Tuesday 25 December 2012

Elstree to Edgware by bike: remember Zoë Sheldrake

Sometimes it happens that I will start a blogpost and not complete it, or I will collect lots of pictures intending to write one on a particular subject, and then not get round to it. I was reminded of such a case by a tweet recently from Gerhard of London Cycling campaign, who asked simply:
Who decided it's enough to have a 'pedestrians crossing' sign on a 70mph dual carriage way? #bonkers
I don't know what location prompted this thought form Gerhard, but it doesn't matter; this kind of "provision" is quite standard for both pedestrians ands cyclists all over the UK, outside towns and cities. It's a most bizarre thing in the context of a so-called "civilised" society, and it put me in mind of a bike journey I made just before Christmas 2011, and a blogpost I had started to compile based on that, which had remained incomplete. It was written to demonstrate the typical problems a cyclist will encounter when travelling across the green belt between the Shire suburbs and outer London. Here it is.

The journey in question was from Elstree to Edgware, on the north-west fringe of Greater London.
The journey is entirely on this map. The photos below are more than a year old, but I do not expect anything of significance has changed.

We start at the (permanently congested) crossroads at Elstree, Hertfordshire, a hilltop village that might be quite attractive, if it was not for the traffic blight, and we descend via the narrow High Street, which becomes Elstree Hill South, to a roundabout that serves only to connect with the Centennial Avenue industrial estate. Here we are looking back up the hill from this point:

At this roundabout we encounter a shared cycle/pedestrian path sign. But unfortunately there's no way to get on to this path from the road. We must stop and climb the kerb:

Following the path we soon reach this confusing signage:

Does this mean cross the dual carriageway to the other side to continue? I thought about this for a while before deciding it does not. The route continues on the pavement to the left. Note the spacing of the bollards to prevent smooth cycling.

Following the shared path further we now skirt the roundabout connecting the A5 and the A41. There is no safe way to cross this roundabout to continue south on the A5 (Brockley Hill) should you wish to (for example to access the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital). If you are heading towards London, however, I wouldn't advise using Brockley Hill anyway, as it is a very narrow road with a 40mph limit and a very steep (downhill) gradient. The view of London is impressive, but you don't have time to enjoy it as the ride is too hairy, with trucks whistling past you at 40mph, as you do about 25 on a poor surface, with a hairsbreadth to spare. No, what we are looking for is the cycle track alongside the A41 Edgware Way.

The A41 past the A5 roundabout climbs over the M1 (though the Google map above incorrectly shows it going under) and we see, comfortingly a sign indicating the way to our destination, so we continue on this narrowing "shared" path round the curve and over the bridge:

But getting a little bit higher on the bridge, and things start to look puzzling. The path becomes gravely or covered with grass. Can this really be the way?

No, it isn't. One looks around a bit in puzzlement, before noting the presence of a paved area and vague hieroglyphics on the other side of the southbound carriageway, in the central reservation:

We are supposed to be using this feature to cross to the pavement of the northbound carriageway to continue. Another cryptic clue to this fact may be found if we look again at our immediate surroundings on the southbound carriageway, and spot this sign, high above our head:

This is the no pedestrians sign. It means that people should not continue walking on this side of the road, so, ergo, unless they are supposed to turn back, this is where they must cross the road. And, since it is a shared facility, this must be where cyclists cross as well. Is that all absolutely clear? No??

So we make our way across two lanes of 50mph limit southbound traffic to the central reservation and then across two lanes of 70mph limit (arguably, moderated by yellow stripes) northbound traffic. Just to spice it up a bit, it's all on a curve, and the northbound traffic is coming over the hump of a bridge, so you can't see that far down. This is the view from the other pavement looking south:

The stripes on the carriageway are to slow the traffic, not because of the crossing, but because it's approaching a roundabout (there are "Reduce Speed Now" signs with roundabout symbols as well). On this pavement we encounter more hieroglyphics aimed at cyclists. This is the view northwards:

The "ahead only" would apply to any cyclists brave enough to head into the A5–A41 roundabout, I suppose – so this constitutes the totally unclear instruction for cyclists going the opposite way to me, heading for Elstree via the cycle route, to cross the road. And, in the unlikely event of a cyclist coming from the roundabout encountering a cyclist going towards Elstree on the cycle route, they are supposed to give way, indicated by the "toytown traffic" give-way lines here. I am sure that in reality, should two cyclists meet here, they could negotiate without these markings, but someone though these strange junction markings at what is not much of a junction were needed, rather than the more obvious thing, which is an arrow or sign to instruct cyclists heading for Elstree to cross the road. The markings here manage to be a mixture of the unhelpful, the incomprehensible, and the unnecessary.

So we proceed south on this path, to encounter, oh dear! – a ghost bike:

This ghost bike is tethered at the point where the slip road to join the M1 north-westbound diverges from the A41. Cyclists are required to cross the 70mph slip road here, with no more than a "look left" and their own judgement to protect them.

This is the ghost bike for Zoë Anne Sheldrake, killed at the age of 31, on 26 April 2010, at this spot. Ghost bikes are not normally allowed to remain long at their installed location by the authorities, so I am surprised this was still here, 20 months later, seen by every motorist who drives northward on the A41 Edgware Way. I can only assume that Transport for London or Borough of Barnet inefficiency or oversight is responsible for longevity of this one, or possibly doubt about responsibility, as it is very close to the Hertfordshire border. Whatever, this must be the longest-lived London ghost bike, standing in this incredibly bleak location.

The piece of paper attached to the bike is still there, giving Zoë's dates and the statement "Killed by car" – though "killed by criminally irresponsible road design" might have been more appropriate.

The driver who hit Zoë, Clive Sanford, was found not guilty of causing death by careless driving (by a majority verdict) on 8 September 2011.
Mr Sanford – who had denied the charge – cried as the verdict was announced, while members of Ms Sheldrake's family screamed and shouted in the courtroom, labelling the decision “disgusting”.
An understandable reaction, but what is really disgusting is the design of this cycle path. The London Cycling Campaign made a video and webpage about it, calling it "The most dangerous cycle crossing in the UK?"– which it could be. They point to the facts that there is not even a sign telling motorists that cyclists and pedestrians are supposed to be crossing the slip road here, and that motorists can at the last moment change lanes into the slip road, when they are almost at the crossing, without giving any indication. Possibly this is how Zoë died, I don't know, I cannot speculate reasonably from the information I have seen. I have made my own video of the junction. This shows quite long gaps in the traffic, but remember this was taken on a Sunday near Christmas. At a busier time it might be far harder to get a substantial, certain gap in the flow.

[Having now looked at it carefully on Google Street view, I think there is a real problem with the speed limits here. Motorists, whether heading for the M1 or the A5/A41 roundabout, have passed  a black diagonal bar "End of Restriction" sign, meaning the limit is 70mph, only about 400m south of this point, at the point where he dualled section of the A41 starts, yet at the point where the M1 slip diverges, about 100m south of this point, A41 traffic is already being encouraged to slow down by the yellow bars across the road, yet there is no reduction in the formal limit for any of the three northbound lanes, and the "End of Restriction" (70 limit) is reinforced by extra signs (including motorway signs) on the slip road at exactly this point where cyclists are supposed to be crossing. How can motorists on the A41 lanes really be already slowing, as demanded by their markings, when they are negotiating with the motorway traffic? This impacts on the safety of cyclists crossing the northbound lanes at the bridge. What was the point of raising the limit to 70 for all northbound traffic only 300m from the start of the slowdown bars? I can see a legitimate problem for motorists trying to judge their speed here. The whole arrangement is misconceived.]

Reaching the path on the west side of the A41 to M1 slip road, and proceeding slightly south, we come to another memorial still extant (in December 2011) to Zoë.

Continuing south, the shared path, on the section of the A41 between the start of the slip road and the Spur Road (A410) roundabout at the northern edge of Edgware, is a relatively good example of cycling infrastructure, by our dismal UK standards, with a good surface, which looked as if it had recently been relaid (indeed current Google Streetview pictures show this work being carried out), and something like a 2m clear width (though this was reduced in the wooded parts by the effect of all the damp autumn leaves having fallen and not been swept off the inner edge):

The bollards in my photo seem to be remnants of the work shown on Streetview. The path is at this point adjacent to a hard shoulder, but a few metres further south it goes right next to the inside lane of the dual carriageway, Further south the road becomes a single carriageway with a verge and trees separating it from the path, so the cycling environment gets slightly nicer. There are even some driveways or minor access roads intersecting the path with, pleasingly, no "Give Way" lines for cyclists (but maybe they just hadn't got round to painting them in following the resurfacing). This being the UK, the cycling pleasure cannot last long, however, for we soon come to the roundabout where the A410 (called Spur Road for thew short section between here and the A5) intersects the A41. Here, you have to cross Spur Road, in two stages, crossing four lanes of near-continuous heavy traffic, with a 40 limit going into and coming out of a very wide-geometry roundabout, and this is all the help you get:

Note again the general lack of clarity that bedevils these things. The cycle route crosses the road here and comes from the right. The pavement to the left is not for cyclists, but nobody would know without looking at the TfL map. This shows that official routes continue on the south side of Spur Road westwards, and on the south side of the A41 Edgware Way (Watford By-Pass). Edgware Town Centre can be more easily accessed however by a yellow (unofficial) route marked on the London Cycle Guide via Green Lane: a long, straight residential road that has low traffic because it is closed at its far end, at Station Road (a road I have blogged about already).

At the top of Green Lane an new estate of flats is being built: here's the builders' sunny visualisation on a big board: it will be, aparrentlly, a place of greenery and walkability:

And here's the reality: minor roads chocked with parked cars. The Borough of Barnet is now having areas like this developed at high density, which should imply low car ownership, but the street environments outside the small envelopes of development land are not changing. They are still laying out the street environment exclusively for the convenience of car drivers, with nothing to make cycling and walking pleasant or attractive. So architects' visualisations like the one above always turn out to be remote from reality.

Here endeth the journey. As we see, the facilities for cycling on this potentially important corridor across the green belt just to the north-west of London are the usual tragi-comic mess characteristic of such facilities on the edges of UK urban areas, where small roads like Green Lane run out, and cyclists have perforce to be directed around 70mph roads and motorway intersections, in the cases, that is, where any thought has been given to them at all. You can find this kind of thing all over the country. There are exceptions, such as the Bristol to Bath National Cycle Network path where it enters Bristol on impressive bridges across the peripheral motorways and junctions, but these exceptions are, as my late friend Patrick Moore would have said, "as rare as hens' teeth".

The most serious problems occur where motorway-level roads have to be crossed, but there is no will to actually engineer for cycling (nor often for pedestrians either). There seems to be just no solution in the UK's current transport regime to the kind of issue that killed Zoë. For cycling and walking levels in these places are very low; as has been truly said, you do not measure the need for a route by counting the number of people who are walking through a wall.  Highway Authorities see it as an unreasonable demand that millions of pounds be spent retrofitting bridges and tunnels into roads and junctions that don't cater for cycling or walking because of what they perceive as the low level of demand. But it is on the shoulders of the Department for Transport that the blame for this must mostly be placed, for setting policy guidance and funding levels, and determining the general spirit of things, In a letter to the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (not published) that I have seen, the current Secretary of State for Transport says exactly this, in terms. He says he's not prepared to spend serious money on engineering for cycling, as continental countries do, because we have so few cyclists.

And so we have a totally diagraceful, inhuman situation that kills people and stifles attempts to get sustainable transport off the ground. The only hope seems to be in the few cases where Sustrans, a charity, can raise enough money to build something proper, as they did at Bristol. In terms of basic safety of sustainable travel modes, we in the UK are not in the position we were in for poverty relief when the welfare state was created, not even in the position we were in during the era of the Victorian Poor Laws; we are in a mediaeval state of having to depend on charity.

Here's an aerial view of the M1-A41-A5 junction that shows it more clearly than the map does. The problem is that cyclists have to be got from the road at the top, Elstree Hill (both sides) to the two-way cycle path on the west side of the slip road at the bottom.

It can be seen that the roundabout is at a high level, and the M1 is in a cutting. With the very high traffic levles and designs speeds, I don't think any surface level treatment for a cycle route is going to work here. Nor would it be reasonable to expect it, at a crucial node on the national road network. The best solution looks like building ramps and underpasses to take cyclists under the roundabout, and then on to a new, dedicated bridge over the motorway, parallel to the existing A5 bridge on its east side, to end up on a new cycle path on the south side of the motorway slip road that would follow round to connect to the existing path at the bottom right of the picture.

I've no doubt this engineering would run to tens of millions of pounds. But it's clear and straightforward, in principle easy (plenty of open space), and it's what the Dutch would do. But with the current levels of funding for cycling infrastructure we simply cannot do this kind of thing. We need a step-change in funding, as I argued recently. What's the alternative? A steady stream of deaths, and practically zero cycling in such city fringe areas. We tend to concentrate, in our thinking on cycling in the UK on town and city centres. But unless we can solve these urban edge locations as well, we'll end up with, at best, a few inner-city city cycling enclaves, but still at very sub-Dutch cycling levels, and not with any kind of national transport cycling culture. For cycling to be a serious transport option, it must be possible to get safely from A to B anywhere.

This Christmas, remember Zoë Sheldrake, and all others killed on the roads of Britain, just for trying to get around on bikes.

Friday 7 December 2012

Shurdington: a typical English village

This blog is London-based, and so nearly all the cycling discussion on it is about London. I have often thought of, and intended to write, articles concerning more rural areas, but I never seem to get round to doing them, because other things happen, locally or nationally.

However, I was reminded of something when I read, through Twitter, on Wednesday, this very brief and sketchy news of the death of a cyclist in Shurdington, near Cheltenham:
A cyclist has died in hospital following a collision on the Shurdington Road in Cheltenham yesterday afternoon. 
The collision happened at approximately 3.05pm at the traffic light controlled crossing between Cotswold Van Hire and Shurdington Car Sales and involved a cyclist and a red mini. 
The cyclist, an 87-year-old local man, was taken by ambulance to Frenchay Hospital in Bristol but sadly passed away a few hours later.
This gentleman was probably the 115th cyclist to be killed on the roads of the UK this year. What I was reminded of was the fact that I visited Shurdington last year. I cycled there from Cheltenham Station, and I took a few pictures, with the idea of writing a blogpost about the standard UK rural or semi-rural  environment for cycling, and what needs to be learned from Dutch planning if we are ever to improve it. This sad death, though potentially unrelated to my points, brought this back to mind.

Shurdington is a village in the Cotswold Hills between Cheltenham and Gloucester, four miles from Cheletenham town centre. The only way to get to it from Cheltenham is on the A46. There is little more than a mile of green belt between the edge of the Cheltenham suburbs and the beginning of the village. Then there is only another mile of so of the A46 before you come to villages that are suburbs of Gloucester. The A46 is the only way to get there also. All this is so typical of so many villages in England: sandwiched between larger centres, preserved as marginally rural by the preservation of tracts of green gelt but part, in reality, of a much larger urban sprawl. Exactly the same could be said about most villages in the denser parts of the Netherlands. The overall population density is probably similar.

Map of Shurdington, from Google

Here is a Google Streetview picture of the location of the fatal crash, according to the report. It's where it says "Cheese Rollers Inn" on the map above, on the A46 towards the bottom of the map.

Since we have no information as to the causes of the crash, I will not comment further on it. The rest of this post consists of my pictures, and thoughts about Shurdington, based on my one-day's visit in Autumn 2011.

It's a nice enough village, with a very pointed church spire, a village green, and charming, almost traffic-free lanes (because they lead nowhere) that would be fine for cycling.

But what's wrong with Shurdington is the classic thing found in a thousand and one English villages: it has as it's spine, one straight, not very wide, heavily-trafficked through-road with narrow pavements: the A46. There's no other way to get anywhere,  and no alternatives for cyclists, walkers and horsesriders; there is no space for cycling, and absolutely nothing to physically slow traffic down, just "30" signs, "slow" signs, and red painted "slow" markings on the carriageway.

It's horrible to cycle on. The next picture includes the only other cyclists I spotted on my trip. The pavement is not officially "shared", but I cannot blame them for cycling on it.

In the village itself there are narrow footpaths on both sides of the road. But in the green mile between Shurdington and the outskirts of Cheltenham there is only a footpath on one side. These photos show the edge of the village, where you need to cross the road to continue on the other footpath, if you are walking into town. Note the space wasted by the centre hatching.

As can be seen, in the gap between the village and the town, there's space by the road to provide another footpath, or to provide a cycle path instead, but this is not done. In the village itself the properties are close to the road, and it would not be possible to create cycle paths.

The reaction of any English local authority to this deficiency of safe pace for cycling, if it considered it at all, and tried to remedy it, would almost certainly be the creation of shared-use pavements as defined in the 1980 Highways Act. In other words, it would just legalise, with signs, what the man and child on bikes in the picture above are doing. But this, the standard UK approach, the only one the government really empowers and encourages local authorities to adopt, would be the wrong approach.

For one thing, though not too bad on the fringes, where the man and child were when I took the photo, you would get issues in the village centre (where the crash occurred), with the many crossovers and other activities. For another thing, this would not  address the real issue: the untrammelled domination of the village by through-going motor traffic often, or perhaps usually, doing over the speed limit.

I visited Shurdington just after I had been on the study tour in Assen, in the Netherlands, run by David Hembrow, author of A view from the cycle path, with other members of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. It struck me as a salutory comparison to we had seen of the Dutch semi-rural environment on that tour: so typical of the UK, and so unsatisfactory by comparison. I've shown these pictures before, but here they are again, to make that comparison.

Here we have the road to Loon, a village near Assen. This road has far lower traffic than the A46, but, between the towns, where there is space, wide, excellent cycle paths are provided on both sides, well separated from the road. They could be walked on, but they are not engineered as pavements on which cyclists are allowed to ride (UK-style shared-use paths), they are engineered as cycle paths on which people are allowed to walk (or use low-powered mopeds, mobility scooters etc., a very important use of these paths, as Bicycledutch explains).

In Dutch villages, like English ones, often properties are too close to the road to allow separate cycle paths to be fitted in. The Dutch solution is not to give up, it is to control cars. Cyclists are re-introduced to the road, and they must share space with motor vehicles, but things are done differently in the Netherlands, and the effect on the perceived and absolute safety of cycling is very different.

The cycle path can be seen on the other side of the road here, at the point at which it enters the village of Loon. The cycle paths on both sides of the road are taken comfortably round the traffic-calming feature. Cyclists are integrated into the carriageway on the other side of this. The pinch-point, with considerable deflection, forces cars to slow down. The limit is 30kph, 18mph. The change in road surface, to the tiles, which make it slightly noisy and rough to drive a car at a greater speed, emphasises the change in the nature of the space. This contrasts with a road like the A46, which blasts through the village of Shurdington with almost no change in character between the inter-urban sections and the residential sections, and with nothing to make traffic to slow down other than optimistic signs, which even if they work will still allow traffic to travel at the excessive speed of 30mph.

The problem with making these sorts of comparisons, as we found in the Cycling Embassy group, is that British people will always say, of a place like Loon, "Well this is different, isn't it? This is not a comparable location. This is out of the way, and traffic levels are far lower here – you can't really compare it". It is very hard to compare, because four decades of radically different transport planning in the Netherlands has made everything different. There is far less traffic here, though this is a comparable village to Shurdington, in a comparable relationship to the towns of Assen and Groningen as that of Shurdington with Cheltenham and Gloucester, and this is is the comparable road to the A46 in the Assen/Loon context.

Why is there far less traffic here? It's in part because the alternatives to the car for local travel have been made accessible and attractive to all. It's also in part because the longer-distance traffic, between Assen and the other towns in the region, has been deflected onto other, bigger roads, by determined, systematic policy.

And here is the other part of the UK planning failure for rural roads. We have built the motorway and trunk-road alternatives, but we have kept the rat-runs open unaltered. The A46 is the old road between Cheltenham and Stroud. It should and could have been completely bypassed by the construction of the M5 motorway.

Traffic can get from Cheltenham to Stroud using the A40, the M5 and the A419. There is no reason to keep the old, narrow A46 through the villages of Shurdington, Coopers Hill and Painswick going as an alternative continuous through-route, with a minimum speed (not enforced) of 30mph. These villages could all be accessed by car through the grid of bigger roads. This is a fundamental difference between British and Dutch planning: the British usually allow a number of alternative through-routes between centres, and allow all the routes to fill up with traffic, no matter how unsuitable they may be, while providing no dedicated cycling alternatives. The Dutch both provide the alternatives and  restrict the motor through-traffic to the most appropriate routes, by means either of actual road closures, or re-engineering to change the character and attractiveness of the roads as through-routes, with lower, better-enforced speed limits.

It's a long way from the flatlands of the Netherlands to the rolling Cotswold hills, from the bricks of Assen and Loon to the honeyed sandstone of Cheltenham and Shurdington. There are fundamental differences in the land that mean that England will never be like the Netherlands. But there are psychological differences that are not so basic. With a long enough period of intelligent transport planning, I believe we could make cycling in the English countryside almost as attractive as cycling in the Dutch countryside – more so, if you like hills!

Quality cycling infrastructure, better planning, and a better general quality of our public built environment is desperately needed in English cities for the future health of our nation – but if there's one place it's even more needed, it's in the English countryside.

In case commenters are tempted to go down such roads, I'm not interested in pernickety debate about how big various settlements are, or in exact population densities, or how things in one place are not quite the same as in another for reasons people of a certain disposition are good at pointing out. Such debate will not invalidate the general points, so I will ignore it.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Baker's crumbs

It would be easy to carp and and be negative about the extra £20 million announced for cycling infrastructure across the UK by Transport Minister Norman Baker today. So let's do it. After all, who doesn't want to do what's easy? (Except for President Kennedy. And look what happened to him. And to add insult to injury, now a high proportion of Americans don't believe they ever went to the Moon at all.)

And, facetiousness aside, "doing what's easy" is the point in all this. People cycle in large numbers where you make it a really easy thing to do. People cycle in small numbers in the UK because we've made it a really, really hard thing for people to do. The many ways we have made it hard are well-described in sociologist Dave Horton's excellent blog series Cycling Struggles, based on research he conducted for the University of Lancaster's Understanding Walking and Cycling project. As I've argued before, telling people how good it is for their health to cycle, or that "gardening is more dangerous than cycling", or some such blather, is utterly useless as a strategy for getting more cycling. The only strategy that we know works is to make cycling easy, convenient, safe, pleasant, and fun.

Guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued today makes the health case for more walking and cycling, as both travel and recreation, again, but actually we have had guidance from NICE saying
Ensure pedestrians, cyclists and users of other modes of transport that involve physical activity are given the highest priority when developing or maintaining streets and roads.
Plan and provide a comprehensive network of routes for walking, cycling and using other modes of transport involving physical activity
since 2008. Perhaps I have been looking in a different direction when it has all been happening, but I haven't noticed much evidence of any level of government following that guidance. And, overall, the actual policy guidance in this latest NICE paper seems to be rather less clear and concrete than that from 2008, if lengthier, with rather a lot of emphasis on "encouraging" cycling, and no real analysis of the infrastructure problem. So perhaps those pinning big hopes of a shift in policy in response to NICE's current paper need to prepare for a let-down. Again.

And I'm afraid "a let-down" is what Norman Baker's announcement must be viewed as. Part of the trouble is, of course, that the sum is just too small, spread across the whole of the UK, to make a difference. In the London Borough of Brent, where I operate, the Transport for London-declared "Biking Borough", with a 1% modal share of travel by bike, I could easily tell you how to spend that £20 million, just in my borough, tomorrow. You could, with that money, maybe fix a couple of major physical barriers to cycling, and you'd probably succeed in increasing cycling in the borough by between 50 and 100%, I'd guess (my guess based on comparisons with comparable London boroughs which have slightly fewer physical barriers to cycling). But that would be just for Brent, for 300,000 people. That's 0.5% of the UK population. So this money, spent in that theoretical way (which it won't be) would at the very best achieve a 0.5% increase in modal cycling share in the UK, from around 1% to around 1.005%. That's not a measurable difference.

Of course this money will actually be spent in much smaller lumps than I am proposing, on small projects all over the country. Norman Baker and many others would therefore argue that my analysis is totally irrelevant. There may be, or there are, they would say, many small barriers to cycling all over the country which could be fixed with small applications of cash, and that fixing these would have incrementally have much more effect than I am calculating. But I don't think so. I think the reverse, based on everything I have seen of the barriers to cycling in the UK and of what works and what doesn't work. I think the more you subdivide small funds using the traditional "scattergun" approach used in the UK for cycle investment, the less bang for your buck you get. You need to create consistent, widely-useful networks in towns to get people cycling as a matter of habit, as the Dutch showed in the early 1970s. If you've got little money it's better to do one "demonstration town" than waste it all through "evaporation" across the nation. Unfortunately this money is a drop in the ocean compared to what we need, and through being a minutely subdivided drop, its benefits will entirely disappear.

The DfT's press release shows that there is no departure here from the traditional scattergun approach:
Projects could include better cycle facilities at railway stations, improved cycle links, or projects to improve the layout of road junctions to make them more cycle-friendly. Previous investment has seen some great projects making a real difference in communities, including better cycle routes from residential areas to schools to encourage the next generation of cyclists to cycle more regularly.
It sounds like this money will be used for a few more cycle stands at stations (but lack of cycle parking really is not the reason people don't cycle, it's lack of subjective safety of the cycling experience, so this part of the money will achieve little), a few improvements to Sustrans-style routes between towns, and possibly junction changes, though that these will be done well enough to work is unlikely given the terrible nature of current DfT guidance on cycle infrastructure (more good reading on that subject here).

It also sounds from that press releases as if the DfT doesn't really know exactly what it wants done with this money. I think it's important to note that other areas that DfT funds are not treated like this. For major road and rail (and I guess aviation and maritime) projects, the government first decides exactly what it wants. It then costs it, and decides if and how it can be done. It then gets it through the planning mechanisms, if necessary bypasses them by executive decisions or new Acts of Parliament, and sees the project through, spending as much money as is needed to finish it and make it work. By contrast, cycle projects are rarely completed to the standard to actually make them work optimally.

I think today's announcement is undermined not only by the smallness of the sum involved, but also by the continuing lack of a coherent strategy from the DfT for cycling, and the lack of decent standards written into DfT guidance to Highway Authorities to tell them exactly how to build for cycling. The point about the Netherlands is not just that they spend at least 20 times as much per person as the UK on cycling infrastructure, and not just that they have been doing this consistently for decades, but also that from 1989 they had a clear national plan (the Dutch Bicycle Master Plan).

There have been various announcements about funding relating to cycling from the government over the past year. It's been hard to keep track of them, as the same money tends to get re-announced over and over again. In March £15 million was announced for cycle-rail and Sustrans projects, and in June £15 million for junction improvements in London and £15 million for the same in the rest of England were announced. If we add these to today's money it looks like the DfT is putting about £65 million into cycling infrastructure for England, about £1.30 per person, this year. This may be compared with the budget that Cycling England had from the last government: £60 million. But that money was spent in only a few towns, in a more concentrated way, to try to demonstrate the effect of doing a lot (by UK standards) in one place (a more effective strategy, though it still didn't amount to the creation of the whole-town quality networks that the Dutch showed were necessary). A scattergun £65 million is not worth anything like as much as Cycling England's more concentrated £60 million. And there has been inflation since the days of Cycling England, abolished in the "Bonfire of the Quangos" as one of the first acts of the Coalition government.

The bottom line seems to be that the funding for cycling in England stays about constant over time, whoever is in power. And the cycling level stays constantly low, as you'd expect. You keep doing the same thing, you keep getting the same result. There's no shift from the historical pattern here, there's just not the gear-change we need present in today's announcement, or the announcements over the past year.

The constant low level of cycling in England due to constant low investment
We need a billion a year, just to start to get the momentum up, just to start to catch up with our more advanced continental neighbours. And we need proper standards based on international best-practice and a hard, scientific analysis (that people like Dave Horton should be in the front line of advising on) as to what really works (and that, by the way, is, in one word, in case you were in any doubt, segregation, not the deeply-misleading  "mix if possible, separate where necessary" mantra that everybody seems to have gotten hold of suddenly.) And the catching-up would still take decades.

A billion is getting on for 10% of the DfT's budget, after the recent cuts, of £11.6 billion. The direct costs of obesity to the UK are estimated by the Department of Health at £5.1 billion a year. On that basis, the request for a billion for cycling is rational and reasonable, given its potential for solving the problem, as detailed in today's NICE report, and its potential for solving many other problems as well, that we all know about. Could any UK transport minster, or even the Chancellor, possibly deliver a billion for cycling? In political terms, not easily. But posterity thanks politicians who decide to do things that are hard.

Sunday 25 November 2012

While Boris so far fails to "Go Dutch", Camden quietly gets on with it

I stated quite clearly in April my belief that Boris Johnson's commitment to the London Cycling Campaign's Go Dutch principles was not sincere. However Johnson won the election fair and square, so the LCC needed to take him on his word, and just keep monitoring the situation and reminding him of his commitment in every possible way. He had a bit of a breathing space over the Olympic period, when one would have expected less focus on such long-term issues as safe streets, but that's well behind us now.

After his fist 100 days into the new term, LCC issued an assessment, which in my opinion was already a bit too charitable even at this stage:
The good news is that the mayor has made one big pledge along the path to meeting his promises to Go Dutch, namely identifying the locations of his first two flagship schemes. He also appears to have set the ball rolling for TfL to move towards adopting international cycling best-practice for Superhighways and other streets. The not-so-good news is that we still don’t have a plan, and with developments on London’s roads continuing to show little sign that the mayor’s promises have taken root, our optimism remains guarded.
True we are still only a few months into the Mayor’s four-year term, and much of that time he has been focusing on the Olympics and the Paralympics, which is a massive PR opportunity for him and the city. But by now he should have done more to convince Londoners that he has given the backing to TfL that it needs to press full steam ahead with measures to make London as safe and inviting for cycling as it is in Holland. The verdict? Boris has been saying enough of the right words to get a pass mark at 100 days, but nothing tangible has actually changed yet.
It's now six months after the election, and there's still no real plan to put the Go Dutch commitment into action in any way, shape or form. As Cycalogical has noted, the review of 100 junctions to make them safer for cycling, the most concrete commitment on cycling to come out of this administration, seems to be running into the usual buffers of outdated, poor, unimaginative thinking at TfL, with its blocking obsession with maintaining peak traffic capacity at all costs.

At the fascinating Love London, Go Dutch conference in Westminster on 18 October, sponsored by the Dutch Embassy and Royal HaskoningDHV, it was proved quite conclusively how one of the highest-profile junctions under review, the Lambeth Bridge northern roundabout, could indeed be rebuilt to a Dutch pattern, in the space available, and within the requirements of UK regulations.

Dutch design for the northern Lambeth Bridge roundabout produced at the Love London Go Dutch conference
(More details in the Royal Hashkoning report)
 But TfL's actual proposals fall massively short of this. They go for the classic, permanently-failing, UK "two track" approach to cycling, splitting cyclists up into the "confident" ones who are expected to joust with motor vehicles on the carriageway, and "novice" ones who are believed to be happy with rubbishy shared pavements, long ways round and no priority.

Rachael Aldred of Westminster University's Department of Planning and Transport (and now also a newly-elected Trustee of LCC) analysed it perfectly in her response to TfL:
My concerns about the current design centre around providing two sub-optimal options, rather than one better option. Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present, due to the carriageway narrowing, potentially increasing conflict. (Motorists may also expect them to use the pavement). However, cyclists using the pavement facility may (a) have trouble leaving the road at a sharp angle, (b) then come into conflict with pedestrians, and (c) experience problems crossing using the zebras, including conflict with motor vehicles.
At the Waterloo IMAX roundabout, another well-known blackspot, the junction review has produced "interim proposals" (why are they bothering with these – why not do it right once?) that amount to slight changes of kerb geometry and a fair amount of green paint on the road, in one place producing a cycle lane between a straight ahead vehicle lane and a left-turn vehicle lane, all completely unprotected of course. Those who know this traffic maelstrom will appreciate how inadequate all this is. (My friend Paul Gannon, ex of Camden cycling Campaign, always used to say "The faith that UK traffic engineers place in paint is truly touching"). It's more or less as far from a Dutch roundabout solution for motor traffic and cyclists as it could possibly be.

TfL's "interim proposals" for the Waterloo roundabout
On another recent consultation, on the A24 in Morden, As Easy As Riding a Bike notes the same stalwart commitment of TfL to absymal quality solutions, a chaotic mixture of shared pavements and intermittent, interrupted, narrow, unprotected on-road lanes, on a road where there is manifestly space to provide a high-quality protected cycle track for a long distance.

On to other subjects, and the Mayor still has not told us clearly where or what the three flagship Go Dutch schemes that were part of the election commitment will be. He has not made good his promise to appoint a cycling "czar" or commissioner, and we have no idea what powers or influence such a figure would have, when appointed. He has spoken of some sort of new cycle link across central London to join the dangling ends of the Superhighways, which appears, from a limited press report, as if it will use the Embankment. It's being called a "super-corridor".

All we know about the "super-corridor" (hyphenated for some reason) is what is on this plan, published in the Standard
Now, every time Boris or TfL use the word "super" to describe anything to do with cycling infrastructure, my heart sinks. Because we know, we know, from experience, that the use of that adjective indicates the triumph of PR spin over engineering competence. And the word "corridor" is a discredited one in UK cycling policy. It tends to indicate a bodge-up, as in Edinburgh. Will a "super-corridor" be better or worse than a Superhighway? I fear it will be be some kind of poor fudge. We'll see, as according to the Standard article, Boris is going to publish some sort of a "Cycling Vision" document this month, which will explain all.

I remain very pessimistic. At every stage I have been proved right about Boris's lack of real commitment to Going Dutch. In a letter to LCC dated 3 October, he wrote:
Following my commitment during the election campaign, I asked Transport for London to review the London Cycling Campaign’s Love London, Go Dutch to ascertain how the principles it establishes can be incorporated into the design and implementation of cycling schemes in London, taking into account the UK legal framework and regulations, the physical characteristics of London’s streets, and the needs of all road users.
Those clauses: "taking into account the physical characteristics of London's streets and the needs of all road users" sound again like a cop-out. It sounds like nothing much will happen, because he has always  used this language of "taking into account the needs of all road-users", from Day One of his administration. That language has always meant a reinforcement of the motor-dominated status quo in London, with cyclists being squeezed in grudgingly, with appalling road-user experience and declining safety. The "physical characteristics of London's streets" are, of course, just a red herring. They are much the same as the physical characteristics of the streets in any major world city. And even New York seems to be doing better for bikes now, not to mention the leading cycling cities of the world, like Tokyo, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Copenhagen.

Boris's language: "Following my commitment during the election campaign, I asked Transport for London to review..." sounds passive and uncommitted. Boris likes Americanisms. Well this doesn't exactly sound like what the Americans would call "kicking ass". But "kicking ass" is clearly what he needs to do to bring the entrenched, conservative and isolationist TfL culture to the point where it treats cycling seriously. More concretely, Boris approves TfL's budget. The excellent London Assembly Investigation into safer cycling in London published this week notes:
Spending on cycling remains low relative to other modes and other parts of Europe. By allocating less than 1 per cent of its budget to cycling, TfL’s current business plan does not reflect the Mayor’s commitment to have a cycling revolution. The new TfL business plan should signal TfL’s intent to prioritise cycle safety in line with the Mayor’s objective to increase cycling modal share.
and recommends that TfL spend 2% of its budget on cycling, £145 million per year. Of course, it's not just about the quantity of money. It's how you spend it. The same report is damningly clear on this:
TfL’s cycling budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities used in leading cycling cities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users.
Unless this "Cycling Vision" document contains some quite stunning stuff, and TfL's next business plan, due in December, contains a commitment to a significant hike in the funding for cycling, in line with the Assembly recommendation, and we see in the next few months, certainly before May 2013,  rapid, manifest  progress towards implementing the "vision",  I think LCC is going to have to declare that Boris has reneged on his Go Dutch promise: for its own credibility as an organisation. We'll see what political fall-out that has. We've had "visions" from Boris before, and this rhetoric is getting stale. Remember his "vision" of how "on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them"? That was the Superficial Highways, £206 million wasted on blue paint between 2008 and 2013. We've had enough "visions" while the streets of London remain much the same, year after year, or even get worse and more dangerous for cycling. We need a practical plan based on international best practice. In other words, we need to Go Dutch.

Meanwhile, meanwhile....  away from the glare of publicity of the junctions review, the Assembly investigation, the superhighways and super corridors and super whatever nonsense, apparently ignored by the Mayor and TfL, Camden Council, which pioneered Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in London a decade ago, quietly is bringing in plans to improve and extend its network.

As reported on the Camden Cyclists site, Camden Council plans to implement one-way segregated cycle tracks in both directions along the entire length of Royal College Street, Camden Town. This will mean modifying the existing two-way cycle track between Georgiana Street and Crowndale Road on the west side of the road, making it northbound only, and adding a southbound track on the other side.

Width alternatives
Options for the new layout of Royal College Street (more details on Camden Cyclists' site)
I was initially skeptical that this would be a sensible expenditure of money, as the existing track was already one of the best facilities in London, if not the best, and seemed to work well. However, there had been a number of injuries to cyclists due to motorists emerging from the side roads, Pratt Street and Plender Street, failing to look in both directions for cyclists on the track (i.e. not seeing the contraflow southbound direction of cycling) and failing to give way.

I now believe the proposals will be an improvement, as:
  • All cyclists will be on the expected side of the road, making junction conflicts less likely
  • Cycle space will be increased from the current total of 3m for both directions to 2m each way under the "light segregation" option, meeting Dutch standards of 2m for flows of up to 150 bikes per hour, which is probably the expected level, and, most importantly,
  • The protected route will be significantly lengthened as it will at last go from "somewhere to somewhere" (recalling Jon Snow's words on opening it in 2000 that it went from "somewhere to no-where"), running through the Camden Road junction up to the Kentish Town end of Royal College Street, where the road is two-way. So at last there will be a subjectively safe route all the way from Kentish Town to Euston Road.
The current two-way Royal College Street cycle track
The proposals are at an early stage of consultation, and not all details are clear as yet. If you wish to put views on them, you can do so through Camden Cyclists. (Incidentally, I met the engineer of this scheme at the Love London, Go Dutch conference in October, and was impressed). The proposals will need approval from councillors. But it it great that at least in one London borough there does genuinely seem to be a willingness to concretely, permanently reallocate road space from motor vehicles to cyclists, and make it work technically. I guess it helps that TfL seems to have little involvement in this project.

The big issue that Camden needs to address with its cycle tracks, however, is the absurdly congested Bloomsbury Route (Torrington Place, Tavistock Place etc.). This urgently needs to be re-implemented as it was originally designed by Camden Cyclists, at twice the current width, with one direction of motor traffic removed. 

Congestion on the Bloomsbury track during the Olympics, photo by Rob Hayles
Even better than doubling the width of the track of course would be to remove both directions of motor through-traffic and make the corridor into a "bicycle road", a true Cycle Superhighway. This is what has been done with the Weimarsraat route in the Hague, which was the original inspiration for the Bloomsbury or Seven Stations Link route a decade ago. Weimarstraat had a two-way segregated cycle track then (wider than the Bloomsbury one), but today, in line with the Dutch practice of continual improvement on popular routes, the segregation is gone, and cyclists have the entire road. This has been made possible by the removal of the road from the through-route network for cars; cars can still gain access, as the Streetview image shows.

Weimarstraat, Den Haag, the inspiration for the Bloomsbury route, now a second generation of cycle route where cyclists can have the whole street because through motor traffic has been eliminated
I hear from Camden contacts that the Bloomsbury route may well be revisited in the forseeable future. I hope so. Ands I also hope for a Road to Damascus conversion from Westminster Council, to allow the route to be extended at similar quality through its streets all the way to Paddington, which was Camden Cyclists' original plan. We can but hope. We certainly need at least two east-west priority routes for bikes across central London, and this relatively northerly route would still be needed  to complement the "super-corridor" along Embankment, even if that turned out to be really good.

It's critical in the coming year that LCC and all cyclists in London intensify the pressure on Boris Johnson to do what he has promised. The Assembly, with its report, has been very helpful – surprisingly so since it was issued by a committee that included all parties, including Conservative Members. Camden Council's work provides a small but useful spur, a demonstration that the quality we need can be achieved, in Boris's words, 
Taking into account the UK legal framework and regulations, the physical characteristics of London’s streets, and the needs of all road users. 
We need this quality rolled out on a much larger scale, and that will not happen without TfL driving it, and that will not happen without Boris Johnson doing far more.

Sunday 14 October 2012

One-eyed justice

The case of Jimmy Savile throws a curiously sidelight on the human condition: that a man during the latter part of his life, and at his death, may be virtually sanctified, as the great giver to charity, the selfless star, loveable eccentric, everybody's favourite uncle, virtually a permanent TV "Father Christmas", a man worthy to name charitable foundations, and streets, after – and then a few months later he can become the devil incarnate, the charities renamed, street signs removed, fancy-dress taken off the shelves, lo, even his own gravestone destroyed.

It is bizarre – because whatever good works he did in his lifetime, and for which he was knighted, they did happen. He wasn't the devil incarnate. He was clearly a deeply-flawed human being. And even if all allegations are true, he wasn't the worst of criminals. Our attitude to child abuse today does border on the hysterical, and this is a historical cultural anomaly which must be corrected in time. Child abuse is a very bad crime, but is not murder, and (as Ruth Sutherland, Director of Relate, said on Radio 4's Any Questions? on Friday) its victims can and do recover, in many cases, to lead happy and productive adult lives. People who are killed, either by malice or carelessness, cannot recover. And the law recognises that child abuse is not the worst of crimes, by not attaching to it the most severe sentence possible in our jurisdiction, life imprisonment (though if the law were written today from scratch, one suspects the hysteria of the times would give a different result).

The fascination with the Savile case, I suspect, is not just due to the institutional implications, not just because we wonder who at the BBC knew, whom of Savile's colleagues and friends knew, why complaints were not taken seriously by numerous authorities, and why Saville was given such unfettered access to vulnerable young people by careless institutions, but because, we can all see, or imagine, now (all of those of use who lived through the period) that we all should have been able to detect it. For Savile, in a way, did not hide his predilections at all – they were perfectly integrated into his personality and image, so being hidden by being so obvious, so blatantly on-show. The way in which he managed this can now be seen, in retrospect, as sheer criminal genius. For anybody could see this elderly man frolicking with young girls on their screens on Top of the Pops. Everybody could see him cosying up to the under-age on Jim'll Fix It. Everybody could see the "inappropriate" (in the words of one of his accusers, from Duncroft School in Surrey) clothing he wore while around young people. But it was all normal for him, it was "just Jimmy", what he did. So he seems to have gotten away with seriously criminal behaviour for a lifetime.

A (female) friend of mine posted on Facebook:
Why is everyone so surprised that Jimmy Savile was never investigated? Every day victims are ignored, police don't investigate, the CPS doesn't charge, juries don't convict and rapists walk free. Roman Polanski has celebrities lining up to defend his actions even though he is a convicted rapist who escaped before he could be sentenced, and the tide of public opinion is still in favour of Julian Assange not to face questioning over allegations made against him.
Indeed (though not to say anything particular about the cases of Polanski or Assange). For though justice is supposed to be "blind", the criminal justice system is actually always one-eyed. It sees crime selectively, only in certain places, and from certain people. It is easy to rewrite the second sentence in that quote from my friend, to refer truly to a different type of crime, and one of particular interest to most followers of this blog:
Every day victims are ignored, police don't investigate, the CPS doesn't charge, juries don't convict and criminal drivers walk free.
Like PC David Lynch, convicted this week of dangerous driving that left London musician Joseph Belmonte with "castrophic injuries", who walked free from court with a suspended sentence. Like Jon Fields, convicted of careless driving that caused the death of cyclist Andrew Hutton in Teeside, who also last month walked free from court: just two recent examples. The latter case also shows how accused motorists' defences can often be incredibly weak, as in Fields' line "He just came out of nowhere" (on a straight road with excellent visibility and no junctions), and yet this does not seem to offset British judges' predilection for derisory punishments in such cases.  Martin Porter, the Cycling Lawyer, notes:
After 9 months, my analysis of careless driving cases is starting to demonstrate how rare immediate custodial sentences are for motorists who kill cyclists. 

The A174 where Andrew Hutton was killed by John Fields
The abused can recover, those killed on the roads through negligent driving cannot. Neither can many of those maimed properly recover. Many will see a difference in intentionality and responsibility when comparing a crime of individual assault on a known person to a (usually) more random one of causing death or injury to a road-user by careless or dangerous driving. But the way that this translates into the procedures of the British justice system as it currently stands mean that most victims of road crime (or their surviving loved-ones) go away feeling profoundly that justice has not been done, and, furthermore, that the deterrent effect of the law is inadequate to prevent tragedies from being repeated.

The Crown Prosecution Service is currently consulting on draft guidance on charging offences arising from driving incidents, and there will be a debate in Parliament on 17 October, in response to campaigning by British Cycling, on how road crime victims are treated by the justice system. This needs to consider all sides of the issue, not just charging. The attitudes and procedures of the police, the Home Office, the CPS, prosecutors, and judges are all part of the jigsaw that goes together to give victims of road crime a very poor deal currently.

As British Cycling say:
It is clear to us that the current justice system often delivers results which send the wrong message about the right of people to ride safely on the roads. Most of our members are car drivers so we do not believe this is a car versus cyclist issue. We believe the review we are calling for is an essential element in building a better culture of mutual respect on the roads where incidents which result in death and injury are treated in a way which is fair to everyone concerned and creates the right incentives for people to behave responsibly.
"It's not a car versus cyclist issue" say British Cycling (driver versus cyclist, surely), but ultimately I suspect that the difficulty in getting justice for cyclists and pedestrians killed and maimed on our roads does revolve around the facts that cyclists are a small minority, and though pedestrains are not a minority, those who are not also car drivers are predominantly from groups such as children, the diabled and elderly, that is, those in positions of lesser power. Drivers are the majority power in the land, and the investigating, prosecuting and sentencing authorities are likely to be more sympathetically at one with them than they are with the victims. Getting justice for minorities has always been difficult, and justice for those in positions of lesser power, as the Savile case shows, is more difficult still.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell, a Greenway, and the bike as a negotiable carriage

Andrew Mitchell has become an unlikely hero of cycling. Though he should not have been uncivil to anyone, especially a policeman doing his job, the real point about the story is the confusion in this country about the use of bikes as transport.

On the one hand, we are continually told that a bike is a vehicle: a cyclist must ride on the road, not the pavement (except where cycle paths are provided, which is hardly anywhere) and obey all the rules of the road. Cyclists must behave a drivers of vehicles. No matter that the whole road system has been engineered, not for them, but for far larger, faster and more powerful motor vehicles which surround and threaten them at every point. A bicycle is a carriage in our archaic road law.

On the other hand, it seems like the vehicular status of bikes is negotiable: but not by cyclists themselves – oh no, they must keep pretending to be cars, and obey all red lights, even when doing so puts them in danger, and keep off the pavements, even when that means risking their necks in 60mph traffic – but by those in authority whom in in large or small ways would be inconvenienced or caused expense (which is always an inconvenience) by the consistent application of the vehicular principle to bicycles.

The policeman who refused to open the gate for Mitchell is an example of one who would be inconvenienced in a small way. Larger examples are provided in a route for a proposed new "Greenway" for walkers and cyclists in north-west London that I have recently seen. This greenway is proposed to run from Stanmore, on the northern edge of Greater London, to the Thames at Brentford.  It is a Transport for London funded project that has been planned by Sustrans, and is supposed to be implemented by the boroughs. It has some potential, in particular in bringing back into use as a useful route the line of a long-closed railway from Stanmore to Harrow. In other places it consists of the somewhat complex and twisty mixture of minor roads (lacking, of course, general priority for cyclists using the route) and paths across open spaces that Sustrans tends to favour for its projects. I tend to feel that this kind of thing is fundamentally misconceived anyway: cyclists, whether they be commuters, shoppers or schoolchildren, for practical journeys, really need direct, simple and consistent routes, with preservation of momentum and priority, which, in this part of London, due to the railway barriers, with crossing points only at the main roads, will only ever be achieved using segregated cycle tracks on those main roads: but Sustrans don't seem to be interested in this kind of idea (Dutch-style infrastructure with a proven record of working) but stick to their own idea of trying to connect up parks with a convoluted hodgepodge of measures.

Sustrans' bizarre masterplan for the Greenways in Brent. Who would use this convoluted network?
However, even if we ignore my view on this for the moment, and agree to be satisfied with the general principles of Sustrans' Greenway concept, we see that they quickly become unstuck with this route. For in order to try to connect up their chain of green spaces, they have to get to Northwick Park, on the borders of Brent and Harrow (point A on the map above), from the north, and there is no way to do this using current infrastructure. Their proposal involves cyclists dismounting and walking across one narrow pedestrian bridge over a railway, getting on again to cycle along a minor road (which, as it leads to a station, actually has quite a lot of traffic on it, including buses) and then, only about 200 metres further on, dismounting again to actually wheel their bikes through the ticket hall of the station, and then through a passage, used by substantial numbers of train passengers, going to and fro all day, that is literally only 1.25 metres wide, because this is the only passage under the Metropolitan Line that allows access to Northwick Park.

Sustrans thinks it's a sensible idea to include this passage in a Greenway route, telling cyclists to "dismount"
If the whole route were to work, and actually attract cyclists (which seems unlikely), this clearly would be a recipe for chaos and conflict, because no pedestrian could pass a cyclist wheeling their bike coming the other way in this passage. It is beyond me why the builders of the Met line decided to build such a stupidly narrow passage, but that is how it is, and since the line was put here early in the 20th century, nothing has been changed.

Now if bicycles are really "carriages", then they can't be dismounted and pushed through 1.2m wide passages. If they are road vehicles, them sharing this sort of infrastructure with foot passengers is clearly impossible. So there's a big and costly inconvenience implied here for the "authorities". They really need to knock a bigger passage through, under the Metropolitan line at Northwick Park Station. And I expect the Dutch would actually do this (they would actually have done it decades ago, and would probably have done two, one wide one for pedestrians and one for bikes). I have no doubt it is feasable in pure engineering terms, and could be done while the railway continues to operate above, but it would cost many millions of pounds. And that's not the kind of money that is associated with these kinds of schemes. So what's going to happen? Well, there might be a rethink, and Sustrans and the boroughs might find a better route with the aid of local campaigners. Or the route might prove just another largely cosmetic waste of money, in a long tradition. But any real solution in this area, even if it avoids this passage, is going to require much bigger engineering than the planners of this route seem to have been imagining.

If a bike is a vehicle or carriage, the barriers that would have to be overcome, or opened up, to create a route for a vehicle or carriage, must be opened up for bikes. So, in a rather more tractable case, the gates of Downing Street need to be opened for those visiting on bikes. If not, then we should have consistency, and those arriving for meetings there in in cars shold have to park ouside the gates in Whitehall, get out, and walk through the side gate. A dismounted cyclist is a pedestrian pushing a useless lump of metal on wheels. Dismounting means changing modes. Why should the cyclist, but not the car passenger, be forced to change modes?

It's all about convenience, and making the bike actually a practical mode of transport. A bike can be wheeled, unlike a car. But that's not an excuse for ignoring its true nature. If we continue to do that, in dealing with both small and large, easy and difficult, cheap and expensive barriers, we will fail to generate a cycling culture.

Friday 21 September 2012

CTC in a policy muddle

There's been a certain amount of CTC-bashing here of late, and also in other places. But I think CTC have a very difficult job to do. I really do. They have to be an "inclusive church". They have to reflect a very broad spectrum of views from within their ranks as to what cycling policy should be. This is in contrast to the position of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, which started as a movement of bloggers and cycle campaigners dissatisfied with the policies and performance records (in terms of improving cycling conditions and getting more cyclists on the roads) of existing organisations, like CTC, LCC and Cyclenation, and thus started from an ideological (in the best sense), not an inclusive standpoint. The Embassy doesn't have to reflect the views of those who disagree with it. They can just not support it, as they wish.

And some UK cyclists, quite a lot in fact, do not support the Embassy's, and this blog's, pro-cycling infrastructure stance. Some take a spectacularly different view. In response, I think, to my post yesterday, where I called on the new Road Safety Minister, Stephen Hammond, to
achieve far more emphasis on the provision of safe, high-quality, separated cycling infrastructure for cyclists in the UK
I had a Tweet from Andy Kewell (@VexedVeloist), who had this to say:
Sorry, but I want to ride where I want when I want by whatever route I want. I totally disagree with CEGB's segregation policy.
 I responded with:
Have you actually seen what it's like in the Netherlands Andy? How you have a great choice of routes, and they're all safe.
To which he responded:
Segregating cyclists off the roads is victim blaming, restricts choice of route and panders to drivers 'owning the road'.
After I retweeted his original tweet to my follwers, there developed an enormously long Twitter argument between Andy and others of the "Embassy persuasion". It would be too cumbersome to try to reproduce this here, and inappropriate, but I mention this for several reasons. One reason is that I know that this blog has quite a few Dutch readers. It is often very hard for the Dutch to understand quite what the "problem" is in UK cycling circles – to understand where the argument around separated infrastructure comes from in this country – and why cyclists here (and perhaps even more in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) can't seem to speak with one voice to government to demand clearly what they want.

I would like them to be able to appreciate it, for the more they do, the more, perhaps, they will be able to help us.

For Andy's views, which are not that unusual amongst UK cyclists, of course, embody a total, profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Dutch cycling solution, or paradigm, and a complete misunderstanding of what the Cycling Embassy and allied groups are campaigning for. Nobody holding these views can possibly have read thoroughly, and understood, the arguments advanced in this blog, or on the Embassy website, or on the Dutch-based English-Language cycling blogs A View From The Cycle Path (David Hembrow) or BicycleDutch (Mark Wagenbuur).

Moreover, they clearly can't have experienced cycling in the modern Netherlands themselves. Well I happen to know that Andy lives in Southend, Essex, which is just a shot train journey, or a 60 mile bike ride, from the port of Harwich (the ride would be partly on very dangerous and almost unavoidable trunk roads, of course, like the A120, for this is the UK). From Harwich one gets in one sea hop to the Hook of Holland, and from there, on wide, convenient, safe, fun, cycle paths, of course, to the rest of the Netherlands. I hope Andy makes that journey some time.

It can be quite difficult, because of the culture differences, not because of the reality, to deal with this "big issue" some British, North American and Australasian cyclists have about the "choice of route" and "being banned from roads", if they have not seen and experienced the reality of cycling in the Netherlands for themselves. David Hembrow has a good stab at getting over this mental block of theirs in his post on unravelling of modes:
Should our intrepid cyclist defy the sign and cycle with this bus and van [behind the noise barriers], he/she would simply find another set of traffic lights four hundred metres from this one.
Fighting for the "right to ride" on roads such as this one would be a meaningless gesture. No-one is interested in doing so, because it makes no sense at all to prefer to ride in those conditions. This is a road which exists to deal with the consequences of cars.
Another way of putting it was stated by a Dutch person on a blog comment I read somewhere, sometime, which I recall as something like:
For a British cyclist to come to the Netherlands and say to a Dutch cyclist "How do you cope with being banned from so many roads?" is a bit like an American coming to the UK and saying: "You know that socialised national health system you have over here? Does it actually prevent you from doing open heart surgery on your grandfather in your garden shed if you want to?" 
Laugh Out Loud: the point being that both questions prove to be comically irrelevant to the person to whom they are addressed, who understands the national infrastructural and cultural background.

Sorry, "right to the road" freaks, but cycling is banned on this road in Assen because it makes sense to ban cycling here. The road is going into a tunnel under a railway, but the excellent two-way cycle tracks on both sides of the road make the ban completely irrelevant. But such examples, away from the motorway network, are rare.
Though I don't know if he is member of not, the CTC clearly feels it has to accommodate the under-informed views of people like Andy. Hence, I suspect, their problems and contortions around policy. These have been extremely-well illustrated by the correspondence recently on a post of The Alternative Department for Transport blog, in which I and the two senior policy-makers at CTC, Roger Geffen and Chris Juden, have had their say.

The discussion there got on to the CTC and DfT-approved formula for cycle provision in the UK known as the Hierarchy of Provision. I, and the Embassy, are opposed to the Hierarchy of Provision. We think it makes no sense at all as a policy. For a clearly-argued dissection of why this is, see At War With the Motorist (Joe Dunckley). Here is the Hierarchy, lifted from the CTC website:

Consider first
Traffic reduction

Speed reduction

Junction treatment, hazard site treatment, traffic management

Reallocation of carriageway space (e.g. bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes)

Cycle tracks away from roads
Consider last
Conversion of footways/footpaths to shared use cycle tracks for pedestrians and cyclists

A correspondent on the Alternative DfT blog questioned why Dutch-style high-quality segregated cycle tracks on main roads, which seem to to be, to so many people, the critical "missing ingredient" that the UK needs to adopt to begin to properly accommodate cycling, appear to be discouraged by CTC by being either placed near the bottom of the Hierarchy, or not mentioned at all, depending on your interpretation of what the unclear terms in the last two rows of the Hierarchy actually mean. (If they are cycle tracks, they are not away from roads, those are cycle paths, and if they are shared use, they are not proper Dutch-style dedicated cycle tracks.)

This is the kind of thing for which the CTC/DfT Hierarchy of Provision seems to find no place, the segregated but not shared-use cycle track alongside a road, in this case, Royal College Street, Camden, London.

Chris Juden then came up with this reply, which I quote in full:

The Hierarchy of Provision is lifted straight out of DUTCH planning advice. THEIR top priority is to create calm neighbourhoods where people can live, play, walk and ride bikes in safety and only drive motor vehicles with great caution. They call it a Woonerf. Outside the Woonerf, if the traffic speeds and volumes are low, they still don’t separate bikes from cars on quiet country lanes for example. Slightly busier low-speed roads get on-highway cycle lanes (a whole lot wider than UK ever provides of course), but Dutch PRIORITY is to make those roads less busy: interrupt them (not for bikes though) and send through traffic another way. 
Separate sidepaths are a last resort for the Dutch too. They are provided where the road simply must carry significant traffic at a much higher than cycling speed. 
All this is in Hembrow and Wagenbuur, but they concentrate on the separate sidepaths because that’s the most concrete difference between what they have and what we don’t have. 
No actually it isn’t. There’s something else, involving a whole lot more concrete that Hembrow and Wagenbuur completely ignore. The Dutch motorway network. The Dutch can close roads to through motor traffic to create Woonerfen and reduce capacity on other roads to make room for high quality off carriageway cycle tracks because they have not been shy about building ring roads and motorways for the displaced traffic. Go onto Google maps and check out any Dutch city. I challenge you to find any part of any city that is more than 10km from a motorway or does not have a complete ring road. Now go look at London on the same scale. Or any British City. They all still depend upon general purpose roads to get traffic around through and out of the city, roads on ancient alignments that provide the line of least cycling resistance but intersect in maelstroms like Bow and cannot be equipped with good quality cycle infrastructure so long as so much motor traffic has to go that way too. It’s a problem for anyone who wants cyclepaths but opposes new road schemes, which is probably most cycle campaigners.

It's hard for me to know where to begin in trying to answer Chris here. I can live (as I have to) with the odd correspondent on Twitter, like Andy Kewell, completely misunderstanding the Dutch paradigm, but when an almost equal incomprehension is displayed by a senior policy person at the UK's largerst cycling organisation, it is deeply disappointing, and it shows all too clearly why the Embassy had to be founded.

So let's start at the beginning, and take this apart bit by bit. It's going to be a long process.
The Hierarchy of Provision is lifted straight out of DUTCH planning advice.
Words may have been copied, but nationally-specific understandings and assumptions often underlie simple words, and mislead. Clearly a massive misinterpretation has taken place in translation from whatever the "Dutch planning advice" was to its interpretation in CTC/DfT policy, as the Dutch do not "consider last" segregated cycle tracks as a solution for busy main roads which cyclists need to use. Such tracks are near-universal in the Netherlands now on such roads.
THEIR top priority is to create calm neighbourhoods where people can live, play, walk and ride bikes in safety and only drive motor vehicles with great caution. They call it a Woonerf.
Complete nonsense. The Netherlands is not some fairy-land dedicarted to "calm neighbourhoods where people can live, play, walk and ride bikes in safety and only drive motor vehicles with great caution". The Netherlands is a modern industrialised nation with everything any other similar nation has: high-speed roads, railways, tram and busways, industrial waterways and docks, and huge-scale industry, retail, and industrial agriculture. This is all accomodated by Dutch planning. It ain't a fairyland. It's a working and very economically successful country, surprise, surprise! But the overriding principle, where cycling is concerned, is separation from motor traffic. Anyone who spends any time cycling there can see that, and feel and experience it – whatever the CTC, or even contextually misunderstood Dutch planning guidance, say.

Amusing cartoon, CTC, but let's have a bit less of the fairyland, and a bit more understanding of how it actually works in a real country only 127 miles away.
True Woonerven cover a tiny percentage of the area of Dutch towns and cities. They are areas where the streets are dedicated to walking and play, the top speed is "walking pace", and they have nothing whatever to do with the facilitation of fast, efficient bike journeys on the high-quality, backbone cycling infrastructure, which will be elsewhere (though small cycle paths will always connect housing in the Woonerf to that infrastructure). They are not the normal or default treatment for residential areas either. There is a total misunderstanding here of the nature, scale, and role of Woonerven evidenced in Chris Juden's statement.

This is serious transport infrastructure in the Netherlands, this kind of thing is a "top priority" there (to mimic Juden's language of claimed priorities) and it has absolutely nothing to do with woonerven. If you think this is not Dutch "top priority", consider, why was the canal on the right moved two metres sideways at vast expense to accommodate this cycle track?
Outside the Woonerf, if the traffic speeds and volumes are low, they still don’t separate bikes from cars on quiet country lanes for example.
Actually, they do if they need to! Go and look. It depends what you mean by "quiet", of course, but, if there is demand, if it is an important road for cycling (especially for children to cycle to school on) and there is, by UK standards, any significant motor traffic on it at all, they separate. Everywhere.

There's only a few cars a minute on this country road near Assen, but that's enough to warrant separation with cycle paths.
Slightly busier low-speed roads get on-highway cycle lanes (a whole lot wider than UK ever provides of course), but Dutch PRIORITY is to make those roads less busy: interrupt them (not for bikes though) and send through traffic another way.
No it's not. Dutch priority is to separate cars and bikes. Go and look and experience. Juden is confusing several classes of solution here: cycle lanes on roads that have significant traffic (usually in suburbs, where the roads have not yet been rebuilt to the latest fully-segregated standards), cycle lanes on roads that have nothing except a small amount of essential access traffic on them (usually in town centres), and cycle lanes on "bicycle roads" that have to provide access to a few residential properties as well, and are there to emphasise the "cycle priority" aspect of the road. In all cases it's not about "making roads less busy" in the sense in which that phrase would be understood in the UK context. It's about reliable, full separation.

Here's a "bicycle road" with cycle lanes that turns into a totally car-free cycle path. It is only not totally car-free for the section in the foreground because it provides access to some houses, but it's virtually as good as if it were, and the advisory cycle lanes indicate cycle priority.
Separate sidepaths are a last resort for the Dutch too. They are provided where the road simply must carry significant traffic at a much higher than cycling speed.
I've already dealt with this one. (But I am not sure why Juden adopts the American terminology, from Forester, of "sidepaths". We call them "cycle tracks" in the UK.) It makes no sense to call something a "last resort" where it is the automatic, univeral solution for a certain type of road. To put it like this, in English, and in the British context, is simply misleading. The whole concept of a hierarchy of provision makers no sense, from this perspective. Decisions on appropriate solutions for any road have to start from a decision on the function of a road, not from a universal template hierarchy. The Netherlands is a modern industrial nation, as I have said. It needs big, fast roads for transport. Sometimes, as in the UK, these have to coincide with the only available cycle route, for reasons of geography or history. The difference is that the Dutch always provide the high-quality cycle track, the British almost never do.

A cycle track like this on a major through-road like this (between Assen and Groningen) is not a "last resort" in the Netherlands, it is the only solution that is used in these circumstances.
All this is in Hembrow and Wagenbuur, but they concentrate on the separate sidepaths because that’s the most concrete difference between what they have and what we don’t have.
Well, no they don't, and no it's not. Read them and make your own mind up. If you search A view from the cycle path under "segregation without cycle paths" (one of the options offered in the right-hand menu) you get article after article explaining most carefully the other options in the Dutch cycle planning armoury. The differences in the way minor roads are organised in towns and cities is at least as profound a difference between Dutch and British practice as is the provision of cycle tracks. As Hembrow explains:
Over the last few decades, the Netherlands has unwoven the networks of car and bicycle routes. If you compare routes for the same journey by bicycle and by car, then in very many cases you will find that the two routes are very different to one another.
Again, the over-riding policy is the separation of bikes from motor traffic, whether its through cycle paths, cycle lanes, cycle tracks, cycle roads, or separated routes that use a whole battery of measures in their completion.
No actually it isn’t. There’s something else, involving a whole lot more concrete that Hembrow and Wagenbuur completely ignore. The Dutch motorway network. The Dutch can close roads to through motor traffic to create Woonerfen and reduce capacity on other roads to make room for high quality off carriageway cycle tracks because they have not been shy about building ring roads and motorways for the displaced traffic. Go onto Google maps and check out any Dutch city. I challenge you to find any part of any city that is more than 10km from a motorway or does not have a complete ring road. Now go look at London on the same scale. Or any British City. They all still depend upon general purpose roads to get traffic around through and out of the city, roads on ancient alignments that provide the line of least cycling resistance but intersect in maelstroms like Bow and cannot be equipped with good quality cycle infrastructure so long as so much motor traffic has to go that way too. It’s a problem for anyone who wants cyclepaths but opposes new road schemes, which is probably most cycle campaigners.
No, Hembrow and Wagenbuur don't ignore motorways. You can search A view from the cycle path again for references to motorways, and a huge number of illuminating articles come up, often on topics most British cyclists would never have thought about, such as how noise from motorways is kept away from cyclists (and residents). And you can read BicycleDutch's explanations of how cyclists are guided through, over and under motorway junctions and networks.

But once again, here, there are errors and misinterpretations in terminology leading us astray. For while the Dutch do have the huge roads that we in the UK call "motorways", of course, most of their "motorways" are not this. They are the equivalent of a certain type of British A-class road. The Dutch do not have an equivalent category of road to the UK "A" road, because the UK's category would be too broad for them, covering, as it does, such a vast range of road-types, from six-lane, "motorway-in-all-but-name"-type trunk roads, through densely-active shopping streets in towns, down to heavily-trafficked two-lane country lanes and little-used single track roads in remote areas such as the Scottish Highlands.

The Dutch have built the bypasses and ring-roads as the British have. But they did something crucially different at the same time. They made motor traffic take those new roads, and didn't leave the old roads open, without altertation, in the fatally-flawed way that the UK did, so just adding motor capacity. At the same time, Dutch planning, over many decades, separated roads by their function, so those roads defined as "motorways" (which need not be very wide roads) were specialised only to take through motor traffic, not to provide direct access to shops and schools and workplaces. The category of "access roads" was developed to do just that, provide that access, but not to transfer traffic at the same time between districts.

The doctrine of the mono-functional road became part of the framework of sustainable safety, and cycle networks were enabled in large part by the removal of much traffic from roads defined as outside the motorway network by this ongoing programmne of the separation of functions of the diffrerent classes of road. The process is not complete of course, and is not perfect. But it has created "main roads" strikingly different from their UK equivalents, where so many functions are attempted to be accommodated on such roads simultaneously: through-traffic movement, access to shops, schools and businesses, bus routes, cycle and pedestrian routes.

The DfT website has this picture as a banner on their "roads" pages as I suspect illustrating something they think well-designed, but it's  a typical British multi-functional road (The Cut, London SE1), attempting to do too many jobs ineffectively.
So nearly everything now seems to be different in the Dutch road and street fabric from how it is in the UK's. It is hard to adequately summarise the differences in a short essay, and, again, I urge everybody to go and see it for themselves. The huge contrast, with so many things being different at once, poses a challenge of interpretation and explanation to UK audiences, and it becomes remarkable to reflect that these nations are only separated by 130 miles of sea. People like Juden are confused because so much is different, and they pick out certain things which they think are critical differences, when they need to better interpret the whole.

Where Juden says:
I challenge you to find any part of any city that is more than 10km from a motorway or does not have a complete ring road. Now go look at London on the same scale.
I do so, and I find that because of the separation of functions on Dutch roads, large and small, and the differences of road definition, this is not a meaningful challenge. There are places in London more than 10km from a motorway (but not my house, which is 2km from the M1). But they are not more than 10km away from a road that Dutch planners, in all probability, would have re-interpreted and planned as a "distributor road", gradually removing its direct access functions, over time, had they been in charge here since 1950. So we've got a long-term planning challenge here, of that there is no doubt.

I am certain that we will never make the UK's roads quite like Dutch roads. It's a different country, and differences, including some major differences, are certain to always remain, for reasons cultural, topographic, geographic, economic and political. But we could start to take parts of their best practice and interpret them as best we can into what we have. As I have seen done in some of the very different cities of Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, and has no doubt been done in many places that I haven't visited. To start with, we need to stop so strenuously finding reasons "why it can't be done here". Come on, CTC, let's have some vision!

Segregated cycle track on main road, near Geneva, Switzerland. It's not flat here. And it's not Cycletopia, but it's much better than the UK.