Monthly Archives: January 2015

More Dutch cycling scenes in a British context

Sorry for the long intro, it just happened by accident. Click here to jump straight to the pictures!

Over two years ago I posted this article featuring images where I’d cut out people from photos of the Netherlands, and placed them in typical British urban scenes.

They were well-received and seem to have been shared widely. My favourite response was from this guy who described how you can tell by the shadows – the shadows! – that the toddler isn’t really cycling around the Elephant and Castle gyratory.

The intention was to show that to make cycling an accessible transport choice for anyone in Britain, we need to change the roads. Training and encouragement just won’t work. The vast majority of people don’t want to cycle amongst motor vehicles – well driven or otherwise – and huge sections of society simply wouldn’t be physically able to.

Satire versus propaganda

Funnily enough, I was recently reading some old posts on the much-missed Crap Waltham Forest blog and came across the image below, created by training company CTUK, used to promote their services some years ago.

A photoshopped image of a smiling young woman cycling in the outside lane across the notoriously horrible Waterloo Bridge in London, while a van and a car can be seen behind her.

Don’t worry about the driver that’s about to undertake you – you’ve had training!

How I laughed! That’s Waterloo Bridge in London she’s supposedly riding on (ignore the cut-and-pasted St. Paul’s cathedral dome), and I can assure you that few people experience such carefree joy while riding across there. Photoshop to the rescue.

The idea that cycle training will make you smile with glee whilst riding in the outside lane amongst speeding motor traffic towards the terrifying maelstrom of taxis that is the Waterloo Imax roundabout is just pitiful.

But what I found funniest of all was that this image could easily have been on that previous post of mine. It’s a ridiculous juxtaposition of what cycling should be like and what cycling in the UK is actually like.

But while my images were designed to show how ridiculous it is to expect people to cycle amongst heavy motor traffic, this image was being presented as a positive vision to promote cycle training!

I can see now why the guy on the Birmingham forum thought that this was a pro-VC image, as my satire was only one step removed from the propaganda released by vehicular cycling advocates themselves.

Vehicular cycling flat-Earthers will clutch at any straws to suggest cycling amongst motor vehicles is preferable to Dutch-style cycleways, whether it’s misrepresenting reports and statistics, or presenting rare, stage-managed occurrences as normal.

Unfortunately, while vehicular cycling training may indeed help a small number of individuals, it simply isn’t a route to mass cycling – though the training industry won’t say this, as they presumably don’t want to offend their friends with the chequebook at the (real) Department for Transport.

Now, the pictures…

Anyway, if there are any vehicular cycling supremacists out there that want to keep making ridiculously grandiose claims, here’s some more images they might like to employ. (Click on any image for larger version.)

A photo of two girls on bikes outside their primary school in the Netherlands has been cut out and pasted onto a photo of a horrible road in Hackney

Such confidence – Bikeability can achieve so much! (Click here to see the girls safely back in Assen. UK photo by Rossi)

A photo of a late-middle-aged woman riding a bike in the Netherlands has been cut out and pasted into a London traffic scene, scarily close to a bus

Remember, you don’t need speed to practice vehicular cycling techniques. Just maintain eye contact with the driver, all will be well. (Here she is back on home ground. UK photo by Rossi)

A photo of five young girls cycling in the Netherlands, mixed with the horrible bus-choked reality at Hackney Central

Remember to take the lane through the junction, girls – especially you at the back! (NL photo by David Hembrow, UK photo by Hackney Cyclist)

A group of commuters in Utrecht, cut out and pasted into a photo of Euston Road in London, complete with thundering HGV and black cab.

Cycling is for everyone, a great way to get fit too! (But not really in the UK.)

A photo-montage of a Dutch family (mothers, several children) on an outing by bike, pasted into London's busy and dangerous Kings Cross

The whole family can enjoy days out by bike – just remember to clearly signal your intentions to the tipper truck driver! (Here they are not having to worry about tipper trucks.)

(Yes, the last two are repeats from the 2012 post, but much improved over the originals!)

 


Epilogue: I shouldn’t have to say this again, but here it is anyway: I’m not against cycle training per sé – if someone wants to ride a bike bike in the UK today and they want advice on how to do it, then fair enough. Nor am I against vehicular cycling as a method of coping with Britain’s awful roads.

But to suggest that vehicular cycling training can have anything more than a miniscule effect on the number of people cycling is nonsense. Cycle training is not a route to mass cycling. Even some of cycle training’s biggest names admit that cycle training just isn’t reaching the masses.

And after yet another cycling death involving someone with plenty of cycling experience, how much skill do we expect the average person to possess in order to cope with riding a bike amongst motor vehicles?

 

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Cycleway design in Berlin and beyond

I often see people refer to studies of German cycleways where the conclusion is that they’re dangerous, then claiming that these studies are evidence that all cycleways are therefore dangerous.

Actually, I say ‘studies’ but it’s usually just a link to this, an English summary of one study from 30 years ago, written by one of Forester’s army of tedious greybeards. (Or they’ll provide a link to other studies of poor-quality infrastructure in countries with low cycling rates. One ‘academic’ claimed to have cycled in 21 countries, yet didn’t visit either the Netherlands or Denmark, before claiming cycleways are a bad concept!)

There is this false notion of “northern European countries” or “continental Europe” being some homogenous mass, all of them covered with identical cycling infrastructure, which therefore means that a German study critical of German cycle infrastructure is therefore critical of the very concept of cycle infrastructure.

But the truth is that there’s huge variation between these countries. The Netherlands leads by a country mile, Denmark a distant second, and everywhere else is a runner-up. The UK didn’t even enter the race.

To use the phrase “northern European countries” with regards to good cycle infrastructure is to beat around the bush: you mean the Netherlands. Say “the Netherlands”. Sure, it’s not all perfect, but that’s where the best stuff is, by far, and in great quantities.

German engineering at its worst

So these people who quote studies of German cycling infrastructure are missing one major point: German cycleways are crap. So the studies merely prove that crap cycleways are crap. It’s certainly no smoking gun.

Quoting a study of German cycleways from today would be bad enough, but in the 1980s they were even worse, judging by some of the older stuff here in Berlin. To use that study to argue against good quality cycling infrastructure is like quoting the Hindenburg disaster to argue that travelling on an aeroplane is deadly.

No modern cycling infrastructure advocate should be asking for what we have here in Berlin, or holding it up as a shining example.

I don’t claim to have visited every German town and city, but I’ve been to a few. Some places are better than others, but in none of them has there been anything worth writing about. Even the most average Dutch town has far better infrastructure by comparison.

As I now spend my days in Berlin, let’s look at some Berlin cycleways, shall we?

First of all, it’s important to remember that cycling infrastructure in Berlin is unreliable. There’s no network, just disjointed paths which you can never be sure aren’t about to suddenly end without warning. And often where there is a cycleway, it’s narrow, rutted or covered with foliage. So the bits I’m covering here are the parts where reasonable cycleways actually exist, and not the majority of roads where there’s nothing (painted lanes don’t count).

Junctions with traffic lights

The biggest problem with Berlin’s cycleways is the major junctions. For some crazy reason, instead of keeping bicycles and motor vehicles separate at this most dangerous point, the standard design actually brings bikes towards motor vehicles!

A protected cycleway in Berlin which suddenly becomes unprotected at a junction

Rather than continue in a straight line to the junction so that bikes and turning cars meet at right-angles, the cycleway suddenly swerves left into the blind spot of turning vans. (See for yourself here.)

That’s right – the intentional design here leads people on bikes into the blind spot of motor vehicles that might be turning. That the cycleway might have been hidden by parked vehicles until just before the junction doesn’t help.

And then, to top it off, the separation ends, usually just before the junction proper. So suddenly you’re cycling on the road, right alongside motor vehicles which may be turning across your path.

The signal phases aren’t separated either, so turning motor vehicles and bikes going straight on get a green light at the same time. This isn’t necessarily a huge issue as drivers here are used to giving way to people walking and cycling when turning on green, but as the bike lane is now right up alongside the turning cars, as soon as the front car begins to turn, the cycle lane is blocked.

This bizarrely crap design also means that the “free right turn” which is taken for granted in the Netherlands doesn’t exist here. This adds much time and effort into a journey by bike, as well as danger.

It isn’t at all like the true protected intersection [1] [2] or simultaneous green junction that bike infrastructure advocates want.

People of all ages and abilities using a simultaneous green junction by bike

Simultaneous Green junction in the Netherlands. Bikes get a green light to go in all directions at once, while all motor vehicles are held at red lights. Complete safety, as well as convenience and speed. (Photo: David Hembrow)

Unsignalled junctions

Unsignalled junctions aren’t much better. There’s little consistency for a start, every cycleway is treated differently at side-roads. (The only consistent aspect is that it’s nearly always rubbish.)

For example, here on Frankfurter Allee, rather than the cycleway continuing in a straight line or bending away from the main road at a junction, it bends towards the turning cars instead, guaranteeing poor visibility angles and reducing reaction time.

Furthermore, the cycleway drops down to carriageway level, and is marked out only in paint. In essence, it becomes a painted cycle lane, offering no protection at all.

A cycleway on Frankfurter Allee in Berlin, where bikes are suddenly diverted into the blind-spot of turning drivers for no reason at all.

The few dozen people driving into this car park have priority over the thousands of people riding and walking along here. Take a look for yourself here.

Another example, here on Schönhauser Allee, is better than above. But there’s still much wrong with it. The corner radius for turning cars is too large (it should be tight to slow down turning cars). The cycleway drops down to meet the road, there’s a visible kerb which confuses visual priority, and a bumpy change of surface on the cycleway from tiles to paint.

A cycleway crosses a minor side-road in Berlin, but the quality of implementation is poor

I know this probably looks like a dream to all my UK and US readers, but please know that this isn’t good enough.

Contrast those with the usual design for these roads in the Netherlands, where the cycleway continues at a raised level, and so does the footway – it’s the driving infrastructure which is disjointed, not walking and cycling.

The view of a Dutch-style continuous-path minor junction from the view of a bike rider. The cyclepath and footpath both continue across the junction, and the minor road is disconnected from the main road. Cars have to mount the pavement and cross both paths to get between the two roads.

There’s little doubt who has right of way from this point of view. The white squares make riders aware that there’s a potential hazard at that section, and bollards prevent cars from leaving their allotted area.

Here, turning motor vehicles must turn at a sharp angle and mount a sloped kerb, which ensures slow speeds, and cars cross the cycleway at 90º, giving good visibility. This also gives people on bikes to know that a car is turning long before any collision may occur, unlike the common German design where the bike path is right alongside the turning car, so there’s no time to react if the driver hasn’t seen you.

Better cycleways are the answer, not Vehicular Cycling

Anyway, I won’t go in to more detail about why Germany’s cycleways are poor. (And yes, I’ve been to Bremen, I wasn’t impressed there either.)

That many German cycle campaigns are anti-cycleway should tell you all you need to know: German cycleways are poor quality. But many of these campaigners, unfortunately, are campaigning for Germany to become more like the UK: i.e. painted lanes and battling for road-space with motor vehicles, and the 2% journey share that comes with it.

The way to achieve more and safer cycling – as found in a tiny, low country just to the West – is to improve the quality and design of cycleways, not to get rid of them altogether.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent here. The main point is this:

Quoting studies of poor-quality, outdated designs doesn’t disprove the very concept of separate cycleways, but instead reinforces the need for using the best designs.

Anyone who quotes studies of German cycleways as proof that all cycle infrastructure is a bad idea, is either uninformed or abusing the truth in order to mislead.

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Camden’s West End Project: Compromise or Capitulation?

So after last year’s debate about Camden’s plans for a thorough re-do of Tottenham Court Road and surrounding area, the council has come back with some finished plans.

David Arditti covered it twice, Rachel Aldred analysed it, and Danny of Cyclists in the City questioned the merits of the scheme. MaidstoneOnBike presented his own plan for Tottenham Court Road. Mark of the iBikeLondon blog has been largely in favour throughout, but I really couldn’t disagree more.

The essential problem with the scheme is that Camden continue to prioritise motor vehicles, at the expense of people on foot and on bikes.

During the day, cycles and private motor vehicles will all be funnelled onto Gower Street, and it doesn’t really fit. Well, it does, if the footways are trimmed back a bit, and nobody ever wobbles, but only just. It will never be a pleasant ride, even when the cycleway isn’t being used for parked vans.

Meanwhile, the spacious Tottenham Court Road will be turned into a copy of Oxford Street, i.e. end-to-end buses, with all the dangers that entails and air so thick with pollution you can almost chew it.

To describe the planned Tottenham Court Road as “a primarily pedestrian route” is pure hyperbole, considering that for 13 hours a day it will be open to all traffic in both directions (opening up new motor vehicle routes that currently don’t exist).

Camden's drawing of how Tottenham Court Road will look. Pure propaganda.

The sun will always shine, the buses will be invisible, people will walk wherever they please, the lion will lay down with the lamb…

Where are all the buses in this photo? What will it look like at 5 past 7 in the evening, when it’s open to all traffic in both directions? The photo is pure propaganda.

The stepped cycleway on Gower Street is a compromise in itself, the bare minimum that we should accept, both in width and design (it should be wider and better separated). Yet now we’re expected to also accept vans parking on it right in the middle of the day (10am to 2pm) – a compromise upon a compromise.

Do you know how annoying it is to find someone parked in a cycle lane? Well, now imagine that to ride past it you have to hop down a kerb into the general lane, then hop back up once you’ve passed. (Or, more likely, people will hop up onto the footway, causing more conflict there instead.) That’s what’s being planned on Gower Street – In 2015! By intentional design! – and I don’t think it’s an acceptable compromise.

A van parked on a cycleway, blocking it.

Coming soon to London! Camden’s boldest urban design scheme yet, so ambitious, great for cycling! (Photo: Car Sick Glasgow)

While any sort of cycleway can seem like a miracle in London, the planned Gower Street cycleway feels like such a token effort to me. It only exists in short, intermittent lengths between junctions, where it will become a painted lane with an ASL at the end.

Camden's plan for Gower Street and Grafton Way junction.

The brown areas are raised carriageway, so there will be just painted lanes, no physical separation. There’s a lot of this on the Gower Street plans.

The junctions themselves offer no protection, just at the point where it’s most needed. Apparently these painted lanes and ASLs are “to make it safer for cyclists”! Someone at Camden Council has got a very dark sense of humour.

Is this what we campaigned for? Is it even remotely suitable for all ages, all abilities?

I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way, judging by the comments on London Cycling Campaign’s news article about the plans.

But don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the plans yourself. There’s a lot of cycle lanes and ASLs on them.

There comes a point at which compromise becomes capitulation, and to praise these plans is to cross that line.

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