Thursday, 21 November 2013
Friday, 11 October 2013
My talk was billed as a workshop so there was a fair amount of interaction, questions and inputs from the audience. In my final slide I concluded that it was important that infrastructure improvements went hand in hand with other measures to encourage cycle use such as Bikeability training, route mapping, skills training for engineers, publicity, led social rides and events such as Sky Ride.
This latter point seemed to be surprisingly controversial. The opening gambit from a member of the audience being 'I don't see what riding about on closed roads in helmets and hi viz has to do with everyday cycling'. It seems, that in the opinion of at least one campaigner, the thousands of people inspired to turn up to such events are in some way 'less worthy' than others. On the one hand I can sympathise with this, apart from racing and a few local CTC events I tend to avoid most forms of 'organised cycling'. To me it seems a bit of a waste of money to pay £25 to ride a sportive when you can just go and ride the same roads for free and have money for beer and cakes instead. On the other hand (and this was reinforced by my experience of working with the Cycling Towns for Cycling England and more recently sitting with the LSTF team in Birmingham Council), cycling is an alien and scary concept to many people. They really do want the reassurance of closed roads and an organised event, and of course most of us get some sort of 'buzz' from taking part in something with lots of other people. Most of all its a fun day, and the underlying message is that you could have this much fun on a regular basis. Sky Ride may only yield a small number of new regular commuter cyclists per event, but it is raising the profile of cycling and attracting large numbers of riders in a way that smaller events can't, and for one day a year streets that are normally full of cars are given over to the bicycle, which can't really be a bad thing can it?
Cyclists seem particularly prone to division. We have the various 'national bodies' British Cycling, CTC, Sustrans most prominently, but also the Road Time Trials Council which pre-dates the controversial re-birth of massed start road racing in the UK in the 1950s which eventually led to the formation of British Cycling from the warring factions of the British League of Racing Cyclists and the National Cyclists Union. Families and clubs were split asunder by those who wanted to join the 'League' and be like the continentals, and the modest black-clad secretive British world of early morning time trials. Similarly the Clarion movement offered a socialist alternative to the 'gentleman's club' types in the early CTC. My neighbour, a rabid mountain biker, has a deep suspicion of 'roadies'. Asked whether he'd consider cyclo cross he said, "Really, to me that's just sitting on the fence, you're neither a roadie or a mountain biker!" Cycle campaigners also seem to fall into those who want more people to cycle, and therefore reach out to non/novice cyclists and those who want to make things better for existing cyclists, as well as divisions about what is required to achieve their aims. Obviously we need all types of campaigner, so this shouldn't be seen as a problem.
My own cycling activity since August. What type of cyclist am I? Two weeks cycle camping tour, 6 mile round trip to the railway station most days, 8-10 hours training on local roads, bridleways or extended commute rides each week, racing in the local cyclo cross league and Three Peaks race, doing site visits and travel to meetings as part of my consultancy work and often picking up some shopping on my way home. This weekend I covered 50 miles on Friday working in London on a site visit, an hour on local bridleways on Saturday and just got in from a 2 hour road ride today (Sunday). Is any one of these activities really 'better' than others. For most the alternative would be a car trip or sitting around doing something 'sedentary' but then I drive to races so that's arguably an extra car trip, and its one of the few times we actually use a car in our household.
The economic benefits of cycling derive from improved health (around 65% of benefit), reduced pollution, improved air quality and reductions in congestion. In theory, my recreational cycling has a lower value to the economy (Because I'm only really getting the health benefits) but of course living 1000 ft up in hilly West Yorkshire I wouldn't logically choose to ride my bike for all those utility trips as it is easier and faster to drive. The bottom line is, I mainly cycle to keep fit enough to be able to enjoy my leisure cycling, but the only time I can do this is by combining it with 'utility' trips. This seems to be the case for most club riders that I know. They may view themselves primarily as sports cyclists but their training run is often the daily commute. That's OK, but what about all the money given to National Parks through LSTF and Cycle Ambition? That money is purely for leisure cycling. Wouldn't it be better spent elsewhere in towns and cities? People only drive into the area, go for a ride on a trail and drive out again. Well, these people will still be getting some of the health benefits of regular cycling. Work funded by Cycling England found that many of the leisure cyclists surveyed were regular visitors from nearby. Anecdotal evidence from cycle hire/sales firms in national parks also suggests that people make 2 or 3 visits to hire a bike before returning to actually buy a bike on their 3rd or 4th trip. It was clear from the research that 'occasional' cyclists were becoming more regular cyclists, if not everyday cyclists. More importantly for rural economies there is a substantial weight of evidence that cyclists generally spend more (compared to car borne visitors who typically park, spend just 20 - 40 minutes in a place and then move on to the next place), supporting local businesses, especially if they prolong their stay overnight, which they will do if there is a network of leisure routes to explore. Cycling as the sole purpose of a leisure visit, or as a means of access and transport to other attractions in the countryside is therefore important in boosting rural economies and keeping visitors occupied, and therefore not driving their cars. In short, yes we should be investing in rural leisure cycling because its one of the ways in which people get introduced to more regular cycling and because it contributes to sustainable tourism.
Leeds Civic Centre is the venue where my own paid career as a consultant started. In 1996 I went to a talk at an open evening of the Leeds Cycle Campaign entitled 'Segregation or Integration'. After the talk, the speaker, a former member of the cycle campaign, offered me 6 weeks temporary work to go and help him write a local authority cycling strategy. I took a chance that it might lead to something more and luckily it did!
Unsurprisingly, in 1996 the cycle campaigning world was split. Some people loved the Dutch system and thought this was the way forward. The Danes in particular were embarking on major infrastructure improvements and Safe Routes to School at the time and I worked on a Sustrans pilot project to try to copy this approach in Leeds. Others (the majority in those days) felt that really we needed to remove motor traffic and reduce speeds so that cyclists would feel safe on the roads. This is the key to 'sustainable safety', reducing traffic danger to make the roads safer for all users.
It is thoroughly depressing that some people still take these 'sides' when its clear (and entirely consistent with Dutch and now Danish experience) that we need to do both. The 'segregation' countries only put cycle tracks where they are needed, and use a variety of measures to manage demand and reduce speeds to enable cyclists to safely share the roads in residential areas, town and city centres. They also do a lot of promotion and training. The Danes for example ran the successful 'Bikebusters' project where participants were given bicycles, locks, waterproof clothing, training and other support to take away every 'excuse' for not cycling. Even in their flat country with lots of infrastructure they had to work to build the number of cyclists. The 2012 edition of 'Collection of Cycle Concepts' details many other ways in which the Danes use training and promotion to increase cycling. The Colombians and Brazilians offer the 'Cyclovia' events to turn over the roads to cyclists, skaters and pedestrians on a Sunday. The Dutch offer cycle training to children, and specialist schemes to assist immigrant populations for whom cycling isn't a natural cultural choice.
The important thing is that all measures to increase cycling, whether through traffic reduction, training, mass participation events, inspirational Olympic success or building separate infrastructure help to broaden, strengthen and increase the cycling community. Lets not worry about what kind of cyclist we are, or whether we wear Lycra, Paul Smith, Laura Ashley or tweed. Vive le Difference!
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
I started off by riding up the coast to Den Haag via the Hook of Holland. The vast Europort is a bit of a maze but the route to the foot ferry to the Hook of Holland is clearly signed and uses a mix of cycle tracks and quieter roads. At Hook of Holland there was a Dutch ‘traffic jam’ as maybe 50 cyclists were waiting to get on a ferry designed to carry up to 20 bikes!
|Dutch traffic jam!|
This is part of the North Sea Cycle Route ‘LF1’ similar to our National Cycle Network. For the most part it’s what the Dutch call a ‘Fietspad’ and what in Britain we would call ‘a shared use route’. The traffic free coastal route passes through the dunes and alongside beaches and promenades is typically 4.0m wide with either a concrete or tarmac surface. Priorities are clearly marked at road junctions, sometimes the cycle route has priority, but at the busier beach car park access roads cyclists are expected to stop for cars if necessary. Pedestrians using the route are heavily outnumbered by cyclists and people tend to always walk or cycle on the right, moving right to let faster cyclists pass. It’s all good natured, conducted with a ping on the bell, a ‘hi’ or a wave, although a bell is very much the preferred way and the Dutch weren’t impressed that our touring bikes didn’t have them.
At minor road junctions it is a requirement to give way to traffic from the right, even when travelling straight ahead, so drivers and cyclists generally take more care (than in the UK) when there are other vehicles in the vicinity of a junction.
· Traffic is concentrated on the motorways and ‘A’ roads that provide good inter-urban connections. The lower categories of road generally do not provide good direct routes for cars, and this pattern is reinforced by limited crossing points of major rivers such as the Rhine and Maas as ferry services have limited capacity for cars and don’t carry HGVs.
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
The completion of the velodrome was the start of a journey that led ultimately to the world dominance of our track cyclists, to Wiggo’s Tour win and the London Olympics. In my personal dealings with British Cycling there is a noticeable culture of excellence and clarity, as if every member of staff and every communication has been personally vetted by David Brailsford. When you walk into the extended velodrome and British Cycling HQ nowadays, even on a normal working day, there is a ‘buzz’ about the place.
Leadership and Investment
It is immediately obvious from the above that while British Cycling has undergone enormous change it has (at least since the late 1990s) had a fairly consistent approach to the pursuit of excellence. Increasing elite success since the 2000 Olympics has resulted in increasing funding for the sport from the National Lottery for individual riders, and from external private sector sponsors and the increased funding has enabled growing participation in grass roots cycling. Young riders are selected for the national squad and nurtured over several years before entering the four-year run up to the Olympics. There is a clear pathway from beginner to national team rider for anyone with the inherent skills and ability. Despite all of the problems and reputational risk associated with professional cycling, Sky were willing to invest because they recognised that the positive aspects far outweigh the negative.
In contrast, the period since 1996 has seen a very inconsistent approach to cycling from government, with a series of short-term initiatives typically on a three-year cycle between Treasury spending reviews and changes of government. This leads to a pattern of short term ‘fixed contract’ employment for people delivering cycling projects. Despite much work to establish a sound business case for sustained investment, and the eminent success of nations such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany with long term investment strategies, it seems that every few years or change of transport minister cycling policy starts once again at year zero. Unlike British Cycling (or most businesses), there is no formal and routine mechanism for learning from success (or failure) in transport planning. Talented individuals that manage successful projects to increase cycling as transport are not rewarded with more funding or promotion, at best they may get another short-term contract to do it all again, but often they leave the industry altogether. Consequently we see the same tired ideas revamped every few years and serious political debate about cycling is often marred by negative comments about cyclists behaviour rather than consideration of the positives.
In contrast, I hold a Masters degree in transport planning but have never been formally taught anything about planning and designing cycle facilities, even within the context of highway design. Planners and engineers have to make a special effort to learn about cycling, so the quality of provision to some extent depends on the personal enthusiasm of the designer and unless they ride a bike, they will not appreciate ‘dynamic’ qualities such as stopping and starting and sharp bends that make a big difference to comfort and convenience. It is still the case that cycling is considered as an 'add-on' to new roads and developments rather than an integral part of overall street design.
- Clear vision and long term strategy;
- Starting small with modest achievable goals but big long term ambitions;
- High quality skills training;
- A feedback mechanism to constantly learn and improve;
- Sustained and increasing financial investment to maintain momentum;
- Rewarding success;
- Attention to detail and marginal gains;
- Learning from the best but improving on their ideas.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Sunday, 17 February 2013
Get Britain Cycling is by definition concentrating specifically on what it takes to create the infrastructure and 'culture' that induces more cycling. To do this requires a very fundamental rethink about what our roads and streets are for. They are the arteries by which people not just vehicles move around, but they are also often the public venues for our leisure, sporting, social and cultural lives. Given unlimited funds it would be easy to create a segregated cycle route Utopia similar to the motorway system if we were to ignore all other modes and all other street functions. Whether we would want such an infrastructure-heavy environment in our villages, towns and cities is questionable. A more subtle approach that balances the needs of all users is required. This means selective use of the oft-criticised 'Hierarchy of Measures' to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians by reducing the amount of traffic or the speed of traffic in some situations, either to enable cycling on a shared carriageway OR to create conditions in which convenient and safe segregated cycle facilities can be provided. At present, where cycle tracks are installed, the measures to reduce speeds in order to tighten up junction geometry, or changes to signal timings or junction priorities to give cyclists a convenient crossing of side roads are lacking. At worse this can lead to more hazardous conditions than using the carriageway, and at best a substandard and inconvenient 'facility' that is shunned by a high proportion of cyclists.
If you look at just about any cycle lane or cycle track in England it is highly likely that it fails to meet the minimum dimensions (which are 1.5m for a cycle lane, 3.0m for a 2-way cycle track or shared use trail) recommended in Local Transport Note 2-08, Cycle Infrastructure Design. Imagine the chaos, road rage and inconvenience that would ensue if all roads were designed to the minimum standards of a multi-storey car park so that cars could only ever proceed slowly, in single file, and slow to walking pace at every sharp corner and junction. Welcome to the world of the ‘cycle facility’!
It doesn’t have to be this way, plenty of countries manage to get it right, and there are individual items of excellence around the UK (although none of us ‘experts’ at the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry could name a good town-wide network when asked!). A number of witnesses at the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry have been quick to suggest that the design guidance is lacking, or that engineers and planners are ignorant. While there may be some truth in this, the most prevalent issue is lack of leadership and an unwillingness to accept that the free movement (and parking) of motor vehicles sometimes has to be curtailed in order to release space (and time) for pedestrians and cyclists. This is the essence of the oft-criticised ‘hierarchy of measures’ which emphasises the importance of ‘traffic reduction’ and ‘speed reduction’ as a pre-requisite to good cycle infrastructure. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that cyclists should be on the carriageway or on a separate cycle track, you cannot usually safely provide either on existing streets without tackling motorised traffic and parking in order to free up the necessary space.
Most of the cycle tracks that were provided in the 1930s were along the ‘arterial’ roads providing inter-urban and suburban links. In this respect the planners had got the concept right, as these ‘high speed, high flow’ roads are exactly where ‘segregated’ facilities are most valuable, and if well executed can provide a safe, comfortable, direct, coherent and attractive form of provision. This ideally means one-way ‘with flow’ cycle tracks, priority at minor side roads and safe crossings at major junctions, sufficient width to overtake and ride two abreast, and separation from pedestrians. Unfortunately existing highways with sufficient width available to achieve all of the above are few and far between, but a good recent example is the treatment of Old Shoreham Road near Brighton created by reallocating carriageway space.
It is unrealistic to expect that a network of fully segregated cycle tracks can be imposed on all existing streets, but using the ‘hierarchy of measures’ it is possible to allocate priority to cycle traffic along some routes and motor traffic along others. A good example of this is Tavistock Place in the London Borough of Camden where a two-way cycle track has been created by reducing vehicle capacity and taking out on-street parking. This offers a parallel route to Euston Road which is one block to the north and carries the motor traffic. Incidentally, the parallel streets to the north of Euston Road also feature road closures and cycle contraflow schemes although severance by railway lines, gradients and the general alignment of the roads provides a less continuous and coherent route.
The photos above show a street on the outskirts of Groningen in the Netherlands. In the 1980s it had cycle segregated cycle tracks, a 30mph (50Kmh) speed limit and a signalised pedestrian crossing. It is the classic Dutch scene and reasonably safe for cyclists. It has a lot of infrastructure and signs, and pedestrians can only cross at the designated point, although there are shops along both sides. Cyclists would often go the wrong way along the cycle track or footway to reach the shops and pedestrians would stand in the cycle track to cross the road. The tracks were created by banning parking (i.e. reducing traffic volume) although it can be seen that this leaves a clear road for anybody that wishes to ignore the speed limit.
In the 1990s the street was revamped with a low 20 mph (30Kmh) speed limit and all kerbs and lane markings removed. This has created a safer (although visibly more chaotic) environment which is more convenient for pedestrians and retailers as the ‘footway’ is much wider and has no kerbs, just a change in surface treatment, and it is easier to cross through slow moving traffic as drivers are more willing to give-way on a shared surface where there isn't such a clearly defined territory for different modes. Opposing traffic flows are close together on the narrow carriageway, and drivers also wait behind cyclists as there is no room to overtake so speeds are kept low as everybody feels 'vulnerable'. There is more space for official (and unofficial) car parking which also contributes to the speed reduction effect.
It is clear that many existing town centre high streets are failing to attract the wide range of activities that they once did. Large retailers and commercial organisations have relocated to out of town ‘sheds’ with free parking, large units and low overheads. With fewer workers in town centres and the growth of online shopping, retailers are struggling. Successful town and city centres are re-inventing themselves with a return to residential development within the core, a growth of independent shops, venues for start-up and pop-up businesses and high quality public realm. Walking and cycling play an important part in the life of such places where the centre once again becomes a hub of cultural and social activity as exemplified by the work of Jan Gehl in Denmark (Public Spaces, Public Life).
The Importance of Sufficient and Sustained Funding