Tag Archives: vehicular cycling

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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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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