More broken promises on Leeds’ so-called “Cycle Superhighway”

After the anger surrounding the dangerous new junction at Grange Avenue in Bradford, another kind reader has sent me photos of shockingly poor design on the brand new Leeds-Bradford “Cycle Superhighway”.

This time, the junction is at the A647 Stanningley Road (a busy motorway-esque road with a 40mph speed limit) and Houghley Lane (a residential street with some, but not much, rat-run potential). Here’s a link to the location on Google Maps, the junction in question is the one on the north (eastbound) side of Stanningley Road.

Like last time, the original plans released by City Connect clearly show a junction with priority for those cycling across the minor road:

A section of released plans for the junction of Stanningley Road and Houghton Lane in Leeds, clearly showing an unbroken painted cycle lane across the junction mouth.

Although it’s a very poor design, there is at least clear priority for people cycling across the junction. The original PDF is here.

Never mind that the design – used frequently in the Leeds-Bradford plans – shows the kind of junction at which cyclists are returned to the carriageway, meaning this won’t be attractive to people who currently don’t cycle.

Never mind that this is exactly the kind of junction design despised by German cycle campaigners for its role in many cycling deaths and injuries.

Never mind that this junction is where Kate Furneaux was killed in 2009 by rat-running lorry driver Peter McCurry. And never mind that the new design shown above offers no protection or benefit over the painted cycle lane that Kate Furneaux was using.

Never mind that the junction could easily be removed entirely, eliminating the danger altogether. Residents could instead use the signalled junction at Cockshott Lane, adding a mere 0.1 miles to their journey.

Never mind that Stanningley Road is over 30 metres wide at this location, with a huge grassy median and turning area, providing plenty of space which could be used for a top-class junction design.

So never mind all that information, which tells us that several far superior solutions were possible, desirable and necessary.

Let’s take a look at what has been installed:

A cycleway and footway next to a busy road, with a junction just beyond. The cycleway suddenly ends, the footway becomes shared use for walking and cycling, and metal barriers appear.

This doesn’t look continuous to me. And it certainly ain’t “super”.

I’m told that a safety audit flagged up the death of Kate Furneaux, and suggested that a painted cycle lane wasn’t safe here. It should have been clear from the start that this junction needed genuine improvements. Why must it come to a safety audit before anyone realises that painted cycle lanes are no good? Any cycle campaigner could have told them that years ago.

So I can see why the original plans were changed – but the delivered design is a terrible solution that does little to address the danger. There is so much wrong with it, it might even be worse than what was planned.

People riding along the cycleway are expected to join the footway, turn left, turn right, then cross the side road (without priority) as if on foot. At the other side, they’re expected to perform the same manoeuvre in reverse to join the next section of cycleway (which is being used as a parking bay in the photo above) just before a busy driveway cuts across it.

To add insult to injury, there’s two grates and wheel-grabbing tactile slabs just as you’re expected to make the left turn.

Unsurprisingly, many people are choosing to leave the cycleway at this point, and rejoin the carriageway – as is evidenced by the many tyre tracks in the mud. No doubt this will cause aggravation as drivers believe “cyclists don’t even use the perfectly good cycle lane provided.” This stuff doesn’t please those who already cycle, and it won’t entice many to begin cycling either.

The City Connect scheme was an opportunity to reconfigure the road to provide real cycling infrastructure, safe and suitable for all. Instead we’re left with another broken promise, another dangerous junction, another useless piece of pretend infrastructure squeezed into a tiny slice of land between the footway and a dangerous road.


 

Before publishing this blog post, I asked City Connect if they’d like to comment, and received the following:

“The design was altered following concerns raised through the safety audit. The concerns are around the junction layout and a cyclist fatality at this junction. In addition to this, the time and budget constraints on this project mean that we are unable to change the junction to a more desirable line due to 3rd party land constraints. Given that this scheme is the first one that’s sought to create a predominantly segregated cycle route, and the current cycle lane is on highway, it would not meet our aspirations to leave as is.

We are committed to reviewing the operation of these facilities and, if necessary, make any alterations, subject to funding availability. We are also reviewing the pedestrian guard rail at this point and the proximity and positioning of it in relation to the cycle track and there is also a speed table to be installed. We recognized concerns raised by local cyclists and are addressing them through the programme resource. It’s not yet finished and the consultation and review process for the whole scheme is continuing.”

I’m grateful for the swift reply, but I’m not convinced by any of the points raised. The safety audit rightly recognised the lack of protection offered by paint, but the chosen ‘solution’ is clearly encouraging many cyclists to use the carriageway, negating any benefits which a cycleway might bring.

While I accept that City Connect may well be “committed to reviewing” this farcility, it’s clear that the money has been spent and it’s pretty much going to remain like this for a long time. Enjoy using your Superhighway, folks.

As Leeds has just been outed as one of the worst UK cities for air pollution (air pollution costs Leeds £480m anually, and obesity costs £304m) you might expect the council to enable active transport, yet instead we merely get half-baked infrastructure and more hot air in the form of weak excuses.

Leeds may well have been the Motorway City of the Seventies, but it’s now Car-Choked City of the 2000s – and the council is doing everything they can to make sure it remains that way for a long time.

 


 

Does anyone have any genuinely good examples of infrastructure from this project worth sharing? Get in touch if so.

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German cycleways and the right to the road

This article was originally published on my German blog, but it may well be of interest to my English readers, so here it is.

It concerns the obsession that many German cycle campaigners have with the law which makes many cycleways mandatory to use. It’s known in German as ‘Benutzungspflicht’ – don’t try to pronounce it – but I’ll refer to it as the ‘Pflicht’ in this English version, because “usage obligation” sounds rather cumbersome.

There’s a lot of noise made about the Pflicht here, a bit like how liability legislation or the effectiveness of vehicular cycling is hyped up out of all proportion in the UK. Campaigners would achieve far better results if they focussed instead on what actually works.

Unfortunately the comments on the German post are largely divided into people who believe the Pflicht is a terrible thing for cycling which must be removed immediately, and people who believe the Pflicht is the only thing which is keeping the German cycleways from being ripped out altogether. Few seem to agree with my suggestion that it’s largely irrelevant and that we should concentrate on demanding great cycling infrastructure.

By the way, I’ve got permission to translate lots of great English-language blog posts, so if you know German (no need to be perfect, we can clean it up before publishing) and have the time and inclination to do some translating, then please do get in touch.

 

The Pflicht (German law making most cycleways mandatory to use) is not what holds back cycling in Germany. Bad cycling infrastructure is the cause of Germany’s lacklustre cycling rate.

Firstly, let me say that I understand why so many hate the Pflicht, and why many also oppose the concept of cycleways. Most cycleways in my city of Berlin are awful, truly dire – narrow, bumpy strips squeezed onto the edge of the footway. That’s not a cycleway, it’s an insult, and it’s unreasonable to compel people to use such rubbish.

But the oft-suggested solution to this problem – to demand an end to cycleways and to gain the right to ride on the carriageway – isn’t really a solution at all. It merely swaps one set of problems for another.

Even for fast, confident cyclists, removing the Pflicht will not suddenly make drivers behave nicely, just as plenty of other rules are ignored by people using any mode of transport. Taking down that round blue sign won’t change attitudes towards cyclists on the road, and it’s not a step towards safer cycling for all.

It’s also very exclusionary: there are huge numbers of people for whom cycling amongst motor vehicles simply can’t work. Children, seniors, people with disabilities – they all have the right to fast, efficient transport too. On-road cycling is clearly not a mass transport solution.

A wide, busy road in Berlin with fast-moving motor vehicles and no cycling infrastructure. A lone person riding a bike is on the wide footway.

Lifting the compulsory use regulation will not change this busy road into a comfortable or safe cycling environment.

Could the Pflicht even be a good thing?

The two most successful cycling countries on the planet have a Pflicht. That’s right: our neighbours the Netherlands and Denmark both have compulsory-use cycleways.

And nobody in those countries questions it. Why would you want to cycle on the road amongst dangerous, pollution-spewing cars and vans, when you can use smooth, wide cycleways instead? (The key point here being that they’re good quality.)

Conversely, my home country of Great Britain has no Pflicht at all. It never has done.

That’s right, it’s a dream come true for German cycling activists – British cyclists have the legal right to use the road, just as the driver of a car does. Surely Britain must be a cycling paradise! Surely cars are outnumbered by bikes even more than in Dutch towns!

Well the answer is no, not even close.

Cycling in the UK is almost without exception awful. It’s considered to be stressful and dangerous, something that only a fit, healthy and slightly eccentric few actually bother doing. The very concept of cycling has been reduced to an extreme sport that only enthusiasts bother with, and it’s generally spoken of in derisive terms. It’s hard to express how low the status of cycling is in the UK. Cycling for practical reasons almost doesn’t exist in most of the country.

The diagram shows that the Netherlands has very high levels of safety and very good infrastructure, while the UK is the exact opposte. Denmark and Germany are in the middle.

The Netherlands is clearly the success story, and the UK isn’t. So why would we want to copy what the UK has done?

The graph above is based on this graph which showed more countries, but I’ve simplified it to show only the countries I’m familiar with.

The Pflicht clearly correlates with a higher cycling rate and lower death rate. Of course other factors also play a role, but it could be argued that the Pflicht actually increases the cycling rate, and makes cycling safer. That’s not my contention, however the Pflicht clearly doesn’t harm cycling rates.

What the graph definitely does show is that the Pflicht is, at worst, an irrelevance with regards to more and safer cycling. The two lead nations for cycling both have a Pflicht, but as they also have good cycling infrastructure, it’s not an issue. You’ll search long and hard to find many Dutch or Danish cycle campaigners demanding the right to cycle on the road. (They do campaign for improvements to cycleways, however.)

The UK, conversely, has no real cycling infrastructure to speak of, except for painted cycle lanes on the road, which are ubiquitous. The right to cycle on the road hasn’t aided cycling in the UK one bit. Quite the opposite, in fact: once cycling on the road is the design goal, traffic engineers can effectively ignore cycling altogether. It becomes obsolete, a historic footnote.

A busy junction in London. Lots of vans, taxis, buses and cars sweep around the corner.

Yes, everyone – children, the elderly, and everyone in between – has the right to cycle here. Funny, that so few people choose to exercise that right.

And that’s exactly what will happen here too, if Germany’s cycle campaigns get their wish and cycling on the carriageway becomes the norm. Most people who use a bike for transport simply don’t want to cycle amongst motor traffic (most Germans choose to use even very poor quality cycleways rather than ride amongst motor traffic).

Cycling is never made more pleasant, safer or more convenient by the addition of motor vehicles. If the only option is to mix with motor traffic, then people will vote with their feet and abandon cycling, as happened in Britain.

The oil and motor industries must be rubbing their hands with glee when they see how so many cycle campaigners are asking for the very thing that will kill cycling off.

Cycling is too good for the carriageway

Cycling is a great mode of transport, especially in cities. It’s clean and fast, it goes directly from starting point to destination, takes just seconds to set off and to park. It’s egalitarian, suitable for people of all types, ages and abilities. It presents very little danger to the user, and compared to motoring it presents very little danger to others.

Cycling is far too important a mode of transport to be mixed in with motoring. Motor vehicles are polluting and dangerous, their queues hold everyone up, and they take ages to manoeuvre and park. How does cycling benefit from being mixed up with all that? Cycling has inherently positive qualities, which are negated by both poor-quality cycleways and by on-road cycling.

A road in London, with parked cars on the left and a queue of traffic in the nearside lane. A bus is closest to the camera. There is no space for a person cycling to get through.

Cycling deserves much better than to be mixed up with motor traffic. The queues which are an inherent problem of motor vehicles do nothing to benefit cycling.

Cycling shouldn’t merely be provided for. It solves or alleviates so many problems in cities that it deserves to be prioritised and favoured, to play to its strengths, and to make it the most convenient and obvious choice for those journeys to which it is suited. It needs be treated as a distinct mode of transport, important enough for its own place in the street – not something to be squeezed on to the footway, nor thrown in amongst the motor vehicles.

More cycling benefits everyone (except the oil companies) so journeys by bike should be a top transport priority for the authorities responsible for transport. Even people not cycling benefit from increased cycling, as there’s fewer traffic jams, cleaner air, fewer fatal crashes and less crowding on public transport. Conversely, more driving harms everyone – more pollution, more queues, more crashes, injuries and deaths.

The only proven way to genuinely promote cycling is to campaign for real space for cycling. This means real cycleways – call them cycle-roads if you want – along main roads. Back streets should all be mode-filtered to prevent them being used as through-routes by motor vehicle (bollards and/or one-way restrictions achieve this). This needs network-level planning, not disjointed bits and pieces.

Lots of people on bikes, all in casual clothes and riding in both directions at a busy junction in the Netherlands.

Cycling must be treated as a real, important, and distinct mode of transport. It mustn’t be treated merely as fast walking or slow driving.

Cycling should be a key part of public transport policy. Merely asking for it to be treated like driving – awkwardly thrown into sharing space with cumbersome, dangerous machinery – will only lead to less cycling, as the UK has so clearly demonstrated.

We must follow the leader, look to the Netherlands for the best examples (and keep a critical eye on the poorer stuff). We should talk about cycling like the great mode of transport it really is, and demand that it be treated with the priority it deserves.

If cycling advocates won’t demand the best, who will?

A montage of six Dutch cycling scenes: two young ladies, an older man, a woman with a child in a box-bike and another child riding alongside, a group of teenagers, an older woman, and two young children.

When cycling is treated properly, then all sections of society have access to this fast, healthy and cheap form of transportation.

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London’s Super Danger Junction: A lesson in why cycle campaigners must demand the best

When Transport for London finished their new cycleway between Bow roundabout and Stratford two years ago, I was excited to go see it. I’d already seen photos of this apparently “truly super” cycleway, and it looked promising.

I’d also seen TfL’s video explaining how to turn right by turning left three times, crossing a footway, and waiting in an ASL, so I knew that it wouldn’t be perfect.

But nothing prepared me for how badly-designed the junctions were. I stood there stupefied. The cycle infrastructure stopped short of the junctions, meaning that they’re no better than any other junction in London. There’s only paint and crossed fingers to protect people on bikes from turning vehicles.

A dangerously designed junction on CS2, where there's no physical protection for people cycling

This is not a well-designed cycleway. This is merely a painted cycle lane, proven to be dangerous.

In particular, I focussed on the junction with Warton Road as an example of a particularly dangerous design. Charlie Lloyd and Mike Cavenett also pinpointed this junction in an article for the LCC. For some reason, the cycleway has been reduced in length since these articles were written, and it now ends even further back at this junction.

A van turns left while cyclists are green to go straight on, on CS2 at Stratford

Unsegregated junctions: proven to be dangerous

And the results are in

So it was no surprise to me when the junction of Stratford High Street and Warton Road was named as the most dangerous in Britain.

A screenshot from The Times' map of dangerous cycling junctions, showing 8 casualties at Wharton Road in Stratford, London, in 2014

It is with no joy that I write this article. It gives me very little pleasure to say “I told you so” – I’d much rather TfL had built a proper Dutch junction, proven to be safe. But instead a death trap was built, and people are now injured.

How was this missed by road safety auditors but picked up on by an enthusiastic amateur like me? How could TfL’s army of well-paid engineers draw such dangerous rubbish? I’m glad that TfL are finally installing cycleways, but their implementation still needs to improve. (The newest stuff is better than this section of CS2, but still has flaws which require criticism.)

Cycle infra must be done properly. Cycle campaigners should not be afraid to point out mistakes. Criticising dangerous design and suggesting improvements is not a negative thing to do. In fact it’s a very positive thing to do – it’s what brought about the London authorities’ willingness to consider cycling at all.

Sadly cycle campaigning has a history of applauding half-baked concepts, or even complete rubbish (here in Berlin local cycle campaigners recently wrote a eulogy to 1.3m-wide painted lanes on a brand-new main road).

By all means praise good design, and say thanks when space is claimed for cycling. But that doesn’t mean we must never criticise. Everything isn’t either perfect or dreadful, most things are usually somewhere in-between.

I can accept compromises, but there must be a level of quality below which we will not fall. We’re still being offered paint-only junctions on busy roads in London, and they’re still being praised by people who should know better, so it seems the message still isn’t getting through everywhere.

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

This design is way over my red line of unacceptable infrastructure. The entire brown area will be just painted lanes, no physical separation.

I hope cycle campaigners can at least learn from this, and make sure that they have minimum standards which are good enough. It doesn’t mean that rubbish will never be installed, of course, but it will at least mean we have firmer ground for making requests for better infra in future.

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Vehicular Cycling Propaganda of the Week #2: “Give Me Cycle Space”

One of an occasional series offering a satirical look at VC propaganda.

There’s something about this long-running campaign by Cycling Scotland that really irritates me.

The original 2012 advert is a pathetic plea to drivers, imploring them to follow rule 163 of the Highway Code. Unless I’m sorely mistaken, it hasn’t improved cycling conditions in Scotland one bit.

Thank you for giving me this much cycle space.” Ugh. Pathetic. “Thank you for not endangering my life.”

The biggest lie is how they pretend that children cycling to school is a normal thing nowadays, and that the cherry on the cake would be if they were given a vague amount of space on the very rare occasions that an automobile is encountered.

Note the holes in the wool they’re trying to pull over your eyes though: The car-sick housing estate the children are on their bikes in at the end, including a car parked on the footway. I expect that normally this street is full of parked cars which would prevent such a textbook overtake, and that the producers of this advert had to ask people to move their cars for the filming. More propaganda.

The 2015 version goes even further, suggesting that cycling is a normal and common way for anyone of any age to get around in Scotland:

To the Dutch this advert probably looks like a normal everyday scene. But anybody in Britain knows that this isn’t based on reality. Perhaps there’s a couple of places that vaguely resemble this, but they’re few and far between.

Doesn’t even do what it says on the rusty old tin

Though for me the oddest thing about this campaign is that it doesn’t even communicate its message clearly. The outstretched arms seems to suggest that drivers should make sure to give an arms’ length gap when overtaking, but we know that’s actually far too close.

No actual passing distance in feet or metres is given, the message “give as least as much space as you would give a car” is open to interpretation. Some drivers would happily overtake another car – or a bin lorry – with only a few inches clearance. They might see this advert and assume their driving is just fine.

So in short, it’s wasted time and wasted money. This sort of thing has been tried again and again for decades, with nothing to show for it as far as I can tell.

A large billboard with the words 'You can never give a cyclist too much room. If you want to keep casualties down, keep your distance'. It has a hugely stretched bike on it. Cars speed past in the foreground.

“You can never give a failed idea too many tries.” (Source: YouTube)

But unfortunately there’s a whole industry that’s been built up around this kind of crap, whole armies of people whose jobs rely on the continuing failure of their dismal propaganda, so we can expect more of the same.

There’s that saying, usually attributed to Einstein, about how repeating the same thing but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity – but when people’s wages depend on the repetition of failed ideas, perhaps that’s enough of an incentive to be cynically insane.

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The Liability Myth

In Chris Boardman’s otherwise excellent video about Utrecht, there was one dim patch – his claim that “the presumed liability law … ensures every road user is obliged to look after the more vulnerable”.

I don’t know who is briefing Boardman, but it’s extremely naïve to think that anyone is worrying about the fine print in their insurance documents while driving – especially someone who drives badly anyway. If they’re not worried about dangerous driving laws, then they won’t care about a small aspect of their insurance policy.

It’s a popular myth among cycling advocates that presumed liability (or strict liability) changes driver behaviour, even though the reality has been explained time and time again by people who live with it every day.

Yet the claim of massive behaviour change is still repeated, with headlines suggesting it will “hold drivers automatically accountable” and articles suggesting that “motorists [will be] automatically at fault“. (Even if it was true, this sort of language will only alienate huge numbers of people.)

The liability myth also ignores the fact that while almost every European country has such laws (the exceptions being the UK, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus and Malta), the cycling rates and safety statistics vary massively across Europe, with no clear correlation to liability laws.

The mythical land of meek drivers

My introduction to the concept of presumed/strict liability laws – and the hyperbole surrounding it – was on one of the first cycling protests I ever went on. I didn’t even own a bike at the time, so took part on foot instead.

One guy on the protest told us that Canada had an amazing law which put all responsibility on to motor vehicle drivers, and punished them harshly if they caused any harm, causing them to drive extremely carefully. “If you’re walking along, and even put one foot on the kerb, all the drivers suddenly stop,” he enthused. “They’re terrified of hitting a pedestrian, as they know they’ll get the blame. It’s amazing!”

This sounded extremely unlikely to me, but having no knowledge of the situation in Canada, I didn’t challenge it. Having researched the matter since then, I can say that he was talking utter nonsense. (I haven’t been to Canada, but do have friends there, who have confirmed to me that it’s nonsense.)

Liability-law reality

Well, for well over a year now I’ve been living in a country which has presumed liability laws, and I can tell you that the human beings here aren’t fundamentally different from the human beings elsewhere. Here in Berlin, drivers don’t seem to possess that irrational hatred of people cycling as is common in the UK, but they can still be just as inattentive, aggressive or selfish when driving.

Van drivers will still speed up to get through an amber traffic light. Young men still let their testosterone do the driving. People still use mobile phones and sat-navs while driving. Lorry drivers are still paid to deliver as quickly as possible. Taxi drivers still suddenly pull over into the bike lane for their passengers, or creep into the pedestrian crossing while the green man is lit. And arseholes will still pass dangerously close if they decide you’re not riding with due deference to motor vehicles (i.e. in the gutter).

I’m not imagining all this. It’s real, genuine crap driving. I’ve seen so much of it. I was recently “punishment passed” – on the wrong side – so close that I could have stuck my finger in the driver’s ear. Every time something like that happens, I mutter a curse to those who claim that drivers can be forced to be considerate by law. (Even the Stalinist dictatorship of East Germany, with its huge network of ruthless secret police couldn’t achieve compliance from the entire population – so what hope does a bit of insurance law have?)

The only time I know I won’t experience bad driving is where there are no cars (due to filtering) or where there’s a cycleway. Those are the real changes that genuinely make cycling safe and attractive.

After all that, yes to liability laws!

Having said all that, I do believe that the UK should have presumed liability laws – it makes sense that a person who is injured by dangerous machinery shouldn’t have to worry about the financial effects of the incident while they’re recovering. Those expenses should be covered by the insurance of the person operating the dangerous machinery.

But that’s all it is – it’s a piece of insurance law, a civil matter. It has no bearing on criminal liability. Such legislation is a good thing, but it won’t mean that dangerous drivers are automatically considered guilty after a crash. Liability laws aren’t a stick with which militant cyclists can beat drivers, no matter how much some may wish that was true.

So by all means campaign for liability laws, but let’s stop pretending that they’ll create respect on the roads or cause bad drivers to reconsider their behaviour. Instead, campaign for the genuine benefits that they bring, which would be a positive change for all people injured by motor vehicles, way beyond these mythical claims.

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A Dane’s view of cycling in Berlin

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht, hier.

This article has also been published in German, here.

Here is a guest post written by a Danish friend of ours who came to live in Berlin for five months this year. He’s now returned to Denmark, but before he left I asked his thoughts on cycling in Berlin, and transcribed his response.

I’ve edited our chat into logical sections, and changed some words for clarity – ‘pavement’ into ‘footway’, for example. The photo captions are also mine.

On the design of Berlin’s cycleways

One of the first experiences I had with the cycling infrastructure in Berlin was when I found myself walking on a cycleway without realising. The difference between the footway and the cycleway is so subtle, they’re at the same level and almost the same colour.

It’s only when someone passes you closely or rings their bell that you realise it’s a cycleway. When my parents visited I had to constantly watch out for them, tell them when they were walking on the cycleway. It’s so difficult to tell. You see tourists every day who are confused about it, they don’t see it.

The widths of the cycleways in Berlin make absolutely no sense. Some are only wide enough for one person, and even the wider ones are still not wide enough to overtake another cyclist comfortably, so people end up using the footway to overtake. It impacts on people walking, of course, as people are cycling more on the footway.

People walking and cycling closely on a cycleway and footway in Berlin, where a pavement café doesn't help matters.

Cramped footway and level cycleway – yet space for five lanes for motor vehicles, plus a wide central reservation.

So the width, they just get that wrong. You have to give 2 metres at least, like in Copenhagen, where some places you can cycle 4 abreast and there’s still room to overtake, although it varies throughout the city.

When you can’t cycle beside one another you can’t be social, so cycling becomes a solo endeavour. Many times I’ve wanted to say something to the people I’m with, but have to shout it from behind. Imagine travelling in a car in which you can’t speak to any of the other occupants.

Every time a cycleway or footway is too narrow, it kills the conversation that’s going on, as people have to go single file. Until I cycled in Berlin, I didn’t realise the importance of being able to ride socially in parallel, as opposed to serial mode.

People ride bikes on a very wide and smooth cycleway in Copenhagen

A cycleway in Copenhagen. Yes, it’s true: this entire smooth, wide surface is just for cycling (and related modes).

On the quality and maintenance of Berlin’s cycleways

I’ve come up with a theory that you can’t ride a bike for more than a few metres in Berlin without encountering a bump of some sort. Some cycleways are just constant bumps. My bike is now rattling due to parts coming loose on the uneven surfaces.

I really don’t understand why tiles were chosen to surface the Berlin cycleways. They’re really annoyingly uneven. It all adds up, in terms of friction and resistance, compared to smooth asphalt they take much more energy to ride on. And I can’t imagine they’re much easier to maintain. You’re basically cycling on waves – waves made of hard tile edges.

A cycleway in Berlin, where the surface tiles are coming loose, causing discomfort and danger. One tile is so uneven that the entire side of it can be seen.

People in cars get smooth asphalt to ride on, while people on bikes get loose tiles amongst many other ever-changing surface types.

On encounters with people driving motor vehicles

In my time here, I’ve come to realise that I don’t enjoy cycling in Berlin, especially after my near-death experience with a bus, followed by being cut up by someone driving an SUV.

It was a lucky thing that I was so awake and alert, and it was only because I’m so agile that I could jump off the road onto the footway when the bus almost hit me. And it was only because I was cycling slowly that there was no collision with the SUV – had I being going as fast as I often do, I’d have smashed into it.

You can’t really count on the drivers to stop here when they should. A Danish friend of mine who also lives in Berlin says that there is this culture of drivers not being aware of bikes. I would certainly approach junctions more carefully here, and be ready to stop, because I’d be the one to lose out in a collision.

A traffic-signalled junction in Berlin, where turning cars must give way to pedestrians who have a green light, but the driver has blocked the cycle route due to poor design.

The driver of the silver car has turned into, and is blocking, the cycle route. The junctions are designed in such a way that this frequently happens.

On the concept of vehicular cycling

I told that same Danish friend about Forester and Franklin and the idea of fighting for the right to the road, and he laughed out loud about it, just as I had when I first heard of it. It’s totally backwards.

He’s probably the kind of guy who – if he’d grown up in Berlin – would be a radical cyclist, fighting for that right. But it’s only good for the fast ones who can keep up with traffic. Children and old people can’t ride like that.

I guess it’s because of ignorance – you’d only fight for your right to the road when you’ve only known crap cycleways. I would probably be fighting for that right if I’d grown up here. And only if I was thinking about myself, of course.

Thinking about my grandmother, it makes no sense. She’s 81, lives in Denmark, and she cycles pretty much every day. Where she lives there’s a segregated cycleway a couple of metres away from the road.

I can only rarely remember having seen people in DK who have chosen the road over the cycleways. It could be that they were just tourists, or maybe I’m inventing that memory now I’m being asked about it.

I don’t think I’m unique, every Danish person would realise how ridiculous VC is. It’s not a thing in Denmark. It just couldn’t be.

On growing up cycling in Denmark

Where I grew up in Odense I had my own wide cycleway, it wasn’t even beside a road. That’s how I got to school – on my own road, only for cycling.

I grew up in an urban area, there’s a network of cycleways away from roads, all the way from home to school and everywhere else. We lived in two different parts of the city, and they both were connected to a safe cycling network.

I would say that Odense feels safer than Copenhagen. It’s a lot less crowded, and you’re not even near the road for the most part. I don’t think I valued it, I never thought it was unusual.

I could do things that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise, as my mum could trust me to cycle alone without worrying. As a child, while I was cycling home from school on these cycleways – cycle roads, really – I would play games in my head, it was so safe you didn’t have to concentrate hard and be hyper-alert.

It was entirely stress-free. Actually, that’s an understatement.

A wide asphalt cycleway flows away the camera. Grass can be seen either side, with houses beyond it. There are street lights and side-paths connecting the houses.

What stress-free cycling looks like in the suburbs of Odense, in Denmark. Unravelled cycleway through the very centre of a housing estate, with no cars anywhere nearby.

On the politics of cycling

Speaking of cyclists, I think it’s one of those self-reinforcing things. The number of cyclists relates to the quality of the infrastructure. Perhaps Berlin does better than the cycleways indicate, because so many people cycle on the wide footways, which is accepted here. You wouldn’t see kids cycling, for example, if they couldn’t ride on the footways.

I had never thought much about cycling before moving to Berlin, it was just something I had always done and taken for granted. I’m not sure if I’d have thought about it so much if I hadn’t happened to moved in with the author of this blog.

I’d have probably just not cycled much here and not really thought about the reasons why. I don’t cycle in Berlin anywhere near as much as I did in Denmark. It just feels unsafe here.

There’s a big difference in the feeling of safety, you have to be very alert when you ride around here, compared to Copenhagen. The difference is the cycleways, which in Copenhagen are protected from cars, and clearly separate to the footway – so you don’t find cars on them or people walking on them.

In Berlin, parking is prioritised over walking and cycling, it makes no sense. Just a few parking spaces are allowed to ruin the walking and cycling conditions for thousands of people. Even trees are prioritised over safe cycling!

A cycleway in Berlin suddenly narrows to around 0.5 metres wide because of a few trees. The wide multi-lane carriageway is undisturbed.

Notice how the carriageway remains unaffected by the line of trees.

In conclusion

Cycling around Berlin resembles the pod-racing scene from Star Wars.

A cycleway narrows as it wiggles sharply around a pole which is installed in its way. There are further barriers on the right too.

Go right… No, go left! Ah, just ride on the footway instead…

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Vehicular Cycling Propaganda of the Week #1

The first in an occasional series offering a satirical look at VC propaganda.

These children are being empowered to ride on this busy road – but only when dressed as builders and being shepherded by a group of luminous adults riding defensively.

Of course, we wouldn’t want empowered children cycling safely and independently by, say, converting half of that road into a physically protected cycleway. No no no, that would be giving in to the motor industry. It would mean that the cars had won.

The only way we militant cyclists can defeat the motor menace is by getting children to cycle amongst fast, heavy motor traffic.

Because it’s empowering.

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