Hand me my gun, I’m cycling to the shops

Note: This is a post that was mostly written while I was still living in London, but have only just got around to finishing.

Two lethal weapons – one is accepted and commonplace, the other is not.

If I had a licence to own a machine that can be used as a dangerous weapon, would it be acceptable for me to use it to threaten people who are in my way as I travel?

Would it be fine and normal for me to threaten to use this machine to injure or even kill people, to bully them into submission so they will kowtow to my will and get out of my way, sharpish.

Could I get away with this behaviour on a regular basis, openly flouting the law by using this deadly machine to exert dominance over other human beings?

The machine I’m talking about is a motor vehicle, and I do in fact own a license to use one. What I certainly don’t do is use it aggressively.

But some people do use their motor vehicles in this way.

Unpleasant incidents while cycling were a regular occurrence when I lived in London. It could be something minor, such as someone pulling out of a junction despite seeing me approaching. Or it could be something major, such as someone intentionally driving directly at me. This sort of thing happened often enough that I decided to leave London and emigrate.

These incidents happen because a car is a powerful machine which is capable of injuring or killing people, and some people use this potential for harm to threaten others, to bully them out of the way.

Now, allow me to hypothesise: To balance the deadly potential of motor vehicles, it should be legal to carry a gun while riding a bike.

Think about that for a moment (though it clearly is a ridiculous suggestion). Why should people in cars hold all the power?

Once upon a time

Let me tell you a true story. I was riding along a narrow street in London, too narrow for overtaking, so I was in the hallowed “primary position“. I could hear the Mini far behind me being driven aggressively fast on these residential streets, then as the car approached, the driver started honking his horn and revving his engine at me because there wasn’t enough room for him to overtake.

What an upstanding citizen! I asked what the hell he thought he was doing, and he shouted back that a police officer had told him he should beep at people on bikes if they’re in his way. Then he trotted out the usual “I pay road tax” bullshit, at which point I told him to educate himself about what VED is. “I’m a student!” he replied.

So here we have a young man (who as a student won’t be paying any income tax, irrelevant though that is) who is using a car to transport himself around central London. He’s speeding around narrow back streets to avoid traffic lights on the main roads, and feels that paying £200 a year vehicle tax entitles him to act like a thug, bullying people who he considers to be slowing him down.

(Why is it even possible to use residential streets in this way? Lambeth council, despite claiming to prioritise walking and cycling, have consistently failed to civilise their roads. The car is clearly still king in Britain.)

I wonder how he would feel if he saw me walking along the street behind his mother, shouting “MOVE” at her and telling her that she should get out of my way because I pay more tax than she does and therefore believe I am entitled to push her around.

I’m sure this man finds himself in such situations, stuck behind someone slow while walking down the street. And I’d bet my life that he doesn’t shout at them to move, or push them out of the way, but waits until there’s space to pass. It’s because he was in a motor vehicle that it is socially acceptable for him to threaten someone in a way that he wouldn’t do on foot.

Now let’s bring in our cyclists-with-guns hypothesis. Surely if I’d been in possession of a gun that would have evened things out between us somewhat? He had his deadly machine to threaten me with, why shouldn’t I have a deadly machine to threaten him with?

I’m not saying I’d have actually needed to fire the gun, merely wave it at him, point it at his car to show that we both had dangerous machines, to signify that it’s surely the best for everyone if we proceed calmly and according to the rules of the road.

But I didn’t have a gun, so instead the person with the deadly machine was able to threaten me unilaterally.

It’s another true story

Another location, similar story.

Cycling down a street which is one-way except for cycles. A white van is coming towards me, well above the 20mph limit. Despite the massive width of this road, the driver is actually aiming for me. He’s flashing his lights and as he approaches I can see him waving his hand and mouthing “what are you doing?” at me.

It seems he hasn’t realised that the street is two-way for cycling (or, indeed, noticed the 20mph speed limit on this long, straight wide road that invites fast driving) and has decided to take the law into his own hands and punish me himself.

Luckily for me, he decides that merely threatening to hit me is enough, and swerves away at the last moment, narrowly missing the front of my bike.

It’s not as though I was even in his way – it’s a wide road which could easily handle one motor vehicle in each direction. Had I been driving a white van like him, he might well have let me pass without comment. But because I was on a bike that means I’m suddenly fair game for threats and abuse.

So yet again someone feels that they have the right to intimidate and threaten other people who are going about their lawful business. (And again, I wonder how he would feel if I was shoving his grandmother aside in the supermarket, or barging in front of her at the checkout queue?)

Back to our gun hypothesis. Had the driver suspected that, because I was on a bike I was likely to be carrying a firearm, I expect that he would have thought twice before intentionally driving a large white van at me.

That’s the beauty of the gun idea. The gun doesn’t even have to be used, it merely evens out the threat. We would both have the potential to abuse the deadly machine we are in charge of and injure or kill the other. We would both have to respect each other as a result.

But, of course, I don’t have a gun, so the threat was entirely one-sided, and only one of us was able to throw our weight around.

Back to reality

I’m sure most people who ride a bike in the UK have at least a few stories like this of their own. Some get used to this aggressive behaviour and see it as normal.

But I don’t see it as normal. It’s an injustice that riding a bike marks you out as a member of an underclass that can be abused at will by others.

This behaviour is backed up – even encouraged – by the government in the way they’ve designed our roads and streets, and in the way the justice system favours drivers and frequently seeks to blame the victim.

They’ve created an environment (both physical and legal) where driving a polluting vehicle around residential streets at high speeds is seen as normal and acceptable, but riding a bike carefully around those same streets is seen as abnormal, deviant and questionable.

Should we be surprised at the attitudes which have been bred from this environment?

If I were to carry a gun or a knife or even a baseball bat around the streets, pointing it at anyone who was in my way, shouting at people to move aside, would that be acceptable? Even if I was trained in to use it safety and never actually harmed anyone, would that be okay with you? If you’re a reasonable person, I’m sure you’ll say it’s not.

So why is it normal and acceptable to use a motor vehicle in exactly that manner?

Motor vehicles are frequently used to threaten and bully (it happens all the time), and those people that do so usually get away with it. Even when the police do become involved, the end result is often very lenient.

Even genuinely careless driving with no ill-intent is threatening to those people outside a protective metal box. Motor vehicles are not seen as the dangerous machinery that they are, and they are often operated without the care they require. That they’re frequently marketed as fun toys can’t help this public perception.

If even an experienced, senior lawyer with clear video evidence of a death threat has to go through years of legal wrangling to eventually achieve a slap on the wrist for the thug that threatened to kill him, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The cycleway is the only way

So what’s the solution? Well, in the short term our police and justice system needs to treat threatening driving with the same severity that they would treat knife or gun threat. I fail to see much difference between them.

Secondly, the idea that cycling is a mode of transport used only by a strange minority of people, will not go away until a large number of people are cycling. And we do know what must be done to get that large number of people cycling.

We should not be discouraged by the fact that it may take great political courage to create such conditions. We need to continue to push and protest to grow the political will required.

 

Footnote: If you’re about to start furiously commenting about guns, please understand what a hypothesis is. I’m not actually advocating liberalising gun laws, that’s patently ridiculous. Of course, the only purpose of a gun is to threaten or kill, whereas motor vehicles are primarily intended for transport. I’m merely using the parallel to point out how a motor vehicle in the wrong hands becomes as deadly as a gun. Like guns, motor vehicles can be used as dangerous weapons capable of murder, yet unlike gun violence, traffic violence seems largely accepted by British society today.

 

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Leeds and Bradford Cycle Superhighway: Confused? You will be.

The plans for Leeds’ “Cycle Superhighway” are so afwul that I genuinely don’t know where to start.

So I’ll start by saying this: I would rather go full-Franklin and campaign against this scheme than risk any of this crap being installed.

It really is so awful that I would rather see the whole project cancelled than have the current scheme approved. Regular readers will know that I’m all for segregated cycling infrastructure, and I’ve campaigned hard to get it.

But there’s now a bigger danger to cycling in Britain than those old-school “cyclists’ proper place is on the road” types, and that is poor-quality infrastructure.

Nothing will derail the entire “Space for Cycling” movement more than the acceptance of rubbish designs, and Leeds’ plans are probably as good an example of rubbish designs as you’ll find anywhere.

A year of no progress whatsoever

It’s now over a year since I first wrote about Leeds and Bradford’s lacklustre plans, though I hoped at the time that the designs would be improved.

So, a whole year has passed, surely that’s plenty of time to come up with something at least vaguely reasonable?

Sadly, it seems not. While the latest plans are an improvement over the ones I last looked at (especially the sections in Bradford) they still fall short of the standard of infrastructure that’s needed here.

As is normal with such big projects, there’s a wonderful-sounding “vision” (PDF) and then there’s the grim reality of the actual designs themselves. They’ve got a name (“City Connect”) and a logo, which must not be tampered with.

Visual guide to how you must and must not use City Connect's precious logo.

It’s interesting that they’ve been so exacting with the logo, yet extremely sloppy with the actual plans.

These big schemes always have plenty of lovely words about how great cycling is and how it benefits everyone and how brilliant it would be if people could use a bike to get around, but then the planned scheme makes it clear that cycling comes last, motor vehicles are more important, and the whole thing is going to be a botched job.

It’s all about the branding – PDF here, but make sure you have some incense sticks and a whalesong CD ready, it’s a wild ride of paradigm-busting colours and mutual touching.

(Incidentally, whoever is running the City Connect Twitter account is responsive and helpful, though they have been unable to provide me with simple and important pieces of information, such as the width of the planned cycle track. This fits in with branding being prioritised over content, I guess.)

It seems to me that whoever is in charge of this scheme either doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing, or they’re cynically and intentionally trying to appear modern and cycle-friendly while actually continuing Leeds’ reputation as the Motorway City of the 1970s. I’m told that there are some great people involved who really do want the best but are being hampered by relics of the past in powerful positions. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the current plans are dreadful.

And that’s particularly annoying for me personally, as this scheme affects areas that are close to me. I grew up in Leeds and my family still lives there. My BMX was stolen from outside the very Halfords that this scheme runs past.

More importantly, my niece – just five years old, an age where Dutch children are regularly cycling around with their parents – lives very close to the planned route.

When it’s built, would my sister be able to use this cycleway with her daughter? In ten years time, will my niece be able to ride into town safely on her own, as millions of Dutch teenagers do today?

Looking at these plans, no. Not even close. It’s not a safe design, it’s a hack job. I would not advise my sister to use this “superhighway”. I would advise against it.

So who is this scheme for? Who is it aimed at? Existing cyclists – very few though there are in Leeds – surely don’t need this, as it will only slow them down. I can’t see how it would attract people to begin cycling either, as it’s just not convenient enough compared to the alternatives.

It seems to be aimed at some kind of day-tripping leisure cyclist who prefers huge arterial roads to greenery.

Plans of confusion

I was intending to dive into the plans themselves in this post, but due to the inconsistency of the images and icons shown to describe different types of cycleway, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s planned where.

For example, the blue circle icon for their “Type 1″ cycleway seems to suggest that the footway, cycleway and carriageway are all at the same level, with raised kerbs separating them.

But then the cross-section diagram seems to suggest that the footway will be at the normal raised level, and the cycleway at carriageway level with a raised kerb as a divider (like CS2X in London).

And then they’ve used a photo of a section of CS3 in London to illustrate this, which is like neither of the other two suggested arrangements (though that photo does match their “Type 2″ cycleway!)

Various images that Leeds Council have used to describe their Type 1 cycleway, none of which match up.

Do those behind this scheme even understand the difference?

Okay, so I’d read all this and decided that the blue ‘Type 1′ cycleway must be level with the carriageway, with a raised dividing kerb, like in the 3D image at the bottom and the cross-section diagram on the left.

But just when I thought I might be able to make sense of the plans, there’s more mess! The designs show triangles at the start and end of the blue ‘Type 1′ sections, which I’ve been reliably informed denote a ramp up or down (the point of the triangle being the bottom of the slope):

A section from Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing apparently raised cycle track, also described as being at carriageway-level

The triangles suggest that the blue sections are raised to a higher level than the carriageway.

It seems that the people behind the plans are as confused as I am, because somebody has clearly spent a lot of time drawing these triangles in. Whoever sat at a computer and did this must have thought that the blue “Type 1″ cycle paths are raised from carriageway level, or they wouldn’t have diligently spent time and effort adding ramps into the drawings.

I asked the always-responsive City Connect Twitter person about this, and they checked for me. It seems the blue “Type 1″ cycleways are at carriageway level after all, and the triangles on the plans were “an error from [the] design team”.

An error? Look, I’m not an engineer, I’m just some schlub who would like people to be able to use a bike for transport easily and safely. How on Earth did nobody notice this before me? Is the communication within the project so poor that nobody is scrutinising the plans as much as untrained members of the public? Why are we paying people to make such obvious errors?

How many more errors – invisible to my untrained eye – are hidden in these plans, to remain there until the guys with the shovels turn up on site?

Nothing says “Superhighway” quite like the words “footway conversion”

There’s also inconsistencies such as this:

Confusing labelling on Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing a footway conversion at carriageway level

They’re just putting labels on at random, now.

The image above shows a footway conversion while the icon used is for a carriageway-level cycleway divided by an island. We all know that “footway conversion” means nothing more than a few signs and some paint, so why have they labelled it as being at carriageway-level? (And I wonder if they intend to move the many lamp-posts and telegraph poles that are currently embedded in the footway?)

Photograph of footway to be converted into a cycleway on York Road in Leeds

Are they really planning to drop this footway down to carriageway level? I don’t think so. So why label it as such? (Image: Google Streetview)

At least, I hope the intention is to convert the entire width of it into a cycleway, although the icon suggests that one half of it will be turned into a cycleway, with the other half remaining a footway.

With such inconsistency, and with no width given anywhere, it’s impossible to tell. Isn’t that the whole point of plans, to answer these questions?

Finally for now, the icons for “cycle lane across junction” and “cycle path across junction” are used inconsistently, too:

Different parts of the plans show different icons for side-road treatments

So bikes go on the what, now?

The whole thing reeks of sloppiness. How are members of the public expected to give feedback when the designs are so unclear? Even those who are paid to work with them seem unsure about what is intended where.

If only they’d paid as much attention to detail on the plans as they have done on the logo.

Anyway, that’s enough for today, I reckon. I’ll have a deeper look at some of the plans very soon.

But for now, I’ll leave this question, which I sincerely hope someone from City Connect can answer: Why are there no widths given for any of the planned cycleways?

 

Update, Wednesday 23rd July 2014: A response was posted by City Connect on their blog, which prevents linking to anything but the main blog page, so you have to click here then find the blog titled “Section G Plans”, which should be at the top until they add a new post.

At least, I think it was a response to my blog post, or my tweets. It’s hard to tell, as there was no link to what was being rebutted.

 

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Bedford’s turbo roundabout plans get even worse

Just when you thought it was safe to get back on a bike, the bad engineers strike again!

I’ve written so much about the Bedford turbo roundabout (and the ensuing scandal, delightfully dubbed ‘turbogate‘) and I was hoping that the project might be cancelled and I wouldn’t have to bother getting into Bedford again.

But it turns out that while myself and other cycle campaigners (proper ones, that is, who want safe, convenient cycling for all, not those pretend ones who take your money and then sit on their arses writing press releases all day) were upset with the whole concept, another group of users wasn’t happy with one particular aspect of it.

Motorcycling groups were worried about the raised lane dividers. They were concerned that if a motorbike hit one, it could throw the rider into traffic. (See here and here.)

This is obviously something which motorcycle users were concerned about, though I’m not sure that it should be an issue. The whole point of a turbo roundabout is that you choose a lane on the approach road, long before you reach the roundabout itself, then you stay in that lane throughout. There’s no more need to ride near the raised dividers than there is to ride beside the kerb. A motorbike rider would be in the middle of the lane throughout. But clearly there were concerns, and maybe I’m not understanding the full implications to motorcyclists.

The upshot of all this is that Bedford Council have agreed to remove the raised lane dividers.

So what does this leave us with? A roundabout designed to speed large numbers of motor vehicles through a busy junction, paid for by ‘Cycle Safety Fund’ money and approved by our major cycling campaigns. Great.

But I really don’t see how this scheme can go ahead now – not with Cycle Safety Fund money, anyway. The funding application document specifically mentions these raised dividers as part of the design, claiming they would “prevent vehicles cutting across lanes”.

As a key aspect of the design has been removed, so the funding must surely be withdrawn.

Who has the power to cancel this scheme? The Department for Transport? Sustrans, who managed the Cycle Safety Fund for the DfT? If you know, please tell us in the comments.

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Dear John

Dear John,

By the time you read these lines, I’ll be gone.

I just can’t take your lies any more.

You have promised me so much over the years, and yet nothing changes.

You keep telling me that things are improving, but they never do.

You said that I’d be able to travel in safety. You promised that there would be direct ways for everyone to get from A to B, where anyone could feel safe.

But I can see now that it was all lies. You keep saying the right things, but never mean them. All I ever get is platitudes.

It would be easy to blame one specific person for the problems, but the truth is that many have contributed to them over a long period of time. (PDF)

When I was first old enough to vote, John Prescott made bold promises about cycling and public transport, which were broken beyond recognition.

A few years later, Cycling England promised “more people cycling, more safely, more often” but quickly became yet another proponent of personal liability and poor quality, dangerous attempts at infrastructure.

More recently, you gave me Boris Johnson, the cycling Mayor of London, a man who breaks his promises more often than he breaks wind.

I believed him at first, too. “Assert yourself,” he told me, so I did. It ended in aggravation and grief every time. Soon I was cowed into going the long way round, or more often not taking the bike at all, just to avoid trouble.

After six years in charge of the nation’s capital city, we’ve been given nothing but tiny specks of rubbish. His latest grand cycling project is to put some signs on some back streets.

There have been inquiries, reports, and debates ad nauseum, all for nothing. Even the Prime Minister made the right noises, briefly, before going back to business as usual.

You told me that I was exactly the type of person you want – someone who rides a bike to get around in a casual fashion, in normal clothes. But while I tried my best to do that, it’s clear to see why so many feel the need to dress for war.

So you’ve lost two people who are exactly the type you claim you want to keep. You failed us.

The cracks really started to show once I’d met some friends who showed me just what was possible. I had no idea how good things could be!

But back in Britain nothing was changing. It was the same old rubbish, time after time. Huge motoring projects continue to be given the green light, while cycling and walking wait at a toucan crossing.

So I’ve left you. Life is too short to spend banging my head against a brick wall.

I’m sure you won’t miss me – you probably won’t even notice I’ve gone.

Farewell,
S.C.

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The government should not encourage people to walk and cycle

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you might think that the site has been hacked, or that I’ve gone mad, or that there’s a mistake in the headline.

But you have, in fact, read it correctly. The government should not be encouraging people to walk or cycle. They should be changing the way our roads and streets are designed in such a way that people will want to walk or cycle.

Having read today’s news reports about how 29 000 people die due to air pollution in the UK every year — most of it motor vehicle emissions — the reported solution has the right goal, but the wrong method.

The report says that the government must “encourage” people to make more of their journeys on foot or by bike.

Perhaps it is beyond the scope of the report to suggest how this might be achieved, but this word “encouragement” is dangerous. What would “encouragement” entail? A poster campaign, or maybe even a TV advert if the budget stretched that far. It might mean some sort of tax break on bike purchase, or free cycle training sessions. At best it might mean a few 20mph zones and toucan crossings.

We need to do more than this to solve this problem. For more than 60 years now the country has been designed and built with motor vehicles in mind. That is the reason that so many choose to drive even for very short journeys.

Why would somebody choose to walk the half-mile to the shops if they have to wait at three or four separate ‘red man’ lights to cross one road, while their neighbour who took the car gets to cross the same junction in one go?

A road in Leeds, with a huge central reservation which must be walked along in the middle.

A safe, convenient and pleasant walking environment? No. This is one reason why my five year old niece is driven one mile to school. (Photo: Google Maps)

Why would anybody choose to cycle on a road designed for driving at high speeds, with multiple lanes and wide-mouthed junctions designed to enable speedy motoring? It’s perfectly normal and reasonable to not want to ride a bike amongst large, fast, dangerous machines.

A man on a bike overtakes a stopped bus as cars overtake him.

Is it any wonder so few in the UK choose to travel by bike, when the conditions for it are so poor?

“Encouragement” has been tried before – indeed, we’ve had little else – and there’s been no discernible effect. So “encouragement” is the wrong thing. What is the right thing?

Walking and cycling need to be made the obvious choice for short journeys. People need to feel that walking or cycling is a safe, pleasant and convenient way to get from home to shop, work to pub, cinema to home. If walking and cycling feel like a dangerous hassle, as they very often do now, why should anybody do it? It’s the environment that dictates our choices, not some wagging-finger poster campaign or motivational slogans.

If we are to bring down those 29 000 annual deaths — that’s 79 per day, one person dead every 18 minutes just from pollution, we’re not even counting all the deaths from traffic collisions and inactivity — the only way to do it is not by badgering and hectoring people into doing something unpleasant, but by making those modes of transport the obvious choice – safe, easy, attractive, and convenient.

Active travel doesn’t need encouraging, it needs enabling.

Dutch families on bikes on a cycle path at a junction. In the foreground we can see a teenage boy on a bike, next to him is his mother with the younger brother sat in a child seat on the back of her bike. Further away is another mother with her children in a box-bike.

These families have chosen to use a bike for this journey because the dense network of cycle paths make it a safe, easy and convenient option — and not because of some poster campaign or training session. There are more photos like this here.

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Armadillos: The Emperor’s New Infrastructure

Please, dear non-London readers, I apologise for covering the capital so much! But while this blog post may have originated with a London street, its influence is spreading so it should concern you too, wherever you may be.

It’s no secret that I’m not entirely keen on the new Royal College Street design. I’m clearly not alone in thinking this, either.

The whole idea of these “armadillos” – as the currently-fashionable little plastic blobs are called – is to provide cycling infrastructure on the cheap. But as my dad always said, “if you buy cheap, you buy twice.”

While Royal College Street isn’t the best example of cycling infrastructure, I admit that it isn’t a complete disaster. The cycle lane does work most of the time (in the places it’s actually there, and when there’s no bus passengers, and when no car has driven over the armadillos – though that’s quite a few caveats, mind).

But the only reason that armadillos even work at all on Royal College Street is because they don’t stand alone, but are interspersed with large protective planters, and because the street has a relatively low level of motor traffic.

That level of traffic is not low enough, in my opinion – if there is a level of traffic at which armadillos are suitable, I’d say Royal College Street still exceeds that, which is why earth-filled planters were included as part of the design. But even they are not enough either.

Recently bollards have also been added to the mix – or should that be ‘added to the mess’? The bollards are there to protect the planters, which are there to protect the armadillos, which are there to protect people on bikes. And people have won awards for this nonsense!?

It might have been easier to just do the job properly in the first place.

Royal College Street in Camden, showing a planter, bollard and armadillo to protect the cycle lane.

Armadillos and planters and bollards – oh my! (Photo: Joe Dunckley)

(Though I must say I was pleased to see the parking bays also recently moved away from the edge of the cycle lane, to give some safety from the door zone.)

Meanwhile, outside the M25…

In Manchester, the council have been experimenting with armadillos alone to separate cycle lanes, which hasn’t been a resounding success, shall we say. “Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester” has been covering it thoroughly, but essentially they’ve discovered that armadillos aren’t made of some sort of magic car-repelling material after all.

An armadillo which has been smashed by motor vehicles.

This is not quality cycle infra. (Photo: Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester)

TfGM are wanting to use armadillos on Oxford Road, where taxis will be pulling over to pick up and drop off passengers. Will taxi drivers be fearful of crossing these low plastic humps? I can hazard a guess that they won’t.

Shrinking armadillos

They’ve also shrunk over time. When people first started banging on about how Seville had massively increased its cycling rate, we were seeing pictures of these big concrete things:

A protected cycle lane in Seville, which uses much bigger blobs, made of concrete and much closer together.

This is what was originally promoted – large, concrete armadillos (Photo: Claudio Olivares Medina)

But somehow they’ve shrunk in the meantime, and become tiny plastic things which many drivers don’t even notice:

Though the Seville “Tobys” are much better than the frankly pathetic armadillos, I’m still not a big fan. They’re simply not high-quality infrastructure. They reduce the usable width of the cycle path as they’re essentially an intermittent high kerb. They should, at least, keep the cycle path clear of motor vehicles.

(Apparently Bristol have rejected armadillos on their Clarence Road project, in favour of Tobys.)

The same is true of the planters, by the way. I don’t know where the idea first came from, but check out these examples from Vancouver. They’re about twice the size of the Camden ones, much closer together, and are themselves protected by a concrete kerb. Suddenly it’s clear why the Camden ones are failing…

In conclusion: Armadillos are rubbish.

Like painted lanes in the 1980s and ASLs in the 1990s, some cyclists imagine that armadillos may alleviate some of the problems they face and welcome them as a positive measure.

But like those other half-hearted attempts at cycling infra on the cheap, they are not the high-quality infrastructure that is needed to increase cycling rates in Britain.

These little plastic blobs are currently very fashionable in transport design circles and they are already starting to spread around the country as yet another way of doing cycling on the cheap instead of doing it right, once and for all, by doing what is proven to work.

Make no mistake – armadillos are popular because they’re cheap, not because they’re effective.

I’ve been trying to think of a situation where armadillos might be suitable, but I can’t. The nearest thing I’ve seen in the Netherlands have been at roadworks or on temporary routes, and even there they’ve been much larger, heavier, concrete blocks – and even they don’t provide protection against a badly-controlled car. So what hope does a little plastic blob have?

Even as a  temporary measure to try out a cycle route before committing it in concrete, I don’t think they’re good enough. And the schemes where they are being installed aren’t temporary. These projects are intended to last for decades. Remember how Enfield council thinks they could be used?

Laughably awful visualisation by Enfield council, showing narrow bike lanes in the dooring-zone, and bus stops on the wrong side of cycle paths.

If this is Dutch, then I’m a Dutchman’s uncle.

So be careful what you wish for, my dear cycling campaigners, and be careful what you welcome. You may be about to praise the next great nationally-adopted cycling failure.

 

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As Turbogate trundles on, people wonder what is being done in their name

This is my third, and hopefully final, post in the Turbogate saga: Part one is here, and part two is here. (Nope, I was wrong. Here’s part four.)

It seems that few people are happy about the Bedford ‘turbo’ roundabout, and the fact that cycling organisations gave it (and other rubbish) their seal of approval.

Some CTC members understandably feel let down by how their representatives seem to have been played by the DfT’s, as are some members of other cycling forums.

I have read the official CTC response by Chris Peck (it’s worth reading the comments), and Cyclenation’s response by Simon Geller, and I have to say I’m not massively impressed by either of them. I’ve not seen anything from British Cycling or Sustrans on the matter, yet. (And I’ve no idea why the Campaign to Protect Rural England even had a seat on the group, but that’s another thing.)

Both responses make the point that the DfT’s funding method was very poor – there was a fixed amount of money which had to be spent in areas with higher collision rates within a very short space of time. Add to that a group of people who are physically in different locations having to make judgements for plans in towns they know nothing about.

Fair enough, that’s rather a crap situation for the DfT to set up. But why did the cycling organisations play along with this? Chris Peck says there was a risk that if this £20m wasn’t spent, they might not give us any crumbs in the future.

Oh no, perish the thought! No more badly-planned pittances to be spent in a hurry? Cycling in the UK might end up in the doldrums.

Old news

I hate to gloat (actually I love it) but in November 2012 I wrote a scathing article about a £20m cycle funding announcement from the DfT, as did David Arditti (though I think both articles were about a slightly later £20m crumb than the one which funded the Bedford turbo, the principle is the same). Chris Peck himself even pointed out that £20m was not enough, but then apparently continued to play along with the DfT’s game anyway.

At the time I said I was disappointed that every one of our prominent cycling organisations had said that the £20m was “welcome” rather than slamming the government for failing to invest in cycling in any real way.

The £20m was intended to shut cycle campaigners up, generate a few positive headlines, and make it sound like the government was doing something while doing nothing. The cycling lobby fell for it, and the DfT’s plan worked brilliantly.

Screenshot of road.cc article titled 'CTC and British Cycling welcome extra £20 million for cycling announced by Norman Baker'

The moment that UK transport policy turned the corner. Everything was different from this point on. Oh, hang on, that’s complete nonsense isn’t it?

Back then I said that “£20m spread across the country is going to do nothing for cycling, except maybe the installation of more of the same kind of crap we’re used to getting.” The Bedford turbo roundabout (plus many more, including the “scandalousCatholic Church Junction in Cambridge) has proved me, and others, to be right.

As long as cycle campaign groups “welcome” this kind of rubbish and then play along with the resulting mess, cycling will continue to receive the same kind of dismissive treatment.

If the process was no good, if the timescales too narrow, if the proposals too weak, then CTC, Cyclenation, Sustrans and British Cycling should have all told the DfT that this was the case, rather than enabling them to push this rubbish through and create poor designs seemingly “approved” by the cycle lobby.

Even older news

The thing is, this is nothing new, it’s been happening for years.

While I was researching a different article, I came across this comment on a Road.CC article from February 2011:

“Here in Plymouth we get sub-standard “cycle facilities” passed off AFTER consultation with Sustrans & CTC. The council flatly refuses to acknowledge that anything could possibly be wrong, as both CTC & Sustrans have “signed off” on what was delivered.”

So it seems that, as ever, nothing has changed in British cycle campaigning circles.

Dutch driving infra cynically hyped as Dutch cycling infra

Finally, I have to come full circle and must have another go at those behind the turbo scheme.

Let us put to one side the cycling organisations approving this design. Let us say we disagree with their decision, but it was a tricky situation and they did what they felt was best at the time. Let’s say fair enough.

Let’s even pretend for a minute that the turbo roundabout was the only option available to the designers, that the UK’s road design standard prohibit a better solution, and that this sub-standard bodge was the best solution for this location.

I still have a beef with Bedford council, and it’s this: Why was this design presented as being a piece of tried-and-tested Dutch cycling infrastructure?

Turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands are for motor vehicles only, but the bid document strongly suggests otherwise (though note how it has been cleverly worded, so it’s not an outright lie):

“Turbo-roundabouts are now the standard roundabout design in the Netherlands where traffic capacity does not allow a compact (continental style) roundabout to be installed. In essence they function like compact roundabouts, where cyclists take primary position in the lane but vehicle speeds will be reduced to under 15mph. The evidence is that they have the same very significant safety benefits of compact roundabouts, compared to other junction styles…”

Where is this “evidence” that turbo roundabouts offer “very significant safety benefits” to people on bikes? (And this must surely be about bikes, considering this is a bid for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money.)

I’d very much like to see this evidence, because as far as I know the Dutch have never routed bicycles over this type of infrastructure. (In fact, David Hembrow had to go to some lengths to reach his nearest one by bike.)

They even admit as much, though try to couch the inconvenient fact in vagueness (in the ‘background information’ document, available at the bottom of Chris Peck’s article):

“Dutch “turbo-roundabouts” … have a proven vehicular safety benefit (though cyclists are nearly always off-road in these Dutch designs).”

“Nearly always”?! Please, defenders of this scheme, show me which Dutch turbo roundabouts are intended for use by people on bikes. If you cannot do this then the whole project is surely based on a lie.

And here we also see that the “safety benefit” mentioned in the bid document is “vehicular safety benefit” – great evidence for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money!

Note also, the photographs of turbo roundabouts on page 5 of that document show no cyclists using them, only cars and lorries. The only cyclists to be seen are in the computer-generated image on page 4 which shows people on bikes using separate cycle paths.

Call it Dutch, we’ll buy it

This is cynically misleading language, used to suggest that the turbo roundabout is one of the designs which the Netherlands has used to achieve mass cycling. This has resulted in headlines such as “Council goes Dutch to improve cycle safety at busy roundabout” and “UK’s first Dutch-style roundabout gets underway in Bedford“.

As if to prove the confusion created by this language, that second article is complete with a photo of a real cycle-friendly Dutch roundabout, being trialled at TRL.

Unfortunately, the word “Dutch” is being tacked on to almost any design to imply that it’s proven Dutch cycling infrastructure, when it’s nothing of the sort. (This is what annoyed me when the second-rate Royal College Street revamp was described as “truly Dutch”.)

Once this Bedford turbo roundabout is installed, provided nobody is killed or injured in the first few months you’ll see local authorities up and down the country wanting to install them, calling them ‘Dutch’ and therefore great for cycling. As it’s a cycling roundabout, they will be paid for with money intended for cycling projects, of course.

And if you have any problem with that, they’ll tell you that the designs have been approved by your favourite cycling campaign groups.

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