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.

The Milton Keynes Redways

The town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was built as an experiment in town design, started in the late 1960s. At this time, private motoring was almost universally viewed as the future of transport. The now-obvious problems of induced demand, suppression of walking, cycling & public transport, dependence on ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources and health problems related to both the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by excessive car-dependence, the killing and maiming of people in collisions with cars and the premature deaths related to particulate air pollution, were still not widely considered. Milton Keynes was designed primarily around the needs and desires of the private motorist, constructed around a grid of national speed limit A-roads. In order to facilitate high-speed motoring, cyclists were effectively removed from the roads with a separate grid of separate cycle paths; known as the Redways.
The Redways are often used as an argument against implementing any form of separate cycle infrastructure in other parts of the UK. Whilst at the most superficial level, it can be argued that the Dutch and the Milton Keynes approaches are similar (they both involve some degree of separation of cycle and motor traffic), the similarities do not extend beyond the superficial. Unlike the Dutch approach to separate cycle infrastructure, designed to promote cycling by making it subjectively and objectively safer, direct and convenient, the Milton Keynes Redways are primarily an infrastructural intervention designed to benefit the private motorist by removing cyclists and pedestrians from the grid roads, permitting higher speeds and less-attentive driving, whilst leaving cyclists with a network of poorly signed, surfaced and maintained narrow two-way lanes with poor sight-lines, having no priority over side roads or driveways and bringing cyclists into conflict with pedestrians. The Redways have become a popular straw man to be used in forums against anyone who argues for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK; suggesting that what they actually want is a network similar to the Redways in other UK towns and cities.
John Franklin wrote an article about the safety of the Milton Keynes Redways in Traffic Engineering & Control in 1999 (around the time he appeared to lose interest in new research being published about the safety of separate cycle infrastructure). In it, he notes that the now-defunct Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) stated that the Redways were designed primarily as a leisure facility, rather than to be a useful part of the transport network. Generally the Redways have grade-separated crossings either under or above the grid roads, although several at-grade crossings also exist. A secondary grid of Redways was originally planned, passing through the centre of estates and bisecting the main roads, but never materialised, leaving instead a maze of largely indirect and poorly signed local paths. The result was that the faster, more confident cyclists instead chose to try their luck on the grid roads; multi-lane roads with speed limits up-to 70 mph, linked to other primary grid-lines by huge roundabouts. The cross-city Redways were constructed in the early 80s in response to the numbers of cyclists choosing to use the grid-roads instead of the low-quality Redways network. These cross-city Redways ran alongside some of the grid roads, although due to the daunting nature of the high-speed grid roads, since the mid 80s there has been a tendency to route Redways alongside estate roads (with no priority over side-roads).
Franklin’s article suggests that despite the many inherent limitations of the Redways, cycle ownership in Milton Keynes was higher than average at the time of the 1991 census, with cycling having a 4.3% commuter modal share, half of which took place on the Redways. The current Milton Keynes LTP3 states (rather less helpfully) that at the time of the 2001 census, 9% of people in Milton Keynes travelled to work on foot or by cycle. The article shows the injury and fatality statistics for cyclists using the Redways, grid roads or local roads from 1988-1997. Unfortunately, these statistics are not given in the context of relative cycling rates on each of these types of road, although the fact that at the time, half of the commuter cycling trips took place on the Redways may in itself be indicative of approximately how many of all cycle trips took place on the Redways.

Injuries (percentage)
Serious injury/ Fatalities
Serious injury/ Fatalities (percentage)
Grid Roads
Local Roads
Table 1. Injuries and serious injuries/fatalities of cyclists in Milton Keynes between 1988-1997, broken down  by road type. In the original article, these figures are given independently for each year. These figures show us literally nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types. Despite this, Franklin says of the figures, “There have been as many, or more, serious accidents on Redways as on grid roads in five of the past 10 years, and more than on local roads in four years.” As a statement, it is factually true, but it could equally be said that there had been as many, or more serious accidents/fatalities on grid roads & local roads as on Redways in five of the ten years, more minor injuries on grid roads than on Redways in seven of the ten years and more minor injuries on local roads than on Redways in six of the ten years. None of which means anything without context provided by the relative amount of cycling taking place on each type of road.

The author notes that there is considerable under-reporting of accidents on the Redways, although provides no source for this claim, and so goes on to look at hospital data from Milton Keynes Hospital from 1993-1997. The hospital data includes no information about the severity of injuries, and for the years 1993 & 1994 makes no distinction between accidents occurring on the Redways or on ‘other’ routes; accidents occurring on non-road, non-Redway routes in an area covering a wider area than just the Milton Keynes ‘new town’ area.


Table 2. Cyclists attending A&E at Milton Keynes Hospital between 1993-1997, broken down by road type. Again, these figures tell us absolutely nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types.
The author also mentions two hospital-based surveys which went into more detail; a one month survey in 1991, and a longer survey between April and July of 1992, breaking down the numbers of  cyclists admitted to hospital by the type of road they were injured on. Once again, without providing context of the relative frequency with which the different types of route are used, these numbers tell us precisely nothing about the relative safety of cyclists using the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways.
The closest the author gets to addressing the issue of providing relative usage figures for each of the road types is the results of a survey by the Milton Keynes Cycle Users’ Group in 1993, asking cyclists to report their accident experience in the previous year. 27 % reported having an accident on the Redways in the previous year, versus 6% on local roads and 3% on grid roads. The author suggested that some might assume that the relatively low rate of grid road accidents would be due to the grid roads being used by so few cyclists, and those who elected to use them being particularly proficient and experienced (and fast). To counter this assumption, the author states that “43% of respondents said that they cycle on grid roads at least once a week.” However, 43% stating they use the grid roads “at least once a week” could mean the grid roads represent anything from almost of the respondents cycling, to a minuscule fraction, and it does not address the issue that those electing to use the grid roads being more experienced, proficient and faster cyclists. Without being able to see the source survey, who was polled, where and how, it is difficult to rule out sample bias. When it is considered that the survey was carried out by a local cycling group, it is difficult not to wonder if roadies, who are traditionally fast, confident and experienced cyclists, often preferring a vehicular approach to cycling either for their own convenience of on ideological grounds, were not over-represented in those surveyed when compared to the general population, perhaps grossly. It was stated that;
“This survey also attempted to relate accident risk to exposure. Cyclists were asked to estimate the distance they cycle in a week on each of the three kinds of highway. Inevitably there will be a wide margin of error in these estimates, but there is no reason to believe that they favour one type of highway over another. Some cyclists were able to give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage.”

It seems very naive (at best) to ignore the potential for bias here. Roadies in particular are both more likely to travel further (because they travel faster), choose grid roads because they prefer to travel faster (and have the confidence and experience to survive in such a cycle-hostile environment), be a member of their local cycle users’ group (compared to less experienced & enthusiastic cyclists) and be much more likely to be able to, give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage.” 

Injury accidents
All accidents
Grid road
Local road
Table 3. Survey estimate of cyclist accidents per million km cycled, broken down by road type. This is the first attempt to frame the accident figures in the context of relative usage of each road type, although the numbers are estimates given by survey respondents, which disproportionally favours the grid roads because they are favoured by experienced and proficient cyclists, such as roadies, who travel further (due to their greater speed), are more likely to keep detailed records of their mileage and are more easily reached by local cycle users; groups, such as the group which conducted the survey from which these figures were collected.
I would like to make it clear at this point that I am not attempting to defend the Milton Keynes Redways. As an infrastructural intervention designed primarily to benefit the private motorist, with a massively compromised design, they are about as far away from best practice for cyclists as seen in The Netherlands as any of the rest of the road network in the UK. However, I do find it amazing that an article containing so much bad science, acting as a fairly transparent vehicle to further its author’s ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic, could have ever found its way into a (presumably peer-reviewed) journal such as Traffic Engineering & Control. When I look at the Milton Keynes Redways, I see something which, at best, represents the most superficial similarity to the Dutch solution to providing for cyclists. It depresses me that despite this, the Redways are still used as an argument against adopting the Dutch model here in the UK by the ill-informed and a tiny minority who are ideologically opposed to any type of separation of cyclists from motorised traffic.
The figures presented in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes tell us very little about the relative safety of the grid roads, local roads or Redways in Milton Keynes. Despite this, the author used the conclusion of the article to push his own vehicular-only agenda:

“There is a temptation to think that Milton Keynes is a ‘special case’ and that its experience is irrelevant elsewhere. But the cycling infrastructure in Milton Keynes is not inferior to that being implemented in many other places and certainly the constraints are fewer. Many cycle facilities do not achieve the use predicted, and are often ignored by existing cyclists. Major projects such as the National Cycle Network are facing increasing criticism with regard to quality and danger, and for not meeting the real needs of cycling.

At the same time, cycle facility accidents seem to be becoming more common throughout the UK. This should not be a surprise. The author has trawled research from across the world (Ref 11*) and found little to support the hypothesis that separating cyclists from traffic improves safety, especially when account is taken of unreported accidents. Facilities do, however, seem to increase fear of cycling elsewhere.

There seems to have been little research into the deterrent effect that facilities may have on cycle use and competence. It may be difficult to comprehend that cycle facilities could lead to an overall decline in cycling, but the experience of Milton Keynes suggests that it may be time for this to be considered more closely.”

(*) Ref 11 is John Franklin’s own Cherry-picked list of research into cycle paths from around the world. The selection criteria for this list is not specified, but it appears to be that only research which agrees with John Franklin’s ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic is included.
Milton Keynes did separation of cyclists from motor traffic wrong, and for all the the wrong reasons. The problems with the Redways are described in detail in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, these problems do not exist with the Dutch approach to cycle provision. Using the Redways as an argument against implementing Dutch style infrastructural changes to the road network in the UK is little more than a straw man. Milton Keynes separated cyclists from motor traffic, for the benefit of the motorist. The Dutch separated the motorist from cyclists, for the benefit of cyclists (and pedestrians). They made driving short distances, and within towns more trouble than it was worth, whilst making cycling subjectively and objectively safe, direct and convenient. No one can honestly say that the Redways were designed with the same goals in mind.

Anecdotes and Evidence

The petition to block the proposed Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill in Northern Ireland has finally attracted some attention from the larger press outlets. With wider exposure comes the usual heated discussions over helmets in the comment threads. Many of you know my own stance on helmets, but I would not want to force anyone who wishes to cycle with a helmet to do so without one.


A helmet slpit along the vents, a common mode of failure. Image courtesy of cyclehelmets.org

One type of comment which comes up frequently on these comment threads follows the general form of “A helmet saved my/a friend’s life.” This is not particularly surprising, during my own school days I remember being shown emotive video footage of an interview with a teenager who had survived being hit by a motorist whilst he was on his bike. He proudly showed the camera his helmet, split in two and with an unshakable conviction he stated that it had saved his life. In the years since this experience, the arse-about-face approach to road safety has continued to gain traction and find its way into online materials aimed at school-age children.

When listening to stories claiming a helmet saved someone’s life, it is important to remember that anecdotes aren’t the same as evidence. Consider the following:

With no control experiment, where all variables other than whether or not the rider was wearing a helmet left unchanged, it is impossible to state with any confidence whether or not the helmet had made a difference, or to appropriately quantify any difference it may have made.

The effects of risk compensation also need to be considered. For those who have been told and accepted the idea that a helmet will save their life, there will be an increase in their perceived safety which will have an effect on their behaviour. This also goes for the operators of motor vehicles, who will perceive a helmet-wearing cyclist as being less at risk from their vehicle. It is possible that the change in behaviour both on the part of the cyclist and the motorist caused by the effects of risk compensation were instrumental in leading to the collision. This effect has been studied with ABS in the Munich taxi experiment, and can also be seen in the increase in the severity and number of pedestrian and cyclist casualties following the introduction of compulsory seat-belt legislation, drivers felt safer with seat-belts and adjusted their behaviour to compensate for the reduced risk to them by driving faster and braking later. This resulted in decreased safety for those not travelling inside a car.

There are safety concerns attached to wearing a helmet, including increased risk of rotational brain injury which can be further exacerbated by the interaction between the air vents on a helmet and irregularities in the road surface leading to an increased risk of neck injuries. These effects are often dismissed due to the acceptance even amongst helmet advocates that there are limits to the protection a helmet can provide; if a helmet-wearing cyclist is injured in a collision, the injuries they sustain are uncritically regarded as being “less substantial than if they had been without a helmet,” when in fact they may have been exacerbated or even caused by the wearing of a helmet.

Plenty of cyclists survive collisions, accidents and other incidents despite not wearing a helmet. Unlike the sensational “Life-saving helmet,” stories we all see whenever there is a discussion regarding helmets, people who survive collisions, accidents and other incidents whilst not wearing a helmet rarely link their survival to the fact that they were not wearing a helmet.

It is human nature to find causal links between events which may in fact be unrelated. This is how we end up with things like lucky pants and ritualistic behaviour of athletes and sports-fans; people struggle to separate correlation from causality. For example, I have been involved in several minor incidents due to motorists over the years and survived each one of them. On every occasion I was wearing boxer shorts, but it would be foolish to state that my survival was definitely caused by the fact that I was wearing boxer shorts. At the very least I’d want to see the results from a control experiment where I was wearing budgie-smugglers in the same situations.

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.