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.

Advertisements

Segregation Myths #3: If we build segregated cycle infrastructure we’ll be banned from the roads

One of cycling’s great bogeymen is the fear that a cycling ban is imminent and that anything which rocks the boat, such as asking for high-quality segregated infrastructure, will result in our being banned from the highway. To quote cycling journalist Carlton Reid:
However, I feel that this outlook is overlooking several important points:
Firstly, councils have been building sub-standard infrastructure for years, infrastructure which more often serves as an outlet for dadaism than as a facility for cyclists. Whilst there is not legal requirement for cyclists to use it, in many cases cyclists who shun sub-standard infrastructure are subjected to abuse and intimidation from motorists who are ignorant of the problems with such sub-standard infrastructure. This continues to be built despite it often not effectively catering for cyclists’ needs whatsoever.
Secondly, much of the main-road network has been for many years designed to prioritise high volumes of motor traffic travelling at high speeds. This is particularly evident on inter-town and inter-city A roads and dual carriageways, where a nominal speed limit of 50 mph or higher is routinely flouted by motorists, and on “urban motorways,” such as The Bridgewater Way in Manchester. Whilst there is currently no de jure cycling ban on roads like these, there is a de facto ban on cycling; most people, including people who regard themselves as cyclists do not feel safe enough to cycle on these roads. I suspect that the fact that cycles are legally permitted on these roads provides little comfort to those who are prevented from doing so by the perceived lack of safety offered to cyclists who use these roads. A high-quality segregated cycle lane, with appropriate priority at junctions and side roads, will make these roads feasible for use by bike, for the average person once again.
The issue of quality brings my to my third point; if cycle paths are built to an appropriately-high standard then cyclists will choose to use them over the main carriageway without the need for legislation to make it mandatory.  A common misconception about pro-segregationists is that we want cycle paths on every street. This would obviously be ludicrous; what is needed is segregation which “scales-up” with the speed and volume of motor traffic carried by the main carriageway. The degree of separation needed would vary from none on quiet residential and access roads carrying low volumes of traffic up to a completely separate path on fast-inter-city A-roads and “urban motorways,” (the roads from which most cyclists are already excluded from by a de facto ban). The degree of separation required would be specified by set of Separation Principles, similar to The Netherlands and Denmark, in place of our current (failed) Hierarchy of Provision. Because of this, some on-road cycling will always be inevitable, so there wouldn’t be an issue of a blanket ban on cycling on the road.
My final point is something perhaps unique to Britain. As a long-established country, with an uncodified constitution due to a political system which evolved over time rather than being suddenly brought into existence by revolutionary means. For example, unlike many other countries, there is no jaywalking law here, and pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders have the right to use the road by statute. There are a few examples of other transport modes being provided with infrastructure for their exclusive use; pedestrians and buses (strictly for the sole use of buses, cycles and taxis). Pedestrian infrastructure; The pavement, is a long established part of our road network. Despite the extensive infrastructure which has been provided for pedestrians in the UK, pedestrians have yet to be banned from using the main carriageway. Few choose to exercise their right (similar to cyclists with respect to their right to use fast A roads) to walk on the main carriageway due to the more attractive option offered to them in the form of the pavement, but it remains their right to do so if they choose. Bus lanes have proved to be a very successful tool to reduce peak road capacity (and hence ease congestion), whilst making bus travel more competitive with personal motor travel at peak times (although the arguments in favour of allowing taxis to use them are poor at best). Similarly, where “Bus lanes” do exist, their use by the operators of buses, taxis and cycles is not mandatory.

Running and walking

I have a few friends who are enthusiastic runners. Personally I don’t see the appeal, I understand the health benefits and even the potential to feel a sense of achievement after running a certain distance or doing so faster than a rival, but it really isn’t for me.
However, what I find most peculiar about running is that it usually completely absent from transport consultations such as the Greater Manchester LTP3. There was no mention of any athletics facilities at all in the LTP3, and United Kingdom Athletics did not submit a response at all. Whilst it could be argued that running is a sports or leisure pursuit, it is in many respects similar to walking, which is considered by this kind of consultation to be (an admittedly unimportant) form of transport.
The title page from the LTP3  “Active travel” section, with a picture choice which aptly shows everything which is wrong with cycle promotion and provision in the UK.
Of course it doesn’t make sense to talk about running in the same terms as we talk about walking. Running is a popular leisure pursuit, but it is not the same as walking. Whilst some also walk for leisure or health, it is primarily considered to be a simple and effective way to get from A to B. When government talks of, “Providing for pedestrians,” they generally do not mean providing showers at work for those whose commute is a run, providing pleasant cross-country running routes or shiny new athletic facilities.
When government talks of, “Providing for cyclists,” however, they confuse cycle-sport and leisure cycling with cycling to get from A to B, an error akin to confusing runners with pedestrians. Whilst there will always be a minority of sporty cyclists who use their time travelling to work as a training ride, just as there are a few people at my place of work who use their time travelling to work as a training run, complete with performance clothing and a shower afterwards, this is not and never will be a mainstream activity. There’s nothing at all wrong with treating your ride to work as a training ride, but by confusing a minority pursuit such as this with utility cycling, which when provided for adequately, can be a mainstream mode of transport, successive governments (and some cycle campaigners) have failed to achieve any significant, meaningful gains in cycling rates. Promoting running and providing a circuitous cross-country route is not going to persuade the overwhelming majority of motorists to switch away from driving the 2 miles to work. Providing a decent walking environment and promoting walking (whilst hindering motoring) is. The same applies to cycling.
Cycle sport is probably very nearly as popular as it is going to get, and the popularity of this hobby is particularly impressive. Utility cycling by non-enthusiasts has been suppressed by years of car-centric and outright hostile street design to a level similar to that of sport-cycling, making it easy for governments and even cycling campaigns to consider cyclists as a single homogenous group. This confusion of sport cycling with the much greater potential for growth in utility cycling from A to B severely limits the potential for cycling’s growth. If we want to see any significant gains in cycling rates, we need to end this confusion of the more-nichey sport-cycling with the kind of everyday, utility cycling which can be made to appeal to the average person where the right kind of provision is made for them.

Segregation Myths #2: Segregated Cycle Facilities are Dangerous

After writing my critique of Cyclecraft a few weeks ago, I noticed that a thread had cropped up on Cyclechat discussing the post. A common research article is cited by those who oppose introduction of Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK is, Bicycle Track and Lanes: A Before and After Study, most commonly linked in the form of a summary report. This is often linked to as “proof” that segregated cycle facilities are dangerous, which in itself is rather unimportant, for reasons to be discussed later. Interestingly, very early on in the introduction, the author writes:

“Many studies of bicycle tracks have been undertaken in Northern Europe. A meta analysis of 11 studies shows a reduction of 4 percent in crashes, and the crash reduction is almost the same for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists respectively.”

The meta-analysis being referenced there is from, “The handbook of Road Safety Measures,” by Rune Elvik. Meta-analyses are useful because they take a broader consensus from numerous studies, minimising the effect of any flaws or limitations in individual studies by looking for overall trends in the body of work as a whole. Picking a single piece of research which agrees with your own opinion whilst ignoring the wider consensus offered by the body of literature is called “Cherry-picking,” and is generally frowned upon.

The study compares the numbers of cycle*-car and cycle-pedestrian crashes on roads with cycle tracks and with cycle lanes, to predicted crash figures based on figures for unaltered roads which have been altered to factor in the alteration to traffic volume and composition. The crash figures for junctions and straight road sections are treated separately, and the study finds that on roads with cycle tracks, cyclist crashes are decreased by 13% on straight sections, whilst at intersections they are increased by 24%. Overall, crashes involving cyclists increased by 10%.

This is the oft-cited percentage increase when discussing Dutch-style segregated cycle facilities with those who are vehemently opposed to them, and it is interesting to see how it is calculated; previously cyclist injuries at junctions had been measured as 353. After the installation of cycle tracks, the number of cyclist injuries at intersections was measured as 285, a reduction of 19% in absolute figures. However, the 24% increase figure is calculated from a predicted number of crashes figure for the after period, based on the changes to the traffic volume and mode composition, which predicted that at unmodified intersections with the same increase in cyclists, decrease in motorists and subject to pre-existing crash trends seen at the intersections which had been modified with cycle tracks, there should be 230 cyclist crashes. This is the figure which is used to generate the eye-catching 24% increase in crashes figure. The author of the paper also states that:

“The construction of bicycle tracks resulted in a 20 percent increase in [bicycle] traffic mileage and a 10 percent reduction in motor vehicle traffic mileage on those roads, where bicycle tracks have been constructed.”

Taking intersections and straight sections together gives a figure of a 10% increase in crashes involving cyclists overall versus the predicted figures on un-altered junctions for the same traffic mode/volume composition (broadly speaking, a 10% reduction in motor traffic and a 20% increase in cycle traffic), a composition which is arguably only achievable where segregation is applied. The actual before and after numbers show a decrease in the absolute numbers of cyclist crashes of 29%. It is important to consider the effects of any pre-existing downward trend in crashes which could be contributing to this number, but also important to consider that this effect is seen contemporaneously with an increase in cyclists’ mileage of 20% on these facilities.

“The bicycle facilities effects on traffic volumes are rather large. We do not know for sure whether these effects are a result of changes of route choice or transport mode choice or both. The magnitude of the changes in traffic volumes on the reconstituted streets, and the traffic volumes on parallel streets, however, do indicate that thousands of travellers in total must have changed their choice of transport mode. We do not know who have shifted mode – children, middle-ages or elderly, women or men, beginners or experienced, etc.”

It is also interesting to note the large effect which the presence or absence of car parking restrictions on the adjacent road has on the number of collisions and injuries for cyclists and pedestrians which occur at intersections. Where parking restrictions were in place, there were more collisions due to the effect of motor vehicles parking on minor roads instead, resulting in more turning thus collisions.

At the beginning of this post, I stated that the safety effect of Dutch-style segregated cycle facilities is actually rather unimportant. Cycling, even on our hostile road network is actually a very low risk activity. A lot of people have invested a lot of time in trying to convey this message, that cycling is actually very safe, low risk and that the benefits from cycling hugely outweigh the risks a person is exposed to by cycling. It also featured as a common theme on the Cyclechat thread too, demonstrations of the statistically low risk which comes from in motor traffic and links to works such as the study discussed above (ignoring the wider consensus offered by the overall body of literature, which are even discussed in the introduction of this particular study).

Generally, the body of research shows that Dutch-style segregated infrastructure moderately decreases the risk to which cyclists are exposed, despite expanding the demographic itself from what is largely a small minority of experienced and vigilant hardcore cyclists under a vehicular approach, to include such disparate groups as teenagers chatting as they ride together or riding alone with earphones in, older people, parents with their children (either on their own bikes or on the parent’s bike), children cycling to school without the need for supervisions and boozy revellers returning home from a pub or club by cycle. Despite the incredible broadening of the demographic, safety is still increased.

However, all of this is missing the point. Surprisingly, the main benefit and purpose of implementing Dutch-style segregated cycle infrastructure isn’t just to reduce risk, it is to reduce fear. Increasing people’s sense of subjective safety is a huge part of making the bicycle seem like an attractive and viable mode of transport to them. Another important factor is convenience. Both the need to feel safe whilst cycling, and the need for it to be convenient are provided where there are Dutch-style segregated facilities (and the extra options it opens up for reducing the speed, volume and permeability available to motorised traffic). All the statistics demonstrating the low-risk of vehicular cycling isn’t going to change the average person’s mind as long as it doesn’t feel safe to them. People don’t work that way

“Making these bicycle facilities must have contributed to benefits due to more physical activity, less air pollution, less traffic noise, less oil consumption, etc. […] The positive benefits may well be much higher than the negative consequences caused by new safety problems.” (My emphasis)

*In the study, numbers for cycles and mopeds limited to 30 km/h (which are legally permitted to use cycle tracks in Denmark) are bundled together. Make of this what you will.

Segregation Myths #1

There are a few common canards used to attempt to discredit anyone who dares to talk about going Dutch with respect to cycling infrastructure here in the UK, including:

1) We’ll never get segregation on every street.
2) There isn’t room on British streets for separate cycle facilities.
3) People need somewhere to park their cars.

1) We’ll never get segregation on every street

In The Netherlands (and Denmark for that matter) they don’t even come close to having separate facilities for cyclists on every street. Instead they have specific guidelines for how much separation is required in a given location (Separation Principles) based on factors including the importance of said route as a main commuting route for cyclists, the volume of motorised traffic on said route and the speed of motorised traffic on said route. The degree of separation increases with all of these factors, from zero segregation on a quiet service road up to wide separated cycle lanes all red traffic signal phases at functions to allow cyclists and pedestrians to turn in whichever direction they wish at junctions, or roundabouts with radial exits and legal priority for cycle traffic.

An advantage of this type of infrastructure is its calming effect on motor traffic, due to the reduction in motor traffic capacity. This has obvious benefits for pedestrians without bringing cyclists and motorists into conflict in the way that conventional lane narrowing does, as it is usually implemented without any serious consideration for the needs of cyclists.

2) There isn’t room on British streets for separate cycle facilities.

Now that we have addressed the myth that Dutch-style infrastructure means putting a separate cycle lane on every street, we have gone a long way to addressing canard number two. The roads which most unattractive and unsafe for cyclists at present are the very same roads which have require the very highest level of separation of cycle and motor traffic under the rules of the Separation Principles. These roads are the widest and fastest roads we have, roads which are easily capable of accommodating Dutch-quality separate infrastructure for cyclists. In Manchester, good examples of roads matching this description include Upper Brook Street (A34), Oxford Road (B5117), Princess Road (A5103), Chester Road (A56) & Regent Road (A57), to name a few. Reducing the speed and volume of motor traffic reducing road capacity on these streets has wide-ranging benefits to pedestrians and the local community in which these roads are situated.

Unlike current approaches to tackling motor traffic speed and congestion through road capacity reduction and lane narrowing, using the space taken away from motor traffic to build Dutch-quality infrastructure does not necessitate bringing cyclists and motor traffic into conflict and so enhances the attractiveness and convenience of cycling rather than further diminishing it.

3) People need somewhere to park their cars.

Ignoring for now the obvious oddity that is the widely accepted phenomenon that is the routine storing of personal property on the public highway, in addressing canard number two, we have gone a long way to tackling this one too. The streets I named are generally of the kind which have either blanket parking bans, or at least have peak-hours parking bans along most of their length. The biggest roads are the roads where parking is already prohibited all the time, and where it is not prohibited all the time, it definitely should be (I’m looking at you, Upper Brook Street).

Even if implementing Dutch-style infrastructure did mean displacing some established car parking, I don’t see why this should be regarded as a problem. It is a very depressing prospect that the safety of vulnerable road users be regarded as a lower priority than the publicly-subsidised storage of personal property on the public highway. Streets are primarily intended for people and movement, not storage.

Cycling: Lessons from Recycling

When I was at school in the 1990s I remember there was a lot being said about recycling, how it was important and how we should all make an effort to recycle our glass, paper and cans (there was little mention of recycling plastic at that stage). I distinctly remember that one month we were all encouraged to bring all of our family’s empty tins and cans into school, sorting them into separate steel and aluminium bins by testing them with a magnet. At the end of the month the bins were taken away, I remember being enthusiastic and wanting to continue recycling the cans but the only place to recycle them was through large bins at the supermarket car park, or at the borough tip. At the time we didn’t even have wheelie bins, we had several metal bins at the back of the house which were emptied by the bin men every week. There was no separate collection for different types of waste, the whole waste collection infrastructure was designed around the need to move all domestic waste to either landfill or incineration.

Recycling in the 1990s was possible, but it required individuals to think about their domestic waste and make the conscious effort to elect to take their waste to centralised recycling facilities. The more destructive option of not recycling waste which could have been recycled was the convenient and easy choice because it didn’t involve individuals to elect to change their behaviour. Most people didn’t particularly care about the issue of recycling and thought nothing of throwing all their domestic waste out in the same bin. Less than twenty years in 2011, almost everyone recycles the majority of their recyclable domestic waste.

Image courtesy of MEN

In 2011, do the majority of people care about the issue of recycling? The answer is still a resounding “No.” People recycle because it in 2011 it is easy and convenient for them to do so, so it is the natural choice. Rather than continuing to promote elective behavioural change to increase recycling rates, councils have changes the waste collection infrastructure to make recycling the natural and convenient option. Separate bin facilities are provided for different sorts of waste, often different categories of recyclable waste in addition to a general waste bin for non-recyclable material. For those choosing not to separate waste so it can be recycled, life is made inconvenient by a reduction in general waste capacity through reducing the frequency of general waste collections. Overall capacity is maintained or improved through additional collections for recyclable waste, making recycling a convenient and attractive option. Mass recycling was brought about not through elective behaviour change but through subtle coercion; changes in the waste collection infrastructure were made so that recycling became attractive and convenient, whilst not recycling became a less attractive and less viable option.

Those who wanted to promote recycling realised early on that an approach based mainly on elective behavioural change was inherently limited in its ability to deliver significant gains in recycling rates. Elective cycle training, “Be nice,” and “Mutual respect,” campaigns directed at both motorists and cyclists, and things like Bike Week are all similarly limited. A few weeks after the end of “Can collection month,” I had a bag of cans I wanted to recycle, but because the waste collection infrastructure was based around not recycling, and I was too young to take them to the recycling centre myself, I ended up throwing them into the bin and I forgot about the issues and importance of recycling. In 2011, at the end of Bike Week, there will be the same realisation and people will get back into their cars and forget about cycling for another year, because approaches based extensively on conscious, elective behavioural change are inherently very limited in their ability to bring about significant long-term results.