Tag Archives: propaganda

Groningen does not have a 60% modal share for cycling

I’m not sure why, but it annoys me that a 60%+ modal share for Groningen keeps being quoted. Perhaps it’s because I prefer facts to hype?

This figure seems to have been arrived at by conveniently removing walking from the statistics, which means that every other mode’s number can be increased by about 30%.

If you read that whole Twitter thread, you’ll note that the local government mouthpiece (whose mission is to praise everything that the council does around cycling, whether it be good, bad, irrelevant or an insult to our intelligence) doesn’t even know the modal share for walking – although they’re happy to make a guess at “1 or 2 percent”, which is laughably low for a city like Groningen, which has a city centre filled with residences, and lots of local shopping areas in the suburbs.

I couldn’t find any modal share stats for walking in Groningen, but a recent Dutch government report gives a 25% utility (i.e. not recreation) walking share for Utrecht, and a 30% share for Rotterdam, Den Haag and Amsterdam (PDF here, see page 20). Why would Groningen’s walking share (and it’s a very walkable city) be so much lower than other Dutch cities? At “1 or 2 percent” the walking share in Groningen would be lower than Detroit.

This trick of erasing walking is the same one that the Fietsersbond used a few years ago to inflate the cycling figures for Amsterdam.

The other, more common sleight of hand which city cheerleaders use in order to quote an impressive-sounding number is to present the commuting share as the overall share. (The modal share for cycling at rush hour is usually much higher – more on this here and here.) Interestingly enough, the same Dutch government report that I linked to above gives Groningen a 60% commuting share for cycling – which is believable, and possibly also a source of misinterpreted figures, but is not the same thing as the overall share.

Anyway, most statistics I’ve seen which do include walking as part of the transport mix put cycling in Groningen at nearer 40% (see the spreadsheet linked from here and this PDF, for example). This is still a hefty mode share, and a number which most cities around the world can currently only dream of achieving.

Measuring transport is very complicated, of course – do we measure by distance, or by time, or by trips? What if a journey involves multiple modes? How do we collect and measure this data? As you can imagine, it’s pretty involved, and it can be tricky to compare stats between cities which may be using different methods. But choosing to leave out walking – or to only give the commuting figures – doesn’t give an honest representation of the truth, and only makes the figures harder to compare between cities.

I’m not trying to do Groningen down here (I moved here, after all!) and it does indeed have a large amount of cycling. But the local authorities seem to have been resting on their laurels for many years now, with cycling numbers clearly boosted by the huge student population, and it feels like PR has been chosen over investment in infrastructure. While there is some good new infra, there are some downright dangerous designs too, and it seems strange that even a city which claims such an amazingly high cycling share often finds it difficult to prioritise this key transport mode, or even to maintain its existing infrastructure.


That last link, by the way, points to Mark Wagenbuur’s 2016 post about Groningen, which I’ve just re-read, and have realised that it’s basically a perfect summary of everything I wanted to write about Groningen (although I’m rather fond of the simultaneous green, but I agree with Mark that the signal phasing isn’t always done well here).

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Vehicular Cycling Propaganda of the Week #1

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

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

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

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

Because it’s empowering.

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Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

I wish I could believe everything the Mayor and his team tell me. If there’s one thing that Boris Johnson is good at, it’s making promises.

TfL have recently produced this video about their vision for cycling in London. And it sounds wonderful. Oh, the things they say!

Doesn’t it all sound great?

The Mayor plans to transform provisions for cycling … Investing in cycling makes life better for everyone … We’re spending almost a billion pounds … In London, 4.3 million trips made every day could be made by bike … The streets of central London will be opened up to cyclists as never before … A network of cycle routes will cover central London like a grid … In outer London the vast majority of journeys by car are less than a mile and a half … The idea is to make [the “mini-Holland”] boroughs places as good for cycling as their Dutch equivalents would be … An 8-to-80 cycling culture throughout London … A city where people feel safer cycling, feel confident cycling, and choose to cycle because they really enjoy the experience … London will be a city with a world-class transport and cycling network … Cycling is hugely important…”

And such inspirational music too!

Unfortunately, I don’t believe them. It’s nothing but propaganda and hype, and the cracks are already visible.

Despite these fine words, the plans are already failing to live up to the promises made.

The biggest let-down is the proposed Central London Grid – it’s rubbish. It’s not even a grid!

If you read David Hembrow’s articles on the grid concept, you’ll see that what’s required is a dense network of cycle routes, enabling anyone to cycle from anywhere to anywhere else. That isn’t what we have here.

The grid that isn’t

What TfL have done here is design a network patchwork that affects motoring as little as possible. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the wording of the design brief.)

It includes Hyde Park (which closes at midnight) and Kensington Gardens (which closes at dusk!), and includes bits of canal towpath (which are narrow, and dark at night). This isn’t a grid, it’s a joke.

Don’t kid yourself – the reason Gilligan loves the “quietways” concept so much is not because they’re great for cycling, but because they don’t get in the way of all-important motor traffic.

It’s been tried before, and is proven to be a failed concept. How is this convoluted patchwork of back-streets any different from the half-hearted LCN?

TfL's joke of a Central London Cycling Grid

I’ve updated the Royal Parks to reflect their part-time status, and changed a canal route to grey to reflect the lack of social safety.

You’ll note that motor vehicles remain on the straightest, most convenient and most desirable routes, which TfL directly control. This so-called grid for cycling shows only convoluted back-street routes on borough roads, and you know that Westminster will do all they can to prevent any real change for the better on their roads.

And remember: this is their opening gambit! It’s not going to get better from here, only more and more watered down. If this is their dream plan, then the bold promises made in the video have already turned to ashes.

Why are TfL expecting the borough councils to handle all the cycle traffic on these back streets? What about Euston Road, a TfL-controlled 6 lane-wide motorway which cuts across the city from Paddington to Angel? Why is nothing being done there, or on any of the other multi-lane direct roads under TfL’s control?

You can send TfL your thoughts on their grid attempt until 14th of February using this email address: grid@tfl.gov.uk.

London is very, very far away from Holland

I’d also like to touch upon the “Mini-Holland” proposals. I can’t claim to have read all of them in detail, but I have been through most of the shortlisted ones, and I can say this: Andrew Gilligan’s promises are already broken. 

This is because even the best of these “Mini-Holland” proposals will not in any way create conditions “as good for cycling as their Dutch counterparts” – every one of them falls short in some major way.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the proposals do include some positive changes which should be welcomed. But they’re all piecemeal solutions. Not one of them proposes doing “everything, everywhere” which is required to make these places “every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents.”

All of the proposals are at least a little bit disappointing in their failure to really understand what makes Dutch cycling conditions so safe and inviting.

All the proposals feature brand new ASLs as some sort of solution. Many of them misinterpret Dutch practice and apply it to unsuitable roads. Some of them focus largely on leisure routes. All of them bang on about soft measures such as bike maintenance classes or poster campaigns. The London borough councils really need to go on a Hembrow Study Tour, as they clearly only have the vaguest idea of what Dutch cycling infrastructure actually is.

Maybe I’ll write more about the Mini-Holland proposals once the final decision is made about which boroughs have won the mini pot of gold (as there’ll be less waffle to wade through once they’ve chosen the winners).

But for now, I’ll leave you with Enfield’s vision of good-quality Dutch cycling infra, which is so awful that it probably warrants a blog post all of its own:

Laughably awful visualisation by Enfield council, showing narrow bike lanes in the dooring-zone, and bus stops on the wrong side of cycle paths.

If this travesty is Dutch, then I’m a Dutchman’s uncle.

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Boris Johnson is an arsehole

If you want to show your anger to the Mayor and TfL, please join the Stop The Killing campaign, which is rapidly growing into a campaign to improve our roads for everyone, however they choose to get around.

Though this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, I’ll say it anyway:

What a complete and utter turd the current Mayor of London is.

Allow me to explain why I feel this way.

People’s deaths are not a call-to-action for him, but an opportunity to distract the population from discussing the real issues.

Just when it seemed everyone was talking about how the roads are dangerously designed and how much better they could be, Boris sees that this is making himself look bad, so he throws a dead cat on the table.

I’ll allow the Mayor himself to describe the ‘dead cat’ manoeuvre:

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

“Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre described as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table’.

“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, there’s a dead cat on the table!’

“In other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

And that is exactly what he has done by talking about people wearing headphones while riding bikes after being asked about the many recent deaths while cycling.

What an absolutely shitty, cynical, cold-hearted thing to do. Tarnish the names of the recently deceased to save his own political skin. Classy.

Suddenly, all the focus is on those bloody cyclists, endangering themselves and everyone around them. It’s almost as if they want to die!

Of course, Boris wants to make clear that he’s not accusing the recently deceased of cycling dangerously. Oh no, perish the thought! But then by launching into some bullshit about headphones, what’s the average person in the street meant to think? Of course people will put two and two together, and are now happily blaming the victims.

And now he’s got hundreds of police standing on street corners stopping Londoners on bikes and giving them dubious “advice“. What does this look like to Denise Driver and Barry Busrider? “Ah, thank goodness something’s being done about those bloody cyclists!”

Anyway, the point of this post is to show you that we can’t trust a word the Mayor says. Promises are made but then conveniently forgotten about. Today he’ll be your best friend, but when you look back in six months you’ll see that he was actually your worst enemy all along.

It’s hardly headline news that the original section of Cycle Superhighway 2 is well beyond crap. But I wanted to do a post comparing the Mayor’s rhetoric with the delivered reality, so that’s probably a good place to start.

All the quotes are from this 2009 press release announcing how great the Cycle Superhighways were going to be. I guess the lesson is not to believe anything that the Mayor says, his words are meaningless.

Boris Johnson quote: "The Cycle Superhighways show we are serious about delivering real, positive changes that will benefit us all." Below, a photo of cars parked on a Cycle Superhighway, and a bike rider forced outside.

The real, positive change here is visible below the cars on the left, clearly benefiting us all.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "On these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them." Below, a photo of Cycle Superhighway 2 in action. A large van is loading on the left, a taxi is driving on the Superhighway itself, and cars are queued in the outside lane. A lone cyclist squeezes between the van and taxi.

Clear as mud, that is.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power." Below, a photo of a bike rider overtaking a stopped bus while cars pass on the right.

This one is so false it’s beyond parody.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "The bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours." Below, a photo of a closed bike lane, with no alternative route provided, only "dismount" signs

If you enjoy being made to feel like subhuman scum, that is.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Kulveer Ranger quote: "I'm sure these routes will prove a hugely welcome addition to London's cycling infrastructure." Below, a photo of a large cycling protest, flowers laid on the Cycle Superhighway to mark someone's death.

Far from being “hugely welcome” the Cycle Superhighways were so bad that they drew large protests after a series of deaths.
(Photo: Caroline Allen)

 

David Brown quote: "The routes will provide safe, fast and direct routes into central London." Below, a photo of the aftermath of a fatal accident, with police in addendance.

Transport for London continue to claim their Cycle Superhighways are safe, despite many near-identical fatal collisions.
(Photo: Martin Donkin)

 

 


I wasn’t the only one thinking this way: Two Wheels Good blog on victim blaming, Operation Safeway and the dead cat.

 

 

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Truth and propaganda

I’ve got lots of half-finished posts which for one reason or another I never got around to completing. This one covers old ground – many bloggers have tackled TfL’s “encouragement” of cycling already, as have I. But I like the propaganda parallels between TfL with the GDR, so I’m putting this out there anyway. (Though it’s not my intention to trivialise the situation of GDR citizens back then, or suggest that TfL are as bad as the SED or anything.)

In May 1989 the citizens of the GDR (East Germany) voted in national elections. This was the result:

East German ruling party-owned newspaper Neues Deutschland reports election results, May 1989. 98.5% voted for the incumbent government!

East German ruling party-owned newspaper reports the election results of May 1989

98.85% of votes cast were in favour of the government candidates – that is, almost everybody voted for the ruling dictators.

Six months later, this happened:


Elections in the GDR were not anonymous, and anybody voting against the government’s list of candidates would find themselves receiving attention from the feared secret police.

The government-run newspaper report didn’t show the truth.

Although it would be silly to compare life in the GDR to life in London, I think there are some similarities in how the government provides us with information:

TfL's "Freedom" campaign poster

(Photo credit: sludgegulper on Flickr)

This is also a lie.

The truth looks like this:

Bikes, motorbikes and cars – not a pleasant cycling environment

Some citizens keeping their wits about them, recently.

What makes TfL believe that yet another propaganda campaign is going to increase cycling rates? They can tell the public about how great cycling is (or, indeed, that the government has the support of the majority of the population) but everybody knows that it’s false.

The thing about the “Freedom” campaign which made me laugh is how desperate it is, showing a cycling environment which simply doesn’t exist in the UK (outside of a few small areas, at least). For most people, the scenes shown in the posters have no relevance to the world they live in – just like the newspapers of the GDR. It feels like the authorities have given up actually trying to improve conditions, and have instead resorted to insisting that things are fine when they’re really not (like the GDR government did).

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