Friday 30 August 2013

A study of Camden

"We are starting from where we are," David Arditti said recently, "which is a highly fragmentary (indeed, almost non-existent) dedicated cycle network, and an established culture of vehicular cycling. We need to develop the dedicated network, and interface with the established norms of London cycling as well."

I think that's an excellent summary of where we are starting from. And I also think that people are generally agreed where we would like to end up, as well. The thing still to be decided, it seems to me, is the best way to get there.

There are basically just two options here: bottom-up or top-down. The bottom-up approach is "strictly pragmatic and ad hoc", and whilst it might suit the British psyche very well to go down this road, there is a way to "go much further" than this, relatively quickly, and for relatively not much money.

* * *

David also writes: "What I'd like to see next, apart from the northwards extension of the Royal College Street tracks to connect with Kentish Town Road, is for the connection of this route westwards through to Primrose Hill and Hampstead to be tackled."

He continues: "This currently goes westbound via Pratt Street, which has reasonable conditions [...] and then via the appalling Delancey Street [...] The solution to all this is clearly to replicate something like the Royal College Street design on Delancey Street [...] Delancey Street could be [...] reduced to one consistent lane, westbound only for motor traffic, with cycle tracks going in both directions."
The route via Delancey Street used to be part of LCN36, which itself went from Kempton Park to Tottenham via Shepherd's Bush (a distance of some 20 miles as the crow flies). For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with the layout of London, the general direction of travel here is at about twenty-to-two.

How would this route fit into a revitalised London Cycling Network?

In the map above, the routes in Camden Town itself have been omitted, for reasons which will become apparent in due course.

I have coded 'strategic' routes in blue and 'local' routes in orange. The difference between a 'strategic' route and a 'local' route is mostly equivocal, by the way. For me what it means is that I haven't been able to assign a 'compass colour' to the 'local' routes. Somebody else looking at this, perhaps with a different signing strategy, could easily regard some of these 'local' routes as 'strategic' routes, and some of these 'strategic' routes as 'local' routes. It's ultimately a matter of interpretation.

The next map is much more interesting, I think. It shows the current functionality of the 'strategic' routes. Let's take a closer look at some of the non-functioning parts, beginning with the routes through Regent's Park.

There are only a few places where a north-south route can get into and out of Regent's Park. There is a route via Marylebone High Street, another one via Harley Street, and lastly, one via Portland Place. I prefer the Harley Street option, though it may be that installing a crossing over the Marylebone Road proves to be problematic.
The idea hereafter is to connect up with the northern section of the Broad Walk, which has been functioning as a shared-use path since August 2008. There are two ways that this can be done.

The southern section of the Broad Walk (picture on the left) is rather serene and lovely, and clearly there is every benefit to keeping it that way. Fortunately there is a parallel route very nearby (picture on the right), and this would appear to be lend itself much more suitably as a thoroughfare for people on bikes. Maybe the path would need to be widened a little bit, particularly near the entrances.

The northern-end of the Broad Walk can sometimes get a little congested, as the photo on the left shows. Danny Williams said recently that cycle advocates are not anti-car. I think this is right, but I also think it is reasonable for us to question whether it is entirely appropriate to apportion so much space to vehicular traffic in our towns and cities (and in this case, in our parks).

For example, St. Mark's Square. It's just to the north of Regent's Park, and is a continuation of this route that we are looking at. Currently it is a one-way street, which is no bad thing necessarily, but why is it not yet two-way for cyclists?

Anyway, that's the first of non-functioning routes through Regent's Park; now for the other one.

There is a bit of a problem getting into Regent's Park from the eastern side, especially at the southern end. Practically speaking, Chester Gate is about the only option, and even then it's far from easy to see a ready solution.

You can see from the photo on the right that there is a building at the end which basically cuts the road in half (in the picture on the left, it's the building shrouded in scaffolding).

It is perfectly true that the cycle route could be diverted up to Gloucester Gate and around the top of the Park. Certainly it wouldn't cause me any particular difficulties if that proved necessary—I just draw lines on maps. But I will point out that recent research carried out by Steer Davies Gleave on behalf of TfL (as reported here) shows how highly people regard the opportunity to get a bit of greenery into their journey, particularly women.

This means to say, there has to be a good reason why considerate cycling is not allowed on paths like the one shown in the photos above. To be honest with you, I am not entirely sure I know what that reason is.

* * *

There is a route through Primrose Hill Park which is likewise barred to considerate cycling, but I can't find any decent photographs of this route, so I am going to move on.

This route is coded as O10, and it goes from Kingsbury and beyond to East Ham and beyond. It incorporates some of LCN49, some of LCN8 and some of LCN16. The section between the two highlighted bits has never been part of the LCN.
In terms of engineering, one would hope that this route could easily be made to function. Install a drop kerb here? Remove some gates there?

In this day and age, however, it seems to me unlikely that it would ever happen this way; but I wonder if we could at least consider it.

Sir Robert Watson-Watt, a pioneer of Britain's early-warning radar, was a great proponent of the 'cult of the imperfect'.

"Give them the third best to go on with," he said. "The second best comes too late; the best never comes."

This 'war-time' mentality was discussed by Robert Peston a little while back. "There's an alternative explanation for why Whitehall is so poor at promoting and organising the economically important modernisation of British infrastructure," he noted, "which is that ministerial and official thinking is often not rigorous enough, and individual ministers and civil servants are often too scared to take personal responsibility for their actions. True risk taking of the war-time sort, some would say, is about analysing risks with great care but to a tight timetable. It's not about ignoring risks."

* * *

There is a route which I have coded as G2a. It is loosely based on some LCN routes, but rather frustratingly, I can't identify which ones.

I want to look at the highlighted section of this route, going from left to right.

We start with a view of Fitzroy Square. You can just about make out a bicycle logo on the carriageway.

Fitzroy Square

View of Fitzroy Square from the other side

Grafton Way
(this is a one-way street)

Grafton Way near the junction with Tottenham Court Road
(this is a one-way street)

Grafton Way near the junction with Gower Street (looking west)
(this is a one-way street)

Gower Street looking south towards Grafton Way
(this is a one-way street)

Gower Place
(this is a one-way street)

Is it reasonable to expect that cyclists should be able to use this route in both directions? If no, how would they get back again?
If yes, what would need to be done to this route in order that it can be made to function in both directions? Would it help to create traffic loops?

* * *

Another route which functions in one direction only is a sort of by-pass to the north of Camden Town.

As before, I want to look at the highlighted section, going from left to right.

Junction of Castlehaven Street and Hawley Road, looking west

Junction of Castlehaven Street and Hawley Road, looking east

Hawley Road, looking east

Hawley Road, looking west

Approaching the junction with the A400

At the junction (Jeffrey's Street is straight ahead)

Jeffrey's Street (looking back towards Hawley Street)

Jeffrey's Street (near the junction with Royal College Street)

Wilmot Place

The value of developing this route further reveals itself by considering the map to the left. As you can see, it would connect well with the Royal College Street route and provide a good link up towards Belsize Park and Hampstead. It is also slightly more direct than a route which goes via Delancey Street.

In case you are wondering, the orange-coloured route is pretty much exactly the same length as the red-coloured route.
As we saw from the previous map, the route that went via Hawley Road would obviously be very useful to people heading east from, say, South Hampstead (B509) (much more so, actually, than a route that went via Delancey Street). But at least a two-way cycle route that went via Delancey Street would be useful to people heading east from, say, St. John's Wood, wouldn't it?

Yes, it would, but so also would a two-way cycle route that goes via Parkway ...

Eric Pickles: "Making it easier to park will help support local shops,
local jobs and tourism.”
* * *

The map above shows all of the proposed 'strategic' routes in Camden Town centre. It would be wonderful to think that one day bicycle traffic could use all of these routes in both directions, but realistically, the prospect of this happening in the short-term is not far off nil.

Still, just because the authorities are not able to do everything all in one go is not a very good reason for them to do nothing.

The routes themselves could still function, it's just that in some places, the course of each route might not be the same in both directions.

To those who say: Ah! Yes! Now then! But this way forward is, like, what? the third best option?

Okay, but if people think this is a problem, then they should refute away! (Evidence only, please, no anecdotes).

In the case of this orange-coloured route, I cannot see a good way to avoid the need to develop a high-engineered solution at the highlighted section.

The level at which this bit needs to function is high.

As a general rule of thumb, however, the level at which most of the network would function—certainly during this "introductory" phase—would probably be quite low.

Subjective feelings of safety are of course important, but the concern must surely be that any improvements to the cycling environment do not induce a false sense of security. In the case of some routes, the practical difficulties that would come with the construction of high quality two-way cycle routes would be many and complicated. This is particularly true with regard to the way that junctions would need to be treated.

In Camden, there is a very complex one-way system, and until people know exactly what's what, it may very well prove to be the case that the minimum change has the most benefit, in the short-term at least. 

On the one hand, as the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner has noted: "Changes to something as complicated as the road network have to be thought through; they cannot happen overnight."

On the other hand, an expression which is often used when describing the development of our cycling environment is "glacial".

We need to strike the right sort of balance here, and not allow ourselves to become paralysed by some "impossible purity of vision".

* * *

All of the functioning parts of the proposed network "can be introduced on the basis of an overall plan (preliminary plan)."

The map below shows all of the non-functioning parts (both 'local' and 'strategic').

Delancey Street and Royal College Street are not shown on this map because the routes of which they form a part are, in fact, functional.

Cycling: the way ahead observes: "The best guarantees for finding intelligent solutions, which must very often be adapted to the specific situation in hand, include taking into account the experience of people who cycle on a daily basis and the imagination and subtlety of analysis of those in charge of the projects. Only by studying a cycle route network, however, will it be possible to truly grasp the situation, to draw up a list of black spots and to act in a targeted and highly efficient fashion."

If money is going to be spent improving certain parts of the network, then of course, this money should be spent well, with good attention to detail. But if the circumstances are such—as they seem to be at the moment—that it is not possible to reconfigure the entire network to better meet the needs of people on bicycles—all in one go, that is, and consistent with the philosophy of Sustainable Safety—then what? do nothing instead? No, I don't think so. To what purpose?

Monday 26 August 2013


I was listening to a football phone-in the other week, when this guy calls up to talk about the big match. He hadn't seen the game—turns out he is blind—but he had heard the commentary on the radio. He explained all of this, and then after a bit more small talk, he got down to the point of his call. He agreed with the previous caller, he said, and was just about to explain himself further, when all of a sudden the show's presenter interrupted him—

I mention this story because there has been a bit of discussion about the new cycle facility on Royal College Street of late. In response to The Alternative DfT's blog entitled Royal College Street did not "Go Dutch", Camden Cyclists said on twitter:

@AlternativeDfT entitled to express their opinions on Royal College Street (we don't agree). But those who have repeated them...

...without even seeing for themselves should be ashamed. No better way to create divisions amongst cycle campaigners.

This was directed at David Hembrow. He responded thus: "@camdencyclists I can assure you that I didn't repeat @AlternativeDfT's opinion because I wrote about it first."

Hmm. The thing is, though, David, you hadn't bothered your arse to come all the way over from Holland and see Royal College Street for yourself, had you? Or the CS2 extension. All you'd done was make a video showing how bus passengers in the Netherlands avoid being put into conflict with cyclists, then you'd looked at how we're doing things here in the UK, using somebody else's photos, and then you wrote a report. That's absolutely the pits, that is. Total disgrace. And you, Joe Dunckley! Writing about Leith Walk on the basis of a newspaper article! Outrageous. And Danny Williams. Deary me. BerlinChicago? Copenhagen? Danny, Danny, Danny, you should know better. How can you even look at yourself in the mirror? There's no better way to create divisions amongst cycle campaigners, you know.

* * *

Regarding the new bus-stop for Royal College Street, David Hembrow pointed out: "It was obvious from the design that conflict should be expected here between cyclists and bus passengers because bikes are being routed between the bus and the bus stop ..."

The Alternative DfT made a similar point. Camden Cyclists had said they disagreed with this assessment, and Schrödinger's Cat was interested to know more:

@camdencyclists By the way, you say you disagree with my analysis of the bus stops, but haven't explained why I'm wrong.

@camdencyclists Are you suggesting, for example, that the photo of the van passing a bus while the bike user waits is false?

Photo credit: Schrödinger's Cat

@camdencyclists I'd love to read a rebuttal.

@camdencyclists Please point out the factual errors in my article, I want to know. I suspect your objections are based on emotion.

@Gwa_C They still haven't explained what's wrong with my article. @camdencyclists @london_cycling

@AlternativeDfT Enough of the flame wars. We'll be happy to discuss face-to-face, e.g. at a Camden Cyclists meeting.

@camdencyclists This isn't a flame war. Reply on my blog, it's much better. Gives time to consider, research, etc. The web is the ideal venue.

And that's where the conversation ended.

* * *

Camden Cyclists did leave a comment on David Arditti's blog. They said that there is room for a narrow bus platform outside the cycle track at the southern bus stop—the one shown in the photo above—but that the cycle track opposite the other bus stop can't be protected by armadillos, because a series of building entries intersect the cycle path there. So extending the bus stop would be counterproductive in that motorists would be likely to swerve into the opposite cycle track to pass stopped buses.

As a rule of thumb, cars entering other peoples' space tend to do so with caution (i.e., without swerving). If a motorist is proceeding down Royal College Street, say, and a bus pulls to a stop ahead of him, perhaps the motorist would be allowed to overtake the bus by using the cycle lane, assuming it was safe to do so.
(Photo credit: The Cycling Dutchman)
It's a question of balance, ultimately, coupled with a reasonable sense of perspective.

* * *

How did the London Cycling Campaign become the Voice of Cyclists in London? Whoever appointed them to fulfill this role?

Originally it was a Friends of the Earth thing; but at some point, the cycling enthusiasts started to dominate.

Before you knew it, a love of cycling became transformed into something else: a love of power. And thus it came to pass that you couldn't even think about cycling in London without the LCC dismissively coming along and thrusting a glass ceiling above your head.

They claim to speak on behalf of the capital's cyclists, but according to David Arditti, he has spent 20 years trying to convince them "of the benefits of quality segregated cycle infrastructure", and for most of that time this idea was regarded as "an evil or deluded heresy".

Within the last couple of years the LCC have appointed a new boss, and he seems to have understood the marketing value of Going Dutch. This change of direction—from vehicular cycling all the way to segregated cycling—came not so much from within as from without. I am talking here about the bloggers, and specifically about Freewheeler. And so, like the Bishop of Norwich—who was told that if he wanted to lead his flock, he should find out where they were going first and then walk in front of them—the LCC are guiding a new generation of cycle campaigners towards ever greater glories.

If you want to support them, all you have to do is follow. So why not go along to their protest ride? They're calling for a clear space for cycling on London's main roads.

Monday 19 August 2013

Blind-spot crashes

Cycling is promoted in the built-up area because of the positive effect it has on the environment, traffic flow and personal health. However, cyclists account for about a quarter of all the road fatalities and more than half of all the serious injuries. Over the last ten years, statistics show that the reduction in fatalities amongst cyclists remains behind that of other road user groups. Their safety therefore requires serious attention and action.

Sound familiar? But this is how the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV) regard the situation in the Netherlands today. My reason for mentioning it is to make plain that improving the safety of the cycling environment in the UK is going to need a long-term commitment, a very long-term commitment indeed.

In 2009, in the Netherlands, 185 cyclists were killed in traffic, ten by right-turning trucks. Typically, these blind-spot crashes occur at junctions in towns and cities, when a lorry wants to turn right (moving from stationary), and a cyclist riding to the right of the vehicle—or positioned diagonally in front of it—wants to go straight ahead. This frequently happens at junctions with traffic lights where cyclists get the green light simultaneously with other traffic (Figure A).

In principle cyclists have the right of way in this situation, but it sometimes happens that they are not seen by the driver. For their part, cyclists are often unaware that the lorry driver is unable to see them, or that the driver wants to make a right-turn. Thus, cyclists tend to assume the right of way without first ensuring they have actually been given it.

In a study carried out between 2006-7, it was shown that 98% of the incidents which took place between right-turning lorries and cyclists involved vehicles with a high windscreen (higher than 1.5 metres). These vehicles accounted for about 70% of the heavy road traffic, incidentally.

To briefly summarise, the three main causes of blind-spot crashes are as follows:
• The visual field of lorries is insufficient;
• Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors that are available to them, and / or these mirrors are not adjusted correctly; and
• Cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited field of view.
As much as possible, the aim must be to keep cyclists apart from heavy traffic. According to an oft-quoted report, "In SWOV’s opinion, the ultimate solution for the blind-spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists. How this must be organised, and what the economic consequences will be, requires further study. For the time being, the solution can be found in separating cyclists and trucks at intersections, both in time and position. Furthermore, it is important to make both the truck driver and the cyclist more aware of the hazards."

The "ultimate solution" SWOV have in mind actually goes much further than one might initially suppose. As you would expect, the Dutch already have a very good idea how to organise cycleways, and the economic consequences of installing them are also presumably well established, so it is hardly the case that these would require much in the way of further study. No, what is being suggested here is that heavy lorries should be denied access to cities, towns and villages. This would make it necessary to construct distribution centres outside of urban areas, of course.

Such a measure may seem far-reaching, but in fact it fits in with the Strategic Road Safety Plan (Ministry of Transport, 2009), so it is clearly not far-fetched. Even so, it goes without saying that such an idea cannot easily be implemented. Research is required to make clear the pros and cons of all the different possible solutions.

For example, other ways to separate the different types of traffic would be to shift the times in which freight traffic is allowed access to urban areas (Mesken & Schoon, 2011), and to restrict the number of routes available to freight traffic (Schoon, Doumen & De Bruin, 2008).

Short-term solutions

SWOV say: "Because blind-spot crashes appear to be avoidable, and because the consequences for the casualties are often very severe, this type of crash attracts considerable media attention." But what can be done about it?

In the short term, dangerous junctions could be adapted. This can be done by installing advanced stop lines. Where necessary, cyclists can be given a separate green light, or else research from Denmark suggests that the 'bike box' should be at least five metres deep (so that lorry drivers have a direct view of any cyclists who may be waiting ahead of them).

ASLs theoretically allow cyclists to play to their strengths by normalising their practice of filtering to the head of queuing traffic during the red phase at traffic lights. Cyclists turning to the offside are able to take up a proper turning position, and straight-on cyclists can adopt and maintain a prominent position for transiting the junction safely within the main traffic stream. An ASL also helps to reduce the exposure of cyclists at junctions with nearside filter lanes by providing a place for cyclists to wait while traffic passes on the inside.

At a red light, cyclists are more visible to motorists by being in front of them. At a green light, the presence of an ASL reminds motorists to watch out for cyclists.

That's the theory, at least. Advice produced by RoSPA regarding cyclists and lorries cautions cyclists that even when a junction has an ASL, it may be better to hang back if there is a lorry present.

The bottom-line, according to a publication entitled Promotion of Cycling, is that it is vital that cyclists are visible to motorists at junctions, and also that cyclists are aware of cars.

Stressing that I am talking here about short-term solutions, another measure—which is linked to a different aspect of good cycle provision—is to make alternative cycle routes more numerous, more comfortable, easier to follow, and more convenient (by removing annoyances for cyclists, for example).

Various pictures of Cambridge by Jme (Keep Pushing Those Pedals)

As Jim from (Drawing) Rings Around The World pointed out in a recent blog entitled 'The road not taken': "I recently changed the route of my cycle commute into central London, trading a longer journey (about five minutes more) for a cleaner, safer and less stressful one. [...] Cyclists make these kinds of calculation all the time. They take quiet back streets to avoid dangerous main roads, they dismount and cross at pedestrian signals rather than try to turn right across moving traffic, and so on. There are a number of daredevils who take the most direct route to where they're going regardless of the conditions, but in my experience almost everyone who cycles accepts some kind of delay or diversion in exchange for extra safety, comfort or peace of mind."

Another measure is to increase the lorry driver’s awareness of his immediate surroundings. In the last five or six years, EU laws on mirrors have been most important in this regard. More recently still, several ‘intelligent’ blind-spot detection and warning systems have been developed. However, the practical difficulties of applying such systems are yet to be resolved (Connekt, 2010).

A system that warns the lorry driver of a cyclist in the blind-spot is possible. However, the challenge for such a system is in the timing: too soon and the driver is confronted with false alarms which he will eventually ignore; too late and there is insufficient time to react (Hoedemaeker et al., 2010).

A system that warns the cyclist, rather than the driver, is not desirable, as the cyclist has the right of way, and the driver cannot predict what the cyclist will do with the information. Moreover, the situation remains unclear for as long as such a system is not installed in all lorries. No signal could either mean that the lorry continues to go straight on, or that the lorry is not equipped with such a system.

The fact that cyclists are often unaware that a lorry intends to turn right (Schoon, Doumen & De Bruin, 2008) could be due to the fact that the indicators are often placed too far to the rear, and are therefore not visible to cyclists. Several indicators placed along the side of the cab would help to ameliorate this, though it must be emphasised that the arguments against made in the previous paragraph would still hold true.

A non-solution

Following the death of Phillipine de Gerin-Ricard, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, told the BBC: "The thing that makes cycling safe in London is when people have the confidence to do it in numbers. The more you can get on the roads, the safer it is going to be for everybody."

Fred Wegman, the Managing Director of SWOV, has written about Safety in Numbers. Herefollows an extract:

"The risk to a single cyclist is greater than the risk to a cyclist who is part of a group. The American researcher Jacobsen compared the casualties amongst cyclists in different countries, and tried to establish a relation with the amount of bicycle traffic. He concluded: “Policies that increase the numbers of people bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people bicycling”. In other words: add more cyclists to traffic and cyclist safety will increase.

"This is a popular idea among those who put effort into stimulating cycling and is therefore quoted frequently in these circles. However, I believe that this conclusion is not correct. I will try to explain why.

"If there is much cycling in a country, the risk for cyclists is indeed lower. Comparison of statistics of different countries offers conclusive evidence. The risks in countries that have a lot of cycling, like the Netherlands and Denmark, are (much) lower than in countries where cycling is a less important mode of transport. The explanation may be twofold. Firstly, there are the expectations of the other road user. If a driver does indeed expect a cyclist on the road, as is the case in the Netherlands and Denmark, the risk is lower. But a second explanation is conceivable: if there are more cyclists, safer cycling facilities will be constructed (which in turn makes cycling more pleasant).

"We have sufficient evidence that cycling facilities (like bicycle tracks) reduce the risks of cycling. Not only do the Netherlands and Denmark have a lot of cyclists, they also have a lot of cycling facilities. I do not expect that a greater number of cyclists would, on its own, result in a reduction of the risks faced by cyclists. On the other hand, I do expect that the development of more cycling facilities would lead to lower risks. Policy that focuses only on an increase in cycling—and at the same time ignores the construction of more cycling facilities—will not have a positive effect on road safety."

The 'only' solution

Mike Cavenett at the London Cycling Campaign recently wrote an article published on The Guardian blog which was entitled 'It's time for cyclists to make a stand over safety'. He said: "We believe that high-quality Dutch-style segregated tracks, along with cyclist-specific traffic lights to remove conflicts, are the only way to truly protect cyclists on the busiest streets."

Mike doesn't reference this point, but that's fair enough, because everyone is entitled to their own opinions. However, people are not entitled to their own facts, and the case is that these high-engineered solutions are not the only way to protect cyclists on the busiest streets, and nor are they even the best way to truly protect cyclists on the busiest streets.

I deplore this way of thinking, because there are reasonable solutions which the authorities should have taken years ago, and which they certainly should be taking now, but which they are held back from doing—let's be generous—because of ideological considerations.

I am looking for something much better than this from an organisation which purports to be the voice of cyclists in London. I am looking for them to:
• recognise the problems;
• find workable means to solve these problems; 
• understand the importance of prioritisation and order of precedence; 
• gather together all relevant information;
• interpret the data, appraise the evidence and evaluate the arguments; 
• use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment; and
• draw warranted conclusions and generalisations.
Critical thinking, in other words. Instead of which, they present us with an idea which obviously has its merits—though it is assuredly difficult to deliver—but at the same time, they stand in opposition to a solution which is regarded as "a prudent course to follow", simply because one part of it is, by necessity, far from perfect.

According to Wikipedia, "It is common for arguments which commit this fallacy to omit any specifics about exactly how, or how badly, a proposed solution is claimed to fall short of acceptability, expressing the rejection in vague terms only."

Thus, we hear from the LCC that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network introduced to a minimum level of functioning would do NOTHING to improve the safety of cyclists. But that's about the extent of their criticism. It wouldn't make any difference, they claim: need they say more?

The Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide published by the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand says on page 31 that cycling through a junction on the roadway is generally safer than from a path. Unfortunately, they don't reference this point either, and as far as I have been able to establish from Google, this is an argument which is almost exclusively propounded by vehicular cyclists.

I have taken on board the arguments laid down in a wiki article published by the Cycling Embassy, which counters claims that cycle paths are dangerous where they cross junctions. (In the case of Figures B and C above, it is sometimes the case that drivers fail to appreciate that the cycleways are two-way, and are therefore not looking out for cyclists approaching the junction from the other direction.) Even so, the fact remains, to quote Cycling: the way ahead: "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."

Understanding the importance of prioritisation and order of precedence

If the LCC's primary concern is to improve the safety of existing cyclists—as much as possible, I mean, and as quickly as possible—if it isn't, then why not?—they shouldn't solely be focusing on a strategy which is unlikely to deliver any significant benefits until the medium-term at the absolute earliest.

I am specifically not saying that developing parts of the network shouldn't be done to the highest standards. Furthermore, it is absolutely right that people should continue to speak out for best practice, and offer constructive criticism where necessary. But a demand for good quality infrastructure is one thing, and one thing only, and ought not to be allowed to hinder the "introduction" of the whole of the network.

As Danny Williams from Cyclists in the City has recently made clear: "You need to invest and you need to sustain investment, not just do a bit here and there when it pleases you." I very much hope it goes without saying that this programme of sustained investment would be most effective within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network.

If the LCC's primary concern is to increase the number of people who cycle—if it is, then why?—there is a significant number of potential cyclists—perhaps around 7% of the population—who are very likely to respond well to a 'network first' approach.

With a few notable exceptions, the cycling population of most UK towns and cities is about 2-3%. Something approaching 1% of these belong to a group identified as The Strong and Fearless (they cycle regardless of the road conditions). In London, the Mayor has set a target to deliver a 5% mode share for cycling by 2026. Reaching this target should be as easy as winking, and this done, and with a functioning cycle network in place, we would then be in a much stronger position to kick on around the final bend, so to speak, and make our way confidently down the home stretch. This is not what the LCC have in mind, however. They expect us to be able to turn up on the day of the race, as it were, fat and wheezing from years and years of inactivity, and then, like some modern-day Hippomenes, deceive their one true love into embracing them by throwing three golden apples into her path.

So much of good cycle advocacy, it must be said, is about the pursuit of authenticity, immediacy and honesty. It has very little, if anything, to do with easy answers to difficult questions.

The real reason for cycleways

In a timely article written on the Green Lane Project blog, Michael Andersen asks: "What if bike designers, instead of arguing about safety—an argument that, to be clear, I think protected bike lanes would win—decided that the most important measure of a good bikeway is whether people tend to like it?"

He continues: "I'm not arguing that safety is unimportant. [...] But when professionals make safety their only absolute value, they presume that physical safety is the most important value in people's lives. And that assumption is demonstrably false. Of course people want safety. But they want other things, too."

The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London says that only one cycle journey in every 328,000 ended in serious injury in 2011, and the odds of being killed were 11 million to one. "On a strict average, you would have to cycle in London every day for 900 years to come to serious harm."

Even so, as Rachel Aldred points out: "Disproportionate injury risks are a social justice issue: London cyclists face a 30 times higher KSI (killed & seriously injured) risk per km than car travellers (the Dutch ratio is 4:1)."

To be fair, the Mayor's Vision acknowledges that fear of injury is the number one reason why Londoners do not cycle. It is clearly not enough, the Vision also recognises, that cycling is statistically safe; it must also be perceived to be subjectively safe.

Anyway, engendering a feeling of subjective safety is the reason why, at the Green Lane Project, they use the phrase 'low-stress' to describe the bike networks they value most. They don't talk about building 'safer bike lanes', though ultimately, of course, a good network would make cycling safer. They simply talk about building 'better bike lanes'.

"People aren't robots," Michael points out, "and they don't change their behaviour based on mathematics. They change their behaviour based on feelings."


"Collisions between right-turning lorries and cyclists continue to happen, despite various measures to enlarge the lorry driver’s field of vision, and despite efforts to increase the awareness of cyclists by means of public information campaigns. The number of crashes of this kind could be reduced by creating a separate infrastructure for lorriesHowever, this far-reaching measure still requires research.

"In the meantime it will be necessary to reduce the number of crashes by other means, such as infrastructural measures at junctions and a permanent public information campaign about a code of behaviour for cyclists. Other possible new developments for reducing the number of blind-spot crashes include technical facilities to aid the lorry driver."

The information in this article is largely based on two SWOV factsheets: The Way to Safer Cycling and Blind-spot crashes.

Monday 12 August 2013

The Cobra Effect

The Cobra Effect arises when an attempted solution to a problem actually makes the problem worse.

As the story goes, the British colonial government in India had become concerned by the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi, and offered a bounty for every dead cobra they received.

Initially this strategy was a success, as significant numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, the government became aware that a large number of "enterprising" persons had been breeding the cobras, solely for the purpose of claiming the bounty. The reward program was therefore quickly scrapped.

And so the snakes—now worthless—were set free, as a result of which the cobra menace in Delhi worsened by several orders of magnitude.

* * *

This is an instance of 'unintended consequences', a concept which was popularised in the twentieth century by the socialologist Robert K. Merton.

In a paper entitled The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action, Merton attempted to apply a systematic analysis to the problem of unintended consequences, and suggested that possible causes include the world's inherent complexity, perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception, failure to account of human nature, or other cognitive or emotional biases.

Unintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:

i. A positive, unexpected benefit: For example, the medieval policy of setting up large hunting reserves for the nobility has allowed the preservation of many green spaces throughout London and elsewhere. Likewise, the Korean Demilitarised Zone has created a large natural habitat.

ii. A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy: For example, in 1990 the Australian state of Victoria made safety helmets mandatory for all bicycle riders, and as a result, the number of cyclists fell. Thus, whilst there was indeed a reduction in the number of head injuries—in part because there were fewer cyclists—fewer cyclists leads to fewer injuries—a health benefit model developed at Macquarie University in Sydney suggested that the decrease in exercise caused by reduced cycling as a result of the helmet law was counter-productive in terms of net health.

iii. A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended: For example, Theobald Mathew's temperance campaign in 19th century Ireland—in which thousands of people vowed never to drink alcohol again—led those who sought to become intoxicated, without breaking the letter of their pledge, to consume diethyl ether.

* * *

Following the recent death Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, her mother told the BBC: "In situations like this, people always say they will do something. We will do something. I would like to see a deadline, so things change, so no other family goes through what I am going through. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, not even my very worst enemy."

Whitechapel Road near the junction with Vallance Road, 2013
Photo credit: Google StreetView

The cycle route which runs along the length of Whitechapel Road / Mile End Road / Bow Road is currently identified as CS2, but it used to be LCN+ Route 194, and before that, LCN Route 11. It is even marked in the LCN 2002 map as a "Cycle route, with route number".

The blue routes indicate a "Cycle route, with route number". Comparatively,
the routes coded in pink show a "Part-completed cycle route", and the
routes coded in yellow show a "Proposed cycle route."

What does it mean, a "Cycle route, with route number"? If the photo below is anything to go by, not very much at all.

Whitechapel Road near the junction with Vallance Road, 2008
Photo credit: Diamond Geezer

If this is an acceptable standard for cycle routes on the LCN, then why not just go ahead and get all of the network up and running? No seriously, why not?

"Most new ideas," said Hayden Phillips recently in The Times, "can be stopped in their tracks by deploying one, or sometimes both, of two arguments: 'the thin end of the wedge' and 'the time is not ripe'."

For the London Cycling Campaign and its supporters it's always 'the time is not ripe'. Always. For them, there is always something else much more important to be done, and this would be diminished in some way—not enhanced—if a 'network first' approach was pursued.

In February 2006, for example, the Borough Cycling Officers' Group reaffirmed their interest in a comprehensive but low-engineered cycle network. This information was passed on to TfL.

Four months later a senior TfL officer met with the LCC to discuss this proposal. They "advised that their priority is for TfL and the boroughs to complete the LCN+ by 2009/10."

This was further clarified in an email dated 31 July 2006: "I believe the reason why Simon Brammer at LCC did not ask their Planning & Engineering Committee to look at Simon Parker's proposal for a wider network was due to LCC's view that the first priority should be completion of LCN+. LCC's concern is that a wider network could (a) divert borough and TfL engineering and planning resources from LCN+ completion by 2009/10 and (b) divert financial resources."

The upshot of this was that in light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign, TfL could not proceed with evaluating the case for my proposal.

* * *

It is worth taking a moment to consider the LCN+. In 2001, the LCC persuaded Ken Livingstone to abandon the original LCN. The details of this were announced in a paper entitled ‘Review of Provision for Walking, Cycling and Area Based Schemes’ and dated 5th February 2002: "There will be a change of approach in taking forward the London Cycle Network based on a slimmed-down network focused on direct, high demand, high quality routes reflecting key strategic commuter routes. The revised network will be re-branded as LCN+. It is estimated that the LCN+ network will be about one-third of the length of the planned full LCN."

Google Maps fall down if there is too much route information, and in the case of the map 
above, not all of the LCN+ routes are displayed. Actually, there is not that much 
missing—just a few bits here and there—so this map does give you a fair idea of the 
extent of the network. If you are interested to see all of the routes, please click here.  

By 2005, however, it had become obvious that unless there was a change of gear in delivering the network, it may not be completed until at least 2016—seven years behind schedule.

An investigation led by Darren Johnson remarked: "Progress of the network is not measured by how cyclists can get from one place to another along a completed route, but by the length of route completed. Over-emphasis on completing easy sections has created a piecemeal network."

"A key part of the change from LCN to LCN+," Ralph Smyth noted, "is the use of Cycle Route Inspection Meetings ('CRIMs'), bringing together engineers, cycle campaigners and other representatives, such as from bus companies. These are followed by a Cycle Route Implementation and Stakeholder Plan ('CRISP')."

As reported on, a lot of money was spent on the LCN+, but to very little practical effect. Presumably this prompted a senior LCC member to comment, with a shudder: "One of these days people are going to ask for their money back."
* * *

After a suggestion from David Hembrow that the last thirty-five years of campaigning in London have been wasted, David Arditti responded: "We have a lot that we did not have when the campaign began. Physically, one can point to some of the better pieces of infrastructure, like Camden's Somers Town Route and Bloomsbury cycle track, and Cycle Superhighway 3 in East London, and smaller features like safe bike crossings of major roads and junctions at Hyde Park Corner, Bayswater Road, Knightsbridge, Swiss Cottage, Strand, and other places, and allowed cycling paths through the Royal Parks, all features used by thousands of cyclists every day. We had none of this 35 years ago. It's all been achieved by campaigning."

Even if we accept that this little list was all achieved by campaigning—I don't, by the way, and since David has asserted it, the onus is on him to prove it, and not on me to disprove it—I acknowledge that the cycle crossing into Hyde Park from Knightsbridge was an early LCC success, and that the Somers Town route and Bloomsbury cycle track were delivered in large part thanks to the efforts of a few individuals within Camden Cycling Campaign, but not the rest, not without some proof at any rate—even if, as I was saying, we accept this list fairly reflects the fruits of the LCC's labour, it's still astonishingly mediocre.

More than this, it's just bits and pieces. More than this, it's all LCN stuff. David Arditti wasn't able to point to a single example of the LCN+ working well. I'm with David Hembrow on this one: "Many years, no progress, repeating the same things."

* * *

"The productive way," says David Arditti, "is to start by implementing small bits of the network to a high standard, to what you want as the final standard, if possible, so everyone can see the way forward, leaving gaps where there is no implementation (but the roads have not been left worse than they were before the network was defined)."

Gulp. Leave gaps in the network, was that? Well yes. If those gaps were filled (with temporary measures, say), "it would undermine the campaign because it would turn existing cyclists away from the whole idea of campaigning for separation from motor vehicles." And besides, in developing a network to the point where it functions, there would be "no real safety increase, but money is spent and political capital wasted."

As has been noted: "A perennial problem in cycle route network planning is the reliance on bright ideas and pet projects that may not have been critically evaluated for usefulness and value for money."

For David, the big issue is that attempts to develop a cycle network in London "never tackled the issue of subjective safety, and that is why they failed." A lot of his thinking about cycling in UK towns and cities appears to be informed by this premise.

For me, however, the main problem is that the cycle network was never properly planned and then made to function. Rather than develop a cycle network one piece at a time therefore—beginning with an improvement to a dangerous junction here, and then, say, an extension to an existing cycle route over there, and so on, all the way through literally thousands of changes—and doing nothing at all in between places—because, because, because—Cycling: the way ahead points out that the network "can be introduced on the basis of an overall plan (preliminary plan)".

That is to say: "All the installation measures which call for little planning 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."

It continues: "Even if the impact of such measures is not massive, it will be real."

David disputes this. He writes: "Defining the network and then putting crap implementations [i.e. 'soft' measures] on parts of it (which is in fact the CSH and generally was the LCN approach) is actually counterproductive, undermines the whole campaign, and is in no way a step forward."

* * *

Since David mentions the Cycle Superhighways, let us briefly consider them.

To see a map showing the LCN+ / CS routes combined, please click here

The map above shows all of the CS routes which were not part of the LCN+. Only one of the four routes which have thus far been delivered—CS7, from Morden as far as the Elephant & Castle—is genuinely new.

CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5, CS8 and CS9 were originally proposed as part of the LCN+, and CS2, CS3 and CS9 were originally proposed as part of the LCN. So some of these routes have been a very long time in the planning.

With the exception of CS3—which used to be LCN15 / LCN13—all of the CS routes installed to date function at a minimum level.

David says: "The counterproductive way is to try to bring the network all up in standard in one go, in one phase, but do everything badly."

Of course, I am not proposing that everything be done badly, and in suggesting otherwise, David is simply throwing shit at this strategy in the hope that some of it might stick. The idea is to do as much as possible as quickly as possible with a view to getting the network to function, and thereafter to develop it further "on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable".

* * *

After Boris Johnson promised to meet the three key tests of the LCC's Go Dutch campaign, Ashok Sinha spoke of his delight at the Mayor's commitment "to learn from the successful Dutch model". It’s fantastic news, he added.

The three key tests are:
  1. Implement three flagship Love London, Go Dutch developments on major streets and/or locations. 
  2. Make sure all planned developments on the TLRN are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions. 
  3. Make sure the Cycle Superhighways programme is completed to Love London, Go Dutch standards.
If these 'tests' have anything at all to do with "the constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy", then I'm a purple-sprouting broccoli.

         Spot the differences? One of the main ones is actually the build costs.
         Photo credit: Crossrider

David Arditti reports that at the recent Cycle City Expo conference in Birmingham, there was a very interesting session in which Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy gave a talk. More or less the last thing he said was that in planning for cycling, the critical thing is to design your network correctly. Everything else, he said, is trivial.

David interpreted this to mean that once you have decided on "your basic repertoire of designs, your units of the network, your standardised way of treating main roads and junctions, all you have to think about is an optimised network."

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the LCN+ was "an optimised network" (in the sense that it was "big enough", and the routes were "sensible and direct enough"), it is noteworthy that the LCN+ was characterised by:
A socially inclusive cycling environment where quality standards are maintained by applying the TfL London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS)
Routes that are continuous, safe and comfortable with minimal delays.
Clear guidance using surface treatment and road markings where there is a potential conflict between cyclists and other road users.

Now, David might very well argue that the "quality standards" set by TfL were not high enough, but actually, that is completely beside the point. The point is that, according to David, you would use those standards—whatever they are—"as a bricklayer building a house from a plan works with standard bricks and blocks".

In the case of the LCN+, that clearly did not happen. And if David is suggesting that we repeat the LCN+ experiment—except with a better-designed network and much-improved standards—then, as defined by Einstein, it would be "insanity" to expect a different result.

At the beginning of 2012, I wrote to David and made the point to him that he hadn't provided me with one shred of evidence to counter Dekoster and Schollaert's claim that the level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow.

He replied: "What Dekoster and Schollaert meant by this "minimum level of functioning" I can't tell for certain, as I haven't talked to them. But I think this a problem of the concept getting lost in translation. They are Dutch (or Belgian), so I think what they meant was a fully segregated, or almost fully segregated, cycle network, with all the necessary links safely working. Maybe some bits a bit too narrow, too slow, indirect, or quality not great, but the required subjective safety at every point. So nothing like LCN, LCN+, the Superhighways, or anything else in the UK."

I haven't spoken to them either, but given that they were talking about where to begin, and not about where to end up, I'll bet anyone a pound to a pinch of dust that when they talk about a minimum level of functioning, they mean a minimum level of functioning.

* * *

Chris Mason from Bristol was also at the Cycle City Expo conference, and he recalls a presentation given by some consultants who had come up with a convoluted way to direct cyclists around a junction. "This had proved very complex," Chris explains, "and the consultants couldn’t understand why cyclists didn’t use the new off-road routes. Diepens chipped in with a classic piece of Dutch wisdom which amounted to—Why don’t you just make it quicker and easier for cyclists? Then you won’t need these complicated signs that nobody obeys."

That is to say, routes need to be meaningful and direct before they are anything else, otherwise they won't get used. Identifying routes which are meaningful and direct is something that can only be done during the planning phase, and making them safe and comfortable is something that can only be done during the development phase.

* * *

On 15th June 2006 Simon Brammer wrote to me as follows: "We have asked our Cycle Planning and Engineering Committee to have a look at [your] proposal, but only in relation to your recommendations for coloured signage."

         The map on the left (mine) is dated August 2005. The map on the right (LCC's)
         is dated March 2010. I put east-west routes in red because the sun rises in the
         east and sets in the west, and north-south routes in blue because blue is a cold
         colour and the North and South Poles are cold places. Very cleverly, the LCC
         took this idea, turned it on its head, and then claimed the credit.

"In terms of routes," Simon Brammer added, "there has already been significant investment in these and LCC has no plans to challenge these. This is a matter that you would need to take up with the LCN+ team."

Map showing selected LCN routes abandoned when the LCN+ was launched.
To see a map showing these routes plus the LCN+ / CS routes combined, please click here

More recently Danny Williams has written: "Let's look at Cheapside by way of an example of what's going wrong in the City."

"Would you ever let a child cycle on this road if it was open to motor-
traffic? The painted cycle sign is absolutely useless. There is no
excuse for not providing a proper continuous segregated cycle lane here."
Words by George Johnston. Photo by Mark Treasure.

* * *

Another good example of this sort of problem is Lancaster, which, as Dave Horton reports, used to be a Cycling Demonstration Town.

I left a comment on his blog to say that with a similar budget, and over a similar timescale, several German towns and cities were enabled to “introduce” an entire pro-cycling policy (network, information and promotion). (This was reported in Cycling: the way ahead, so I guess this would have been back in the 1990s some time.) I made the point that if we were to visit those same towns now, I have no doubt that their cycling environment would have come on in leaps and bounds.

Dave responded by saying that "similar seeds were sown" in Lancaster, except that, for various reasons, they "withered and died" here, but were "cultivated and thrived" in Germany.

But were they, in fact, similar seeds? No, they were not. According to Dave's own testimony: "The project’s goal to enable more short trips to be made by bike very quickly got transformed (because it is easier to do) into a focus on making the district a more attractive cycling destination (i.e. the project became about using cycling to sell the area as a tourist destination, much more than about doing the difficult things required to get local people cycling)."

Thus: "It’s certainly true that the off-road routes tend to be seen as, and to act as, the centre-pieces of our local cycling network; but they obviously don’t constitute a network."

And now, sadly, the fact that Lancaster ever was a Cycling Demonstration Town is being erased. "Why?" Dave asks. "Are we embarrassed that we might once have celebrated cycling, and imagined things could be different? Or was cycling’s celebration only a momentary blip for so long as the money lasted, and we’re now back to business- (and motoring-) as-usual?

"And who is responsible for this local institutional erasure of cycling? Central government pulled the plug prematurely on what always needed to be a long-term process. Local government was unable to develop and institute effective strategies to support cycling once centralised funding ended. Also, what seems an obvious prerequisite for long-term success—the development of broad and deep civil society support for cycling through building links at a grassroots level—was never an important objective of the Cycling Demonstration Towns project."

When I look at those routes which used to be part of the LCN+, I see similar evidence of erasure. In the case of Tottenham Court Road, the cycle route was never even made to function in both directions. Hardly surprising then that within a couple of years of the LCN+ programme drawing to a close, a gilt-edged opportunity to develop a more permanent solution ended up not being taken. This had precisely nothing to do with funding, by the way, and everything to do with planning, and the political will to see those plans through.

I had two big problems with the LCN+. Firstly, it didn't seem to me to be at all necessary to abandon two-thirds of the LCN simply in order to create a slimmed-down 'spine' network of cycle priority routes. Secondly, it was abundantly obvious that the complicated engineering works that were a necessary feature of the LCN+ would take time to deliver.

On 26th August 2004, I wrote to Ken Livingstone reminding him of this. "Whilst this process is ongoing," I continued, "it ought to be remembered that there are already 650,000 cyclists in London, and their needs are more pressing than the needs of would-be or might-do cyclists. So perhaps it would be more prudent to sort out a network that would be useful to existing cyclists first."

Nine years later, and there are surprisingly few advocates of cycling who think this is a point worth making.

* * *


* * *

Immediately following the death of Phillipine de Gerin-Ricard, Andrew Gilligan pointed out: "Changes to something as complicated as the road network have to be thought through; they cannot happen overnight, or even in the four months since the launch of the Vision. The worst outcome would be a botched instant solution which actually made things more dangerous."

The worst outcome? Worse than what? Worse than a young woman losing her life? No, come on.

Nobody is suggesting that changes can happen overnight—not even cycling's lunatic fringe—but where is the urgency? Awake, Samson, get up from thy bed! The Philistines be upon thee!

In February 2012 TfL launched their Better Junctions Review. They completed their initial review in July 2012, and based on such indicators as user feedback, cyclist numbers and collision data, they were enabled to identify their "100 priority locations". This included the Aldgate Gyratory and Whitechapel Road / Vallance Road, plus the section in between.

That was a year ago. Then what happened? According to the LCC, "Both the London Cycling Campaign and the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, have rejected proposals put forward by Transport for London to improve [this junction] because they haven't been good enough."

So that's like, what? Good enough never is? I wrote to the Mayor on 4 December 2012, and quoted from a Robert Peston report (which I know the Mayor heard, since he was asked to comment about it immediately afterwards). "True risk taking," Robert Peston said, "is about analysing risks with great care but to a tight timetable. It's not about ignoring risks."

I concluded my email by quoting Churchill: "The maxim, 'Nothing but perfection', may be spelled, 'Paralysis'."

* * *

There is absolutely no dispute from this blog that the development of more permanent solutions is going to take relatively a long time. My question is: what should be done until then?

In Holland, the cycle networks are developed around a combination of main road routes (treated) and back street routes (traffic-calmed). So it's not a case of one or the other, but a combination of the both, and then let users decide which route suits them best.

In London, cyclists effectively have "no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions", whereas in the Netherlands, they have two choices: they can either avoid the junction altogether, or they can cycle through the junction using well-designed facilities.

Until such time as the latter option is available, what should be done? Having identified all of the "dangerous connections", do you then show them, in their place, on a cycle network map? Do you show all of the alternative routes, so people can make their own mind up about how best to get from A to B? Do you invite experts to come and speak to you, and to address you at your conferences, and then do the exact opposite of what they say? No? So what do you do then?