Tag Archives: cycle funding

As Turbogate trundles on, people wonder what is being done in their name

This is my third, and hopefully final, post in the Turbogate saga: Part one is here, and part two is here. (Nope, I was wrong. Here’s part four.)

It seems that few people are happy about the Bedford ‘turbo’ roundabout, and the fact that cycling organisations gave it (and other rubbish) their seal of approval.

Some CTC members understandably feel let down by how their representatives seem to have been played by the DfT’s, as are some members of other cycling forums.

I have read the official CTC response by Chris Peck (it’s worth reading the comments), and Cyclenation’s response by Simon Geller, and I have to say I’m not massively impressed by either of them. I’ve not seen anything from British Cycling or Sustrans on the matter, yet. (And I’ve no idea why the Campaign to Protect Rural England even had a seat on the group, but that’s another thing.)

Both responses make the point that the DfT’s funding method was very poor – there was a fixed amount of money which had to be spent in areas with higher collision rates within a very short space of time. Add to that a group of people who are physically in different locations having to make judgements for plans in towns they know nothing about.

Fair enough, that’s rather a crap situation for the DfT to set up. But why did the cycling organisations play along with this? Chris Peck says there was a risk that if this £20m wasn’t spent, they might not give us any crumbs in the future.

Oh no, perish the thought! No more badly-planned pittances to be spent in a hurry? Cycling in the UK might end up in the doldrums.

Old news

I hate to gloat (actually I love it) but in November 2012 I wrote a scathing article about a £20m cycle funding announcement from the DfT, as did David Arditti (though I think both articles were about a slightly later £20m crumb than the one which funded the Bedford turbo, the principle is the same). Chris Peck himself even pointed out that £20m was not enough, but then apparently continued to play along with the DfT’s game anyway.

At the time I said I was disappointed that every one of our prominent cycling organisations had said that the £20m was “welcome” rather than slamming the government for failing to invest in cycling in any real way.

The £20m was intended to shut cycle campaigners up, generate a few positive headlines, and make it sound like the government was doing something while doing nothing. The cycling lobby fell for it, and the DfT’s plan worked brilliantly.

Screenshot of road.cc article titled 'CTC and British Cycling welcome extra £20 million for cycling announced by Norman Baker'

The moment that UK transport policy turned the corner. Everything was different from this point on. Oh, hang on, that’s complete nonsense isn’t it?

Back then I said that “£20m spread across the country is going to do nothing for cycling, except maybe the installation of more of the same kind of crap we’re used to getting.” The Bedford turbo roundabout (plus many more, including the “scandalousCatholic Church Junction in Cambridge) has proved me, and others, to be right.

As long as cycle campaign groups “welcome” this kind of rubbish and then play along with the resulting mess, cycling will continue to receive the same kind of dismissive treatment.

If the process was no good, if the timescales too narrow, if the proposals too weak, then CTC, Cyclenation, Sustrans and British Cycling should have all told the DfT that this was the case, rather than enabling them to push this rubbish through and create poor designs seemingly “approved” by the cycle lobby.

Even older news

The thing is, this is nothing new, it’s been happening for years.

While I was researching a different article, I came across this comment on a Road.CC article from February 2011:

“Here in Plymouth we get sub-standard “cycle facilities” passed off AFTER consultation with Sustrans & CTC. The council flatly refuses to acknowledge that anything could possibly be wrong, as both CTC & Sustrans have “signed off” on what was delivered.”

So it seems that, as ever, nothing has changed in British cycle campaigning circles.

Dutch driving infra cynically hyped as Dutch cycling infra

Finally, I have to come full circle and must have another go at those behind the turbo scheme.

Let us put to one side the cycling organisations approving this design. Let us say we disagree with their decision, but it was a tricky situation and they did what they felt was best at the time. Let’s say fair enough.

Let’s even pretend for a minute that the turbo roundabout was the only option available to the designers, that the UK’s road design standard prohibit a better solution, and that this sub-standard bodge was the best solution for this location.

I still have a beef with Bedford council, and it’s this: Why was this design presented as being a piece of tried-and-tested Dutch cycling infrastructure?

Turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands are for motor vehicles only, but the bid document strongly suggests otherwise (though note how it has been cleverly worded, so it’s not an outright lie):

“Turbo-roundabouts are now the standard roundabout design in the Netherlands where traffic capacity does not allow a compact (continental style) roundabout to be installed. In essence they function like compact roundabouts, where cyclists take primary position in the lane but vehicle speeds will be reduced to under 15mph. The evidence is that they have the same very significant safety benefits of compact roundabouts, compared to other junction styles…”

Where is this “evidence” that turbo roundabouts offer “very significant safety benefits” to people on bikes? (And this must surely be about bikes, considering this is a bid for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money.)

I’d very much like to see this evidence, because as far as I know the Dutch have never routed bicycles over this type of infrastructure. (In fact, David Hembrow had to go to some lengths to reach his nearest one by bike.)

They even admit as much, though try to couch the inconvenient fact in vagueness (in the ‘background information’ document, available at the bottom of Chris Peck’s article):

“Dutch “turbo-roundabouts” … have a proven vehicular safety benefit (though cyclists are nearly always off-road in these Dutch designs).”

“Nearly always”?! Please, defenders of this scheme, show me which Dutch turbo roundabouts are intended for use by people on bikes. If you cannot do this then the whole project is surely based on a lie.

And here we also see that the “safety benefit” mentioned in the bid document is “vehicular safety benefit” – great evidence for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money!

Note also, the photographs of turbo roundabouts on page 5 of that document show no cyclists using them, only cars and lorries. The only cyclists to be seen are in the computer-generated image on page 4 which shows people on bikes using separate cycle paths.

Call it Dutch, we’ll buy it

This is cynically misleading language, used to suggest that the turbo roundabout is one of the designs which the Netherlands has used to achieve mass cycling. This has resulted in headlines such as “Council goes Dutch to improve cycle safety at busy roundabout” and “UK’s first Dutch-style roundabout gets underway in Bedford“.

As if to prove the confusion created by this language, that second article is complete with a photo of a real cycle-friendly Dutch roundabout, being trialled at TRL.

Unfortunately, the word “Dutch” is being tacked on to almost any design to imply that it’s proven Dutch cycling infrastructure, when it’s nothing of the sort. (This is what annoyed me when the second-rate Royal College Street revamp was described as “truly Dutch”.)

Once this Bedford turbo roundabout is installed, provided nobody is killed or injured in the first few months you’ll see local authorities up and down the country wanting to install them, calling them ‘Dutch’ and therefore great for cycling. As it’s a cycling roundabout, they will be paid for with money intended for cycling projects, of course.

And if you have any problem with that, they’ll tell you that the designs have been approved by your favourite cycling campaign groups.

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BREAKING NEWS: Nothing has changed

This article has swearing in it. If you don’t like the sound of that then I recommend this article by David Arditti, which covers much the same ground but in a more measured tone. (Also, he published his article before I finished this one, and as always it’s very well researched and written, so I suggest you read it anyway.)

Fuck Norman Baker, and fuck you too if you’re one of those Uncle Tom cycle campaigners who are kissing Baker’s arse over the £20 million bone he’s just thrown on the floor for cycling to gnaw on.

I know it sounds like a lot to you and me (and I even go to Waitrose occasionally) but really it’s nothing. It’s barely even scraps from the table. It’s an insult.

Cycling is the DfT’s mistress for whom he keeps on promising to leave his petrol-addicted wife, but he says he can’t right now because of the kids and the mortgage, and his wife and his boss’s wife are friends, but one day he really is going to leave her. “I love you, here’s £20m to tide you over, spend it however you like. By the way, I can’t see you until after Christmas or she’ll start to suspect something…”

Cycling sighs, “I love you too, Norman. This £20m proves that you must love me back!” But the mistress knows deep down that his promises are hollow words designed to placate her, and she’s never going to get what she really wants.

Well it’s about time we ended this abusive relationship.

You can stick your £20m up your arse

If anyone of power in the DfT is reading this, then can I ask you to take your poxy £20m and give it to your true love – maybe a motorway widening project would make her happy? Because £20m spread across the country is going to do nothing for cycling, except maybe the installation of more of the same kind of crap we’re used to getting, and maybe some more pointless posters to ‘encourage’ people to ride a bike, and more vehicular cycling training which will enable cycling to continue to tread water as it has done for decades.

I wouldn’t mind quite so much if there was some sort of plan of how to spend the money, or some decent minimum standards of cycle infrastructure which local authorities must meet. But there isn’t. The money will just be given to councils with grand schemes to give 35% to consultants, 35% to architects, and only 30% will actually end up on the ground. Or maybe those local authorities who really can’t be bothered at all with cycling will use it to paint a few ASLs and put up a few “cyclists dismount” signs.

Come on DfT! You’re meant to be the Department for Transport damn it! Make some plans, set some standards! The Dutch are making you look like a bunch of cavemen, or at the very least, the worst kind of motorway-obsessed town planners of the 1960s. (Watch this short, edited video and heed his warning – learn from the mistakes of the past!)

But the problem remains that the DfT doesn’t really see cycling as a proper mode of transport. Sure, it acknowledges that there are some crazy bastards out there mad enough to ride on the road, so the they have to pretend to give a shit. But £20m proves that they don’t care about cycling. Even if you add up all the promised amounts this year (as David Arditti has done in the final paragraph) it comes to £65m, and we can then work out what percentage of a shit the DfT gives about cycling: 0.5%.

That’s right, the government gives 0.5% of a shit about cycling. Using the standard imperial measurements as a rough guide, by my calculations that isn’t even one flying fuck.

What does cycling look like?

If you’re reading this blog then you’re probably familiar with the wonderfully safe and pleasant conditions for cycling that exist in the Netherlands, and you’ll have gathered that I’d like to see the same high quality cycle-friendly infrastructure here in the UK.

Well, if you needed any proof that the DfT’s vision for cycling is far, far removed from my own vision for cycling, look no further than their homepage today:

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Yes, the DfT will probably be happy to spend the whole £20m on high-vis vests and ill-fitting helmets to be given away at village fêtes. Maybe that will encourage the population to ride on the roads – after they’ve bought a mountain bike without lights or mudguards for urban use, of course!

That’s how little the DfT cares about cycling – they can’t even get a photo of people enduring the horrific conditions on British roads right.

Campaign groups: stop meowing, start roaring!

All the national cycling campaigns commented on the £20m, and each one was along the lines of “we welcome the money, but the government needs to do much more…” (CEoGB, CTC, British Cycling, Sustrans – they all said more or less the same thing.)

Maybe I’m not being political enough, but why can’t they just leave out the “we welcome this” bit? As organisations I’m sure they have contacts and connections in government that I don’t know about – and some of them receive funding from the government, which they don’t want to jeopardise – so maybe that’s why they won’t rock the boat too much.

But I fear that couching the criticism in kind words of thanks means that it isn’t actually heard. The DfT probably just reads the headlines, sees “welcome” and “praises” and “pleased” and thinks it’s a job well done, everybody’s happy. If cycling campaigners really want to send a message to the government, why wouldn’t they tell the truth and say “we’re disappointed that only £20m has been offered, the government needs to do much more…”?

Because, remember, there isn’t even a plan for more or better-spent investment in cycling – or, in the over-stretched analogy, the DfT isn’t even saying he’ll leave his wife! There’s no plan for the future at all — vague words about cycling becoming important one day are not a plan — yet we’re just hoping it will happen and grinning whenever our name is mentioned.

£20m isn’t good enough. It isn’t even nearly good enough. Even £200m wouldn’t be enough, especially when it’s spread across the country.

We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for the same level of investment that the Netherlands gets. £20 per person works out at £1.2 billion, or 10% of the transport budget. These are the kind of numbers we need to get used to – and start saying out loud – if cycling really is going to become a real transport option for everybody.

There currently seems to be some sort of push to get cycling to become a mainstream activity, it feels like some sort of public awareness is happening, and the cycling campaigns need to get headlines by admitting how much it will cost — as well as how much it will save in the long run, of course. By avoiding mentioning the £1bn+ needed every year, they’re giving the false impression that £20m here and £20m there is a great thing the government is doing for cycling.

Say it out loud, cycle campaigners: “If the government wants to keep its promises, then it needs to invest £1.2bn annually in cycling infrastructure.” Repeat it three times in the morning and the evening, and before you know it you’ll be saying it at meetings and it will start appearing in the Times.

Of course, a £1bn+ cycling budget might never happen – I’ll admit that it sounds far fetched sitting here in London in 2012 – but if we cycling campaigners keep on smiling every time the DfT strokes our hair briefly before returning to his wife, then maybe we deserve to be treated like the bit-on-the-side that we are.

Say it loud, say it proud

It’s interesting to see that I’m not alone in thinking that the government is messing us around with this £20m bullshit.

David Arditti’s article I have linked to already, and I was pleased to see CTC’s Chris Peck write a blog post on the subject, using the same analogy in the headline too!

Similarly, all of the comments on this road.cc article are complaining about the paltry sum offered, too.

Perhaps the cycle campaigns are a little out of touch with the wheels on the ground? I would have sung the praises of the first group to say “that’s nowhere near enough, £20m is nothing but lip-service” but, unfortunately, came there none.

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