Cycling to Shibuya

As discussed in the last post, I am currently staying in Saitama, a city in the Greater Tokyo area which is approximately 25 km outside of central Tokyo. On Sunday I found myself at a bit of a loose end, the weather was crisp, clear and bright, perfect for a bit of exploration.

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Japan’s version of a ‘shared use’ facility. Because Japan doesn’t treat its pedestrians with the same level of contempt as the UK does, the concept works surprisingly well.

Not willing to pay the extortionate rate expected for mobile data roaming (and forgetting to activate even the possibility before leaving the UK) I had to rely on an offline map for navigation. Add to this the unexplained failure of my phone’s GPS since arriving in Japan and I realised that travelling through the most populous metropolitan area in the world might require some creative navigation. After wandering around for a bit, I decided that I would use the train lines as a means of navigating. Thanks to the Carradice bag packed in my T-bag, I knew that I could easily pack the Brompton up and hop on the (quite easy to use) rail network should the need arise.

After heading towards central Tokyo for a while, I realised that if I followed the forking points of the train tracks correctly I could make it to Shibuya, a place I’ve wanted to see since sinking many an hour into Jet Set Radio many years ago.

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The Greater Tokyo area is remarkably permeable. Whilst there are some one-way restrictions for motor vehicles which do not apply to cyclists and pedestrians, this high level of permeability applies to motor vehicles almost as much as cycle and foot traffic. In order to make my journey I merely needed to have a rough idea of which direction I needed to travel in and the roads and streets always managed to allow me a way through. Despite this permeability, I was not bothered by a particularly notable volume of motor traffic on residential streets. Navigating through the crowds of pedestrians and other cyclists was the main obstacle I encountered and was one I was happy to work around.

This lack of rat-running is likely in part due to the fact that it just doesn’t seem to be acceptable here to haphazardly discard your car on whatever piece of public land you fancy at the other end of your journey. Cars here are stored when not in use, not carelessly abandoned. The result is that people seem to make fewer frivolous car trips (and seem to own fewer frivolous cars) with the bicycle picking up the slack instead. Residential streets are places rather than just routes, and these places are perfectly inviting for cycling and walking.

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Fancy a hot can of (surprisingly good) coffee whilst wandering, slightly lost, through a Shenmue-esque neighbourhood? No problem (I recommend the Rainbow Blend).

In addition to the extensive network of pleasant, permeable residential streets there are plenty of big, multi-lane car-centric roads running throughout Greater Tokyo. Thankfully these roads are made relatively pleasant thanks to two measures; shared use facilities and smoothing traffic flow.

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Cultural differences abound in Japan; here this sign is not an iron-clad guarantee you’ll have a bad cycling or walking experience.

Shared use facilities in Japan, whilst not a perfect solution, work unexpectedly well on the major routes. This is largely due to the fact that pedestrians are not treated with the same level of contempt in Japan that they are in the UK, so when cyclists and pedestrians are lumped together the experience is still positive. Presumably as a result of the ubiquitousness of shared use in Japan, there is not a great deal of conflict between the two types of user; pedestrians expect the encounter cyclists and cyclists expect to have to slow down or stop for pedestrians where volumes of foot traffic are higher.

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An elderly lady rides a typical Japanese city bike along one a shared use pavement. I’m not sure how she would feel about doing the same in London.

Don’t like it? Want to go faster? Get on the road. Cycling on main roads in Japan is also surprisingly pleasant thanks to measures which smooth the flow of traffic; all types of traffic. Next to the shared use sign in the above picture is a ’40’ sign, indicating a speed limit of 40 km/h or 25mph on what is effectively an urban dual carriageway. This speed limit, enforced by frequent stops for motor traffic at practically every set of traffic lights results in a consistent, smooth flow of motor, bicycle and foot traffic rather than the frequent short bursts of dangerous speed from motorists enabled by the complete subjugation of cyclists and pedestrians which we have in the UK.

The shared use facilities have priority over minor side roads which is enforced by a combination of fairly tight turning geometry and a general tendency amongst motorists to act as if they are in charge of machines which could easily kill or maim people if operated without due care and attention. At major intersections, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get a green phase in the same direction at the same time. Motorists are permitted to turn left but must defer to bicycle and foot traffic heading straight ahead. Again this works surprisingly well thanks to a technique which Japanese motorists have developed known as ‘paying attention.’

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The very big roads have separate little roads running alongside them which are used for cycling, walking and as residents’ access. The structure above the road in this shot is a motorway which has high noise-abating walls.

Through a combination of these different types of road, I followed the train line a rather circuitous, approximately 50 km route to Shibuya. I saw plenty of little slices of life in Japan; a mother cycling to the shops with her child and his grandfather not far behind, children cycling unaccompanied along city streets and shopping malls so inundated that you have to pay for bicycle parking.

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Whilst it doesn’t hold up to The Netherlands example, Tokyo shows what can be achieved when government policy at least doesn’t actively suppress cycling.

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This was the one point I thought I may have to turn back; I had cycled down a residential street to an ornamental garden next to a river. I carried the Brompton down the steps and found that there was a path leading to a footbridge over the river leading me back to the train tracks I was using to navigate.

Eventually I made it to Shibuya. By this point my arms were really aching; unlike making a similar journey in the UK, I didn’t need to stop all that often. It turns out that my body has grown accustomed to the frequent stops I must make as a cyclist in the UK riding on a road network designed solely around motor traffic.

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A street in Shinjuku, pedestrianised during shopping hours. Nearby here is where I saw the only HGV I have seen in Japan. It was being used as a mobile stage to promote an album launch. Major freight movements seem to be by rail.

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A scramble crossing outside Shibuya station. By the time I got to Shibuya, after a short wander around, I was so tired I decided to head back to Saitama. Sometimes it is all about the journey.

Cycling alone and through the one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, I was unfamiliar with the language and the specifics of the law and yet I still felt safer than I ever do cycling on the roads back in the UK. The UK really has an awful long way to go.

A standards-based approach to roads

Dearest readers, I’ve got a bit of a confession to make; I’ve been learning how to drive a car. Don’t worry though, I’m not planning on buying one or giving up on cycling. In fact, one of the main reasons is  (as I have written about before) there is an awful lot of discrimination against non-drivers when applying for jobs which do not require any driving whatsoever. I will write in more detail about the experience of learning to drive in another post.

Whilst first-hand experience has only enhanced my belief that our current approach to road design always favours the convenience of motorists over the safety of all other road users (after years of UK cycling, driving is really easy) there is one aspect which remained the same whether cycling or driving; the inconsistency of the road experience. Many of the routes I have driven down on driving lessons are the sorts I would usually avoid when travelling by bike (such as the A55) which has allowed me to see areas of the road network which I have traditionally been effectively excluded from.

Grosvenor Court Roundabout

For example, in the centre of Chester there is the Grosvenor Court square roundabout where the dual carriageway surrounding the town centre meets the Foregate Street (the end Chester’s ‘shared space’ main shopping street) and City Road, which leads to the train station. The lane markings on this roundabout highlight the inconsistency in UK road design.

Entering this roundabout from Foregate Street, you are encouraged to use the left lane for taking the first exit or travelling straight on. The second lane is straight on only, with convention dictating that this lane is used when the left lane is busy.

Entering the roundabout in the left lane, with the intention to go straight on, you are then confronted with this. You must move into the middle lane to go straight on. Hopefully the person in the right lane knows not to enter this lane.

The two lanes are now both marked as straight on. Best practice dictates that if possible you should stay in the left lane.

Once again, a middle lane opens up. This time it is for the users of the right-hand lane to use, presumably for the purposes of traffic stacking.

Here, the left hand lane can be used to take the left exit, or to go straight on. Once again it is best practice to where possible, to stick to the left when going straight on here. In this image it appears that the driver of the silver hatchback has become confused by the layout of this particular roundabout and is in the process of changing lanes.

This is probably why the driver became confused, the left lane allows traffic to take the left exit or go straight on. There are four traffic lanes by this point.

This time, neither of the two left-hand lanes allow traffic to proceed straight on. Instead, the left two lanes are directed onto the A51, a short urban dual carriageway lined with various businesses.

Hoole Way Roundabout

This is the approach to Hoole Way roundabout from St. Oswalds Way (West). Here the left lane is for the exclusive use of traffic taking the first exit, with straight on traffic sent to the right-hand lane.

Here we can see that the right-hand lane can be used for taking the right-hand lane of the first exit onto Hoole Way, another short urban dual carriageway, or to stay on the roundabout in the leftmost of the three lanes at the traffic lights.

This lane is labelled with a straight arrow, indicating that traffic using this lane may proceed straight on. However, in this case, this is actually referring to leaving the roundabout at the next exit, St Oswalds Way (East)

Both of these roundabouts have significant internal inconsistencies in their design, in addition to differing from each other. Despite this, they are actually next to each other on Chester’s bizarre inner ring road (bizarre because despite it being a dual carriageway, not one of the roads feeding in or out of the ring road is a dual carriageway).

The result of these inconsistencies is confusion. Whilst locals will become familiar with the particular peculiarities of the roads, junctions and roundabouts in their area, those visiting an area, or who do not frequently use a particular road, junction or roundabout will not be. The non-standardised nature of the design of roads, junctions and roundabouts in the UK means that experience of other roads, junctions or roundabouts on the road network will not necessarily prepare a person for using any other road, junction or roundabout.

Add to this distraction, lapses in concentration, poor maintenance, vastly different modes of transport sharing the same infrastructure and good old fashioned incompetence and we have the British road network, a recipe for a disaster which claims thousands of lives each year and which effectively restricts the choice of transport for many to only the most heavily armoured modes.

I decided to write this piece during an ISO 9001 training session. Whilst not exactly riveting stuff, it impressed upon me the value of consistency. Most of the problems with the UK road network find their root in this lack of consistency, standardisation is sorely lacking in almost all aspects of road design. This is why there are inconsistencies between the roundabouts examined above; there is no standard[1][2][3] to make road features such as roundabouts consistent internally, let alone consistent with with each other. The result is that a road user has no idea what to expect when encountering a roundabout or large junction for the first time.

This is also why we have little cycle infrastructure, with much of what has been provided being less than useless; there is currently no requirement to provide cycle infrastructure on any road and where planners choose to add it, there is no standard to ensure cycle infrastructure is consistent, safe or functional. All that exists is guidance which offers generally poor solutions and is easily ignored by highways engineers and local authorities. This lack of standardisation makes cycle infrastructure especially vulnerable to corner cutting and thoughtless, dangerous design choices based on the whims and prejudices of the individuals responsible for a given project. The situation is little better when it comes to pedestrian infrastructure.

Before I took driving lessons, I wanted the UK to adopt a Dutch approach to road design because I was a cyclist. Having experienced the roads from the perspective of a motorist, I  want it just as much. Regardless of mode, the road user experience needs to be consistent in order to be safe. This consistency means making sure road users know what to expect when tackling a particular type of junction, it means that the safety and convenience of a particular group of road users can’t be subordinated (or ignored altogether) based on the whims of individual planners or councillors. Regardless of how you travel, we should all be able to agree that it’s time for a standards-based approach to road design.

TfGM’s Oxford Road corridor changes risk the lives of cyclists

The forthcoming Oxford Road bus corridor in Manchester is to be accompanied by a series of changes to the surrounding roads, including Upper Brook Street and Upper Lloyd Street. In their current form, the changes offer pitifully little for pedestrians and are potentially lethal for cyclists. In a consultation found here, the proposed changes to the layouts of these roads can be seen in detailed the detailed plans found here.

The specific details of what will be offered for cyclists on the relatively short section of Oxford Road from which general motor traffic is to be excluded will not be shared in any detail until 2013. This makes the current consultation relatively useless as we are prevented from seeing what may or may not be gained in exchange for the significant reduction in cyclists’ safety on the surrounding roads. Even in the unlikely event that both the short section of Oxford Road from which private motor vehicles are to be excluded from, and the remainder of this important route are to be brought up to something resembling Dutch standards, as unlikely as this would be, this does not excuse the significant increase in danger posed by the redesign of the surrounding roads, which cyclists would still have to use.

Here we see where Upper Brook Street meets Grosvenor Street. The protected contra-flow cycle lane on Grosvenor street, whilst not perfect was a welcome step in the right direction. Sadly the hideously botched Toucan crossing solution for cyclists where Grosvenor Street looks set to remain. A missed opportunity to make this unfinished bit of infrastructure, still one of the most notable in Manchester, into something genuinely fit for purpose.

Under the present layout, this is a far North as traffic can travel into the city, however the proposals will make Upper Brook Street two way as far as Portland Street for the first time in decades. Truly a step in the wrong direction.

Plymouth Grove is to have advisory cycle lanes added to it for possibly as much as 100 metres southbound. As risible as this is, the bigger issue is that the motorway sliproad geometry where Plymouth Grove peels off from Upper Brook Street remains, placing cyclists continuing along Upper Brook Street in completely avoidable danger of a left-hook.

In a show of contempt for both cyclists and pedestrians, this overly-wide section of road is to have its southbound pavement converted into shared use between Plymouth grove and Grafton Street. From this point southwards, Upper Brook Street is to have one additional lane squeezed into the existing space. This extra lane it switches use to the opposite direction of traffic roughly every signalised junction. I used to live near here and I couldn’t count the number of dangerously close overtakes I endured using the current two-lane arrangement. This area also sees a great deal of pedestrian traffic due to the hospital and University, yet the proposed changes (or rather lack of improvements to existing dire facilities such as crossings) show a complete disregard for the needs and convenience of pedestrians. 

As the extra motor vehicle lanes South of this point are not continuous in one direction, it will not create any extra vehicle capacity, instead encouraging motorists to dangerously speed through the sections where the road is two lanes before forming a jam immediately after the lights where two lanes are forced to merge back into one. This unnecessary extra merging will simply result in additional collisions between cars without providing any time benefit to motorists, whilst the additional lane will necessitate lane narrowing which will bring cars and cycles into conflict, making an increase in the number of injuries and fatalities an inevitability should the proposed designs be implemented. TfGM’s designs for this section of Upper Brook Street in particular will force cyclists and motor vehicles into even closer conflict. I have little doubt that, if implemented, these designs will lead to the deaths of cyclists.

Despite Upper Brook Street seeing significant amounts of pedestrian traffic, the proposal does nothing to facilitate this whatsoever, with existing anti-pedestrian junction geometries and multi-stage crossings requiring pedestrians to deviate repeatedly from desire lines remaining in place. Where additional crossing are to be provided, such as at Brunswick Street, pedestrians are treated with contempt; forced to cross via a ludicrous number of stages so as not to inconvenience motorists coming onto Upper Brook Street from popular residential rat-runs. Cyclists and pedestrians are to be brought into conflict between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street by the lazy conversion of the inappropriate-width footway to ‘shared use’ in order to allow an unjustifiable three-lane stack at the junction between Upper Brook Street and Grafton Street. This junction, separating the Manchester Royal Infirmary, blood bank, flats and the University of Manchester Medical School sees a significant amount of foot traffic, making the atrocious treatment of pedestrians by the proposed design at this point inexcusable.

The proposed changes to Upper Brook Street in particular represent a potentially lethal attempt to squeeze ever more private cars into the same amount of space. In addition to the increase in fatalities and injuries, many cyclists will be intimidated off these roads entirely, either continuing to cycle but on the pavement, causing problems for pedestrians, or switching to another, less desirable mode of transport. Where cycle infrastructure is proposed, such as Booth Street West and Higher Cambridge Street, it is of the same kind which has been shown time and time again to fail to meet the needs of cyclists for both safety and convenience; advisory cycle lanes and ASLs. Advisory cycle lanes are generally less than useless, they are frequently blocked by legally parked cars and routinely abandon their users at junctions, anywhere where the road design becomes confusing or complex or where the road starts to narrow and cyclists might genuinely need some additional protection from the motor vehicles which have been brought into close proximity with them. In the few places where cycle infrastructure is proposed in the current designs they are simply paint on the carriageway or lazy footway ‘conversions’. At junctions, turning geometries are not tightened up at all (as is commonplace in The Netherlands and Denmark) meaning left turning vehicles can perform turns at higher speeds, increasing the chances of a ‘left-hook’ collision with a cyclist, which are often fatal for the cyclist.

In addition to the problems caused for pedestrians by ill-conceived shard use paths as between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street and the risk of overall increased pavement cycling, the few additional measures included supposedly to benefit pedestrians have been done in a manner which shows utter contempt for the value of pedestrians’ time and the quality of their experience of walking. The increase number of vehicle lanes will increase noise and pollution endured by pedestrians, cyclists and residents, which make the already formidable barrier presented by the road even more difficult for pedestrians to overcome.

These designs need to be changed as a matter of urgency. In their current form they represent a disaster waiting to happen.

The Long Bike-to-Work

When I took the job which led to my relocation to Chester, one of the things I noted was the chance to use the bike-to-work scheme through Cyclescheme. After being in the job for a few months, I decided to go for it

The process of getting the voucher was relatively painless, requesting it from the Cyclescheme website through an employer-specific link. After a few weeks the voucher was given to me (I’m not sure why it took so long) and I ordered the bike from The Bike Factory. I could have ordered it before the voucher came through, but this being my first time using Cyclescheme, I didn’t want to take the risk of ordering the bike and being refused a voucher for some reason. When I ordered the bike, the salesperson suggested it would typically take 3-4 weeks to arrive from the manufacturer, but a few days later after the order had been placed I was contacted and told that the bike would take 9 weeks to arrive, being ready to collect on the 17th July.

After this I did not hear from The Bike Factory until a few days before I was due to collect the bike. I had seen another person at Chester station with a bike from The Bike Factory  and it had a rather large sticker on the frame advertising the shop. Naturally I wanted to avoid having a rather excessive piece of branding added to my new bike and so I emailed the shop to request they not fit the sticker. On the 16th I received a reply, and was notified that due to a delay with the manufacturer the bike would not be at the shop for up to three additional weeks.

Naturally I appreciated that the delay was not the fault of The Bike Factory, but I was very unhappy that they had waited until one day before I was expecting the bike to tell me about this significant delay, especially an internet search revealed that other retailers had notified their customers of this same delay at least a week earlier. They did eventually offer to lend me a courtesy bike, but by this point it had gotten quite close to the new delivery date and it didn’t seem to be worth the bother any more.

I have got the bike now, I am very happy with it and I will be writing about my impressions soon. Buying through Cyclescheme was relatively painless, although issuing the voucher took longer than I would have expected. The lead time for the bike was more than I expected and the delay was quite annoying. Whilst this was less than ideal, I was pleased that The Bike Factory tried to make amends in the end by not charging me for the additional options I had specified on the bike which were not covered by the Cyclescheme voucher (including the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain colour scheme).

The Tyranny of Speed

Speeding is probably the most common and socially acceptable form of lawbreaking. Close to 100% of motorists will have less than perfect adherence to the posted limits, with a sizeable number of scoff-laws routinely flouting the law. There appears to be a belief amongst those routinely flouting speed limits that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing, that they have a right to drive at whatever speed they wish too. The inference is that their perceived right to go fast is more important than the rights of other road users to be and feel safe going about their business. I have observed strong resistance to measures as reasonable as 20mph zones in residential areas from people I would not necessarily expect it from. See the Association of British Jeb-ends Drivers for further examples of this kind of behaviour.

Perhaps it is simply a result of being forced, inappropriately, to share space with motorised traffic regardless of its speed and volume, but I have also seen a similar attitude from some fellow cyclists too. Many sport-cyclists are capable of regularly exceeding speeds of 25 mph on a bike. Because cyclists are forced to share space on roads designed exclusively to accommodate high volumes of fast motor traffic, these sorts of speeds become a natural way to survive the hostile environment. I have experienced this myself when cycling in heavy, fast traffic; you are put under pressure to ride faster and often end up doing so without necessarily meaning or wanting to.

The problems arise when separate cycle infrastructure is discussed, construction of which requires re-allocation of road space away from motorised traffic. In addition to improving cyclist safety, this has the added effect of calming traffic through the requisite lane narrowing, side road geometry/levelling alterations and junction redesigns. The natural result of this is lower speeds, especially in areas where road space is at a premium. This is A Good Thing as the areas where space is at a premium are usually also the areas where roads are (or rather, should be) places rather than routes; including residential areas, shopping streets and around schools and hospitals to name just a few. These are areas where speed reduction is particularly necessary. On roads which are routes rather than places, space is usually at less of a premium, such as dual carriageways and large A-roads linking or bypassing towns, meaning that (if desired) cycle infrastructure can be provided without as much of an impact on the speed and capacity for motor traffic on the adjacent carriageway (with the exception of the requisite junction and side road treatments).

There is a risk when talking about such infrastructure of creating an unholy alliance between those motorists and those cyclists who are most attached to travelling at speed wherever they may be. I have been concerned by the ‘dual-network’ approach the LCC appears to be entertaining with its Go Dutch designs, partly because the dual network approach has a pretty solid track record of not working and partly because it represents an up-front acknowledgement that the designs are not good enough to accommodate the needs of all cyclists. I have also been concerned by the lack of understanding of what Dutch cycle infrastructure actually means by one of the UK’s most prominent cycle bloggers (including the unwelcome presence of a misleading Franklin-era diagram). ‘Going Dutch’ means that people come first, and speed is only accommodated where there are fewest people. It benefits cyclists as much as it does pedestrians and can even make life easier for motorists by keeping them out of the way of the former two.

Whilst the cycle infrastructure along roads which are routes rather than places would naturally facilitate fast cycling (and very fast cycling), cycle infrastructure on roads which are places rather than routes would naturally require some of the very fastest cyclists to slow down, some of the time, just like all the other traffic, or else use another road which is  actually intended as a route. Whilst it may seem acceptable at present to blast past a primary school at 25mph on a road bike where the road is carrying 30mph motor traffic, this kind of arrangement is hardly acceptable; in a location such as this all traffic, regardless of mode, needs to be slowed down to a more civilised level, with fast traffic being reduced in volume substantially.

Taming the motor traffic and turning such a location from a route to a place once again, through the sorts of measures used in The Netherlands, would most likely involve the removal of through motor traffic. The road would likely still allow through cycle and foot traffic, but it would be access only for motor traffic and no-longer be a place for that kind of vigorous, fast cycling. This is not a reason for fast, sport-oriented cyclists to oppose such changes; the road nearby which is a route will have been altered too, in a way which would comfortably accommodate high speed cycling.

Faster, sportier cyclists have nothing to fear from ‘going Dutch,’ provided they are willing to accept that there are times and a places where speed is acceptable, but people have to come first.

The Times’ Campaign – Where Next?

I was impressed to see 77 MPs turn up to the cycle safety EDM yesterday, brought about by The Times’ Cities fit for Cycling campaign. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the debate through the parliament website. Whilst the debate lacked strong focus, it was pleasing to see cycling discussed seriously in parliament, with red-light jumping being mentioned only once, and the MP who brought it up quickly chastised by the chair of the debate, Dr Julian Huppert MP.

Since watching the debate, I’ve been thinking about where I’d personally like to see this sudden momentum directed. Obviously, our elected representatives cannot be experts on every subject, and so it is my hope that they will be looking to the right groups for guidance. There were a lot of ideas floating around the debate and I think it would be beneficial to propose a few basic principles and a few short and long-term objectives which would help get us to the point where cycling is safer for existing cyclists and safe enough for the rest of the population to want to cycle.

Principles:

  1. “Cycling” should not be treated as a single entity; transport cycling should one of the core responsibilities of the Department for Transport and the equivalent local institutions, sport and leisure cycling should be overseen by the relevant government departments which oversee sports, leisure and tourism.
  2. Measures to increase the safety of cyclists should be primarily external to cycling and the cyclist. Make cycling truly safe for all and helmets, high-visibility apparel and Bikeability become an irrelevance. The single largest change needed is the design of our roads.
  3. Measures to increase the safety of cycling should not make cycling less convenient; cycle infrastructure needs to be convenient and safe for children and fast, experienced commuter cyclists alike. The dual network approach is confusing and causes more problems that it solves.
  4. Measures to increase the safety and convenience of cycling should not come at the expense of safety (including subjective safety) or convenience for pedestrians.
  5. The Netherlands model for road design should be the basis for the changes needed to our road network in order to make cycling safe and attractive for all.‡

Short-term objectives:

  1. Commit to integrating cycling into all stages of road design, planning, construction and maintenance
  2. Overhaul LTN 2/08 in order to reduce the beurocracy involved in producing reasonable-quality cycle infrastructure such as the Camden cycle tracks and to prevent it being misinterpreted and used to justify facilities such as these.
  3. Replace the current hierarchy of provision with a much more specific set of separation principles.
  4. Continue with driver awareness programmes and Bikeability whilst road designs remain in place which put cyclists in danger.

Long-term objectives:

  1. Cycling needs to be integral to the design of new roads. Existing roads are refreshed periodically based on wear & tear and their importance; this work must include bringing the road up to the new standard for safe, convenient cycling.†
  2. In urban areas, basic functional cycle networks should be built as a matter of priority. These should be along main roads and informed by existing desire lines of those using all modes of road transport.
  3. Central government needs to set a final compliance date by which time all relevant Highways Agency and local authority roads must comply with the new standards.
  4. As the cycle networks become fleshed out, phase out Bikeability in schools in favour of Dutch cycle training which will be more appropriate for the redesigned roads.
‡ The Netherlands model of road design also offers advantages pedestrians in the areas of safety (including subjective safety) and convenience.

† Whilst admittedly an incredibly blunt instrument, rolling out safe, convenient cycle infrastructure as a part of the existing process of refreshing roads should help construct basic cycle networks along existing desire lines, as these are generally the roads with the most wear & tear and importance.

Cities fit for Cycling

I am extremely pleased to see that a national newspaper has given the safety of cyclists (and the inherent hostility of our present road network to them) the attention it so sorely deserves. I was even more amazed that it was none other than The Times who were behind this movement. The Cities fit for Cyclists campaign shows an understanding of the underlying issues, where it could have been all too easy to start talking about helmets or other such easy but ineffective measures. Needless to say, I encourage you all to sign up.

However, my joy at the issue of cyclist safety and the importance of infrastructure receiving such attention was dampened somewhat when I tried to encourage friends outside of cycling circles to sign up too. Surprisingly to me, the issue of 20 mph in residential areas appeared to be a bit of contentious one. The issue of children’s freedom to play outside without motor traffic being a threat did not seem to be a significant persuader either, with the long history of children playing on the streets seeming to have been quickly forgotten by some. Inevitably, the issue that cycling, walking or public transport are not viable for every journey made by every person came up. Whilst true, it is my experience that this argument is often used to justify car use which, at least in the right road environment, could easily be made through walking or cycling. Walking, cycling and public transport are unlikely to be viable for every single journey made by every single person in the UK. This does not change the fact that they could be made viable for the vast majority of journeys made by the vast majority of people. To me, raising the limitations of our current public transport system is merely an acknowledgement of the need to invest in the expansion of our rail and bus services.

It didn’t take long for the issue of the law-breaking behaviour of some cyclists to come up, despite its dubious relevance to the topic at hand. As a member of a vilified minority group, I am often expected to justify the behaviour of others within the same minority group, despite the fact that I have nothing to do with them. I acknowledged the bad behaviour of a minority of cyclists and gently pointed out the bad behaviour of (what I generously described as) a minority of motorists, including the red light jumping and pavement driving (both of which are regarded as reprehensible behaviour when cyclists do it but largely tolerated when motorists do it). The issue of motorist behaviour was mostly ignored.

The Times’ Cities fit for Cyclists campaign is an enormous and welcome step in the right direction. However, the responses to my attempts at promoting of the campaign show that we need to keep plugging away at this issue to bring in further into the mainstream.

Manchester Cycling Strategy

The Interim Strategy for Cycling in Manchester (draft) was recently brought to my attention via the GMCC. The draft can be found here (Hat tip: Manchester FOE). The Manchester Cycling Strategy (MCS) is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding between British Cycling and Manchester City Council. The executive summary on page 4 states,  “Manchester is the home of British Cycling – cycling’s national governing body.” Whilst it is true that British Cycling is the governing body of cyclesport, the relevance of British Cycling to transport cycling is at best, dubious. Whilst British Cycling have recently started to devote some attention to cycling as transport, they are first and foremost the governing body of cyclesport and not an organisation for furthering the aims of everyday folk who want to use a bike for transport.


The biggest problems in the MCS draft are often a result of this confusing mixture of sports promotion and facilitating cycling as transport. A good example to illustrate the absurdity of this is to consider motorsport. Whilst I am sure that there are a good number of people in Greater Manchester who participate in the various disciplines of motorsports, from rallying to formula three, the groups which represent these interests rarely weigh in on transport consultations such as the LTP3. Where they do decide to comment, it is extremely unlikely that they would try to present themselves as the ‘voice of the motorist’ because clearly they aren’t – they are the voice of motorsports. Whilst these two groups are superficially similar, their interests, needs and wishes are (quite rightly) lobbied for by separate groups. 


In cycling, the distinction is less commonly made, perhaps because there are so few people who regularly use bicycles for any purpose. The problem with this is that cycling is conflated with cyclesport, giving cyclesport a louder voice than it perhaps deserves, whilst making cycling for transport less visible and less attractive to normal people who aren’t interested in getting hot and sweaty in order to go shopping or to work.


This conflation of cycle sport with cycling for transport is illustrated well on page 5 which includes a list of headline figures for investment in ‘cycling’ over the past five years:

  • Over £3.2 million on infrastructure through LTP Highways Capital Programme
  • £518,000 on child cycle training
  • £56,000 promoting bike week
  • £24 million building the National Indoor BMX area
  • Over £12,000 in small grants to community groups
  • £2.5 million on promoting and supporting club and sport cycling
  • Over £250,000 on promoting cycling through initiatives such as Sky Rid [sic]
From this list, several issues stand out to me.
  1. Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for ‘cycling?’
  2. What does the National Indoor BMX Arena, supporting club and sport cycling and to a certain extent, the Sky Ride, have to do with cycling for transport?
  3. If (1.) is in fact the case, how can £24 million for the National Indoor BMX Arena and £2.5 million on promoting club and sport cycling be justified when only £3.2 million is spent on cycle infrastructure for transport cycling, which has the highest potential for growth and thus has easily the highest potential economic, social and public heath returns.
  4. The cyclesport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of a wider report on the uptake, promotion and enabling of sports in Manchester (which in itself is an important and laudable aim)
  5. The cycling for transport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of Manchester’s wider transport strategy (and dramatically increased in their scope)
Where the report discusses strategies for increasing and improving cycling in Manchester it refers to the LTP3 plan mentioned previously. The LTP3 is worded in a way which allows for the construction of a real network of quality cycle corridors to Dutch standards, the result of which would be immense growth in transport cycling in Manchester and the enormous wider benefits that brings. Unfortunately, it is also vague enough to allow for little change from the status quo, beyond a bit of paint and some crap signage along back-streets; the sort of measures which have already been well-established to be ineffective. The strategy goes on to identify five ‘key issues’ holding back transport cycling in Manchester:
  • Addressing the demand for cycle parking
  • Making major junctions safer for cyclists
  • Working with partners to reduce cycle theft
  • Liaising with City Centre employers to improve workplace cycle parking and changing facilities
  • Improving opportunities to cross the inner ring road
Sadly, these issues are more likely ‘things which existing cyclists would like fixed’ rather than issues which hold back those who wish to cycle for transport but do not currently do so. These issues are likely to be along the lines of:
  • Fear of being killed or injured when cycling with motor traffic
  • Separated bicycle tracks on main roads
  • Junction designs put cyclists (and pedestrians) in unnecessary danger in order to prioritise private motor traffic
  • Rat-running makes riding on streets feel unsafe
All of these issues are tackled in The Netherlands road network model; busy main routes have separate tracks and motor-vehicle rat-running (and hence volume) is eliminated on streets where people live (making them attractive for cycling despite the lack of separation). Address these issues (even in the form of a barebones functional network) and cycling rates in Manchester could easily be increased to 10-15 times their current level. 

Despite the paramount importance of infrastructure in making cycling into a viable mode of transport for normal people, the only infrastructure mentioned in the MCS draft are the three cycle centres to be built in the city centre. These will only improve the experience for existing cyclists, they will provide little or no benefit for would-be cyclists. My mother doesn’t ride a bike, not because there is nowhere for her to park her bike, shower and stash her lycras in a locker. She doesn’t cycle because she (entirely understandably) feels unsafe when cycling on our roads as they currently exist. Providing facilities which would be unnecessary in a mainstream cycling culture is not the way to build a mainstream cycling culture. Where cycling for transport is mainstream, people ride in whatever clothing they need to be wearing at their destination (possibly in addition to a coat and gloves) with the idea of needing to shower and change after cycling to work being something which is utterly irrelevant in a mass cycling culture.

The MCS at least does not explicitly exclude measures which would actually allow cycling for transport to grow, but unfortunately it takes the traditional approach of ‘tinkering around the edges,’ focussing on marginal improvements for existing cyclists whilst completely ignoring the reasons why normal people would never consider cycling for transport. In addition to the desperate need for vastly increasing the scope of the measures proposed to increase cycling for transport, the inclusion of so much irrelevant material pertaining to cyclesport confuses the issues for all users of cycles. Ideally, the cyclesport content in the MCS should exist as a part of a wider ‘Sport in Manchester’ strategy in order to prevent the needs of those participating in these two largely unrelated activities being confused. The report also focusses on leisure cycling separately. It is my belief that leisure cycling does not require a huge amount of specific ‘strategy’ to grow, provided that cycles are considered during the design or renovation of parks & towpaths etc. The measures which will make cycling for transport attractive to normal people will also increase the appeal of cycling for leisure.

CEoGB Policy Bash

On the weekend of the 28th of January there will be a meeting to really hammer down CEoGB policy. The agenda for the event can be found on the CEoGB website. If you wish to be involved, please email chair@cycling-embassy.org.uk. It will be a great opportunity to have your say about exactly how the UK’s brightest new cycling organisation pursues its ultimate goal of a real return to everyday cycling in the UK.

Personally, I feel that the CEoGB cannot be too specific in setting out what is and is not acceptable when building infrastructure for cyclists. The present guidelines allow for really quite good cycle infrastructure to be built in the UK, however they are too easily open to the kind of abuse which results in useless facilities which do nothing to help cycling at all, merely providing fodder for Facility of the Month. I find it baffling that such dangerous (and functionally useless) facilities exist in the same country in which I once had to take a workplace safety training course in order to use a step-ladder. Providing the DfT with a set of rules for cycle infrastructure where useful, legally-binding minimum infrastructure standards are set based on the speed and volume of motor traffic and where the difference between roadsstreets and lanes, along with the measures each of these requires to make cycling viable for normal people, is clearly defined. At the moment, the established norm is that ‘people have their place, but the car must come first,’ what we need to work towards is the making idea that ‘cars have their place, but people must come first‘ the new norm.

With the new standards being a legally-binding minimum standard, we will need realistic final compliance dates. One potential method would be to have several compliance dates, a compliance date for a minimum functional network of cycle paths along the main roads in the most highly populated cities (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow etc.) followed by a date for smaller cities and towns and final dates for complete compliance dates. I’d like to see a minimum functional network of cycle routes along main roads as a priority. There’s no point in trying to tinker around the edges with sign-posting ‘quiet routes’ along back-streets as these areas are already less problematic and are the routes people ideally wish to use to get around. The main roads are the currently the biggest problem for cycling and any approach which ignores fixing the problem of main roads in favour of relegating cyclists to often circuitous routes along back-streets sends a message of cycling not being taken seriously as a mode of transport. Such schemes will fail, as they consistently have in the past.

An interesting idea (although one not likely to happen) is to take the scientific approach and do an experiment. Choose a decent number of towns with broadly similar sizes, population densities, employment rates and geography and split them into three groups. In the first group, re-design the road network in-line with the measures used in The Netherlands. In the second group, waste invest the same amount of money on more traditional British approaches to encouraging cycling, ‘promote cycling through advertising campaigns, cycle training, handing out lights and high vis, cycle maintenance workshops, building town centre cycle enclosures with lockers and showers and asking motorists to be nicer to cyclists. The third groups would be the control group. In all three groups, modal share amongst all modes of transport would need to be thoroughly monitored, with demographic information also being useful. Run the experiment for ten years and then publish. I think we all know what the results would be, but at least it’d start an ‘interesting’ thread on Cyclechat.

Interestingly, this central policy of the Cycling Embassy will actually benefit everyone, not just cyclists. Ending the system whereby our streets and roads are effectively ruled by those who are most able to get their own way by (intentionally or otherwise) intimidating other more vulnerable road users comes with huge and obvious benefits which are simply too numerous to mention in the scope of this piece. Needless to say, anyone who is ever a pedestrian, ever rides a bike, is (or may ever be) disabled or elderly, is (or has, may one day have, or was once) a child, owns or works for (or may one day do so) a retail-based business or who pays (or may one day pay) any form of tax in the UK (amongst many, many other groups) has everything to gain from the UK road network being dragged into the 21st century, closely in line with the system used in The Netherlands today.

Put simply, the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety takes the approach that sometimes people can be dicks. Once you accept this, it becomes easily possible to utilise the design of the roads, streets and lanes themselves in order to minimise the harm resulting from this inevitable fact of life. If you want to have your say on the specifics of this infrastructure, or how we go about lobbying for it, the policy bash is your chance to get involved.

Dutch pick-and-mix

There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lane was a recent piece written by Matthew Wright for the Guardian. The title is a valid statement, Dutch levels of cycling didn’t come about just from building cycle tracks along busy main roads, it requires that the private car is tamed on streets and lanes, so that a cycle track is unnecessary. However, the article quickly falls into that peculiar trapping which appears to be unique to the English-speaking world; Dutch pick-and-mix.
Dutch pick-and-mix (a term I hope will catch-on) is the idea that picking and choosing randomly from all of the the pro-cycling measures employed by the Dutch (other than building cycle tracks alongside roads) can result in Dutch-levels of cycling. Dutch pick-and-mix is attractive to people who are ideologically opposed to the idea of any separation of cyclists and motor traffic; Matthew Wright’s choice, upon visiting The Netherlands, to ride on the main carriageway and shun the far superior adjacent cycle-only facility is a particularly informative one. By avoiding the cycle track-shaped elephant in the room, Dutch pick-and-mix offers campaigners and local authorities the easy way out; rather than making the main roads accessible to all cyclists by installing cycle tracks, a few blue signs can be used to direct cyclists via circuitous residential streets. Rather than addressing lethal junction designs, the roads in adjacent residential areas can have ’20’ painted onto them within a circle.
Whilst these measures are not a bad thing, they are completely, totally and utterly worthless if cyclists can’t use the roads which get them to the places they need to go; main roads. Dutch pick-and-mix fails as an approach not because there is a problem with lower residential speed limits and facilitating cycling on minor roads, these are good things, but because they don’t work unless they are built on a foundation of cycle tracks running alongside main roads. There is little point in creating an island of cycling paradise within a residential area if the main road connecting it to the next island of cycling paradise remains unchanged and hostile to cyclists. The Dutch pick-and-mix approach epitomised by ‘There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lanemisses this point; there is more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycle lane, but without the main road network being fixed by the addition of separate cycle lanes, the rest of the measures used by the Dutch simply won’t work. Separate cycle lanes are the very foundation of going Dutch, whilst attempting to build something without first laying the foundations is pretty much what we’ve been doing in the UK for fifty years, an approach which has done little for anyone who wants to get around by bike.
In addition to a severe case of Dutch pick-and-mix, Matthew Wright’s article also falls foul of cherry-picking through the referencing of John Franklin’s page of cherry-picked research, which has been dissected here previously and rendered irrelevant by a much more honest and up-to-date equivalent started here.
Whilst it is true that separate cycle lanes are not the only measure involved in ‘going Dutch,’ suggesting that they are anything less than the very foundation of it is at best extremely naive and at worst shockingly dishonest. Articles such as ‘There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lanesimply serve to spread the disinformation which has held back cycling in this country for decades. A Dutch pick-and-mix approach might seem appealing, because it is comparably easy, but without the foundation of separate cycle lanes on the worst parts of the road network, it can only be expected to deliver a continuation of the flat-lining of cycle rates and a continuation of the stream of avoidable deaths on our roads.