The DfT pays lip service to cycling again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 This design is so out of date it’s irrelevant.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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7 responses to “The DfT pays lip service to cycling again

  1. Paul M

    I think perhaps you are being a little unkind to John Franklin about his book. It is not Stupid – as a guide to surviving on British roads it actually makes quite a lot of sense.

    What is stupid however is that its author appears to have so much invested in his method and his book, and its sales and his royalties and his continued ability to earn a living as a cycling “expert”, that he needs to advocate continuance of the awful road conditions which make his book useful and necessary. He is effectively compelled to argue against, by any means at his disposal, facilities which would render his book redundant.

    As blogged elsewhere, you might as well promote training in “Walkability” to teach pedestrians the art of vehicular walking.

    • I know what you mean about the theories in the book making sense in a UK context – it’s a good guide to surviving in the hostile environment that is the UK’s roads.

      In a civilised society there’d be no need for such a book, but unfortunately there currently is. And as you say, he must make money from the book (especially as it’s the official Bikeability guide) so it’s a clear conflict of interest when highway authorities ask him to advise on cycling infrastructure.

      If it was just a guide to staying safe on the roads, I’d be fine with it. But it’s peppered with anti-infrastructure statements such as: “none of these problems, however, has a segregated solution, but needs redress in the context of a genuine mixed traffic environment,” for example – and that’s in relation to large roundabouts full of fast-moving motor vehicles!

      I think it very underhand that he inserted his political views into what’s meant to be a technical guide – and one that’s published by the government and issued to children, too!

  2. Phrases like “… John Franklin’s stupid book…” and “I’m so sick of seeing this goddamned picture” and “Who wrote this crap?” make you appear illogical and out of control. Indeed, you seem to be far more fanatical in disparaging cycling as a legal vehicle operator than Franklin has ever been regarding bad facilities.

    In any case, you claim that the dangerous design in the illustration “… IS NOT WHAT WE’RE ASKING FOR!” Yet I can assure you that an amazing number of bicycling advocates in the U.S. are asking for precisely that dangerous configuration. I’d be very surprised to learn the same is not true in Britain. Perhaps you should get your pro-facility team in order before attacking others!

    One consistent problem with cycling advocacy is that many cyclists falsely believe it is horrendously dangerous to ride a bike without some special bike facility. A second problem is that most cyclists believe there is no such thing as a bad bike facility. A third problem is that everyone believes they are qualified in bike facility design, despite complete lack of traffic engineering training. These factors have led to an immense collection of dangerous and inconvenient bike facilities, many of which cyclists are mandated to use instead of safer roadways.

    You would do better to direct more of your attention to stopping the proliferation of terrible bike facilities, rather than pretending all the world can quickly become Amsterdam.

    • So I’m not allowed to campaign for good cycle facilities, because somewhere there are bad facilities? That’s crazy, Frank. And anyway, I do oppose bad facilities! It goes hand in hand with promoting good design.

      And you can be surprised: I don’t know of any pro-infrastructure groups in the UK who want that old design installed. If there *are* any then I oppose them too.

      I’m just one guy, not a team. But thanks to others who have the same view as me, a group of Dutch road engineers are currently in the UK helping our road designers find new solutions to problems. Good enough?

      People don’t want to ride amongst traffic, whether it’s safe or not, that’s why almost nobody in the UK or the US rides a bike. Cycling is more attractive, safer and more popular in countries where good facilities exist. If your country can’t handle that then it’s your loss.

      Now go back up John Forester’s arsehole where you belong and stop wasting my time with your juvenile straw man arguments.

      • “… somewhere there are bad facilities” indeed! You and others who campaign loudly for facilities generate “solutions” like these:
        That’s one small collection. Cyclists could document thousands of design atrocities – sadly, with every such atrocity applauded by pro-facility advocates.

        You may somehow believe that your careful, nuanced, “only the best” message is somehow being heard by the vast majority of road designers. But every facility in that Warrington website proves you wrong. What designers hear is “They want their bikes off the road,” period. What designers say is “OK, this will get bikes off the road.” And again, “Any bike facility is a good bike facility.”

        And how crazy of you to follow your “John Forester’s arsehole” remark with a claim that _I’m_ being juvenile! That’s the reaction of a man whose beginning to realize that he’s been wrong all along, and is being called on it in his own blog.

        • Frank, I’m well aware of the Facility of the Month page – I’ve even linked to it myself – and that’s exactly the kind of facility we’re trying to prevent being installed. I’m currently actively working against one right now, as it happens, so don’t tell me that I’m responsible for that crap.

          Right now, as I type this, Dutch experts are advising British road designers on how to install great cycling infrastructure, the type of which attracts millions of Dutch people to use it every day: (Illustrated in typical BBC way with photo of poor cycle path in London, natch.)

          Dutch design has nothing in common with the Facility of the Month photos (all of which are horrendous and should never have been installed). Advocating for infrastructure does not mean accepting bad infrastructure.

          And where has the theory of vehicular cycling – and 40 years of campaigning from Forester & Co. – got us? A tiny cycling rate and high death tolls. The facts speak aloud: people are attracted to well-designed cycle infrastructure, and it’s proven to be safer than riding with traffic. When it comes to riding bikes, the Dutch have whooped your Yankee asses (and our Limey arses too)!

          Ask around and you’ll find that vehicular cycling is not appealing, it will not and cannot increase the numbers of people cycling. People don’t want to ride bikes amongst motor vehicles, no matter how safe you insist it is. They have voted with their feet, one of which is firmly placed on the gas pedal.

          If I’m wrong then why do you even read this blog? It’s quite obviously UK based for a start. I think it’s because I’m making the points that you don’t want made, because you know they’re the truth.

          Does Forester’s colon have wi-fi, or have you run an ethernet cable up there? 😛

  3. Pingback: BREAKING NEWS: Nothing has changed | The Alternative Department for Transport

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