Pretend infrastructure

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht.
This article has also been published on my German blog.

Bicycle streets! Don’t you just love them? Put up a few signs, a bit of paint, and voilà – instant Groningen.

Except it doesn’t work like that at all, though not everyone has figured that out yet.

For a bicycle street to work, it needs to have very, very low levels of motor traffic. It needs to form no useful through route for motor vehicles. Bikes needs to greatly outnumber cars and vans.

In Berlin, the highly-paid experts responsible for the roads think that signs and paint are enough to create a great cycle network. Just put up signs to tell drivers that a road is a bicycle street – or a home zone, or no entry – and they’ll behave differently, right? They’ll stop using that street as a rat-run, no?

Here’s Choriner Straße in Prenzlauer Berg:

Funny, the signs and paint don’t seem to be working.

Does it look like bicycles dominate there? Does that look suitable for young children? (And don’t be fooled by the low speeds, drivers are going slow because a double-parked car has narrowed the carriageway just off-camera to the left.)

This is pretend infrastructure – something which makes it look like the authorities are considering cycling, while they’re actually doing nothing. Other modes of transport don’t have this (with the possible exception of walking). There’s no airports without runways, or motorways with grazing sheep designed-in.

It’s not just Berlin that does this. When I lived in London, Lambeth Council painted bike symbols on Hercules Road to try and pretend it wasn’t an awful rat-run. That particular street is soon to be part of London’s forthcoming network patchwork of Quietways, so the green blobs of paint which taxis speed over will instead be purple blobs of paint which taxis speed over – more pretend infrastructure.

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road

Here’s another bit of pretend infra, a moment’s walk away from the first video, at the junction with Oderberger Straße (look at it on a map and you’ll see it’s clearly a rat-run to cut the corner of Eberswalder Straße and Schönhauser Allee – no traffic lights, either).

This junction is signposted “no vehicles, except bikes and emergency vehicles” yet there’s nothing at all to stop anyone driving through here. So what happens?

More pretend infra. There’s even a “no through route” sign at the end of the street, but the local drivers all know this is nonsense!

The most profitable form of pretend infrastructure at the moment is shared space. If you’ve strolled along London’s famous Exhibition Road recently, you’ll be aware of the magnitude of bullshit at work here.

Lots has been written about the failure of Exhibition Road and other examples of shared space so I won’t go into detail here, but unfortunately the on-trend placemaking street architects’ marketing teams are still busy selling snake-oil, as can be seen here on Hackney’s lovely new Leonard Circus, where white van drivers share safely with anyone lucky enough not to be in the way:

Would you want your loved ones wandering around there when he speeds through this pretend infrastructure again, or would you prefer some tried-and-tested, proven-to-work sustainable safety?


(If you have any examples of pretend infrastructure, please leave a comment!)


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14 responses to “Pretend infrastructure

  1. St Leonard Circus is a shame because it is quite a nice space, but as with Seven Dials at Covent Garden, the behaviour of people driving through ruins it. It could have been made a cul-de-sac 😦

  2. Angus Hewlett (@angus_fx)

    Could modal filtering work on Hercules Road? If so, I’ll pass that along to Lambeth Cyclists – seems like something the council would consider nowadays if there’s a push for it.

    Now, there’s a strong argument that the authorities should be proposing that in the first place, but a nudge in the right direction may be sufficient – Lambeth are very much coming around to the idea of extensive filtering.

  3. livinginabox

    One give-away sign* of pretend infrastructure, is that the paint wears-out rapidly in ways that are entirely characteristic of heavily traffic-laden roads.
    *(aside from all the motor-vehicles that is)
    At intersections where speed changes occur and vehicles brake and accelerate, motor-vehicles are often forced to stop. So road-paint wears out more rapidly in the acceleration and braking zone. Whereas people riding bicycles are often able to make their observations due to their slower approach, ease-off the power and accelerate gently, placing minimal stress on the paint and the road-surface beneath.
    Of course, genuine cycle infrastructure doesn’t need much paint and what there is, will last much longer, because the vehicles are hugely less powerful (negligible scrubbing / shear-stress ) and much lighter (negligible grip & road-surface flexure). Presumably, the generalised formula for Road Surface Damage broadly applies – R.S.D. ∝ fourth power of the axle weight
    Using a small car @ 1000kg=> RSD of 1.0
    An 80kg person riding a 12kg bike will cause RSD of ~1/14000 of the 1000kg car.
    Whereas a 3000kg car will cause ~81 times the damage caused by the 1000kg car.
    Assumption: That this applies to very light vehicles.

    • That can also be seen on rat-run speed-bumps here, where a succession of heavy vehicles have made indentations in the incline.

      Unfortunately rather than seeing the worn-out paint as a symptom of a bigger problem, roads authorities merely paint a fresh coat every few years. Sadly this applies to Berlin just as much as London!

  4. StVO

    “Does that look suitable for young children?”
    fyi:Children on bicycles must use sidewalks until the age of 8 (and may use them till they are 10 years old in Germany.) They may not use the street/carrigeway or a cycleway/cyclestreet.
    But yes, cyclestreets are for cities that want to promote bike riding whitout spending money on wide, safe and visible cycleways.

    • Thanks for that, I’d forgotten about that crazy law. What a great excuse for the authorities to ignore younger people when designing for cycling.

      How on Earth does it work when an adult is out riding with a 7 year old child? Is the adult meant to ride on the road, while the child is on the path? That can’t possibly work in real life!

      • StVO

        It doesn’t work and yes they are. But in real life most cops don’t ticket you, when you’re accompanying a child on a sidewalk.

  5. davidhembrow

    Not all bicycles roads in the Netherlands are successful, but the successful ones have two things in common: As well as having lots of cyclists they don’t have through motor traffic. When these two things are true, they can work really well.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between different types of motor traffic. People near their destination tend to drive more sensibly than those making through journeys who never wanted to be here in the first place and for whom a street is just a temporary impedance on their much longer journey.

    The bicycle road in Assen works very well, but it’s probably just on the outside limit of how long it could be and remain good. Much longer and many of the drivers here would be strangers who would behave worse than they do now.

    Sadly, there are now proposals for Groningen to have bicycle roads which are in places where they are unlikely to work properly because these proposals are for streets which already have too much through traffic. We’ll see…

  6. D.

    I’m not sure if it’s quite the same thing, but can I suggest The Horsefair in central Bristol.

    This is a single lane road running between shops on one side and shops on the other. It doesn’t really go anywhere exclusive – there are alternate routes available for ‘through traffic’. It is supposed to be emergency vehicles, bicycles, buses, taxis, and deliveries. Oh, and ‘for access’, which unfortunately means every person out there who can’t be arsed to walk from the purpose built multi storey car park goes through there and parks or just goes through there because its a shorter route (marginally) than the alternative.

    The road surface is broken up by HGVs (that’s right, many of those deliveries are by old-fashioned articulated lorries) and buses (the road is on many central bus routes).

    There have been accidents along there: the road cuts between Broadmead (the old original pedestrianised shopping area with its own mini-mall and multi storey car park) and Cabot Circus (the newer built enclosed shopping mall with its own multi storey), there are no crossings, and many visitors to the city don’t realise (understandably) that a pretty busy road cuts these two pedestrianised areas in half.

    The powers that be have never had the nerve to cut the road out of the bus routes, or to put a bus gate in and close it to non-bus traffic.

    It can take five minutes to safely wait and cross this single lane, ‘access only’ road.

  7. Pingback: More ‘pretend infrastructure’ – Gudvanger Straße, Berlin | The Alternative Department for Transport

  8. Pingback: Vorgetäuschte Infrastruktur | Das andere Bundesministerium für Verkehr

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