Tuesday 28 June 2011

"Understanding Walking and Cycling", "deja vue", and the history of Camden's cycle tracks

I have been meaning to mention the Lancaster University "Understanding Walking and Cycling" study for some time, but other subjects cropped up, so it is no longer "hot" news. It is still important news, however, and I link it here to a long account of how the segregated cycle facilities in the London Borough of Camden came to be built, as reflection leads me on to this, and as people have asked me about it, as I have first-hand knowledge, and as knowing about it may be useful to campaigners today, and there exists no good account on the web already.

A major study on “Understanding Walking and Cycling” (in the UK) has been conducted by Dave Horton and colleagues at Lancaster University. Its preliminary conclusions, reported to a conference in Leicester earlier this month, have been reported by The Guardian.

There is little point in going over the background to all this for the assumed readers of this blog: the very low levels of cycling seen in the UK compared to our continental neighbours, the decades of government strategies and attempts to re-invigorate cycling in the UK by a mixture of promotion, more training for children and adults, and very limited alterations to streets with very mixed results, the controversy amongst cycling campaigners about how cyclists should be accommodated on the roads, the controversy over whether changing driver behaviour, legal framework, cycling styles, or environment was more important. All this is assumed to be known here.

Well, this study attempts to lay all that to rest. The headline points that I take away from it are that:
Years of government efforts to promote cycling have had almost no impact on a sceptical population who largely view bikes as either children's toys or the preserve of Lycra-clad hobbyists...
Many people barely recognise the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport; it is either a toy for children or a vehicle fit only for the poor and/or strange. For them, cycling is a bit embarrassing, they fail to see its purpose, and have no interest in integrating it into their lives, certainly on a regular basis....
The small numbers of people who do try cycling tend to be intimidated by overwhelmingly car-oriented urban layouts. Even to experienced riders these often resemble a dangerous obstacle course. The minority of people who cycle in English cities tend to do so despite, not because of, existing conditions. Some people try cycling, but are quickly put off.... 
We did not find this mass of people on the threshold of change, who only needed a little push to start cycling as a daily means of getting around...
Cycling promotion still reaches mainly that smallish part of the population that does not really need that much convincing...
The cycling world has in the past been divided over the best way of growing cycling. But if we want to achieve high levels of cycling across our cities, this has to change...
In order to create a mass cycling culture in English cities we need to segregate cycling from motorised traffic along main roads. Combined with a range of other measures, very high quality segregated cycle routes could push English city cycling from its currently marginal status towards a mass phenomenon...
Well, there you have it. Or the essence of it. They also mention introducing "Strict Liability" (the burden of proof in civil law for crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists shifted so it motorists have to demonstrate it was not their fault, as they use widely in Europe) and reducing car parking.

None of this comes a surprise to me. In fact, I hate to say "I told you so", but this is exactly what I have been going around saying on this subject for about 15 years: ever since I met Paul Gannon in Camden Cycling Campaign in the late 1990s. The Campaign at that time was coordinated (very well) by the (confusingly similarly-named) Paul Gasson, now of Walthamstow. Paul Gasson was essentially a "people person" and an organiser, while Paul Gannon was a visionary, and an ideas person. Gannon had spent some years living and cycling in The Netherlands, and had been very impressed by the success of their extensively segregated cycling infrastructure in getting a far high proportion of the population than in the UK, and importantly, as he was perhaps the first to point out in print, a much more inclusive demographic, cycling: all types of people, in other words, young, old, fit and not so fit, all social groups and both sexes, cycling – in contrast to the predominantly young male culture of cycling in the UK.

Gannon returned to the UK certain that it would never be possible to get a high proportion of the British public cycling without similar systems of pleasant, safe, high-quality segregated cycle tracks in our towns and cities. This fact, he stated in one of his long essays on the subject, was "screamingly obvious". After he explained it and I thought about it, it became "screamingly obvious" to me as well. But the puzzle was that though it became so to me and to other members of Camden Cycling Campaign (CCC) at that time, it never became so to a large part of the cycle campaign community in the UK, and is still not today. Many of these campaigners did then, and still do, think that the best answer for cycling in the UK is integration with motor traffic. Much later, Gannon said of such ideas, in characteristically truculent tones:
The reason why... alternative approaches will fail, is that they have been devised by people who, talking only to themselves, effectively live on a different planet from ordinary people, but wish to mould those people to their pre-conceived, top-down notions of the perfect solution to all cycling problems.
This was years before Mikael Colville-Andersen talked on the "sub-cultural focus on cycling" in the UK, with "small groups of "cyclists" advocating for no-one but themselves", but the meaning is the same. Additionally, think Gannon probably invented the phrase in English "high-quality cycle infrastructure". I never heard anybody put it this way before he did. He did this to distinguish the continental model he was talking about from the poor-quality infrastructure that UK traffic engineers tended to provide for cyclists. 

On moving to the London borough of Camden, he correctly perceived that this borough, with its inner-city business-oriented characteristics, combined with a lot of housing (as opposed to other areas such as Westminster, or the City, which have less housing) was a good parallel to the Dutch cities he had experienced such as The Hague, and therefore would be a suitable "testbed" for trying the same high-quality cycling solutions. He therefore set about first trying to persuade the Camden Cycling Campaign, and then Camden Council, that this would be a good idea.

At this time London had no central authority, the Greater London Council having been abolished by Mrs Thatcher, and the GLA and office of the Mayor of London having not yet been set up. So decisions on the type and funding of cycle schemes was in the hands of the boroughs. This could be an advantage, as it was often easier to influence councillors at a local level, if they were basically sympathetic, than the remote bureaucrats in TfL that a more recent generation of campaigners has had to deal with. The current cycle scheme being implemented at that time by the boroughs, but with little coordination or consistency of standards, was the London Cycle Network (LCN), the idea of a Conservative transport minister. The implementation was generally in the form of blue signs on grey poles (many of these can still be seen today) pointing the way to routes cyclists could always have taken anyway had they had access to that state-of-the-art piece of navigational equipment for the 1990s, a street map. But often these signs pointed the wrong way down one-way streets, or into other impassable places, so lamentable and lazy was the planning behind the project. In the better places the network was implemented by narrow green-surfaced cycle lanes, either advisory (bordered with a dashed white line), or, rarely, mandatory (bordered with a solid white line). Advisory lanes give cyclists no protection at all and motorists are perfectly free to park in the lanes. Mandatory lanes are supposed to exclude motor traffic, but in practice there is no enforcement of that, and, bizarrely, they don't, of themselves, prevent parking either. They have to be "protected" with double yellow lines – which typically means making a mess of a narrow strip of roadspace by painting on it yellow lines, green surfacing, bike logos, and the white line – typical British over-marking of roads.

Gannon's breakthrough was essentially to go around saying to all and sundry that this was all rubbish and would achieve nothing in terms of getting more people on bikes. (The National Cycling Strategy of 1996, a Conservative government document, had projected for a modal share of 12% of  all journeys cycled by 2012!) I expect everybody in the London Cycling Campaign thought this as well already, but they all seemed to be too polite to say it, or were feeling too abjectly grateful for any government expenditure on cycling at all to be churlish about the details. Exactly as we have today with LCC and the Cycle Superhighways.

Gannon's main publicity method was a talk with a slide-show (we had these things called photographic slides in the days before PowerPoint) which compared LCN "facilities" with pictures he had taken of similar streets with cycle facilities in The Netherlands. He also compared UK junction designs with Dutch ones (more than a decade before the estimable David Hembrow did it) and was at pains to point out how the streets of central London were in no way fundamentally different to the streets in The Hague and Amsterdam. They were similar 19th century grid layouts with similar widths. The big difference was in the efficiency with which the space was used, he pointed out. In London these 19th century streets were very inefficiently used, he said, with unnecessarily wide single lanes in both directions, which encouraged speeding, with the traffic only spreading out to take up all the space when stopped at the junctions, so obstructing cyclists there. Equivalent streets in The Hague had typically had one whole direction of motor traffic removed, with one remaining narrow lane of slow general traffic, wider pavements, and wide physically-segregated two-way cycle tracks which remained segregated right up to the junctions, where they had special signals, or, if not, priority over the side roads.

One very important point about Gannon was that he was political realist. He realised, as many cycle campaigners do not seem to, that London is already full of complex activities on the streets, of economic and social necessity, which have to be maintained despite the need to implement a cycle network. The answer, he saw, was not to compromise the cycle network designs so much that they were useless, the usual British procedure, but to use designs that have already been proven in The Netherlands as allowing a high degree of cyclist priority and convenience, while continuing to allow all the other functions of the streets to go on. One key point about the segregated cycle tracks of The Hague, he noted, was that, in a dense urban centre with a lot of business activity, like Camden, they allow the servicing of businesses, a necessary level of car-parking, and use of buses and taxis, to co-exist with safe, dedicated cycle facilities. Bus stops, taxi stops, and parking and loading take place outside the segregating strip of the cycle track, thus the cycle route is genuinely uninterrupted and dedicated. Gannon made mock-up pictures of London streets with Dutch-style cycle tracks inserted into them, to demonstrate that it could be done, and that there was the space, and that it could look very nice.

Gannon's argument was never primarily about safety. He was never arguing that cycling in the UK, as it was, was "dangerous", and that proper cycle facilities would be "safer", though there was an interminable debate about safety, where cycling opponents of segregated infrastructure such as John Franklin could never really prove their claim that segregated cycle facilities were "dangerous". Gannon's argument was basically that the vast majority of people found cycling without having to negotiate for space with, large, fast, powerful motor vehicles all the time far more pleasant and less stressful (whether they had had cycle training or not), and were therefore far more likely to cycle if car-free routes were provided. The charity Sustrans later took up this same argument, but in a somewhat different context, not generally dealing with city-centre locations. Gannon thought, correctly, that high levels of cycling, if they were going to occur in the UK at all, would be more likely to spread outwards from the centres of dense cities like London than from cross-country cycle paths.

Also, Gannon was never arguing that cycling could be separated entirely from cars. He always recognised that most streets would never have separate cycle facilities, as they did not in The Netherlands, despite their having had decades of building the things already. The argument for segregated, or dedicated, cycle tracks in London was (and still is) an argument for a "backbone network" of a few really attractive, high-priority, direct routes, that would make cycling look so attractive that a large segment of the population would want to try it. Nothing has changed here in the intervening years, which is why the Cycle Superhighways scheme is proving to be such a tragic missed opportunity for achieving exactly this.

So, in the late 1990s, Paul Gannon took his slide show round and showed it to everybody: cycle campaign groups, councillors, local authority transport officers, and officials at the Department of Transport (as it was then called). His message was that the cycle facilities being implemented in London were useless, but that what was needed was essentially to copy the strategy which had been so successful in The Netherlands. This message attracted huge hostility from many cycle campaigners. They often argued that there were other differences between London, or the UK, and The Netherlands, that meant the same methods would not be successful here. Another argument was that it wasn't worth trying, as the implementation in the UK would inevitably be too substandard. This is a "defeated from he start" argument which persists today; you often hear it from CTC representatives. Gannon answered many of these objections in this piece which still features on the Camden Cyclists website. In answer to the line, "It wouldn't work here", he would tend to say, "Well, London is very big. There is room in London for all sorts of experiments with different solutions for cycling. We need to try what the Dutch have done somewhere, in at least one or two places, to test it and learn from it".

At this time there existed relics in Camden from an earlier phase of cycle facility building, from the 1980s, when Ken Livingstone, in charge of the GLC, had started a programme of implementing routes. One such was the Somers Town Cycle Route, which connected Kings Cross and Bloomsbury, via a crossing of Euston Road at Mabledon Place/Ossulstron Street, to Camden Town. This was mostly on very quiet roads, and some of it was quite good, with some segregated parts in Purchese Street and Georgiana Street. The segregated section on Purchese Street was probably made to avoid having to replace the cobbles there, which acted as "natural" traffic calming. Nevertheless, the fact that some short segregated sections already existed inspired Gannon with the idea of connecting them up with a longer segregated track running along Royal College Street.

Purchese Street track on the Somers Town Cycle Route, originally implemented by the GLC, with cobbled road to the right

Royal College Street was a main road, part of the Camden Town one-way system that had existed since the 1960s, aimed at getting large volumes of motor traffic in and out of central London on the north side. It had three nothbound lanes and very wide pavements plus a service road and its pavement. The existing cycle route avoided Royal College Street by taking an illogical detour west and then east again via College Place and Pratt Street. About 1998 Camden Cycling Campaign (CCC), under Gannon's influence, proposed that the Somers Town Cycle Route be re-routed via Royal College Street by construction of a Dutch-style two-way segregated cycle track, which would take its space out of the roadway, reducing it to two lanes. We (CCC) proposed this should be paid for out of Camden's LCN budget. As noted, there were very wide pavements, plus a service road, along Royal College Street, and the instinct of council officers was to put the cycle track here. It was an important part of the campaign that we did not want space taken away from pavements, and we didn't want a route on the pavement or on a service road. We wanted the direct route on the road, with space taken away from motor vehicles: proper roadspace reallocation, Dutch-style. We wanted to avoid cyclists being mixed up with pedestrians, so we wanted clear physical demarcation, in the form of of kerbs, between the cycle track and the pavement, as well as segregation from the road.

The breakthrough was to get the support of a forward-thinking councillor. Councillor Gerry Harrison (Labour) became chair of Camden's Streets and Transport Sub-committee (within the Environment Department) about this time. Not previously a cyclist in London, the campaign persuaded him to take it up. Perhaps because he was new cyclist, he saw clearly the merits of the Gannon vision, which now had become the CCC vision, as most active members of the Campaign now supported the idea of trying to implement proper, continental-style infrastructure in Camden (though other branches of LCC, and LCC's central organisation, remained less convinced). Gerry Harrison it was who managed to push through the implementation of the Royal College Street track against opposition from many other councillors and in spite of many doubts from officers.

There were many battles to get the engineering of the track satisfactory. CCC found that, despite not being traffic engineers ourselves, we did have to design every feature, virtually every dimension and angle of the construction, ourselves, as there was just not expertise for doing this kind of thing amongst UK traffic engineers. After pushing to have it not on the road, the main engineer then wanted to make the segregation island far wider than in the CCC design, I think something like 1.5m, and the track correspondingly narrower. We had a tremendous row about “what is the point of wasting all that road space?”, but he was following some guidelines, the origin of which I don’t know, probably national rather than local, which supposedly said you had to have this width for “safety”. This requirement for excessively wide segregation islands was, we pointed out, basically preventing effective segregation from being implemented at all in London, the results of which were very far from “safety”. After we took the matter to higher officials in the council and to councillors as well, the design was changed, and the segregation island ended up about 0.75m wide, with the track about 3.5m wide in total.

The treatment of the junctions with two roads that joined Royal College Street from the west, Plender Street and Pratt Street, was critical. The default option of all UK engineers was, and still is, to make cyclists give way. CCC were insistent that we wanted a proper Dutch-style cycle track. This would be completely undermined if it gave way to the side roads. Cyclists would not use if it did. We did get the priority we wanted, but the details were difficult. The final solution was to create speed tables at the junctions of the side-roads, so that the track was on the flat, but motorists crossing it from either direction encountered a ramp. These ramps were re-enforced by "elephant's feet" markings on the main road side of the track, and "stop" lines, warning signs, and flashing lights on the side-road side of the track, to alert motorists crossing it to the unexpected presence of the two-way track. This was undoubtedly the riskiest aspect of the scheme, because UK drivers are simply not used to encountering two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road. There were certainly problems at first with motorist compliance, getting them to give way to the track, and compliance is still not perfect, but we found over time that compliance increased. The Transport Research Laboratory, I think, did a study of the system operating in Royal College Street, and found no fundamental safety problems with the principle of making motorists give way to a cycle track in this way (it is standard on the continent). Unfortunately I don't think this research was published, and it doesn't seem to have influenced subsequent policy or the later London Cycle Design Standards, which have never endorsed this design.

Junction design on Royal College Street and Pratt Street. There is a bus stop in the middle distance.
Things which you wouldn't have guessed would be a big problem were. Drainage is important on roads. They are normally cambered so they drain to the kerbs. But if you build a segregating island, that prevents proper drainage. The drainage issue is a major cause of expense in implementing segregated cycle tracks, as the Camden engineers discovered. They had to re-construct the drains. Then the surface was not laid particularly flat: much less flat than the road. The reason for this, we were told, was that there did not exist rolling machines in the UK, of the type used for rolling roads, narrow enough to roll this track. So it had to be done by hand.

We had arguments as well about the treatment of the bus stops. There was one bus service along Royal College Street, with the stops on the track (west) side. The stops remained on the pavement when the track was built, so how to avoid pedestrians running into cyclists when they tried to board a bus? We didn't think this would be a big problem, but officers did, so they put "give way" lines and mini cobbled speed tables on the track by the bus stops. We thought a zebra crossing on the track at the bus stops would have been better, but we were told this was be legally impossible – in the UK you can only have zebra crossings on roads, not cycle paths, they said, though this cycle path was on a road. But later they put a zebra crossing across the road and the track, seen in the picture above, and a speed table across both, so no consistency there.

The problem seems to be that there is actually, in UK law, no real concept of a cycle track on the road, Dutch-style. Cycle paths are conceived of as being away from roads, or on pavements. Cycle lanes are conceived of as being lanes painted on the road. But the Royal College Street track is something different, a cycle track that is part of the road but physically separated from it. UK traffic law doesn't seem to allow for this possibility, which is why there has always been argument between officials about the enforceability of priority at junctions with such tracks. We still need the Department for Transport to sort this out and explicitly declare that cycle tracks should have priority over side roads at unsignalised junctions. In the meantime, the Royal College Street track has been operating with this design, with no serious injuries occurring at the junctions with Plender Street and Pratt Street, so far as I am aware, for 11 years now.

Consultation with local residents is very important in implementing any changes on "their" streets. Councillor Gerry Harrison and the Camden officers did a good job of bringing the local residents around to support the cycle track project. I suspect this was possible in part because there was already some cycle infrastructure in the area, so there was already a bit of a cycling culture there, and also because it was, and is, a low car-ownership area, with most people living in flats. There was also enough car parking on the service road and in other places so that there was not a big conflict between the track and parking.

The Royal College Street cycle track was opened by Jon Snow, the broadcaster and keen cyclist (now President of CTC) in April 2000. He commented that it was an excellent, well-built piece of infrastructure that "went from somewhere to nowhere", pointing out he problem that it still did not allow cyclists to cycle northwards all the way to Camden Town or Kentish Town on a decent route, for it did not extend up Royal College Street beyond the Georgiana Street junction. The route north at the top of Royal College Street was still obstructed by a nasty gyratory junction between St Pancras Way, Camden Road and Kentish Town Road, as it still is. However, at 500m long, the Royal College Street tracks remains – and this is an appalling indictment of progress on cycle infrastructure in London in the last decade – still the longest uninterrupted stretch of segregated cycle track ever constructed in London. Its success cannot be doubted – a council survey after it was constructed showed that many cyclists had diverted from their previous routes to use it, and it becomes very busy at peak times. It cost about £500,000 to build, which gives a gauge for the likely cost of similar schemes elsewhere. Proper cycle infrastructure seems to cost about £1 million per km. This sounds a lot, but £500,000 is probably comparable to the cost of a couple of metres of Crossrail. And what about the M25 widening?

In some ways the Royal College Street project was relatively simple. The next CCC plan was much harder to implement. This next idea was for a two-way segregated "backbone" cycle route for central London, running east-west all across the West End and through Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell to the City. Again the brainchild of Paul Gannon, and again supported by the visionary Cllr. Gerry Harrison, this this was conceived as a real equivalent for London to the strategic city-centre cycle routes in The Hague and Amsterdam. The idea was to run it one or two blocks south of Marylebone Road and Euston Road, on a corridor that had no buses to interfere with it, and to have spurs from it to allow cyclists to easily reach all the main rail stations on the north side of central London from the route. The Somers Town Route was already existing as the spur to Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations. The other stations to be linked up were Paddington, Marylebone, Baker Street, Euston, and Liverpool Street. This total of seven stations gave the project its original name, the Seven Stations Link. It later became known, less catchily, as LCN Route 0. The route was based on an existing LCN corridor which had been implemented as painted lanes, and in a few places using road closures, though the design of these was not too good. The idea was to upgrade this route to Dutch standards. This was a far more ambitious plan than the Royal College Street track, with far more junctions and complex existing one-way systems to contend with, and with the much greater density of activity and pressure on space present in the centre of London.

The Seven Stations Link project, or SSL, was unfortunately never completed. The project dragged on a long time, and some important parts that were completed was never built to CCC's original specifications. If they had been, the route would have been far better than it is. The project was supposed to span five boroughs: Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney, and the City, but even the Camden section was never completed, and little was achieved in the other boroughs. The segregated tracks were implemented from the Camden-Westminster border at Cleveland Street to as far east as Judd Street. West of Tottenham Court Road, the tracks on Maple Street and Howland Street were single-direction tracks on one-way streets. East of Tottenham Court Road, a two-way track was built. Segregated sections on both sides of the road were also implemented by Islington in Skinner Street. However, the two-way segregated sections in Camden were built far too narrow: about half the width they should have been according to the CCC-Gannon plan. The main failure was Camden's refusal to remove one whole lane of motor traffic, as was required in CCC's plan, from the whole of the Torrington Place-Byng Place-Tavistock Place-Sidmouth Street corridor, to allow for a wide two-way track on one side of the road. On the roads where the two-way track was implemented, Torrington Place, Bing Place, Gordon Square, Tavistock Square and Tavistock Place, it was squashed into too narrow a space, severely limiting its capacity. At least we had no problems getting the segregation island sufficiently narrow this time. After the Royal College Street experience, Camden's engineers were willing to entertain the idea of minimal-width segregation. But the two-way rack was implemented only 2.75m wide at best, narrower in places.

The track in Tavistock Place (Google Earth)
The failure to remove one direction of motor traffic had another serious consequence, apart from making the track too narrow. It made for a lot of possible conflicts at at the unsignalised junctions, particularly those at Gordon Square, which is a favourite route for black cabs. Resolution of these conflicts is still an ongoing campaign. We lack a culture in the UK of motor vehicles giving way to cyclists on a cycle path or track, mostly because motorists come across so few of these facilities. Despite these problems, the Torrington Place-Tavistock Place cycle track has become hugely popular, and is at capacity at peak times – just as CCC predicted it would be before it was built, and nobody in authority could believe this would be possible: "A cycle route in the UK full up? Who ever would have heard of such a thing!" The sheer success of the segregated track in Bloomsbury has led to calls – from cycle campaigners, of all people – that it should be taken away, as it is too congested! – a bizarre response, as its success is down to its (admittedly flawed) engineering. The correct response is to demand for it to be widened, and for the conflicting vehicle movements to be banned, not to demand it be abolished.

So what went wrong with the Seven Stations Link project? Well, that is a long and complex story, but important to tell, for the reference of future campaigners. The problem was not with the Camden officers, who I think tried very hard to implement it successfully. The problem was not with public opinion. On the contrary, consultation with residents along the route was very positive, which shows that ambitious cycling schemes which mean significant changes to the streets can be supported by many non-cyclists, especially if they are combined with other streetscape improvements that can be "sold" as benefiting pedestrians as well, which did happen on the SSL route, to the credit of Camden officers. (Under-ambitious schemes that residents can less see the point of are less likely to be accepted – this is an important lesson that campaigners need to learn: see this important post from David Hembrow on the importance of "aiming high enough" in infrastructure schemes.)

The problems that prevented the SSL project being fully and properly implemented were:

A) The fragmentation of local government in London
B) Interference by central government in the operation of local government
C) Opposition from a very specific private interest group: the black cabs
D) The presence of an ignorant, anti-cycling local MP
E) Division between different groups of cycle campaigners

A) The fragmentation of local government in London
The SSL, like most cycle projects, needed to cross local authority boundaries. Unfortunately Westminster, in whose area the whole of the western third of the route should have been, was not interested in proper reallocation of road space. They were not interested in removing parking from streets like New Cavendish Street, which would have been necessary to extend the track west from Camden. And they were basically not interested in spending serious money on cycling. They thought the traditional blue signs of the LCN were good enough. So the high-quality route stopped at the Westminster border. Islington Council was also luke-warm about the project, perhaps because their local cycling campaign also was. The basic problem was that there was no higher authority to drive a strategic cycling scheme like this through. And there still is not. London has a Mayor now, but he has no power over the local road network. Boroughs continue to have a veto on what happens on local roads. The Mayor only controls the Transport for London Road Network, only a few main roads. This remains an absolutely fundamental obstruction to achieving decent cycle routes in London.

B)  Interference by central government in the operation of local government
Tony Blair decided that councils had to reorganise so as to abolish the old committee structure and replace it with a cabinet system (though there was no discernible public demand for this). This meant that the Streets and Transport Sub-committee of Camden Council disappeared, and Gerry Harrison could no longer be its chair. He decided to retire from politics and moved to Ireland. So the CCC lost its most useful ally in the council and the SSL its main political champion. Though there were other Camden councillors interested in cycling, they were not in the right positions of influence.

C) Opposition from a very specific private interest group: the black cabs
The Licensed Taxi Drivers, a politically very influential group, wanted to retain their two-way rat run on the route of the SSL. They used (use) this mainly as a means of getting between the stations, a source of lucrative short-duration jobs for them. Their traffic should be on the A501, Marylebone Road and Euston Road, but they fought to keep the back-street rat-run two-way. After the abolition of Gerry Harrison's Streets and Transport Sub-committee, the councillor in charge of the Camden Environment Department, John Thane, whose decision it became, was not willing to go against them. I think, as a non-cyclist, he never really understood the arguments behind what CCC wanted, but a major factor here was point E: not all the cycling campaigners in London were saying the same thing to him. If they had been, the result might have been different. As it was, we got the bad compromise of the two-way track in half the width it should have occupied.

D) The presence of an ignorant, anti-cycling local MP
This was Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and at that time a very influential figure in the Labour party. Note that Camden was under Labour control at this time. When it became apparent that the council would not remove enough motor vehicle space on the Tavistock Place corridor due to the taxi drivers' lobby, officers explored another option of putting the eastern part of the route further south, on Guilford Street and Calthorpe Street. This was blocked by Dobson, as a trustee of the Thomas Coram Foundation at Corams Fields. This is a charity that provides services for children, particulalry the underprivileged. These children, in Dobson's constituency, some of the most under-provided for, in terms of facilities for physical activity, in the country, certainly would have stood to benefit enormously from the provision of a safe cycle route in their neighbourhood. But Dobson was anti-cycling, and never understood the issues. He believed that a cycle track running in front of Corams Fields would be a danger to the children, and that they would get run over by cyclists! Really. Despite the fact that there already was a busy road running in front of the Fields, and a cycle track scheme would have removed some of that roadspace and slowed the traffic down. So we had the taxi drivers blocking one possible route, and Dobson blocking the other, and Camden officers ran out of options. There was not the political will from leading councillors, after Gerry Harrison had left, to face the opposition down. But the saddest factor, and the one that really put the nail in the coffin, was E.

E) Division between different groups of cycle campaigners
The London Cycling Campaign overall was never united, and is not united today, on the desirability of engineering like the Royal College Street and Torrington Place cycle tracks. CTC never supported this project either. Islington Cyclists Action Group (ICAG), our neighbouring LCC group, did not support the principle of a segregated route, and some prominent campaigners in LCC such as Rik Andrew, of Kingston, felt CCC's designs were "too expensive" and "over-engineered". So it was easy for opponents of cycling in Camden Council (and there were many of these), and others, to say, "These people in Camden cycling Campaign are extremists. What they are asking for is not what most cyclists want. Other cycling groups do not accept their solutions". This was a big factor in undermining the political will to complete the SSL project properly. I think we could have won against factors A to D if we had not had factor E as well. This is the main lesson I take from the failure to build the Seven Stations Link properly. We are not going to get proper, high-quality cycle engineering in the UK without all the cycling groups, particularly CTC, the largest of them, getting much more united behind the idea. It should be possible, but campaigners need to agree on what is needed. We still lack that basic agreement. We cannot hope to win politicians around while we are divided.

The subsequent history of the Camden tracks was that the Royal College Street route was extended northwards a little way, towards Kentish Town, but it was diverted away from Royal College Street on to St Pancras Way. Unfortunately, a bad junction design by led to a fatality on that section, at the Randolph Street-St Pancras Way junction. In my opinion now, it was a bad decision to divert the track on to St Pancras Way. This is because I have now seen much more of the cycle infrastructure on the continent, and I have come to the opinion that it is far better for cycle tracks to follow obvious, direct main road routes. Royal College Street itself is a very obvious, straight route to follow. The track was not continued to the northern part of it, north of Georgiana Street, because it gets narrower there, and there are shops, whose owners might have objected, and there is a difficult junction with Kentish Town Road. I think political will could overcome these obstacles, indeed the shop owners should be glad of a large supply of cycling customers going past their doors, so long as deliveries could be managed somehow. The Kentish Town Road junction could be rebuilt in a cycle-friendly way, and also cycle tracks on Camden Road (both sides) would be a good idea. There is certainly space for them there, but TfL's current obsession with maintaining motor vehicle capacity would have to change.

The Cycle Superhighways (CSH) project of the current Mayor has avoided both of the best-implemented existing cycle routes in London, the Somers Town route and the Bloomsbury route. This is probably because they are on borough roads, over which TfL has no jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it is stupid. The opportunity of the CSH cash should have been taken to extend and improve these routes. The Bloomsbury Route, LCN 0,  offers an ideal "spine" which, if extended in both directions, could link up all the Superhighways going into central London, which could be a spectacular success if implemented. Unfortunately nobody in LCC or CCC seems to have pushed for this – though TfL probably wouldn't have listened anyway.

I am no longer much involved with Camden Cycling Campaign, having moved to the next borough, Brent, and taken part in the setting-up of Brent Cyclists and Harrow Cyclists, in two boroughs which had little campaigning activity before. I have more recently become involved with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Paul Gasson, who was very influential in getting the segregated tracks in Camden built, stood down as co-ordinator of CCC when he moved to Walthamstow in 2004. He was given an "Outstanding Citizen" award by Camden Council, and very well-deserved too. Paul Gannon left London and cycle campaigning to live in Wales in 2006, becoming a mountain guide in Snowdonia. The current CCC committee has fought-off efforts to try to destroy the cycle tracks, from, for example, fashionable architects Terry Farrell and partners, who wanted to implement that ludicrous concept "shared space" in Byng Place and remove the cycle track. But that is as far as it has gone. They have not proposed new schemes of the ambition of those of the Gannon/Gasson era. There is something of a lack of information on the history of the Camden segregated tracks on the CCC website, which is why I have felt compelled to write this account, to "tell the story".

It seems there was special combination of circumstances about the year 2000 which led to these ambitious plans from a small local campaign group getting realised, happening to be supported by the right people in the right places in a London council at the time. But I hope the momentum may be regained, if not in Camden, then somewhere in London. The main barrier remains the lack of agreement between campaigners on the measures necessary, but I think more of a consensus is now emerging. The new Chief Executive of LCC, Ashok Sinha, stated more clearly than ever before, this month, on this video, that LCC supports the construction of segregated cycle facilities "where needed". 

To end, I'll quote part of Paul Gannon's essay "Segregated Facilities" from 2000:
In promoting the Seven Stations Link (a high-quality, segregated backbone link around Central London), we have found substantial support from non-cycling groups such as Local Agenda 21 and many local residents' groups. In the public consultation on the Camden section 76% of residents supported the proposal. Ordinary people say "that is what would get me on my bike". Indeed we must be aware that there are hundreds of thousands of unused bikes rotting in sheds or blocking the corridors of people who have given up cycling because of the conditions – many of whom would cycle if they had continental style facilities. We ignore this at our peril.
And there is evidence from Royal College Street that existing cyclists too want this type of facility. The first figures from the council show that cycle numbers on Royal College Street have increased threefold since the segregated track was opened. Now there is no reason to believe that this is due to new cyclists as you still have to cope with the Camden Rd gyratory at the northern end – and every reason to believe that cyclists who previously used the Somers Town backstreet route (through College Place) or the main roads of St Pancras Way and Camden St, and probably other routes too, have switched to Royal College Street.
Give them the opportunity and current cyclists will vote with their wheels for segregated facilities.
And finally-finally, a comment from a reader of this blog:
Can I just say thank you for building the segragated cycle path along Royal College Street and Bloomsbury.
I have altered my route, from a very busy Camden High Street to Euston, to use these wonderful pieces of infrastructure.
They are the most pleasent, relaxed, quick and worry free parts of my commute. Everyday when I turn on to the cycle path I am happy that I'm finally "safe". I'm sure the other 15 or so cyclists I see using it everyday feel the same.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Cyclenation and Europe: one from the archives

My post entitled Audacity, on the subject of a report on cycling in the town of Raalte in The Netherlands, and how that report was transmitted to a UK audience via Cyclenation, generated quite a lot of interest. The issue is now entirely cleared up. David Henbrow wrote a piece on A View from the cycle path which followed this up (though in fact he had written, but not posted, his article before I posted mine) and showed us exactly what cycling conditions are like in Raalte and why they have such a high cycling rate. The issue with the summary of the report that was published in English was, as I said I suspected in my piece, just a critical bit of mis-translation. As David's friend Mark Wagenbuur expained in a comment on this blog:
This is a fine example of getting lost in translation! There is but one clear mistake in the article, but it turns the whole meaning around: Where it says: 
"It has a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons."
It should have read:
"It has a high percentage of bicycle use without ONE clearly visible reason."
Because there is a whole lot of factors that contributed to this success story. The most important ones were the enthusiasm of the council and the guts they had to implement a daring plan!
The reason I was at some pains to go into this, down to the fiddly detail of exactly how Dutch words have been translated, and which sentences have been quoted by Cyclenation, is that Cyclenation, formerly known as CCN, the Cycle Campaign Network, has a history of, how shall I put it, creatively re-interpreting studies, data and documents, particularly those that relate to cycling in continental Europe, for its audience of UK cycle activists. The webmaster of the Cyclanation website is John Franklin, though the site's web news is edited by Jayne Rodgers. The Cyclenation newsletter is now edited by Graham Hankins, but going back into the past, when it was CCN News and a paper document, it was edited by John Franklin.

The business of Cyclenation and the report into Raalte reminded me of an affair from the distant past, the details of which I have exhumed from the archives, and which I now serve up again here. So, dear reader, pick up your pipe, don your deerstalker, and hop into a Hansom, for a journey through the swirling mists of turn-of-the (21st)-century London, for this is The Strange Case of the (So-called) Finnish (or Helsinki) Study.

Our tale begins back in 2001, in Helsinki City Planning Department. There, a Dr Eero Pasanen publishes a document called The risks of cycling. Strangely, he publishes it in English. You can read this original document, from which so much fuss later came, still, on the web – it is not very long.

The document came to the attention of the UK cycle campaign community through the pages of CCN News edition 56, January 2002, edited by John Franklin (and he was also the Chair of CCN at the time). This also can still be read on the web, but, to save you the trouble, I have extracted the relevant text from that newsletter here:
Finnish study cautions against road-side paths
A study based on Helsinki has shown that it is much safer to cycle on the roads with traffic than on the twoway cycle paths that form much of the cyclists' network. 45% of cycling kilometres in Helsinki take place on the cycle paths, but they are the location of 56% of injury crashes to cyclists. 
The situation is worst at junctions. The risk of a crossing crash is 3 times higher coming along a cycle path than along the road. Cyclists riding on the pavements are also more at risk. 
According to the author, the main problem is that car drivers have nothing to fear from cyclists. At crossings, drivers focus their attention on other cars and not on cyclists. The two-way nature of most of the cycle paths exacerbates the problems as drivers expect even less to see cyclists arriving from the 'wrong' direction. The most common type of crash, by a factor of ten, is a car turning left hitting a 'wrong-side' cyclist approaching from the driver's right. 
The Finnish two-way cycle network was based on a Nordic traffic planning guide from the 1960s which considered cyclists and pedestrians to be a homogenous group of vulnerable road users, to be separated from motor traffic. Though an appealing principle at the time, it has led to a considerable number of unnecessary car/cycle crashes on at-grade crossings and pedestrian/cycle conflicts on paths connected to sidewalks. 
Helsinki has 800 km of cycle paths, half of which are especially dangerous. It is hard to imagine that this system could be rebuilt, but in those countries and cities that are just beginning to build cycle networks, roadside paths and particularly two-way types should be avoided in an urban environment. 
Two other findings of the report are that cycling is usually safer the more cyclists there are about, and that cycling leads to more police reports of pedestrian injuries per kilometre travelled than private motor vehicle use.
[End of report] 
The February 2002 edition of London Cyclist, magazine of the London Cycling Campaign, carried a short news item based on this report in CCN News, stating the same conclusions, that two-way cycle paths alongside roads are dangerous.

Now, the significance of this to me, and to others in Camden Cycling Campaign at that time, was that we were promoting the construction of two-way segregated on-road cycle tracks at that time. We had designed one, and got that built, on Royal College Street, Camden Town, London. At the time this report came out, we were lobbying to get another built, the east-west track through Bloomsbury, on Torrington Place, Tavistock Place, and other roads (known as "The Seven Stations Link", or as LCN Route 0). These tracks were the idea of Paul Gannon, who had lived and cycled in The Netherlands, and the designs were based on Dutch models, specifically, the main strategic cycle tracks constructed in The Hague. I will tell in more detail the story of the construction of these tracks in another post. They remain to this day the longest and most successful segregated cycle tracks ever constructed in London.

Now this report from Finland was very worrying to us, since it suggested that, despite the apparent success of these designs in The Netherlands, such designs were actually dangerous. It suggested that we were doing completely the wrong thing in promoting them in London. Certainly many cyclists in London and members of other branches of the London Cycling Campaign already believed, for a variety of reasons, that Dutch-style segregated cycle tracks were the wrong way to go, and this report provided evidence for them.

Well, we discussed this at length, looked at the original document on which the CCN report was based, critically examined it, and decided we were not wrong after all. The problem lay with the "Finnish Study", not with our designs, which had, after all, already been tried and tested in The Netherlands for decades. I forthwith wrote two letters (emails) rebutting the interpretation of the "Finnish Study" that had been disseminated in the UK press: one, to the editor of London Cyclist, which was published, and the other to John Franklin, as editor of CCN News, which he did not publish. They were similar, so I quote here the letter to John Franklin:
Dear John,
The danger of cycling in Helsinki
Your report in CCN news 56, “Finnish study cautions against road-side paths” is rather misleading in terms of its reporting of the research in question. The record needs to be set straight in view of London Borough of Camden’s current work on creating two-way segregated on-street cycle cycle tracks both in Camden Town and central London (the Seven Stations Link, or London Cycle Network route 0), campaigned for by Camden Cycling Campaign, and because Camden Council is now the lead borough of the London Cycle Network, responsible for co-ordinating and advising on its implementation London-wide.
The Finnish paper can be read on the web at http://www.bikexprt.com/research/pasanen/helsinki.htm.
The implication of your reporting of it, that cycling in Helsinki is unsafe, and that the style of engineering that has been employed there in order to promote cycling, very similar to that used in Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark, has not been a success, is very wide of the mark.
The two most important points arising from the statistics in this report are as follows. Firstly, the casualty rate for cycling in Helsinki is 20 per thousand million km cycled, only one-third of the overall British level. This safety record is broadly similar to the other countries I mentioned, all of which have constructed extensive networks of on-street segregated cycle tracks in cities over the past 40 years. Secondly, the level of cycling in Finland overall in terms of km per person per day is 7 times that of the UK: an astonishing fact in view of the often sub-zero climate. (In the Netherlands the level is 30 times ours.)
It is clear from these facts that, rather than being “cautioned” by the Finnish experience, we should be seeking to emulate what they and the other Nordic countries have done right in cycling policy.
The report tells us further that 56% of cycling miles in Helsinki are conducted on the network of on-street segregated cycle tracks, proof of the high level of popularity of these facilities (our experience in Camden also confirms this). One point your report have focuses on is that there are more crashes at junctions on this network than there are on ordinary roads, relative to the numbers of cyclists using them. However, this “discovery” needs to be treated with caution. The vital data that the report omits are the average levels of motor traffic at the different junction types. It seems most likely that the apparent safety difference is due to the segregated tracks being implemented in the busier city-centre locations, where the higher levels of traffic will inevitably result in more incidents than on suburban roads, irrespective of facility design. The vast bulk of experience of the decades of implementing these designs in the countries mentioned, the fact that they continue to be demanded by cyclists and continue to be built there, and the fact that these are regarded as the leading cycling nations in the developed world, indicates that two-way segregated cycle tracks, when well-built, are safe for cyclists, much safer than British roads, as the figures show, and that they have a major effect in expanding cycling. One incompletely-researched paper does not change this.
It should also be noted that the overall thrust of this paper, authored by one individual engineer, is anti-cycling, proposing compulsory helmet legislation (to which UK cycling organisations generally are opposed), and arguing that encouraging cycling goes against the wider interests of the population in making the provision of public transport less economic, another idea with which we would doubtless take issue.
David Arditti
Camden Cycling Campaign (A local group of the London Cycling Campaign)
I worded this quite carefully and politely. But I never heard from Franklin about it. However, discussion within LCC rumbled on, with opponents of segregated infrastructure continuing to claim that the "Finnish Study" proved that segregated cycle tracks, particularly two-way ones, were "dangerous". This kept coming back with people continuing to cite the same flimsy evidence against segregated tracks, and  correspondence on this subject in early 2005 on the LCC Yahoo! groups culminated in a very long post from Paul Gannon, where, in reply to points made by Charlie Lloyd and others, he wrote the following, which I can only term a thorough and forensic demolition of the "Finnish Study", along with a condemnation of the "thoroughly dishonest" way in which Franklin had used it to push his own anti-cycle facility agenda. This is long (it also goes into technical details of the Camden segregated tracks), but worth reading in full:
When I questioned the existence of statistical evidence demonstrating the assertion that segregated tracks are less safe than cycling on the road, Charlie pointed to the ‘Helsinki study’ and the junctions on the Royal College Street track as examples of how that study was applicable.
The full text of the Helsinki paper is in the attachments (doc and txt - that latter might lose the statistics). The following text was circulated on the LCC Issues list and attributed to the Cyclists Network some time ago and illustrates the way in which paper has been used as evidence.
[Gannon here reproduces the report published in CCN News]
Those who have cited one factoid from the Helsinki Document may feel they have ‘put another nail in the coffin’ hoping to bury the arguments for continental-style cycle tracks in the UK, but is that really so?
Let’s look at this Finnish study. To start with, it’s not the “Finnish Study” to which status the CCN web report has elevated it. It is not a ‘study’, but a synthesizing policy/political document that cites statistics from other studies and/or synthesizing documents. Citing it as the ‘Finnish study’ gives it an undeserved status and authority. Citing it as the Finnish study on just one of the document’s highly biased conclusions is, to say the least, disingenuous.
The report was written to support the view that cycling should be constrained rather than encouraged, and the reason for that is that cycling is dangerous and therefore undesirable.
Let’s have a look at some of the things the CCN report happened to overlook.
The report is very short, assembled from a few paragraphs with highly contentious assertions and claims: “cycling is dangerous”; “cycling competes with public transport”; “Cycling is attractive and healthy for cyclists, but public transport is essential for many and perhaps the most manageable way towards sustainable traffic.”; “Cycling is not a harmless traffic mode for pedestrians.”; “One could claim that many cyclists feel themselves as ‘saviours of the world’. With their non-polluting, silent and relatively harmless vehicles, they may imagine that they have more rights than other road users.”; “An obligatory helmet may decrease the attraction of occasional cycling, but would this be a serious problem?”; “At present, popular arguments for sustainable traffic and the freedom of cycling often seem to take precedence over questions about safety”.
It is worth here re-reading the CCN report of the Helsinki document to remind ourselves that we are talking about the same report. The choice of material is so biased as to give an entirely misleading impression of that report. It is a thoroughly dishonest account in my opinion for pulling out one bit of information that suits the writer of the CCN report and ignoring all the rest. Then down the line the CCN spin on the report becomes the wisdom among the British cycling activists’ establishment – another bit of evidence damning these childish longings for segregated tracks.
It is important to assess the purpose of the Helsinki report. It is clear that the author is assembling a case for not spending money on cycling facilities on two grounds: first, the assertion that safety issues associated with cycling are insurmountable, or require severe restrictions on cyclists’ “freedom” (“It is clear that we must radically improve the safety of cycling. But how can this be done? So far, most of the important successful steps in traffic safety work have been based on restrictions of the freedom of car driving. When trying to improve the safety of cycling, the starting point is different. Popular arguments for sustainable traffic and the freedom of cycling often seem to neglect safety problems.”); second, it conflicts with the role of public transport (“Still, we want to increase cycling for environmental and health reasons. But are these reasons strong enough to compensate the serious safety problems of cycling, especially when cycling seems to compete mainly with the very safe public transport? The important question is: Does increased cycling weaken the level of public transport service?”).
We must keep in mind this context in order to understand the purpose of the report and its ‘evidence’ when citing the report itself as ‘evidence’ in other arguments. The author has had to go out of his way to assemble his ‘evidence’ and has had to present and interpret it. It should not be accepted or cited uncritically and to report it as statistical evidence is the push at the limit of credibility. The report is a political one, with a political aim and should be viewed – and cited - as such.
Before dealing with the issue of segregated tracks, let’s look (very briefly) at the general assertion of the author. The author’s ‘cycling is dangerous’ assertion is based on one ‘statistic’, a simple comparison of injury causing bicycle accidents per km travelled’, compared (presumably, though the report’s wording is not clear on this) with ‘injury causing car accidents per km travelled’. But are these statistics comparable? The author’s figures show that a much higher proportion of injuries in accidents involving cars are inflicted on ‘other people’ than is the case with bicycles. Surely this fact is of considerable importance in evaluating safety measures and policy for influencing mode of transport usage? But, of course, it depends on the case you want to make how you present and interpret the statistical evidence.
It raises in particular the question of whether the number (and severity) of injuries can be reduced by reducing car use, something that the author doesn’t consider. The author’s table shows that cars accidents cause twice as many ‘other victims’ as did cycling in Helsinki.
The question that really needs to asked is whether cyclist and pedestrian injuries can be reduced by a reduction in levels of motor vehicle traffic – a conclusion I would draw from a rounded assessment of all the statistics presented, rather than just citing simplistic arguments based on one dubious figure. Cite one or two statistics and you can easily get the ‘cycling is so dangerous it must be curbed’ argument; carefully assess what the statistics might indicate and you can get a more sophisticated result.
The key point is that these are qualitative matters at least as much as they are purely quantitative. A headline-grabbing statistic may help one feel that one has landed a telling argument, but it adds nothing of substance to an important discussion if you make no effort to understand what is being measured and why.
We need to understand that all traffic statistics are of doubtful quality, easily misunderstood, and frequently abused. Statistics can be no more than a guide, critically assessed and carefully used for drawing conclusions. And it is important not to alight on one statistic, but to use in reaching judgements an array of statistics.
I expect that a lot of people will agree with me that the Helsinki Document must be properly assessed when dealing with its assertions about cycling being dangerous, doing down public transport, about cyclists being self-righteous jerks, and so forth. However, plenty of the same people are happy to cite this highly tendentious document on another matter.
Which brings me to the misuse of statistics about the alleged lack of safety on cycle tracks. First, the author. The foregoing means that the author’s evidence and arguments are suspect; also he appears to be anti-cycling and is amassing evidence to argue against cycle track construction and/or for measures to limit cyclists’ freedom. None of us has seen the original studies which he cites so we are dealing with his selection and presentation.
Second, the statistics. He says, “45% of the cycling kilometres in Helsinki are on cycle paths along streets, but 56% of injury accidents happen to these cyclists”. This is cited to justify the conclusion “we cannot reduce bicycle accidents by building new cycle paths.”
But we simply don’t know whether these are comparable categories or not as insufficient information is given for a judgment to be made on the usefulness of the numbers and the categories. The roads used for cycling in a city such as Helsinki are quite probably quieter residential roads with comparatively lower levels of cycle and motor vehicle traffic, while cycling on tracks will be in the city centre and on major commuting routes with comparatively heavier traffic. This statistic is meaningless.
The author’s other relevant statistic refers specifically to two-way cycle tracks and points to what is widely known to be the case – which is why CCC has argued for specific design measures to deal with this potential problem.
First the statistic must be looked at closely. Only one interaction shows much higher crash rate than all the other interactions, namely motor vehicles turning left (for UK this is turning right).
Any road design system has its weak points – in the UK there is a higher proportion of accidents among ‘cyclists turning right’ than for other maneouvres. The report’s absolute figures don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know and they certainly cannot support the conclusion that all cycle tracks are more dangerous. As these are absolute figures all they show is that one motor vehicle maneouvre is more dangerous than others.
The answer may be to restrict that movement rather than to restrict the building of cycletracks. Just as with the overall argument of the author where he interprets the high rate of injuries caused by cars to cyclists as evidence that cycling should be curtailed, so some people are arguing, here in the UK, that this particular statistic should be generalized and applied to all interactions at junctions with segregated tracks.
The interaction ONLY applies to two-tracks and not to one-way ones and can be removed completely be preventing the particular manoeuvre.
Now Charlie said that this situation applied to the junctions on Royal College St. But this is not true. Royal College Street is one way and there is no equivalent of the maneouvre (ie motor vehicles turning right across the track). Therefore his claim is wrong.
However, if he had said the junction of the ‘Seven Stations Link’ east of Byng Place (near ULU) with Gordon Square, he would have been right. This junction does indeed allow for this interaction.
However there is another, and I think important, factor. When Camden Cycling Campaign proposed the tracks, it was part of the plan that all these three junctions should be closed to all motor vehicle crossings and motor vehicles routed via (current) traffic-signalled junctions (giving a substantial junction-free run on the Royal College Street route in particular). The decision about the appropriate junction treatment depends on overall motor vehicle movements per hour and the direction of the flows. I am surprised that Charlie appears not to know that we wanted these junctions closed to motor vehicles and he repeatedly circulates the impression that there is a flaw in the design rather than the implementation of these junctions. For, this important part of the proposal was rejected by the council’s traffic engineers. They are now looking at redirecting motor traffic on the Gordon Square junction as originally proposed.
What the statistics from Helsinki show is not that segregated tracks are unsafe, but that in particular situations there can be raised risks (ie, only one interaction and only on two-way tracks). The decision as to whether you see that as an argument against such tracks or against such interactions is a political decision, not a statistical one. As mentioned above there are far more cycle crashes in the UK while a cyclist is turning right than any other interaction. Does anyone go on to conclude from this one statistic that all road cycling is unsafe? Or is it a case of double-standards? The statistics cited do not offer any evidence at all that ‘segregated tracks’ are unsafe, only that poor design is unsafe, but then we know that anyway and it applies to BOTH ‘track’ and ‘non-track’solutions. To see this as an inherent weakness of tracks, but not of non-track approaches’ is again to apply double-standards.
The Helsinki report does not show what Charlie asserted it showed, namely that segregated cycle tracks are unsafe and it is misleading to suggest that it does.
Paul Gannon
Phew. Well that should have been the end of the matter, but was not of course, and down the years various British opponents of segregated cycle engineering have continued to drag out the bedraggled corpse of the notorious "Helsinki Study", or its distorted Franklinesque reflection, to attempt to add credence to their views. For example, another voluble opponent of segregation, Tony Raven, wrote this on the Camden Cycling Campaign Yahoo! group in 2007:
Here is what the Helsinki Traffic Planning Division says about their  massive investment (~€800m) in 800km of two way cycle lanes (some of which I have cycled): 
"A recent study in Helsinki showed that it is safer to cycle on streets amongst cars than on our two-way cycle paths along streets. It is hard to imagine that our present two-way cycling network could be rebuilt. But in those countries and cities which are just beginning to build their cycling facilities, two-way cycle paths should be avoided in urban street networks."
Now by 2007 none of this was "recent", and Tony Raven perpetrated here a further distortion to the record by claiming that the "Finnish Study" was the work of "Helsinki Traffic Planning Division" when it was not, it was the work of its author, Eero Pasanen, and there is no evidence that the weird views contained in it were ever anybody's but his own. However, this incident goes to show how things like this tend just to go round in a series of "Chinese Whispers" in the cycle campaign community, an original misinterpretation, or deliberately distorted interpretation, of a study becoming relayed, embellished and altered again, turning over time into the "folk wisdom" of those who seem to be determined to try to prove, against all the real, proper statistical evidence, deriving from the overall casualty figures for cyclists in various places (some of which I covered in this post) that "segregated cycle paths (or tracks) are dangerous". (If you are interested, there is a further discussion of the evidence on the safety of segregated cycle facilities by Mr C on MCR Cycling.)

The survival of the "Finnish Study" continues to be ensured by the fact that it features to this day on Franklin's webpage Cycle path safety: A summary of research – so desperate is Franklin to continue to publicise any work that could, by any twisting, be seen to support his point of view, no matter how discredited it may be. And earlier this year someone else on the LCC "Issues" Yahoo! group, I forget who, dragged it out again, someone who was not aware of all the previous LCC correspondence surrounding it.

John Franklin has been a central figure, perhaps the central figure, in CCN, now Cyclenation, for many years. Through that organisation he has had huge opportunity to disseminate his well-known anti-segregated cycle facility views to the whole of the UK cycle campaign community, sometimes explicitly, but sometimes more covertly, through the selection of material for reporting, choosing what to publish and, equally importantly, what not to publish, and in the way he has produced interpretations and summaries of domestic and foreign research work. This activity by Franklin has, I believe, been very damaging to cycling in the UK. His selection and his interpretation has invariably been done to prop up his own ideas on how cyclists should be catered for on the roads. To quote Mr C:
Looking through the literature on his website, I see a homeopathy-like penchant for cherry-picking research which agrees with his message on the alleged safety issues of separate cycle facilities, whilst ignoring the wider body of work showing they improve cyclists' safety and promote higher cycling rates when implemented well. Reading through his published work, it seems disconnected from reality. 
Another issue has been that, up until perhaps the last five years, we actually had very little good information in English on the cycle infrastructure experience in Europe, and particularly on infrastructure standards. We tended to get more information from the United States: but the relevance of this to UK urban utility cycling was often very dubious. Another trick Franklin has perpetrated has been to represent at least one study of cycle casualties emanating from the US as evidence for the "danger" of segregated cycle facilities, when the base data in question actually related to American cyclists falling off their bikes on mountain trails – totally irrelevant to what he was claiming evidence for. But to actually uncover such facts is very hard, as most of the links on his website point to documents that are not really the base studies being quoted, but summaries and interpretations, again. They are mere "heresay", not "evidence".

The lack on information in English on cycle standards on the continent has changed with the appearance of several invaluable websites filling this gap, such as the Fietsberaad website in English, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, David Hembrow's superb View from the Cycle Path and now, Great Britain's own Cycling Embassy. But this is all very recent. Before this, we were dependent on only one or documents that happened to be translated, and there was no guarantee that these would be mainstream, or genuinely representative of the continental infrastructure experience, rather than something loopy and unrepresentative, such as the "Finnish Study", or, I may add, the ideas of the late Hans Monderman on "Shared Space", which have gained some currency in the UK.

For the "Finnish Study" was always an obviously mad document if you read it all. No-one should ever have regarded it as a serious contribution to the cycle infrastructure debate. It was only through the distorted reporting of CCN (now Cyclenation), "thoroughly dishonest", as Gannon called it, that, once misrepresented in a way that was attractive to those who wanted to find evidence to support their preconceived ideas about the "dangerousness" of segregated cycle engineering, it became canonised as "evidence" of what was wrong with the European approach, for British cyclists of a certain frame of mind, who looked more towards the American approach of Forrester than the European one. It is a cautionary tale.

The recent Cyclenation report on Raalte may have nothing whatever to to with Franklin, but that incident brought all this back to mind again. I think it is an interesting history lesson, and, if you have borne with me this far, I hope you have found it instructive. The lesson is the simple one that is taught (or should be taught) to every young scientist: don't believe what you are told about "what the research proves", always look yourself at the original work, and make up your own mind if it is true.

Friday 24 June 2011

Boris doesn't get it: he is preventing 20mph in London

Jenny Jones, the Green Member of the London Assembly, is trying to get the debate on 20mph for Blackfriars Bridge rescheduled for 20 July. Readers will recall that the last attempt to hold such a debate was foiled by the Conservative members walking out of the Assembly, making it inquorate, ostensibly over an unrelated issue.

At the risk of regurgitating party political opinion (the Vole is not aligned with the Green Party or any other), I will quote what Jenny Jones has written on her blog about Boris Johnson and 20mph limits, as, if all that she says is true, it seems very telling about London's mayor, and hugely significant in terms of how he has been pushing the transport and road safety agenda during his mayoralty, and how he will continue to do if re-elected in 2012. Jenny Jones:

The real problem is, Boris just doesn’t ‘get’ the need for 20mph. 
In April 2009 I produced a (fascinating) report for the Assembly’s Transport Committee on the issue of 20mph, called Braking Point, which outlined the rationale for 20mph as a potent road safety measure. It was signed up to by all four political parties, so I hoped that Boris might be amenable to the findings, which were that 20mph reduced (socially expensive) casualties, and probably encouraged walking and cycling, while probably improving traffic flow and lowering pollution levels. The recommendations were that two boroughs should pilot a borough wide scheme, with TfL support. 
When I later approached Boris with the names of two councils who wanted to be part of the pilot and go 20mph all over their boroughs immediately, Boris expressed huge disbelief that any council could truly want to do that. He simply couldn’t believe that they wanted to apparently slow the traffic down, and so the money from TfL wasn’t forthcoming. 
The Blackfriars Bridge issue is becoming a barometer for Boris’ mayoralty. It’s a bridge that has caused a lot of problems over the years, seeing several unnecessary and tragic cyclist deaths. These days, not only is the ‘traffic’ on and around Blackfriars mostly cyclists and pedestrians, the economic argument is that the biggest cause of congestion is road crashes (when I was knocked off my bike by a car on the Old Kent Road and broke my wrist, I blocked one lane of traffic for 10 minutes at rush hour until the ambulance came to take me away) and so lose businesses millions of pounds. 
Will this cycling Mayor actually listen to cyclists and road safety campaigners to make sensible choices for pedestrian and cyclist safety, or will his Tory instincts kick in once again and deny logic and common sense? Or perhaps he will do his usual best to avoid making any decision at all, especially a decision that might put him at odds with car drivers, whom he sees as his natural voters.
So, let's state that clearly again. Two London boroughs wanted to become entirely 20mph. I don't know which, but two were keen to be the trial for making the whole of London 20mph. Jones is saying that Boris stopped this. Personally. Only him, entirely his decision. So we could have had by now two whole London boroughs as 20mph zones, if it hadn't been for Boris. Two whole boroughs is about 2/3 of a million people living in a 20mph zone. With the savings of life, prevention of injuries, lessened pollution, and increased physical activity through walking and cycling that might have resulted from that. That's very clear, isn't it? Boris didn't want all that. He didn't even want to try it as an experiment. He didn't want to know. I think that tells us all we need to know.

I think there is an opinion abroad that Boris is a kind of funny, inflated fish bobbing about in City Hall, bounced this way and that by technical advisers and planners of one kind and another, taking few decisions himself, leaving details to others, and failing to assert authority over large departments which have long-standing cultures of behaving in a particular way. I think, in reality, people are underestimating the extent to which what we are now getting in London's transport agenda comes directly from him, is his decision alone. That's what I take from Jenny Jones's account.


I see Cyclenation in the news page on its website has got hold of a somewhat odd snippet of text from the Dutch Fietsberaad newletter. Let's see what the Cyclenation item says:
High cycling levels mainly due to audacity
According to the June 15th Dutch Fietsberaad newsletter, "Enthusiasm and audacity are the main ingredients for local authorities to obtain high cycling percentages, is the conclusion from a study by AgentschapNL into the factors that may affect bicycle use."
"The town of Raalte served as a model in this study. It has a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons. There is plenty of parking space and no expensive bicycle projects have been realised. According to ThuisraadRO conducting the study it is mainly due to administrative-organisatorial factors. The presence of a group of enthusiastic leaders from all walks of life is one such factor. Bicycle use is also affected by the audacity demonstrated by local authorities, the large degree of unanimity and the continuity of approach... [Cyclenation item ends thus]
And now let's check the source. That says (and I include the picture that accompanies the text):
High cycling percentage mainly a matter of audacity
Enthusiasm and audacity are the main ingredients for local authorities to obtain high cycling percentages, is the conclusion from a study by AgentschapNL into the factors that may affect bicycle use.
The town of Raalte served as a model in this study. It has a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons. There is plenty of parking space and no expensive bicycle projects have been realised. According to ThuisraadRO conducting the study it is mainly due to administrative-organisatorial factors. The presence of a group of enthusiastic leaders from all walks of life is one such factor. Bicycle use is also affected by the audacity demonstrated by local authorities, the large degree of unanimity and the continuity of approach. The integral approach, in the widest sense of the word, proved crucial for the results obtained. In addition a number of physical measures have promoted bicycle use such as the creation of a large residential area in a major part of the town, consistent right of way for cyclists and the construction of primary cycling routes along neighbourhood connector roads.
Right. Here comes the critical analysis, as they say. The word "audacity" is clearly a mistranslation of something in the Dutch original. I don't know what it should be as I don't speak Dutch.

Note the point at which the Cyclnation quote has been cut. The sentences left out seem to contradict the early part of the quote, where it says:
It has a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons. There is plenty of parking space and no expensive bicycle projects have been realised.
I think one may take it that the "no expensive bicycle projects" means relative to some other places in the Netherlands, and cannot be related to UK levels of expenditure on cycle projects. For in the cut section it says:
In addition a number of physical measures have promoted bicycle use such as the creation of a large residential area in a major part of the town, consistent right of way for cyclists and the construction of primary cycling routes along neighbourhood connector roads.
This sounds like large-scale cycle infrastructure engineering such as has no parallel in the UK. The "primary cycling routes", in the Dutch meaning, would be fully segregated cycle tracks on the roads with all the appropriate junction designs. The picture certainly seems to show happy youngsters cycling without any concern for traffic on a large-capacity traffic-free thoroughfare.

So the "lack of clearly visible reasons" mentioned early on for the success of cycling in Raalte becomes a rather difficult part of the text to understand when the whole article is examined. Maybe there is another translation problem, or maybe what is being said is that Raalte has, for some reason, succeeded in raising cycle levels more than neighbouring towns that have spent even more on infrastructure. There is no way of telling. But the quoting of the early part of this somewhat confused text, without the end (which doesn't make it much longer) creates rather a misleading impression to British readers. It seems to be suggesting that the town of Raalte has not spent money on high-quality, large-scale cycling infrastructure, in the usual manner of Dutch towns, but, yet has achieved great cycling success from some baffling combination of "enthusiasm and audacity". Which would seem to suit the agenda of certain UK cycle campaigners.

The Cyclenation website is edited by John Franklin.

A walk down Piccadilly

Piccadilly London W1 is a famous street for walking:
Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle in the high aesthetic band, If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your mediaeval hand.
(W. S Gilbert, Patience)

So you might think it would offer a pleasant walking experience.

Wrong. Piccadilly is, and long has been, a nightmare as a pedestrian thoroughfare, as I know from frequent use. One of London's key tourist routes, linking Green Park, Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace to The Royal Academy of Arts and Piccadilly Circus, Piccadilly is blighted by overcrowded, narrow, poor-quality pavements highly obstructed by railings and street furniture and with dangerous junctions with busy one-way side roads that are equipped with no proper crossings for pedestrians at all. These junctions, where there is no pedestrian signal phase on which to cross, and where the traffic all comes bombing down suddenly from one direction, particularly at St James Street/Albermarle Street, which is the A4, where two lanes of traffic unexpectedly come bombing across Piccadilly from the south, are highly confusing and dangerous to tourists, and indeed everyone.

At the moment the City of Westminster and TfL are doing some work on the roadway in Piccadilly to restore it to two-way operation for general traffic, and installing a central strip. This is supposed to be something to do with the Olympics: one of Boris's flagship projects for "improving" a small number of iconic London streets by 2012. Now, this change can be interpreted as be positive for cycling, though it is not very positive. No real cycling infrastructure (as usual) is part of the plan. The change will offer some new route possibilities for cyclists in the West End and remove what the Evening Standard once called, memorably, the "Piccadilly Bus Lane of Blood", which was contraflow and segregated, but too narrow to be shared by bikes and buses. However the new route possibilities will by and large also be open to motor traffic, so there is no preferential treatment or prioritising of cycling going on here. The benefits for cycling are therefore dubious – there may be a permeability gain which is balanced by a worse environment from even more and faster motor traffic, bearing in mind the increased space cars will gain from the removal of bus lanes which also seems to be part of the plan, though not clearly publicised. That is semi-protected space also lost to cycling, of course.

Artists' impression of how Piccadilly should look when the works are completed. Note the complete lack of cycle facilities, not even advance stop lines, and also the waste of space in the middle of the road.

Unfortunately, the plan seems to do little for pedestrians, who must be the vast majority of the traffic on this street. It is part of Boris's "Smoothing the traffic flow" agenda, which means maximising space for motor vehicles and minimising delays to them. Motor vehicles will get two lanes in both directions (except over one stretch where they will get three eastbound) and the bus lanes will be gone. There will be no cycle lanes. Pedestrians so far as I can see will be cramped on to the same inadequate pavement space they are now, albeit with removal of some railings. Look how narrow the pavement on the right remains in the artist's impression above. And why have they crammed in three lanes for vehicles beyond the lights (Albermarle Street), when only two are possible further east (towards the observer)? And note the absence of cyclists in the artist's impression. Nowhere for them to go in this scheme, it seems. Westminster's leaflet mentions "better pedestrian crossing arrangements" but it is not clear what this means. In the meantime, the works mean extra obstructions for pedestrians. For, if we need to store some building stuff, where do we put it, but on the pavement?

Building work obstructions
More obstructions

Berkeley Street junction: no pedestrian signals, funny obstructions everywhere

Dover Street junction: no pedestrian signals. A sign aimed at drivers obstructs the pavement along with other stuff. Just look at those poor, patched road surfaces.
Albermarle Street junction: no signals and more obstructions
These pictures show the key pedestrian section of Piccadilly between Green Park Station and the Royal Academy. It's a mess, and it was a mess before the present works started. It's always been a mess of obstructions and diggings. And this is supposed to be a showpiece London street, one of the most famous streets in the world.

Tourists and other visitors to London are, most of the time, pedestrians. What impression do they get trying to negociate streets like this? I think they get an impression of an overwhelmingly poor-quality, neglected public realm. I think they will come away with the same impression even after Boris has re-done one or two selected streets in the West End and "smoothed the traffic flow".

Central London's public realm is by and large a disgrace. Time to return to the suburbs. At the far end of the Jubilee line from Green Park Station, here's the pavement by Queensbury Station, in north Brent,  after a bit of rain.

At Queensbury Station. Why is the "30" sign facing the pavement? I think it is round the wrong way.