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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12 Comments

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12 responses to “As Turbogate trundles on, people wonder what is being done in their name

  1. Pingback: This isn’t a Cycle Safety Fund, this is Space for Motoring | The Alternative Department for Transport

  2. Pingback: Bedford Borough Council traffic department, you are a bunch of cretins | The Alternative Department for Transport

  3. Paul Gannon

    I hope you don’t make this your last posting on this misconceived plan – if we keep on at it there is a small chance that DoT will decide not to give the go ahead (as they seem to have a say in all sorts of local projects) if only to avoid the continuing avalanche of bad publicity. It would be nice to see CTC, Sustrans & Cyclenation get together & withdraw support for the scheme – before they find their members remove support for them. Thank goodness for the internet which has allowed the reaction to gain a voice over the previously invisible work of such committees and the clearly inappropriate people appointed to them by our organisations.

  4. There is precious little chance of this project not going ahead. The only pressure we can bring to bear is on the muppets who run the cycling campaigns. They need to feel that a revisit of this kind of rubbish is not worth it. That their pathetic excuses won’t wash with their members. Then at least we won’t get crap that’s got the “approved by cyclists” logo on it.

    Every member needs to keep pushing them, or leave them and join the Cycling Embassy of GB. They won’t rubber stamp this type of crap.

  5. Paul M

    Looks to me like a cynical ploy to pander to motoring interests without upsetting council tax payers (broadly, the same people) by raiding a fund not paid for from local resources. Someone tells you there is a Dutch design so you immediately think Kerching – cycling budget. Then you find a bunch of compliant “cycle campaigners” who are willing to go along with you because the utterly incidental benefit to cyclists is better than nothing at all and they don’t know how else to spend the money anyway.

    Possibly the reason why the CPRE has a seat at this table is because they invited Ralph Smyth – CPRE’s senior transport campaigner (mainly active on opposition to HS2) and prior to his taking up that post the City of London branch of LCC. He’s a very knowledgeable guy but I wouldn’t describe him as a CEoGB type. Rather more has been achieved in the City since Danny Williams stepped into the vacuum that was CoL LCC after Ralph moved on.

  6. I’d just like to make one correction to the above – the Cyclenation response wasn’t written by me, it was produced by the Board although I had a hand in drafting it. I’m the guy with the passwords for the account so I get to post to the blog, lucky me. Right now I’m responding as an individual. Like you I hope this is the last comment I have to make on this particular scheme, although I suspect it won’t be. Probably worth reminding people of the context behind the scheme. Norman Baker was the Lib Dem minister responsible for cycling in a government led by tories who really didn’t give a toss about sustainable transport, Boris and David’s bike photo-ops notwithstanding – they killed off Cycling England in bonfire of the quangos, remember? The Times kicked off the “Cities Safe for Cycling” campaign and ran the articles about the most dangerous places in the UK for cycling. This led to a knee-jerk reaction from the government and Norman managed to extract the £20m from the DfT for this programme, which everyone including CEoGB cheered about at the time. (I accept that you adopted a more cynical tone) We were asked to participate in that committee (LIb Dems love workshops, focus groups etc) and John Franklin volunteered to do it- we didn’t even pay him travel expenses. Whatever you think about Franklin he has 30 years or so of experience in the field and has written extensively about the importance of high standards in cycle facilities. He doesn’t appear to want to engage with the people who criticise him on blogs and so forth which I think is a pity but that’s a matter for him.

    If a board member had had the time to do it we might well have sent him, but we are all volunteers with day jobs, etc etc. I still think he did a good job assessing the schemes – there were around 130 and 96 got approved and no doubt some of the other ones are not perfect either. The criteria on which they were assessed was quite simply “would this scheme make the location safer for cyclists, or not?” Now some commenters have suggested that we should have said that the whole thing was pants and refused to participate. If we had done that, two things might have happened – the DfT might have gone ahead and put the schemes in without the campaigning world having the opportunity to even attempt to improve the schemes, or nothing might have happened and the high rate of cyclist casualties at those locations would have continued. I wouldn’t want the second scenario on my conscience.

    If you look at that particular location in Bedford – I have cycled & driven round it in it’s current form and hated it – supposing it was re-modelled to the highest Dutch standards, that would be great, but once you got off the roundabout what would happen? You would be back on the same old cycle-unfriendly Bedford streets. Those people who have pointed out that this isn’t the way to build infrastructure for cycling are absolutely right – we need a long term, sustained and properly funded commitment to cycling in this country, which is what the #space4cycling campaign is about. Infrastructure is important but it is not the whole story – my good friend Angela van der Kloof works to train migrant women in Holland to cycle because without that skill these women are excluded from Dutch culture. We’ve lost the mass cycling culture in the UK and it will take more than some bright shiny cycle lanes to get it back again.

    The Cyclenation board has learnt some lessons from this issue and we will be looking at how we manage this sort of initiative where a quick response is needed in the future. We are in any case launching a consultation on the future of the organisation with the member groups which will be resolved, we hope, at our AGM in Birmingham on May 31st. I personally feel that we work best when we have a consensus with the other cycling organisations (including CEoGB-there is a clear area of agreement between us that standards of provision for cycling are needed, although we have encountered resistance to that idea from transport planners) we are after all united by a belief that cycling is an essential part of the transport mix and aware (I hope) of the beneficial impact on climate change, health congestion and social inclusion that more cycling brings. How we bring that change about remains a matter for debate and I welcome that as long as respect is maintained between the debaters.

    A last comment about Bedford, and this goes back many years. I had a couple of hours to wait for a train so I cycled about the place which wasn’t very enjoyable. So I went to a pub and bought a pint of beer and sat in the pub garden. The pub dog came over and pissed on my panniers. That just about summed up the place for me.

  7. Right, so John Franklin whose views are diametrically opposed to any proper segregated and safe infrastructure which the CTC claims to support; he volunteers to vet cycle money proposals on your behalf and you just say yes simply because he’s paying all his own expenses. WTF??? Did you even ask anyone else? Anyone at the Cycling Embassy of GB for instance? You don’t get to weasel out of this responsibility so easily.

    • John Franklin was there for CycleNation so I don’t think he can be held to CTC’s policies. Chris Peck was there for CTC. While I disagree with some of John Franklin’s past work, his comments on this have been the best I’ve seen so far. I feel the most pressure should be directed at the cycling bodies that have so far not answered any questions in public: British Cycling and Sustrans.

      Is Cycling Embassy of GB any better? Where is its charter, proceedings, accounts and so on? Could it become another Sustrans, captured by funders of substandard infrastructure in future?

  8. tim

    You cycling guys should take a leaf out of the other two wheel users group MAG Motorcycle action Group they opposed this idea from the start raised kerbs in the middle of the road -wel las a push biker you can imagine the result
    It would do your 1/4 horse power lobby well to liase with you bigger brothers sometimes we sometimes have the same objectives

    • davidhembrow

      As it happens, tim, I agree with you. There can be common objectives. I’m the person who found out about the rubber stamping of this junction design by cycle campaigners (you can read my email and the response here).

      I’d be interested to know if you have figures for danger of these kerbs for motorcycles. Perhaps you may have such from liaison with Dutch motorcycling groups.

  9. Pingback: Bedford’s turbo roundabout plans get even worse | The Alternative Department for Transport

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