Why I’m in favour of compromise and cooperation

This blog site is about cycling as a transport mode, but the UK is currently engaged in a debate of historic importance about its continued membership or quitting of the European Union. As we edge towards the momentous referendum vote, I want to explain the fundamental reason why I will be voting for us to remain a member of the EU. Two specific incidents lay behind my decision to write this blog: first, a pair of tweets from a former Financial Times journalist, and second, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour.

I’m sure everyone knows that the key steps to founding what later became the EU took place in the aftermath of the Second World War when it was recognised that the long-standing enmity between France and Germany, and that had led to three dreadful wars in less than a century, was destroying Europe. Many may also know that the first intergovernmental manifestation of this aftermath was the European Coal and Steel Community, set up with the aim of tying the key economic sectors, and the raw materials of war-making, into an inter-governmental authority. The appointed council of the ECSC later evolved into the European Parliament, one of the three main pillars of the constitutional structure of the EU, and elected by voters across the EU.

But, in fact we can discern ideas that eventually led to the EU in the First World War (and indeed back to the 17th century). During the ‘Great War’ an inter-governmental authority was set up by members of the ‘Entente’ (which included Britain, France, Italy and other countries) to control shipping resources, which were pooled. Decisions about what (troops or ammunition or food or coal) should be transported to Entente members, and in which ships, were taken in a body that made decisions which were then ‘imposed’ on sovereign states. Governments may not have liked the individual decisions, but they jointly agreed on and stuck with the structure for making those decisions for the benefit of all.

Other inter-governmental bodies were also set up. Perhaps the best known is control given to French military authorities over Britain’s troops on the Western Front in 1918 (after years of slaughter and determination not to cooperate between proud, touchy generals and field marshals).

One historian, Adam Tooze in The Deluge, writes: ‘In halting Germany’s final onslaught [in spring 1918 and which initially threatened to defeat Entente troops on the Western Front], the Entente created precedents for inter-governmental cooperation that went beyond anything ever realized in the League of Nations. … Through the involvement of a generation of businessmen, engineers and technocrats, such as Briton Arthur Salter and his close colleague and friend, the Frenchman Jean Monnet, this cooperation was [later] to provide the inspiration for the project of the EU.’

As we know, Europe didn’t go down the road of cooperation from 1918 and succumbed to an even worse bout of bloodletting in the Second World War. It took that awful conflict (which killed fifty million people compared with about seventeen million in the First World War) for a serious attempt to be made at setting up inter-governmental structures, first by pooling coal and steel resources.

Monnet, looking back with dismay at how France and Germany squandered any opportunities to put past division behind them at the end of the First World War, wrote in his memoirs, ‘It was to take many years and much suffering before Europeans began to realise that they must choose either unity or decline.’

Britain, of course, stood aside from these moves to build cooperation in European in the aftermath of the Second World War until some years later. In 1975, twenty years after the end of the war, a referendum voted to ratify Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

We hear frequently that we were told in 1975 that the EEC was a purely economic organisation and that joining it was all about trade. Well, I was around in 1975 and in my early 20s (and voted in favour of ratifying the treaty with the EEC). I have to say that I cannot actually recall any arguments that were used at the time – and quite honestly I doubt if more than a small fraction of those proclaiming what was said four decades ago by some politicians actually remember it. More likely people remember having heard this claimed incessantly in recent years by Britain’s predominantly Europhobic press.

What I can recall is the reason why I voted in favour of the EEC all those years ago. It was because I thought that Britain would be better by being more European, more like some of our neighbours and less like Enoch Powell’s vision of Britain with its rivers overflowing with the blood of our fellow citizens. Those were the years of young people’s revulsion at the US’s methods of war in Vietnam, and with Britain’s addiction to small nasty colonial wars in far away places; they were the years in which many grew up to hate the racial segregation in the American South and South Africa; they were the years of the early awakening of realisation of issues about gender equality and ‘gay liberation’. And, a year after the referendum was the birth of punk, with the new Britain screaming out its rejection of the old.

Joining Europe to me was about rejecting a call to cling on to Britain’s imperial glory and its hangover of racism, sexism, militarism and class division. I was in favour of becoming just another European state. I voted for Britain to be more European.

Perhaps, being young, I didn’t pay enough attention to the debate others were having about joining a trade bloc, but trade policy really had nothing to do with my voting to be ‘a European’. In the years since then, my awareness of what became the European Union does has grown and it remains my view that we did the right thing in joining a supranational institution that can, on the one hand, restrain the nation state in its atavistic tendencies and, on the other hand, empower nation states and peoples, through working together, to foster progressive international cooperation.

Coincidentally (or not), 1975 was also the year in which the British public first made acquaintance with the memorable character of Basil Fawlty. Here was the classic representation of the ranting little-Englander with his literally knee-jerking behaviour when German guests turned up at his hotel. The tag line, “Don’t mention the war” became a national theme. Here was boring, staid, inward-looking England in painfully laughable form.

The tweets that prompted me to write this blog post came from a former Financial Times journalist, Paul Quigley, a supporter of Britain leaving the EU. He tweeted that he had ‘to say how cultured and compelling the Brexit case has been made, unlike the lies, and disgusting scaremongering of the Remainiac gang’.

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This was not long after Quigley had posted another tweet. This one had a photo of a severe looking Angela Merkel eyeing an out of focus profile of David Cameron. Quigely’s text ran:

AM: So, Herr Camoron. Venn vill vee haff ze British?
DC: ‘Projekt Fear’ is going as planned
AM: Schnell!

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Given some of the very convincing parody sites on the web, I suppose it is possible that Quigley is running a parody campaign to damage the reputation of the Brexit lobbies. But, taking his tweet at face value, we can see here an example of a disturbing change in the last four decades – of how Basil Fawlty has morphed from figure of fun to role model, with Quigley’s sharp-suited, post-modernist Fawlty being just one of many resurrecting Basil as a man to emulate.

We sure laughed at Basil, but I can’t raise even a giggle for someone so unaware of the gross and reactionary irony (100 years since the First World War) of labelling funny German accents as ‘cultured.’ It’s all getting very serious now. We may well be on the way out of the EU after the referendum. This will be bad news for the younger generations who already will have to face challenges such as climate change and to deal with potential very dangerous countries such as Putin’s Russia. The dying generations may carelessly destroy the tools the younger ones need to cope with the future.

If the Remain lobby is deploying Project Fear, the Out camp is plugging away at Project Paranoia. In the UK the press is overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. The EU is routinely described as ‘dictating’ to us. This was the other prompt to me to write this post, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour. He complained that he was “sick” of Britain being told what to do by Brussels.

My neighbour, now retired, spent many years as a water industry civil engineer and has observed and written extensively about the global water industry. I reminded him of something which he knew was true: we have European law to thank for our clean beaches.

Without pressure from the EU’s commonly agreed water quality standards you can be pretty certain that the ‘dirty man’ of Europe would still be pumping raw sewage out into our bays and beaches (and indeed we still do in storms).

I welcome having the UK forced to mend its ways and take environmental responsibility. In return for agreement on other things that the British government wanted, the UK government agreed to undertake what others wanted – a level playing field where all nations improved their coastal water quality for the benefit of all. If you have a dirty neighbour polluting their seas and the prevailing currents send the pollution to your costal areas, you may question whether it’s worth the cost and effort of cleaning your own beaches. Working jointly on problems that cross-borders and oceans is what the EU is about – and it involves compromise with others.

Those tempted to say, ‘we don’t need others to tell us what we should do as we are quite capable of solving these problems for ourselves’, should look at the related issue of air quality. Currently it is estimated that some 9,000 people are dying early each year in London alone because the British government, terrified of the motor lobby, has allowed air quality to become dire. As a nation we face fines for successive governments having failed to implement agreed EU law on improving air quality.

Brexit would mean the end of any prospect that British politicians, of the left or right, would take on the challenge of tackling air quality. But continued EU membership may help lead our recalcitrant government to summon up the political will to tackle air quality issues that it would much rather ignore.

One problem is that these complex subjects easily become complex technical matters, far away from the day to day life of citizens. They don’t translate easily into tabloid articles or twitter debates or mock German accents.

Yet, in our global world, such issues can and do affect everyday life. Indeed, they are often matters of life and death (directly so in the case of air quality) and demand international cooperation to be resolved. The EU gives us opportunities to organize that cooperation. Why walk away from that?

For all its great difficulties and challenges, for all its weak and divided response to the financial crisis in 2007/8 and to the current migration crisis (caused by war, repression, widespread rape, mass torture, economic collapse and environmental degradation in part caused by global warming), the EU remains an essential tool of cooperation between the nations of Europe in a dangerous and changing world order. It remains a good thing, something we should cherish.

After the First World War, France initially tried for a ‘moderate’ peace settlement. But this depended on structures of common agreement and common economic policy to ensure security and economic recovery. Failing this, the French recognised, that security would have to be ensured by a “peace of reprisals and punishments”.

Some twenty-five years on, another Frenchman observed that, “a couple of years in a Gestapo cell and Buchenwald concentration camp could inspire either a passion for revenge or a determination that there would be no more camps.” The author of those words, a wartime Resistance leader Christian Pinean, signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 on behalf of France, initiating the construction of European integration. I will be voting to continue his work.

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New uses for London’s streets

Cities are a mix of the old and the more recent. Street patterns in particular may persist for long stretches of time, indeed for well over a thousand years in some instances. But over time, the way we use those streets changes.

In London’s old centre, known as the City of London, many of the narrow medieval streets are the same as those described by Samuel Pepys in his seventeenth century diaries and were old even when he wrote about his daily travels around the city, at first on foot, but when Secretary to the Navy, in his important status symbol, a personal horse-drawn carriage painted appropriately with sea scenes.

Even older are some of the roads that head out of the centre of London, slicing through Central London, Inner London, Outer London and beyond, to the far corners of Britain. They date from when the Roman legions would have marched along them. Today, within the bounds of the capital, these roads are usually clogged with motor traffic – for example, the Edgware Road.

But London was primarily a city built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and most of London’s roads date from these more recent times. One very specifically nineteenth century road is the Embankment on the north bank of the Thames in Westminster. It was built when the river was confined into its present much-narrowed channel. In recent decades, like most nineteenth century streets, the it has been a conduit for motor traffic.

Something quite revolutionary is happening along the Embankment these days and it involves that mode of transport that has played only a tenuous, marginal role in London in recent decades. Along the Embankment, and in a few other locations, the humble bicycle is getting its own infrastructure.

I hasten to add that this ‘revolution’ is not introducing any great innovation to cycle infrastructure. High-quality cycle networks are new to London. But not to Copenhagen or Utrecht. All the same, in London it is a challenge to deeply ingrained patterns of use of the public road system.

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New cycleway in development along the Embankment, near the Houses of Parliament [photo: Transport for London]

London’s street culture is severely dominated by motor vehicles which race from one set of traffic lights or traffic queue to the next hold up. Motor traffic is so dense in the centre that average speed is 13kph or less. However, attained speeds, as a convoy of vans, taxis and cars rush from one stopping point to the next, can by as high as 80kph and on many heavily trafficked roads 65kph is commonly achieved between traffic signals. Only congestion limits speed.

This pattern of driving is seriously problematic. There are added air quality consequences from fuel burned during lots of rapid acceleration, deceleration and concomitant idling. Also it degrades the public sphere for pedestrians, and the few who dare to cycle, making cycling a singularly unpleasant experience when compared with cycling in the Netherlands or Denmark.

The high speeds are bolstered, formally and informally, by a legal system that encourages fast and aggressive driving.

There is, for example, a rule in the Highway Code that motorists should give priority to pedestrians crossing a road into which the motorist wants to turn. This will not strike many European readers as anything unusual. However, in the United Kingdom, though this rule exists, it is universally ignored and entirely unenforced.

As a pedestrian, if there is not a traffic light system that gives you the right to cross the road, it can be very difficult to get from one pavement to the next at junctions. For many Londoners the rule is ‘wait for a gap in the motor traffic and then RUN!’

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To cross the road in London: wait for gap in the motor taffic and then RUN! [photo: Paul Gannon]

Traffic engineers make matters worse by chipping away at the pavement to provide motors with easier turning angles – resulting in faster turning by drivers. All this is so deeply ingrained that even pedestrian lobby groups don’t appreciate the nature and scale of the problem.

Change on London’s streets always generates resistance. The few kilometres of cycleways currently being introduced in London have generated a hysterical response from the old enemy of change, the taxi lobby, backed by the tiny minority of people who live in Inner and Central London and hold firmly to the view that ‘one simply must have a car to get around in London’.

A proposal to stop motor traffic driving through one of London’s premier parks, Regent’s Park (while still allowing motor access to the Zoo and other destinations within the park), is raising another storm of protest. One of the organisers of the protest wrote, “If this goes ahead, none of us will be able to get around London and theatres, art galleries and restaurants, not to mention commerce, that make this the amazing city that it is, will all die out, as no-one will be able to get from one side of London to the other. There will no route from this area [Primrose Hill] to Theatre-land, unless we are prepared to sit in hours of traffic along Prince Albert Road, which will cause the most dreadful pollution and endanger the health of us all.”

Such protesters routinely ascribe to bicycles and to cycleways the pollution actually caused by the burning of fossil fuel to power motor vehicles. Further, they label the space-efficient bicycle as the cause of all congestion of motor vehicles in London.

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Opposition to plans to remove through traffic from within a park

The mayoral candidate of the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith, promised to subject the cycleways to a special test – which has never been applied to any other transport mode – namely to see to what extent cycleways had worsened congestion and pollution and, if necessary, to “rip them out”.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Lord) Nigel Lawson, told the House of Lords that the new cycleways were, “doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz” (as the Second World War bombing of London is called). A taxi driver announced on twitter that he had driven Lawson (who is actually resident in France) along the Embankment and that Lawson “couldn’t believe it” when he saw a proper European-style cycleway so close to the Houses of Parliament.

One of the running themes of those opposing new cycleways in London is that they attract ‘fast, lycra-clad cyclists’. The mayor of London, who approved the new cycleways, helped promulgate that myth both directly and indirectly. He did this by supplementing the cycleways with a mishmash of what have been called ‘quietways’, aimed at ‘less confident’ cyclists. These look, as expected when they were announced, to be a monumental failure for two fundamental reasons. First, they are based on the flawed concept that there needs to be different types of network for different cyclists. Second, they are actually favoured by the mayor’s office and local borough administrations because they are cheap, largely symbolic (being implemented with minimal engineering, relying on paint and signs) and, critically, insufficient if any, motor traffic reduction.

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So-called ‘Cycle Quietways’ are used by cars, vans and lorries as well as cyclists and pedestrians [photo: James Watthey]

On the other hand, even before they are fully open, the cycleways (standard European style cycle paths remember) are already proving immensely popular with the ordinary person who wants to cycle and some are even willing to let their children use them.

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A new sight on the roads in Central London – thanks to cycleways [photo: Mark Treasure]

Something, that just two months ago was inconceivable, is now a practical possibility – cycling with a child alongside the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, and maybe soon to Regent’s Park and other places too.

And, what, if anything, will the provision of cycleways do for the poor pedestrian in London? One councillor, Vincent Stops, fears that cycleways will be ‘trip hazards’ for pedestrians. In his view dedicated cycle infrastructure will ‘always disappoint’, regardless of a multitude of cyclists telling him that the well built cycleways very definitely don’t disappoint. His fellow councillor, Rita Krishna, has expressed her disquiet at the idea that ‘public space’ should be devoted to cycling inherently at the cost, as she sees it, of the pedestrian.

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The environment of London is potentially being improved: this scheme may be introduced on Tavistock Place within a few months [image: London Borough of Camden]

My view is that pedestrians will benefit in lots of ways from reducing motor dominance of the streets: fewer fumes, lower speeds, less space needed, plus all the social and health benefits that ‘active urban travel’ offers.

And, critically, cyclists can help pedestrians regain the priority at junctions that has been lost to motorists and which remains the biggest problem facing those who try to walk around London. Cycleways lend themselves to installing ‘continuous footways’ over junctions where both cyclists and pedestrians have formal priority over turning motors, aided by the need for motor drivers to slow down to negotiate the turning.

This would be an enormous advance for pedestrians as junctions are the place they are most likely to be struck by a motor. Again, this is something that many, or even most, continental Europeans will take for granted. But for one of Europe’s great cities, London, it truly is a big step.

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Cycleways offer the opportunity to starting enforcing the Highway Code’s pedestrian priority at junctions [photo: Mark Treasure]

London is a pretty large city. Change will happen fitfully and patchily. But with the Central London cycleways we are potentially witnessing the start of another historic change in the way London’s streets are shared and used. Motor vehicles have lorded it over the city’s streets for several decades. But it’s time to start thinking of a pattern of use that is fit for the 21st Century.

Campaigners are feeling confident, and lots of London businesses and other organisations such as colleges and medical institutions, have backed the case for high-quality cycle infrastructure. So we may well be seeing a lot more cycling in London in the coming years if more cycleways are installed, and hopefully we can introduce significant improvements in conditions for pedestrians along the way.

Is UK cycling on a roll, or on hold for the next 10 years?

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Are we witnessing the birth of a cycling boom in Britain? New cycleways and filtering projects coming on stream in London (thanks to Transport for London and the boroughs such as Camden and Waltham Forest) offer the potential for revolutionary change in British cycle policies.

Or, are we facing ten years of stasis, another lost decade marked by continued disregard for cycling as a transport mode by central, devolved, regional and local authorities alike? This, certainly, is what the government’s recent Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, with its pathetically minimal funding, promises.

The answer has to be that the future could take either course (or indeed some other course, but for the purposes of this article let’s pretend that there are two quite distinct possibilities).

An energetic twitter exchange between Carlton Reid, journalist & author, and Katya Leyendecker, an academic and campaigner, about this question prompted me to write this blog. The twitter exchange followed an article by Carlton in BikeBizNews reporting some pessimistic view of prospects for investment in cycling in the opinion of his contacts in industry and the professions.

 Carton’s article: http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/government-publishes-go-dutch-cycling-reports-but-ignores-them/019348

& Katya’s reply: http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/changing-the-record/019359

Katya found Carlton’s tone too negative and wanted him to report as well on the potential for change for the better. She tweeted, ‘I think it’s glass half-empty [to say that there was] “no chance that there will be any national investment.”’

Carlton’s twitter response was, ‘I am not predicting, I am reporting, after talking to folks at the very top who know exactly what’s coming.’

I have much sympathy with Carlton here. We need journalists to report all points of view and not to act as cheerleaders. We need to know as much as possible about the situation we are in and what might be possible to change that situation to the better.

Many of the greatest blunders in history have followed on from misunderstanding the starting situation, the intentions and motives and capabilities of others. Trying to establish the actual prospects we face following publication of the government’s wishy-washy document has enormous value.

However, Carlton goes too far in suggesting that his folks can know ‘exactly what’s coming’. This is simply too big a claim. No one can know ‘exactly ‘ what’s going to happen in the future (especially journalists, historians and sundry experts, who have lamentable records when it comes to predicting events). A common rule of thumb is to say that no prediction will be totally correct (though many will be totally incorrect). Looking into the future is about assessing the options and likelihoods, not just about relaying the thoughts and wisdoms of the better-connected experts. But more important, both experts and the rest of us can also easily overlook the potential for contingent events to affect what happens.

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The result of a new protected cycle route to a Swansea University campus site

Only a month or two ago the present British government was at the top of its game having won the 2015 election and then seen the election of a rather ineffectual leader of the opposition. The government looked forward after the 2020 election to at least one, probably two or more, terms in government.

But, look how much its prospects have changed in recent weeks: a bungled budget, a botched response to the Mossack Fonseca leak, and all to the background of a civil war that threatens to rip the Tory party asunder. I doubt any experts predicted the sudden crisis of confidence that would strike the recently victorious government.

Carlton’s (reported) predictions may well turn out to be more or less what happens in reality. But it is a mistake to assume that the path of the future is pre-determined.

Yes, the car is deeply embedded in the economy, topography and psychology of modern life. To imagine life without overwhelming reliance on cars is beyond most people. To the average cycle campaigner it must seem that the power of the oil and motor industries is unassailable. But history has many examples of seemingly permanently entrenched institutions that collapse in a fairly short time span.

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In the late 1980s many experts predicted that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (and the Apartheid State of South Africa) would survive and thrive into the future. They were, we were told, too solidly buttressed and too powerful to change (or at least not without apocalyptic violence). But, in both cases a crisis of confidence in the ruling elites of hollowed-out, contradiction-ridden societies led to the surprisingly rapid dissolution of those seemingly all-controlling, security-obsessed states.

Change can happen much more quickly than looks likely to those who live in the shadow of some impressive-looking social edifice, whether it be the Soviet ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ or the Reign of the Car.

We can see signs of the crisis of confidence within the realms of Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor’s office. A steady growth in cycling numbers, a critical level of fatalities and astute campaigning (aided by the organizational & propagandizing wonders of the internet) combined to weaken the traditional attitude of London’s circles of governance towards cycling: ‘no demand, no space, no way.’

By the skin of his teeth, in the last few months of his tenure, Boris Johnson, aided by Andrew Gilligan and presumably others less well known, shattered that old approach. The cycleways have established, even before they are officially opened, that if you build quality cycle facilities there is indeed much demand for them, that there is enough space if you re-allocate it from often wasted functions (such as wide striped lanes in the centre of roads) and that, given the political will, there is very definitely a way: a Cycleway.

Few could have predicted that this would happen and happen so quickly. London Cycling Campaign was engaged in the organizational equivalent of contemplating its navel – talking about changing its name from London Cycling Campaign to London Cyclists – and had to move sharply to catch up when a bottom up campaign caught it out introverting. Other established cycling organizations have not caught up as rapidly as LCC, and, to the great sorrow of many of us, Sustrans seems not to even have noticed the on-going revolution in attitudes to the desired quality of cycle facilities.

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So, that’s all a long-winded introduction to my countering Carlton’s assertion that he or his contacts know ‘exactly’ what is going to happen. Chances are that it will turn out as Carlton reports/predicts. But there are always countervailing forces, as society is made up of multiple interlocking, overlapping, cooperating and conflicting forces. What actually happens depends on the ever-changing interactions of these forces. Things that look firmly entrenched (the Czar or the Car) may be ready to crumble.

The issue at heart is how firmly entrenched is the motor vehicle. Any attempt to provide for alternatives, such as the humble cycleway, can give rise to the most incredible opposition, indulging in an Alice in Wonderland anti-logic, where the non-polluting bike becomes responsible for pollution, not the fossil-fuel burning machines that actually create it, and space-efficient bicycles become the cause of all congestion anywhere, anytime in the foul air of the Great Wen.

Just look at the exaggerated rhetoric of the anti-cycleway London cabbies and ‘StopCS11Hell’ doom-mongers: you ‘won’t be able to get to see your dentist in Maida Vale,’ or visit ‘Theatreland’ and ‘London’s arteries will clog up and the city will die,’ (yes, that has been claimed). It seems obvious, to many if not to most, that modern society cannot function without millions of motors parading around our cities and towns.

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Pro-car zealots pretend to have environmental concerns

 

The powerful industrial interests of British cotton mill owners opposed the emancipation of American slaves (it had already been outlawed in the British Empire). ‘So crucial was slave labour [to the mid-19th century British economy] that the Liverpool Chronicle and European Times warned that if slaves ever should be emancipated, cotton cloth prices might double or triple, with devastating consequences for Britain.’ In 1844 ‘A Cotton Spinner’ wrote, “Emancipation [of US slaves] might shake Britain to its “very foundations”.

US slavery was abolished after the Civil War despite the immensely powerful British and American cotton industry lobbies, which had previously and successfully persuaded their respective governments to conduct industrial, trade, financial, foreign and military policies in their favour.

Despite all that entrenched power, the plantation owners lost out to other interests (especially those of cotton manufacturers) and social currents (rooted in Enlightenment ideas about human rights) in addition to purely economic interests. Yet, many simply believed that life would end without slavery, just as many nowadays many believe modern life would be unlivable without a car.

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However well entrenched a social or political or cultural or industrial institution may appear to be, it will have weaknesses, internal contradictions and all sorts of opposing forces. These external and internal influences can lead to crises of confidence and consequent rapid change.

Such problems can easily be hidden when an institution is on the rise or has reached a dominant position. But eventually they eat away at the functioning internal organs and expose the fragility of the institution. The Ottoman Empire inflicted some shattering defeats on the British Empire in the First World War, at Gallipoli and at Kut (in Iraq). For the first time, European imperial forces suffered serious defeats at the hands of an army of a non-European, non-industrialized state. Yet, this was the high water mark for the Ottomans. Even as it achieved these military victories, internal contradictions fatally undermined the Empire’s ability to prolong its war effort and the Ottoman Empire joined the Romanov, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires as immediate victims of the devastating war they (and others) had started in expectation of easy victory.

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One internal contradiction that will have unpredictable effects on multiple aspects of the world of the automobile is what will happen when it does become automatic. The consequences of self-driving automobiles are all but impossible to predict and the role of driving software may well present challenges to industry and socially condoned road driving practices. We allow dangerous styles of driving because the effort of enforcing road law would be too disruptive to society for many reasons. However, the introduction of driving software offers an opportunity for social currents to lobby for safer driving practices precisely because judges and juries are less likely to feel the sympathy for corporate software interests than they do for fellow drivers. I’m not predicting what will happen, but new possibilities will open up for campaigners against the dominance of the fast, urban motoring model.

Most important, what Carlton’s deterministic prediction omits is any appreciation of the potential for the solid-seeming car culture to collapse of its own contradictions – if given sufficient push by campaigners for change. What Carlton’s experts cannot know is how independent actors – cycling campaigners, air quality campaigners, urban walking campaigners and others – will act and organize.

One prediction I will make is that the new London cycleways will prove to be highly successful and very popular, broadening the appeal of cycling in the capital.

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Plans for Tavistock Place, Camden if the present twelve month trial is successful

The next mayor of London will have to face a strong, reasonably well organized cycling lobby that will be on a roll, it’s own predictions confirmed about safe, attractive, protected cycleways (and other effective approaches such as filtering).

The nay-sayers will look foolish and as a result the absurdity of their propaganda about cycleways causing pollution and congestion will look ever more ridiculous. Outside the capital, it is guaranteed that campaigners in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in many other places, will be pointing to London and saying ‘we want that here’.

And, among the public, people will be saying to themselves and others, ‘I could cycle on something like that.’

Cycle campaigning has grown in the last few years, but it may well be on the verge of achieving an even faster rate of growth. The confidence and level of expectation of the British cycling lobby is about to collide head on with the paltry ambitions of the government for cycling.

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel was informed that the rail locomotive in which he was heading west on the GWR was steaming straight towards a locomotive on the same single track coming from the opposite direction, he ordered the driver to go faster, aiming, he hoped, to push the oncoming loco aside through ‘superior momentum’.

The question is, can we divert the government’s measly projected strategy by the superior momentum of our growing movement and our own more expansive strategy? The future is not determined.

‘Dangerisation’: myth or reality?

As Easy As Riding a Bike blogged recently (https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/talking-about-danger-again/) about a phenomenon known as ‘dangerising’. Basically this suggests that cycle campaigners in particular should avoid talking about the alleged dangers of UK cycling policy which in general requires cyclists to share the carriageway with fast-moving motor vehicles. The reason for this, it is asserted, is that talk of danger puts people off cycling. A further twist is the assertion that cycling in the UK is not dangerous and also the idea that training and learning about ‘taking the lane’ can improve (even, in some claims, guarantee) safety.

Over the years campaigning for British authorities to adopt continental-style cycle networks, primarily because of the unsafe and unattractive cycling environment of mixing it on the road, I have repeatedly heard the claim that I am putting people off cycling by doing so. We are told that cycling on British roads, whatever our own experience, is not dangerous.

As Easy As Riding a Bike’s blog cited Anna Glowinski (cyclist, clothing designer and Cycle Show presenter):

“I think it can be quite damaging to talk about how ‘dangerous’ cycling is. I really don’t think it is that dangerous.”

Bob Davies of the Road Danger Reduction Forum (ironically given the name of his forum, Bob is a leading proponent of the ‘don’t emphasise the dangers’ tendency and author of a book entitled Death on the Streets) wrote:

“I think there are indeed issues associated with the talking about danger which are highly problematic and worthy of consideration. “Dangerising” is a real issue. Often, in everyday discourse, the use of the word “danger” and associating it with cycling is not (just) about danger to cyclists. It is implying that cycling is indeed (whatever you correctly think) intrinsically hazardous. It also involves the association of cycling with endangering others.”

I added comments to the blog asking for the evidence to show that campaigning against road danger discouraging people from cycling. Bob conceded that there was no direct evidence and he linked it a wider range of negative attitudes to cycling. He said:

“The area I’m trying to analyse is that of beliefs, ideas and culture (as used in the anthropological/sociological sense). I can’t give the kind of evidence requested because it is either difficult or impossible (depending on what philosophy of social science you adhere to).”

Other comments re-asserted the link, but offered no proper evidence. Colin McKenzie said:

“The point about dangerisation of cycling is not that it will put people off cycling. It already has, massively, and continues to do. For evidence, look no further than the catastrophic decline in children cycling to school since the 70s. Over that time, the roads have not got more dangerous for cyclists (actually they are safer), nor has the traffic got significantly scarier.”

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What I struggle with is the mechanism by which my and others’ campaigning about the dangers of cycling in the UK influences the wider population. The best coverage we had for years in the media was the occasional letter, written by a cycling campaigner in response to a consultation or crazed coverage of cycling, in a local newspaper. In Camden we could get an article in the local newspaper, the Camden New Journal, if we could get a national celebrity photo-shoot opportunity – fortunately local resident Jon Snow called be called upon now and again to get us a bit of coverage. No national celebrity, no coverage. (That Camden borough council was becoming one of the handful of local authorities starting to transform UK cycle policy was beyond their news agenda.)

I doubt that in pubs, cafes, hair-dressing salons, schools, factories, office, canteens and shops throughout Camden, let along the whole of the UK, people were excitedly discussing the latest press release from Camden Cycling Campaign calling for safe cycle tracks:

“I was thinking of cycling, you know, but I read a quote from a cycling campaigner in the local paper about how dangerous it is, so I’m not going to bother with that now even though I’ve already bought a bike.”

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As has been discussed by other bloggers, ordinary people think cycling is dangerous because of what they can see happening on the roads. They think it is dangerous because it is obvious that mixing vulnerable flesh and bone travelling at 15mph with a ton upwards of metal travelling at 30 to 60 mph in a contested space is inherently dodgy. They do not think cycling is dangerous only because someone else has told them that it is. The ‘dangerisation’ thesis is so patronizing.

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The danger of ‘dangerisation’ is a common theme too among those who promote cycle training as providing more than it can in fact deliver in an anti-cycling public environment (which denies people the opportunity to gain vital experience). David Dansky wrote:

“While this is happening [i.e., cycling is on the increase and safety improving] the voices shouting how dangerous it is have been getting louder, more strident, and calls for separation and the introduction of Dutch infrastructure all paint (pun intended) quite a negative picture. Apart from these scares putting off some new riders there is also an effect of not acknowledging progress and successes that have been achieved without Dutch style infrastructure.”

This is weird as, if one thinks about it, those engaged in training are among the biggest ‘dangerisers’ of all. They must be, they have to alert trainees to dangers, such as dooring or guttering, that they had not previously thought of. Understanding the dangers of cycling empowers people to be aware of those dangers and to take action to minimize them. This applies to campaigning as well as to individuals; we will make no real gains if we deny actuality. Recognizing the reality of road danger has galvanized the UK cycle lobby over the past decade or so.

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There seems to me that there is another flaw in the ‘dangerisation’ argument. The starting point here is a graph showing the age and gender profile of cyclists in the UK (and other countries).

The first set of graphs dates from the late 1980s and was compiled by the OECD one of whose remits is the preparation of internationally comparable statistics. It should be noted that the vertical scales are different, having been adjusted to use the whole space available for each graph.

Three things stand out about Great Britain: the low number of cyclists comparable with Denmark and the Netherlands (reflected in the different vertical scales used); the overwhelming dominance of men in the British cycling profile (unlike the Netherlands and Denmark with a balance and Finland with more women cyclists than men); and the very rapid rate at which male cycling declines with age in Great Britain.

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OECD

The second graph for the UK only is somewhat more recent, coming from around 2010 (http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/2636/cycling/stats-uk/). It is essentially not very different from the late 1980s in terms of gender profile and rapid decline of male cycling rates with growing age. One difference to note is that the first set measures distances cycle per day, while the solo UK graph measures number of trips per year. Whichever way you look at it, cycling in Britain is predominantly a male activity and there is a fairly rapid fall-off rate as these men age. This has been true for 25 years or longer. We can surmise that we are looking at clear structural features that endure over long periods of time.

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http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/2636/cycling/stats-uk/

Leaving aside the main lesson about the higher cycling numbers and better age and gender profile of countries with plenty of high quality cycle networks (such as the Netherlands, Denmark & Finland), what conclusions can be drawn from such graphs regarding ‘dangerisation’?

The high rate of decline of cycling with growing age, sometimes called a high ‘churn’ rate, implies that there must also be quite a high rate of take up.

If one simply looks at figures of total UK number of cyclists, miles cycled per year, cyclist trips, etc., measured over a number of years, the most obvious feature over the past few decades is the drastic decline in cyclists. But the age profile statistics reveal to us the rate of churn that exists within those total figures. (And it is relevant that people who give up cycling most commonly cite road danger as the main reason for doing so.)

The argument about so-called ‘dangerisation’ is drawn from statistics showing a long duration decline in cycling in the UK. It is assumed, wrongly, that this means that people are being put off cycling. A closer look shows that there is a much higher up take of cycling than the total figures show. Bike sales in the UK have remained more or less level for the last ten years, another indication that loose talk of ‘dangerisation’ is not endangering the desire of people to cycle.

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http://www.statista.com/statistics/398264/bicycle-sales-value-in-great-britain-uk/

‘Dangerisation’, is thus a phenomenon that is contradicted by the statistics and has no mechanism for its propagation. It is a myth, not a reality.

So what lies behind it? In the case of traditional cycle campaigners such as Bob Davies of Road Danger Reduction Forum and Colin McKenzie I suspect that they have simply heard and taken up an argument that they can deploy against something that they dislike: continental-style cycle networks.

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‘Dangerisation’ is a tool, a device to be deployed in argument. David Dansky makes this clear in the quote from him above where he explicitly asserts that it is those who argue for segregated (actually for high-quality continental-style cycle networks) who are, not just putting people off cycling, but arguing for an unnecessary approach because of the advances being made in Britain without such networks. Dansky is antipathetic to cycle tracks except in very specific and limited circumstances and he is just adopting the myth ‘dangerisation’ to attack something he disapproves of.

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‘Dangerisation’ should be added to the list of urban myths that circulate in the anglophone cycling world, along with the thoroughly disproven assertion that high-quality cycle networks are less safe than cycling in the road and that in countries that have pioneered their use are now in the process of getting rid of them, as asserted in the blog comment above. I’ve been hearing that last claim, about the Netherlands and Denmark consigning cycle tracks to the “scrap heap”, for the last two decades; despite the clear evidence to the opposite, this claim is another one that just won’t go away.

It’s time to do away with this nonsense about cycle campaigners and ‘dangerisation’ being responsible for the decline in cycling in Britain, but I expect we will continue to hear it rehearsed for some time yet.

Institute of Economic Affairs joins anti-cycling lobby

The cycle lobby in Britain is finally beginning to show some progress with the decision by Transport for London, TfL, to build two ‘substantially segregated’ cycleways in London. This is rightly seen as a major step forward with potentially significant potential for developing cycling as a realistic means of transport in the UK. It is indeed the first major positive move in cycling policy in the UK in modern decades and also marks a major advance in the organizing potential of the modern UK cycling lobby.

However, a bitter battle will now be necessary to ensure that cycleway routings are direct and coherent, and that the quality of implementation will be high enough to provide effective safety.

The hardline opponents of the cycleway proposals, such as the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which represents about one-third of London’s black cab drivers, and the Canary Wharf property group, are left consoling themselves with empty threats of judicial review.

The next issue will be TfL’s detailed plans and the attempts to modify them by recalcitrant bodies such as the City of Westminster and the City of London. Then there’s those other bodies comprising (no doubt well-recompensed for their efforts) London’s “great and good” and in particular the traditionally anti-cycling-obsessives at the Royal Parks Agency who are objecting to routing a cycleway in front of Buckingham Palace and also intend to close routes via Hyde Park at dusk.

As if this is not all bad enough, the anti-cycle lobby has attracted an influential voice, the heavyweight Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA. This well-established think-tank is a regular provider of ‘call it as it is’ economic analysis on the BBC and in the newspapers. Tough, hard, unsentimental economics is the trade-mark of the ‘free-market’ IEA. No sacred cow is too sacred to be spared its searing insights into why economics must be taken seriously.

IEA spokesman Richard Wellings recently put out his take on the economic costs of the cycle lobby.* Referring to a seminar on ‘Cyclists and the Law’, Wellings regretted that none of the policies he supports was put forward by the cycle lobby: “It was disappointing that several win-win measures with the potential to benefit all road users were not mentioned. Removing a high proportion of traffic lights, for example, would speed up journeys and improve safety for both cyclists and motorists.” His only other policy was to improve pot hole repairs and road maintenance, but he overlooked that this is something the cycle lobby also favours (though it shouldn’t be that surprising even to a free-market economist like Wellings that this was hardly likely to be top of the agenda at a seminar about cyclists and the law, unless he wants a law to compel better road repairs).

But what of Wellings’s economic analysis? What’s the free-market low-down on the economic case for or against cycling?

From an economic perspective”, he writes, “two aspects of the seminar were striking”.

The importance of cars and lorries to London’s economy was almost completely ignored. According to Jenny Jones, ‘London has become a city of buses, pedestrians and bikes’. This simply isn’t true. Within London, cars carry as much passenger traffic as the Tube, buses, trains and bikes put together. It is correct, however, that car use has been falling in recent years. This is unsurprising in the context of falling living standards and transport/planning policies specifically designed to push people out of cars and onto other modes. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of motoring within the capital means that any measures that increase delays are likely to have substantial economic costs. Using DfT estimates of the value of time and making a conservative allowance for running costs, it can be calculated that a 1 per cent increase in car journey times will impose costs of approximately £200 million on motorists in London [the precise accuracy of this figure is less important for this argument than its order of magnitude]. And further substantial costs would be imposed on other road vehicles such as HGVs. The impact of particular measures is of course time and place specific, but it was telling that the potential economic costs of some cycling policies, both to other road users and taxpayers, were barely discussed at the event”, [emphasis added].

Interesting, persuasive even. All that cost – £200 million on cost for every 1 per cent increase in car journey times – induced by ‘any measures that increase delays’. Well, actually any measures except one. Missing from Wellings’s analysis is the present policy of providing as much throughput space as possible which induces demand and creates congestion through stimulating use of the most inefficient space using transport modes.

The other looming gap in Wellings’s analysis is the imbalance of his concepts of economic value. Reducing motor traffic and displacing it onto space-efficient modes will provide multiplied benefits. One person out of a car and onto a bike or into a tram frees up much more space than they use in the new mode of getting about. If this cannot find room in the IEA’s economic analysis, it suggests that they aren’t taking a really very thorough look at the economic issues.

Furthermore Wellings’s analysis has another gaping hole – he obviously finds no economic value in the time and productivity of those who use cycling and other space-efficient modes. But the value of motorists’ time and productivity is very high. If it were an undergraduate essay the imbalance of analysis might be merely embarrassing, but in the blogspot of the august IEA it’s laughable.

Wellings’s other concern with the conference was that, “it was notable that the focus was almost entirely on ‘command and control’ measures centred on extra regulations, more surveillance, stricter enforcement and the centrally planned installation of new infrastructure. Once again there was little awareness of the economic costs of such policies or the misallocation of resources likely to result from the knowledge and incentive problems facing state bureaucracies.

Once again in Wellings’s analysis there was little awareness of the costs of the lack of enforcement of traffic law. This week’s news that casualty numbers are increasing as police enforcement is rolled back underlines the need for deeper analysis of the economic (as well as the social) costs of scaling back enforcement.

Among the policies discussed at the seminar and pilloried as economic ignorance by Wellings was the idea that “cycle lanes should continue across side roads”. Not surprisingly Wellings didn’t offer any rational case as to why he thinks that this is an economic problem. The more one reads them the more obvious it becomes that the IEA’s views on cycling are simply the prejudices of the chronically car-bound dressed up in economic jargon.

* https://richardwellings.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/more-regulation-more-surveillance-and-more-enforcement-the-policies-cycling-groups-plan-to-impose-on-other-road-users/

Speed limits for Dutch cycle paths?

Fietsberaad proposes 25kph speed limit

The arguments over the use by non-traditional pedal cycles of cycle paths in the Netherlands has taken a new twist with the Fietsberaard organization proposing a 25kph limit for cyclepaths in urban areas. Any user who wanted to go faster would be expected to leave the cycle path and use the carriageway.

The proposal is one of a number of solutions being suggested to deal with what is seen as a growing problem. Defining the problem is in itself controversial. Partly it is defined as inadequacies in existing cycle path infrastructure given the growing number of users. But the problem is also partly defined as being that non-traditional modes travel at higher speeds than traditional bicycles; these new modes include ‘snorscooters’, faster pedelecs as well as allegedly growing numbers of race cyclists and fast recumbents.

The problem, if it is a problem, is essentially a manifestation of the success of cycle policy in the Netherlands which has seen significant growth in cycling and the new motorized forms of scooters/mopeds/e-bikes.

The proposal is likely to cause some controversy especially among lobbyists for non-traditional users, but even the cyclists’ organizations, Fietsersbond, has cast doubt on the value of a 25kph limit, preferring a limit of 30kph, if a limit is to be introduced. However, the Fietserbond, in common with many individuals, does question how a speed limit could be enforced (not least as bicycles are not required to be equipped with a speedometer).

Snorscooters have speed limiters fitted, but these are easily, and it is claimed widely, disconnected allowing them to be ridden at speeds of up to 40-60kph. Cyclists organizations, such as Fietsersbond, have been expressing discontent with the increase in higher speed users on cyclepaths.

The proposal from Fietsberaad follows the recent rejection in the Dutch parliament of a proposal, put forward by Amsterdam council, to move snorscooters from the cyclepaths and require them to use the carriageway (and also thus to use a helmet which is not required for riding on cyclepaths).

According to the Het Parool newspaper, the Amsterdam council is ‘disappointed’ at the rejection of its proposal and a member said that ‘It is clear that something must be done on the flow and safety of the ever more busy Amsterdam cyclepaths and the rapid growth of the number of snorscooters’. He said that the council was working on a new set of measures.

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However, there is vigorous opposition to the proposals. Blogger David Hembrow (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/06/being-member-of-out-group-little.html) argues that, while ‘Some mopeds are ridden aggressively .. this not a problem due to mopeds. Some cars and some bicycles are also used aggressively. Sending responsible people onto the carriageway with a slow vehicle, with nothing more than a token helmet for protection, is not an answer… The best way of avoiding this danger is to keep light and slow vehicles away from large fast vehicles, and that is what the cycle-paths of the Netherlands already do extremely well. But the majority of injuries to cyclists are not the result of crashes with motor vehicles of any kinds. The two biggest dangers are inadequate infrastructure and personal behaviour’.

He also challenges supporters of speed limits or proposals to shift faster modes to the carriageway to back up claims of ‘thousands’ of collisions between scooters and cycles and increasing numbers of users.

Hembrow acknowledges that ‘Subjective safety is very important for cycling. If cycling feels unsafe then people won’t cycle. Subjective safety is improved by building an environment where it feels safe to cycle. Quite apart from separating high speed traffic from low speed traffic, a high degree of subjective safety also requires changing the infrastructure so as to reduce the frequency of conflicts on the cycle-path.’

However, he adds, ‘concern over subjective safety should not be used to mask a desire to ban a minority group based on prejudice.’

This argument is not having much impact on the Fietsersbond which maintains its view that ‘speed pedelecs do not belong on cyclepaths in built up areas.’ They also argue that ‘cyclists who want to go faster than 30kph should have the choice of using the carriageway’ (which may well be forbidden on certain carriageways according to present regulations). Pressure is coming from cyclists who find the higher speed users of cycle paths uncomfortable and the Fietsersbond and local authorities are expressing their view nationally and locally.

The Fietsersbond in one town in Friesland supported a trial, which began last August, whereby ‘hardfietsers’ (ie fast cyclists) who wanted to go faster than 30kph were offered the opportunity to use the carriageway

According to the Burgemeester the aim is to reduce the speed differential between users of cycle paths. ‘On the carriageway the fast cyclist is not hindered by slower cyclists and thus can easily move forward and this also makes them more visible at junctions. This means too that the speed differential on the carriageway must not become too great’.

The locations for the trial have been carefully chosen, says the Burgemeester, to ensure that they are not dangerous for faster cyclists to use.

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The recumbent cyclists’ organisation said that the ‘eager’ media attitude to the proposals for speed limits had caused ‘indignation, disturbance, surprise and amazement’. They suggest that more attention should be paid to improving the infrastructure rather than seeking to limit cycle path speeds.

One reader’s comment on the recumbent’s organization website illustrates the anger and frustration that is creeping into the debate on all sides: ‘The problem is not that there are more people cycling at higher speeds. The problem is that there are ever more people cycling slowly’.

British cyclists will be jealous that the Dutch have to face the problems of success. It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are considering lifting any ban on cyclists using certain carriageways. The first point raised by British (and US) cycle activists who oppose dedicated cycle paths in the UK (and USA) about the Dutch system is their concern that it leads to cyclists being banned from using carriageways. This issue would disappear if faster cyclists were encouraged/expected to share the carriageway.

Finally, I want to add that I am not taking any sides in these debates, primarily as I don’t have enough current experience with cycling in the Netherlands. I am only reporting the debate for the enlightenment (hopefully) of English-speaking cycle activists to give an insight into the Dutch debate.

Dutch cycle lobby beaten by motor trade lobby in battle over ‘snorscooters’

Dutch Parliament rejects plans to banish scooters from cyclepaths in Amsterdam

The Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament last Thursday decided that ‘snorscooters’ will not be forced to use the parts of the road used by motor vehicles instead of cycle paths.

Snorscooters are normal scooters fitted with a speed limiter that restricts them to being driven at no more that 25kph. They have become popular with people who don’t want to cycle, but who don’t want to have to share the road (and traffic queues) with motors. Also, snorscooter riders don’t have to wear helmets. As a result sales of scooters have increased in recent years leading to complaints from cyclists, especially in Amsterdam, about having to share cycle paths with much faster scooters.
netherlands 16aThe Binnenhof of the Dutch Parliament

The proposal to banish snorscooters to the motor lanes and require use of a helmet was proposed by the Burgemeester of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, following lobbying by the Dutch national Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond). The speed limiters are easily removed and snorscooters are said to be driven at speeds of 40 to 80kph on cycle paths. It is claimed that there are ‘thousands’ of collisions between snorscooters and bicycles every year.
netherlands 14aThe Dutch Parliament in the Hague

The motion was rejected with parliamentarians arguing that the speed difference between snorscooters and general motor traffic was so great as to create considerable danger.

According to the Dutch newspaper, Telegraaf, the motor trade lobby organization, Bovag, was ‘pleased’ that the motion had been rejected, arguing that because snorscooters were limited to 25kph it would have been a ‘dangerous experiment’ to force them to ride in the motor lanes. The ANWB backed the opposition to the proposal.

However, the Dichtbij website said that ‘one thing is clear’, namely that the MPs who opposed the motion had obviously never ridden a bicycle in Amsterdam as ‘no snorscooter is driven at 25kph’. Dichtbij also pointed out that Bovag was not an organization concerned with road safety but a trade body that wanted to promote scooter sales. If the proposal to banish them from cycle paths would have made scooters less attractive as they would have to wait in traffic jams, so sales would fall. The website said that the cycle lobby had been beaten by the motor trade lobby.
nederland 802aAmsterdam’s cyclists have lost out to the interests of the motor trade say cyclists’ organisations

‘Cyclists in Amsterdam are clearly the losers’, said Dichtbij, ‘yearly there are thousands of accidents [ongelukken] on cyclepaths where upgraded snorscooters [driven at 40 to 80kph] run cyclists down’. Scooters also cause air quality problems on and around cyclepaths, with Dichtbij claiming that one scooter is as dirty as between 20 and 2,700 freight lorries (depending on whether the scooter is 2-stroke or has been upgraded).

A New Act for Wales?

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Wales – Setting the Stage for a New Act

Wales has the opportunity to develop the infrastructure needed to increase levels of walking and cycling with its new ‘Active Travel Act’. Whether the Act proves to be an effective tool for change or turns out to a damp squib will in part depend on how well we organize to take advantage of it.

It is one of the ironies of devolution that the nations with devolved powers have so far been more British even than England in road design. It is devolved London that is now posing the first serious challenge to the status quo with proposals on the agenda for east-west and north-south cycleways. But with its Active Travel Act (Wales) 2013, Wales could possibly make real progress.

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Millions wasted on bendy-bus vanity project in Swansea

The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), strapped for resources, has chosen to legislate in a way that it is hoped will nudge local authorities into undertaking the changes they have so ignored. The problems look overwhelming.

Up and down the land cycling and walking are treated by local authorities with contempt. The bustling south Wales coastal city, Swansea, spent many millions and many years re-vamping its city centre to cater for bendy-buses and taxis – but overlooked installing bus priority signals – so buses sit for ages at traffic lights that give priority to motors. Cyclists didn’t get a look in.

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Total absence of cycling infrastructure in major redevelopment in Swansea

True a natty little cycle path was added next to the pedestrian crossing outside county hall – but it leads you on a nasty main road and into the realm of the anti-cycling city centre-wide bus & taxi track-way.
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Token cycle crossing that goes nowhere in Swansea

Or take Porthmadog on the northwestern coast of Wales. Here an opportunity arose to re-surface the tarmac in the town centre. What did the council do? It created a new concept in road engineering – what we might call a maxi-mini-roundabout with acres of tarmac for motors and a tiny central island. Pedestrians were corralled on narrow pavements behind railings (necessary given the way the roundabout encourages speeding through the town centre). Cyclists didn’t get a look in.

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‘Maxi-min-roundabout’ with narrow pavements in Porthmadog – all it needs is a sign saying: “cyclists – don’t come here on holiday we have no space for you”

A town which depends entirely on tourism for economic sustenance might have seen the sense of making something out of its town centre. Regrettably the council could only stretch its mental apparatus to conceiving of tons of tarmac.

This is the sort of official and political lethargy that the Active Travel Act will come up against in Welsh local authorities [LAs].

There are two stages to the Act’s requirements. First, LAs must draw up a map of all existing cycle and pedestrian routes and assess them to a specified standard for safety and attractiveness to users. This is due by September 2015. Second, a map showing how the routes will be brought up to standard is due to be completed by September 2017. Roger Geffen of the CTC described the Act as a ‘policy breakthrough’. He said that the design guide sets high standards and the audit tool will give lobbying organizations the opportunity to check the assessments of the LAs and lobby in a more informed way for improvements.

The Act requires LAs, when creating, maintaining & improving highways to take reasonable steps to enhance the provision made for walkers & cyclists. As well as the maps of existing provision and proposed future enhancements, LAs must also make enhancements for ‘active travel’ in all new road schemes.

Enhancements must have regard to statutory Delivery Guidance & Design Guidance. Based on 5 criteria: coherence, directness, safety, comfort & attractiveness, the guidelines also encourage innovation where existing practice is not suitable for cycling &/or walking. There is also an emphasis on inclusive design for all ages and ‘abilities’.

The acts means that LAs “must have regard to the needs of walkers and cyclists in setting priorities and making decisions about how to secure the expeditious movement of traffic”.

“Be prepared to challenge blatant disregard of the guidance”, said Roger Geffen. There remains a number of ‘get outs’, such as where it is considered not possible to provide safe provision.

Richard Keatinge, of Beicio Bangor cycling lobbying group, said the Welsh design guidance means that roundabouts should be made slow and tight so that cyclists can safely share a single lane or provide separate tracks around the outside, preferably with priority”. The Perme St roundabout in Cambridge shows that “we need separate tracks. We should say so.”

Unfortunately, the WAG is not providing any funds and all Welsh LAs are under considerable financial pressure to fund the most expensive of the core areas of local provision – education and social services. Transport is likely to become a candidate for ever greater cuts and LAs are likely to continue to prefer motorways to cycleways and pavements within the diminished budgets. LAs never have trouble devising excuses for disregarding cycling and walking as transport modes. And Welsh councils are as effective as this as any in England, especially as quite a few are ‘one party states’, all but impervious to public pressure.
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Colwyn Bay cycle track – the cycle track designer fell asleep at his drawing board pen in hand, but no one noticed and actually built this!

However, the Act is about politics and gives local organizations a tool with which to step up their campaigning, as Roger Geffen explained. The whole process of drawing up the maps will be repeated three years after the first cycle has been completed, giving cycling and walking organizations the chance to lobby councils again once the weaknesses in the process have been identified.
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Colwyn Bay – a good indication of how LAs have no idea of the concept of high-quality cycle infrastructure

Roger also pointed out that it would be possible to raise a legal challenge in the form of a judicial review if a LA was clearly defying the spirit and the letter of the Act. There is no other formal means of challenge and this could only be done in a case where a successful challenge was likely, but he suggests that the wording of the Act is strong enough to make this a possibility in the future.

Roger was speaking at a Campaigners’ Training Day, organized jointly by CTC, Road Justice and space4cycling in Llandudno in north Wales.

Speaking to another workshop, Richard Keatinge, reported on some developments in the city of Bangor in northwest Wales. A major local bus provider recently went bankrupt, partly as a result of cuts in public bus subsidies. This has sparked off a row as the council will no longer fund a bus service that took children about 2 miles to school from one side of the city to the other. They have been told that they will have to walk.

Now a proposal has come forward for a cycle route to be developed running through the city centre that, if implemented to a high standard, could allow the children to cycle to school and back home.

In the present financial situation the council may decide it doesn’t want to spend money on cycle routes. But it may come to its senses and understand that it can do away with the on-going bus subsidy for a one-off development cost and at the same time help increase children’s activity levels and health and well being as well as improving the city’s image. Hopefully the atmosphere created by the Active Travel Act will help push the council towards adopting the proposals.
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Fishguard – ultra short distance cycle track (with bench) – what were the designers thinking? 

It is too early to say what effect the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 will have. It may well not make much difference – or it may help create an atmosphere where cycling and walking begin to be taken seriously in Wales. If so that would be a justification for devolution. Just carrying on as before would make one wonder why was devolution necessary if the politicians have no idea of how to change things for the better once they’ve got the powers they’ve been asking for. This is a test of the politicians of Wales as much as a tool for improving conditions for people walking and cycling.

I am not a member of the CTC and haven’t been since the early-1980s, having then discovered that it didn’t represent my interests in urban cycling conditions or have sympathy with my preference even then for dedicated cycle networks. However, I must say that I found this recent meeting very refreshing. Yes, there were some traditionalists, but the greater majority of those present took for granted that space4cycling meant giving a central role for dedicated/segregated cycle facilities and this was also how Roger Geffen and his CTC colleague, Robbie Gillett, presented it.

The atmosphere was completely different from many meetings of LCC and other cycling groups that I recall from the late 1990s and early 2000s, where opposition to segregated solutions was emphatically and patronizingly expressed.

I came away from this recent training day with the impression that CTC supports the case for high quality cycle infrastructure. Whatever happened in the past is gone and having the CTC on side, arguing for high quality infrastructure, is an enormous advantage to the progressive UK cycling lobby. The CTC has the experience and resources to give serious backing to our campaign to put high quality infrastructure on the political agenda (in all the constituent nations of Britain) and I for one welcome this development.

One final point, my first act of cycle activism was in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Cardiff city council opened the first stage of what eventually became Lon Las Cymru, the national north-south cycle route. The first stage usefully went from near my then home in central Cardiff to Coryton where I worked on the northern limits of the city. On the day it opened I rang up the council cycling officer to say thank you very much for the route. I also asked if it was possible for the track near the centre of the city to be swept clean of the considerable number of shards of glass that littered its surface. The officer exploded in anger, shouting at me, ‘What, you want us to SWEEP it for you as well.’ The conversation rapidly ended, but in the years since then I have, now and again, been involved in campaigning for better provision of cycle facilities, spurred on in part by memory of that unwelcoming response.

Are the Dutch different – or just at a different stage?

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Much discussion in the UK new cycling lobby has focused on the great success the Dutch have had in the past 30 years or so, with increasing cycling levels being achieved by building ever more extensive and higher quality cycle networks. Here in the seemingly pervasive anti-cycling culture of the UK, we are naturally jealous of the Dutch facilities that encourage people to cycle by providing an attractive cycling environment.

Some British cycle activists are overwhelmed by the difference between the Dutch cycle network and the UK’s feeble provision, prompting some bloggers and activists to conclude ‘we could never do that here’ [and therefore don’t bother with infrastructure].

I thought this Dutch article would be of interest to UK cycle activists as it documents some interesting insights into the consequences of a having a successful cycling policy. Life is a journey, not a destination; the same is true for cycle infrastructure campaigning.

British cycle campaigners may simply think how nice it must be to have the problems faced by their Dutch colleagues, but there are other more important lessons we can learn as we try in Britain to create what has been lacking so far in our country – an effective and credible cycle lobby. The key lesson, it seems to me, that can be drawn from the document below is that cycle lobbying is an endless journey. There won’t be an end point where we have achieved an adequate cycle network in the UK.

Success will reassemble the context and there will always be a need to lobby for effective, fair solutions.

So, the lesson is that there is no need to be fearful of the gulf between us and other more advanced European continental countries in terms of cycle networks and to fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Oh, we are so far behind the Dutch, we can never replicate their success’. Their success was, and still is, a process. The arguments rehearsed in the article are basically no different from the discussion we have over the divvying up of our own public realm, we are just at a different stage in that journey.

Thanks to Acquire Publishing for permission to publish this English version of the Dutch original, which can be seen at: http://www.acquirepublishing.nl/verkeer-in-beeld/de-uitdaging-van-toenemend-fietsgebruik-en-snelheidsverschillen

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[The challenge of increasing bike use and speed differences]

Dutch cycle paths are being used by a wider variety of types of vehicle, from mopeds and e-bikes which can travel at 50kph, to people who pedal along at a more ‘normal’ 12 to 18kph. Also the numbers of people cycling are strongly increasing, not least because of various actions aimed at stimulating cycling. In many respects this is a positive development, but there it also poses challenges. How can cycling infrastructure be increased to the level needed by the new types of bicycle and be accommodated in urban areas of limited space?

“You’d think that the cycle infrastructure should be expanded to cater for both developments – and above all for a combination them”, says Jolanda Smit-van Oijen of XTNT organisation. “What we are seeing in the main is development of fast cycle routes [snelfietspaden] outside built up areas. That is a good development, but in the urban areas the often limited space doesn’t allow this type of solution. We seen the same as with motorways, up to the urban limits it goes very well, but within urban limits you encounter bottlenecks.

A paper, ‘The electric bicycle demands an upgrade of cycling policy’, written jointly by Smit with Huib Beebs and Godfried de Graaf,, which was published at the National Transport Congress in 2013, discusses the subject of the long term development of the cycling infrastructure.

Dividing the available space differently

Divera Twisk, co-ordinator of bicycle research at SWOV [transport research organisation], acknowledges the development: “What is going to happen?”, she asks. “We need to develop better insight into the actual use and how blockages arise. Does it lie with the throughput, the breadth of the bike path, and how do we optimise it? Sharing space differently could be a solution. It demands a different vision: how will access to the urban realm be regulated? This means that the government/administration need to look at the quality of existing infrastructure.

It doesn’t have to involve drastic regulations, such as the Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) demanded, but with the forthcoming increase in the scale [schaalsprong] of cycling, there is a need to look first overall at the quality currently offered to cyclists: think of ‘bike path bollards’, rounded kerbs, the measures taken up in the ‘Model Approach Bikes’.” Also the SWOV argues for more thought to be given to rules of behaviour. “We must promote social behaviour on bike paths with a sort of [highway] code”, says Twisk.

The Administration can improve the prospects

What direction should be followed according to Smit? As the paper’s title would lead one to expect, it concentrates on the growth of the e-bike. “We think the government can gain benefits in terms of its ‘mobility policy’ by taking account of the e-bike. That requires a supplement to present bicycle policy and – as Twisk indicates – to think in a different manner over the ‘spatial’ [‘raumtelijk’ – in this context usually translated as ‘town planning’] policy in the city/town.” At the moment about 1 million e-bikes use bikepaths; this number is expected to grow, certainly as the e-bike gains popularity among the older people and urban commuters. The paper’s authors expect that in the future the e-bike will also be used by younger people, as it takes over in short journeys and for use in getting to/from public transport nodes. Above all there is the expectation that the e-bike will become cheaper. “This development offers opportunities, but also brings bicycle queues [or jams] and challenges for safety through speed differentials,” says Smit. … Certainly the e-bike, says Smit, will create demand for parking places. “Think of greater space between parked bikes, how to avoid having to lift bikes and avoiding inclines or tight corners in [bike] parking places.

Take the bicycle seriously

Sjors van Duren of the City-region Arnhem-Nijmegen, is happy with this positive approach: “my understanding is that the e-bike is seen as ‘dangerous’. Through emphasising the disadvantages and the dangers, the image of the e-bike as a transport mode is worsened. That is an unjust and undesirable stigma: cycling is not dangerous. That is because the health benefit is ten times greater than the increased traffic danger of someone who replaces the car with the bike. Van Duren wants to see the bicycle taken more seriously. “Much has been done around traffic management for the auto and concerning public transport, but the bike should become taken seriously as a mode; that means now and then making choices.”

SWOV has researched how fast people really ride using e-bikes. The difference with the ‘normal’ cyclist is better than expected; the e-bike travels on average 4kph faster. Also older people don’t travel so fast as youngster on an ordinary bike. It is however likely that there is a risk that confrontation with a motor driver can be dangerous, as they would not expect a bike to travel so fast.

For bikepaths outside the urban realm another type of cyclist is increasing: the bicycle racer. SWOV is researching the consequences, among others with the NTFU (Nederlandse Toer Fiets Unie) [Dutch Touring Cyclists’ Union], aimed at the amateur cyclist. Twisk: “the race bike creates antipathy among the average cyclist, while sport is of course healthy and gives much pleasure. The question is primarily how the cycle traffic is going to mix safely. A hard line would be to ban competitive race cyclists from the public highway [translator meaning cyclepath I think] and let them cycle as fast as possible on circuits. Another position would be to ‘facilitate the provision of’ [faciliteren] space, on condition that it is safely used. Indeed: make the cycle infrastructure wider, then make it also more attractive for other users such as horse riders and in-line skaters.”

Create sufficient capacity in the future

The pressure on the bikepath will increase, especially in the large cities. This could have a limiting effect on the growth of the number of cyclists. Future provision must have sufficient capacity, but what must traffic engineers do? In the fifties this problem also arose in relation to the rapid growth of motor traffic. Keeping through traffic out of the city centre could – in smaller scale – also be applied to e-bikes. Smit: “Provide thus for a wider cycle network, fast cycle routes along the edge of city centre areas, and also provide for good traffic flow measures for all cyclists in the city centre.” The increasing speed differences could have negative consequences: more overtaking manoeuvres, a more difficult appraisal crossing speeds of other road users and possible more serious consequences of ‘accidents’ [ongevallen]. This makes it essential to consider practical realisation of high quality infrastructure.

Choosing the bicycle is a strategic choice

In the Arnhem-Nijmegen region works is underway on the implementation of cycle routes. Research is also being conducted about where and when which types of cyclists make use of the routes and when the routes don’t link up properly. The six fast cycle routes [snelfietspaden] that are being developed in the region run through the urban areas up to the edge of the pedestrianised centre of the city/town. Van Duren: “We make it as comfortable as possible for cyclists to get into the city centre, no least because the bike needs 10 to 20 times less space than the auto. There are cycle queues; but these are easier to solve than auto queues.” The city region chose, when installing new infrastructure, a standard width of 4m in both directions, so that it makes it easier to overtake. According to van Duren the greatest risk is run by oncoming cyclists [ie head on collision with overtaking faster vehicles in the cycle path]. “The number of head on collisions [botsingen] is increasing, and we have to deal with that, for example, by widening routes even further. My expectation is that the fast cycle routes between towns will never become so busy, but that – especially historical – inner cities must use space differently.”;

[images of snelfietspaden: http://tinyurl.com/lnqq7wj]

A moped can [legally] for example ride at 25kph, but often ride [illegally] at about 40kph; then the speed difference with the average cyclist much greater. “Choosing for the bicycle in the inner city is a strategic choice”, says van Duren. “It is often said that there is no room in the inner city, but it matters how you divide the available space. Widespread public support is important: broad support and a commonly shared ambition makes it easier to realise new projects.”

Van Duren observes that a disadvantage of fast cycle routes is that they are often associated with motorways and that they will damage the urban environment. “The ‘snelfietspad’ term raises opposition among urban architects/planners, and understandably so, but you naturally don’t lay a 5 meter wide asphalt lane over a historical square. There needs to be a scale change (schaalsprong) and alliances forged with urban architects/planners, to develop an attractive urban image where the cyclist feels at home. An attractive cycling environment leads to more cyclists. We must not forget that the bicycle enhances the liveability of the city.”

Utrecht named as most cycle friendly [place] by CNN

Utrecht was named as the world’s most cycle friendly city by CNN in the middle of August. In the centre of Utrecht 50% of people travel by bike, and the council has announced the development of the world’s largest bike parking place. Yet there are still frequent reports of bike queues in the city. This is reason enough, says Herbert Tiemens of Utrecht Region Control, to look at cycling policy. “We are pleased with this [CNN] honour, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Whether the cycle queues are actually getting longer I cannot say with certainty, [but] the cycle queues arise primarily at traffic lights and we are trying to do something about that at the moment. The existing guidelines for cycle infrastructure are outdated, [and] we see greater speed differences between types of bike. Many traffic planners/engineers have developed bikepaths at the minimum width, so that they are too narrow to give everyone sufficient space. Adapting the guidleines would be a good development. The first guidelines date from 1956, and were re-cycled by the ANWB in 1968 and then in 19993 taken over as the CROW guidelines. But the present bikes and people are faster and more room is needed.” … “In the Utrecht region most home-work distances are relatively short and thus ideal for e-bikes, although cycle use is affected by climatic conditions.”

‘Snorfietsen off the cycleway’

[note: ‘snorfiets’ is a type of moped]

With an eye on the increasing numbers and speed differences consideration being given to new regulations is desirable. Cycle policy is primarily the responsibility of councils and provinces, but should there also be something happening to regulation at a national level? For example the categorisation of vehicles, in relation to speed and whether it should be compulsory for helmet use [translator’s note: this applies to faster vehicles, not to ordinary bicycles]. Should an e-bike fall in the bicycle or moped/scooter category? The national administration should make a decisions about this says Smit. “But some things certainly demand national rules, such as the use or not of helmets on mopeds where the city of Amsterdam is currently involved”, reacts Twisk.

Amsterdam council asked SWOV in 2013 to make an estimate of safety effects of moving mopeds to the carriageway [ie banning them from bikepaths] with and without compulsory use of helmets. … The results are found in the SWOV ‘Educated Guess’ report of the consequences for moped riders in Amsterdam. Minister Schulz, in early June informed the ‘Second Chamber’ [of the Dutch parliament] that councils would be given the opportunity to decide themselves whether helmets should be made compulsory for mopeds, so that they can be safely moved to the carriageway.

This was an important step in the struggle of councils to removed mopeds (where necessary) from the bikepaths. The exact terms of the rule are being worked on by the administration. According to Tiemens the rules depend on two elements: the speed and the fact that ‘it is about snorfiets’ [ie they are disliked as a class of machines]. “Because the moped rider doesn’t provide any of the power he [sic] is less aware and thus less concerned with the traffic. [translator’s note: I hope I have got this sentence right: ‘Omdat de snorfietser geen kracht levert is hij wellicht minder oplettend en dus minder met het verkeer bezig] The cyclist’s adrenalin levels are higher. And this mental factor is important for traffic safety.“ SWOV is currently rsearching the mental load on cyclists and the increasing tiredness through ‘power effort’ is of influence on the attention paid to the traffic.

Jos Sluijsmans (Bike Service NL – Fietsdiensten.nl] on the role of ‘slow traffic’

[note: Langzaam verkeer = literally ‘slow traffic’, but is a legal term for traffic allowed to use bikepaths & related regulations]

“We must think carefully over the role of slower vehicles, such as electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters and innovations such as the ‘walkbike’ Alinker. Also the increasing number of ‘delivery’ bikes (bakfiestsen, transportfietsen and trailers], which are used for the transport of children and dogs in increasing use for urban distribution and form a distinct category of users. This brings other problems and challenges for the infrastructure. Alongside that is the visible growth of electric vehicles which are difficult to place on simple categories, such as the Segway, Qugo and Trikke. All the vehicles must yet find their place in the urban traffic. It’s going to get busier on the bikepath and we must take account of that.”

Wim Bot (Fietsersbond – cyclists’ union) on ‘scale-change bike’ [‘schaalsprong fiets’]

“The Fietsersbond calls for a scale-change in cycle policy, not only because of the arrival of the e-bike, but also because of the growth of cycle traffic in the urban realm which means that the travelling and parking infrastructure no longer meets requirements. There must literally be more room made available for cycling and to allow further growth of cycling to be realised. In that respct we can think of wider bikepaths, but also of a different division of the space for all modes. In streets where cycle traffic is most important, the space should be increased to meet needs. It is impossible to do this without thinking about the dominant role of the car in the urban area (in Amsterdam the car takes over 40% of public space).” The ‘vision document’ ‘Meer Fiets’ (More Bikes) from 2012 is available on http://www.fietsbond.nl. [The FB is also working with regions and councils to develop fast cycle routes – http://www.fiestsfilevrij.nl .

The discussion carries on at the National Bike Congres: http://www.nationalfietscongres.nl

The Camden Cycle Tracks – part 2

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This posting is part 2 of my account of the setting up of the Camden cycle tracks at the turn of the century. Part 1 outlined the background to the gaining of political support for project from the point of view of one of those who campaigned for the cycle routes. Here I want to emphasise that this was a ‘team effort’ and several members of Camden Cycling Campaign attended endless committee meetings and site visits over a prolonged period. Without that commitment the project would not have succeeded.

This posting gives some details of the two cycle tracks, a couple of other projects related to my time in Camden and, finally, a few words about more recent developments.

‘Seven Stations Link’

The ‘Seven Stations Link’ was first proposed to Camden council at the beginning of 1998. This paragraphs that follow are based on extracts from the original documents proposing the route, dated January 1998 and September 1998.

The first proposal was for a substantial network linking Paddington and intervening railway stations (Marylebone, Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross, Thameslink) with Liverpool Street, thus getting the name of the ‘Seven Stations Link’. The connection with the rail stations was not the primary purpose of the network, but it pointed to the broader outlook, linking it with an ‘integrated transport vision’. The primary objective of the proposed cycle route was to provide a high-quality ‘backbone’ network that could be used as a ‘distributor’ link to locations in Central London, given that the route ran from north-west Central London to east Central London. The emphasis was put on a continuous route that tackled all problems, especially at junctions.

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The route of the proposed Seven Stations Link

However, the full Seven Stations Link stepped well beyond the boundaries of the borough of Camden. Neighbouring Westminster and Islington boroughs were not interested in cycling schemes, so the proposal became confined to suggesting to Camden council build its section of the link, running east-west across the borough. We also proposed a ‘feeder’ link on Royal College Street (part of the ‘Somers Town’ cycle route) running parallel to the heavily congested Camden High Street.

From the Camden Cycling Campaign proposal:

The proposal is for a dedicated bicycle network in North Central London with a ‘backbone’ route and ‘feeder’ routes serving seven major rail stations, residential areas of ‘Inner London’ as well as routes in ‘Central London’. The proposal addresses the question of how in increase cycling as a mode of transport in Inner and Central London. In terms of distance and topography London is an ideal city for cycling, however, the main retarding factor is the conditions faced by cyclists on the road.

The backbone is intended as a catalyst for wider bicycle route provision in London. It must have its own growing network of feeder and links to other network routes in London. It is also intended as a ‘showpiece’ development setting the trend for the imaginative and effective measures that will be needed to ensure a significant increase in cycle use in London.

The proposal is for a network that encourages cycling by ensuring widespread network reach and an implementation that makes cyclists feel safe. The actual and perceived dangers of cycling are the main reasons why people are reluctant to take up or continue cycling. This implies that a dedicated or ‘segregated’ network is needed if cycling is to be stimulated. Implementation of such a network would be a clear statement from the authorities in London that cycling does have a significant role to play by according it its own space.

The full route links Paddington and Hyde Park to Liverpool Street by reallocating road space for a dedicated ‘backbone’ link and ‘feeder’ links. The proposed backbone offers a realistic way of increasing cycling in London, of improving the urban environment, and aiding the provision of improved facilities for pedestrians and public transport user. Additionally, by linking seven major railway stations the backbone and feeder network will be a major contributory factor in increasing use of rail transport.”

Seven Stations Link – the campaign

I first presented the idea for a two-way segregated track in the ‘Bloomsbury’ district in 1997 to a meeting of the Camden Cycling Campaign in a upstairs room of a pub on Chalk Farm Road on a hot summer’s evening. It received immediate and enthusiastic support from members and was adopted for policy presentation to the council.

It would be tedious to go through all the meetings and lobbying that went on, but it is essential to say that the council, at the suggestion of Councillor Gerry Harrison, set up a liaison committee for cyclists, pedestrians and residents to talk to the council about environmental and street improvements. This liaison committee backed the cycle route proposal, thus giving it wider community support outside the cycling lobby. This channel of communication was critical to the success of the project. 

There was another important feature throughout the campaign for these cycle tracks – ‘ordinary’ people, who never imagined that they could conceive of themselves cycling on London’s streets, recognised that this style of cycle track could attract them onto the saddle, thus we received very wide support. This gave the councillors who backed the project further faith and encouragement.

Building alliances and gaining support in the wider world has long proved a tough challenge for the inward-looking cycling lobby, but with this plan this was not a problem because people could see that this was a practical and realistic way of getting more cyclists.

The most effective opposition to the proposal within the council came from a few Labour councillors who were firmly set against doing anything to promote cycling and indeed, in one or two cases, actively wanted to impede progress and see less cycling on London’s streets. One councillor in particular argued that increasing cycling would reduce demand, and thus fare revenues, for public transport. As this councillor lived in Central London, he didn’t need to use the tube or buses in rush hours and thus did not understand how awful it is to be crushed into the overcrowded tube. Nor did he appreciate that cycling could reduce overcrowding pressures on the tube system – there are frequently so many people wanting to use to get into main tube stations during rush hours that they have to queue outside and wait for access to the overcrowded platforms.

The most effective public transport improvement that could be made in London would be to provide effective cycle routes.

The council had justified restricting the hours of operation of the ‘Bloomsbury’ LCN painted cycle lanes by arguing that they were ‘necessary’ for servicing businesses. We argued that, this in effect meant that there could never be any full time cycle lanes in Central London and in many other parts of Inner London. Physical segregation, however, allows the continued servicing of businesses – without disrupting the cycle track.

From the Camden Cycling Campaign proposal document for the ‘Seven Stations Link’ 1998:

Advantages:

 1 – if properly designed, provides a safe and continuous route over a sustained distance

2 – provides a feeling of safety that attracts new cyclists and ‘return’ cyclists

3 – provides a quality of journey that will be attractive to both experienced and current cyclists

4 – does not become inoperable because of restricted hours of use or because of the parking problems common to painted cycle lanes

5 – provides uninterrupted facilities for ‘servicing’ businesses for deliveries, for residential user parking, bus stops etc.

6 – cheaper than two one-way segregated tracks

7 – the most effective use of space, especially for routes with heavy commuter cycle traffic

8 – provides opportunities for improvements for pedestrians and public transport; for traffic calming or through motor vehicle traffic reduction and for general environmental improvements such as providing public seating and planting trees

9 – provides a high-profile statement of the commitment of the local authority to improved cycling facilities by effective re-allocation of roadspace

 Disadvantages:

 1 – two-way cycle tracks can present problems at poorly designed junctions

 Royal College Street i

The proposal for the main backbone cycle track, the Seven Stations Link, was accompanied by a suggestion for a cycle track along Royal College Street, forming a ‘feeder’ link between commuters’ homes in Camden and beyond and their work or study places in Inner London.

Royal College Street is part of the one-way ‘gyratory’ system that dominates the roads of the whole of Camden Town. Royal College Street itself was one-way northbound and made no allowance for cycling except for two short sections (each approximately 20 metes long) of cycle track near the northern and southern ends of the road. These short sections of cycle track were part of the ‘Somers Town’ cycle route introduced by the Greater London Council in the 1970s. On the main section of Royal College Street, however, the cycle route was diverted to twist and turn down back streets. Southbound access to the cycle route involved cycling down a parallel one-way road, also part of the gyratory system, St. Pancras Way.

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Royal College Street, before, looking north

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Part of a cycle route installed by the GLC in the 1970/80s; the route turns off Royal College Street to twist down some back streets to the right, view to the south

The Camden Cycling Campaign proposal was for a two-way cycle track to run on the left side the road (facing north) linking up the two short sections of existing cycle track at either end. As Royal College Street was a long straight and wide road with plenty of room for parking on both sides, as well as two lanes of motor traffic, the plan was so obvious that it gained momentum very quickly and was implemented before the Seven Stations Link.

Implementation was not without problems. The council’s first effort was ridiculously narrow – too narrow even for a one-way cycle track, let alone a two-way system. Also the traffic planners wanted to insert ‘cyclists give way’ signs at every junction. We argued fiercely for a wider track and for retaining cyclist priority at junctions. With backing from Councillor Gerry Harrison we were able to get these principles established (the original ‘give way’ signs are visible in the photo below). The idea of giving cyclists priority at junctions is fairly unusual in Britain and the Camden tracks are among some of the very few examples of cyclist priority on cycle tracks in the country (which is standard on continental European cycle tracks).

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Royal College Street looking north; note the painted over ‘give way’ markings of the council’s first implementation for a junction just out of the picture

However, we expended a lot of our ‘political capital’ on these battles, thus we were forced to compromise on other issues. In particular, we lost the battle to get one fast ‘rat-route’ through a housing estate to be closed and for through motor traffic to be diverted on the main roads. Also the design at junctions and on St. Pancras Way was severely inadequate.

Royal College Street ii

The photo below show the newly implemented two-way cycle route running along Royal College Street. It was an immediate success, with a threefold increase in the number of cyclists using the route (according to surveys organised by the government’s ‘Transport Research Laboratory’, TRL).

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Royal College Street, looking south; the lower picture shows the same places as shown in the image of the GLC route above

It is most unlikely that this immediate increase in cycling numbers represented an influx of new cyclists, but rather that existing cyclists switched from other routes to the new cycle track. This idea is given added weight by TRL findings that a significant number of the users of the new route cited the track as their main reason for using that route.

Since then user numbers have grown so the track has successfully attracted both existing and new cyclists.

Unfortunately, the level of attention to detail in design was not adequate and there are a few problems at a couple of junctions. The old habit of doing as little as possible dogged the design process – see the last two photos on this page for an example of lazy design work.

In the past couple of years Camden has undertaken the expansion of the track and there are now two one-way cycle tracks on different sides of the road. While this development is highly encouraging, there has been some controversy over the council’s decision to remove the segregating kerbs and replace them with ‘planters’ and ‘armadillos’, to create a look of ‘segregation lite’. Such techniques could allow the implementation of protected cycle routes much more cheaply than using more expensive kerbs. However, continual damage to the planters and armadillos from motors has to be monitored to see if they offer ‘segregation effective’ – which is the primary aim and which should not be compromised. 

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Royal College Street re-design with one-way cycle networks on either side of the road with planters and armadillos as separating technique

Bloomsbury and the London Cycle Network – before

The painted London Cycle Network route through Bloomsbury was introduced in 1997 using painted lanes – which were ‘operational’ only during rush hours. There was immense dissatisfaction among Camden Cyclist Campaign members with the pointless painted cycle lanes as they made absolutely no difference whatsoever to cycling conditions.

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Bloomsbury route – before

Bloomsbury and the London Cycle Network – after

The Seven Stations route would have involved several boroughs, including Westminster, Islington and the City of London Corporation, as well as Camden. As Camden alone took up the idea, we dropped the Seven Stations Link name and the Camden section of the route is now sometimes known as the Bloomsbury cycle route (or as LCN route 0).

The photos on this page illustrate the Bloomsbury track after implementation. It forms the basis of a key part of the present day cycle network in London – and is the most popular cycle route in central London, earning great praise from cyclists. There are serious design failings in the route, but it has demonstrated beyond doubt that segregated tracks are immensely popular. Use has increased steadily since the track was first introduced and several hundred cyclists use it during the morning rush hour.

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Bloomsbury cycle route – after

The opportunity was also taken to introduce significant changes to one part of the route, Byng Place, where traffic calming and pedestrian crossings were introduced. This transformed Byng Place from a fast, wide mass of tarmac into a much more calm place with motor vehicles driven quite slowly thanks to the pedestrian crossings and traffic tables. Regrettably the Byng Place section of the segregated cycle route was removed when, for a period, Camden was run by a Conservative/LibDem coalition on ‘aesthetic’ grounds, reintroducing aggressive driving through the place.

We also campaigned for pedestrian facilities to be improved all along the route, such as re-working junctions so that pedestrian priority was enforced by raised tables for motors to cross the pavement, but this idea was rejected by Camden council. It is, however, a key feature which cycle campaigners should lobby for when introducing cycleways. Not only is it vital in London for something to be done to improve pedestrian crossing at junctions, but it also strengthens the cycling/pedestrian case and there is much that unites us in looking for changes in the priority given to different transports modes in our cities, towns and villages.

As with Royal College Street, there were vigorous debates between us and the council’s designers over numerous points. The initial implementation used a painted line on the approach to the junction with Gower St. We managed to get this changed (and also another ridiculous design for the junction with Tottenham Court Road), but these successes lost us political credit for other issues.

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Bloomsbury cycle route, Torrington Place, initial implementation using painted separation – this had to be replaced as soon as possible

Problems have arisen where the original design standards were compromised, most notably at the junction with Gordon Square where there are lots of black cabs heading to and from Euston station, crossing the track, using a junction without any traffic lights. A simple diversion of this traffic onto a signalled junction and a parallel route would solve this problem. This was part of our original proposal.

Also the design at the eastern end of the track is sub-standard. But as one commentator, David Hembrow, has observed:One of the reasons why the infrastructure continues to improve in the Netherlands is that people continue to complain about what they have and continue to strive to make it better. There is no complacency and no celebration of having ‘finished’ anything. To stop making improvements would mean starting to slide backwards. Therefore, progress is continual.”

When the first phase of the Bloomsbury track was put out to local consultation it received considerable support from local residents and businesses alike. The tracks have also proved immensely popular with cyclists and the number of cyclists using the track has risen steadily.

However, the anti-cycling lobby was soon stirred into action.

After the first phase of the route was introduced covering the eastern side of the borough discussions took place over the route to reach the eastern boundary of the borough. This was highly controversial and the local MP, Frank Dobson, played a significant role in preventing the use of the most suitable route. This involved passing Coram’s Field playground. Mr Dobson went as far as threatening to lie down in front of the bulldozers (though of course such bulldozers were a figment of his self-indulgent imagination). He argued that it would be dangerous for children to have to use a playground near a cycle route. Obviously, in Mr Dobson’s understanding of the world, it is safer to have speeding motor vehicles alongside the pavement than slower moving cyclists.

It also seems he lacks the capacity to imagine that inner-city children would benefit enormously from being able to cycle to and from the playground safely. Instead he exerted undue influence on Camden Labour Party to use a sub-optimal route – and to keep the children penned in by fast-moving motors.

There was also opposition from the cycling lobby’s core activists. This derives from the view adopted by the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) way back in the 1930s, when it decided that it was against cycle tracks. This attitude has been passed down the generations and it is necessary to subscribe to this view for anyone hoping to become a core activist. However, it is an attitude confined to a small number of activists. When the London Cycling Campaign recently (2011) conducted a membership consultation the members’ choice was to support a campaign for London to ‘Go Dutch’.

For some unknown reason, no qualitative research has been done to test the views of cyclists (and pedestrians) about their views of the Camden cycle tracks despite their quantitative success. However, TfL (Transport for London) has conducted a lot of research for some of its (absurdly overinflated named) ‘Cycle Superhighways’. The research questions are biased towards the ‘painted lane’ philosophy of the Cycle Superhighways project, not offering respondents to comment on the need for segregated tracks. However, the message inevitably seeps through. As the report notes: “The qualitative research found that the space separation from other road users and high visibility of the Cycle Superhighways were key factors in improving how safe cyclists feel.”

Also, it is noticeable that CS3, which has a long segregated stretch, does better in just about every aspect of the study: a high proportion of people use it because it ‘feels safer’ or is ‘more pleasant’, more people say it improves reliability and journey time predictability, it also scores higher on most route quality indicators and it has a lower maintenance cost (see ‘Updates from CCC’ page).

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/roadusers/BCS-pilot-evaluation-report.pdf

Meanwhile, cyclist death and serious injury rates are on the rise. Even the national press and TV has picked up on the terrible toll of cyclists’ lives on London’s manic streets.

The two most important recent developments, however, have been overwhelmingly positive.

First, there has been an upsurge in activity by people wanting proper space to be made available for people to cycle in London. Imaginative actions like ‘die-ins’ outside TfL’s headquarters and ‘flash-rides’ at junctions where fatal collisions have taken place have combined with effective organization through the combined use of ‘social media’ and traditional methods of campaigning. London Cycling Campaign’s upper echelon was devoting its attention to the critical issue of whether the organisation should change its name to London Cyclists or similar just when this upsurge of activity was happening and almost got left behind, though fortunately it was saved by the membership who had joined to campaign for better cycling facilities, not for a better name for the campaign. The vibrancy of the new campaigning means that the cycling lobby, for the first time in decades, is setting the agenda.

The second reason for optimism is the proposals for east-west and north-south backbone network links for bicycles from the current mayor of London. If these routes are implemented as projected, then they will fit the concept we proposed in Camden 15 years ago for ‘rolling out’ a network of backbone links in London. These proposals will meet with immense opposition – the Corporation of London (which controls the City of London) is raising obstacles as is Canary Wharf Group (another private organisation carrying out governmental duties in the Docklands area). Within TfL opinion seems to be against the proposals, but they must follow the political lead and are rather reeling from the powerful ‘die-ins’ outside their headquarters and other actions such as ‘flashrides’ at junctions where TfL has been reluctant to do anything to deal with designs that lead to fatal, for cyclists, collisions, such as at Kings Cross. Also a lot of employers and businesses in the private and public sector have voiced support for the proposals, whereas the opposition had mainly come from lobbying bodies citing anonymous companies. And a recent opinion poll showed 63% of Londoners supported proposals.

Whatever happens to these proposals in the immediate future, the idea that London should have high-quality cycle network links is now firmly on the agenda and it is clear that sooner or later these proposals will get the go ahead. Then a much bigger and more bitter battle will start – to ensure sufficiently high-quality of design, continuity and implementation. Boroughs such as Westminster and Kensington will no doubt do their best to nullify the routes that touch on their fiefdoms. But at long last the opening battle – to get the idea of high-quality cycle networks on to the agenda – has been won.

The new cycling lobby faces two challenges in addition to ensuring approval of the cycleway proposals: first, planning now to deal with the battle for quality of design and implementation; and second, thinking now about how to expand the network as quickly as possible as successful implementation of the cycleways will only increase demand from people to cycle.