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.

How John Franklin misled a nation’s cycling campaigners

I have been reading the works of John Franklin for quite a few years. My first encounter was as a relatively new cyclist who wanted to know how best to cope with the inherently cycling-hostile UK road network, I discovered the principles of vehicular cycling as promoted in John Franklin’s popular work Cyclecraft. As I have previously stated, Cyclecraft is a good survival manual for anyone wanting to cycle on the hostile British road network, containing useful techniques for making the best out of a crap situation. Unfortunately, Cyclecraft isn’t promoted as survival manual by its author, instead being suggested as a solution. Even worse, a significant portion of the British cycling establishment agree with this view, one which I feel is divorced from reality.

As was noted by both myself and As Easy As Riding A Bike, cycling according the the principles of Cyclecraft requires a level of fitness and speed which acts as a barrier:

“Cadence and sprint speed

Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.

A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase.”

The physical demands of cycling according to the principles outlines in Cyclecraft aside, it also requires a potential cyclist to possess a level of enthusiasm for cycling which I find unrealistic  beyond a small proportion of the population (broadly the same proportion of people who currently cycle). Whilst some drivers are truly motoring enthusiasts, the overwhelming vast majority merely choose to drive because their environment has made driving feel like the safest, easiest and cheapest option open to them. If driving became less convenient and felt less safe than another mode of transport, most of them would switch without giving it much thought. There’d still be Formula 1, motoring exhibitions and car-owners clubs because the people who are interested in them are enthusiasts, much in the same way that many of the people who currently cycle (despite the problems) are cycle enthusiasts. However, the average person would abandon their car without much thought if it ceased to be perceived as the best way to get around, much as the average person abandoned their bike when motor-centric government policies made the bike cease to be perceived as the best way to get around.

I encountered John Franklin’s work again when I started to learn about dedicated infrastructure for cycling, such as the segregated cycle paths which adjacent to roads carrying a large enough, or fast enough volume of motor traffic traffic in The Netherlands. Whenever I observed a discussion of the relative merits of this approach online, I often saw someone would present a link to Cycle path safety: A summary of research, citing it as a definitive proof that segregation of cyclists and motor traffic was always a bad idea. It is difficult to blame the average reader for seeing this list and taking it at face value, after all it is stated on that page that, “This list is intended to be without bias, but little evidence has been found to suggest that cyclists are safer on paths than on roads.” As a non-expert, why wouldn’t you take this statement at face value? After all, it comes from a ‘road safety expert.’ However, on closer inspection, it is interesting to note that the research on the list is entirely from before the year 2000, so is irrelevant to much of the modern infrastructure present in The Netherlands and Denmark. Secondly, the research on the list is extensively cherry picked; Franklin does not state his criteria for which research makes the list and which does not. However, it appears that in order to make the list, the findings of the research have to agree with John Franklin’s existing ideology; there should be no segregation of cyclists and motorised traffic. Many relevant articles which contradict this ideology are conspicuous by their absence. Thirdly, John Franklin employs a false dichotomy; presenting vehicular cycling and segregation of cycles and motorised traffic as two discrete things when in fact there are a wide variety of approaches to segregation, many of which are crap (such as the Redways) and some of which are outstanding, such as The Netherlands (and to a lesser extent, Denmark) and a wide variety of vehicular cycling environments, some relatively successful (such as the Britain of the 40’s and 50’s) and some truly dire (such as the Britain of 2011). Whilst these three crippling deficiencies in Cycle path safety: A summary of research could perhaps be forgiven if the list were compiled by a total novice, it find it extremely difficult to believe that John Franklin, a ‘road safety expert,’ could have made all of these three errors accidentally. It seems perhaps more likely that a selection of research articles have been picked and presented in a way which deliberately misrepresents the strong case in favour of separation of cycles and motor traffic where motor traffic speeds and/or volumes are high (as a part of a wider array of measures as in The Netherlands), in order to lend credibility to an ideological opposition to any separation of cycles from motorised traffic which is not backed up by the facts.

When writing for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s wiki section, Common Claims & Canards, I noticed a blank section, entitled: Dutch cyclists are not competent to cycle in the UK. Although listed as a common claim, it was something I hadn’t really heard myself and I set out to do some research to find out where this claim originated from or was popularised. One again, John Franklin came up, this time in an open letter to Sustrans; Casualties on cycle paths from 1998., which was written in response to Sustrans (quite rightly) questioning the evidence for Franklin’s continued vocal opposition to cycle paths on the grounds of their alleged poor safety record:

“Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one’s cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.”

To me at least, it seems here that John Franklin is at best making a sweeping generalisation about an entire nation of people, whilst at worst coming off simultaneously as elitist and a bit racist. It seems obvious to me that the vast majority of people in The Netherlands are just like the vast majority of people in the UK, neither feel safe enough to cycle on British roads. It has nothing to do with competence or nationality, the vast majority of British people don’t cycle, put them in The Netherlands and most will; the vast majority of Dutch people do cycle, put them in the UK and most won’t. They don’t not cycle here because they’re incompetent, they don’t cycle here for the same reason that most British people and most tourists from other countries don’t cycle here, it’s shit and it doesn’t feel safe. Reading this, I get the feeling that what irks Franklin is that fact that the average Dutch person can cycle without having to be enthusiastic abut cycling, without having to care about or be interested in cycling, and without having to develop the survival skills outlined for vehicular cycling in Cyclecraft. They made it easy to cycle.

The always excellent Vole O’ Speed spotted another instance of John Franklin’s uneasy relationship with research, the Helsinki paper incident, in which Franklin, whilst chair of Cyclenation selectively publicised results compiled within a political document which disguised as a research paper, the main purpose of which was to politically undermine cycling as a whole. Despite the anti-cycling bias of this document, Franklin chose to selectively use the results compiled within it to misrepresent the safety of segregated cycle tracks at a time when the Camden Cycling Campaign was working towards an expansion of their extremely successful two-way segregated track, a track which remains to this day one of the most successful pieces of cycle infrastructure in the whole of London. I do not wish to re-produce too much of what David wrote on the matter here, but I urge all of you to read it (and learn a bit about Franklin’s disinformation legacy at Cyclenation today).

The final piece of Franklin’s work I encountered was his often-cited ‘research’ into the safety of the Milton Keynes Redway network in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, which I recently decided to look into in greater detail. Suffice to say, the Redways are crap and do not represent what anyone would regard as ‘best practise.’ However, Franklin’s ‘research’ on the Redways tells us literally nothing about their safety in comparison to the general road network, with the whole paper serving merely as a vehicle to further his own ideological agenda. As someone who regularly works with peer-reviewed research, I am genuinely amazed that Two decades was ever published in a real journal.

Having read a great deal of Franklin’s work, I find it extremely difficult to believe that all that is wrong with it is due to a series of mistakes. Whilst Cyclecraft is a great survival manual for dealing with our awful, cycling-hostile road network, it seems obvious that John Franklin believes that cyclists always belong on the road as an ideology. As an ideological view, there is nothing wrong with this. However, presenting this as fact by misrepresenting and cherry-picking research and conducting research which is little more than a collection of meaningless, context-free numbers in order to serve as a vehicle for an ideology which the numbers do not back is a dishonest practise. By compiling all this in one place, it is my hope that this page can be used as a quick answer to anyone who presents Cycle path safety: A summary of research in a discussion about cycle infrastructure, so that we can all get on with having a proper discussion about where cycling in the UK should go from here.

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.