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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17 responses to “Frankly, Mr. Franklin

  1. PaulM

    Citing higher bicycle ownership as a reason for Almere’s position cf MK is interesting, but I wonder whether there really was higher ownership in Almere, ie whether ownership independent of the infrastructure is actually a causative factor at all?

    Of course that was a long time ago now and things may have changed, but consider this – all our stats tell us that there are several million bicycles in the UK, that some amazing percentage of adults (or is it households) have at least one bicycle.

    They also tell is, now, that the number of people who ride bicycles on a regular basis is very, very much lower. Possibly this is an inference or possibly it has also been tested, but the assumption therefore has to be that millions of people buy a bicycle, and then don’t use it. I am not sure we know why – perhaps they buy it so that they can sit and admire it (there is a bit of that in me), or perhaps it gets a puncture or a broken chain and they can’t be *rsed to fix it. Perhaps they discover that the bike they paid £100 for in H*lfords is a pile of sh*te and horrible to ride, so they don’t.

    Perhaps they venture forth onto the roads, get scared sh*tless (see – I am getting as bad as you) and give up. In a manner of speaking, that is what happened to me, when I bought a decent mountain bike. I had been commuter riding in central London for a while, and on the whole was OK with it. Then I tried a leisurely ride on the local country roads where I live, in SW surrey. That is when I discovered what perhaps many people don’t realise, which is that country roads are, in per-mile terms, both objectively and subjectively much more dangerous than inner city streets. It took one outing, and I was down the bike shop to buy something I could ride on the rough off-road paths with which, living by Hindhead Common and a cluster of other commons owned by the NT, I am blessed.

    • Funnily enough, my mum visited me in London yesterday, and we started talking about my views on cycling (we’ve never discussed it before). I discovered the following:

      – she has a bike in the garage, unused for years
      – she used to use it to ride to my grandparents (when they were still alive, 10 years ago) because it was reachable entirely traffic-free routes (fairly wide alleys, mainly) which were much shorter than the route by car
      – if it was snowing or dark, the traffic-free routes felt too unsafe (they’re not well-lit and are between business units, so no houses overlooking) so she’d go the long way round, but on the path (though I dare say she didn’t “terrorise” any pedestrians)
      – she did ride on the road once, to a friend’s house a mile or two away (reachable only by road, no paths along the ring road there), and it was terrifying – it put her off cycling
      – she’d never ride on the road again, “it’s too dangerous”
      – she’d like to ride a bike but it’s not really an option, as the roads are too intimidating

      I was amazed to find that her experiences of riding a bike matched exactly what the surveys say – people want to ride bikes but don’t feel it’s a viable option.

      A million copies of Cyclecraft wouldn’t convince her to ride on the road, I’m sure of that!

  2. :: Firstly, can I point out that I didn’t defend the MK Redways report. I pointed out that it was written a long time ago and circumstances have changed.
    :: Secondly, I’m not disagreeing with the thrust of your arguments, but I dislike your tone, especially as you hide behind an alias. You say you don’t want to compromise your professional life. Tough. Your employer would not be upset at you putting forward a reasoned argument in reasonable terms. Why not have the courage of your convictions?
    :: Thirdly, I’ve been campaigning for more than 20 years and I remember the harm done in 1997 when the cycle lobby split, just when we were about to make a breakthrough. Argue among ourselves, by all means, but keep the debate as cool and as low key as possible
    :: Fourthly it is going to take a long time for the UK to install quality cycle facilities, even assuming the money* and public will is with us (have you ever tried to get anybody to give up the parking space outside their home, or a strip of their front garden?). You are also relying on a Damascene conversion by UK traffic engineers and politicians, which is a point that JF makes in the introduction to Cyclecraft: “Priorities are changing and conditions for cycling should improve but in the meantime it is necessary … to come to terms with present circumstances.”
    :: Fifthly, I think JF would agree with you highlighting “more user-friendly cycle routes”. That is the point he is making: the Dutch network is far better than that put in at MK, and we must have the political, financial and engineering will if we are to install networks of NL quality. Looking at the figures for modal share, you have to consider that MK roads were built for the car in an Americanised way of thinking, but Dutch cities are designed to make it inconvenient to drive for short journeys; cycle take-up is only partly dependent on the quality of the network: in MK it is heavily influenced by the ease of getting round by car. Putting in a good Dutch network that will realise it its potential will mean placing restrictions on motorists.
    :: Finally, let’s not underestimate the task that lies ahead. We have a mountain to climb to persuade the people that matter that we are right, and we shouldn’t be wasting energy with flame wars. If you don’t agree with JF’s views, dismiss him as a dinosaur and leave it at that. Having met the guy once or twice, though, I believe he would welcome a Dutch quality network ** if it can be achieved **. He’s as keen on getting mass cycling as you or me.

    I’m happy to meet you if you live in London, or you’re welcome to come to Colchester Bike Drinks (third Monday of month at the New Inn, New Town) and I’ll show you what we’ve achieved here. If you want to wear a Lone Ranger mask, please feel free.


    * We will need £200m for a town of 100,000 people to make it a true cycling demonstration town with a Dutch-style network, alterations to the car network and the soft measures to persuade people to cycle rather than drive. Such towns will be the way ahead. Diluting the money available by spending here and there will be pointless. Once one town proves its value, then others will want to follow … and of course the £200m spending will be offset by savings on health, etc. I’m basing the £200m on the tiny amount of work we were able to do in Colchester with our £4.2m cycling town cash. This involved mainly “easy wins”. The politicos baulked at anything that would affect car throughput. Our Crouch Street cycle route is an object lesson in good intentions, crap outcome, mainly thanks to traders’ opposition.

    • Hi Will, thanks for your reply.

      You didn’t specifically defend his MK report, but you did suggest that when it was written the author wasn’t aware of what was happening in the Netherlands, whereas it must have been as apparent to him then as it is to us now, that infrastructure = safe cyclists. By 1999 the Dutch had been at it for 25 years, it was very well advanced – since then the changes haven’t been revolutionary, but evolutionary. Circumstances haven’t changed that much, certainly not enough to let him off the hook.

      If Franklin knew that infrastructure is good then why does he never recommend it, even when easy and appropriate? Why did he release his selective and misleading “Helsinki Report” article, which helped to split cycling groups on infrastructure-vs-vehicular and therefore harmed LCN0 in London? In Cyclecraft, he 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.” That suggests to me that he’s not just helping people cope on the road, but is also trying to turn people against infrastructure – hence the trainer’s site I linked to. It is he who has split the cycling community, not me. I’m just some guy.

      Yes, it will take time, money and politics (but really, not that much time, as we have the blueprints). But there’s a huge number of latent cyclists out there – I discovered to my genuine surprise yesterday that my mother is one – who would cycle if they didn’t have to mix with motor traffic. We can get them on board – “think of the children!” – but Franklin is currently a fly in the ointment with his drip-drip-drip of anti-cycleway propaganda. For someone “as keen on getting mass cycling as you or me” he seems hell-bent on ignoring the Dutch elephant in the room.

      I do think we’re largely in agreement, except I think that JF needs lambasting. I appreciate (in both ways) that you’ve been at the coal-face of cycle campaigning for a long time in a way that I haven’t been, but maybe familiarity with JF’s teachings have softened their impact on you. As I’m fairly new to all this cycling lark I was just flabbergasted at what I was reading by this supposedly well-respected man. Seriously – explain VC to anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about cycling and they’ll look at you as if you’re crazy. Tell them that it’s the only true way to ride a bike as transport, and that it’s not possible to install safe and effective separated cycle paths (both of which JF has said) and they’ll be even less likely to ride a bike than before.

      My Lone Ranger mask is in the wash, by the way 🙂

  3. @Will – I too have been a CTC campaigner for 20+ years, and, to be fair, our “right to ride” on the roads around here hasn’t been eroded one tiny bit in my time as a “Right to Ride” representative for CTC. 100% success rate! [I’m carefully ignoring the lack of right to ride on motorways, or through the A27 tunnel on the Shoreham bypass, both roads on which cycling is banned.]

    As for the split in the “cycle lobby”, I presume you mean the split roughly-described as being between CTC (want to ride on roads) and Sustrans (want to build off-road routes)? Was this actually relevant to cycling in the UK? Did this “split” result in cycling losing £billions of government investment, meaning we didn’t get Dutch-style infrastructure that we might otherwise have had? I don’t think so. CTC continued to campaign as they always have, we can still ride on (almost) all roads, and Sustrans won lots of Lottery money to build infrastructure, which they continue to do (with some large sums of money still involved).

    The key point in my mind is that “the cycle lobby”, meaning CTC, Sustrans, bicycle shops, and others, is far too small to influence politicians to affect any meaningful change, even if every “cyclist” could agree on exactly we wanted. The “would-like-to-cycle-if-it-was-safe” lobby is MUCH bigger, just talk to people who don’t cycle and ask them why they don’t. The key to mass cycling in the UK is to get what the Dutch and other continental European countries have developed and perfected over the last three decades: treatment of cycling as an ordinary, first-rate mode of transport. Does that mean restricting motorists, yes of course it does: our streets have been terrorised by motorists out of all proportion of the benefits of motoring, for far too long. Does this mean more “cyclists” – no, it means more people riding bicycles for transport, but most would not consider themselves “cyclists” any more than I’m a “vacuum-cleanerist” because I use a Dyson.

    By all means campaign for the right to ride on roads, and for cycle training, because that’s the best we can do in the current circumstances. I have to “take the lane” with my children on the way to and from school because there is no alternative. But PLEASE don’t campaign AGAINST significant improvements to the environment so that EVERYONE can ride a bicycle for local transport. Yes, it will cost lots of money (but less than the average motorway widening scheme), and yes it will take time (but measured in years, not decades, because we know exactly what to do now).

    Can we have what the Dutch have? YES, of course we can, we just have to stop campaigning AGAINST it as the traditional cycle campaign organisations have done so for so many decades, and start to campaign FOR it, thus getting the whole population behind us.

    • Thanks, David, David and Anthony. Last time I spoke to JF, I thought he was mellowing in his views but apparently not. What has convinced me about infrastructure versus on-road riding is the number of people who said “We’d love to cycle, but…” during Colchester Cycling Town. Incidentally, DH, only on Friday I bumped into a party of Norwegians at the very next roundabout to the one you linked to. I talked them out of tackling the A120 and directed them along the back lanes.

  4. Will, I think you are being far too generous about Franklin. He spreads a lot of misinformation. For instance, he writes that he has “heard of” a study which he thinks support propositions such as that “the safest parts of the Netherlands are those with fewest facilities”, that “It seems to me that other factors are primarily responsible for the better Dutch and Danish casualty rates, and that these might be even better with fewer cycle facilities”.

    He also states that “Cycle tracks originated in Germany. There and in the Netherlands, the first tracks were sponsored by car companies to get cyclists out of way of other traffic so that cars could go faster. They were not introduced for the benefit of cyclists’ safety though even his own “History of Cycle Paths” shows that many early cycle-paths were constructed for altogether more sensible reasons such as comfort or to boost tourism.

    Nowhere have I read anything by Franklin which supports adoption of Dutch style cycling infrastructure. Rather, his tone vs. the Dutch in general is rather negative. For instance he writes that “I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence” when discussing Dutch people who arrive in Harwich on the ferry and who “find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home”.

    Actually, he completely misunderstood the context. In the Netherlands, a far broader demographic cycles, including many people who would never consider riding a bike in the UK. The Dutch also expect to be able to set off and ride, even with relatively small children on their own bikes, to anywhere in their country in safety. Because British tourism information in Dutch makes out that Britain is idyllic for cycling, it’s not at all uncommon for the Dutch to expect the same conditions as at home. Sadly, this isn’t the case at all.

    The routes from Harwich, where I’ve cycled on several occasions, are far from ideal for cycling with children. A few years back on the way to the UK, Judy and I struck up conversation with a Dutch couple. They had decided to cycle to Stonehenge with two small children on their own bikes. The first part of their journey, across half of the Netherlands, had of course been completely uneventful. However, when we last saw them they were at this roundabout contemplating riding along the A120. Frankly, I hope they turned around and took the next ferry back home.

    Indeed, the most positive comment I’ve seen from Franklin about Dutch infrastructure appears in his “Principles of cycle planning for Gloucestershire“. This has much the usual content that you’d expect from Franklin, including lots of photos of bad infrastructure the like of which none of us want to see. However, it also includes a photo of a Dutch cycle-path on page 12. This photo was not taken by Franklin and in fact he wasn’t there when it was taken and he probably doesn’t know the location. Why do I know this ? Because Judy and I are both in this photo ! It was taken on one of our study tours and John Franklin hasn’t been on any of our tours.

    However, like many armchair experts with access to other people’s photos, that didn’t stop him putting a spin on it. Mostly he’s quite positive, saying that it “shows how cycle tracks should be”. However, he also shows his lack of understanding by continuing with “the cycling surface is also at road level so there are no changes in level at road junctions”. This is not true. The actual location is here and you can see that far from being at the same level, the cycle-path is above road level. For that reason, it is the road which changes in level at road junctions rather than the cycle-path. This design is normal these days and serves to slow down cars and make junctions safer for cyclists than they would be if designed as Franklin suggests.

    So you see, the only positive comment that I have been able to find from Franklin about Dutch infrastructure is of a place that he doesn’t know and where he has misinterpreted what he saw in someone else’s photo. I find it rather sad. The Dutch have provided lots of excellent examples, they are just a short distance away across the North Sea, and they have also written any number of words about all of this. All you need to do is to travel here, and to learn Dutch so that you can understand it.

    I can’t say whether it is by intent or simply a lack of knowledge, but John Franklin has mislead many thousands of people. His writing and his assumed “expertise” mislead me too for many years. It was only when I came to the Netherlands myself that I began to see how wrong he was. I resent my lost years of ignorance, which came from believing what John Franklin wrote. I also resent the wedge driven by Franklin and his supporters not only between factions of cyclists, but also through the heart of British society, dividing “cyclists” from normal people.

    In the face of any number of facts about casualty rates and the relative popularity of cycling in different countries, Franklin is still misleading people. The latest publication of Cyclecraft was in 2007. The Gloucestershire document that I referred to above is from 2009. His publications and the oft quoted from but misleading references page, keep him as a focal point in the UK of a movement and this helps to keep people in the dark about best practice for cycling.

    Of course, not all problems can be laid at the door of John Franklin. While he is a big part of the problem, it didn’t start with him and not all of the problems are due to him. Even as long ago as the 1930s some people in the UK noticed that the Dutch had more advanced road designs which resulted in better conditions for cyclists. At that time the CTC provided a focus for sentiment against cycle-paths which unfortunately continues to this day amongst their membership.

    If the thoughts of progressive thinkers in the 1930s had been taken seriously rather than ridiculed then it is quite possible that several generations of people would have benefitted by this time. It’s not just adults of our age who might cycle en-masse, nor that our children could do the same to get to school. No, if action had been taken, then our parents could have cycled as Dutch people of the same age did, rather than seeing a car as their only option. If Britain had taken the same path as the Netherlands, it could have achieved the same result as the Netherlands.

    Despite any amount of wishful thinking along the years there has been a relentless decline of cycling in Britain. The destructive mono-culture of ideas prevalent in British cycling for the entire time of this decline has to be at least in part to blame.

    And then it gets personal. It should never have been necessary for us to inflict the trauma of emigrating and learning a language on our children simply to get a bit of what the Dutch take for granted.

    For my efforts in trying to present the truth about the Netherlands, an activity for which I have given many thousands of hours freely, I’ve personally been the butt of many online insults from followers of JF, based on second hand ignorance. As a result, I find myself lacking sympathy for Franklin based on just one critical blog post. In fact, given the extent of his negative influence on cycling, I feel this has been a long time coming.

    John Franklin made himself a focal point for these destructive ideas in part by proclaiming himself as an expert. He has benefitted financially from spreading ideas which were to the detriment of the country and its population. For that reason, I support Schrödinger’s Cat.

    • Thanks for your support, David – your blog has been an inspiration to me (and many others) so it really does mean a lot. It’s such a boon to have a pragmatic English cycling campaigner living in the Netherlands who is able to present so much information and evidence about cycling over there. (I’m hoping to come on the study tour in September for a closer look!)

      I really do believe that Franklin deserves the ridicule, as far as I’m concerned his opinions are respected way too much. And it’s so easy to debunk his claims! Even if I agreed with his views, I would still find his writing lacking in academic rigour. (I’m starting to think that maybe I was too nice about him, actually…)

      Nothing he’s written has convinced me that the British roads are better than the Dutch, the truth is plain to see with one’s own eyes. That’s the point of the four questions at the bottom of my first post about Franklin – they short-cut all the debate about cycling, and get to the crux: whatever the Dutch are doing must be the right thing, as they have the desired results. As yet nobody has tried to dispute them!

  5. Last time I spoke with John (about a year ago), he came out with the all cycle lanes are dangerous line. The Danes debunked that one more than a decade ago. Sometimes you just have to ignore people, and carry on doing what works for you.

    • Yeah, you’re right, it just gets annoying when people keep on presenting JF’s “research” as though it’s immutable!

      By the way, when he said that, did anyone ask him for clarification? I’d love to know if he can answer my four questions and still claim that on-road is the only way!

  6. In case you are not aware of it, I have covered the foibles of John Franklin extensively on my blog.

    I have not met him in recent years, but back about the turn of the century, when Camden Cycling Campaign was developing Camden’s segregated cycle tracks, he came and talked to us, and he did hold to the bizarre line that Dutch and Danish cycling success was in spite of their segregated infrastructure, and that they would do better if they removed it!!

    Interesting to read from Richard Mann that he has not modified his views. Fortunately I think his influence on UK cycle campaigning is largely in the past now, particularly following the setting-up of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, to disseminate true information about infrastructure best-practice, plus the watershed moment of London Cycling Campaign explicitly campaigning for the Dutch model of provision before the elections this year.

    • Hi David,

      I’m quite a fan of your blog, and I thank you for being a part of the movement that got separated cycle paths installed in Camden back when it was on the agenda. In fact, the ride which inspired the original Franklin article was one I made from Waterloo to Camden and back, just to check out the Royal College Street cycle path! A couple of links on the original article point to your blog posts, though not the article you linked to in your comment. (I thought I had linked to that one, but I forgot. I’ll add it to the original post, as it’s a great example of how Franklin’s anti-infrastructure message influenced cycling campaigners to oppose separation, which in turn had a concrete effect on London’s roads.)

      I sincerely hope you’re right about JF’s influence being largely in the past, but I do wonder what percentage of cycling campaigners are still fully paid-up members of his anti-infrastructure army. It depresses me to see him quoted by cyclists so often – this comment on ‘Cyclists in the City’ two days ago cites JF’s Milton Keynes report as evidence that “segregated cycle routes are twee little toy roads … if cycling is to become mass transport in London we need and deserve a place on the real roads”. I’m very pleased to have done my little bit to counter this, as the first reply points to this blog as a rebuttal!

  7. John Maynard Friedman

    By the same token, JF’s comments on the Milton Keynes Redway system [see Wikipedia] should be taken with a large salt mine. The redways are extensively used – it is where pretty well every kid in MK learns to ride confidently. My impression is that the usage figures have improved significantly since the early study – but still mainly for sunny weekends and trips to the neighbourhood shop. Come and take a look!

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