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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58 responses to “Fuck you, John Franklin

  1. Franklin’s no more responsible for the majority of cycling deaths than the cyclists involved though – it’s shitty, impatient, inattentive driving, and a road culture that reinforces that, when not actively encouraging it.

    • By using the popularity of his book to spread anti-infrastructure rhetoric amongst government and cyclists, he is indirectly responsible for the lack of proper cycle paths. Who knows, if he hasn’t released his infamously misleading news of the “Helsinki Study” perhaps there’d have been more support for LCN0 back in the early 2000s, enabling the route to be created fully? I agree that the UK’s road culture is horrid and needs taming, but is throwing people on bikes into it really the best solution?

  2. Malcolm Jackson

    Unfortunatly he is a dinosaur, and other dinosaurs listen. There is a new vibe out there but it’s going to take a while to sweep aside the John Franklins of this world. Excellent rant by thf way.

    • Thanks 🙂 I know it’s a bad idea to blog when angry, but whenever I’d read his articles the blood pressure would rise again…

      • If he makes you angry, it’s good to write a blog – it’s going to get more attention than a dull, methodically written blog, and more attention probably means more people are reading it.
        I’m pretty much on board with what you’re saying. Totally agree with the right to ride on all roads (OK we can give the motorways a miss) – and with drumming that concept into the heads of motorists who think we belong 3 inches from the kerb and should use all the shitty “cycle lanes” that the council paints on the road. But I also agree that safe cycling, in the form of segregated cycle lanes, is a must.

    • “but it’s going to take a while to sweep aside the John Franklins of this world.”

      The dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteor. Not saying someone should throw a large rock at Franklin but it would be a fucking start.

    • No need to be so rude. The dinosaurs were a diverse, intelligent group of beings with complex social systems, they evolved and adapted for almost 100 million years to varying conditions. It wasn’t their fault when a huge meteorite hit. So please don’t compare them to some humans who don’t want to adapt. This is really not fair to the dinosaurs.

  3. Farmer Robot

    Nice article, I agree that we’d be better off with Dutch cycle infrastructure on the whole, having lived there for a while and found it much easier to cycle about the place (and cycle with friends who didn’t soil themselves at the thought of going somewhere by bike).

    The thinking that separate cycle infrastructure would result in a loss of ability or right to ride on the roads, in my opinion, is wrong. So I agree with you here. If we had Dutch cycle infrastructure all that would happen is that people who generally are put off riding on the roads would appear as new cyclists. Existing cyclists, confident with road riding would still ride on the roads. There wouldn’t be fewer of them, why would there be. Dutch cycle infrastructure is good for general commuting. It’s not brilliant for powering through town at 30+ mph. For that you’d have far more sense to use the roads. Horses for courses.

    So having said that, these points are going to sound fairly niggley. Sorry in advance.

    1) “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.)” – This is quite a generalising remark which isn’t helpful. To suggest that being female means you by default don’t have the confidence for road cycling or are somehow too timid is quite unnecessary. What is the point of bringing class into this? As there’s scant alternatives to using the roads for cycling in most of Britain, you’ll find a lot of non-middle class, non-males out there cycling with confidence in traffic. The stats may or may not suggest a weight towards this demographic. This is however irrelevant and doesn’t mean that women are all too timid to ride on the roads and assert some kind of presence. Also, Franklin himself doesn’t advocate lighting up like a Christmas tree. He suggests having one good bright front and back light to avoid confusion caused by multiple lights.

    2) Pubcraft. It’s a bad analogy. You don’t have to go into the bad pub. You can drink in a nice pub, you can drink at home, you can do something else. In Britain, most of the time, there is no other option than using the roads. Franklin isn’t blocking anything. If governments are referring to his works or consulting him, or if cycling groups are campaigning for one way of doing things, then that’s fine. It’s a free country (kind of). Other groups can lobby for Dutch style cycling infrastructure. He’s allowed his opinions, I mine and you yours. If the problem is that the opposing opinion is not being listened to by councils then what’s required is better campaigning by other sides.

    3) “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” – This certainly isn’t what I took away from the paragraph, from John, prior to this. “..is very limited and experience has shown that these can sometimes be counter-productive in terms of cycle use” is not the same as “cycle-specific stuff is bad and dangerous”. “Sometimes” being the operative word. I have seen separate cycle facilities (which are not in many cases Dutch style – i.e. they’re parts of a pavement) round here which rather dangerously takes cyclists who use them over mouths of junctions, way out of visibility of motorists with no clear indication of the traffic light situation and how it applies to them. This is laziness on the part of the council and John’s view, on at least the ones I’ve seen around here, I completely agree with. Saying that, the Dutch would laugh at most of our existing separate cycle infrastructure (where it exists). It helps also that in Holland, cars do not have priority at junctions: the road finishes and raises ramps up over the pavements and back down again in most urban settings meaning that pedestrian and cyclist would normally have priority over cars, as opposed to the other way around as it is here. Also cars in Holland have to give way to traffic at a junction to their right (as barmey as this sounds) so tend to be far more cautious around them (this is based on personal experience, not any kind of stats).

    4) I have to completely disagree with this : “I believe that the anti-infrastructure policies that Franklin promotes are responsible for the high cycling death toll on Britain’s roads.” The people solely responsible for high cycling death toll on Britain’s roads are the people who drive cars without slowing down for, leaving appropriate room for, and generally having due consideration for more vulnerable road users. I drive a car as well as ride a bike. I can’t tell you how easy it is to drive properly and safely around bikes. However, a sense of entitlement, importance and impatience seems to be prevalent amongst some road users. If people drove motorised vehicles as they should, then the roads would be far less daunting for potential cyclists. Obviously this isn’t the case and with people like Clarkson and other pro-motorist, hubris filled idiots propagating such attitudes to other drivers it’s likely not to be the case for some time. I agree with you that Dutch style cycle infrastructure would be far more preferable than having to go down the Franklin route of Vehicular Cycling. I do Vehicular Cycling and to be fair, the vast majority of motorists I encounter (though I am not in London) seem to respect this and I have had far fewer dangerous interactions and feel far more in control of what’s going on than before I cycled like this. However, I do encounter the occasional village idiot who beeps their horn or gestures towards the painted cycle lane etc. It does feel unnerving to start with and you do need a lot of confidence to do it (even on the fairly timid roads I ride on to get to work) but I’ve never felt that doing so has put me in more danger. Quite the contrary. If anything Franklin’s book gave me idea and the confidence (that I was doing the “right thing”) to cycle in such a way and it’s really paid off. would I use Dutch style cycle infrastructure if it existed here? Damn right I would. However, I’d sooner do Vehicular Cycling in the road than use some of the cycle infrastructure already installed around these parts.

    I guess what I am getting at in most of this is that, yes I agree, go Dutch. I’d also say that I’d like to see some kind of promotion of Franklin’s defensive cycling on the TV or in some papers, explaining to drivers that if someone has “Taken the lane” that they’re doing it for their own safety and not to simple aggravate the driver or get in the way. We’ve seen successful public info campaigns in the past for the green cross code etc (although this is going back to my childhood). Obviously we’re not going to get Dutch style cycling any time soon. I think Franklin’s objections have mainly been about spending money on schemes similar to the crap (non-Dutch) ones we’ve seen already.

    Anyway, that’s a brain dump of some of the thoughts I had whilst reading your article.



    • Phew, good comment! In response to your numbered points…

      1) I’ve added a link to the DfT’s stats page, there’s more examples I can find if you’d like though. It’s true that most bike riders are men, and that women are more put off by road conditions than men. It is intimidating, after all. In central London we’re seeing more women (and men) on practical bikes with big baskets, but they’re massively outnumbered by men in Lycra. (The traffic cone thing was meant to lighten the mood and poke fun at the UK’s helmet and high-vis culture, which many cyclists in London seem to have signed up to.)

      2) I agree that the analogy falls apart eventually, they always do! But it’s true that most people in the UK avoid going into the cycling-on-the-road pub (as it were) and choose the sitting-in-front-of-the-tv pub, or the going-everywhere-in-a-car pub. You’re right, he is allowed his opinions, and they’ve been listened to and have influenced the roads in this country. It is my opinion that he has done actual, real harm with his views.

      3) You’re right, but John says: “Large roundabouts are one of the few places where speed and strength can be needed as well a vehicular technique. Centre islands and other pinch points on busy roads are causing real increases in risk that vehicular cycling cannot always counteract… None of these problems, however, has a segregated solution, but needs redress in the context of a genuine mixed traffic environment.” Sounds pretty firmly against infrastructure to me!

      4) Perhaps I should have said “partly responsible” because, as you say, we mustn’t forget that it is aggressive or careless drivers are to blame. But the Dutch have “designed out” the dangers posed by bad driving – there are bad drivers in Holland, but they are mostly kept away from people on bikes. JF has fought against these superior, safer designs by saying that they’re more dangerous. (Note that I didn’t say that VC is responsible for road deaths, but John’s anti-infrastructure stance. As you say, VC is good advice for dealing with UK’s roads.)

      Your final point about a public information campaign reminding motorists of the rules and their obligations is a great idea, and would do more for cycling than Boris’ “catch up with the bike” posters. I’d include a reminder to drivers that when turning into a street, pedestrians already on the road have right of way.

  4. Will Bramhill

    This is a disrespectful way to treat anybody, however much you disagree with them. Is your aim to drive wedges into the cracks in the cycle lobby? Such antagonism will get us nowhere … and the DfT will have a huge smile on its face (another excuse not to spend money on cyclists).

    JF is a man of his time. It could be argued that he has kept cycling alive during a dark period when governments were determined to see it fail. His work has encouraged people to cycle on the road at an optimum level of safety. By being an expert witness, he has also supported many riders who have been injured. Bikeability is based on Cyclecraft, and that is providing an introduction to cycling which children wouldn’t get otherwise.

    JF wrote the Redways report probably 20 years ago. To present a critique as if he had written it just this week is ridiculous. Back in the day, the Dutch were still developing their cycle infrastructure (there were some poor examples there at the time), and UK traffic engineers were producing limited but dreadful infrastructure with next to no guidance. JF also highlighted serious flaws in the Redways that wouldn’t be repeated if a similar network were put in today using Dutch expertise.

    When JF was writing, cyclists had next to no influence. He was a realist: how do you get people to cycle if the government will never, in your wildest dreams, build infrastructure at the scale that it is needed? Tebbit may have said “on your bike” but could it have been in the hope that you’d go under an artic on the first roundabout: one less ex-miner on the dole queue? Subjective safety was a pipe dream.

    Today, the huge and growing number of cyclists in London are riding largely without infrastructure using JF’s cyclecraft principles. I suspect casualty rates would be far higher but for JF.

    That growing number of cyclists is increasing cycling’s political clout. The internet is giving campaigners a voice that we’ve never had before, while at the same time allowing David Hembrow to break the dam by explaining Dutch ideas ** in English **. The changes are breathtaking.

    What would JF be promoting if he were a young campaigner today? I suspect something very different. Even if he hasn’t changed his mind on vehicular cycling versus infrastructure, you should acknowledge that he has worked hard as a volunteer to do what he believed to be right in what was a very different landscape. Changing your opinion as an older person is hard.

    What Britain needs now is ** cycle routes ** not cycle paths or the big bad road per se. We need lower speed limits in residential areas and
    on country roads – as the Dutch have. We need cycle infrastructure to make people feel safe – as the Dutch have. Thankfully we have the internet and we can see at the click of a mouse what the Dutch have.

    I think an apology is in order, giving your name rather than hiding behind the anonymity of a blog.

    • This post is disrespectful, intentionally so – JF gets far too much respect, if you ask me. I’m redressing the balance a little.

      Does “man of his time” mean that he’s out of touch? The MK report was in 1999, so yeah, 13 years ago, though I didn’t pretend it was recent. (I will edit the post to specify this.) Even back in 1999, his number-mangling was unscientific and misleading. Seriously, have you read that report? And it was published in a journal!

      To say that “back in the day” the Dutch were still developing is hard to dispute – they’re still developing it today, after all – but by 1981 they were well on their way, and by 1990 they were in a very advanced state. I know that the Internet wasn’t the information mine that it is today, but he must have been aware of what was happening across the North Sea as one of his references in that article is “Changed Travel – Better World, a comparison of Milton Keynes and Almere, Netherlands. London, 1991.” Surely if he’s going to be giving advice on road design (indeed, making a career out of it) then the first thing to do is hop aboard a ferry and see it for himself?

      You make it sound like he was operating in the dark ages, whereas his work – not that long ago – helped to prevent the proper implementation of LCN 0 (in Bloomsbury in London) by sowing seeds of doubt among cycling campaign groups. (Read the linked articles on David Arditti’s site for details.) There were people in the UK campaigning for Dutch-style provision, and his influence helped to prevent it from happening. If local cycling groups had been united, who knows where we’d be today? Maybe even Kings Cross would be safe! But while people insist that VC is the only way of cycling that should be allowed, it will never happen.

      More recently, the Stroud report is from last year, and even on a fast, straight road where there’s already unused space he doesn’t suggest a cycle path!

      Nowhere did I attack VC as a way of coping on the road, I even said it’s a good thing. What I’m attacking here is JF’s opposition to proper infrastructure. (I’m certainly not defending the crap we have currently.)

      Finally, you’re right about cycle routes. The Dutch model is more than just separated cycle paths, it’s about filtered permeability, it’s about lower speed limits, about shifting the culture from motor vehicles to people. But it does include cycle paths, and they’re an important part of the puzzle, and we reject them at our peril.

      I write anonymously so I can be controversial without it affecting my other work. JF will get an apology from me when he apologises for the way he’s held back mass cycling in the UK.

  5. • This dogma is also being spun as “bicycle driving” in the U.S. Because, you know, driver behavior is so appropriate and responsible (e.g. for 40,000 deaths/year in the U.S.) and bicyclists should emulate it (we don’t kill nearly enough people).

  6. Alex

    Great article… I’d retweet if it wasn’t for the swearing! We are so far behind with our cycling infrastructure it’s embarrassing. DESPITE THE EVIDENCE! I suppose its partly political…

    • Yeah, sorry about the swearing but I really do feel it’s justified due to the frustration I feel reading JF’s output. You’re right about it being political; I’m sure it’s because Cyclecraft doesn’t challenge the status quo and is cheap to implement that it’s been endorsed by the government.

      • Erik Griswold

        It is deserved. These men have killed people and left others obese and diabetic.

        • I should head off any libel lawyers here and point out that Erik is not suggesting that anyone has intentionally committed murder or force-fed lard to people. He is saying that anti-infrastructure campaigns and policies ultimately contribute greatly to the dangers which cyclists face on the roads, and discourage others from using a transport method which is proven to be good for one’s health. (Though he did put it more bluntly.) And I agree with that!

          • Erik Griswold

            A late follow-up. How can one libel a public figure?

            • Alex W

              Under present English libel law: very easily. One only needs to write something about them (or say it on TV, radio, a Youtube video etc.) that damages their reputation, and which the individual (who doesn’t get Legal Aid) can’t prove to be true in court when faced with the public figure’s very expensive legal team.

              • Just to clarify that: the person who has written/broadcast the libel is in practice guilty until they can prove themselves innocent by showing that the libel is true or that they had protection, ie, the defamation was committed in court or parliament. Most libel torts are settled before they come to court because of the huge expense, and SC was right to make a prompt response. I was libelled in an email by a councillor who had unwisely copied it to party colleagues. I sent a Letter Before Action with a suggested form of words for an apology – and he sent it to everyone on the original email list. The odd thing about libel is that it doesn’t have to be intentional: a national newspaper a few years ago said a Russian oligarch had bought a house in London in what was otherwise a short, soft piece. In court, her legal team said that this lowered her reputation because it was contrary to her entry on a register of interests in Moscow, and that the influence and extent of the Russian community in London was such that her reputation would have been damaged substantially. Be careful out there!

                On cycling, lobbying is a broad church and I agree with SC in most of what he says, it’s just that our styles are very different.

  7. PaulM

    For myself, I think anger is good, if it is channelled, if it is constructive, if it is righteous. By and large, I think yours is all three.

    Disrespect is also good. In my childhood there was a general assumption of respect for your “elders and betters” which amounted to little more than forelock tugging. Now “respect” has beome little more than “rispeck” as in some yob saying “you dissing me?” Perhaps I wouldn’t asnwer the yob in these terms (i don’t want a knife in my ribs), but respect needs to be earned, not demanded. Franklin hasn’t earned it, in my humble view.

  8. Well, I did tweet it even with the swearing. The best posts are written when angry.

  9. Pingback: Just another typically risky ride on the Westside, and a whole lot of mostly non-Lance links « BikingInLA

  10. Anonymous

    This comment is 100% inaccurate and retarded.. this is just based on a personal opinion.

  11. Maggie Richardson

    I think your attack on John is an embarrassment for cyclists everywhere. I take it you must be a cycle infra-structure engineer who’s spat his dummy out? And a very poor cyclist to boot.
    Your own near misses are due to your poor positioning – any educated cyclist can see that – all of these would have been avoided if you’d put Franklin’s techniques into practice.
    I think you’ve got so snarled up about infra-structure, you’re failing to see the situation clearly. We are not the Netherlands. Our cities have been built without taking cyclists’ needs into consideration, and we have to work with what we’ve got and be realistic. You simply cannot put Dutch cycle infra-structure into London’s roads – there isn’t space. And even if you could, it is the attitude of drivers against cyclists that will still remain. While we try to persuade drivers to consider cyclists with more due care and attention, we need to find a way to get on and cycle anyway, and do so safely. I have scores of colleagues who ride according to Franklin’s techniques, and they encounter none of the problems you did, and would tell you that cycling does feel safe to them – and enjoyable.
    Unlike you I have a lot of respect for Franklin, but you haven’t encouraged me to have respect for you.
    I’m happy to put my name to what I say because I’m not ashamed of what I’ve said or feel the need to protect my own position. If you are afraid to be counted, I question your true motives, and if that final remark is from the bottom of your heart, I can only conclude that your heart is, in it’s current condition, rather rank.
    Please search yourself a little more deeply.

    • Oh Maggie, you’ve made my day – I just got a straight line on my “Vehicular Cycling Zealots” bingo card! So many tired old failed arguments in one pithy comment. I congratulate you.

      “It’s your own fault!” Ah, classic victim-blaming. You have never even met me, let alone seen me ride a bike, so you know nothing of my positioning. There are plenty of videos on YouTube by experienced cyclists who repeatedly get close passes, horns honked, knocked off, etc. Taking the lane would stop all this would it? Even Bradley Wiggins got knocked off, for fuck’s sake, how much training do you think the average person should need?!

      “Cycling is for fit, confident, trained ‘Cyclists’ only” Which explains why so few people do it. Would you encourage small children, or maybe your parents, to take the lane on Euston Road?

      “The UK will never have cycling infrastructure” And one of the reasons why is because of devout Vehicular Cyclists such as yourself and the groups you inhabit pushing against it. But even CTC is starting to shift its position towards cycle paths, albeit in their own slow, weird way. And TfL are also pushing forward with plans for separated cycle paths.

      “There isn’t enough space” This is the most ignorant remark.

      “Motorists vs Cyclists: two tribes” You seem to see yourself as a member of the Cyclist tribe, in mortal combat with the evil Motorists, who are all trying to kill you and your comrades, and always will do. Stay tough, fight on! (I’m not a cyclist by the way, although I do ride a bike. So I couldn’t give a toss if I’m embarrasing to you.)

      “Educating drivers and enforcement of rules is the key” Because it’s possible to create perfect citizens is it? Even East Germany had dissidents. What makes you think our traffic police can out-do the Stasi? Do you really think that all these people would be riding a bike amongst motor traffic, if only drivers would be nice?

      “My friends do it, so why can’t everyone else?” Look, just because you and your clique of beardy MAMILs enjoy danger sports and feeling holier-than-thou, 98% of the population agree with me and use other methods of transport for their journeys, even though they’re often slower and more expensive. But surveys and research show that we’d be happy to ride a bike if only it felt safe enough.

      Why don’t you go tell these women about how great riding on the road is? Oh you can’t, they’re all dead.

      Unfortunately I didn’t get a full house on my bingo card, so you’ll have to try better next time. Feel free to use some of these hollow, ignorant, evidence-free arguments.

      I remain anonymous because my non-cycling life is semi-public, and I don’t need zealots like you turning up on my doorstep waving your water bottles around and furrowing your brows in a vain attempt to have some empathy for normal people.

      I don’t want your respect, Maggie. So – once more – fuck John Franklin. And fuck you too.

      • I would very much like Maggie to come and tell my 7 year old that any near misses are because he is a poor cyclist. I would like her to look him in the eye and tell him, he should cycle and take the lane on the main road to his school. The one where the lorries travel at 40-50mph. The road where I dont cycle, unless its to get to a club run on a quiet sunday morning. I dare you to call me a bad cyclist (as a club cyclist, a trained ride leader and probably a shit load faster than you).

        I want Maggie to tell my 7 yr old that Mr Franklin is right. Explain why his dad drives him half a mile to the library because it is too dangerous to walk let alone cycle.

        You stupid stupid woman.

        I want to know where this cycling utopia is? Where do you live that there is such high levels of cycling? Where all these people who are trained by people like Bikeright etc carry on riding? Where is this place?

        If it were ‘the solution’ then after having this sort of training in year 6 and then moving to secondary school, the bikes sheds would be groaning under the shear weight of tubular steel. But its not so is it?


        People get this training and then never go out on the roads.

        Its obviously them that are at fault. Silly me.

    • Erik Griswold


      Please explain the cycling infrastructure in Berlin. A city certainly not built for cycling, and the former Soviet Sector had absolutely none of it in 1990.

      I’d also have you look at pictures of Copenhagen, yes Copenhagen, taken in the mid-1960’s when Denmark, like the rest of Western Europe, was on a car-dependency spree.

    • I’d just like to correct one claim you made: the claim that London doesn’t have space for Dutch style infrastructure. It does. Just put down K-rails (what we call traffic barriers in North America) to section off a high carbon emission traffic lane, paint a stripe down the middle of it for two cycle lanes, and you’ve done. Of course, that means taking room from cars, and as the most extravagant space user on the road, motorists will undoubtedly object. But that problem involves politics, not space.

    • pm

      I find it hard to believe this isn’t false-flag trolling, so patronising and daft is your comment.

      The reason why ‘vehicular cycling’ is not a serious long-term solution (as opposed to a ‘making the best of it’ short-term measure) is that it presumes motorists are basically rational, decent and law-abiding. In reality this is simply not true at all. A great many are aggressive and nearly permanently angry while a non-negligiable proportion of them (particularly young-to-middle-aged males) border on psychopathy..

      Not only is there the danger of being run down, but “taking the lane” can result in someone getting out of their vehicle and threatening to violently assault you (happened very recently to some people I know, and that’s not the only occasion I personally know of)

      That makes it quite an unappealing prospect for anyone who isn’t not just ‘assertive’ but an experienced street-fighter. Being sworn at or threatened is pretty much par-for-the-course when trying VC techniques, and not everyone wants to cope with having the C-word screamed at them on a frequent basis.

      Perhaps you live somewhere full of calm, properly socialised drivers. Lucky you, but that’s simply not the case around here.

      Alternatively, maybe its because so many Americans have guns that they feel more confident about facing down motorists? I suppose if one was “packing heat” one would feel one was on a more level-playing field with drivers!

  12. I’m convinced that people how promote VC as the only way forward must also enjoy playing Russian Roulette every weekend.

    It’s like climbers trying to persuade people to climb a building’s walls rather than use the lift or stairs

  13. Frannkly, Franklin, you can suck my balls.

    I wonder if Maggie, above, and John Franklin have been watching the news in London This one’s for, shitheads: http://youtu.be/vJSvdpoVHBk

  14. Franklin and Cyclecraft inspired me to resume cycling which I hadnt done since boyhood. I learned from Cyclecraft that I could use a bike to communte through the busy city streets. And that I neednt wear a helmet or lycra (and never have). If I hadnt got my trusty hybrid bike and a folder 15 years ago to go to work, the shops etc., I would never have cycled as an adult. Riding a bike would have remained a memory, the bike as a childhood toy. Doesnt cycle-facility-fetishism convey to the public that unless they’ve got ”cycle paths” taking them to their front door they shouldnt have a bike. Are we saying that the streets are not for bikes, -TOO DANGEROUS. So stick with a car, or bus, never use a bicycle as a way of functionally getting around until ”facilities” are provided. I’ll be dead long before this happens no matter how hard I campaign! So 15 years ago I should never have even considered getting a bike. Today I live in a small town having nil ”facilities” and bike is still my default mode of transport-on the roads and streets. I’ve no car though most people imagine they cant live without one. See as no alternative. A major reason why people never even consider getting out of their cars is they believe what they hear from us campaigners -that its too dangerous to cycle without ”facilities”
    So I think Franklin and Cyclecraft and transport cycling is superb but I still campaign in all the usual ways we cycle campaigners do. The middle way is the way. Stupid to belittle John Franklin

  15. Jules

    To be fair to John Franklin, his views come from a time when it was assumed that regular contact with responsible, assertive cyclists would have a civilising influence on motorists. I used to think that too and took the lane proud of the fact that I was helping to create better motorists. I was sadly misguided, learnt by bitter experience on the roads for the last 30 years.

    I/We now know that VC will not civilise motorists, and hopefully one day JF will realise this too. Motorists will not respect cyclists until the majority of drivers also ride a bike. For that to happen, we need a proper segregated infrastructure that will encourage drivers to take to their bikes (with their families) in safety. Like in the Netherlands!

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

  17. burtthebike

    I’ve just come across this article, unfortunately, and I am appalled. A foul mouthed, anonymous diatribe about someone who has done more for cycling than the author could possibly hope to achieve. You should be ashamed. Anyone who uses swearing in lieu of reasoned argument deserves no respect.

    • Come on, there’s both swearing and reasoned argument. Did you read the follow-up too?

      I’m not sure what John Franklin has actually done for cycling except hold back the development of desirable conditions by spreading misinformation and myths.

  18. I delight in John Franklin – his book a vade mecum. He’s a happy man. I’ve urban-cycled for 20 years. Ridden in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Marrakesh, Cairo (even). 73 now, I take pride in UK’s cycling success in the Olympics and Tour de France. The sheer beauty of the modern bicycle! I detest the thought of popular cycling – except in third world cities where people have little choice. I like cycling as a slightly naughty activity. I enjoy threading the main streets of London on a wet winter evening amid almost stationary motor traffic. It amuses me to go to meetings always arriving for a leisurely cup of coffee long before colleagues who’ve travelled to the same venue by tube, taxi or car. God help me if there were to be less motorised traffic. They won’t block each other up any more. I’ll have less space on the road. I travel by walking, cycling, taking the train, tram and bus and ferry – not to save the environment (tho’ I guess it helps) but because I just got bored with motor cars and so-called ‘free-ways’ and love using the money I save for more pleasurable activities – good food, books and clothes. https://flic.kr/p/vxUmp I strive to observe Franklin’s rules about politeness, about not vexing people inside cars and – ideally – cycling so well I cause no, or absolutely minimal, inconvenience to the drivers with whom I share the streets – ditto pedestrians who should always have right of way. Most of my family and friends would be bereft without their cars. I would be bereft without my bicycle. I cycle in the same clothes I’d wear when walking or being a passenger on train or bus. What’s a helmet? Cycling to school is unwise – until motorists become effectively extinct – like the dinosaurs or that impertinent man on Top Gear.

  19. Schrödinger’s Cat, you’re right. On a specific note, the Cycle Superhighway between Bradford and Leeds and beyond is an unmitigated disaster – it’s the worst of both worlds. It is not proper segregation, and it forces all users of the Public Highway into more conflict with one another than was previously the case. The money was made available, Leeds City Council bid for it, they won it, and then they wasted it. Such a shame.

  20. Joe, SC, do you know who funded Leeds-Bradford? It wasn’t the local enterprise partnership, by any chance?

  21. Who cares WHERE the money came from? It’s WHO spent it, WHY they spent it, and HOW they spent it that matters!

  22. Anyway, call it Local Enterprise Partnership or whatever you like, I choose to call it the magic-money-tree… other people, spending other people’s money on what other people tell them are other people’s problems. RIP Milton Friedman!

    • Brooks Forbutox

      Joe, without being trite, it’s quite simple: I have seen money come via DfT and Cycling England (sadly now disbanded) and spent well, and money come via the DCLG and an LEP and spent atrociously. If there’s a pattern, I want to know about it.

      • Brooks, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make above, could you re-word it?

        The only pattern I see is that Social Experiments carried out by other people for other people with other people’s money very rarely succeed – in fact they often make the situation worse. Leeds’ and Bradford’s Cycle Superhighway is a brilliant example of this. Are councillors, top civil servants, unions, Mouchel, Rowse et al taking us for a ride, and patronising even the lesser employees of CityConnect?

        Just to clarify my position… I am a keen cyclist and motorist. I commute from Bramley to Leeds centre by bike *every* day of the year. I am in favour of more people getting out on their bikes. I am in favour of *properly* segregated infrastructure – not the terribly dangerous worst-of-both-worlds situation which the Cycle Superhighway has given cyclists and all other road users. I am not idealistically opposed to the idea of a common pot, but we must make sure that those in charge of spending it on our behalf are as careful with it as if it were their own money. Blogs such as this one play a very important part in reminding our councils et al of this. Well done Schrödinger’s Cat!

        • Brooks Forbutox

          Joe, we’re singing the same hymn. The situation at present is that spending on cycling has hit a national average of about £2.50pp per year (£10 or more would be good), but, outside London, a lot of that is being misspent. You wouldn’t think that Holland is just 116 miles across the North Sea: our transport planners refuse to learn from there.

          This is my current battle: http://road.cc/content/news/181748-cycling-campaigners-say-council-wasting-£750000-cycle-path?qt-more_news=1

          I want to find why this is happening and whether LEPs (or other business organisations wholly unsuited to handling public funds) are a common factor.

          • jhvorlicky

            OK, good luck with that battle, Brooks. It’s crazy, isn’t it? In Leeds and Bradford we’re talking about £30million…

            I should add that proper segregation would be great, but I don’t think that lack of this type of infrastructure is what prevents more people in the UK from cycling more. No, it’s so many more things about our culture which discourage cycling… I would place the irrational love of suburbia as the main obstruction. The car has allowed people to live great distances from their places of work.

            In contrast, in many countries of Europe, towns and cities are more “alive” – places of work and play.

            So, in summary, proper Dutch segregation would be nice in the UK, but there are huge forces working against it which have nothing to do with cycling. Until then, cyclists can only really use the road. Attempts to provide “segregation” which is so tightly meshed with the roads is a fool’s game.

            Don Quixote shouted at windmills, to no effect.

  23. Sumo Walrus

    I’ve been a regular cycle commuter for circa thirty years in areas lacking any cycle-specific infrastructure, and I owe a great deal to John Franklin’s ‘Cyclecraft’ for teaching me how to do that and survive, sometimes even thrive!
    You may be right in saying he has an ideological and unhelpful antipathy to cycling infrastructure, but I think his position is more nuanced than you’re letting on. Roads are perfect cycling infrastructure if you tame or exclude motorised traffic, and some UK infra is crap and serves only to amplify the hostility of motorists if you choose not to use it.
    I’d much prefer to make my journeys on good quality traffic-free cycling infrastructure, but until that manifests I’m glad to have been enabled in no small part by John Franklin’s guidance.

    • Mark Williams

      There are bordering on a few cycling fallacies in your comment. With the benefit of a few more years cycling, you’d have recalled that John Franklin’s only contribution was to write down in one place—and charge money for—what we’d already learned to do Before Cyclecraft (BC). The only advice I wasn’t already following religiously BC was to always slalom across long-tapering entry slip lanes at the earliest opportunity.

      We’re all ears as to your proposals for ‘tame or exclude motorised traffic’. There are other posts on this ‘blog explaining how everyone who has tried this in the past century evidently hasn’t quite succeeded.

  24. Pingback: New tactics of those who have argued against segregation for decades -- IrishCycle.com

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