost of the investments in cycling are likely to be highly variable. However that may be, works carried out specifically in favour of cycling generally cost much less than for those of other forms of transport.

What is more, in a great many situations the small excesses of expenditure made in favour of cycling would be reduced even further if thought was given to cyclists at the planning stage (that is, before changes to the roadway are made). Costly installations—cycle tracks and special traffic lights—are rare. The cost of the other components of a cycling policy—mainly education and information—can also be highly variable according to the education and information techniques used.

In the State of Oregon (USA), the law states that towns must devote a minimum of 1% of the subsidies it receives for roadways to cycling purposes. This tiny proportion of expenditure already makes it possible to meet a large number of requirements, given the extremely modest cost of most of the installations.

Another possible basis for calculating how much to spend would be to analyse the real budgets allotted to cycling by several German towns. At the time, they spent something like €5 per resident per year for a period of five to seven years. With this money, they were enabled to "introduce" an entire pro-cycling policy (network, information, promotion).

The value of a cycling coordinator

One of the tasks of a cycling coordinator must of course be to note all the possible sources of subsidisation by the public authorities.

Sometimes funding exists which opens up unexpected prospects for developing a pro-cycling policy. The first thought which comes to mind is, of course, funding for improvements to roads, but a number of other sources of subsidies are also available. For example, cycling programmes (on information campaigns, say, or on incentives) may be paid for by sponsors, or as part of national or regional policies on safety, education, youth, sports, health, leisure, tourism, the environment, urban renewal, and the safeguarding of our heritage.

Making use of synergies

As soon as the network plan has been drawn up, some kind of checking mechanism is required to ensure that every time works are programmed they include the introduction of the amenities required for cyclists. An alphabetical list of the names of the streets having cycle routes can, for example, be distributed in all departments. Alternatively, the cycling coordinator could be informed in advance of all works planned and check for himself / herself that facilities for cyclists have not been forgotten.

There are often other sources of special financing which may be used to introduce cycling facilities or ‘bicycle-friendly’ measures. These include budgets for making the approaches to schools safe, and which can be used to finance the development of cycle tracks on routes close to a school, say, or to introduce contraflow systems for cyclists in one-way streets which give access to a particular school.

Some European Union budgets also make it possible to finance studies concerning cycling. For example, as part of the LIFE programme, the European Union financed the study of cycle networks in four Cypriot cities: Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos. The overall objective was to reduce pressure from car traffic and to improve the quality of journeys and the quality of life.

The project included a programme to promote cycling among the general public and was spread over a three-year period (with conferences, debates, meetings with pressure groups, etc.). Two surveys on the way in which cycling is perceived were also undertaken.

The total budget for the project was €330 000, with each city contributing approximately €18 000.

It might be possible for your town to benefit from this for a cycle route network. It is also possible that national programmes of a similar type exist in your country.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Common Sense

How much of what we say is about the evidence is really about the evidence? In this week's broadcast of The Human Zoo, we are introduced to the idea of Attribute Substitution, which says that when things get very complicated, we substitute the complicated question for another one. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

"Attribute substitution is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily-calculated heuristic attribute. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system. Hence, when someone tries to answer a difficult question, they may actually answer a related but different question, without realising that a substitution has taken place. This explains why individuals can be unaware of their own biases, and why biases persist even when the subject is made aware of them."

As Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick University, points out: "If you can find a simple attribute, which you can quantify and is easy to bring to mind, then you'll use that as a short-cut—often a reasonably good short-cut—for answering a more tricky, broad, complicated question."

He goes on to explain: "I think we should be more respectful of the miracle that is the human brain. The problems that the world faces us with in understanding the commonsense world around us and the perceptual world around us are vastly complicated and they need to be simplified, fairly dramatically, to make any progress at all. As soon as you try to build a robot which can run about, say, or recognise the things around it, or speak and be understood, you realise how enormously difficult it is to deal with the complexity of the real world. So I think these simplifications—these short-cuts—although they do introduce biases—are absolutely essential; they're a central part of human intelligence. They're what allows us to behave effectively and successfully in a world that we can't possibly analyse in full detail."

When making decisions, would it be possible to put aside all the emotional stuff and focus instead only on the science? Dr Tamsin Edwards from the University of Bristol:

"We're humans, and we have to do what we think is the right thing to do. We have to make decisions somehow. Science can't give the answer for what to do; it can only say, 'Here is the evidence for what would happen if we did this, and here is the evidence for what would happen if we did that.' So that's not an answer: that's just a set of predictions. So you need to have humans and their emotions and their priorities and their values."

Dr Edwards explains that we have these ways of processing the information we get from different people: do we trust them? is it what we expect? are we retrenching into our own views because we've been challenged? Also, what sort of people are we: are we optimistic people or pessimistic people? do we trust authority? All of these things often combine together in our minds and help us to build up a coherent picture of how we view the science—and what we think we should do about it.

The programme's presenter, Michael Blastland, then interviewed Professor Dan Kahan from Yale University, "a lawyer with a keen interest in how different groups convince themselves that the experts are on their side" (whichever side that happens to be). The remarkable thing is, whatever the conflict, in none of them do you ever hear one side saying, "Who cares what the experts know? I don't believe in science." No, those on both sides are convinced that the position that predominates in their group is consistent with the expert view.

The problem is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions, which means to say, Confirmation Bias. It's at this point that we put The Human Zoo to one side, and pick up instead Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind.

"In one classic experiment," he reports, "two groups of students were arranged, one made of people who believed in the death penalty as an effective crime deterrent, and one opposed to it. Both were given two studies regarding the efficacy of the penalty, one for and one against. They were asked to evaluate the studies. Both groups were predictably more critical of the study that opposed their view, and more interestingly decided that the study with which they agreed was 'better conducted' and 'more convincing'."

He continues: "The all-too-common extreme of this sort of bias, though, is circular reasoning. This is the fallacy of the True Believer. The True Believer is impervious to real-world evidence because he just ignores anything that doesn't fit into his belief system. Instead he notices everything that matches and supports his beliefs, and inevitably comes to hold those beliefs at a very profound level. They can become absolutely part of his identity. It is this that brings together the religious, the psychic, the cynic (as opposed to the open sceptic) and the narrow-minds of all kinds.

"The case is, one can be a True Believer in anything: psychic ability, Christianity or, as Bertrand Russell classically suggested (with irony), in the fact that there is a teapot orbiting the earth. I could believe any of those things with total conviction. But my conviction doesn't make them true. Indeed, it is something of an insult to the very truth you might hold dear to say that something is true just because I really, really believe it."

Christopher Hitchens said: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." Put more bluntly, "Fact without theory is trivia; theory without fact is bullshit." Thus, it is the role of the believer to provide the evidence for his claims, and not the role of the non-believer to prove that the believer is wrong. To return to Bertrand Russell, nobody can prove that there isn't a teapot orbiting the earth, and nobody should be expected to either. If people believe that and want me to believe it too, it's up to them to show me the evidence.

Derren Brown again: "Whereas non-scientific thinking starts with a premise and then looks for things that support it, scientific thinking constantly tries to disprove itself. That alone makes all the difference. A scientist comes up with a premise: A causes B. Rather than look for all the cases where A causes B to support his premise, he starts trying to disprove that A causes B. Then, if after rigorous attempts to prove himself wrong it seems to hold up that A does indeed cause B, he'll publish his results. Now it's up to his peers to check and double check his findings. They will probably want to run their own experiments, to see if they replicate the results or disprove for themselves that A causes B. If that scientist has conducted bad experiments, or if his results are shown to be faulty, his reputation will suffer enormously."

That's the idea, at any rate. It's a system that tries to get out of the head of the scientist with his prejudices and values, and to see what seems to happen reliably in the world regardless of personal conviction or ideology.

* * *

Dom Nozzi has written, "For most all bicycling advocates, there is a single-minded tactic for increasing the number of bicyclists."

Image from Drawing Rings blogspot.

I have noticed this, too. But given that we are clearly having some considerable difficulty keeping existing cyclists safe, particularly in London (as the above graph shows), I don't quite understand this urgent desire to increase the number of cyclists. Is anybody able to explain why this is thought to be more important than reducing the casualty / fatality rate amongst existing cyclists? No really, can anyone explain it?

This aside, if I had to sum up this "single-minded tactic" in just a sentence, I could do worse, I think, than quote Danny Williams from Cyclists in the City: "If you're going to build a bicycle transport network, then build it properly."

Who could argue with this? It's eminent common sense! And yet—it makes me feel a bit awkward to say this—it's not evidence. It does feel intuitively right, but this does not necessarily mean that it is in fact correct.

Let me give you an example. You are stood on the edge of a small platform which is located in the middle of an impossibly large lake. The surface of the water is like glass: there isn't a puff of wind in the air. In one hand you have a pistol, and in the other hand you have a bullet. You hold out both hands in front of you. At exactly the same moment, you drop the bullet and fire the gun. Which of the bullets is going to hit the water first?

Intuition would tell you that the bullet dropped out of the hand would hit the water first, but actually there is only one vector force acting upon both bullets, and that is gravity: the horizontal speed doesn't affect the vertical speed. So they would both hit the water at exactly the same time.

Oh, you knew that one already, did you? Okay, try this one. Now, first answer, please, and as quick as you can. Fish and chips cost £2.90. The fish costs £2.00 more than the chips. How much do the chips cost?

You knew that one as well? My Gosh, you are a bright little thing, aren't you? I got them both wrong, by the way. Anyway, it doesn't much matter. The point is that intuition can sometimes lead us astray

I did a Google search for "If you're going to build it, then build it properly." That was just weird. Adding the word "Quotes" at the start yielded equally bizarre results.

The slogan to the left is more like it, I grant you, but who said it? I want to have faith in your experts, but it would help to know who they are.

It turns out this is just management-speak, and stems from the desire that all of the processes that make up the just-in-time philosophy be done correctly and efficiently, so that there are no delays in the production process.
The only quote I could find on this subject from someone who actually had a name was from Zig Ziglar (author of See You at the Top and What I Learned on the Way to the Top), who said: "When you do the right things in the right way, you have nothing to hide because you have nothing to fear."

* * *

You think I like being the only one who says, "Network first"? I don't.