Tuesday 8 October 2013

Motion for the LCC AGM: "Uniformity of Cycling Provision"

If you are a member of the London Cycling Campaign (which you really should be, for reasons of both practice and principle, if you ride a bike in London, and would be a good idea if you ride a bike anywhere in the UK, as the LCC is campaigning for standards of cycle provision which will raise the bar for the whole country), you will find, in your agenda for this year’s AGM, my motion on Uniformity of Cycling Provision. This is worded as follows:

Uniformity of cycling provision and suitability for all ability groups
LCC welcomes the Mayor's plans for the Cycle Superhighways, Quietways and the Central London Grid. However, it considers that the standard of all links in the overall planned cycle network for London must be uniform, in the sense that there must be equal suitability, usability, and level of safety, of all the facilities, for all cyclists who might use them. We consider it would be a mistake for the standards for any elements of the network, for example, the Superhighways or Quietways, to be specified in a way that makes them less suitable, for example, for use by children, or by inexperienced cyclists. The corollary of this is that network elements must not be such as to involve a trade-off between safety and convenience; in other words, cyclists wanting the safest journey should not be forced to use a less convenient or slower route, or a route having lower priority, because the most convenient, fastest, or most prioritised route is engineered to a lower safety standard.

Proposed by David Arditti, LCC Brent
Seconded by Mustafa Arif, LCC Barnet

Note that the LCC ballot paper has printed the title slightly wrong. It should be "all ability groups", not "all-ability groups". This is a significant difference. The phrase "all-ability" is usually taken to mean something to do with disability. This motion does include that, but it is broader. It is about all who would like to use bike for transport.

I'll try to explain in more detail why I think we need this motion on "Uniformity".

We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.

There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.

We have a tradition in the UK of doing something different, and something odd, which has a history of failure. We have often tried to provide different tiers of cycling infrastructure, aimed at different “groups” of cyclists. This can take the form of parallel provision on the same road: you see things like a narrow, on-road advisory cycle lane on a busy road, typically blocked by parking, with shared pavement signage next to it, on a footpath that has been in no way adapted to make it sensible for cycle use, or to reduce potential conflicts with pedestrians. This is because planners believed that fast cyclists would want to be on the road, while for the others, a bit of paint on the pavement would do. A second form that parallel provision can take is the planners deciding that some cycle routes, engineered to certain standards, are the ones aimed at fast and confident adult cyclists, well-used to interacting with motor traffic, while other routes, typically, indirect ones, with many give-ways and obstructions and poor continuity, are the ones aimed at children and less-confident cyclists.

All such attempts at parallel provision, for what are perceived as different “types” of cyclists, tend to fail, because they are a cop-out. They always involve a trade-off between safety, or pleasantness, and directness, or speed, which would not be made in a quality network. We get left with main roads which are still the only practical routes for most journeys, but have not been made any safer with merely a few splashings of paint, and low-grade shared-use facilities that attract few cyclists, and stoke conflict with, and resentment from, non-cyclists.

Terrible two-track provision for cyclists in Brent, at Staples Corner. 
As the photo above shows, though parallel, or two-track cycle provision sounds like it's going to be great, it's going to be cyclists getting two things for the price of one, it's invariably awful. This is an example of the first type of parallelism, two "facilities" on one road.The pavement cycle track, with lack of continuity, terrible surface, and in the wrong place with respect to pedestrians, achieves nothing, but neither do the cycle markings on the carriageway, on a hostile space sandwiched between the pavement and a concrete wall, on which high volumes of motor vehicles travel at high speeds, and buses must occupy the same space.

This is obviously an old set of facilities, but we get new examples of parallel provision being promoted all the time. A recent example is TfL's design for some junctions on Cycle Superhighway 2, as explained in their own video.

As Easy As Riding A Bike  covered this well, and I will not repeat what he said. My point here is that this is another example of trying to treat different sets of cyclists differently, and all losing out. Who are the advanced stop lines for? They must be for cyclists who want to eschew the pavement facility with the complicated, time-consuming method of making the turn, and do the turn in the road in the normal manner, with all the usual risks that entails. So why should they do that? Only because the alternative facility is no good. Dividing cyclists up into groups always means planning for failure of the facilities. Those cyclists who do not want to do a right-turn in vehicular manner, assumed to be "less confident", slower, or less well-trained, are assumed to be willing to waste a lot of time in an absurd manoeuvre. This is no way to get people cycling.

Worryingly, the Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London uses the language of "different kinds of cyclists", where it discusses "New Quietways" (p14):
A cross-London network of high-quality guided Quietways will be created on low-traffic back streets and other routes so different kinds of cyclists can choose the routes which suit them.
So why won't the Superhighways, the fast, direct, convenient routes, suit them? It seems like we are heading for a repeat of the two-track mistake again. It sounds like the Superhighways will not be safe enough for all cyclists, that they won't be engineered close to international best practice at all, as stated two pages earlier.

Consultants' reports on cycling in the UK use the language of different groups of cyclists all the time. They often couch it in terms of "Bikeability" levels, that is, level of training attainment. People who have attained high Bikeability levels are assumed to need less assistance in cycling on the roads in the normal manner, and fewer facilities. It follows then that if more people are trained to high Bikeability levels, councils need to invest less in infrastructure, and what infrastructure is provided will be less good. So training becomes a substitute for infrastructure. It should therefore come as no surprise that the leading proponents of the two-track approach in the cycling world are often those involved with cycle training. When, on Twitter, the other day, Mark Treasure asked David Dansky, "
What sort of cycle infrastructure would you like to see on the A10?
the answer came back:
A bus lane. Bus drivers trained on bikes, 20mph parallel quiet route
The A10, Google Earth
Dansky's reply illustrates the hold the two-track approach has on the thinking of many in the cycling world. The "parallel quiet route" is the eternal fantasy of two-track provision. It doesn't exist. Quiet routes are quiet, by definition, because they don't go anywhere very useful very directly. They can never be a practical substitute for the main roads for most journeys. Dansky is assuming different categories of cyclist, probably linked to levels of training, which he works in. He's assuming that cyclists like him, highly trained, will be happy in those bus lanes on the A10. Those with less confidence and less training (which are assumed to be rather the same thing, so there's a commercial driver there for his business) can be consigned to the fantasy "parallel quiet route". It's a very beguiling idea for so many, and it maintains a certain status quo. Training is emphasised, expensive segregated provision need not be considered on main roads, the quiet routes "already exist" and so councils don't have to spend much,  they just need to put up a few signs. Well, it doesn't work. The two-track approach has a history of failure. 99% of the journeys in the UK are not cycled, a level that has remained virtually static for decades, decades during which the two-track approach has been persistently promoted.

My motion is intended to put down a policy marker, and make a statement to Transport for London and the boroughs about the standards we expect for the cycle provision to be delivered out of The Mayor’s Vision. There is a danger of repeating the two-track mistake again, of engineering another set of Cycle Superhighways that are fast and direct, but not safe enough to attract new cyclists, and which still exclude children and the less fit or less able, or just those, the vast majority, who don’t want to negotiate with fast motor traffic, and, at the same time, designing another set of so-called “quiet routes” that are tortuous, don’t go where people need to go, and are impractical.

My motion compliments and goes with Rachel Aldred’s motion "When do we need protected space for cycling?". They both make it clear what standards we wish to see for the future cycling network for London. We need to genuinely “Go Dutch”, in terms of not just the provision of protected space, but in terms of the philosophy of cycling provision, making clear that it must be both uniform and fully-inclusive.

We are used to inclusivity and uniformity in other areas of public provision. The health service has to be inclusive, the same, and equally suitable, for all. Likewise social services and education. Public transport should be inclusive (but often is not). We need to get into the same mentality for cycling provision. If every piece of it doesn't work for everybody who could benefit from it, it's being done wrongly.