Tag Archives: John Franklin

Fuck you, John Franklin

[Note: There’s a follow-up post, written a few days after this one, here.]

It is my opinion that John Franklin is a selfish fool who has harmed cycling in this country and endangered lives through his advice. This blog post gives my personal view of him and his work.

If John Franklin’s aim was to keep cycling as a niche activity practised by a tiny minority of confident men, then congratulations! Success! Well done! You may now stop reading.

If John Franklin’s aim was to help riding a bike become an activity which is easy for everyone — men and women, from toddlers to pensioners — then he has failed.

John Who?

If you don’t know who John Franklin is, he’s the author of Cyclecraft, the guide to riding a bike on the road. That in itself is fine, as it contains good advice for riding on Britain’s motor-dominated roads (though it may sound crazy to you that riding in traffic is also aimed at children, and this is actually promoted by the government).

The problem is that he opposes a type of road design which is proven to increase cycling rates and safety and which offers a better way of life for everyone, and not just for “cyclists” either. And unfortunately for anyone who would like to go for a bike ride without battling the traffic, he is quite influential.

So I feel that his work here has ultimately resulted in parents being afraid for their children to ride a bike to school, it’s why nipping to the shops on a bike can feel like an extreme sport, and the reason that for decades cycling in the UK has remained a niche activity, instead of the mass transport option it could be. Also, he is part of the reason that, for me, a Sunday evening pleasure ride turned into a nerve-wracking endurance test from hell.

He’s the king of Vehicular Cycling, which is closely linked to the Right to Ride. The non-cyclist will ask ‘what’s that?’  and the answers might well sound ridiculous to them.

Cyclecraft, AKA Vehicular Cycling

John Franklin quite literally wrote the book on it, but essentially Vehicular Cycling describes a method of riding a bike like you’re driving a car. You dominate the lane, you flow with the cars and vans, and you are almost certainly a middle-class male aged 20-50. (You’re probably also dressed up like a traffic cone at Christmas, but that’s optional.)

You also ignore all the close-passing taxis, pretend that the driver behind you isn’t impatiently blaring their horn, and convince yourself that it’s a perfectly fine way for people of all ages to travel.

I must assume that Franklin can’t see past the end of own nose (it seems patently obvious to me why this way of travelling appeals to pretty much no-one) otherwise he wouldn’t still be ploughing the same failed furrow 25 years on. Surely it’s not hard to see why cycling like this is very unpleasant?

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of people don’t want to ride a bike amongst motor traffic. Whatever the numbers say (cycling is statistically safe) riding a bike on the road doesn’t feel safe. It’s awful, and the woman on her mobile phone who almost knocked me off by turning left right in front of me (actually hit my front wheel!) did not dispel that view. Nor did the taxi which failed to stop at the STOP sign, causing me to emergency brake. Nor did the other taxi which, annoyed because I was legally and properly riding along Victoria Embankment, decided to pass me with only centimetres distance, despite there being an empty lane he could have used (and he was turning right anyway!). And – finally for this lovely Sunday jaunt – the speeding Terravision coach which passed dangerously close to me just so it could get around the junction of Westminster Bridge Road and Lambeth Palace Road before the lights changed.

(Incidentally, this isn’t the only aggressive Terravision driver I’ve encountered, and certainly not the first one to make a deadly manoeuvre. Are Terravision the new Addison Lee?

No amount of Vehicular Cycling made any of this easier or attractive, by the way, as it’s just a way to deal with the horror. The taxi driver intentionally passed too close, even though there was a whole extra lane he could have used. Cycling on the road is unpleasant, it’s stressful, and it’s the reason why nobody in Britain cycles any more.*

The real solution to our traffic problems, which John Franklin actively opposes, is proper infrastructure for bikes. It is possible, it is affordable, and all the answers are easily available across the North Sea in the Netherlands.

The Right to Ride

It’s the right to ride a bike on the road. It’s the right to ride on the busy bypass. It’s the right to ride around the big gyratory. It’s the right to ride amongst traffic speeding at 80mph. That might be a right that you don’t exercise yourself — nor do the vast majority of the public who don’t touch a bike from one year to the next — and I don’t blame you one bit. But it is a fiercely-defended right, and so it should be.

I do actually believe in the Right to Ride on the road — there’s nowhere else to ride in the UK, after all. But many of the Right to Ride faithful, John Franklin included, are also a force against everyone else’s actual right to ride confidently and safely in the real world. By opposing proper Dutch-style infrastructure, they are saying we must not make cycling suitable for everyone, as that may theoretically erode my right to the dual carriageway!

By blocking the building of bike paths, these people therefore prevent the majority of people from feeling safe enough to ever use a bicycle. Because this tiny minority of the population fear it will impact on their right to cycle on the road, they oppose something which would be beneficial to the other 99% of society. This is such an incredibly selfish act, and anyone who has campaigned to block the building Dutch-style cycle paths should hang their heads in shame.

Pubcraft, AKA Thugular Drinking

How about an analogy to lighten the mood?

We all have a right to enter that horrible pub on the rough estate — you know the one, full of aggressive, drunk men who stare threateningly at you as you enter. For some reason my right to enter pubs like that is not one I use often, if ever, and I can’t imagine that many other people do either. It’s just easier not to bother, I’ll go somewhere else instead.

I’m sure that maybe 3% of the nicer local characters do go into this pub, however. Maybe on match days it increases to 10% — safety in numbers, right? And perhaps there’s a book called Pubcraft which describes the best way to deal with drunken thugs, and the best way to avoid getting punched in the nightly fight.

And the worst thing is, the people who use this pub are actively blocking the building of a swimming pool nearby! Though the pool will be used by and benefit the whole community, it will mean the pub-goers can’t walk across the corner of the waste ground to get home any more! They might have to walk around the newly-built swimming pool, though they haven’t seen the designs yet so they’re not entirely sure, but this pool must be stopped at all costs! Even if we have to lie about the safety of swimming pools to turn people against it…

The Right to Reality

These rights are now, in 2012, largely theoretical. They’ve gone. The pub is, in reality, a thug’s pub, and the UK’s roads – as far as the vast majority of the population are concerned – belong to the cars and taxis and lorries and vans and motorbikes, and no amount of point-scoring or Lycra or helmet-cams are going to change that. The 3% modal share for cycling is pathetic. The war on the motorist is over, and the internal combustion engine won. I’m not happy about it, but that’s where the UK stands right now.

Yes, those who wish to use it do have the right to ride a bike on the road. The CTC and others do great work in supporting that right when it is threatened. Let me emphasise once more that I agree with the Right to Ride. But it shouldn’t be at odds with safe and convenient Dutch-style cycling provision.

Back to John

So, apart from being the poster child for VC and the anti-infrastructure branch of the Right to Ride, the government turns to him for advice. I can hardly believe it’s true, but it is.

Having read this report (PDF) I think I know why UK highway authorities turn to him for advice: it’s because he’s cheap. Well, not the man himself — I don’t know how much he charges for reports like this — but, to my mind, his recommendations are so small and don’t really challenge the dominance of motor vehicles that they must be cheap to implement. It enables councils to say they’re supporting cycling but without actually doing much to change the roads.

Franklin is clearly against having separate cycle ways — the kind that have proven to be so successful in the Netherlands — stating…

“The potential for increasing cycling through separate cycle facilities … is very limited and experience has shown that these can sometimes be counter-productive in terms of cycle use, safety and encouraging attitudes helpful to more cycling. Instead, there is a need to recognise that most cycling takes places on roads with other traffic, that this will remain the case in the future and that those aspects of road design and traffic management that deter cycling need to be re-examined and policies reconsidered.”

So despite all the evidence which proves that cycling infrastructure increases both cycling rates and cycling safety, John Franklin really is saying that cycle-specific stuff is bad and dangerous, and everyone should ride on the road with those nice, safe lorries. This includes your 5 year old niece, and your 85 year old great-grandad, by the way — it must include them, otherwise what sort of a transport policy would this be if it excluded all but the fittest and most confident?

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

One of the most frustrating things about Franklin and his ilk is their ability to selectively choose and misread data to fit their ideology.

In this article from 1999 Franklin points out that in Milton Keynes (which does have separated cycle paths, though they’re very poor by Dutch standards) there are sometimes more accidents on the “redways” (the cycle tracks) than on the roads, but doesn’t actually count the proportion of cycle journeys made on the redways as opposed to the roads. Without this information, his table of accidents is useless — the redways could carry 99% of bike traffic in Milton Keynes, which would make them extremely safe. Who knows, as he hasn’t included those numbers, just the ones that suit him.

You’ll also find that his articles often quote hard numbers rather than percentages, a statistical sleight-of-hand which can be very misleading. With the Milton Keynes data, he also splits up the roads into different types which makes the on-road accident rate appear lower, and claims without evidence that there is “considerable underreporting” of accidents on the redways. Most of the accidents on the redways are down to the faults with their design — badly designed junctions, steep slopes, etc. — than with the concept of cycle paths per se.

Just because there are problems with cycle paths in Milton Keynes doesn’t mean that all cycle path designs are bad (do I have to mention the Netherlands again?). I don’t think any cycle path campaigner is suggesting we use Milton Keynes as a blueprint.

Redeeming Features

Of course, I’m not suggesting that John Franklin is an evil man — that would be ridiculous — but I believe him to be a misguided and ideologically blinkered man. I agree that poor cycle lane design does more harm than good, and he rightly criticises the atrocious white lines and green paint that successive UK governments have had the gall to suggest is cycling infrastructure.

He isn’t entirely immune to the charms of the Dutch, either. In this document (PDF) from 2009, in addition to describing the UK’s current dreadful infrastructure, he includes a photo of a good quality Dutch cycle path and writes:

“…not to say that cycling infrastructure is never appropriate. However, there are probably few aspects of traffic engineering where getting the detail right is so important. The Dutch example [in the photo] shows how cycle tracks should be. A decent verge, centre lines, a good and unobstructed surface and a separate footway for pedestrians. Good forward visibility, no close vegetation and signs to warn of all hazards are also important as, of course, is safety and ease of use at junctions. A cyclist should at all times expect to receive a similar level of service to that on a road.”

I almost fell off my chair! John Franklin supports Dutch-style cycle paths! But then I read the rest of the document, and realised that it was just a brief out-of-character moment for him. (I imagine he felt a bit dizzy while writing it.) Apart from that, it’s the usual diagrams of bad junction designs which the Dutch stopped using in the 1970s, and quotes from bodies not renowned for their cycling expertise (is the Viennese state known for its bike paths?) backing up his foregone conclusions. How can he look at what the Dutch have and yet still oppose it in the UK?

(Maybe I should have ignored the rest of the PDF, focussed on that paragraph and written an article all about how John Franklin loves separated cycle paths? Seems to be the done thing, after all!)

He ends the above document with two quotes. The first quote is from another John F — his US equivalent John Forrester, similar in both name and ideology — stating the usual treat-bikes-as-cars bullshit which is so absurd that I’m not going to repeat it. The second quote is from Ernest Marples, a former Minister of Transport, though instead of backing up John and his stateside twin, it is surely an endorsement of the Netherlands’ approach to cycling:

“If you make conditions right, there’s a great future for cycling. If you make them wrong, there’s none.”

Which country got it right, and which country is doing it wrong?

My conclusions

I believe that the anti-infrastructure policies that Franklin promotes are responsible for the high cycling death toll on Britain’s roads.

I think only the insane would prefer using a bike as transport in the UK over the Netherlands.

I have to assume that John Franklin is a selfish idiot. He doesn’t seem to care whether people ride a bike or not, just so he can keep selling his stupid book and telling councils that people on bikes should mix with motor traffic.

The same goes for others who would deny us proper Dutch-style cycle paths, despite it being obvious that the Netherlands’ solution is better.

To those of you who would defend Franklin and his anti-infrastructure stance, answer me these questions:

  1. People in which country make more journeys by bike, the Netherlands or the UK?
  2. Which country has the most cycling infrastructure, the Netherlands or the UK?
  3. Which country — the Netherlands or the UK — has a 89% national average cycle-to-school rate, and which country has a 1% national average cycle-to-school rate?
  4. In which country — the Netherlands or the UK — is it considered normal for nine year-olds to travel independently by bike?

If you can answer these questions correctly, then you must know that Dutch-style infrastructure is right, and John Franklin is wrong to oppose it.

Final remarks

To finish, I would like to say once more — and I really mean this, from the bottom of my heart — fuck you, John Franklin.

* While “nobody cycles any more” is obviously not technically true, it’s true enough: Similarly, around 3% of UK households don’t have a television, but if someone said “everyone has a television” it would probably go unchallenged, as an accurate enough generalisation for common discourse. Funnily enough, 3% is more or less the number of people who ride bikes, see p7 and p12 here for example.

Note, added 20:45 – Before you comment, may I reiterate here that I’m not against Vehicular Cycling or the Right to Ride (both are currently essential when riding a bike in the UK). I am against VC and RtR being the only options, at the expense of proper infrastructure: filtered permeability, lower speed limits, etc., in addition to cycle paths.

Update, 30th July 2012: I corrected the Netherlands average cycle-to-school rate from 95% to 89%. Impressive and far ahead of anywhere else, either way.


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Frankly, Mr. Franklin

[Note: This is a follow-up to this earlier, angrier post.]

Don’t worry, this site isn’t going to turn into the anti-Franklin daily (though that’s not a bad idea for a blog), but why does he make it so easy to debunk his nonsense? I only had to scratch the surface to find more. Why are his views on infrastructure so well-respected? Someone please tell me!

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

I gratefully receive all comments, even Franklin supporters are welcome to try and defend him. In this comment to my previous post, Will Bramhill suggested that Franklin’s 1999 Milton Keynes report was written before the success of the Dutch cycle infrastructure was known about.

However, one of the references on the MK report is a study from 1991 titled “Changed Travel – Better World, a comparison of Milton Keynes and Almere, Netherlands.” I found an abstract of it here, which tells us that:

“The proportions of trips that were by car were 65.7% in Milton Keynes and 43.1% in Almere; the proportions made by bicycle were 5.8% and 27.5%, respectively.”

So even in 1991, in Almere, over a quarter of journeys were made by bike, and Franklin knew this by 1999 — but it seems he didn’t think it worth finding out why. And yet it gets better!

“For all purposes and all destinations, the people of Almere walk and cycle much more than those of Milton Keynes, due to higher level of bicycle ownership and more user-friendly segregated cycle routes.” [emphasis mine]

I think that’s worth repeating, in case any anti-infrastructure types missed it: “the people of Almere walk and cycle much more than those of Milton Keynes, due to higher level of bicycle ownership and more user-friendly segregated cycle routes.” (And I dare say that the high level of bike ownership has something to do with the presence of the cycle routes, too.)

Why did Franklin ignore this major conclusion of the study? Seriously: What the hell? He used it to get the number of bikes per household in Milton Keynes, then didn’t read the rest? Was he in that much of a rush that he couldn’t take a look at the last paragraph?

The report is essentially saying that cycle paths are a good thing responsible for a high cycling rate, yet Franklin insists that on-the-road is the only way to cycle. Does he think that all those bike journeys in Almere are made despite the safe, traffic-free routes?

More Swearing

So for a long time now he’s been aware of the Netherlands’ very high cycling rate — and the reasons for it — yet he keeps looking the other way and pretending it’s not happening. Well, it’s over. John Franklin can fuck right off. Seriously, if you see anyone piping up with this riding-in-traffic-is-best bullshit, point them to these posts, so they can be told to fuck off too. I’ve had it with this crap, John Franklin has had too much influence for too long.

He can fuck off with with all these ancient references, too — the Netherlands proves him wrong. AN ENTIRE COUNTRY PROVES HIM WRONG. How wrong can one man be?


While I’m at it, why do he and his followers continue to use this ancient image of a poor junction design that the Dutch haven’t used for decades? The image in his book Cyclecraft, which is meant to be about Vehicular Cycling but contains anti-infrastructure rhetoric for no good reason. The linked page is on a Bikeability trainer’s site, so it seems that there is a definite overlap between Franklin’s book and infrastructure resistance. (No, I’m not accusing all trainers of being VC zealots. Just that one.) [Note: The cycle training site I had originally linked to has now disappeared, so I’ve replaced it with a link to a similar image.]

It seems to me that you’d have to be exceptionally unimaginative, maybe even somewhat dense, to assume that just because one example of something is bad, then all other types of that thing must be bad too. Note to John & Co.: Just because we have very poor cycle facilities in the UK today, doesn’t mean that good cycle facilities are impossible. (Though it won’t help much if you keep spreading shit about them.)

Dear John

Seriously; John, if you’re reading this: I don’t know you personally — maybe you’re a lovely guy — this is an attack on your “professional” work. I can see that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort disseminating anti-cycleway propaganda, and it may seem difficult to climb down now, but it really is time to stop. Give it up. People are dying out there on the roads.

You don’t even have to apologise (though it would be nice), just admit that you were wrong about cycleways being a bad thing. You can still make money from your book (though you might remove the negative bits about cycle paths). Maybe you can even join others in promoting real, positive change for cycling in Britain. Come on John, let’s be friends, let bygones be bygones, then we can work together to improve Britain’s roads and streets for everyone.

And if you do, I’ll write a nice post about you, I promise.

Sorry about all the swearing but I can’t help it. I really do find it that frustrating to read his stuff.


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Franklin and Forester quotes, in a Dutch context

I’ve just got back from the Netherlands. I rode a bike there for two weeks and experienced for myself why so many people there use bikes every day, and why transatlantic comedy duo “The Two Johnnies” are wrong to oppose mass bike riding in the UK and US. Here’s some opening thoughts: photos of real, everyday scenes which show the rhetoric of Forester and Franklin to be ridiculous.

Click any image for a larger version.

Photo of two girls cycling safely on cycle path away from the busy road, with John Forester quote: "I have described several very dangerous situations: bike paths and voonerven being the most dangerous. The correct way to handle the dangers of these facilities is to stay well away from them and ride on the normal roadways instead."

Yeah, go on girls – follow Forester’s advice and get on that road, you’ll be fine as long as you ride your bike like you’re driving a car.


A photo of two families happily using separate cycle paths, with stupid John Franklin quote: "...the majority of cycle facilities require more skill and more experience to be used safely, not less. It is the least experienced who most often suffer the consequences."

Oh, those poor children suffering the terrible consequences of the Dutch cycling infrastructure!


Photo of swarm of people on bikes using segregated bike path during rush-hour in Utrecht, with stupid John Franklin quote: "segregation has no proven record as a 'stepping-stone' to cycling well and more widely"

He’s right, this scene is a figment of your imagination. If you go to Utrecht during rush hour you will see nobody cycling on the bike paths. They’re all just for show, like North Korea.


Photo of a speedy Lycra-clad sporty cyclist using racing bike on long, straight, uninterrupted cycle path, with stupid John Franklin quote: "Efficient and speedy cycling is important if cycling is to compete as a mode of transport with the car. Road-side paths of almost any kind prevent this and make cycling slow and dangerous."

This guy rides his racing bike slowly, the Lycra is purely for sexual reasons.


Photo of a young girl (aged about three?) riding her bike without any fear as there are no cars around, with John Franklin quote: "The extra care enforced by the presence of motor traffic, generally results in the safest cycling environment overall."

If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!


Photo of three smartly-dressed middle-aged professional-looking people, calmly, casually and efficiently riding bikes on a bike path, with stupid John Forester quote: "Why is it that Dutch people persist in using bicycle transportation when the system is so stacked against them? Why do they still cycle when the system restricts them to slow speed and more and longer delays, disadvantages forced on them by the dangerous design of the system that they are forced to use?"

The system is so stacked against these guys, can’t you see the upset and stress the restrictive cycle paths are causing here?


Three photos of people using bike paths: one of a disabled man using a hand-cranked tricycle; one of two boys and their dog; one of an elderly man. A stupid John Franklin quote: "you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles ... a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease"

I’m sure these guys can manage that 20mph sprint speed (especially the dog). If not then they shouldn’t be allowed out cycling! It’s a tough sport for serious men like John Franklin!

I was going to include more quotes from John Forester, but to read his deranged ramblings requires more resolve than I have right now.

Update, 20th August 2012

Again, some people (mainly on Twitter) are misunderstanding what I’m doing here: Vehicular Cycling is a good coping strategy for fit, confident people to ride on hostile, motor-dominated roads. Opposition to Dutch-style infrastructure is what I’m attacking, and that’s quite a separate thing.

I didn’t have to search far and wide for these quotes — both Johns are clearly against mass cycling — and only the final one is from any Vehicular Cycling instructional material (it’s from John Franklin’s book about VC, Cyclecraft — though the book also contains unnecessary anti-infrastructure dogma too).

All the other Franklin quotes are from this document from 2002, which while I admit isn’t the most current thing available, it’s one of the first documents I came across on his website and is still often quoted by anti-infrastructure people. If Franklin has changed his views since then, he hasn’t done so publicly.

Both the Forester quotes are from this document which is of similar vintage, though again Forester doesn’t seem to have changed his opinions at all since — or even bothered to visit the Netherlands to see the improvements since the 1930s. I’m sure he’d find that a lot has gone on since then.

(The Forester document is an article attacking an academic paper which recommended Dutch-style infrastructure. One of the authors of the paper, John Pucher, replied to Forester: “I strongly oppose this ELITIST view of cycling, and think that many policies should be implemented to encourage bicycling by everyone, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, children and grandparents, students and businessmen, etc. Forester’s policies would guarantee that cycling remains a marginal mode here in the US.” I think Pucher has been proved correct, and I tip my hat to him here.)

Either way, the age of the quotes doesn’t really matter. Both these guys are still quoted frequently by people who have been hoodwinked into joining the ‘Vehicular Is The Only Way’ club, and they have been shown to have had concrete effects on the roads today. Read any article on the many blogs discussing cycling in the UK and you’ll often see a comment from someone saying that the roads are fine, we just need more training, linking to a Franklin document or quoting him. Who knows how Kings Cross junction would look today had the cycling lobby not been split in this way all those years ago?

So, use vehicular cycling all you want — there’s not much choice in the UK, after all — but don’t let that blind you to the possibilities of bike riding for everyone, which promoting VC as the best and only option has consistently failed to achieve (and obviously cannot achieve, as the final image demonstrates so clearly). There’s only one proven way to reach mass cycling: the Dutch way.



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This isn’t a Cycle Safety Fund, this is Space for Motoring

This is part two in a series of three posts about the Bedford turbo roundabout and the funding behind it (AKA “Turbogate”). You’ll find part one here, and part three here.

So what have we learned since Tuesday’s article about Bedford council spending £300,000 of Cycle Safety Fund money installing a design intended to speed motor traffic?

Well, David Hembrow got in touch with Sustrans to ask what the hell they were thinking to support such a scheme. Their reply was mealy-mouthed but also illuminating.

Paul Hilton of Sustrans is essentially saying “don’t blame us, we only recommended spending £300,000 on a turbo-roundabout.” But he did point the finger at various other individuals who apparently share responsibility for this decision.

You can read the full exchange here, in the comments of yesterday’s post.

Franklinstein’s Monster

For me, the most surprising thing was that John Franklin – yes, that John Franklin – is part of the team which decides on which schemes the DfT’s pot of Cycle Safety Fund money will be spent.

This is the John Franklin who wrote, amongst other things, that:

Photo of a young girl (aged about three?) riding her bike without any fear as there are no cars around, with John Franklin quote: "The extra care enforced by the presence of motor traffic, generally results in the safest cycling environment overall."

If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!

That’s right: a man who believes that you’re safest cycling while surrounded by cars, vans and lorries is making decisions about how to spend millions of pounds of Cycle Safety Fund money.

I was surprised at this because he is Cyclenation’s representative on that board, and I’d previously been told that John Franklin didn’t have anything to do with Cyclenation these days beyond looking after their website.

I mentioned this on Twitter and then the following short but hilarious conversation took place between Cyclenation and Mark Treasure:

A Twitter conversation. Cyclenation says: 'Actually John Franklin no longer manages our website or membership database. The only connection between ourselves and JF is that he is a member of Cheltenham Cycle Campaign.' Mark Treasure says: 'But - just to clarify - he is your representative on the Cycle Safety Stakeholder Group?' Cyclenation says: 'Yes, sorry had overlooked that.'

Oh, that guy? He just speaks on our behalf when deciding where millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money will be spent. Apart from that, there’s no connection.

As Cyclenation is not just one body but a federation of local cycling campaigns across the country, it really does need to explain the reason for this bizarre situation to its members.

For a group which is a leading part of the national roll-out of the Space for Cycling campaign, it makes no sense to give such a position of influence (and thus power) to someone who believes that the only place for cycling is on the road mixed up with the cars and lorries.

Luckily, some conscientious Cyclenation members are already asking the right questions.

They Named Names!

Other members on the Cycle Safety Stakeholder Group include Chris Peck of CTC, Tony Russell of Sustrans, Ruth Jackson of British Cycling, Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Robert Semple of TfL.

Now I don’t know the views of everyone on this panel – I have no idea of Ralph Smyth’s stand on urban roundabouts, nor whether Robert Semple gets involved in decisions about places outside London – but I would suggest that members of CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling should contact these bodies and demand to know what their decision was, and their reasoning for it. (Indeed, it seems some CTC members understandably feel this way already.)

Update: Chris Peck of CTC has written an article explaining his side of the story. I think it was written before this one was published, as he refers to Patrick Lingwood’s explanation as if it’s a good one (see below). I appreciate that the whole funding situation is far from ideal, but I’m still not convinced that they took the best course of action by approving such projects. At least Chris Peck has taken the time to respond, however flawed it may be – but there has been word as yet from Cyclenation or British Cycling.

Out With The Old Rubbish, In With The New Rubbish

The more I find out about this turbo roundabout scheme, the less sense it makes that cycling organisations should support it.

One of the architects of this scheme, Patrick Lingwood, Cycling Officer for Bedford Borough Council, defended the turbo-roundabout on Mark Wagenbuur’s blog last year.

His main justification for it seems to be that what is currently there is awful, which he spends a lot of time explaining in detail. This may well be the case, but it’s irrelevant as nobody is suggesting that current layout is great. We’re criticising this specific new design, not defending the existing layout, so trying to re-frame the debate to be about old versus new is distracting and false.

He sounds like a dedicated believer in the supremacy of Vehicular Cycling, just like John Franklin and John Forester. His language is typical of those who see “cyclists” as some special breed which excludes most of the population. He believes in the failed “dual network” concept of providing for two classes of cyclist. He clearly sees his job as being to cater for the few existing cyclists rather than provide safe cycling transport conditions that everybody could use.

For someone who is a cycling officer, he has designed a scheme which increases motor vehicle capacity at this junction by 40%. Rather than create something which is suitable for all users, this is a design which only the confident few can use efficiently, and which will be slow and awkward for others. He’s taken a Dutch concept which is intended to speed large volumes of motor vehicles on trunk roads (and which cycle routes are intended to bypass altogether) and has applied it to an urban location with high pedestrian flows.

And the cycling lobby has waved it through in your name.

And There’s More…

Finally, for now, it seems that this isn’t the only dubious project that Cycle Safety Fund money has been spent on. Cycling campaigner Alex Ingram has begun to compile a spreadsheet of Cycle Safety Grants so we can see where the money has gone.

Pretty quickly, he found this £70,000 Cycle Safety Fund scheme in Hereford:

A diagram showing a roundabout in Hereford, with eight cycle symbols painted on the road

A bargain at only £8750 per cycle symbol painted on the road.

It seems that all a council planner has to do is drop a few cycle symbols into their latest design (or simply claim there’s something “Dutch” about it) and Sustrans will recommend that money intended for cycling will pay for your motor-centric scheme.

As Private Eye would say, trebles all round!


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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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