Tag Archives: bad campaigning

Cycleway removed, people are angry

Most people don’t like cycling amongst motor vehicles. It’s a simple concept which many somehow fail to understand.

A popular cycleway has been removed, so now people cycling are expected to use the carriageway. The people who cycle there are upset.

But the local cycle campaign think it’s great that everyone, from children to the elderly, must now cycle amongst cars, vans and buses.

Sounds familiar – could be Britain, right? Well, it’s actually happening in Hamburg.

You can watch a short video about it, from German TV, and below you’ll find a transcript which I’ve translated into English, with help from Katja Leyendecker at the tricky bits.


 

VOICE-OVER:

Cycling along the Alster [a lake] in Hamburg.

For some, a stress-free route to work. For others, simply relaxation. This, in the middle of the city.

Every day 4,300 people cycle along this stretch. But the joy of cycling here is now over for many. A long section of the old cycleway has simply been removed. Completely without reason, many feel.

 

MAN IN BLUE JACKET:

It was a wonderful cycleway along the Alster, where one could be really relaxed while cycling.

 

WOMAN WITH BEIGE HAT:

It’s a real shame, because it was separated, not squeezed together with people walking, it was really well protected and worked so well.

 

MAN WITH SILVER CYCLE HELMET:

It was an absolutely wonderful, great cycleway. And it is no more.

 

WOMAN WITH BLUE SCARF:

Cycling along here you could look out at the lake… and now we have to look at cars. What a pity.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Here, the Hamburg traffic department have planned something different. They want the road next to the existing cycleway to become a so-called “cycle-street” on which people cycling share with motor vehicles.

But it’s not entirely finished – and the cycleway has already been ripped up anyway.

 

MAN IN BLACK HOOD:

Completely stupid. It’s no fun riding on the road every day.

A view of riding along the cycle-street, between parked cars and oncoming motor traffic

A view of riding along the cycle-street, between parked cars and oncoming motor traffic.

 

MAN IN BLACK CYCLE HELMET:

It’s unacceptable, because cyclists now have to go elsewhere. And nobody wants to cycle on the road. I already saw a cyclist lying under a car.

 

WOMAN WITH FURRY HOOD:

I cycle that route a lot, and yesterday I was verbally abused, because I was cycling on the road.

 

WOMAN WITH BLACK HAT:

It’s impossible, you have to overtake parked cars, kids are expected to cycle here, on their way to/from school, people open car doors quickly, it’s impossible.

A so-called 'cycle street' full of moving buses, vans and cars.

The so-called “cycle street” which could easily be mistaken for any motor-dominated road

 

VOICE-OVER:

And so, this is how it looks further north, where it’s already a cycle-street: “20’s plenty” for everyone, people may cycle side-by-side, a peaceful mixing of car and bicycle.

Well, that’s the idea.

Some even think it’s good.

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG (local branch of national cycling organisation):

This street is optimally suitable for a cycle-street. It has little motor traffic, very little motor traffic, it has enough width. The cycleway was always too narrow, there was always conflict with people walking, and it works here, as anyone can see, cyclists are traveling amongst the drivers, it all works. On the road one can safely and comfortably travel, therefore it makes sense to put the cycle traffic there.

[Note that as he says this, behind him you can see someone choosing to ride on the footway rather than mix with motor vehicles on the “optimally suitable” road.]

The ADFC-Hamburg representative talks, while a person cycling in the background votes with their feet, choosing the footway instead of sharing the 'cycle street' with a car.

A person cycling in the background votes with their feet, choosing the footway instead of the motor-dominated cycle street, making Erwin Süselbeck look somewhat silly.

 

VOICE-OVER:

But while we were filming, several passing cyclists felt the need to stop and voice their concerns.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

Just this week, I’ve had three situations that were very close. You are lobbying for cycling, right? It’s a busy street, it’s no good for cycling.

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG:

That’s not correct, this road is optimally suitable for a cycle-street.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

When the drivers overtake at 30 miles per hour?

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG:

No, they shouldn’t drive that fast.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

But they do it anyway!

 

VOICE-OVER:

The city of Hamburg has spent around 20,000 Euros to rip out the old cycleway. But the cycle-street won’t be ready until at least 2017. So cyclists just have to use the road as it is.

Just what was the transport department thinking?

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

We’re not forcing anybody. Cyclists are safe on the road here. And we want to offer something reasonable for cyclists, and the old cycleway wasn’t a reasonable offering.

 

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:

But you are forcing people, you’ve ripped out the cycleway already.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

Yes, but with that, we’re giving them a cycle-street.

 

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:

That nobody wants.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

[Long pause…] I honestly don’t understand your questions. There are very few people driving here, and cyclists are safe on the road. I don’t understand the problem.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Many citizens clearly see it differently.

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

You don’t travel here.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

How would you know?

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

Most people who cycle here laugh at your plans.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

That’s not true.

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

The people who do are in danger. Just look at the traffic. This type of vehicle [points at tourist bus] I’ve been endangered a few times myself. Look at this, they’re deadly dangerous. They travel along here one every minute, and they don’t care that it’s a cycle-street, or about the 20mph limit, or any such things. It’s deadly dangerous here.

A man talks to a Hamburg council representative, pointing to a tourist bus in the background, with which he is expected to 'share' the road.

“Look at this, they’re deadly dangerous.”

 

VOICE-OVER:

Many feel that instead of the controversial cycle-streets, they would prefer new cycleways to be built. Many roads in the city have none, and some of those that do exist are so bad that they barely deserve to be called cycleways.

 

MAN IN SILVER CYCLE HELMET:

I think it’s senseless planning. When there are so many potholes in Hamburg, frost damage, but there’s money for pointless stuff.

 

WOMAN IN BEIGE HAT:

I can’t believe that they’ve frittered away so much money – our money – on complete nonsense.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Even though the transport authorities may have meant well, for many cyclists this project has caused more problems than it has solved.

 


It makes me angry that some cycle campaigners continue to ignore the general public who repeatedly say time and time again that they don’t want to cycle amongst motor traffic.

Frau Meinecke may not understand the problem, but I can explain it to her easily: This debacle demonstrates the dangers of listening only to confident cyclists and ignoring the everyday users of cycling for transport.

 

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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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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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Turbogate: Bedford and beyond

It’s difficult to know where to start when writing about the Bedford turbo-roundabout and everything that surrounds it. The whole scandal – and it does deserve that word – goes well beyond that one scheme, extends through the cycle campaign industry, right up to the government.

At one end of the scale, the finished Bedford turbo-roundabout has been scrutinised and has come up sorely lacking, and clearly falls into the “farcility” category that the CTC is apparently so keen to reject.

For a full picture of what we got for our £490,000 you can read this PDF report written by John Meudell (former CTC National Council member for the South East) and Graham Smith (who now holds that same role). It contains lots of photographs, so you can see for yourself how poor it really is.

Suffice to say, it’s not a glowing report: “Arrangement of cycle crossings maximises possibility of conflict between cyclist and pedestrian” … “Elimination of raised lane divider does not deter lane changing, undermining safety benefits” … “Cyclist trapped onto transition kerb” … “Incompetent!”

A photo of a zebra crossing, with a bicycle symbol on the path next to it. The bicycle symbol is next to a raised kerb, and is useless.

Remember, this is from a design approved by Sustrans, Cyclenation, British Cycling and CTC. It looks like the worst kind of “fiddly pavement conversion” to me.

The hype around this dreadful scheme is so intense that Patrick Lingwood was nominated for a “Smarter Travel Professional of the Year” award, which makes me truly despair, as one of the boasts of this so-called cycling scheme is that it has made journeys by motor vehicle much more convenient.

Lingwood is also giving talks about how great it is, as is Alasdair Massie who is proud of a similarly poor design on Perne Road in Cambridge (see here, here and here for more about Massie’s folly).

The level of delusion is massive. At 20 minutes 45 seconds into the presentation, Lingwood excitedly speaks of “children cycling across a very busy road” while the photo clearly shows a family who have dismounted and are walking across the road. Is this wilful blindness or blatant lying?

Photograph of a mother and three children walking with bikes on a zebra crossing.

“Children cycling across a very busy road” says Lingwood. Surely walking with a bike doesn’t count as cycling? Also, the central waiting area looks narrow to me. (Source: this PDF)

So nearly half a million pounds of public money intended for cycling was spent on a design where people feel it’s necessary to stop cycling in order to use it, but the man responsible considers this a success. Great work there, Pat. Nice emperor’s new clothes you’re wearing.

(As an aside, Lingwood also reveals that what gave the Motorcycle Action Group so much clout was that they have “friends in high places” – I assume this means that MAG head and former MP Lembit Opik was friendly with his fellow Lib Dems in governmental transport roles, and called in a favour.)

The bigger picture

But then at the other end of the scale, there’s the questionable way in which the Department for Transport funded this scheme. Why does cycling infrastructure receive such small amounts of occasional investment? Why are such tight timescales placed on these projects? Why was the money given to a charity to distribute, which then passed responsibility to an unaccountable group of individuals who rubber-stamped such poor designs?

Does the DfT fund motorways in this manner?

The Bedford turbo isn’t the only dubious project that was funded as part of this programme. Highlights include:

Brand new roundabout in Cambridge, where people on bikes are expected to mix with people walking. The footway has road markings painted on it.

Perne Road roundabout in Cambridge. £360,000 was wasted on this project, an incompetent design by Alasdair Massie, who was warned of the dangers years before. (Photo: Chris Rand)

I don’t have time to go through all of them, but were there any – with the possible exception of the short length of cycleway on Baldwin Street in Bristol – which could be considered money well spent?

But with such a ridiculous funding model – limited funds, short timescales, etc. – perhaps failure was built-in from the start. I can understand the view that that CTC, Cyclenation and co. were right to make the best of a bad situation, but I still feel it would be best to reject these hopeless crumbs outright. Getting involved with such dubious projects lends them a legitimacy they don’t deserve, and gives the campaigns a reputation for approving rubbish.

It seems that the whole episode is a good example of Britain’s failure to treat cycling as a proper mode of transport, and of how the major cycling campaigns are complicit in this cycle.

Every year or so, the DfT finds some loose change down the back of the sofa and throws it at the craven cycling lobby who then write a press release about what a great step forward it is and how the government is finally starting to take cycling seriously. Cycle campaigners are then sated for another year, until they’re given some more crumbs to shut them up again.

It’s the same story, time and time again. Crap is built, excuses are made, then a year or two later more crumbs are announced under a new name, and we all rinse and repeat.

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Lapping up the crumbs again

It’s been a while since I had a go at the CTC on here. I was hoping that they were turning themselves around, after taking on the national Space for Cycling campaign, the headline of which is protected cycleways along main roads.

Unfortunately it seems that the CTC is like a big old container ship – it takes quite some time to turn it around. It started to turn – slightly – about a year ago, but since then I wonder if there’s been fighting at the helm or something, because it seems to have gotten stuck part-way. As far as I can see it’s just been sat there for the last six months, seemingly doing nothing much.

So I was saddened to see the CTC falling back into its old ways, cosying up to a cycling-hostile government by gratefully accepting yet another patronising pat on the head. This time, the crumb is a £1 million fee given to the CTC, who are going to spend it trying to convince people to oil their old bike, as if that’s going to make the slightest difference to the cycling rates.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the CTC was doing this off their own initiative. I wouldn’t get excited about it, but nor would I care so much. It would be another pointless exercise in futility. Meh.

But the involvement of the DfT – the actual British Government Department for Transport – stinks. The DfT shouldn’t be involved with frilly stuff like this, it should be about big infrastructure, major policy, long-term investments – and with every other form of transport, they are. They’re planning a railway so expensive that it won’t even be finished until half of my readers are dead.

But what do they do for cycling?

“Events in towns and cities, delivered in conjunction with bike re-cycle centres to present members of the public with an opportunity to:

  • Fix a cycle so it can start to be used and learn how to maintain it
  • Trade a cycle for one better suited to individual needs and donate surplus cycles
  • Learn where best to cycle in their local area and discover local cycling activity
  • Receive cycle training to increase confidence in cycling on the road”

Great. More “encouragement” – because that’s worked so well in the past, hasn’t it?

And the CTC legitimises this bullshit by putting their name to it, validating the DfT’s pathetic attempt to buy off the cycling lobby. Then again, that million quid must have been hard to resist, and Sustrans would have probably taken it if the CTC hadn’t, so you can’t really blame them I guess.

But I have doubts about any campaign organisation that accepts money from the very people their campaigning should be aimed at. It always leads to meekness, unwillingness to bite the hand that feeds it. Just look at how Sustrans changed from being a vocal campaign group into a compliant union of third-sector professionals addicted to government hand-outs.

The other annoying thing is, the DfT know that people don’t want to cycle on the roads as they are. They know that soft measures don’t work. They even admit as much in their puff-piece for this scheme:

“In 2013, 42 per cent of adults in Britain had access to a bicycle, yet 63 per cent said they had not ridden a bicycle in the past year. Despite this, 37 per cent of adults in Britain agree that many of the short journeys (less than 2 miles) that they currently make by car could just as easily be made by cycling.”

And what’s their solution? Maintenance classes and training. Whoop-de-fucking-do.

Survey after survey tells us that the main reason people don’t cycle is fear of motor traffic. All the statistics point to better infrastructure leading to increased ridership.

We don’t need more statistics and reports, we just need someone to roll them up and hit Robert Goodwill over the head with them.

And we need the CTC – and other campaign groups – to have the guts to say “no thanks, that’s just pointless busywork. Can we have decent minimum design standards and serious long-term investment instead please?”

 


Addendum: Somehow I missed this comment, from CTC chief Paul Tuohy, on the Road.CC article:

“The minister’s backing is a sign of the level of importance that the Department for Transport is placing on getting people back into the saddle, for which we are enormously grateful.”

On the first point I agree – the minister’s backing is a sign of the level of importance the DfT places on cycling – unfortunately Tuohy doesn’t seem to realise that the level of importance is near zero.

Secondly, “we” (I assume that’s just the CTC, he’s not speaking for all of us is he?) are “enormously grateful” for this piddling little insult/£1m sweetener. I can hear the slurping sound from here – is that chocolate on your face, Paul?

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Camden’s West End Project: Compromise or Capitulation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A van parked on a cycleway, blocking it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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