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.

Who asks for this crap?

Anyone who cycles in the UK will have encountered our unique cycling infrastructure, which is truly in a class of its own. I, like many other have often wondered who asks for this useless, inconvenient and dangerous infrastructure? How does it come to be?
Warrington Cycle Campaign’s Facility of the Month, January 2011
The answer to this became clear to me whilst I was reviewing the report on the Greater Manchester LTP3, a consultation with the public and relevant organisations on the future of transport in Greater Manchester. These kinds of consultations are relatively common activities run by local authorities all over the UK.
When I was reviewing the LTP3 report, I noticed an interesting disparity between the organisations’ responses and the individuals’ responses. Individuals frequently asked for cycle lanes, but understandably they did not go into detail with respect to design standards of these lanes (except for me in my individual response). Organisations claiming to represent cyclists, such as the CTC and British Cycling asked for things such as 20 mph zones*, workplace showers, cycle parking and cycle training, but not separate infrastructure.
By ignoring cycle infrastructure, or ranking them as the “less preferable” options as the CTC’s Hierarchy of Provision does, councils are left with individual respondents asking for cycle lanes with this request not being mirrored by cyclists’ organisations and no guidance or lobbying on the standards of lanes** forthcoming from these organisations. The DfT does offer some reasonable guidance for cycle facilities, but because historically the national cyclists’ organisations have focussed their energy doggedly on vehicular cycling, these remain advisory and are treated as unattainable ideal standards rather than as the absolute bare minimum.
There is a definite disconnect between cyclists’ organisations such as the CTC and the needs and wishes of everyday cyclists and the millions of potential cyclists, who are put off by having to cycle in close proximity to huge volumes of fast traffic. Individuals continue to ask government for cycle lanes in consultations and cyclists’ organisations continue to ignore the elephant in the room. The result is Facility of the Month.
* 20 mph zones are a great idea in residential and dense urban areas. They are not going to achieve any meaningful rise in cycling alone though. As long at they are surrounded by fast A and B-roads without any separate infrastructure for cyclists, they are little more than isolated islands of safety.
** Hopefully this will change at a national level with the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, offering a voice for separate infrastructure, technical guidance and an umbrella for local cycling campaigns whose goals are the same.

Greater Manchester LPT3 Consultation

I have been reviewing the preliminary information coming out of the Greater Manchester LTP3 consultation. It lists the specific responses given to the proposal by various organisation, in addition to the broad trends seen in individual’s responses:

Comments on Cycling & Walking Issues

Amongst the 163 comments received on cycling and walking issues, the following comments were made with significant frequency:

39 comments were made encouraging the development of cycle

23 comments highlighted the importance of cycle promotion activities.

22 comments revisited the call for cycle carriage on Metrolink

Whilst I am not sure about the promotion of cycling being particularly important in relation to the actual provision of infrastructure, it is nice to see a reasonable number of people asked for more cycle infrastructure. I hope enough of them added the condition that it should at least meet existing minimum design standards, or be based on best practise from The Netherlands etc. It does seem a shame however, that there is little attention from those who read the proposal on the issues affecting walking.
Further along the document comes the aforementioned organisational responses:

British Cycling highlighted:

The link between health and the economy

The potential for 20mph enforcement in residential areas

British Cycling is mainly the regulatory body for cycling sport, but it is nice to see them weighing in on the LTP3. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) highlighted: 

The need to specifically include cycling in the LTP ‘Vision’

The impact of ‘safety in numbers’ in promoting cycling

Potential greater emphasis on the carbon benefits of cycling

The importance of consistent safety levels across the whole road network

The potential for 20 mph as default speed in residential areas

The need to provide parking at other major (non public transport) destinations

The potential for the carriage of bikes on trams

The need to increase capacity on trains

A general call for more resources for cycling

Unlike British Cycling, the CTC describes itself as “As the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation,” and is not focussed as strongly on sport cycling as British Cycling is. Most of the points raised are completely valid. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

GM Cycling Campaign highlighted:

The potential for more focus on reducing need to travel
The potential for further commitment on alternative fuel sources for buses

The potential for cycle carriage on buses and Metrolink

A request for more detail on cycle parking at stations

The potential to charge for car park & ride

The potential for 20mph as a default position in residential area

From the GMCC site; “The Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign is a voluntary group working to make cycling in Greater Manchester quicker, safer, easier and more enjoyable. The group wants more people to use bicycles – or other kinds of human powered vehicle – for transport and leisure. And it represents and empowers people who do this.” Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Collective input from a convened group of deaf/hard of hearing representatives highlighted: 

Training areas for bus drivers

The importance of segregating spaces for cycles and pedestrians
A request for further accessibility both on trams and at tram stops.

Specific  views  on  the orientation  and  regulation  of  pedestrian  (green  man)
crossing signals

The importance of addressing deaf people’s information requirement

The only definitive reference to segregation of cycles comes not from one of the three cyclists’ organisations who responded, but for a groups of representatives for the deaf or heard of hearing. Even then, understandably their focus is segregating cyclists from pedestrians rather than other traffic, due to the inevitable problems caused by “shared use” to those who are deaf/hard of hearing (and presumably also the blind too).

Trafford Youth Cabinet highlighted: 

A suggestion for reduced fares on short bus journeys / school bus services and a
general need for more simplified fares across the system

The need for more double tram units

Support for more cycle lanes needed and later cycling proficiency

I had not heard of Trafford Youth Cabinet before, but their site described them as “Representatives of the children and young people of Trafford.”  Its members are aged 11-19. They are also not a dedicated cyclists’ organisation, but they can see the need for dedicated cycle infrastructure and they correctly see this as being more important than cycle training

University of Salford highlighted:

The need for links to Mediacity/Salford Quays from the Salford Crescent area

The potential for safe cycle routes from the university area

Whilst “safe” is open to interpretation, I would interpret this is alluding to segregated away from motor traffic.
These are the main organisational responses which relate to cycling. British Cycling, the CTC and the GMCC all failed to mention the only thing which has been shown to be successful in promoting mass cycling in similarly developed parts of the world; dedicated, segregated where needed cycle infrastructure.
Personally, as a cyclist, I feel that my needs and the needs of the wider community of existing (and importantly the many more potential) cyclists has been utterly failed by the fact that these organisations, which claim to represent cyclists’ interests, have chosen to ignore the successes of other great cycling nations. Instead they have chosen to stick to the same basic strategies which have failed to deliver mass cycling in the UK for decades.
And yes, I am aware of how much I sound like Freewheeler right now.

A Modern Clement Attlee

Winston Churchill is widely regarded to be a national hero, and rightly so. Through his leadership the UK survived the biggest threat to its very existence for centuries, and years earlier he abolished road tax too. During those dark and dangerous times, he called for unity, and set up a coalition government, with the Labour party leader Clement Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister. Most people, of all political persuasions, were grateful for his leadership during the Second World War and the service he did his country.


After the War in Europe was over in 1945, elections were held again, and the people voted not for the man who had defended them so well during the time of war, but for the man they hoped would lead them differently during the new time of peace; Clement Attlee. The war was over, and so was the need for unity in the House of Commons. I write this because Clement Attlee is one of my favourite politicians (just read the Wikipedia article on him), but also because I was reminded of this bit of history when reading several posts by Carlton Reid.


Amongst the other points made in his posts; the issues with which are largely discussed in the comments, there is a theme that he believes it is more important for cycle campaigning to be unified than it is for a new organisation; such as The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, to exist to represent the beliefs of its members. His argument is that we are stronger as a unified force (even if many of us no longer feel adequately represented by existing campaigns such as the CTC) than we are if divided.

Cycling in the UK has seen some dark days, with modal share plummeting with the rise of mass car ownership and the simultaneous lack of investment in cycle infrastructure. The CTC and other existing organisations defended cycling through some of its darkest days, and I and many others truly appreciate this. If this were 1985, I might find myself agreeing with Carlton and saying that we need to remain unified. However, it is not 1985, times have changed and cycling in the UK has been through its darkest days and is coming out of the other side. We are starting to see the very beginnings of a recovery in our towns and cities, and a desire from the population to use the bicycle for transportation, with fear of traffic being the number one factor deterring them, a real desire for Dutch-style infrastructure and the organisation which is supposed to speak for cyclists listing this option amongst the least desirable in their Hierarchy of Provision.

Just as the man who got us through the biggest threat to our existence in centuries isn’t necessarily the man we want to lead us into a hopeful new era of peace, the campaign which protected cycling during its decline doesn’t necessarily represent the needs of those who cycle and those who want to cycle now we are presented with a real chance for a resurgence. In the end, Churchill lost the 1945 election to Clement Attlee, but this does not diminish his achievements in the eyes of the British public, just as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain does not diminish those achievements of the CTC. There may have been a time for unity within the cycle campaign community, but that time is coming to an end. Many of us feel that the time is right for a change.

This, Carlton, is why I feel we need The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.