Monthly Archives: October 2012

CTC asks for a vehicular cycling solution again

Note: The post below makes much the same point as this post on ‘As Easy as Riding a Bike’, and he mentions some stuff that I haven’t, so both posts are worth reading. I suspect we were typing simultaneously!

I thought we were making some progress. I was feeling pleased with the good-natured discussions with Roger Geffen, the Campaigns & Policy Director of the CTC. I was really happy to see the CTC officially announce that they would be supporting good quality Dutch-style infrastructure.

Well, today they had a chance to offer their support to a campaign which is demanding good quality cycle infrastructure, and they fluffed it.

When I read CTC’s response to TfL’s dreadful proposals for the roundabout on the Westminster end of Lambeth Bridge, my heart sank. I didn’t want to have to write another piece criticising the CTC (well, not yet, anyway) but I have to call them out on this one.

The problem is this:

Our preferred option in this situation would be to redesign the layout of the roundabout along ‘continental’ lines – that is, with a single lane roundabout and small curve radii single exits and entry lanes. Such a design is recommended in the London Cycle Design Standards.

So the CTC – who, let’s remember, recently declared support for quality segregation – are telling TfL that their design choice would be simply to reduce the roundabout approaches and exits to one lane each way, to be shared by cyclists and motor vehicles. To my mind, that is not “support for quality segregation” but more of the same “marginal improvements for existing cyclists” ethos.

What they’re suggesting here is a solution which is fine for vehicular cyclists who can hold the lane and ride in a primary position (i.e. those who have the balls to get in right in front of the buses and taxis) but it will do absolutely nothing to attract people who don’t currently cycle.

When my partner read the CTC’s solution, her first words were “I still wouldn’t ride there,” and I can’t argue with that. Most people don’t want to ride amongst motor vehicles. That’s an entirely reasonable and rational decision to make.

So if we can’t even make it easy for bike riders to turn right at a fairly simple junction like this, then why would anybody who doesn’t already cycle on the road choose to use this route? Will the CTC’s design be attractive to those who don’t currently cycle? The Dutch solution is good for everyone – hardened VC commuters included – whereas CTC’s preferred solution merely improves conditions for those who are brave or stupid enough to cycle there anyway.

The odd thing is, the very next paragraph goes on to acknowledge the vastly superior Dutch-style proposal which everyone else wants:

Whilst we understand that the London Cycling Campaign have proposed fully segregated cycle tracks around the roundabout, we feel this is sensible only if priority over entering and exiting traffic can be provided to cyclists. This could be achieved by extending the zebra raised table to the mouth of each exit and entry way, enabling priority cycle crossings to be provided in accordance with TfL and DfT guidance. Dutch guidance on the provision of cycle tracks at roundabouts is clear that cyclists must have right of way in these circumstances.

Well yes, of course right-of-way is an important part of the Dutch-style roundabout! So you can now put this as your preferred solution, right? No need to suggest some sort of half-measure as your favourite.

The CTC are still doing much better than they would have in years gone by – at least the Dutch design is suggested as a second-best option, and with a reasonable caveat too. Maybe there are internal politics at work in the CTC and this two-tiered statement is a reflection of behind-the-scenes tussles for power. (If there is someone there who tried to get the Dutch-style roundabout as the preferred option then I salute you, keep up the good work!)

A ‘continental-style’ gift to Boris

Oddly enough, the LCC said pretty much the same thing about a ‘continental-style’ roundabout. You can find it at the end of this article (although it was their second choice, not their preferred solution).

Why on earth would they do that? Why give Boris the chance to say “what-ho chaps, we installed the roundabout that cyclists wanted, both the LCC and CTC asked for it!” You know he will. And when the first cyclist is killed at the new roundabout TfL will tell everyone that the design was recommended by the LCC and it was the CTC’s first choice.

However, if everyone asked for the proper, high-quality design – no watered-down “continental” roundabout – then they could at least say to the press, “we told TfL it was dangerous, but they refused to install the safe, proven design we asked for.”

We campaigners need to stop asking for half-measures like this. Suggesting compromises is what TfL will do anyway, so let’s not offer them up on a plate. Would you go into a job interview and immediately say “I’d like £30,000 per year but if that’s too much then I’ll accept £15,000″? Because that’s what the LCC and CTC have done here.

But the thing is, everyone else is asking for the good-quality Dutch-style roundabout. I’m pretty sure that readers of this blog (I love each and every one of you, by the way) have also read this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and I’m sure there’s others. It seems to me that on this specific issue pretty much all cycling campaigners are united, while the CTC still say that they’d prefer cyclists to stay on the road, thanks very much for asking.

Yet Roger Geffen (who seems pretty decent) tells me about 1996, when the CTC were working at getting the government to invest in cycling:  “At the very moment when we needed to focus on securing funding … the cycling lobby instead broke into a big argument about segregation. This merely provided Whitehall with a perfect excuse to allocate no funding to cycling – “if cyclists can’t agree what they want, what’s the point of funding it?” In other words, we allowed ourselves to be divided and ruled… and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since. … Will we now learn from history, and work together to mobilise the political support we need for cycling to flourish – or are we condemned to repeat it?”

Based on their Lambeth Bridge roundabout statement it seems that the CTC are the ones who haven’t learned from history. Theirs is the voice which will cause the government to ignore real improvements for cycling. Currently, there is near-unanimous agreement about which is the best option for the Lambeth Bridge roundabout, and the CTC is the odd one out asking for more of the same old vehicular crap.

Taking a step back

Why are we campaigning? Who are we campaigning for? Do we only want marginal improvements for current cyclists, or do we want cycling to become a simple and safe transport option for the whole population?

Asking for better vehicular cycling conditions is not going to induce more people to ride a bike – those of us who already cycle do so despite the conditions. We need improvements to infrastructure so that many more people will take up cycling because of the conditions; because it will be an appealing transport option.

Demand the best, and who knows, we may even get what we want one day.

 


Footnote:

It’s not all bad, however. They “strongly disagree with the proposal to deposit cyclists onto a ‘shared use’ footway before and after the roundabout … very few of the current users are likely to use such a fiddly and inconvenient means of negotiating the roundabout” which is spot on. (Though I’d love to know if TfL used the CTC’s very own advice to justify these shared zones, as they’re a perfectly acceptable option according to the Hierarchy of Provision.)

They’ve also pointed out the weakness of TfL’s “cyclists can use zebra crossings” line (which is obviously a sop to try and placate us): “Current regulations do not permit cyclists to use zebra crossings. Although TfL’s observations have previously found drivers do give way to cyclists on zebras, we do not think it acceptable to use these as priority crossings for cyclists until regulations change to formalise this approach.”

They’re right to point this out – to me, the “bikes on zebras” thing is a cynical ploy by TfL to get cycling campaigners to accept their design, as it looks like you can ride around the roundabout with priority, of sorts. But once the dust has settled and the Met stops a cyclist from riding over the zebras, TfL will say “sorry we didn’t realise, we’ll look into it” and we’ll be pushing our bikes over the zebra crossings for the next five years while we wait to hear back.

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Anti-cycling John Forester versus the facts about Holland

I know that John Forester is older than Mr. Burns (if not quite as pleasant) but while he’s still as sane as he’s ever been then I don’t see any reason to rebut his nonsense any less robustly than I would if he was younger.

He’s a man who, apparently, has never visited the Netherlands and yet feels able to make bold claims about what it’s like to cycle there (passing through on a train in the 1930s does not count, John!).

I’ve never visited wherever the hell Forester lives either, but I can guarantee you that the trees are made of old gloves, and the roads are full of custard. Obviously, this is ridiculous, but I have as much authority there as Forester does on the Netherlands, i.e. none at all. Coincidentally, ‘none at all’ is the amount of sense which Forester frequently makes in his online ramblings.

Someone sent him a link to my post which put two of his comments about the Netherlands in context and he responded by accusing me of having no evidence to back up my assertions.

How much evidence do you want, John? How about an entire country? One which I have been to, and you, apparently, have not! Are you really going to die having never visited the one place on the planet which has achieved high levels of safe cycling across all sections of society? It’s like being a life-long Elvis fan — a self-proclaimed Elvis expert, no less — yet you’ve never even visited Graceland.

How can anyone take this incoherent drivel seriously?

“The posting critical of the views of John Forester and John Franklin … is just one more of the illogical and sophomoric position papers in the spiteful controversy concerning bicycle transportation in the USA. Those with a fervent anti-motoring faith that if the USA copied Dutch bikeway designs and traffic law practices the USA would have an enormous switch from motor to bicycle transport. This is a faith for which there is no evidence whatever. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that such an outcome would be most unlikely, evidence from sociology, urban design, traffic engineering, psychology, and similar fields, areas in which the anti-motorists do not show expertise.

The sophomoric nature of the presentation comes across immediately. For example, the photograph of a cyclist in sporting clothing riding on a bike path between a rural highway and open fields does not disprove the argument that, in urban areas, side paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic. No single example of an exception disproves a general statement; only a contrary description of all the instances could do so. However, a picture of a crowded bicycling area does demonstrate the argument that such places are not suitable for cycling at American bicycle transportation speeds.

I have written before that the combination of anti-motoring motivation and traffic-fearing cyclist faith not only does not require any factual support, but it actually requires contra-factual arguments to pretend to be persuasive. I advocate changes that make cycling safer and more useful, based on valid theory and supported by factual studies. However, the anti-motoring, Dutch-favoring bicycle advocates have not been able to present such studies based on American conditions.”

There is so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to start. But I’ll start here: a picture of a crowded bicycling area does demonstrate the argument that such places are not suitable for cycling at American bicycle transportation speeds”. What is he talking about? Is he suggesting that all US citizens are fast cyclists? Because the last time I looked, the average US cycling speed was almost zero, considering that pretty much nobody rides a bike there. He seems to be arguing for elitism in cycling, showing his belief that riding a bike should be reserved for the fast and the fearless. Anybody not fit and in a rush need not apply.

The photo in question shows commuter traffic heading into Utrecht central station at rush hour. Is he suggesting that everybody should be able to travel at racing speeds, even in crowded city centres? Cars aren’t allowed to do this, and I wouldn’t recommend going for a jog around Paddington station at 5.30pm unless you really enjoy bumping into commuters. The fact that busy areas in city centres become crowded is proof of the success of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. It’s proof that people are choosing to cycle because it’s the fastest, easiest option.

He also argues that “in urban areas, [bike] paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic.” Well this just isn’t true, and I can say this because I have been to the Netherlands and studied their infrastructure, and John Forester hasn’t.

He goes on to pre-empt this response by then saying: “No single example of an exception disproves a general statement; only a contrary description of all the instances could do so.” So what he’s saying here is that he won’t admit he’s wrong unless someone documents every inch of the Netherlands for him? Or maybe he’s saying that my photographs don’t mean his quotes aren’t true (although he’s happy to use just one photograph to back up his assertion about American speeds). How many photos do you want, John? I’ve got hundreds, and each one of them proves you wrong. Or maybe you want some statistics again?

Well the Netherlands has a very high rate of cycling – far higher than the UK and the USA – and yet it has the world’s safest roads. That’s not “contra-factual argument” or “traffic-fearing cyclist faith” but cold hard statistics.

In the spirit of my previous post, here are two photos of every-day Dutch scenes:

"…in urban areas, [cycle] paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic." - John Forester. Juxtaposed by a photo of a cycle path and driveways, and a large intersection, without problems.

A nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic in the Netherlands, recently.

Just because John Forester isn’t clever enough to envisage any practical solutions to make cycling attractive to everyone, it doesn’t mean that these solutions don’t exist.

Do you get it yet, John? You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to cycle infrastructure, and the VC fundamentalism which you spread has failed to deliver anything but a risible amount of cycling – and a high accident rate – in the US.

People in the Netherlands choose to use the bike for transport because the infrastructure makes it so quick and easy. Almost nobody in the US cycles, and it’s partially because John Forester backed the wrong horse in 1972 and spent the next 40 years shouting about it.


NOTE TO ALL COMMENTERS:

I welcome comments on this blog, but please understand what this post is about before typing: I’m criticising things that John Forester has said about cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. This post has got nothing to do with the USA or any other country, so I can do without a load of comments about how it’s politically difficult for you, or how it’s economically impossible where you are, or how you ride on the roads and you’re 97 years old with one eye and you love it. All those things are fascinating but they have nothing to do with Forester being wrong about the Netherlands.

The above message mainly goes out to Forester’s faithful army of “bicycle driving” zealots, especially “Erik”/”Clare Wolff” who posted the same message nine times on this page.


Footnote: Forester thinks I’m someone called Paul Nevins – it was on a group email thread, so I guess this name got mixed up in there somehow. I don’t know who this Nevins guy is, but if he’s annoying Forester then he must be a fairly decent bloke. [Update: It turns out he is a decent bloke — Paul Nevins comments below!]

Also, I know that Forester pushed against helmet compulsion and hates ASZs (“bike boxes” in the US) which shows that he’s not wrong all the time. But why can’t he see that people simply don’t want to ride a bike amongst motor traffic?

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Is this worth repeating again?

Cycling has been neglected by council policies for too long. Motor traffic has increased to such an extent that many people who would cycle now feel that the roads are too dangerous. Whilst millions of pounds have been spent on planning and providing for cars, nothing at all has been done to encourage what is the healthiest, most efficient and safest method of personal transport, apart from walking.

That paragraph sounded reasonable, didn’t it? The sort of thing you expect me to write? Well I didn’t write it. I was a foetus at the time – it’s from 1978.

That’s right, it’s over 34 years old. That means it’s almost exactly the same age as myself, which makes the depressed feelings I get from reading it particularly poignant. It is the opening paragraph of the first ever Spokes newsletter, which is published by the Lothian Cycle Campaign.

Let’s read some more, shall we? To keep it interesting, some of the following snippets are from 2012, taken from the news pages of cycle campaign websites (though I changed the years and locations, obviously). See if you can tell which are new and which are three decades old before you click on the link to the real source:


 

AIMS OF THE RALLY
- To celebrate the great and continuing increase in cycle use.
- To publicise the benefits of bikes for individuals and the community.
- To demonstrate our concern at the appalling lack of provision for cyclists.
- To urge the Council to positively encourage cycling and start catering for cyclists’ needs.

Spokes issue 2, 1978, explains the aims of the Great 1978 Edinburgh & Lothian Bicycle Rally

 


 

Politicians are beginning to wake up to facts such as the 1.1 million bikes sold in the UK in 1976 – compared to only 1.25 million new cars. They are beginning to wake up to the campaigns by groups like SPOKES all over Britain from Penzance to the Shetlands. This is true all over Europe. In West Germany 4 million bikes are sold yearly compared to 2.2 million cars.

In May the government transport spokesperson John Horam said in Parliament: “we have drawn the attention of local authorities to the desirability of making cycling safe and more convenient.”

Spokes issue 3, 1978

 


 

1978 in Edinburgh and Lothian saw greatly increased public interest in cycling, and it saw a breakthrough in Council attitudes. With your active involvement the cyclists’ case is ripe for a real take-off in 1979.

Last June the SPOKES Events Group organised our first rally. 500 cyclists of all ages came together in a demonstration stretching the length of Princes Street, headed by Robin Cook MP and Councillors from three parties. … At our two election forums, MPs and Councillors were closely grilled by audiences of 50+ and 100+.

1979 also welcomes the new adult training group. Many people cycled when they were young but feel unsure in city traffic. The group will run training sessions on urban cycling.

Spokes issue 4, 1979

 


 

The Regional Council will co-operate with the District Councils to implement schemes that will allow greater freedom of movement to pedestrians and cyclists, and encourage more people to walk and cycle for work and leisure journeys.

Taken from the Region’s Structure Plan (“which guides land use planning for the next 10 years”) in which Spokes had to lobby to get cycling mentioned at all (see issue 4)

 


 

A mass pedal-powered procession will be held in central Edinburgh on Sunday May 13th. We are hoping for TV coverage and expecting double or treble the 500 bikes … which took part last year. The procession will be headed by MPs and Councillors, and this year roads will be CLOSED to TRAFFIC by the police for complete safety. … Please obey instructions from stewards and police.

Spokes issue 5, 1979. (Do those words describe the ride being co-opted by the authorities and neutralised?)

 


 

Despite gloom and recession in the economy and cutbacks in almost every area of public and private expenditure, business is booming in Edinburgh’s bicycle trade.

The ‘Evening News’ recently pointed out that “Edinburgh, as many European cities did years ago, must learn to accommodate the bike” and that cyclists have been failed by “the car-dominated planning doctrines of the last two decades.”

Spokes issue 9, 1980

 


 

GOVERNMENT ‘NO’ TO RAIL PLAINS
George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland, has forbidden Lothian Region from buying Edinburgh’s disused rail network from British Rail. As reported in our last leaflet the Council had decided to purchase the lines for conversion into walk/cycleways … The decision to buy the lines had been unanimous (although the Conservative councillors on the Region want to build new roads on them…).

Spokes issue 11, 1981

 


 

BIG BOOST FOR BIKES FROM LOTHIAN REGION
July 6th 1981 may well prove to be the day on which Lothian’s “paper” commitment to cyclists took a decisive turn towards coherent and concrete action. Councillors on the Highways Sub-Committee instructed officials to undertake public consultation on a city-wide network of cycle routes; to start on conversion of disused rail lines to walk/cycleways; and to enter the public consultation phase of the Middle Meadow Walk proposals.

Spokes issue 12, 1981

 


 

Nine ‘Regional Cycling Officers’ have been appointed in England “to make sure that the needs of cyclists are fully considered when trunk roads are designed or improved… and to liaise with local authorities and other interests on cycling facilities.” Advice has been issued to local councils on the construction of cycle facilities, grants given for experimental facilities, and a Consultation Paper issued seeking comments from interested parties.

Spokes issue 13, 1982

 


 

Two SPOKES members have been thrown off railway paths, on which cycling is permitted, by local police officers who were under the impression that cyclists were prohibited. Member Andrew Grant … has twice been asked to leave the Slateford/Balerno track, whilst another member received the same treatment on the Warriston/Leith path.

It is difficult to blame the particular police officers involved – paths are everywhere, with cycling intended on some and not others, and no obvious way to tell which.

Spokes issue 21, 1984

 


 

COUNCIL BACKPEDALS ON CYCLISTS??
Recent decisions and events cast doubt on the priority being given to provision for cyclists by the Regional Council. We have to expect the occasional negative decision and lost battle, but the present pattern causes greater concern about the importance being placed by the Council on getting safer routes for cyclists.

Whilst SPOKES greatly welcomes new pedestrian areas, to remove the hazards and unpleasantness of motor traffic, we generally see no reason to ban pedal cycles too. Cyclists, who were never the problem in the first place, are forced onto busier roads, and denied access to the old areas.

Spokes issue 22, 1984

 


 

I’m going to stop quoting there and reveal that I lied – all of the quotes above are from Spokes leaflets 30 years ago.

What I find depressing is that they could all have been written today. Change a place name, update the year, change “British Rail” to “National Rail”, and you could re-issue these articles on a rolling basis.

Thirty years later, why hasn’t anything changed? Why are we still running round in circles, fighting the same battles?

Back in the 1970s the good people of Spokes were complaining about exactly the same stuff we’re complaining about now: A roundabout was installed without any consideration for cyclists; A cycle route was closed with no alternative provided; The council have removed or banned cycle parking somewhere.

They also did the same things we’re still doing: Cycling is on the verge of booming; A mass cycle rally was held; Politicians have made promises to improve conditions and encourage cycling!

I’m not writing this to criticise Spokes (I know I’m normally slagging someone off here, but I’m really not today). If anything I feel sorry for the people involved back then, from this perspective at least. If only they knew that cycling levels in the UK would stagnate for most of the rest of their lives!

I wish I had a time machine and could go back to 1978 and show them a copy of the latest issue, just so they’d know that they’d be fighting the same battles repeatedly for the next 30 years. (And they thought the traffic was bad in 1978!) I’m sure that the most committed members would persevere anyway – if you believe in what you’re doing, to fight is important whether you win or lose – or maybe it would inspire them to try a new tactic (bribing councillors, political assassinations?). I’m sure some would just give up, and I wouldn’t blame them.

But the thing is, while I was back there in 1978, if these people in their flares and tank-tops were to ask me, the man from the future, “what can we do? How can we avoid Edinburgh becoming the car-sodden cycling nightmare you’ve shown us?” I wouldn’t know what to tell them (although I might mention about Jimmy Savile). It sounds like they did everything right. I would have done the same as they did.

They campaigned for safe, off-road routes. They arranged mass protests and got politicians involved. They kept pressure up on the authorities to enshrine in law words which should have had a concrete effect on the roads.

They knew that it’s not right to expect children to ride on busy roads. They knew that cycle casualties were increasing. They knew that a good cycle route is an uninterrupted one.

And yet… nothing. Well, almost nothing – there have been some victories along the way, after all. But overall, Edinburgh’s roads have been designed for the motor vehicle, and that alone. (At least the last time I was there in May this year, it was no better than any other city in the UK, with the standard DfT crap design we all know and hate.)

So, what would you tell the Spokes people of 1978? Keep going? Give up? Move out?

If someone from 34 years in the future appeared in front of you and told you that, in 2046, London Mayor Boris Johnson Junior was promising remedial action on the deadly Hyper Cycleways any day now, and that TfL were still insisting that Elephant & Castle is fine, and that the Department for Transport was finally about to test dedicated cycle traffic lights, what would you do? I’d probably start to cry.

And then I’d move to Holland.

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Will Boris make TfL keep his promises?

If this redesign of the western side of Lambeth Bridge is anything to go by, then either Boris’ adoption of LCC’s “Go Dutch” campaign was nothing but a last minute attempt to gain some votes from Ken Livingstone, or the Go Dutch message hasn’t filtered down the hierarchy to TfL’s design department.

TfL's new design for the western (north) side of Lambeth Bridge. They've added raised crossings and some shared pavements, but that's it.

Where’s the Dutch? SHOW ME THE DUTCH!

Shared use pavements do not make a Dutch-quality cycling environment. It seems that TfL’s main goal here is to not remove even one inch of space from motor vehicle users. The new widened footways are currently tarmac with white paint on them – a bodge from when this junction gave even more space to motor vehicles than it currently does.

There’s tons of space here for a proper design. Why are TfL obsessed with keeping two lanes for each arm of the roundabout? All four roads are single-lane anyway so there’s no need to have two lanes for each road on the roundabout. As a driver I find this annoying and stressful – as soon as you have left the roundabout you have to merge with the other lane.

This whole design stinks of business-as-usual and if it gets installed as currently designed then it will be a massive missed opportunity. So I implore you to tell TfL what you think about their poor design!

In the spirit of offering constructive criticism I present to you my version of the junction. Consider this a work-in-progress version 0.1, but you’ll get the general idea. (The image below is rotated 90º clockwise, looking at the junction from the east. It’s not an aerial view either, but a 45º bird’s eye view.)

My alternative version of the Lambeth Bridge junction, with Dutch-style separated cycle paths

Even with my cack-handed graphical skills, this looks better already! (Original image taken from Bing Maps, click above for larger version.)

The red paths are the cycle paths, and the white bits are physical barriers – raised kerbs, I expect. It’s not perfect – and I expect it violates a few DfT rules – but it’s much better for cycling than TfL’s original design. I haven’t tackled what happens further along the roads, but Millbank (to the south) has Cycle Superhighway lanes on it which would link up nicely.

Note how no space at all has been taken from pedestrians. (I suspect the odd nibble into the pavement wouldn’t harm, there are some very wide pavements here already.) And no space has been taken from the acres of tarmac available to motor vehicles on the roundabout, either.

Little changes for pedestrians, but cyclists would have priority when going around the roundabout and only give way to pedestrians, once just before joining the roundabout and once just after leaving the roundabout, which seems fair enough to me. I’ve used roundabouts like this in the Netherlands – much bigger, more complex and busier ones, too – and they really do work, for everyone.

Feel free to suggest improvements – maybe we can make a submission to TfL if a technical enough drawing can be made?

I suppose the two main stumbling blocks are:

1) can this be achieved using current UK regulations, and

2) do Boris and TfL have the cojones to keep their promise and actually Go Dutch with junctions like this?

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Scenes from the border

Time for more holiday snaps now!

For some reason, crossing a border seems like it should be and exciting event. Perhaps it’s because most of us live far from a border of any sort. Although I live close to the anti-cycling wastelands of Westminster, the actual border isn’t marked in any way – perhaps there should be a cycle-and-crossbones sign.

While in Maastricht recently, the lure of crossing the border into Belgium got the better of us and we rode out to see it. (The lure of crossing the border into Germany was also present, but more on that later in another post.)

The border itself is a bit of a let down – the Netherlands and Belgium removed their border controls in 1970 so there’s not much to see – but I did find something interesting on the ground. Can you see what it is?

A photo of the border of Netherlands and Belgium. The road surface in Netherlands is much better for cycling.

Can you tell where the border is? (And yes, those are hills in the background.) A sunnier view can be found here.

A close-up of the road at the Netherlands/Belgium border, showing change in road surface

How about a close-up – which side has better cycle facilities?

The change isn’t always as stark as this. In some places the cycling facilities fizzle out before the border, probably in the knowledge that no sane Dutchman is going to ride across it. And in other places the cycling facilities continue some way across the border. But in some locations the difference is even more striking:

Two photos of the same road, one pointing into the Netherlands (with separate cycle path) and one pointing into Belgium (narrow painted cycle lanes).

Belgium vs Netherlands, see it for yourself here (Google Streetview) and here (Bing aerial photos).

The two photos above are taken from the same location, but pointing in different directions, and the difference couldn’t be more stark. I think this road is so wide because it was once a border crossing point, but while the Netherlands has made it a pleasant and safe environment, Belgium has instead decided to utilise the space to use up their surplus road paint supply.

Note how the generous two-way separate cycle path in the Netherlands (which you can see on the left of the top photo) becomes a narrow painted lane at the edge of the road in Belgium. Follow the road further south and you’ll see that the narrow painted lane is all you’ll get.

There’s also another one-way cycle path in the top photo, on the other side of the road, to allow northbound cyclists safe access to the two-way cycle path, and to provide access to the waterside.

Here’s another location:

Two photos of the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. Netherlands has separate cycle paths, Belgium has narrow painted lanes.

Which side looks more attractive to cycling to you? See it for yourself here (Google StreetView) or here (Bing aerial photos).

Again, good quality separated cycle paths turn into narrow painted lanes at the border.

Is there a point to this post? I don’t think so, other than that I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting. And because I love the Netherlands! (Belgium will have to work harder to win my love.)

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No entry (except to cyclists with 20:20 vision)

See update at the bottom of this post!

Southwark Council have decided to add some “except cycles” signs to the junction of Steedman Street and Walworth Road, but it seems that they spent all their budget elsewhere and had to scrape together to buy the smallest ones they could…

Photo of junction in Southwark. Large no-entry signs, but except-cycles signs invisible from across the road

Can you see them?

Zoomed-in close-up of large no-entry sign with tiny except-cycles sign beneath

Ah, there it is!

The irony is that the cycle exemption signs here are completely unnecessary anyway – cyclists don’t go between the two no entry signs, but down the cycle bypass to the left of the illuminated bollard. So these signs add nothing of value for cyclists whatsoever, but I’m sure it will look good in their end of year report when the council claims to have installed new cycle contraflows.

Still, it makes a change from authorities actively harming cycling. I’m sure that the cyclists of Waltham Forest would be happier if their council stuck to this sort of zero effect meddling.

So congratulations to Southwark Council for installing the most pointless but harmless cycle infrastructure of the month!


Update: I’ve been told that these signs have in fact been in place since 2003, which means that they were illegal for eight years! I’d assumed they’d been added with the changes to the regulations in 2011. Either way, they’ve never been necessary as cyclist heading in that direction never passed between the signs, but down the cycle path to the left.

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The government is also guilty

I was preparing a piece on the recent death of Hichame Bouadimi on St. George’s Road in London, and although Charlie Holland and Freewheeler have already written fine articles about it (and Charlie wrote about the road back in January), I’d like to add my thoughts.

The death took place on a road that I walk or cycle along pretty often. I’d been planning to write about it for some time, in fact, as the whole road is unnecessarily wide with few crossings, no facilities for bikes, and it runs beside three schools and a park. It’s essentially a motorway which has been driven through the heart of a community, and a perfect example of over-provision for motor vehicles. Unless this road is changed there will be more deaths like this.

Photo of the location of Hichame Bouadimi's avoidable death. A police sign appeals for witnesses, a signpost is covered in flowers and balloons in tribute to the young boy.

Where it happened. How have we as a nation become so used to seeing flowers by the road, without demanding change from our government?

The craziest thing about this road is that the traffic levels aren’t that high – there is no reason for it to be this wide. I was there on Friday at rush hour (from about 4.30pm – 6.30pm) and the queues of cars were so short that every green phase cleared the whole junction of vehicles.

This leads me to see a problem endemic in UK street and road design: the default is to make a road as wide and as fast as possible, and any restrictions on driving must be justified, in triplicate, signed and counter-signed and finally buried in soft peat for three months before being reused as firelighters. (Or something like that.) As a result, St. George’s Road is one-way with four wide lanes and a 30mph speed limit which is almost constantly ignored.

But I can’t entirely blame the users of this road for driving too fast. If it was just one driver, sure, throw the book at them – but the fact that almost everyone exceeds the speed limit here tells us that the design is at fault. Let’s take a look at the what the driver of the vehicle which caused the latest fatality must have been seeing as he looked out of his cab window:

Four wide lanes, all one-way, running beside a school. Motorway design running through a community.

Does this look like a 30mph road running through a residential area full of schools?

The road design here invites fast driving. There’s a park on the left which includes play and sports facilities, a school on the right (near where the black car is), and there are two other schools on this road. The photo above was taken at around 5pm on a Friday – if the road needed to be this wide, there would be queues of cars here. As you can see, it’s very quiet. (And where are the crossing points?)

This isn’t right. Hichame’s death was avoidable, yet Boris Johnson and TfL are still focussed on increasing the speed of motor vehicles in the city.

As Freewheeler says,

“…in this particular instance the primary blame for this latest tragedy rests firmly with Transport for London. It was the infrastructure that created the conditions for the violent death of this child. And TfL is resisting all efforts to change direction. It remains firmly committed to the ‘smoother traffic flow’ agenda.”

But I don’t think those in charge give a toss about us normal people. My first post on this blog was about the death of Gary Mason in January 2011, which occurred because a driver took advantage of poor road design. The image accompanying that piece were taken by Google Streetview in 2008, showing the road layout which contributed to the tragedy. Since then, Google has been back in town and updated its images in May 2012, one-and-a-half years since Gary’s death. Surely the council has made some changes to rectify this lethal junction?

Nope, they’ve done nothing at all. This makes me sad and angry. Whoever is responsible for this road should hang their head in shame. It would be so cheap and easy to fix this junction, yet those responsible continue to do nothing. This is an insult to Gary Mason’s family. Will the same inaction occur on St. George’s Road?

It doesn’t have to be this way. There will be more deaths if Boris sticks to his “smoothing traffic flow” (i.e. increasing vehicle speeds) mantra and if central government remains car-focussed. To all who are responsible for the roads and aren’t arguing against this type of mentality, let the next death and all those to follow be upon your conscience.

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The DfT pays lip service to cycling again

In September 2012 the Department for Transport released a document called Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists. It’s a strange title, as it mainly discusses cycle paths, although it’s careful to only ever call them “shared use” paths. Dutch-style cycle paths which are separated from the road but beside the footpath are bizarrely called “segregated shared use” but the infamous white-line-down-the-middle-of-the-pavement design also shares this name. I suspect this is because cycle tracks don’t legally exist in the UK – they’re either part of the carriageway (AKA the road) or part of the footway (AKA the path).

There are some good points made in the document, including an admission that

“There are many such examples that have been implemented inappropriately and/or poorly designed … It is essential for designers to understand that shared use is not the ‘easy fix’ it might appear to be.”

Less encouragingly, the document is poisoned by the Hierarchy of Provision and the dead hand of anti-cyclist John Franklin can also be seen:

Stupid diagram of poorly designed road junction with cycle path, which claims to prove that cycle paths are dangerous.

THIS IS NOT HOW THE DUTCH DESIGN CYCLE PATHS AT JUNCTIONS, OKAY? THIS IS NOT WHAT WE’RE ASKING FOR! (Note the similarity to this image from Franklin’s stupid book.)

I’m so sick of seeing this goddamned picture! This is NOT how cycle paths are designed in the Netherlands, and this is NOT what any campaigner in the UK is asking for. This design is so out of date it’s irrelevant. Why even mention it? Does the NHS IT department write about the poor keyboard on the ZX81? No, of course not, it’s a very old design which isn’t relevant today.

The simplest and most obvious answer is that the DfT have taken advice from Franklin’s zombie army of vehicular cycling fundamentalists somewhere along the line, and his 25-year misinformation campaign chalks up another successful infiltration into government policy. It really disappoints me that the DfT can’t think up any solutions to the problems shown in the diagram above. They really couldn’t envisage anything else, other than a cycle track giving way to cars at a minor junction?

I’m not going to go into the document in great detail (and not just because I haven’t read all of it yet) but there’s lots of good advice for UK road planners (such as don’t put signs in the middle of the cycle path – now there’s an idea!) and some not-so-good advice (a bizarre semi-separate cycle path), but the biggest problem is that it’s all just a list of suggestions for councils who might be putting some bike paths in. There’s no actual requirement to install any of this stuff, flawed or not.

I know of a huge road widening project (sorry, “quality bus corridor“) that has recently been completed in Leeds (A65 Kirkstall Road, the section beside Yorkshire Television studios). The road is a major artery from the city centre to the northwest, and it was single lane in each direction until the recent works, although there has always been room to widen it. (You can see the widening in progress here – the original road is still in use at the southern end, which gives you an idea of the scale of the job.) There is now a bus lane and two general lanes on each side of the road – a major upgrade which took months, requiring street lights and drains and utilities to be moved. And what provision is there for cycling? None.

Well, almost none. There’s a bus-and-bike lane, which is very wide – the intention being that bike riders overtake stopped buses, and buses overtake bike riders between stops. This stupid leapfrogging is dangerous and stressful, it’s certainly not an attractive cycling environment. (Sorry, “provision for cyclists to use the new bus lane and enjoy a safer and easier ride.” Who wrote this crap?) There’s plenty of space there for cycle paths, and if they’d been installed when the road was redesigned then we’d have got them for free, or very nearly, as the extra cost involved would have been peanuts compared to the costs of the whole project. But now the work is done, Norman Baker has proudly cut the ribbon on more car-centric infrastructure, and another opportunity to improve conditions for bike riding has been missed.

(Does anyone really believe it is desirabe to mix bikes and buses, or is it just a cheap get-out?)

Until there is a legal requirement to install cycle facilities, it will fall to local campaigners to push for changes – and for local councils to ignore them. We need change from the top, the DfT or Number 10 must legislate installation of quality cycle routes.

Kirkstall Road in Leeds, 2006 and 2012. Lots of road widening, nothing but a shared bus-and-bike lane for cyclists.

This is further along Kirkstall Road, where there’s only two lanes each way, but the message is the same: an expensive road widening scheme offers nothing for cyclists. We could have got the infrastructure for little extra cost if it was included in the widening scheme. (Photos by Rich Tea, from Geograph.)

Footnote: While we’re on the subject, does anyone want to own up to being responsible for TfL’s Cycle Superhighways being on-carriageway? They say they consulted cyclists and were told that they wanted to remain on the road, which gave them the perfect excuse to install nothing but blue paint. Would anyone like to confess to this?

Also, this topic is also covered on As Easy As Riding A Bike.

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