Sunday 19 January 2014

Route selection

I have enjoyed Mark Ames' little season of Friday TED talks. To accompany Sir Tim Berners-Lee's presentation on raw data, Mark wrote:
Once upon a time, roads might have been built speculatively, or bike lanes installed where it seemed a good idea, rather than where there was a real need. We now live in a new age of "big data", where numbers can become the foundation of more successful solutions.
And then this caught my attention from Mia Birk's presentation on riding a bike in Portland:
If we plan and build our cities around driving, then that's what we'll do. If we plan and build around bicycling and walking—and then encourage people to do so in ways that are meaningful to their lives—then that's what we'll do.
All of this put me in mind of something documented by Chris Mason from Bristol. He reported on a presentation given by Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, in which it was noted that consultants had devised this somewhat convoluted way to direct cyclists around a junction, and were surprised that cyclists were not using it.

So, Johan said—employing what Chris felt was impeccable Dutch logic—develop routes which are meaningful and direct, and then there won't be any need for a complicated arrangement of signs (which most people will ignore in any case).

This led me to consider a comment made by Danny Williams from Cyclists in the City, who pointed out in one of his blogs that some of Westminster's cycle network must have been designed by a drunken spider. Indeed. But in this instance, is it in fact the case that the spider is being entirely irrational?
Surely the course of this route has largely been influenced by Motion 3. This means to say, because Westminster do not feel it is appropriate to install protected cycleways along the length of this route at this stage, and because the London Cycling Campaign do not accept the "prudence" of "introducing" a network to the point where it functions—yes, at a minimum level to begin with—not everywhere, of course, but here and there, certainly—then what we end up with is a higgledy-piggledy compromise.

This has to be regarded as a contravention of Motion 5, which says that:
Network elements must not be such as to involve a trade-off between safety and convenience; in other words, cyclists wanting the safest journey should not be forced to use a less convenient or slower route, or a route having lower priority, because the most convenient, fastest, or most prioritised route is engineered to a lower safety standard.
I have said before that 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.

This has never been refuted, but I have learned that in the world of cycling advocacy, this doesn't make as much difference to the way people think about things as might well be the case in other areas of human endeavour. Even so, it would be astonishing to imagine that anyone could seriously believe it is not necessary to prioritise between the various network elements.

Green < 1000; light blue < 1500; dark blue < 2000; yellow < 3000; orange < 4000; red > 4000
Full-size map available here

As you can see from the map above, the proposed central London bike grid (marked in black) avoids Bank junction entirely; the links between Aldgate junction and the rest of the network are incoherent and meaningless; there are some routes which are very popular with cyclists that have not been included as part of the network; and that's not everything.

Full-size map available here

Remembering Mia Birk's exhortation that we must plan and build for the bicycle in ways that are meaningful to people's lives, what meaning should we attach to a route that adds nearly half-a-mile to a crosstown journey?

* * *

It is fair to say, as the Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide points out: “Alternative routes merely supplement the main road routes, and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.” Even so, evidence from the Netherlands suggests that cyclists "often prefer a quiet residential street to an autonomous bicycle path alongside busy traffic arteries" (source).

Certainly I do not believe that Dutch cyclists are any different to British cyclists in this regard. Indeed, as Rachel Aldred noted during her testimony to the GLA's Investigation into Cycling, TfL advertising campaigns on cycling—which Rachel was sure had been well researched—show that what people want is to be able to cycle in pleasant conditions, away from lots of motor traffic. "And so we need to replicate those kinds of conditions where possible," she added.

Recently, Andrew Gilligan appeared on a BBC radio documentary entitled Right of Way: cycling and the city (presented by Dr Kevin Fong). Here is an excerpt:
[London hasn't] got some of the advantages that other cities have got. Unlike Paris, London was not completely rebuilt in the late nineteenth century; unlike New York, it was not built from scratch in the late nineteenth century: it's largely a pre-nineteenth century street pattern. But what we have got is this kind of matchless network of side streets, parks, routes [alongside] canals. Those are the roads I tend to use. 
My last blog included a series of maps which showed all of the back street routes and all of the routes through parks which feature in my proposed design (regardless of whether or not these routes are currently functional), together with all of the main road routes which are planned to be included as part of the central London bike grid. The total length of these various routes amounts to about 220 miles.

Not shown were those main road routes (i.e. the A roads) which feature in my proposed design but which do not feature in the central London bike grid. The total length of these routes amounts to about 34 miles.

Before I show you some maps, I just want to emphasise that the latest version of my proposed design is just that: the latest version. Things can be changed around, new routes can be added, proposed routes can take a different course, nothing is set in stone.

Another thing to say is that I am human too: I make mistakes the same as everybody else. And because no one gives me any feedback particularly, it's left up to me to scrutinise my own work.

Red: LCN routes Green: LCN+ routes Blue: CSH routes Orange: Proposed routes
Full-size map available here

The map above shows routes that feature in my proposed design, but which do not feature in the proposed central London bike grid.

The red-coloured routes depict old LCN routes. Most of these routes appear now to have been discontinued, but one lingers on in the form of CSH9.

There are a couple of very important LCN routes which have not been included in my proposed design: LCN9 from Shoreditch down to Monument, and LCN11 / LCN40 from Aldgate to Holborn Circus (via Bank). More on that another time.

Full-size map available here

The orange-coloured routes from the previous map have been reproduced in the map above. Those sections which are not currently functional are shown in red.

* * *

One of the things that struck me about the radio documentary was that Andrew Gilligan and Kevin Fong (who recently presented the Channel 4 series Extreme A&E) seemed to have very slightly different ideas as to what was most important.

This is what Andrew Gilligan said: "We have to tackle two issues which restrain cycling: there is actual safety, and there is perceived safety. They're both serious problems. I would say they're equally serious."

And this is what Kevin Fong said: "The highest priority is to avoid preventable deaths."

That I not be accused of selectively quoting Mr Gilligan, he went on to say:
I think perceptions of safety are as important an issue for us as actual safety. As I say, I think actual safety is an incredibly important issue, and we absolutely don't neglect it. But I think perceived safety is also tremendously important, and the danger to my mind is that people are being unnecessarily scared away from what is actually a health- and life-giving pursuit. We know that regular cyclists have the fitness on average of someone at least ten years younger [etc, etc], so cycling is far more likely to prolong your life than it is end it, and it is far more likely to improve your health than it is harm it, and I'm concerned that this health- and life-giving activity is being damaged unnecessarily by an unsophisticated interpretation of statistics, and also by, kind of, the understandable tendency to take dramatic but exceptional incidents as representative of the whole. 
Interestingly, Andrew Gilligan told the Transport Select Committee that perceptions are much less in TfL's control, than are, for instance, the physical state of the roads. "We can do something about the roads," he said, "but perceptions are largely in control of others, such as the media and cycle campaigners." So why not do something about the roads? H.G. Wells noted, "A newspaper is a device incapable of distinguishing between a bicycle accident and the end of civilisation." So why not do something about the roads?

I wrote in my blog, Safety: a responsibility:
Providing for the safety of cyclists is a necessary prerequisite of any policy which seeks to promote cycling as a daily mode of transport. 
A large number of potential cyclists are already thinking about cycling today, but before they get back into their saddles, they want to see some movement from the public authorities: a message, perhaps, along the lines of: "It’s safe to ride a bike, and it's going to get safer—your area authority know what needs to be done, and is now taking care of it."
That was adapted from Cycling: the way ahead, and the very clear message is that if the authorities started doing something about the roads, the perceptions would take care of themselves.

This is from the Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide:
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.
Another thing to report from the radio documentary is that Andrew Gilligan did that thing again where he takes the statistics from a single year (2002) and then compares it with the statistics from another single year (2012), and deduces from this that there has been "a dramatic improvement in the fatality rate." (Presumably this is what he would call a "sophisticated" interpretation of statistics.) Interestingly, had he used statistics from ten years ago, instead of from twelve years ago, he would have reached a starkly different conclusion.

Anyway, he was asked to explain why cycling is now "dramatically safer". He replied:
I think because there are more cyclists on the roads. I think drivers have become more habituated to them, and I genuinely do think there is Safety in Numbers.
The crazy thing is, as the map below shows, many of the roads that cyclists are currently using in large numbers have not been incorporated into the plan of the central London bike grid.

Green < 1000; light blue < 1500; dark blue < 2000; yellow < 3000; orange < 4000; red > 4000
Full-size map available here

If Andrew Gilligan is right to warn against unnecessarily scaring people away from what is actually a health- and life-giving pursuit, and if he is right about Safety in Numbers, then why are so many strategically important main roads missing from the plan of the central London bike grid?

Closing Remarks

Thinking about the most recent of Mark Ames' Friday TED talks, I wondered how Jason Roberts would set about developing a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network ...

Then I thought that this "minimum functioning" approach would never work here, what with our culture of "elf and safety" an' all. But then I remembered that a consortium of five boroughs had sought to test this strategy back in 2003 and then again in 2006, so maybe there is no reason to give up hope just yet.

The BBC radio documentary, Cycling and the City, finished very strongly, I thought. This is how the programme's presenter brought everything to a close:
There is without doubt more to gain than there is to be lost in encouraging people to cycle. And Andrew Gilligan's right about perception. But this all boils down to quality: the quality of the debate, the quality of the data, the quality of our interventions and our ability to know that they are working. The deaths on our roads are always tragic, but the avoidable deaths are simply scandalous, and we'd do well to know the difference between the two; we'd do well to know what was working and why. All of that has to improve together if we're to realise our ambitions in giving people the confidence to cycle in our cities that they deserve. 
It seems to me that if we really are to improve the quality of the debate regarding the long-term development of an amenable cycling environment, then we need to start discussing realistic ways of treating the functioning parts of the network (bearing in mind that the Dutch, for example, think about these things in twenty-year cycles).

Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) has said: "Done is better than perfect." Is she wrong?

Saturday 11 January 2014

A post full of maps

"Remember who we're doing this for," David Hembrow pronounced not so long ago, echoing the London Cycling Campaign's view that the routes on the recently-proposed central London bike grid "must be just as suitable for children, inexperienced cyclists and disabled cyclists as they are for faster commuter cyclists".

Okay, so obviously I'm being a bit dense here—obviously—but is it in fact the case that the people we're not doing this for, to quote Cycling: the way ahead, is "the mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again"?

"We are convinced," says the London Cycling Campaign, "it would be a mistake for the quality of any elements of the network—for example, the Superhighways or the Quietways—to be designed in a way that makes them less suitable for any type of cyclists [sic]."

A man on a Boris bike is heading the 'wrong way' down Brick Lane

Look out, Mister! There are two policemen heading towards you!

Perhaps the law-breaking eco-tosser is going to return the hire bike at
that there station?

No, along the road he continues, to the complete indifference of
absolutely everyone.

The problem with Brick Lane—as with many roads in London—is not safety, but access. To give you another example, you can see what I mean with this little animation sequence (also from Google StreetView).

Ennismore Gardens Mews
In a very long and detailed publication entitled Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide (reported here), four points stood out for me personally:
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. 
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.

To my mind, how you respond to the second point gives a fair indication as to where your priorities lie.

* * *

Enough about all that. Let's have a look at some maps.

Full-size map available here

The map above shows all of those bits of route which I have not been able to incorporate into my proposed design for a denser, more coherent and easier-to-understand network.

The red-coloured routes are old LCN routes. Obviously I have known about these routes for a long time. Indeed, I have cycled them all. But—and this is a point I may need to come back to—the routes on my proposed network are primarily intended to provide for strategic journeys.

For want of a better definition, a strategic journey goes from one borough to another borough (let's say). If the route starts and ends within the same borough, it almost certainly has value locally. However, this does not automatically mean that it has value strategically. For that to be true, it must connect with other routes in a coherent and self-consistent way.

Many of these red-coloured routes do exactly that. It is a shortcoming of my signing strategy, therefore, that I am not able to assign a 'compass colour' to every section of route that I would like to (without unduly cluttering up the map, that is). This said, it still ought to be possible for these sections of route to be shown on the map in some way, and for them to be waymarked on the ground in some way.

The purple-coloured routes effectively duplicate alternative routes—routes which I think are faster or which provide better access to important destinations, and which are not so very dangerous. Bottom line, of course, is that if the boroughs / TfL insist on their route choice, then I can change things around, no problem at all.

The orange-coloured routes did not feature in the original LCN, although some of them are familiar to me from borough cycling maps and the more recent London Cycle Guides.

Full-size map available here

The map above shows all of the non-functioning bits of my proposed network design (not including the two circular routes) which do not feature in the central London bike grid.

You can see on the right-hand side of the map that I have highlighted a route in light-blue. Another advantage of the 'network first' approach is that it enables people to see how individual schemes connect to a larger whole. I don't know for certain, but I imagine that, in isolation, making Brick Lane two-way for cyclists, say, might be relatively quite a difficult thing to do. Show people how this scheme would fit in with everything else, however, show them the bigger picture, and they are much more likely to take a broader perspective.

If it is not abundantly clear already, sorting out these non-functioning bits would very much be my priority (if it was up to me). Once the network had been "introduced" and made to work, I would then set about making it available to a much wider section of the population, "on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable".

Full-size map available here

The map above shows all of the red-coloured routes in my proposed design, minus those main road routes which do not feature in the central London bike grid. (Note: this map and the ones that follow are not in any way concerned with 'functionality'.)

Full-size map available here

The orange-coloured routes ...

Full-size map available here

The green-coloured routes ...

Full-size map available here

The dark blue-coloured routes ...

Full-size map available here

The light blue-coloured routes ...

To remind you, these maps omit to show those main road routes which feature in my proposed design but which do not feature in the design for the central London bike grid.

How much of a problem that is I will consider in my next blogpost.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Unpublished comment

During a recent debate on David Hembrow's blog—a debate which ultimately proved to be very unsatisfying for me personally—I was variously accused of the following:
• that I don't like thinking long-term;
• that I object to having both sufficient density and quality in the network;
• that my contributions to the debate are "entirely negative";
• that I am arguing for a continuation of the status quo;
• that I excuse failure; and
• that I beat around the bush.
In addition, it was suggested that a metropolis the size of London doesn't need decent network mapping, and that my thought otherwise is "part of the issue" I have with "decent infrastructure".

On top of all of this, I was then refused the right of reply, in the sense that David Hembrow declined to publish my last comment. As the man who saw a distant waterway must once have said: Far canal!

Here is a flavour of the debate between us:
Me: I can't even be certain why we are having this debate. There is only one publication out of Europe to answer the question 'How to begin?', and my opinions are largely informed by this work. If you disagree with the views expressed therein, then why not falsify them?
I am only talking about "doing less" as a means to an end. "The level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow," says Cycling: the way ahead. Are you suggesting this is incorrect? Do you wish to falsify this?
David: Cycling: the way ahead is the result of a committee. It doesn't come from the leading cycling nation in Europe, but from "Europe" as a whole. It's as if all countries within this economic area have an equal experience of cycling when we know they do not. Statements in it are very obviously the result of compromise and of each member of the committee wanting to be presented in a good light.
Me: In a sentence ... "The key word is an holistic approach and then a separation of functions." (Steffen Rasmussen, Head of Traffic Design, City of Copenhagen)
Could you explain your position in a sentence?
David: As for the Copenhagen quote... You do realise, I hope, that that city consistently misses its targets for growth within a country which has suffered a 20-year decline in cycling. This comes down in large part to Denmark not building infrastructure of a sufficient quality to keep cyclists safe.
Is that really the best place to quote from? The best place to try to emulate?
I'm not surprised that you can find eleven words to quote which appear to support your position, but this is meaningless.

(As we have just seen, in this comment and the one before, for David the thing to be refuted is not what was said, but who said it.)

Me: You write that if we're not aiming future cycling facilities at people who do not cycle now then it's impossible to make progress. Actually the evidence from Portland is entirely to the contrary...
David: If Portland proves anything, it is that doing little achieves little, even with strong help from demographics and geography. Portland's enthusiastic self-promotion and the enthusiasm of many individual cyclists in Portland about their city hasn't been enough. Marketing is worthless next to infrastructural change.
Despite being a place where cycling should be the easiest thing in the world to promote, decades have passed and only fractionally more people were attracted to cycle than were already cycling. This slow progress has been achieved by building too little infrastructure of much too low a quality.

The thing about Portland is not that they didn't make mistakes—not that they did some things which they probably ought to have done differently—but that they were still able to make reasonable progress despite the fact that they were constrained by "tiny budgets and limited designs".

In 2000, for example, Portland's bike share was 1.8%. Eleven years later it had risen to 6.3%, an increase of 350%. In large part, this was achieved with basically just a "bare bones" infrastructure.

Now that Portland has this solid base, it isn't going to stop there, of course. The long-term goal is a bike share of around 25%. Crucially, this policy has good political and public support. Roger Geller, Portland's Bicycle Coordinator, has said: "Every indication we have—from user surveys, use itself, and voting habits—suggests that Portlanders staunchly support Portland as a strong and strengthening bicycle city."

The development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network is regarded by none other than the European Cyclists' Federation as "a basic pre-condition of mass cycling". Thus, just as a good rugby coach would make sure a player could run straight lines, draw the man in front of him and pass the ball down the line before he set about teaching him all of the various loops and pivots and dummy switches and so forth, so also, first and foremost, a town or city must develop a coherent and easy-to-follow network of routes which is going to be useful to people who ride bicycles on a fairly regular basis.

Photo credit: BBC

Nobody is denying that in the absence of good quality infrastructure, it is only going to be the people on the margins who will cycle. "If cycling is to be universally adopted as a means of transportation," Roger Geller pointed out, "then the concerns of the majority must be addressed." However, as I remarked in my unpublished comment, why would anybody not set about trying to provide for the majority within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network? No seriously: why would anybody not do that? No seriously: why don't you answer the question?

I asked David to summarise his position in a sentence or two on a couple of occasions, and noted in my unpublished comment his reluctance to do so. Even so, I think the following captures the essence of David's position fairly and accurately:
If we're not aiming future cycling facilities at people who do not cycle now then it's impossible to make progress [...] only designing to the highest possible quality standards will work. 
As I say, I think this fairly and accurately reflects David's point of view; but I don't accept it. And I don't see that I should be required to accept it without some evidence.

This is from David as well (source):
What makes cycling attractive in Dutch cities [...] could be replicated in British cities if only the will existed to ask for it. What has been done is very simple. Long term planning is key—the same policies have been followed for many years.
I genuinely do not understand why people find it necessary to deviate too far from this. Am I missing something? Is my vision hazy? Am I overlooking the obvious?

My unpublished comment

@Eric @David: For me, the debate has never been about where to end up. I have never argued against high standards and against conditions which would enable the entire population to cycle, and if you assert as much one more time, David, without quoting me, I will take legal advice. (I have searched my blog for such phrases as "high quality" and "high standard", and I suggest you do the same.)

No, for me the debate is about where to begin. This information is detailed in Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, but very briefly it goes like this: plan, study and then "introduce" a cycle network. Once the network is up and running, develop it further "on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable."

As I understand it, this strategy is still running its course in the Netherlands.

Eric, you ask why I wouldn't campaign for a bigger network with high standard infrastructure. A related but slightly different question is: Why aren't UK-based cycle advocates campaigning for high standard infrastructure to be installed within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network? I have asked this question maybe a thousand million, billion times, and never once had an answer. Every single time the question is completely ducked.

But that I do as I would be done by, to answer your question, Eric, the reason is that, firstly, the planning process in the UK is cumbersome (e.g. LGV Nord opened in France in 1993, but HS1 wasn't fully operational here until 2007—13 years after the Channel Tunnel opened); and secondly, when taking an holistic approach, it is good practice to begin by making the minimum change for the maximum effect (e.g. permaculture principles).

The case is, there isn't a town or city in the UK which has a functioning cycle network. We don't even have the basics in place. Advocates of mass cycling need to work with the authorities in order to ensure that this is corrected. Instead of which, they sit atop Mount Utterly Bloody Brilliant refusing to budge an inch. Result? Nearly every single main road in the capital is omitted from TfL's plans for a central London bike grid.

Full-size map available here

I have never had a problem with the authorities wanting to do more than I propose; but when they set out to do less than, I am looking around for explanations.

Finally, I note your reluctance, David, to summarise your view in a sentence or two.

Post Script

There are of course other bloggers who regard what I am saying as 'off message', and who have also not allowed my comments to be published. Needless to say, this includes the London Cycling Campaign.