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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A Study of the Obvious, a Franklin-on-Your-Shoulder, and the Myth of the “Inexperienced Cyclist”

Yet another ridiculous news story has landed, this time about some students at Edinburgh University who have attached electrodes, cameras and microphones to people’s heads to see how stressed they feel riding around in a park compared to a huge, busy roundabout.

So it’s another piece of research you can file under “No Shit, Sherlock”, then. (“Do people on bikes feel stressed when faced with multiple, swirling lanes of massive trucks? There’s only one way to find out. Approve that research funding, professor!”)

But the real kicker is this: rather than use this data to identify which roads and junctions most urgently need updating with modern, cycling-friendly infrastructure, the intention is to develop a smartphone app which will then act as a mini John Franklin (or worse – John Forester) telling you to take the lane and watch out for car doors, as if it’s going to make the slightest fucking difference to anything.

I mean, come on, seriously? Does anyone really think that this will “encourage reluctant cyclists”? 25 years of Cyclecraft haven’t worked, turning it into a nagging back-seat passenger is unlikely to have any effect either.

The roundabout in the video looks awful. The real-life Franklin and Forester could stand at the side of the road, both yelling at me to take the outside lane, and I’d still choose to get off and walk. No smartphone app is that persuasive.

Are you experienced?

Why does this false concept of the “inexperienced cyclist” who needs only encouragement and advice keep cropping up? This is a prevalent idea, that people new to cycling are shrinking violets who just need some handy hints and exposure to horrific conditions to turn them into a road warrior.

Well I call bullshit on that. I’m an “experienced cyclist” but I’d get off and walk too, because I’m not so insanely numbed to danger that I’m willing to ignore it and pretend that my range of hints and tips are what keep me alive.

By any measure, most residents of the Netherlands are “experienced cyclists” – even the laziest Dutchman will have vastly more cycling experience than the average Brit – and yet I can’t imagine many of them would happily launch themselves across Crewe Toll roundabout.

A woman cycles on a smooth, wide cycleway, separated from both the footway and the carriageway.

This woman probably has more cycling experience than 99% of the British population. It’s likely that she rides a bike several times a week, and has done for decades. Does that mean she’s ready to Take the Lane™ at your nearest gyratory?

Everyone’s welcome

To add insult to injury someone from the local cycle campaign turns up to “welcome” this, seemingly because anything that’s remotely connected with bikes must be welcomed.

Has the council painted a bike symbol somewhere? We welcome it! Has the government announced £73 funding for more paint? We welcome it! Has somebody just said the word ‘bicycle’? We welcome it! Is there a dog turd which somebody has ridden a bike over, leaving the imprint of the tyre? We welcome it – because after all, it’s got something to do with cycling, so it might encourage that one extra person we need for the government to finally take notice of us! What else was the last 35 years for?

There is one aspect of this project that the campaigners don’t like though, and that’s reality. You see, this project involves people actually riding bikes in Britain, and therefore the grim reality of cycling on British roads is captured in the video footage. The campaigners fear that this might put some potential cyclists off.

That’s right, it’s video footage of the roads that’s putting people off cycling, not the roads themselves! Don’t fix the roads, just stop broadcasting footage of them, that’ll make the problem go away and we can get back to slapping the council on the back every time they mention cycling!

“This is bad enough in a car”

Interestingly, the video shows a brief clip of the research footage, where the students have transcribed what the riders were saying as they rode the route. “Experienced” cyclists’ spoken comments are shown in yellow, and comments uttered by “inexperienced” cyclists (AKA “normal people who aren’t desensitised to danger”) are shown in white.

In the article, the student claims that “the inexperienced cyclists make very emotional comments and were getting very stressed, whereas the experienced cyclists were just stating the obvious like ‘here comes another truck'”.

But looking at the short section of footage shown in the report, the “experienced” cyclists don’t seem particularly calm and collected either. They suggest a state of alertness that I’m sure not one of the motor vehicle drivers felt:

“Obviously roundabouts could be a lot better for cyclists” … “This is bad enough in a car” … “Roundabouts are pretty mental” … “Sharpish on to the roundabout while I can” … “There’s a van just behind me, he’s a bit keen to get on to the roundabout, I hope he gives me a chance” … “Feel very small compared to all these cars on this huge roundabout”

And remember, those are the quotes from the “experienced cyclists”! I don’t think any number of smartphone apps are going to fix that junction.

Screenshot from BBC News report, showing footage of cycling journey around a roundabout, superimposed with quotes from those cycling, such as 'Roundabouts are pretty mental'

“That’s scary, man” – you got that right!


Interestingly there is one comment, though without context, either from someone blessed with the gift of seeing the bright side of everything, or from one of those full-time cyclists who carries their bike around the supermarket and wears their greasy hi-vis to bed:

“It’s probably slightly easier on a bike, because you have a far, far better field of view.”

That’s a thin silver lining on a very dark cloud.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel-vision

Anyway, I’ll leave this Scrooge-like rant with a note of positivity, and that is this: Our message that better infrastructure is the main answer must be getting through, as the final paragraph is essentially an admission that the subject of the piece is bunkum:

“But their work has already reminded us why campaigners argue it is investment in improved infrastructure which is most likely to encourage more of us to choose two wheels in future.”

Exactly right. And with that, I wish you all the best for the season. Thanks for reading.


PS. The article claims that “campaigners point out that Edinburgh, and some other places, are already well on the way towards achieving 10% or an even higher cycle share of journeys.” Can anyone tell me which campaigners are saying this, as I’d really like to hear some justification of that patently false claim.

 

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Justice and Progress

There’s a lot of anger following the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, and justifiably so.

A driver hit and killed a man who was riding a bike directly in front of her car. For some unknown reason she didn’t see the man on the bike directly in front of her, but the police decided that this was not worth bothering the criminal courts with.

For more information about the case, I suggest you read this piece by Martin Porter QC, who represented Michael’s family at the inquest, this piece by Mark Treasure, and this piece by Evening Standard journalist Ross Lydall.

It’s a sad case, yet one more example of the UK establishment’s acceptance of road deaths.

But it’s also another example of why mixing cycling (or walking) with motor vehicles is never desirable.

Michael Mason was a very experienced rider. According to Ross Lydall’s blog post, he’d been “cycling daily throughout his adult life” – i.e. for over 50 years.

So he’s been riding a bike ever since the Beatles’ first single was released, since Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister.

In short, this guy really knew how to ride a bike.

So if someone as experienced as Michael Mason can get hit and be killed, any of us can. All those tricks and tips you think keep you safe when out cycling on the road? Michael probably had figured all those out before you were even born.

And yet his skill and experience wasn’t enough to save him. No amount of training, experience, testosterone or guile can save you from a car being badly driven. There’s no Bikeability level that will save you from a surprise rear-end shunt.

What would have prevented Michael Mason’s death, however, is a Dutch-style physically-separate cycleway.

Had there been proper cycleways along Regent Street – as there should be – then he would have been nowhere near that car, however badly driven it was. His death should never have happened.

And yet this simple truth still evades many.

The whole “shared space” concept is based on mixing motor vehicles with people walking and cycling, for example.

There’s recently been a glut of “cycling design guides” which suggest that mixing modes is desirable, even at low speeds. (Note: Mixing modes is sometimes acceptable when motor vehicle volumes and speeds are very low, but it’s never desirable.) Often cycling is touted as a way to “tame” motor traffic, while in reality the motor traffic intimidates and discourages people from cycling.

And there are still plenty who believe that becoming “skilled up” to cope with the current conditions is the only way forward for cycling in this country – despite the fact that many cyclists who are killed have a high level of skill.

This awful case shows how badly wrong those people are.

The aftermath of Michael Mason’s death shows us how shockingly lacking the British justice system is.

But the collision itself reminds us how lacking Britain’s road system is, and why it needs redesigning.


 

People using bikes on a cycleway in the Netherlands. A busy bus route, but bikes and buses are kept apart.

None of these people are at risk of being hit from behind by a car.

 

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British Cycling’s myopic “Vision” for Leeds

Somehow, I missed this gem from earlier this year, but it’s so bad that it deserves a thorough savaging.

In July, British Cycling published their “Vision” for the Headrow in Leeds. Actually, it seems to be just a vague concept for a very small section of one street in Leeds, so its scale is hardly visionary to begin with.

First of all, let me tell you that the bit of the Headrow in question – directly outside the Town Hall – is utterly crap as it is now. Almost anything would be an improvement. (This is why the poll at the bottom of British Cycling’s article is rather stupid – “would you prefer to be fed shit, or shit with a crispy sugar coating?”)

It’s a very wide road designed for the movement of large numbers of motor vehicles (lots of buses here, with stops on the north side), and without even basic features such as pedestrian crossings in suitable places. Where crossings do exist, they’re staggered, for the benefit of motor traffic.

People crossing the road in Leeds city centre, where the Council would prefer they didn't

Google’s Streetview car caught this scene randomly. It shows that a crossing is required here. (Google Maps)

The very wide Headrow in front of Leeds Town Hall, with no pedestrian crossing

Narrow medieval streets? (Google Maps)

A long staggered crossing outside Leeds Town Hall, and very wide carriageway.

No space for better provision for walking and cycling here? Oh, no no no. (Google Maps)

Clearly, there is lots of space available here. Eastbound the carriageway has two wide lanes, there’s a wide central reservation, and the lane westbound is two cars wide for most of its length. Lots of buses use this road, and there’s no restriction on general motor traffic here either.

So with such a large canvas on which to paint some excellent infrastructure, I’m completely baffled as to how British Cycling, with help from Steer Davis Gleave, have created an absolutely awful concept, with painted lanes, unusable bus stop bypasses, and bikes sharing space with buses.

British Cycling's vision for Leeds graphic, showing painted lanes, if you're lucky

Plenty of space here for segregation, yet British Cycling’s highest fantasy is a painted lane followed by sharing with buses. (Note the fetid stench of “shared space” fancy paving, which costs a lot of money so it surely must do wonders for cycling.)

Mixing with cars will boost cycling, right?

I hate cycling in front of cars, even if they are painted in sporting colours and waving flags out the window. (Note invisible buses and bus stops.)

Bikes, buses and cars all sharing happily in British Cycling's la-la land.

It’s easy to cut-and-paste photos of Dutch elderly people and families into a picture like this, but the simple truth is that people DO NOT WANT TO SHARE WITH BUSES. (Also note the cack-handed attempt at a bus stop bypass on the left.)

Catch up by doing less

The images above are taken from this video, which ends with a pathetic request for “£10 per head”, which given that the Dutch invest more than twice that amount on road infrastructure alone (not on “soft measures” such as training or promotion), it is nowhere near enough to “catch up” with the Netherlands.

Some campaigns have actually done the maths and are asking for real money, not pulling nice-sounding numbers out of thin air (I’ve not yet seen an explanation at how £10 per head was arrived at).

Pedal on Parliament gets it. Stop The Killing gets it. The Cycling Embassy gets it. Why are the big guns of cycle campaigning so unwilling to actually ask for a decent amount?

Anyway, I digress. Back to the Leeds “Vision”.

Standing still while claiming to move fast

So there’s plenty of space – and a need – for Dutch-quality segregated cycleways along this stretch of road. Why haven’t British Cycling suggested any?

I don’t get it.

Steer Davies Gleave have some people in Leeds who seem to be on the ball.

British Cycling have got Chris Boardman, who is always saying the right things these days, and yet he’s talking about this crap as if it would make a blind bit of difference.

I don’t understand how Chris Boardman can say this…

“Millions of people in Britain say they would like to cycle but they are put off due to safety fears. We cannot pretend that this is going to miraculously change.”

…when describing a road plan which does nothing at all to address those fears. Perhaps the “we” in the second sentence refers to the cycle campaigning establishment, who, it seems, continue to pretend that people’s natural dislike of sharing roadspace with heavy motor traffic is going to miraculously change.

They quote the Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, as if he isn’t lying through his teeth:

“…we want to put cycling at the heart of the future of Leeds… That is our long-term aim, to do everything we can to encourage and help as many people as possible to get cycling.”

This is a man who went on the local news to make excuses about Leeds’ “topography” as if the huge mountains of Leeds are alone responsible for the city’s zero-point-something-percent cycling modal share. (Before anybody starts, even Swiss cities have a much higher modal share than Leeds.)

Default Man says “take the lane”

Is this simply another example of a wider problem with our society, that everything is dominated and designed by middle-class, middle-aged, white men – AKA Default Man? Do they lack the empathy to see things through the eyes of others? It seems they’re unable to listen to what people want or need.

Fifteen years ago a teenage girl from Leeds identified what the city was lacking, and what it would take for her to use a bike in her home town. Rather than listen to her, the sombre grey Franklinists explained that she was wrong, that she was much better off riding on the road instead.

Nothing in Leeds has changed since then. They didn’t listen to Zohra back in 2000, and those in positions of power still aren’t listening.

If this sort of crap is the best they can come up with, then it’s time for the grey men to get out of the way, and make space for a new generation of campaigners.

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Cycle Alienation

(SLIGHTLY BELATED) NEWSFLASH: A confident middle-aged white male keen cyclist has explained that an expensive dual-network motor-centric vehicular cycling scheme is absolutely fine. Rejoice! Can the Cycling Revolution™ be far off now?

From the secretary of an organisation that is co-ordinating a national “Space for Cycling” campaign, it’s rather worrying to read defence of this mess of dual provision and hieroglyphics painted on footways.

The original version of the blog post described the criticism of the scheme (and the way that the CTC, Cyclenation, British Cycling and Sustrans approved it) as “histrionics”, while neglecting to link to any of it.

On the bright side, it seems that the tide at Cyclenation is turning against those with the vehicular cycling mentality, with the organisation now keen to distance itself from those with such ridiculous views.

(Blog title nicked from this blog post on the much-missed Crap Waltham Forest.)

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An open letter to UK’s cycle training industry

The Alternative Department for Transport emblem
The Alternative Department for Transport

Re: Government using cycle training as an excuse to sideline cycling

Dear TABS and other cycle training organisations,

Are you annoyed that the politicians use you to suppress cycling? This probably comes as no surprise, political figures spouting nonsense is nothing new, after all!

Personally, I would be very annoyed if my work was being misrepresented, and used as an excuse to ignore real cycling provision – and unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happening with you.

Time after time, we see those in power refuse to support proper cycling infrastructure – good quality cycling infrastructure, enabling cycling for all, regardless of ability, as can be found in the Netherlands – and one of the frequent excuses given is that cycle training is offered instead.

What they mean by this is that the government throws some money at the cycle training industry. I know it’s not much money in the grand scheme of things, not enough even to teach every child the basics, and yet some of those in power then consider it “job done” as far as cycling is concerned.

Here’s an MSP in Glasgow refusing to support space for cycling, using training as an excuse.

Doesn’t that make your blood boil? Here you are, trying to do some good, and these politicians are using that as a reason to wash their hands of responsibility!

Here’s another politician, in London, cherry-picking a very rare situation as part of an ongoing campaign against the type of infrastructure that’s proven to be safe for everybody.

Central government frequently trumpets the number of children who have received Bikeability training as if this is a goal in itself, ignoring the fact that very few children actually then put these skills to use by cycling for transport.

Surely this must bother you? I can see you being wary of biting the hand that feeds you – the (other) Department for Transport’s logo is on your website, I guess you must receive funds from them – but isn’t it time to issue a statement which will prevent the politicians’ divide-and-rule, infra-versus-training debate once and for all? I’m often told that training is not in opposition to infrastructure, and this is a good chance to prove it.

As an industry, you surely support the principle of investment in high-quality cycle infrastructure. TABS’ website states that their ultimate aim is “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” (and some of your most prominent people are in favour of cycleways).

As we all know, “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” will only happen when people feel safe and comfortable travelling by bike – which inevitably means not having to cycle amongst lots of motor vehicles.

Surely you’d much rather be teaching every child in the country the rules of the road on safe infrastructure? Perhaps, with your help, one day the UK will be a country where eight years old is considered late for independent cycling!

I don’t expect you to become another full-time campaign organisation, but silence on this issue is tacit agreement with those who abuse your work. It would help everybody if campaigners had something to show to the politicans to say “look, cycle trainers say you’re wrong too. Cycling needs standards and investment.”

So I’m asking you to issue a press release, or add a page to your website, to make clear that training isn’t an alternative to proper infrastructure, but is instead an adjunct to it. Let the politicians know that throwing a few quid at Bikeability isn’t enough to create mass cycling in the UK, and that they can’t continue to design roads solely for motor vehicles any more.

All the best,
S.C.

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You wait ages for a bus, and then three casualties come along at once

Bus drivers are miserable gits, aren’t they, eh? All they do is sit there, driving around under pressure from a system that puts unreasonable demands on them, encourages them to drive dangerously, working unreasonable hours for low pay. Why don’t they just smile?

Or, if they have concerns or complaints, why don’t they report them?

Which leads me to the thrust of today’s post: There is no independent reporting system for bus drivers.

You should know that for almost 20 years, train drivers have had anonymous access to an independent system called CIRAS, which addresses concerns in a no-blame way. The goal of the system is to investigate concerns and eliminate the danger before something bad happens.

This is one of the reasons why Britain’s railways are so safe – drivers feel free to report concerns about safety, dangerous practice, unreasonable hours, or whatever. They can report to CIRAS, who will discuss with management and staff to resolve the problem.

The CIRAS scheme is clearly of use – Network Rail are members, as are TfL’s Underground, Overground and light rail services.

But for some reason TfL doesn’t use it for their buses. Why is this?

  • The scheme already allows buses, it’s not just for trains.
  • TfL already value the scheme, as they pay for their rail networks membership.
  • Adding the buses most likely wouldn’t cost any extra – what TfL pays for the trains would cover the buses too, as it’s one organisation.
  • And – probably the most important reason – is that TfL’s bus system is dangerous:

Every single day there are on average over 60 (yes, sixty) collisions involving TfL’s buses. (See this FOI’d data.)

A TfL bus is involved in someone being killed or seriously-injured on average more than three times every day in the first six months of 2014. (See TfL’s own bus data here.)

The number of incidents sharply increased when Mayor Johnson introduced bus performance contracts, and has been increasing ever since.

How many of them could be prevented by listening to the drivers?

If we listened to the bus drivers – and the system was changed so that they didn’t have to work over-long hours, so that they weren’t under pressure to complete routes in short timespans – then maybe we would all have reason to be more cheerful.

 


Thanks to Tom Kearney for most of the information here. If you don’t know about Tom, he was hit by a red-light-running bus on Oxford Street, was expected to die, woke up after two weeks in a near-death coma, and left hospital after ten weeks, to piece his life back together. He later discovered that TfL and the Metropolitan Police had failed to investigate the case (some might even say it was covered up).

This should come as no surprise, as the branch of the police which investigate bus crashes is funded by TfL – who are also responsible for the bus system! Talk about the fox being in charge of the hen-house…

Here are some links to articles on Tom’s blog, where you’ll find much more information and detail about TfL’s killer bus system:

How the police and TfL looked every which way they could to avoid investigating Tom’s near-death

Tom forced TfL – against its will – to publish bus collision data

The head of CIRAS tells us that TfL could add buses to the system

TfL and bus companies: Ignoring safety for profit

Guest blog post from a bus driver describing the system in which they work (there’s more of these, from various drivers – they’re in-depth but worth reading)

Finally, for now, can anyone tell me why the mainstream media has ignored this issue? It seems that Tom has uncovered dangerous practices which result in thousands of casualties every year, and yet few seem interested.

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Flailing limbs: LCC and its famously anti-policy branch

London Cycling Campaign is a funny beast. It seems to be the vague head of a loose collective of local cycling groups scattered around London, of varying sizes and levels of activity.

I call it a “vague head of a loose collective” because the local branch campaigns seem to be free to say and do almost anything they want, even if they go entirely against the campaign’s stated goals.

After decades of failure, LCC members have voted, passed the motions, and at long last the LCC has started to become a modern cycling campaign which is asking for the right things.

But isn’t it time to make sure the local branches are following suit?

Most famously – and I’m not the first to notice it by a long shot – the Hackney branch is known for its adherence to what might be called the Franklin and Forester view of cycling: The proper place for it is on the road, mixed with cars, lorries and buses (or at best meandering around the back streets) and anything else is pure namby-pamby devilment. They’ve been this way for many years.

Hackney Cyclists claim to support LCC HQ’s “Space for Cycling” campaign, yet at least three committee members are firmly against some of the campaign goals – co-ordinator Trevor Parsons, long-time LCC member Oliver Schick, former Hackney councillor Rita Krishna, to name the three whose public comments I’ve used in this post.

While the group does support the cycle-friendly intervention of removing through-motor-traffic from minor streets by means of modal filtering (a worthy and important goal), they adamantly refuse to support – and actually work against – the biggest single intervention to enable mass cycling: cycleways on main roads.

How does someone follow LCC’s democratically-approved AGM motions while describing bus stop bypasses as meaning “bus users being done over and having to dodge cyclists“? What sort of cycle campaigner considers cycleways to be “attacking bus users“, and London’s first half-decent attempt at providing for cycling as “the emperors new clothes“?

How is the Space for Cycling manifesto remotely compatible with the belief that that “cyclists and cars want to share” on a vast, fast, six-lane road? And how can a cycle campaigner believe that everyone who uses a bike should be held responsible for the actions of anyone else using that same mode of transport?

The belief that Dutch-style cycleways won’t work in central London is surely in opposition to “Space for Cycling”, which calls for far bigger road changes than merely insisting two-way streets are all that’s required to make cycling safe and inviting for all. (As if having cars and buses moving both ways at Aldwych would make me ride there – ha!)

Apparently “Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here.” That’s not my experience of riding a bike in the world’s best country for cycling. Hackney Cyclists don’t want “tokenistic, and in the long term potentially dangerous, engineering solutions such as cycle lanes and tracks.”

Instead of copying a proven method to gain a mode of transport which is safe and appealing to everyone, cycle training will solve all problems, as “a well-trained and assertive bicycle rider will in any case take the primary position when approaching a narrowing such as this pre-signal, to ensure that the driver of the vehicle behind him or her is not tempted to pass too closely.”

How is any of this compatible with the LCC’s policy of pushing for physical separation of motor and cycle traffic on busy roads?

I don’t see how the LCC can allow Hackney Cyclists to bear their name and logo when so many of the leading lights believe the very opposite of what the campaign stands for.

Hackney LCC also have close links with Hackney Council, not just former councillor and party activist Krishna, but also her husband, councillor Vincent Stops, who describes Hackney Cyclists as “the most sophisticated cycling campaign group in London“, considers Dutch-style cycleways to be “trip hazards“, and sees bus stop bypasses as “terrifying pedestrians“.

Councillor Stops also claims that Hackney Cyclists consider Kingsland High Street is “perfect for cycling” – though it has since been revealed that this was merely the personal opinion of Hackney Cyclists committee member Schick.

This is Kingsland High Street:

Kingsland High Street in Hackney, London. A bus is stopped, and a lorry is overtaking it. A cyclist dressed in high-visibility clothing follows the lorry, and a bus follows the cyclist.

“Perfect for cycling”

Does this road look “perfect for cycling” to you? Do you believe someone who said this really has LCC’s Space for Cycling principles at heart?

I don’t even want to debate the actual views held here – madly wrong as I consider them to be – everyone has the right to believe whatever they want.

And of course not everyone in the LCC is going to agree on everything. I’m not suggesting that the LCC becomes some sort of Stalinist one-party state which allows no dissenting voices. Open debate is good, there needs to be room for a wide range of views.

But when a local branch is dominated by beliefs which are clearly at odds with core campaign objectives, it makes no sense for it to be part of the campaign any more. London Cycling Campaign is now, in policy, a campaign which believes in separation of traffic modes along Dutch lines, yet one of its branches works against the LCC’s goals in their area.

At what point does LCC HQ decide that such views aren’t compatible with the campaign’s core objectives and take action?

For example, Special Resolution 3 was voted on at the AGM, committing the LCC to opposing discrimination on any grounds, which I have heard was introduced to prevent people with extremist political views from gaining positions of influence.

I don’t know the finer details of the matter, but it seems that if the LCC is willing to say that a person’s political views (which may be distasteful, but unrelated to cycling) are unacceptable, then surely advocating road designs that aren’t safely usable by less-able people is also discriminatory and unacceptable, and in a way that’s extremely relevant to the campaign.

I’m not even sure why these take-the-lane addicts and bus exhaust sniffers are even active members of the London Cycling Campaign any more, considering that the Dutch model of modal separation has been overwhelmingly approved by LCC members now. I wouldn’t want to be a member of a campaign that opposes everything I believe in.

I’m glad that Special Resolution 3 was passed, as I consider advocating Vehicular-Cycling-as-an-end-goal to be discriminatory (VC is fine as a danger mitigation method in car-sick areas, but it should not be a campaign target, and we shouldn’t be creating roads designed for it). Is a wheelchair or handbike user really expected to “take the primary position when approaching a narrowing” to control the bus behind them? Isn’t advice like that, offered as a reason why cycle infrastructure isn’t required in that location, discriminatory against those who don’t have that option? An anti-discriminatory cycle campaign needs to campaign for infrastructure which is accessible to all.

The London Cycling Campaign needs to either make sure that its Hackney branch is following the charity’s democratically-chosen principles, or it needs to strip the current group of affiliation and allow a new group to be formed – one that actually believes in safe, pleasant cycling conditions which are suitable for everybody.

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Berlin does not have a cycle network

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

I often hear great things about cycling in Berlin.

Apparently there are “ubiquitous grade-separated cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, and other facilities“, which mean that “you can get round most of Berlin on segregated bike paths“.

According to this Lonely Planet guide book I have here, “the biking infrastructure is fantastic“, and Stephen Evans of the BBC found “endless cycle tracks” (where are they, Steve?).

I really wish all this was true, but unfortunately it’s nonsense. Berlin is definitely second-rate for cycling.

I often find myself wanting to go somewhere within cycling distance but having to choose to use a different mode of transport, because the conditions for cycling there are too unpleasant for me or the people I’m with.

So with this in mind, I made a map of Berlin’s cycleways. And I’ve been extremely generous in my definition of “cycleway” here. Nothing comes close to the criteria set out in this article.

A map showing roads in central/north/east Berlin which have protected cycleways along them. It's very sparse and disconnected.

This is not a cycle network. (Click for full-size.)

I may have missed a few little bits off, but I think I got all of it.

The green lines are the not-too-bad cycleways, and the grey lines show the absolute rubbish, such as this…

A very narrow, bumpy, neglected cycleway on Luxemburger Strasse in Berlin

Only people with mountain bikes may overtake here.

…and this…

pathetic narrow cycleway right up against the edge of a wide, fast busy road in Berlin. There are parked cars on the footway beyond the cycleway. I have added an arrow to point out the cycleway, it is that bad.

I’ve added an arrow to point out the cycleway, otherwise you might miss it. (Photo: Google Maps)

…so don’t go thinking that I’m being harsh on Berlin here. If anything, I’m being too kind for including those on the map.

In the interests of balance, here’s a typical example of one of the relatively better (but still nowhere near good enough) cycleways denoted by the green lines:

One of Berlin's better cycleways. Not too narrow, but a tiled surface and a low fence which pedals could hit. Also right next to parked cars with only a tiny buffer.

One of Berlin’s better (but still not good enough) cycleways. Just enough room to squeeze past in the door-zone. Keep alert at junctions!

Everything else is either a painted lane on the road or nothing at all, and like most people I’m not willing to mix with motor vehicles along fast, wide, busy roads.

The map covers the part of Berlin where I live and spend most time – the central north and east areas – but the picture is pretty much the same elsewhere in the city. Some areas are better than others, but not much.

I was considering adding some of the back streets on this map too, but I couldn’t think of any that were really suitable. On the whole they’re either too busy with traffic to be serious contenders for being part of a cycle network, or they’re surfaced in the rough cobbled “Kopfstein” that make cycling a pain in both the physical and metaphorical sense of the word.

(I’ll cover some of the back streets in a later post, such as Stargarder Strasse which should be great but is a busy rat-run, and Choriner Strasse which is designated as a “Bicycle Street” but has nothing beyond a few signs to back this up.)

At least there are no buses around here, just trams, though bad street design means that they can be dangerous too (the subject of yet another post to come). But as you can see from the map, travelling by bike in Berlin can be a real pain unless you’re happy to mix with cars, vans and lorries on multi-lane roads.

Photograph of Danziger Strasse in Berlin, showing a painted cycle lane on the carriage-way side of the parked cars, with a lorry thundering past.

Be my guest. I’ll walk.

 

And how should it look? My dream cycleway..

 

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Cycling in Berlin

There’s so much to cover here in Berlin, that I can’t possibly fit it all in to one blog post. I have to tell you about the excellent public transport system, the suffocating dominance of car parking, the superb driving conditions, the less-than-superb cycling conditions, the at times downright hostile footways, the culture and attitudes, the VC-and-helmet-loving local cycle campaign, and so much more.

So this first post is a general overview of conditions for cycling in Berlin as I’ve experienced them these past five months, and I’ll begin with this statement:

Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I can see how this common misconception may come about, though. Berlin is far better for cycling than any British city (and, for that matter, any city in the US, Australia, etc…). It’s easy to visit Berlin and see the higher number and wider demographic of people cycling and think “yes, Berlin is a good example for cities back home to copy.”

I’ve heard it said that Berlin, with a 13% average modal share for cycling, provides a more realistic model that’s easier for British cities to achieve.

The trouble is, to someone who lives in a country where cycling has been actively suppressed for decades, almost any amount of cycling looks impressive. Living in the UK, it’s easy to see the current motor-dominated transport mix as normal or natural, and therefore to think that countries with higher cycling rates have done something special, artificial and unnatural.

But the truth is that road design in the UK effectively bans cycling as a mode of transport for the vast majority of the population. The “natural” level for cycling can be seen in the Netherlands, where car use is not discouraged (on the contrary), but there are no barriers to cycling either. The road system there has been designed so that people have a genuine choice. They can use whichever mode of transport they wish to, and they very often choose to use a bike.

Somewhere in the middle we have places like Berlin, where the authorities pay lip service to cycling infrastructure, and grudgingly provide for a fairly low rate of cycling, but where journeys by motor vehicle are still prioritised pretty much all of the time, and given the lion’s share of road space.

What this means is that Berlin’s modal share is low, much lower than it should be. A 13% cycling rate is not high or impressive, or anything to get excited about, though it may seem otherwise to people living in countries where cycling almost doesn’t exist.

Berlin’s cycling share should be at least double the current rate, and with better infrastructure, it easily could be.

A View from the Badly-Designed, Badly-Maintained Cycle Path

So Berlin does have some cycleways, separated from motor traffic. This is a good thing, and it enables many Berliners to use a bike for journeys which, without the cycleways, would be made by motor vehicle.

But while these cycleways exist, and make cycling away from motor traffic possible, they are – almost without exception – awful. Berlin falls short on all three important aspects of good cycling infrastructure: maintenance, design, and network.

Maintenance

…or rather the lack of it. For example, concrete tiles are normally used as the surface, and over the years these become uneven, meaning that riding on them is pretty bumpy, sometimes dangerously so. Tree roots lift up the surface too, though while the carriageway never seems to be affected (it is clearly better cared for), the cycleway and footway are often left rucked and cratered. Bushes and trees are frequently not trimmed either, meaning much (or, in places, all) of the cycleway width is taken up by foliage.

A narrow cycleway next to a very, very wide road. The cycleway is almost completely obscured by a bush growing beside it, rendering the cycleway almost useless..

Yes, that really is a cycleway on the right, and its patchy surface is almost completely obscured by a bush. And yes, that’s a wide, well-maintained six-lane road with central median strip on the left.

Design

Even the newest and best-maintained cycleways are poor in comparison to their Dutch counterparts.

Even along the roomiest boulevards they’re too narrow, often wiggly, with street furniture right against (or even in) them. Flush kerbs are virtually unheard of, and the cycleways fall and rise at every driveway (most of which are surfaced in uneven cobble stones) and at side-streets too, where they usually turn into paint on the road. All this bumping up and down expends a lot of unnecessary energy and turns an easy journey into a tiring one.

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

I used to play computer games like this as a child.

The junctions are badly and dangerously designed, with none of the safety or convenience that you see in Dutch cities. That was the first one that struck me, incidentally. Where the Dutch take the cycleway away from motor vehicles at a junction, here in Berlin it bizarrely moves towards the main carriageway, suddenly thrusting you into the blind-spot of turning vehicles.

This design also means that the Dutch-style protected, unsignalled right turns aren’t possible (where the cycleway, like the footway, isn’t controlled by the traffic lights as people turning right aren’t actually interacting with the junction).

A cycleway moves towards the carriageway as it approaches a junction.

Rather than continue straight on, bike users are diverted into the blind spot of turning vehicles. This is the standard for Berlin cycleways at junctions.

The Network

The network is more of a patchwork, as it’s full of large holes and therefore unreliable.

A wide boulevard in Berlin, with most space given to the main carriageway.

No space for cycling on Sonnenallee, but plenty of space for motoring. There’s no good alternative to this road either, so footway cycling is very common here.

Some roads have cycleways, some have painted lanes, some have nothing at all. There seems to be no logic to it, either – some quiet, minor streets have cycleways for some reason, despite the level of motor traffic being very low, while many multi-lane urban motorways have nothing at all.

There’s no consistency of provision, no minimum quality of service that can be relied upon. The surface can vary from smooth asphalt to a relief map of the Moon’s biggest craters. In places, the width of the cycleway suddenly changes at random and for no apparent reason, and in other places the cycleway suddenly disappears, unceremoniously dumping you into the carriageway.

A cycleway suddenly ends and riders are sharply diverted onto a busy dual carriageway. This is a permanent design.

Should I get homesick for Britain, I’ll go stand here and remember why I left.

When roadworks interrupt the cycleway, sometimes you’re thrust out onto a fast, busy road, but other times you’re sent the other way to mingle with people on foot, and sometimes you’re simply abandoned. I haven’t once seen a temporary cycleway take the place of a general traffic lane at roadworks, as is usual in the Netherlands.

Poor-quality handling of a cycleway at roadworks in Berlin. The cycleway turns into painted lines which suddenly veer onto the busy dual carriageway, into the path of motor traffic.

Surprise! Now just swerve out from behind that parked car, onto the dual carriageway.

There’s unfortunately little joy in using the back streets, either. There’s almost a total absence of modal filtering, with most streets remaining two-way through-routes for all vehicles. Luckily, the main roads are so good for driving that rat-running isn’t the huge problem it is in the UK – endless queues of traffic that are normal for London are unheard of here, even at rush-hour. But some people still choose to drive down the back streets at unsuitable speeds, and there’s very little to prevent this.

A small street which remains open to motor traffic in both directions, with cobblestone surface, making for an awful cycling environment.

Rough cobbled surface, busy two-way rat-run, pathetic attempts at traffic calming. What’s not to love?

An even bigger problem with the back-streets is that they’re commonly surfaced in a kind of large cobblestone known as a “Pflasterstein” or “Kopfstein”. These are smooth with rounded tops, and are a real pain to cycle along at anything more than a crawling pace, and even then you’d better not be carrying any fruit. These surfaces are not always well-maintained either, meaning that large gaps can appear between uneven stones, creating danger for bikes.

Despite their bike-inhibiting nature, thanks to modern car suspensions these cobblestones do nothing to slow down a speeding driver.

A close-up of the bumpy cobbled surface of a typical Berlin back-street.

Even when well-maintained, as seen here, this surface is awful to ride on. The photo doesn’t do it justice. Many people choose to ride on the footway along roads surfaced like this, even on streets with almost no motor traffic at all.

The Forbidden City

All this means that while I have many more opportunities for utility cycling than I did in London, there are still huge swathes of the city that effectively remain inaccessible to me by bike, and many destinations within cycling distance that I instead choose to use public transport for, even though it’s slower than the bike and costs €2.20 each way.

So Berlin is not a great place for cycling, though it may seem that way to visitors. It’s not all awful (I’ll show some good stuff at some point) and it is better than pretty much all English-speaking cities, and its lacklustre infrastructure does enable more people to use a bike.

But really it’s a below-average place for cycling, with weak infrastructure – and that’s why Berlin shouldn’t be a model for elsewhere, except as a way of learning which mistakes to avoid.


Footnote: If you’re looking at any of these photos and thinking “I’d like some of that”, please take a look at the videos of David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur to see how it should be done instead.


Note: My German is okay but not perfect. If there’s anybody out there with native-level skills and a cycle campaigning urge, and you would like to proof-read/edit some German-language posts I have planned for a sister blog and campaign, please do get in touch!

 

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