Monthly Archives: June 2012

Frankly, Mr. Franklin

[Note: This is a follow-up to this earlier, angrier post.]

Don’t worry, this site isn’t going to turn into the anti-Franklin daily (though that’s not a bad idea for a blog), but why does he make it so easy to debunk his nonsense? I only had to scratch the surface to find more. Why are his views on infrastructure so well-respected? Someone please tell me!

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

I gratefully receive all comments, even Franklin supporters are welcome to try and defend him. In this comment to my previous post, Will Bramhill suggested that Franklin’s 1999 Milton Keynes report was written before the success of the Dutch cycle infrastructure was known about.

However, one of the references on the MK report is a study from 1991 titled “Changed Travel – Better World, a comparison of Milton Keynes and Almere, Netherlands.” I found an abstract of it here, which tells us that:

“The proportions of trips that were by car were 65.7% in Milton Keynes and 43.1% in Almere; the proportions made by bicycle were 5.8% and 27.5%, respectively.”

So even in 1991, in Almere, over a quarter of journeys were made by bike, and Franklin knew this by 1999 — but it seems he didn’t think it worth finding out why. And yet it gets better!

“For all purposes and all destinations, the people of Almere walk and cycle much more than those of Milton Keynes, due to higher level of bicycle ownership and more user-friendly segregated cycle routes.” [emphasis mine]

I think that’s worth repeating, in case any anti-infrastructure types missed it: “the people of Almere walk and cycle much more than those of Milton Keynes, due to higher level of bicycle ownership and more user-friendly segregated cycle routes.” (And I dare say that the high level of bike ownership has something to do with the presence of the cycle routes, too.)

Why did Franklin ignore this major conclusion of the study? Seriously: What the hell? He used it to get the number of bikes per household in Milton Keynes, then didn’t read the rest? Was he in that much of a rush that he couldn’t take a look at the last paragraph?

The report is essentially saying that cycle paths are a good thing responsible for a high cycling rate, yet Franklin insists that on-the-road is the only way to cycle. Does he think that all those bike journeys in Almere are made despite the safe, traffic-free routes?

More Swearing

So for a long time now he’s been aware of the Netherlands’ very high cycling rate — and the reasons for it — yet he keeps looking the other way and pretending it’s not happening. Well, it’s over. John Franklin can fuck right off. Seriously, if you see anyone piping up with this riding-in-traffic-is-best bullshit, point them to these posts, so they can be told to fuck off too. I’ve had it with this crap, John Franklin has had too much influence for too long.

He can fuck off with with all these ancient references, too — the Netherlands proves him wrong. AN ENTIRE COUNTRY PROVES HIM WRONG. How wrong can one man be?


While I’m at it, why do he and his followers continue to use this ancient image of a poor junction design that the Dutch haven’t used for decades? The image in his book Cyclecraft, which is meant to be about Vehicular Cycling but contains anti-infrastructure rhetoric for no good reason. The linked page is on a Bikeability trainer’s site, so it seems that there is a definite overlap between Franklin’s book and infrastructure resistance. (No, I’m not accusing all trainers of being VC zealots. Just that one.) [Note: The cycle training site I had originally linked to has now disappeared, so I’ve replaced it with a link to a similar image.]

It seems to me that you’d have to be exceptionally unimaginative, maybe even somewhat dense, to assume that just because one example of something is bad, then all other types of that thing must be bad too. Note to John & Co.: Just because we have very poor cycle facilities in the UK today, doesn’t mean that good cycle facilities are impossible. (Though it won’t help much if you keep spreading shit about them.)

Dear John

Seriously; John, if you’re reading this: I don’t know you personally — maybe you’re a lovely guy — this is an attack on your “professional” work. I can see that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort disseminating anti-cycleway propaganda, and it may seem difficult to climb down now, but it really is time to stop. Give it up. People are dying out there on the roads.

You don’t even have to apologise (though it would be nice), just admit that you were wrong about cycleways being a bad thing. You can still make money from your book (though you might remove the negative bits about cycle paths). Maybe you can even join others in promoting real, positive change for cycling in Britain. Come on John, let’s be friends, let bygones be bygones, then we can work together to improve Britain’s roads and streets for everyone.

And if you do, I’ll write a nice post about you, I promise.

Sorry about all the swearing but I can’t help it. I really do find it that frustrating to read his stuff.


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Fuck you, John Franklin

[Note: There’s a follow-up post, written a few days after this one, here.]

It is my opinion that John Franklin is a selfish fool who has harmed cycling in this country and endangered lives through his advice. This blog post gives my personal view of him and his work.

If John Franklin’s aim was to keep cycling as a niche activity practised by a tiny minority of confident men, then congratulations! Success! Well done! You may now stop reading.

If John Franklin’s aim was to help riding a bike become an activity which is easy for everyone — men and women, from toddlers to pensioners — then he has failed.

John Who?

If you don’t know who John Franklin is, he’s the author of Cyclecraft, the guide to riding a bike on the road. That in itself is fine, as it contains good advice for riding on Britain’s motor-dominated roads (though it may sound crazy to you that riding in traffic is also aimed at children, and this is actually promoted by the government).

The problem is that he opposes a type of road design which is proven to increase cycling rates and safety and which offers a better way of life for everyone, and not just for “cyclists” either. And unfortunately for anyone who would like to go for a bike ride without battling the traffic, he is quite influential.

So I feel that his work here has ultimately resulted in parents being afraid for their children to ride a bike to school, it’s why nipping to the shops on a bike can feel like an extreme sport, and the reason that for decades cycling in the UK has remained a niche activity, instead of the mass transport option it could be. Also, he is part of the reason that, for me, a Sunday evening pleasure ride turned into a nerve-wracking endurance test from hell.

He’s the king of Vehicular Cycling, which is closely linked to the Right to Ride. The non-cyclist will ask ‘what’s that?’  and the answers might well sound ridiculous to them.

Cyclecraft, AKA Vehicular Cycling

John Franklin quite literally wrote the book on it, but essentially Vehicular Cycling describes a method of riding a bike like you’re driving a car. You dominate the lane, you flow with the cars and vans, and you are almost certainly a middle-class male aged 20-50. (You’re probably also dressed up like a traffic cone at Christmas, but that’s optional.)

You also ignore all the close-passing taxis, pretend that the driver behind you isn’t impatiently blaring their horn, and convince yourself that it’s a perfectly fine way for people of all ages to travel.

I must assume that Franklin can’t see past the end of own nose (it seems patently obvious to me why this way of travelling appeals to pretty much no-one) otherwise he wouldn’t still be ploughing the same failed furrow 25 years on. Surely it’s not hard to see why cycling like this is very unpleasant?

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of people don’t want to ride a bike amongst motor traffic. Whatever the numbers say (cycling is statistically safe) riding a bike on the road doesn’t feel safe. It’s awful, and the woman on her mobile phone who almost knocked me off by turning left right in front of me (actually hit my front wheel!) did not dispel that view. Nor did the taxi which failed to stop at the STOP sign, causing me to emergency brake. Nor did the other taxi which, annoyed because I was legally and properly riding along Victoria Embankment, decided to pass me with only centimetres distance, despite there being an empty lane he could have used (and he was turning right anyway!). And – finally for this lovely Sunday jaunt – the speeding Terravision coach which passed dangerously close to me just so it could get around the junction of Westminster Bridge Road and Lambeth Palace Road before the lights changed.

(Incidentally, this isn’t the only aggressive Terravision driver I’ve encountered, and certainly not the first one to make a deadly manoeuvre. Are Terravision the new Addison Lee?

No amount of Vehicular Cycling made any of this easier or attractive, by the way, as it’s just a way to deal with the horror. The taxi driver intentionally passed too close, even though there was a whole extra lane he could have used. Cycling on the road is unpleasant, it’s stressful, and it’s the reason why nobody in Britain cycles any more.*

The real solution to our traffic problems, which John Franklin actively opposes, is proper infrastructure for bikes. It is possible, it is affordable, and all the answers are easily available across the North Sea in the Netherlands.

The Right to Ride

It’s the right to ride a bike on the road. It’s the right to ride on the busy bypass. It’s the right to ride around the big gyratory. It’s the right to ride amongst traffic speeding at 80mph. That might be a right that you don’t exercise yourself — nor do the vast majority of the public who don’t touch a bike from one year to the next — and I don’t blame you one bit. But it is a fiercely-defended right, and so it should be.

I do actually believe in the Right to Ride on the road — there’s nowhere else to ride in the UK, after all. But many of the Right to Ride faithful, John Franklin included, are also a force against everyone else’s actual right to ride confidently and safely in the real world. By opposing proper Dutch-style infrastructure, they are saying we must not make cycling suitable for everyone, as that may theoretically erode my right to the dual carriageway!

By blocking the building of bike paths, these people therefore prevent the majority of people from feeling safe enough to ever use a bicycle. Because this tiny minority of the population fear it will impact on their right to cycle on the road, they oppose something which would be beneficial to the other 99% of society. This is such an incredibly selfish act, and anyone who has campaigned to block the building Dutch-style cycle paths should hang their heads in shame.

Pubcraft, AKA Thugular Drinking

How about an analogy to lighten the mood?

We all have a right to enter that horrible pub on the rough estate — you know the one, full of aggressive, drunk men who stare threateningly at you as you enter. For some reason my right to enter pubs like that is not one I use often, if ever, and I can’t imagine that many other people do either. It’s just easier not to bother, I’ll go somewhere else instead.

I’m sure that maybe 3% of the nicer local characters do go into this pub, however. Maybe on match days it increases to 10% — safety in numbers, right? And perhaps there’s a book called Pubcraft which describes the best way to deal with drunken thugs, and the best way to avoid getting punched in the nightly fight.

And the worst thing is, the people who use this pub are actively blocking the building of a swimming pool nearby! Though the pool will be used by and benefit the whole community, it will mean the pub-goers can’t walk across the corner of the waste ground to get home any more! They might have to walk around the newly-built swimming pool, though they haven’t seen the designs yet so they’re not entirely sure, but this pool must be stopped at all costs! Even if we have to lie about the safety of swimming pools to turn people against it…

The Right to Reality

These rights are now, in 2012, largely theoretical. They’ve gone. The pub is, in reality, a thug’s pub, and the UK’s roads – as far as the vast majority of the population are concerned – belong to the cars and taxis and lorries and vans and motorbikes, and no amount of point-scoring or Lycra or helmet-cams are going to change that. The 3% modal share for cycling is pathetic. The war on the motorist is over, and the internal combustion engine won. I’m not happy about it, but that’s where the UK stands right now.

Yes, those who wish to use it do have the right to ride a bike on the road. The CTC and others do great work in supporting that right when it is threatened. Let me emphasise once more that I agree with the Right to Ride. But it shouldn’t be at odds with safe and convenient Dutch-style cycling provision.

Back to John

So, apart from being the poster child for VC and the anti-infrastructure branch of the Right to Ride, the government turns to him for advice. I can hardly believe it’s true, but it is.

Having read this report (PDF) I think I know why UK highway authorities turn to him for advice: it’s because he’s cheap. Well, not the man himself — I don’t know how much he charges for reports like this — but, to my mind, his recommendations are so small and don’t really challenge the dominance of motor vehicles that they must be cheap to implement. It enables councils to say they’re supporting cycling but without actually doing much to change the roads.

Franklin is clearly against having separate cycle ways — the kind that have proven to be so successful in the Netherlands — stating…

“The potential for increasing cycling through separate cycle facilities … is very limited and experience has shown that these can sometimes be counter-productive in terms of cycle use, safety and encouraging attitudes helpful to more cycling. Instead, there is a need to recognise that most cycling takes places on roads with other traffic, that this will remain the case in the future and that those aspects of road design and traffic management that deter cycling need to be re-examined and policies reconsidered.”

So despite all the evidence which proves that cycling infrastructure increases both cycling rates and cycling safety, John Franklin really is saying that cycle-specific stuff is bad and dangerous, and everyone should ride on the road with those nice, safe lorries. This includes your 5 year old niece, and your 85 year old great-grandad, by the way — it must include them, otherwise what sort of a transport policy would this be if it excluded all but the fittest and most confident?

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

One of the most frustrating things about Franklin and his ilk is their ability to selectively choose and misread data to fit their ideology.

In this article from 1999 Franklin points out that in Milton Keynes (which does have separated cycle paths, though they’re very poor by Dutch standards) there are sometimes more accidents on the “redways” (the cycle tracks) than on the roads, but doesn’t actually count the proportion of cycle journeys made on the redways as opposed to the roads. Without this information, his table of accidents is useless — the redways could carry 99% of bike traffic in Milton Keynes, which would make them extremely safe. Who knows, as he hasn’t included those numbers, just the ones that suit him.

You’ll also find that his articles often quote hard numbers rather than percentages, a statistical sleight-of-hand which can be very misleading. With the Milton Keynes data, he also splits up the roads into different types which makes the on-road accident rate appear lower, and claims without evidence that there is “considerable underreporting” of accidents on the redways. Most of the accidents on the redways are down to the faults with their design — badly designed junctions, steep slopes, etc. — than with the concept of cycle paths per se.

Just because there are problems with cycle paths in Milton Keynes doesn’t mean that all cycle path designs are bad (do I have to mention the Netherlands again?). I don’t think any cycle path campaigner is suggesting we use Milton Keynes as a blueprint.

Redeeming Features

Of course, I’m not suggesting that John Franklin is an evil man — that would be ridiculous — but I believe him to be a misguided and ideologically blinkered man. I agree that poor cycle lane design does more harm than good, and he rightly criticises the atrocious white lines and green paint that successive UK governments have had the gall to suggest is cycling infrastructure.

He isn’t entirely immune to the charms of the Dutch, either. In this document (PDF) from 2009, in addition to describing the UK’s current dreadful infrastructure, he includes a photo of a good quality Dutch cycle path and writes:

“…not to say that cycling infrastructure is never appropriate. However, there are probably few aspects of traffic engineering where getting the detail right is so important. The Dutch example [in the photo] shows how cycle tracks should be. A decent verge, centre lines, a good and unobstructed surface and a separate footway for pedestrians. Good forward visibility, no close vegetation and signs to warn of all hazards are also important as, of course, is safety and ease of use at junctions. A cyclist should at all times expect to receive a similar level of service to that on a road.”

I almost fell off my chair! John Franklin supports Dutch-style cycle paths! But then I read the rest of the document, and realised that it was just a brief out-of-character moment for him. (I imagine he felt a bit dizzy while writing it.) Apart from that, it’s the usual diagrams of bad junction designs which the Dutch stopped using in the 1970s, and quotes from bodies not renowned for their cycling expertise (is the Viennese state known for its bike paths?) backing up his foregone conclusions. How can he look at what the Dutch have and yet still oppose it in the UK?

(Maybe I should have ignored the rest of the PDF, focussed on that paragraph and written an article all about how John Franklin loves separated cycle paths? Seems to be the done thing, after all!)

He ends the above document with two quotes. The first quote is from another John F — his US equivalent John Forrester, similar in both name and ideology — stating the usual treat-bikes-as-cars bullshit which is so absurd that I’m not going to repeat it. The second quote is from Ernest Marples, a former Minister of Transport, though instead of backing up John and his stateside twin, it is surely an endorsement of the Netherlands’ approach to cycling:

“If you make conditions right, there’s a great future for cycling. If you make them wrong, there’s none.”

Which country got it right, and which country is doing it wrong?

My conclusions

I believe that the anti-infrastructure policies that Franklin promotes are responsible for the high cycling death toll on Britain’s roads.

I think only the insane would prefer using a bike as transport in the UK over the Netherlands.

I have to assume that John Franklin is a selfish idiot. He doesn’t seem to care whether people ride a bike or not, just so he can keep selling his stupid book and telling councils that people on bikes should mix with motor traffic.

The same goes for others who would deny us proper Dutch-style cycle paths, despite it being obvious that the Netherlands’ solution is better.

To those of you who would defend Franklin and his anti-infrastructure stance, answer me these questions:

  1. People in which country make more journeys by bike, the Netherlands or the UK?
  2. Which country has the most cycling infrastructure, the Netherlands or the UK?
  3. Which country — the Netherlands or the UK — has a 89% national average cycle-to-school rate, and which country has a 1% national average cycle-to-school rate?
  4. In which country — the Netherlands or the UK — is it considered normal for nine year-olds to travel independently by bike?

If you can answer these questions correctly, then you must know that Dutch-style infrastructure is right, and John Franklin is wrong to oppose it.

Final remarks

To finish, I would like to say once more — and I really mean this, from the bottom of my heart — fuck you, John Franklin.

* While “nobody cycles any more” is obviously not technically true, it’s true enough: Similarly, around 3% of UK households don’t have a television, but if someone said “everyone has a television” it would probably go unchallenged, as an accurate enough generalisation for common discourse. Funnily enough, 3% is more or less the number of people who ride bikes, see p7 and p12 here for example.

Note, added 20:45 – Before you comment, may I reiterate here that I’m not against Vehicular Cycling or the Right to Ride (both are currently essential when riding a bike in the UK). I am against VC and RtR being the only options, at the expense of proper infrastructure: filtered permeability, lower speed limits, etc., in addition to cycle paths.

Update, 30th July 2012: I corrected the Netherlands average cycle-to-school rate from 95% to 89%. Impressive and far ahead of anywhere else, either way.


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Does the DfT listen? Fingers crossed!

Government should always be a two-way street – those in charge should always listen to what the public is saying, and act upon the real-world conditions. Otherwise, you end up with some ideal-world utopian fantasy like the Highway Code.

At the end of 2011, the DfT changed the rules around some signs, at the request of local authorities who wanted to make changes to roads that weren’t legally possible. For example, until late 2011 it wasn’t possible for a council to add “Except Cycles” to a “No Entry” sign. As a result, where councils wanted a “one-way for cars, two-way for bikes” street, they had to work around the existing regulations. One solution was to add a “No Motor Vehicles” sign at one end, or to have a small filter lane to the side of “No Entry” signs. The “No Motor Vehicles” sign is often flouted, and the side-lane took up more space than was necessary, so allowing a “No Entry Except Cycles” sign gives councils a cheap and effective way to make a one-way street useable in both directions for people riding bikes.

This is good, and I congratulate the DfT for being flexible and reasonable! I hope they continue to adapt the UK’s streets and roads rulebook to reflect life on the ground in the 21st century. [Update, 5th July 2012: I just read that it took years for the DfT to agree to trial this, in Cambridge. Thank you Cambridge council, for pushing this!]

With this in mind, I was pleased to read that Transport for London (TfL) are talking to the DfT about introducing guidelines for bike infrastructure, because…

Bikes are the solution to most of our traffic problems.

There, I said it. You might not like the sound of it, or you might think it sounds fanciful, but it’s the truth, and it’s backed up by decades of research and statistics. The Netherlands has fewer traffic jams despite having higher car ownership and longer commutes than the UK. (See here and here.)

How is this achieved? Most short journeys are made by bike. And not by the Lycra-and-helmet speed warriors who you think of when you hear the word “cyclist” but by everyone – young and old. Even the over-65s make 1 in 4 journeys by bike, on average.

So, the solution to reducing congestion is to build bike paths and other infrastructure, and to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport over the needs of private cars. And cycle infrastructure shouldn’t be designed like what we currently have in the UK (a bit of paint down the side of the main road here, a ‘Cyclists Dismount’ sign there), but actual separated bike paths, wide and well-maintained.

I should say here that I am not a cyclist, any more than I’m a pedestrian or a motorist. I’ve never worn Lycra to my knowledge, never worn a bike helmet, I don’t even own a bike! (I use the hire bikes in London.) I’m just a person who sometimes rides a bike, sometimes walks, sometimes rides in cars, and sometimes drives a van. Believe me, I’m very impartial and balanced here when I say that the UK needs better bike infrastructure, and less bias towards motor traffic, even if it inconveniences me occasionally.

By starting to use the hire bikes in London, I have gained some perspective on the UK’s road and street system: it’s heavily skewed to discourage bike use and promote car use, which is why cycling rates have flatlined for decades, despite what successive governments have promised. Cycling should be easy and enjoyable, not arduous and stressful. It should be an option for everyone of all ages and abilities, not restricted to fit, fast young men.

How does this relate to the DfT? Well, they make the rules, and right now they’re not very good. 

If a council wanted to put in separate bike traffic lights at eye-level for cyclists, they can’t. It’s not allowed by the DfT. (In fact, to have a road-facing red light anything but the standard large and round isn’t allowed, unlike on the continent, where a red light can be for turning traffic only, or for bikes only, etc.)

If a council wanted to put in a separated bike lane beside a road, they can, but they have to make it up for themselves, as there’s no national rules about infrastructure provision for bikes, beyond the crap we have now.

The reason that traffic lights are the same in Penzance as they are in Dundee, the reason that the road markings are the same in Edinburgh as they are in London, is because the DfT sets out the rules that the Highways Agency and local authorities must follow.

So the reason that provision for bikes is crap throughout the UK is the same: it’s because the DfT’s rules for cycling infrastructure are poor.

So it is very good news that TfL are talking to the DfT about bike infrastructure. TfL don’t have the best track record when it comes to bikes, despite what the BoJo PR machine might have you think. so we don’t know yet what these discussions might yield. But if something positive comes out of these discussions, then we should see the benefits nationwide, not just in London.

Fingers crossed, the DfT might even take a look across the North Sea and find inspiration about how to implement bike-friendly infrastructure.

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