Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mistakes past and present

The idea to code routes according to the direction of travel occurred to me some time after I had gotten lost whilst cycling from Greenwich to Wimbledon. As I recall, I reached the end of this residential street and then, lo' and behold, no signs. Which way now? I think I turned left but I would have gone straight on if I could.

Within a few months of having this idea, Chris Bainbridge invited me along to a BCOG meeting, but I think I upset John Lee a bit by criticising the standard of the waymarking. It seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, very worthwhile to get a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network to function, even at a minimum level.

It was health and safety considerations that prevented  the London Cycle Network being properly signed. If a section of route wasn't thought to be safe enough for an unaccompanied twelve year-old child to use, then it couldn't be waymarked. That's why the boroughs painted white lines on the pavement, because they wanted routes that were safe, and they didn't have enough money to do the job properly.

Anyway, this single policy effectively made such waymarking as there was utterly redundant. If you knew where you were going you didn't need the signs, and if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't rely on the signs.

Safe Walking Route

The LCN+ sought to smooth all the jaggedy lines that were a feature of its forebear by developing a high-profile 'spine' network of cycle priority routes. But although this network was very much aimed at a different user, the commuter cyclist, the standard of design was still high.

A London Assembly Transport Committee report on the LCN+ published in November 2005 said that the LCN+ will be characterised by a socially inclusive cycling environment where high quality standards are maintained. Sounds great. The routes themselves will be continuous, fast, safe, comfortable and easy to use. Copenhagen, eat your heart out!

However, as the report percipiently noted: 'Completion depends on the participation of all London boroughs, which is uncertain, and on the promotion of cycling up the transport hierarchy, which seems unlikely.'

One of the recommendations which emerged from this report was as follows: 'TfL and Camden should take a much more strategic approach to the implementation of the LCN+, route-by-route rather than kilometre-by-kilometre. TfL and Camden should identify a small number of key routes across London
and prioritise their early completion.'

The idea was that these routes would encompass ‘difficult’ areas such as Parliament Square or Marylebone Road, and you know, go across London, but TfL definitely understood the route-by-route bit, as we see now with the Cycle Superhighways.

The seventy or more routes that make up my design mostly comprise the LCN and LCN+. If I re-jigged things around a bit, I probably could incorporate most of the CS routes as well, but if I did that, something else would have to give. A good example is CS1 vs. LCN10: it's really got to be one or the other. Or CS11 vs. LCN50. There's one or two others as well. The only thing I would say about this is, don't decide now! Look first, and then decide.

A strategic cycle network for London was first proposed by the LCC back in 1978. Sixteen years later the LCN was launched. This simple fact should tell you everything you'd want to know about the realities of cycle campaigning in Britain. Sixteen years just to get started.

There obviously were problems with the design of the LCN, but I have maintained from the start that TfL did not need to abandon two-thirds of this network just in order to create the LCN+. It seems to me that TfL had another choice than to reduce the extent of the network, and that is to reduce the level at which the network functions. By all means, straighten the course of the routes. But there is every advantage to making the most of quiet routes, particularly the good ones.

I think, when all is said and done, it basically comes down to a choice between a network which is 100% functional and x% safe, or one that is y% functional and 100% safe (where x is actually a much, much higher number than y).

Incidentally, I was delighted at the way Mark Ames responded to Cyclenation's comment about the need to do some baselining: 'The embassy will succeed or fail by the extent to which it changes the way people view cycling in this country, not by the number of miles of Dutch-style infrastructure built.'

As long as the exception is not made into the rule, I am not aware of any benefits attached to the use of the private car for short journeys in built-up areas, at least during daylight hours. Comparatively there are numerous benefits attached to the use of the bicycle. It should therefore be possible to appeal to people directly. I mean, politicians and bureaucrats might be impenetrably dense, but from what I know of the people around me, they generally seem open to a good idea.

Photo credit: Joe D /

As a minimum, I believe that the routes on a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network should be able to be used in both directions. One of the more difficult questions to answer when considering the development of such a cycle network is, For whom is it being designed? We have seen that so far the emphasis has been on the commuter cyclist and the unaccompanied twelve year-old child. For many years now, my thought has been that since it is only existing cyclists who are being killed on their bikes, that the cycle network should be designed with them in mind, first and foremost.

I am reluctant to stray too far from this position, but having considered the matter further since my last blog, I would like to take a much more well-defined step towards the European model. A cycle network should be developed for the riders of these bikes. The riders of these bikes will do everything that is necessary to make all of the network safe for children, even including those hostile bits that David says there is no point in waymarking.

Image from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain