Cycling to Shibuya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric in an ideological Pickle over parking

I was interested to read about Eric Pickles’ statement about local authorities and car parking charges on the recently resurrected Crap Waltham Forest blog.

Councils will have to declare the total paid by drivers to park in both on-street and off-street bays, after new government figures showed local authorities’ total income from parking hitting £1.27 billion last year. 

Ministers believe the new “transparency” drive is vital to ensure local politicians can be properly held to account by motorists – and to help reverse the decline of the country’s high streets, including the closure of businesses. 

Earlier this year a government report conducted by Mary Portas, the retail expert, identified that high cost of parking as one of the reasons why shoppers were deserting high streets in favour of out-of-town centres where parking is often free. 

Mr Pickles said: “We are ending an era of bureaucratic accountability and replacing it with a more open era of democratic accountability. It is right that taxpayers get to see how town halls spend their hard earned taxes so they can properly hold local politicians to account. 

“As part of that we will expose a great council cash cow cover-up, unmasking punitive parking practices that hit residents in the pocket. We’re calling time on the billion pound local war against motorists – now, more than ever, we need to see the back of this shopping tax and encourage more people onto the high street.” 

Town halls are supposed to control parking to improve traffic flow and stop gridlock occurring, and they are prohibited by law from using their powers in this area simply to boost their income. However, ministers and their advisers believe a growing number of councils seek to get round these rules by earmarking the cash raised for other transport projects.

Mr Pickles, the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government seems to be suggesting that it is wrong for councils to charge for car parking on their sites at rates which allow them to turn a profit and that these rates should therefore be reduced.

This statement confused me immensely for several reasons. Firstly, as Conservative minister, should Mr Pickles not believe that it is wrong for local authorities to use their position to offer parking facilities at prices with which the private sector could never compete? Surely the idea of government crowding out the private sector when it comes to the provision of car parking facilities if at odds with the Conservative ideology. Naturally, the first step in remedying this would be for local authorities to increase their parking charges to allow the more dynamic and efficient private sector to step in.

Secondly, as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, surely Mr Pickles should be aware that accommodating to many private motor vehicles in town centres contributes to their downfall. Shopkeepers grossly overestimate the amount of their customers who arrive by car, falling to see that, in town centres, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users are usually better customers.

Thirdly, providing subsidised parking in town centres tends to damage town centres by excluding those who wish to, or have no other option than to arrive by different modes of travel. The town centre of my native Rochdale is a good example of this; surrounded on three sides by dual carriageways Rochdale’s local authority has done everything possible to accommodate private motor vehicles in the centre of town. The result of this is that the centre of Rochdale us barely accessible by non-motorised means. The tragedy of Rochdale is that even though it’s local authority sacrificed the safety and convenience of pedestrians and cyclists to benefit motorists, it has not produced an otherwise-successful town centre. It is no coincidence that Rochdale has one of the highest levels of unoccupied shop units, with even McDonalds giving up on it. Successful town and city centres rely on a concentrating a large number of people in a relatively small area and put simply this is never going to be compatible with the car. Once people have been coerced onto using the car, it is a trivial matter to go somewhere which seems less of a hell-hole, such as the Trafford Centre. At least they have a McDonalds. 

Fourthly is Eric Pickles’ pet project, localism;

The Localism Bill will herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power.

 

“It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre – and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best.

 

By getting out of the way and letting councils and communities run their own affairs we can restore civic pride, democratic accountability and economic growth – and build a stronger, fairer Britain. It’s the end of the era of big government: laying the foundations for the Big Society.”

Somehow this seems slightly at odd with central government interfering with councils’ running of their car parking operations.

Finally (and building upon point three) is choice. Twenty-five per cent of households don’t have access to a car. Many of these people are hard-working strivers who want to be better off and so do without a car, at least for the foreseeable future. It is simply not possible to further accommodate private motor vehicles in our town centres without further diminishing the experience of those travelling by other modes. Should people not be able to choose how they travel? It seems at odds with Conservative values to subsidise one mode of transport far above all others, as it coerces people into acquiring the means to travel in that manner, and to use it for almost all trips. Is influencing transport choice in this way not the very opposite of the choice which is so valued by Conservatives? Surely the right thing to do would be to treat all modes of transport equally (perhaps with the advantages and disadvantages of each taken onto account) in order to give people back the choice of how to travel. Since motor transport has seen decades of generous government subsidy, it would make sense to start with massive investments in walking and cycling infrastructure.

Unless I’m reading too much into this, and it is actually just a cynical exercise in which our Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government panders to the myth of the victimised motorist to boost his popularity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In appreciation of Andrew Mitchell

Until a few days ago, I had no idea that Andrew Mitchell, the chief whip of the Conservative Party, rode a bike. I imagine that his experience of cycling is much the same as it is for anyone, involving a significant amount of pretending that, rather than riding a bike, you are in fact driving a car.

‘Pretend you’re a car’ is a pretty good description of the UK cycling experience, but not perfect. Whilst cyclists are expected to ride on (and pay for) roads designed exclusively around the requirements and limitations of motor vehicle traffic, expected to accept all the same responsibilities as operators of motor vehicles and obey rules, signs and traffic signals which exist in their current form (or in their entirety) because of motor vehicles, cyclists are routinely pilloried when they break the same rules which motorists routinely enjoy having a blind eye turned to, such as travelling on pavements & ignoring traffic signals.

Even when cyclists manage not to fall foul of this system and pull off a sufficiently convincing car impression, under certain circumstances, they may then find themselves taking flak for failing to pretend to be a pedestrian.

Andrew Mitchell may not have intended to become a martyr, he may even have just been a man who, after being forced to put on his best car impression just to go about his business, simply snapped when Police officers didn’t understand why he wanted them to open the huge motor vehicle security gate at Downing Street. Many people won’t understand the pressures which come with being forced to pretend you are something you are not, or may feel that his outburst was inappropriate. However, for highlighting the desperate need for a fair deal for cyclists, for dedicated infrastructure for cyclists here in the UK; Andrew Mitchell, I salute you.

Partition is a panacea

The title for this piece is borrowed from an old article whose author creates a straw man to argue against pro-infrastructure views. The title of that piece came to mind again recently when reading reports in June of the UKs worse-than-expected quarterly growth. This was also around the same time that the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain wrote an open letter to Nick Clegg urging for some of the infrastructure investment being discussed at the time be directed to provide Dutch-quality cycle infrastructure. The title of that particular old post came to mind because the failure of austerity policies in reviving the British economy has been leading to ever louder calls for a different, more Keynesian approach; in addition to the many proven benefits which come from actually having dedicated cycle infrastructure, right now we stand to benefit from significant wider societal effects from the process of actually buying this infrastructure too.

At a time when unemployment (particularly of the young) is staggeringly high, imagine the benefits of a project as grand in scale as finally making Britain’s roads fit for purpose, for all users, regardless of transport mode. As many of the detractors of cycle infrastructure are quick to say, reconfiguring our entire road network to something resembling that of The Netherlands is a big and expensive job. However, right now this should be seen as an opportunity in itself; we have a huge number of young (and plenty who are not so young) people who are desperate for work and who are on the verge of becoming a lost generation if they do not do so.

A project to reconfigure the entire nation’s road network would create a huge number of jobs, in every corner of the UK. Those new to the world of work would be given a chance to learn a trade and earn a wage; the jobs wouldn’t just be limited to obvious areas such as construction, a huge amount of design, planning and legal work (to name a few) would also be required. Such a project must be handled correctly, through publicly-owned enterprises paying a living wage, rather than private contractors whose ‘cost savings’ are typically provided by driving down wages, which subsequently have to be topped up with tax credits, housing benefit, council tax benefit and so on, negating any real savings to the public purse. Even worse would be to finance it through private finance initiatives.

The knock on effects of boosting employment this manner are obvious and the same as for other big infrastructure projects. However, unlike other many other infrastructure projects such as traditional roadbuilding or motorway construction, once built cycle infrastructure actually pays dividends. Reduced healthcare spending, reduced congestion and its associated costs, increased employee productivity, increased wellbeing of citizens to name but a few, the benefits of high-quality cycle infrastructure are well-studied and broad. Added to the significant economic benefits we could reap from merely building cycle infrastructure, it really does start to look like a panacea.

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.

Cycling Demonstration Town Report – Chester

Hat Tip – Two Wheels and Beyond

The Cycling Demonstration Towns have reported their findings, despite the body overseeing the scheme, Cycling England, being abolished in 2011. The total budget of the Chester Cycling Demonstration Town scheme was reported as £4,437,034. This may sound like a lot of money was invested in cycling in Chester, but it actually only represents a single one-off investment of approximately £13.50 for each person in the borough of Cheshire West and Chester. In comparison, nThe Netherlands invests in cycling to the tune of approximately £25 per person, every year. For further context, last year’s unjustifiable fuel duty cut costs each person in the UK approximately £97 each year; and represents a subsidy of those who already well-off enough to own and run a car. Needless to say, the budget for the project really is small change; before the project began it was inevitable that what it could achieve with this relatively small, one-off investment would be fairly limited.

The scheme had some successes, such removing some of the barriers to cycle permeability in the city. There are still a great deal of one-way systems from which cyclists are not exempted, although the government is only just coming around to the idea of allowing this exemption to be done easily and cheaply (as in much of the rest of Europe) just a little bit too late for this scheme. Unfortunately, the archaic inner ring road remains untreated, acting as a huge barrier for those wishing to access the centre by bike; not only unpleasant to ride along but difficult to negotiate a way across when using the quiet back-street routes.

Sadly, two major infrastructure schemes were scrapped due to costs exceeding expectations. This is extremely unfortunate due to the fact that major infrastructure projects (such as fixing main roads) have the greatest scope for increasing cycling rates by making cycling feel safe and viable as a transport mode for the average person. The report does not specify much about what these infrastructure projects would have consisted of.

Beyond this, the Chester Cycle Demonstration Town project seems to have suffered by trying to do too many things with the limited resources available to it. Making a lot of minor improvements, some aimed at existing cyclists and others at occasional leisure cyclists can be an attractive option when running a project such as this, as it may feel like the limited funding is being spent in a way which would benefit the largest number of people, even if only marginally. It is however worth considering whether this rather confused splitting of focus between many small changes, some aimed at experienced cyclists using bikes for transport and some at less-experienced cyclists using bikes for leisure actually has a greater effect than simply investing all of the money bringing a single section of main road which is a major desire line for cyclists up to Dutch standards.

Unfortunately, where the project did involve cycle infrastructure it approached the subject from the baffling perspective of a ‘dual network,’ where inexperienced cyclists are provided with infrastructure to use until they become experienced enough to ‘graduate’ onto the main road network, implying that the infrastructure is not for existing, confident cyclists. The problem with this approach is that by being aimed exclusively at a subset of a subset (that is, a subset of cyclists who are already only a tiny minority of road users) there is little incentive for this infrastructure to not be like this; being simultaneously inconvenient and dangerous for inexperienced cyclists and making experienced cyclists who understandably shun it into the subjects of abuse from motorists who believe that all cyclists should be using the ‘cycle infrastructure.’ This approach has not worked anywhere else in the world and it doesn’t work here. In The Netherlands, cycle infrastructure is built to accommodate cyclists of all levels of experience and skill, from school kids to roadies. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, and spending money on unproven ideas like the dual network we should be copying measures with a proven record of success such as The Netherlands’ model.

The project also had a strong focus on cycle training. Whilst I have nothing against cycle training per se, I feel that the importance and usefulness of the current style of cycle training common in the UK in increasing cycle rates is extremely limited. At present cycle training is designed to help those who wish to cycle on the UK’s incredibly cycling-hostile roads to mitigate the dire situations they will find themselves in on a road network designed exclusively for the facilitation of high volumes of fast & prioritised motor vehicle journeys, at the expense of all other road users. UK cycle training focusses on a very narrow, assertive and fast type of cycling which will never be an attractive or viable transport option for the vast majority of people. Whilst helping those who are willing to cycle in the present conditions is laudable, it can not be the basis for the long-term growth of cycling.

The Cycling Demonstration Towns initiative was a good idea which was let down in several ways: The confusing splitting of focus between cycling as transport and cycling as leisure, limited financial resources (and trying to do too many things at once with those limited resources) a legal framework which makes infrastructural improvements for cycling far too difficult and ultimately, the current government’s choice to abolish the body in charge of the initiative; Cycling England. I have described previously what my own vision for a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’ (or rather, an experiment clearly demonstrating the effectiveness of different approaches to increasing cycling rates) would be. Whilst initially geographically more limited, spending all of the money given to the cycling demonstration towns by Cycling England on ‘Assenizing‘ a single town would have provided it with greater legacy; one single town with a Netherlands-level of cycling and absolutely no doubt remaining as to the cause; the infrastructure.

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.

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.