Friday, 29 July 2011

Ice cream, kids?

In the foreword to the seminal Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, the then European Commissioner with responsibility for the environment, Ritt Bjeeregaard, explained that the catalyst for the book arose from the idea that 'the worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas are not cars, but longheld prejudices.'

I imagine that the sort of prejudices that are being spoken of here are not actually those expressed by the "get-out-of-my-way!" taxi drivers, or the "you're-not-allowed-to-cycle-here!" pedants; rather, they are the unspoken kind, commonly understood by all traffic engineers, and routinely glossed over by politicians.

Cycling: the way ahead 'corrects some of the prejudices connected with the use of the bicycle as a regular mode of transport in the urban environment. It also suggests some simple, inexpensive and popular measures which could be implemented immediately. Certainly, the task is ambitious,' Ritt Bjeeregaard points out, 'but the essential thing is to take the first step [my emphasis].'

It is true that various initiatives have been started here, beginning in 1994 with the London Cycle Network. But this network, just like its successor, the LCN+, was never completed. Our steps, then, such as they have been, are like those of a man who is repeatedly shot in the chest. And the guys with the smoking gun in their hands? They would have to be the traffic engineers at TfL, I regret to say. Nobody, it seems to me, has done more to encourage the feckless use of the motor car in London than this lot. What's more, with every step they take, they only reinforce that perception.

I know that TfL have brought us the Cycle Superhighways and the Barclays Bike Hire scheme. Indeed, I am going to give this Mayor some credit, if only for the fact that those schemes which were proposed have been delivered. That, obviously, reflects well on him. Still, he's hardly covered himself in glory with the latest episode at Blackfriars Bridge. That seems to me to be a step very much in the wrong direction.

I confess, I watched the exchange between Jenny Jones and Boris Johnson on this subject with utter astonishment. The Mayor seemed only to be interested in proposals which smooth traffic-flow! It's like nothing else matters. It is traffic engineers, of all people, who are now telling the Mayor that a report produced by TfL in 2008 no longer represents the best advice, and that it would lead to increased congestion, were it to be implemented. However, when the Mayor was asked to explain what was wrong with the 2008 report, why it was no longer thought to be good advice, he wouldn't answer the question.

The Mayor could have considered any number of opinions on this subject, but he chose only to listen to TfL's traffic engineers. A more unrepresentative, blinkered, secretive, self-serving group it would be harder to find. The silent majority, meanwhile, who state their 'expectations of a more balanced mobility policy in an uncompromising manner in surveys of the entire population', is routinely ignored.

It is forces other than reason which are shaping our transport policy! The idea that adding an extra lane for traffic here, or reducing the amount of time available for pedestrians to cross the road there, is going to do anything at all to ease congestion, or smooth the flow of traffic, is, quite frankly, astonishing. In the whole scheme of things, none of these measures amount to anything other than window-dressing.

The proper way to deal with a dripping tap is not to go and find another bucket, because before you know it, that one will be full as well. For exactly the same reason, providing an extra lane for motor traffic on Blackfriars Bridge will not, in the long-run, make any significant difference to the motorists' journey in and out of London.

But what an impact it will have on the rest of us! Where there were two lanes of traffic spewing out their foul, toxic fumes, there are now going to be three! How lucky we are. It will provide us with a whole new meaning for the term 'car sickness'.

Asking traffic engineers what to do about congestion is like asking children what they want for pudding, in the sense that you know what sort of answer you're going to get. But traffic engineers do at least speak as one, and that contrasts very favourably with the babble that I hear from those who are keen to promote alternatives to the car.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cycling is dangerous

Vole O'Speed: Cycling is dangerous (a belated response)

I agree with everyone! No, that's not true. Not radio star. Definitely not radio star. Definitely not MG, either. Not londonneur.

I agree with Paul M, who said that cycling is not dangerous, relatively speaking, and relatively is the only way you can speak of any type of risk.

I agree with Vole O'Speed, when he says that by any realistic, useful definition of the word, cycling on UK roads is dangerous; so dangerous that the vast majority of people will never do it under current conditions.

I agree with timooohz, who says no matter how many people tell him jogging is safe and fun, the Pamplona Bull Run is always going to be just a little bit too frantic for his taste. Those bulls are big! Even if they don't mean to kill you, they might run over you, or crush you up against a wall, or something. Not that he minds the bulls, particularly. It's just that, if he were to go jogging, he'd prefer that they had their own space, you know, behind a fence or something, to keep them away from the path.

I agree with Idle Boy, who, like everyone it seems, accepts that more infrastructure is needed. But, he says, we must also learn to deal with what we have now, and work towards reducing that risk in a realistic and gradual manner. I agree with that.

I agree with freewheeler, who said something like putting the cart before the horse has never worked in the past, so it's anybody's guess why it is thought befitting to get more people to cycle before we set about creating the appropriate infrastructure.

I agree with Azor_rider, who reckons the Dutch have critical mass in cycling because using the bike is simply quicker and more convenient in Holland than using the car. We can improve subjective safety, he says, by encouraging local authorities to reduce speed differentials (more 20 mph limits), and by developing cycle routes which run parallel to arterial roads, in the way that the Dutch do (i.e., by closing off rat runs but allowing 'permeability' for cyclists). He thinks that cyclists would have a higher modal share than 1% were it not for the fact that the majority perceive cycling in this country to be too risky.

I agree with marion, who's appalled by the back-biting and cowing, just because someone wants to eat more than the crumbs off the motorist lobby's table.

I agree with hellibird: Kids ride bikes 'cos it's fun. They don't ride bikes to go to school or for other utility purposes round here. I think that's due to parental anxiety for their safety. Adults don't ride bikes very much in this neighbourhood either. No amount of training will make it fun. It does not feel safe either.

So anyway, I'm sorry that I didn't take part in the debate as it happened. I'm a bit new to this, as it goes, and besides, I much prefer talking to myself.

Idle Boy:

I do 100% agree that facilities should be improved, but if only 2% of people are using bikes in London then funding will be in proportion to that. There are very sound and good arguments that say this short-sighted approach is incorrect, and I agree. But until we get more people on the road - until cycling is seen as a norm rather than the preserve of people who think it is a good idea to go up the Mall naked - cycling will never be seen as anything other than a mode of transport for "other" people.

We really need to give the positive and fun message of cycling to people far more often. There is just so much to be gained for us and them by doing this. To miss out on the joy that cycling can bring because of an over-accentuated fear of the roads would be denying people the freedom and joy riding a bike can bring. Let us try and keep a sense of perspective on the fear element.

On a genuine point, I have worked for regional, local and national government on many things, both large and small. I promise you one thing: if you don't get bums on saddles then you will never get the representation at the top to make a change. Yes, there will be the occasional one-offs (e.g. Camden), but these are the exception and not the norm. They will do next to nothing to increase real cycling numbers. I can only tell you this from years of working on many things in this area - from real hands-on experience - raw numbers of cyclists is the only way you will achieve anything significant.

Let me go further: all the research in the world will not get hard-earned tax money spent. It can support the argument, yes, but only sheer numbers of voters / riders will get the money allocated to the group of users.

Paul M:

A truck passing by you with only a couple of feet to spare feels dangerous, and even if you are coldly rational about the true danger, it feels bloody unpleasant. But I maintain that, in fact, cycling is relatively safe. Arguing that cycling could be dangerous for novice cyclists, were they to start, is purely perceptive, and even that is not necessarily borne out by known stats, as the perhaps surprisingly low level of casualties in the first six months of Boris-biking might show.

None of this argues against the compelling need to make our roads safer for cyclists and that certainly means, in a material proportion of cases, physical separation. In the Netherlands, segregation applies to around 15% of the total road network, the rest being managed by other measures.

But is it helpful to the cause of increased utility cycling, and the infrastructure to support it, to proclaim that cycling is inherently dangerous? Am I just playing safe, falling for the much-derided “elf & safety” culture beloved of the tabloid press, if I fear to encourage people to take up cycling through training, mentoring and other moral support? Why must we paint cycling in such terms? Why is it all Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton, wrapped in fluorescent lycra, helmet and weird shades? Do I really want to emphasise the risk, the “rush”, the adventure, which will certainly attract some people, but arguably the wrong kind? [Pay attention, radio star and MG, he's talking about you.] Isn’t that a total turn-off for most potential utility cyclists? When did you last see a family hatchback or saloon promoted with images of Formula 1 drivers in flame-retardant suits and full-face helmets? It would be a total turn-off.

I don’t buy the CTC bull about “safety in numbers”, not because I believe it to be untrue – there really is at least a grain of truth in it – but because it is just about their only policy, and as such is woefully inadequate. However, a few cycle campaigners and bloggers are never going to achieve a step-change in government attitudes to cycle infrastructure. [Ahem.] That can only come from grass-roots pressure, and the people are not going to march on Downing Street with banners saying, “I would love to cycle, but I demand that you build the cycle lanes first!” You need more cyclists on the roads for that.

Consider what's happened at Blackfriars Bridge. No one can pretend that this is an unqualified victory, but the very fact that more than 500 cyclists joined the flashride and wrote to TfL, or to their assembly member, achieved some results in terms of the reinstatement of cycle lanes at or near the northern junction. We need more bums on saddles, passionate about improving their experience, pressing their elected representatives for change. Scaring them off won’t help there.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Town Planning

I woke up yesterday morning trying to recall something that George Orwell said about town planning. I think it was from an essay he wrote called The lion and the unicorn. I'll look it up.

My initial search was, 'quotes orwell town planning'. That brought up three websites:,, and None of these listed the Orwell quote.

Anyway, I was reading through the above-mentioned websites when it occurred to me that I was yet to read the quote that was actually in favour of the motor car within the built-up environment, so I thought to try and find one.

My first search was, 'quotes motor car city'. This provided me with a long list of insurance companies. Humpf. I was looking for a different type of quote. After another dead-end I tried, 'quotes favour motor car town planning'. This brought up, amongst other things, a Wikipedia article on a report entitled Traffic in Towns:

'Traffic in Towns was an influential report and popular book on urban and transport planning policy produced in 1963 for the UK Department of Transport by a team headed by the architect, civil engineer and planner Professor Sir Colin Buchanan. The report warned of the potential damage caused by the motor car, while offering ways to mitigate it:

'"It is impossible to spend any time on the study of the future of traffic in towns without at once being appalled by the magnitude of the emergency that is coming upon us. We are nourishing at immense cost a monster of great potential destructiveness, and yet we love him dearly. To refuse to accept the challenge it presents would be an act of defeatism."

'It gave planners a set of policy blueprints to deal with its effects on the urban environment, including traffic containment and segregation, which could be balanced against urban redevelopment, new corridor and distribution roads and precincts.

'These policies shaped the development of the urban landscape in the UK and some other countries for two or three decades. Unusually for a technical policy report, it was so much in demand that Penguin abridged it and republished it as a book.'
You can read the article in full here.

Now, my challenge to the pro-car lobby - to the fossil fuel companies and the car manufacturers and so on - is to find the quote that I was looking for. Find me the quote that has a good word to say about the motor car in towns and cities.

As far as I can tell, the problem seems to be that promoting alternatives to the motor car would cause 'huge economic damage.' That's all anybody seems to know about it, or needs to know, by the looks.

Typically, of course, the politics of fear triumph over the politics of hope. I have heard - and not for the first time, either - that it was about time we started to admit there is more to life than money. As David Cameron said about this, "Wellbeing can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society's sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times."

I agree, but not everybody does, it seems. Perhaps they could tell us why. Maybe one day they will, I don't know. Until then, here is an assortment of quotes from the three websites I mentioned at the top:

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now. - Alan Lakein

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. - Immanuel Kant

It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all. - Henri Poincaré

Always have a plan, and believe in it. Nothing happens by accident. - Chuck Knox

Whatever a traffic engineer tells you to do, do the opposite and you'll improve your community. - Fred Kent

Good judgment is the result of experience. And experience is frequently the result of bad judgment. - Robert Lovett

Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power. - Hugh White

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. - Gloria Steinem

It's a bad plan that admits of no modification. - Publilius Syrus

Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. - Alexander Hamilton

A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. - H. Stanely Judd

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans. - Peter F. Drucker

The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem. - Milton Friedman

To undermanage reality is not to keep free. It is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality. - Robert S. McNamara

Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true. - Lester Robert Bittel

"Would you tell me which way I ought to go from here?" asked Alice.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get," said the Cat.
"I really don't care where," replied Alice.
"Then it doesn't much matter which way you go," said the Cat.
- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Over the last 30 years, we've been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We're far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is, is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It's the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people. - Enrique Penalosa

Spot the ball

We cannot continue to believe that the landscape is sacred and the city profane. They must both be considered sacred. - Paul Murrain

To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream. Not only plan but also believe. -- Anatole France

We have legislators who think it their duty only to listen to the people instead of becoming expert on the subjects upon which they must decide. - Andres Duany

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. - Seneca

It is not enough to be busy. The question is: What are we busy about? - Henry David Thoreau

It is never too late to be what you might have been. - George Eliot

A leader is one who influences. - Anonymous

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. - Robert Louis Stevenson

Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how. - Edward T. McMahon

In the space of two days I had evolved two plans, wholly distinct, both of which were equally feasible. The point I am trying to bring out is that one does not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. One tries to make plans fit the circumstances. - General George Patton

In part, public planning agencies have no vision because they are drowning in minutiae. - Dom Nozzi

I have never seen a fact that would stand up to a myth at a public hearing. - J. Gary Lawrence

Nothing is ever done until everyone is convinced that it ought to be done, and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else. - F.M. Cornford

To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself. – Anthony Downs

You say what you think needs to be said. If it needs to be said, there are going to be a lot of people who will disagree with it, or it wouldn't need to be said. - Herbert Block

A leader is someone who cares enough to tell the people not merely what they want to hear, but what they need to know. - Reubin Askew

If you are an elected official lacking in courage and leadership, and you face even a peep of opposition to a project, fall back on perfectionism to find the flaws so that you can shoot down the project. Perfectionism leads to paralysis. - Dom Nozzi

In our profession, a plan that everyone dislikes for different reasons is a success. A plan everyone dislikes for the same reason is a failure. And a plan that everyone likes for the same reason is an act of God. - Richard Carson

A culture of inertia has set in. Criticism predominates over construction; critics are given more weight than those trying to build. It doesn't matter how small a constituency or flawed an argument the critic possesses. He or she always seems to predominate in political circles, in the news media, and in the public debate. - Senator Charles E. Schumer

In the desire to be collaborative, don't forget leadership. Don't be embarrassed to lead. There are too many efforts where it's all about 'getting everyone to the table.' Everyone goes away feeling good, but no one's doing anything. - Frank H. Beal

We do make a difference - one way or the other. We are responsible for the impact of our lives. Whatever we do with whatever we have, we leave behind us a legacy for those who follow. - Stephen Covey

[Democracies] have great difficulty solving the long-run problems created by policies that provide short-term benefits. Once people receive the benefits, they do not want to give them up. – Anthony Downs

The least a democratic society should do is offer people wonderful public spaces. Public spaces are not a frivolity. They are just as important as hospitals and schools. They create a sense of belonging. This creates a different type of society – a society where people of all income levels meet in public space is a more integrated, socially healthier one. - Enrique Penalosa

Mary Peters, the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, recently testified before a committee of the U.S. Senate that "mobility is one of our greatest freedoms" and that "congestion must be addressed with a long-term strategy to increase capacity" (FHWA 2002d). In its 2001 Report to the Nation, the Federal Highway Administration declared that "our highway transportation system serves to unify America and sustain the American way of life" (FHWA 2001). Implicit in such statements is the belief that Americans have a right to drive and, more specifically, that Americans have the right to drive anywhere they want at any time of day they want at speeds unimpeded by congestion. Time and monetary losses resulting from congestion are officially measured relative to free flow conditions, thereby establishing free-flow conditions as the unquestioned standard. - Susan Handy

Planners fight against good urbanism every day of the week, and have for fifty years. - John Massengale

Planning of the automobile city focuses on saving time. Planning for the accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent. - Robert Cervero

For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, at a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. This difference in planning helps explain why downtown San Francisco is much more exciting and livable than downtown Los Angeles. - Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking

The only way you run into someone else in LA is in a car crash. - Susan Sarandon, on why she moved to NY.

Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people. - Enrique Penalosa

The car is like our mother-in-law. We have a good relationship with her, but we cannot let her conduct our lives. In other words, if the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law, then you have a problem. - Jaime Lerner, former Mayor of Curitiba (Brazil)

We need to design our cities so that one feels embarrassed, inconvenienced, and like one who is missing out on all the fun when driving a car. - Dom Nozzi

Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity. - Glen Heimistra

Vancouver killed the freeway because they didn't want the freeways to kill their neighbourhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it. - Rick Cole

If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. - Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman

Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. - Dan Burden

The role of the street is social as well as utilitarian. - Andres Duany

A street is a spatial entity and not the residue between buildings. - Anonymous

In a quality city, a person should be able to live their entire life without a car, and not feel deprived. - Paul Bedford

We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or we can have a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both. – Enrique Penalosa

The unspoken secret in traffic operations: the vast majority of striping, signing and signalisation are intended to ease traffic flow, not increase safety. – Michael Ronkin

All urban streets should be a challenge to drive and easy to walk or bike. – Michael Ronkin

There is no lack of space [in cities]. It is just that most of it is in the form of vacant parking lots and extra wide roads. -Michael Ronkin

Climate has little to do with [how much people walk]. Toronto residents, New Orleanians and Manhattanites, with extremes of weather, walk more than Atlantans. The variable is the quality of the urbanism. Not the weather. People in Stockholm walk more than people in the suburbs of Seville. People in Stockholm's centre walk more that they do in Stockholm's 1950's new towns. The variable is always the quality of the urbanism--not the weather. - Andres Duany

The more parking space, the less sense of place. - Jane Holtz Kay

It's not the plan that's important, it's the planning. - Dr. Gramme Edwards

Plans are worthless. Planning is essential. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around. - Dan Burden

...if someone charges that the New Urbanism is about hating cars, we can say no, that it is only when convenient walking and convenient driving conflict that we place the pedestrian above the driver; where they do not conflict, there is no dilemma. - Bruce Donnelly

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. - Thomas Edison

Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough. - Victor Dover

When you're on the street [as a pedestrian], all cars are monsters. When you're in a car, all pedestrians are idiots. - Alan E. Pisarski

Any city planner who thinks that easing the traffic flow will decrease the city’s congestion is simply living in a dream world. Likewise, the addition of parking facilities will not, and never has, eliminated parking problems. When you improve a small congested road, you wind up with a big congested road. Likewise, the better the traffic pattern, the more traffic on that pattern; the more parking lots, the more people looking for a place to park. - John Keats

When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be. -Rick Cole

Density and environmental protection are not incompatible. If they are, we are in very deep trouble. - Patrick Condon

If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. - Fred Kent

Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination. - Paul Goldberger

"Smart Growth" is a code word for whatever the user of this term wants to achieve concerning metropolitan development. Yet different users of the term have totally different goals, so "smart growth" can mean almost anything. In spite of its diverse and often conflicting meanings, all parties superficially endorse "smart growth" because it is clearly superior to the alternative: "dumb growth." - Anthony Downs

"Smart Growth" defined: Making the car an option, not a necessity. – Dom Nozzi

We are making great progress, but we are going in the wrong direction. - Ogden Nash

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. - Charles Darwin

Americans are broad-minded people. They'll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn't drive there's something wrong with him. - Art Buchwald

Freedom is not constituted primarily of privileges but of responsibilities. - Albert Camus

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game. - Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Progress in every age results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done. - Russel W. Davenport

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. - Samuel Johnson

It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong. - John Maynard Keynes

Men do not love Rome because she is beautiful; Rome is beautiful because men have loved her. - Leopold Kohr

Advocates for walking and bicycling should put more time and energy into opposing [car] parking and road widening than supporting pedestrian and bicycle facilities; the harm done by the former cannot be mitigated by the latter. – Michael Ronkin

He who tells the truth must have one foot in the stirrup. - Old Armenian proverb

Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know. - M.K. Hubbert

If you can dream it, you can do it. - Walt Disney

We know what we are, but know not what we may be. - William Shakepeare

And this is the quote (in full) from Orwell:

'National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connexion with one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling. Obviously such things don't matter in themselves. Nevertheless, nothing is causeless, and even the fact that Englishmen have bad teeth can tell something about the realities of English life.

'Here are a couple of generalisations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians, painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘world-view’. Nor is this because they are ‘practical’, as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One has only to look at their methods of town planning and water supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis, and a system of weights and measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency. But they have a certain power of acting without taking thought. Their world-famed hypocrisy – their double-faced attitude towards the Empire, for instance – is bound up with this. Also, in moments of supreme crisis the whole nation can suddenly draw together and act upon a species of instinct, really a code of conduct which is understood by almost everyone, though never formulated. The phrase that Hitler coined for the Germans, ‘a sleep-walking people’, would have been better applied to the English. Not that there is anything to be proud of in being called a sleep-walker.'

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Who? What? How? Where? Why?

Whilst I was staying at a permaculture centre one time, I overheard a conversation between two of the lads there:

'You seem a bit down in the dumps, Paul. Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?'

'You could find me a girlfriend.'

[Laughing] 'Yeah, no problem.' [Hopefully] 'Is there anything else?'

'Yes. You can make everyone in the world a vegan.'

I don't suppose that anyone actually feels the same way about cycling as Paul does about veganism, but there is no doubting that cycling excites an intense passion in many of its more sincere advocates - me included.

Without exception, all of the cycling blogs that I have read - I only read the good ones - call for the development of a European-style cycle infrastructure. The commonly-held view goes something like this: 'a mass cycling culture in the UK comparable to what has been achieved in several European nations is simply not possible without substantially separating the car from the bicycle, through high-quality dedicated cycle engineering' (Vole O'Speed).

I am going to take it as given that everyone accepts the policy of the European Cycling Federation, that the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network is 'a basic precondition' for a high level of cycle use. Before we look at how the development of such a network might be accomplished, there are a couple of other fundamental issues which I would like to talk about first: who would this network be designed for? and, what purpose would be served by its completion?

A strategic cycle network for London (SCN) was first proposed in 1978, soon after the London Cycling Campaign was formed. This network was formally launched in 1994 as the London Cycle Network (LCN), after the then Minister of Transport Steve Norris was inspired into action by a presentation given by John Grimshaw of Sustrans fame.

The early architects of the LCN thought, at least for a time, that all 3000km of the network should be able to be used by an unaccompanied twelve-year old child. Very, very laudable though this aspiration is, it set the bar quite high, unrealistically high you might say, with the inevitable consequence that work on the network progressed at a fairly lingering pace.

TfL withdrew funding for the LCN in early 2002 and, learning from what they called 'world best practice', set about developing a slimmed-down 'spine' network of cycle priority routes - the LCN+. The routes on this network mainly followed main roads, 'reflecting key strategic commuter routes.'

So you can see that in terms of who the cycle infrastructure was designed for, we went from one extreme, the unescorted pre-teen, all the way over to the other extreme, the boys and girls in lycra. Anyway, be that as it may, the two networks, when combined together, work very well, I think.

This takes us nicely to consider the second question, what purpose would be served by its completion? 'The endgame,' said a former Chief Executive of the LCC, 'is the prioritisation, completion and signage of an effective London Cycle Network.' Hear, hear! My primary concern at this stage is to enable easy navigation on this network. My work is premised on a number of assumptions:

(i) that you have a local knowledge;

(ii) that you wish to travel by bike beyond your local area, using safe, pleasant routes wherever and as much as possible; and

(iii) that you get easily disorientated when using routes which are poorly signed and with which you are not familiar.

The main point, actually, of marking the route on the main road is, as the Mayor himself has said, to let motorists know that this is a place where they're going to encounter cyclists. It is in this regard - this and the smoothness of the journey - that the Cycle Superhighways are so effective. [Note 17/3/12: I no longer regard this point as entirely valid.] But the route markers themselves are not useful for wayfinding, particularly, except where the route diverts away from the main roads and onto the back streets.

To be clear, then, if you're cycling on a main road and you don't know where you're going, then seriously dude, what are you doing? What's going on in your head? Where can I get some? But if you're cycling on a back street and you don't know where you're going, then absolutely, I know what that feels like.

The good news is that the boroughs did not give up on the LCN. You know how it is when you see someone again after a long break? Perhaps they have put on a bit of weight. Probably this is more noticeable to you than it is to those around your friend because it is more of a step-change for you than it is for them. It's the same with me and the LCN. It's been about eight years since I last cycled in London, and to my mind things have moved on, in some boroughs more than others, of course.

Probably the only place where I haven't seen any change is Westminster. It's a bit of a shame, really, because Nigel Butterworth, the Cycle Officer at Westminster for quite a long time, was a bit of a fan.

I'll just quickly explain the 'how', then. Back in 2002, TfL basically had two options before them: either they could reduce the extent of the cycle network, or they could reduce the level at which the network functions. The first option, according to TfL, was informed by world best practice. The second option, according to an EU publication, Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, was informed by European best practice.

What this document actually says, in big, bold letters, on page 2 of the chapter entitled 'How to Start?', is that to begin with, developing the routes to a minimum level of functioning is 'a prudent course to follow.' Essentially it is the same as the old permaculture idea of making the minimum change for the maximum effect.

The shame is that if TfL had chosen to adopt European best practice - either in 2000, when the EU published their guidance - or in 2002, when TfL launched their 'realistic five-year programme' - or in 2003, when the boroughs sought to study the feasibility of a low-engineered network - or in 2005, after a GLA report concluded that the LCN+ project was failing to deliver - or in 2006, when the boroughs tried again to undertake a feasibility study - or in 2007, with 2 012 days to go to the greenest ever Olympic Games - then the network would be much further advanced than it is now. That's the shame.

Get the network up and running! Do as much as possible at least cost first! That's the message I want heard. That's the major part of my proposal.

The Dutch and the Danes have been taking little steps every year for 40 years, with the consequence that there is a fantastic difference between what it was then and what it is now. The boroughs have been taking little steps as well, in the time that I have been away, probably on what is quite a tight budget. Nigel Butterworth at Westminster was prepared to take little steps, as long as they were going to be taken within the context of a city-wide programme of works. What his bosses were not prepared to do, evidently, was take big, lunging steps. Kensington & Chelsea, who felt the same way, let their no be no. But the two cycling officers there, Kathryn King and Crystal Quadros, assure me they would be interested in taking part in a trial of my proposal if it covered central London at least.

Developing the cycle network to a minimum level of functioning is the first significant action that the authorities should take. But it ought not to end there. According to research carried out by Lancaster University, 'In order to create a mass cycling culture in English cities we need to segregate cycling from motorised traffic along main roads. Combined with a range of other measures, very high quality segregated cycle routes could push English city cycling from its currently marginal status towards a mass phenomenon ...' (Quote taken from Vole O'Speed again.)

Could push English city cycling towards a mass phenomenon? No, would. No doubt about it. As I have blogged elsewhere, as many as one in three journeys in London were made by bike in the years after the war. In those days, of course, there was a much more effective way to segregate the cars from the bikes, but that would take us back to Paul and his veganism. Hmm, I wonder ...

Where the routes go - what course they take - will have to wait for another time. So that just leaves the 'why' question.

I am not going to tell you why cycle; that's a question best answered by the imagination in any case. No, the question I wish to address is, why is there so much disunity among cycle campaigners? As Vole O'Speed explains towards the end of his blog, 'We cannot hope to win politicians around while we are divided.' A former MD of Raleigh said the same thing at an LCC conference in I can't remember when - a few years ago.

Vole O'Speed relates how the segregated cycle facilities in the London Borough of Camden came to be built. (Respect is due to Paul Gasson and Gerry Harrison, it seems.) At the time, 'there existed relics in Camden from an earlier phase of cycle facility building [...]. One such was the Somers Town Cycle Route, which connected King's Cross and Bloomsbury via a crossing of Euston Road [...]. This was mostly on very quiet roads, and some of it was quite good, with some segregated parts [...]. The fact that some short segregated sections already existed inspired Gannon with the idea of connecting them with a longer segregated track along Royal College Street.'

Now, the thing I don't understand is, why cycle campaigners would disagree with this approach? According to Vole O'Speed:

'The London Cycling Campaign overall was never united, and is not united today, on the desirability of engineering like the Royal College Street and Torrington Place cycle tracks. CTC never supported this project either. Islington Cyclists Action Group (ICAG), our neighbouring LCC group, did not support the principle of a segregated route, and some prominent campaigners in LCC, such as Rik Andrew of Kingston, felt CCC's designs were "too expensive" and "over-engineered". So it was easy for opponents of cycling in Camden Council (and there were many of these), and others, to say, "These people in Camden Cycling Campaign are extremists. What they are asking for is not what most cyclists want. Other cycling groups do not accept their solutions." '

I want to conclude with this transcript from a radio interview which was aired on Radio Five Live at the start of June. The subject was London's failure to meet EU standards on air pollution.

Let's have a final chat to Andrew Davies, Director of Environmental Transport Association. Andrew, really you're into sustainable travel, so you would presumably say that part of the game would be to tackle air pollution by just stopping using so many petrol-driven cars.

Well, yes, it... On the face of it, the difficulty is we're starting from here, and we as an organisation for twenty years have been pointing out that we're going to have a problem if we don't address things earlier. If you're dealing with these problems in a recession it's always very difficult for people to make changes: people are up against it, and so this is the last thing on their agenda, quite understandably, and that's why we've been warning, let's do it early, let's do it slowly, let's see what the targets are, and aim for them. It's ... the difficulty is in the big cities is probably the mix of how we travel is wrong. We need to encourage people to cycle and therefore we need to make the roads safe, and to do that you have to plan, not just one year, it's year on year, it's decade on decade, and other cities manage to do it, and we could do it too. It's very difficult to change the road layout for cyclists in a matter of months; it does take a long time planning, and it can be done, and it's done effectively across Europe.

So that's the first practical step you would take, just to try to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto bicycles?

It only needs people on the margin: the people who are more likely to do it, to encourage them. Of course there are people who won't do it whatever, but if enough people do it, it does make a change. We're talking about things on the margin. Another one which is done in some cities -- not in others -- is to reduce the speed limit to 20mph. Now that might seem quite drastic in a way, but in fact traffic travels much better when it's going slower, because it merges better, people get out of junctions faster, congestion drops, and where cities have done it across the whole city -- except for main roads, I might add -- it's meant that the congestion has improved, or it's got better in the sense that there's less congestion, the air quality's improved, the accident rate has gone down and more people are prepared to cycle. So it's not as if we're stopping anyone doing a journey they might otherwise do. We're saying if we drove more gently, the evidence is quite clear that we would reduce the things that frustrate motorists as much as anything else.

Yeah, so we could really do it, couldn't we, if we were serious? I've always really thought this about car use. If it were a war and suddenly said, 'Well there isn't any more petrol and you're just going to have to do without,' then we would do without. It's a matter if we want to, almost.

The problem is that we are up against a war. If we took action twenty years ago it would be very gentle, but the later we leave it, the worse it's going to get for everyone, and we'll be dragged there screaming and kicking. The European government decision was made with us as a party to it -- you know we could have stopped it, other countries could have stopped it -- it was agreed as a long-term target, a difficult one to achieve, but with positive action it could have been achieved before. And this idea that we can always move it on another five years, and in four years' time, you know, say, 'Can we have another three years?' We've got to bite the bullet at some time. And it's not just better for the environment, it's better for our own health, it's better for our children's health, and it's better for the movement of traffic generally in a city. It's a long-term plan, and it's not about being anti-cars, because our members are car-drivers, you know, we're not anti-car. It's having the right form of transport in the right place and at the right time. And we need to do it, and we can do it gently and purposefully, that's the point. You know where you're going to go, and you tell everybody this is why we're doing it, and you bring them on board. If you make swingeing changes, no one likes that, it's quite understandable. A change of ramping up petrol prices or blocking roads is not on. It's got to be saying, 'This is where we're going in our cities, and we're going to do it purposefully, and we're telling you why we're doing it.' That's the main thing.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Deciding is the hardest part

A few years ago, I recall, not long after my brother and his family moved to Dulwich, they went to visit some friends in Suffolk. The route they took was this: A205 (South Circular), A23, M25, M11.

As they were soon to find out, using the A23 was a bit of a mistake. Granted, the rationale was solid enough: the sooner they could get onto the motorway, the sooner they could get motoring. Looking at it as the crow flies, the shortest route to the motorway is the A23. However, by all accounts a more circumspect crow could have walked to the Dartford Crossing quicker than it took my brother, which just goes to show the importance of route selection. Thank heavens for SatNavs.

Not so long ago I was on Tufnell Park Road, wondering what to do next, when a middle-aged woman rode past me on her bike. Having met with a researcher from the University of West England earlier that day, I was conscious of a gap in my market research. And so, without a second thought, I decided to see where she was going. As luck would have it, she went to Hackney, which is where I am living for the time being. The route she took was the same one you would take if you were driving by car.

When we got to a set of lights on Morning Lane, I pulled up alongside her, said hello, and explained what I was doing. Would she use a back street route if one was available? Yes, she would, she said, but even though she makes that journey fairly often, she hadn't yet got around to working one out. What did she think of the route she had just used? It wasn't too bad, was it? It was a bit 'trafficky', she thought. Was the traffic a problem for her then? It's just that she didn't seem too fazed by it, I had to say. I'd even seen her dismount when we got to some lights, scootle through the junction at the pedestrian crossing, and then hop back on her bike when she got to the other side. Oh, I'd seen that, had I? Not bad for an old girl, was it? Well, it helps to keep you light on your toes, doesn't it?

As I blogged elsewhere, I showed how it was possible to get from Greenwich to Tower Bridge without using the roundabout at Rotherhithe tunnel. Soon after posting this, I saw another (potentially even better) way, which you can check out for yourself by clicking here.

I have spent I don't know how many thousands of hours looking at all sorts of routes. Basically my method of working is trial and error. As much as possible I am looking to incorporate official LCN/LCN+ routes into the design, but I am also motivated to find a solution that's simple and elegant.

I am going to write again about route selection. It is a subject very close to my heart. For the moment, however, it suffices to say, that if everyone is agreed on the course of the routes which make up the cycle network, then over the years these can be further developed with confidence. It is with this thought in mind that I repeat an old saying: deciding is the hardest part; the rest is just pure work.