Thursday, 21 November 2013

Time for Cycling

With Dr Who back on the TV this weekend it’s a good excuse to be all timey wimey. Cycling requires travel in both space and time after all. There are two elements to every journey, the distance and the time it takes. In cycle racing the one who gets there quickest is usually the winner. People generally want an easy life and will happily choose to cycle if it is as safe and convenient as driving, because in most towns and cities cycling is already quicker and more enjoyable.
So what has this got to do with infrastructure? Well, the battle over ‘space for cycling’ is well understood. It’s pretty clear that squeezing onto a narrow road or busy junction with fast moving cars and HGVs is unappealing to many people. Physical separation by getting rid of excessive traffic in town centres and residential streets, or by creating cycle tracks and crossing facilities where traffic speeds and volumes can’t be addressed, is the solution.

However physical segregation presently comes at a price when cyclists cross the path of other traffic. Many cyclists won’t use existing cycle tracks because they involve lots of stopping and starting.  There is an advantage in staying on the carriageway where you can keep moving. The penalty for increased separation is decreased convenience, additional effort to stop and start, and therfore additional journey time through delays at junctions. It doesn’t have to be that way, but to take full advantage of more space for cycling we also have to win more time for cycling. Dedicated time is one of the ways in which cyclists and pedestrians can be physically separated from vehicles turning across their path.
It only takes cyclists and pedestrians 5-10 seconds to cross a road or junction from a standing start. Most people no matter how young or old can lap the Manchester Velodrome in less than 30 seconds, but if you’re good, you can do it in half that time.  You’d think that traffic signals would be set to cater for the average, rather than the Olympian, to pass through a junction without other traffic bearing down on them. However time for motor traffic is regarded as sacrosanct by engineers keen to avoid (or not exacerbate) delay to drivers so if you’re a pedestrian or cyclist, you have to be quick off the mark. 

Similarly delay while waiting to cross a junction is invariably passed to the pedestrian and cyclist because you can of course ‘stack’ hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists in to far less space than is taken by a few queuing cars, and then force them to sprint across the road. As well as creating chaotic and unpleasant conditions for pedestrians (and ideal conditions for city pick pockets), these delays are especially disproportionate given that people are usually only walking and cycling short distances and could easily spend half of their journey time standing still watching moving traffic. Living Streets are highlighting this in their current #timetocross campaign because for an increasing elderly population, running across the road in a crowd of people is impossible as well as unpleasant, but all that could be resolved with just 3 more seconds for pedestrians at crossings. For cyclists, a 3 second head start would be enough to avoid many 'left hook' collisions where a vehicle turns left into cyclists going straight on at traffic lights.
Unfortunately, even relatively minor junctions such as supermarket exits usually feature a ‘pedestrian refuge’. That tiny, cramped island fortress of guardrail in the middle of every busy junction. Is it really a safety feature? Or is it there to enable traffic to have the maximum time at the junction, while pedestrians and cyclists scurry across in the gaps between.  The ‘staggered’ refuge that requires a sharp turn and an unpleasant rest in the middle of the road is entirely to serve ‘capacity’ requirements of motor traffic and is invariably unsuitable for conversion to a toucan crossing, which is one of the only legal options for creating segregated cycle crossings in the UK. However, making this into a straight across that is convenient for cyclists and pedestrians is often refused by traffic engineers and network managers because it would require additional crossing time and delay motor vehicles. If we are to have more segregated cycle infrastructure in the UK, we have to have direct crossings, with separate flows of cycles and pedestrians able to cross a carriageway in one single movement. Current UK legislation doesn’t even cover how to sign and mark these parallel crossings hence the DfT is unable to publish design guidance!  

The target for the number of stops per kilometre at junctions on a main cycle route in the Netherlands is zero. Of course in a big city this target is never achieved, but it is an indication of the absolute priority given to pedestrians and cyclists in the design principles and in transport policy.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s British engineers did at least give some thought to this by providing bridges and subways for pedestrians in New Towns and in ring road systems, just that they got it the wrong way round.  The cars should have been made to go up and down and the pedestrians and cyclists stay at ground level. Or at least there should have been a halfway house compromise, to avoid the damp, dark, indirect, crime ridden subways  and bridges that have given the concept of grade separation a bad name among pedestrians and cyclists.

There really is no excuse for the paucity of time allocated to non-motorised users. It is possible to design traffic lights that offer a ‘green wave’ to cyclists in just the same way that we currently do with SCOOT for motor vehicles.  A detection loop on a cycle track can trigger the lights to change on the approach to a junction so that when the cyclist gets there they have a green light amd don’t lose momentum, and this can have a push-button  back up system in case the loop doesnt detect that snazzy carbon fibre bike of yours.
It is possible to design side-road , junctions with ‘tight’ geometry – angular kerbs, speed tables and narrow entrances, so that cyclists and pedestrians can be given priority and turning vehicles have to wait until they can safely manoeuvre. It is possible to continue the footway and cycle track over a side road entrance and make vehicles give way and bump up and down to cross it, instead of always making pedestrians and cyclists do the crossing no matter how minor the junction.

 It is possible to give right-turning cyclists a safe space to wait on the nearside and a dedicated time to cross, avoiding the need to cross moving traffic lanes and wait in the middle of the road.
All of these things are possible, but crucially they require time.

There is still a possibility to get this right in new road schemes. For existing junctions in busy towns and cities however, cyclists and pedestrians need to engage in the Time War to ensure that safe space for cycling also means a similar level of priority and convenience for cyclists as is offered to motor traffic. That takes political courage and a recognition that its time to treat cycling and walking as legitimate modes of transport that can achieve the objective of efficiently moving people (not just vehicles) around congested towns and cities.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Are you the right kind of cyclist?

Last weekend I gave a talk at the CycleNation conference in Leeds Civic Centre. At this event local cycle campaigners from across the UK gather to catch up and exchange ideas.  I'm not a regular stalwart attendee but have been going intermittently since the early 1990s.  My talk was about cycle infrastructure - surprisingly enough as I'm the world's greatest bore on the subject!  I'd been asked to speak in my capacity as infrastructure adviser to British Cycling.

My talk was billed as a workshop so there was a fair amount of interaction, questions and inputs from the audience. In my final slide I concluded that it was important that infrastructure improvements went hand in hand with other measures to encourage cycle use such as Bikeability training, route mapping, skills training for engineers, publicity, led social rides and events such as Sky Ride.

This latter point seemed to be surprisingly controversial. The opening gambit from a member of the audience being 'I don't see what riding about on closed roads in helmets and hi viz has to do with everyday cycling'. It seems, that in the opinion of at least one campaigner, the thousands of people inspired to turn up to such events are in some way 'less worthy' than others.  On the one hand I can sympathise with this, apart from racing and a few local CTC events I tend to avoid most forms of 'organised cycling'. To me it seems a bit of a waste of money to pay £25 to ride a sportive when you can just go and ride the same roads for free and have money for beer and cakes instead. On the other hand (and this was reinforced by my experience of working with the Cycling Towns for Cycling England and more recently sitting with the LSTF team in Birmingham Council), cycling is an alien and scary concept to many people.  They really do want the reassurance of closed roads and an organised event, and of course most of us get some sort of 'buzz' from taking part in something with lots of other people.  Most of all its a fun day, and the underlying message is that you could have this much fun on a regular basis.  Sky Ride may only yield a small number of new regular commuter cyclists per event, but it is raising the profile of cycling and attracting large numbers of riders in a way that smaller events can't, and for one day a year streets that are normally full of cars are given over to the bicycle, which can't really be a bad thing can it?

Cyclists seem particularly prone to division. We have the various 'national bodies' British Cycling, CTC, Sustrans most prominently, but also the Road Time Trials Council which pre-dates the controversial re-birth of massed start road racing in the UK in the 1950s which eventually led to the formation of British Cycling from the warring factions of the British League of Racing Cyclists and the National Cyclists Union. Families and clubs were split asunder by those who wanted to join the 'League' and be like the continentals, and the modest black-clad secretive British world of early morning time trials. Similarly the Clarion movement offered a socialist alternative to the 'gentleman's club' types in the early CTC. My neighbour, a rabid mountain biker, has a deep suspicion of 'roadies'. Asked whether he'd consider cyclo cross he said, "Really, to me that's just sitting on the fence, you're neither a roadie or a mountain biker!" Cycle campaigners also seem to fall into those who want more people to cycle, and therefore reach out to non/novice cyclists and those who want to make things better for existing cyclists, as well as divisions about what is required to achieve their aims. Obviously we need all types of campaigner, so this shouldn't be seen as a problem.

My own cycling activity since August. What type of cyclist am I? Two weeks cycle camping tour, 6 mile round trip to the railway station most days, 8-10 hours training on local roads, bridleways or extended commute rides each week, racing in the local cyclo cross league and Three Peaks race, doing site visits and travel to meetings as part of my consultancy work and often picking up some shopping on my way home.  This weekend I covered 50 miles on Friday working in London on a site visit, an hour on local bridleways on Saturday and just got in from a 2 hour road ride today (Sunday).  Is any one of these activities really 'better' than others. For most the alternative would be a car trip or sitting around doing something 'sedentary' but then I drive to races so that's arguably an extra car trip, and its one of the few times we actually use a car in our household.

The economic benefits of cycling derive from improved health (around 65% of benefit), reduced pollution, improved air quality and reductions in congestion.  In theory, my recreational cycling has a lower value to the economy (Because I'm only really getting the health benefits) but of course living 1000 ft up in hilly West Yorkshire I wouldn't logically choose to ride my bike for all those utility trips as it is easier and faster to drive.  The bottom line is, I mainly cycle to keep fit enough to be able to enjoy my leisure cycling, but the only time I can do this is by combining it with 'utility' trips.  This seems to be the case for most club riders that I know. They may view themselves primarily as sports cyclists but their training run is often the daily commute.  That's OK, but what about all the money given to National Parks through LSTF and Cycle Ambition? That money is purely for leisure cycling.  Wouldn't it be better spent elsewhere in towns and cities? People only drive into the area, go for a ride on a trail and drive out again.  Well, these people will still be getting some of the health benefits of regular cycling. Work funded by Cycling England found that many of the leisure cyclists surveyed were regular visitors from nearby. Anecdotal evidence from cycle hire/sales firms in national parks also suggests that people make 2 or 3 visits to hire a bike before returning to actually buy a bike on their 3rd or 4th trip.  It was clear from the research that 'occasional' cyclists were becoming more regular cyclists, if not everyday cyclists.  More importantly for rural economies there is a substantial weight of evidence that cyclists generally spend more (compared to car borne visitors who typically park, spend just 20 - 40 minutes in a place and then move on to the next place), supporting local businesses, especially if they prolong their stay overnight, which they will do if there is a network of leisure routes to explore.  Cycling as the sole purpose of a leisure visit, or as a means of access and transport to other attractions in the countryside is therefore important in boosting rural economies and keeping visitors occupied, and therefore not driving their cars.  In short, yes we should be investing in rural leisure cycling because its one of the ways in which people get introduced to more regular cycling and because it contributes to sustainable tourism.

Leeds Civic Centre is the venue where my own paid career as a consultant started. In 1996 I went to a talk at an open evening of the Leeds Cycle Campaign entitled 'Segregation or Integration'. After the talk, the speaker, a former member of the cycle campaign, offered me 6 weeks temporary work to go and help him write a local authority cycling strategy. I took a chance that it might lead to something more and luckily it did!

Unsurprisingly, in 1996 the cycle campaigning world was split. Some people loved the Dutch system and thought this was the way forward. The Danes in particular were embarking on major infrastructure improvements and Safe Routes to School at the time and I worked on a Sustrans pilot project to try to copy this approach in Leeds. Others (the majority in those days) felt that really we needed to remove motor traffic and reduce speeds so that cyclists would feel safe on the roads.  This is the key to 'sustainable safety', reducing traffic danger to make the roads safer for all users.

It is thoroughly depressing that some people still take these 'sides' when its clear (and entirely consistent with Dutch and now Danish experience) that we need to do both. The 'segregation' countries only put cycle tracks where they are needed, and use a variety of measures to manage demand and reduce speeds to enable cyclists to safely share the roads in residential areas, town and city centres.  They also do a lot of promotion and training. The Danes for example ran the successful  'Bikebusters' project where participants were given bicycles, locks, waterproof clothing, training and other support to take away every 'excuse' for not cycling. Even in their flat country with lots of infrastructure they had to work to build the number of cyclists. The 2012 edition of 'Collection of Cycle Concepts' details many other ways in which the Danes use training and promotion to increase cycling.  The Colombians and Brazilians offer the 'Cyclovia' events to turn over the roads to cyclists, skaters and pedestrians on a Sunday. The Dutch offer cycle training to children, and specialist schemes to assist immigrant populations for whom cycling isn't a natural cultural choice.

The important thing is that all measures to increase cycling, whether through traffic reduction, training, mass participation events, inspirational Olympic success or building separate infrastructure help to broaden, strengthen and increase the cycling community. Lets not worry about what kind of cyclist we are, or whether we wear Lycra, Paul Smith, Laura Ashley or tweed. Vive le Difference!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Proof of the Appelgebakken

It’s well known that there are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands. It’s not surprising.  Many people own a grubby ‘station bike’ that can be parked all day at the local railway station, a nicer ‘town bike’ for doing local shopping trips.  The Dutch are not a nation of ‘cyclists’ however, they just use bikes, along with trains, buses, trams and cars as a mode of transport.  The vast majority of trips (72%) are short local trips under 5km, half of these are less than 2.5km, and only 8% over 7.5km.  The bike replaces both walking and driving as a mode of transport for short journeys compared to UK behaviour.  Cakes (especially apple cake), beer and coffee play a key role in fuelling local transport.  Imagine how pleasant our towns would be if petrol stations were gradually replaced by cake and coffee shops!

I have been fortunate to attend a number of ‘technical tours’ to the Netherlands since the 1990s, and my Masters degree was administered by the NHL University in Leeuwarden, home of the Shared Space Institute.  I have spent very little time as a casual visitor so this year I took the opportunity to catch up with some Dutch friends and take a two-week tour covering over 500 miles and taking in towns, cities and national parks around the country (I visited Den Haag, Delft, Utrecht, Houten, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen as well as the Utrecht Ridge, Hoog Veluwe and Zeeland national parks).  I promised my wife not to bang on too much about infrastructure but here's a few observations and lessons for the UK.

 I started off by riding up the coast to Den Haag via the Hook of Holland. The vast Europort is a bit of a maze but the route to the foot ferry to the Hook of Holland is clearly signed and uses a mix of cycle tracks and quieter roads.  At Hook of Holland there was a Dutch ‘traffic jam’ as maybe 50 cyclists were waiting to get on a ferry designed to carry up to 20 bikes!
Dutch traffic jam!
This is part of the North Sea Cycle Route ‘LF1’ similar to our National Cycle Network.  For the most part it’s what the Dutch call a ‘Fietspad’ and what in Britain we would call ‘a shared use route’.  The traffic free coastal route passes through the dunes and alongside beaches and promenades is typically 4.0m wide with either a concrete or tarmac surface.  Priorities are clearly marked at road junctions, sometimes the cycle route has priority, but at the busier beach car park access roads cyclists are expected to stop for cars if necessary.  Pedestrians using the route are heavily outnumbered by cyclists and people tend to always walk or cycle on the right, moving right to let faster cyclists pass. It’s all good natured, conducted with a ping on the bell, a ‘hi’ or a wave, although a bell is very much the preferred way and the Dutch weren’t impressed that our touring bikes didn’t have them.
Fietspad:  A ‘Fietspad’ is the most basic form of provision in the Netherlands. It is not compulsory to use them, but they can offer a short-cut or quiet scenic route.  They can be anything from an unsurfaced single track footpath, a farm track, a 1.5m – 2.0m surfaced strip alongside a dirt track, or a full 3.0m or 4.0m wide two-way cycle path.  They are almost always shared with pedestrians, but there are few pedestrians because most people are on bikes.  In rural areas the surface is often gravel or sandy tracks - not great for UK style touring bikes laden with luggage but fine for big tyre Dutch bikes.
I entered Den Haag along tree-lined avenues where one side of the road was given over to a two-way cycle track, with a narrow 1.0m footway alongside it and a wider footway on the other side of the road.  This arrangement is quite typical on the main routes into towns and cities, and even in central Amsterdam cycle contraflows are provided on what used to be the canal side ‘footway’ while pedestrians use the footway on the side of the road next to buildings.  It works perfectly well, pedestrians seem to accept it and tourists who stray onto the cycle track soon learn some Dutch swear words. Would it work in the UK where there are more pedestrians than cyclists? Would it even get beyond public consultation? I’m not sure but we can only learn by trying. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has one side reserved for pedestrians, the other for cyclists and on the whole it works, even in a car-centric culture such as the USA. 
Cycle tracks: Cycle tracks are provided alongside most busy and high speed roads in the Netherlands and in such circumstances it is mandatory to use the track and illegal to use the carriageway.  The cut off point in Netherlands design guidance for providing cycle tracks is about 3000 vehicles per day.  If this rule of thumb is applied in the UK most roads require separate cycle tracks!  The cycle track will sometimes take a different and more circuitous route than the carriageway, occasionally three sides around a field or away from a big junction.  It is not uncommon for the cycle track to swap from one side of the road to another at an uncontrolled crossing point running diagonally across the road.  The tracks are generally 4.0m wide for two way use or 2.0m for one way use but older ones are narrower.  They always have a sealed surface of concrete or tarmac but concrete block paving is also widely used in urban areas, which can be slippery and uneven.  The riding surfaces are generally good, but sometimes inferior to the adjacent carriageway tarmac.

Cycle tracks are provided along busier roads and cycling is not permitted on the carriageway. 
There is usually no footway in rural and suburban areas so pedestrians (and mopeds) also use this surface. Centre line markings help to indicate two-way use. The amount of space available to the verge and cycle track is as wide as the carriageway (the Dutch guidelines recommend verge width of 4.5m to 6.0m in rural areas, 1.0m in residential areas), so cyclists are well away from fast moving traffic and bus stops, filling stations etc don't cause conflict points.  Side road crossings can be set back from the junction mouth. In the UK the highway boundary is usually not so generous and a cycle track by a major road is often just 0.5m from the carriageway which is noisy, unpleasant and potentially hazardous especially at side roads.  On motorways and trunk roads in the Netherlands, the cycle route will typically run alongside a parallel quiet road used for residential and farm access linked with short sections of cycle track at any discontinuities.  The ‘Non-Motorised User Audit’ in the UK offers the opportunity to develop this kind of approach when building or improving UK trunk roads and other major infrastructure such as High Speed rail but it requires sufficient land allocation right from the start of the design process to accommodate the cycle track.  It should be mandatory to provide this standard of track as part of the recently announced road building programme.
Turning left (right in UK) on busy roads is usually achieved by way of a two-stage turn, crossing one arm of the junction and then the other. This is often done with a push button signal control, and the cyclist may have to wait up to 30-40 seconds at each arm at busy locations during peak traffic.  This can be frustrating at dual carriageways and major intersections where what could be achieved in a single movement on the carriageway is replaced by 3 or 4 separate moves, but this is the only way to avoid mixing with the traffic.  In Amsterdam and some other cities there are count-down displays at the signals to help discourage red light jumping by cyclists. One feature that differs from the UK is that the cycle (and pedestrian) crossing operates at the same time as the green for turning motor traffic, which is obliged to give way to pedestrians and cyclists on the crossings.  This helps reduce delay at the signals but it can be a bit worrying to see an HGV turning into your path as you cross the road. The traffic does (nearly) always stop though!  This type of signal phasing needs to be trialled in the UK as it is not currently used and would require a national driver awareness programme.
At smaller signalled junctions and at less busy periods, the cyclist is detected by an induction loop in the cycle track that triggers the light automatically so it changes to green as you approach, or the cycle track has priority over the carriageway.  This works well for cyclists because on the whole you can keep moving at most junctions.  It avoids much of the ‘stop start’ effort associated with segregated facilities where they are provided in the UK.  Keeping the cyclist moving is a big part of Dutch design. The additional effort required for each stop/start on a bike is equivalent to adding 200m to the journey, significant when most journeys by bike are very short. It also helps to eliminate problems of 'red light running' by eliminating the need to stop unnecessarily (e.g. for UK equivalent of turning left out of a side road there is usually no requirement to stop as the whole turn is done within separate cycle tracks and stopping is only required to cross motor traffic lanes).

At minor road junctions it is a requirement to give way to traffic from the right, even when travelling straight ahead, so drivers and cyclists generally take more care (than in the UK) when there are other vehicles in the vicinity of a junction.
Minor Roads
Outside urban  centres the volume of motor traffic on all roads is appreciably less than in the UK.  I think this is due to several factors:
·         Nearly all short local journeys are on bike, so trips to the pub, the beach, to see friends and relations don’t generate as much suburban and rural traffic. In particular many older and younger people use bikes, so there are relatively few young drivers in ‘hot hatches’ on the road, fewer people taking kids to school and activities by car, and fewer elderly ‘Sunday driver’ types.
·         There are more quiet roads and paths available for cycling – much of the Netherlands is on a grid pattern, either in city streets or field boundaries with paths along dykes, canal banks, farm tracks, minor roads and paths alongside large rivers all forming parts of urban and rural cycle routes.  There are therefore many routes to choose from compared to hilly areas of the UK where transport is concentrated into narrow corridors, so there is a dispersal effect on traffic;
·         There is relatively little ‘out of town’ development compared to the UK, with few large supermarkets and shopping malls.  Life still revolves around compact town and city centres with the larger stores placed at the edge of the core area rather than completely separated .
·         The Netherlands has a population of under 17m (404 per sq km), much of which is concentrated in the conurbations around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.  The UK population is 63m, largely concentrated in England, particularly the south-east. London’s population density is 5,200 per sq km compared to 3,500 per sq km in Amsterdam and its total population is over three times greater.  The Netherlands second largest city, Rotterdam, has a population of 600,000, considerably less than Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham etc. 

·         Traffic is concentrated on the motorways and ‘A’ roads that provide good inter-urban connections.  The lower categories of road generally do not provide good direct routes for cars, and this pattern is reinforced by limited crossing points of major rivers such as the Rhine and Maas as ferry services have limited capacity for cars and don’t carry HGVs.
·         The Netherlands primary industry is agriculture which generates relatively few trips.
·       There is a much higher capacity of suburban rail services to enable bike-rail commuting.
The default provision along most minor roads with speed limits up to 60kmh is cycle lanes or a shared road with no markings at all.  The width of such roads is usually insufficient to allow a centre line and cycle lanes, so the centre line has been removed and replaced with the cycle lanes, effectively changing the road from a double traffic lane to a single lane.  This treatment is widely applied on roads with up to 300 pcu per hour (roughly 3,000 vehicles per 12 hour period) but becomes unacceptable due to the number of oncoming vehicle conflicts on roads with over 400 pcu per hour. 

The replacement of the centre line with cycle lanes makes a huge difference to the look and feel of the roads and helps reduce traffic speeds
If there is insufficient width for cycle lanes, edge of carriageway markings are sometimes provided to visually narrow the carriageway to a single lane as this helps reduce vehicle speeds.  At danger points such as bridges, crests and blind corners and sometimes at  junctions the centre line is kept and the cycle lanes are discontinued. 
The cycle lanes are often only 1.0m wide, but this is less of an issue than in the UK due to lower traffic volumes and speeds.  These roads are rarely bounded by kerbs, and the concrete surface drainage is designed to enable vehicles to over-run it on narrower roads.  This gives the cyclist a greater sense of space and separation compared to a UK road of similar width that is bounded by kerbs and walls, often with drainage gulley grates in the carriageway.


Even on narrow roads cycle lanes are used to give clear dedicated space
On block paved roads through central and residential areas the speed limit is almost always 30kmh and the cycle lane is marked by a change in the pattern of the blockwork, but rarely with any paint or signs. These are ‘virtual’ cycle lanes with no legal meaning.  They are usually narrow (as the whole road width is typically 5 – 7 m) and may run directly alongside parallel or echelon parking with no separating margin.  It’s clear that they can have no real impact on safety, but offer a sense of continuity and sometimes a smoother surface than the all purpose lane.  They are also used where cyclists are allowed to contraflow on one-way streets, which is virtually every one way street.
The key to success of these roads is adherence to low traffic speed limits and the low flows of traffic so that cyclists rarely feel threatened by passing vehicles.   Opposing vehicles move from the centre of the road into the cycle lanes to pass one another.  On the whole, Dutch drivers seem more content to hang back and wait until it’s safe to pass although at busy times there is close overtaking and cutting in as in the UK.
There are many minor roads throughout the UK where this type of provision could be introduced. It works well on quiet roads and in central areas of towns and villages with low (30kmh) speed limits.  It is of less benefit if there is extensive kerbside parking or high traffic flows.
It is difficult to know whether the Netherlands is really much 'quieter' than the UK or whether the fact that a mode share of 25% for cycling simply eliminates a high proportion of local car traffic making the roads so much more pleasant.  I spent the last few days of my holiday in Zeeland, a popular holiday destination for Belgian and German tourists with poor rail connections.  There was much more traffic on the roads and faster, more aggressive driving.  The 'fietspads' were full of pedestrians instead of cyclists and suddenly the infrastructure that had seemed so ideal for the previous 10 days was not quite working so well. Similarly in some of the hilly areas around Nijmegen, highway space was constrained and consequently the quality of cycle infrastructure was compromised by the topography.  There was some infrastructure just about everywhere, and consistently lower speed limits on roads where cyclists share the carriageway, so the almost daily UK experience of a 'near miss' when out cycling is a rarity in the Netherlands.  Dutch cyclists are pretty poor at signalling, but they do 'look' carefully and interact with each other and drivers.  There is rarely a requirement to move into the centre of the carriageway and 'take the lane' but on the other hand drivers seem to take extra care and be prepared to stop around junctions in the anticipation that cyclists will turn. This is in contrast to the UK where you may do everything correctly and still find yourself being undertaken/driven at by some outraged purple face motorist who 'pays road tax'!
The main lesson for the UK is that safety is not just about separate cycle tracks, its about the whole system of sustainable safety and minimising delays to cyclists, treating them with the same dignity and priority as other road users.  There is no 'hierarchy of users' in the Netherlands. Bicyclists and pedestrians are not deemed 'more important' than cars and buses, but all users are considered in road design and the ideal solution takes account of the function of the road, the mix of traffic and the role of the route in the wider transport network.
The cycle tracks alongside the coast road in Zeeland fill up with pedestrians from nearby campsites in the summer.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Marginal Gains for Cycle Planning?

I work in cycle planning, but my heart lies in cycle sport. Can we replicate the British Cycling and Sky team success story in cycle facility planning?

In 1995 I attended a taster session at the shiny new Manchester Velodrome.  Two things stick in my mind:

1. I was the only person who actually cycled to the velodrome (and there was nowhere secure to park my bike!) and,

2. Despite being involved in cycle racing since 1980, this was the first time I had ever received any ‘coaching’.

 The completion of the velodrome was the start of a journey that led ultimately to the world dominance of our track cyclists, to Wiggo’s Tour win and the London Olympics. In my personal dealings with British Cycling there is a noticeable culture of excellence and clarity, as if every member of staff and every communication has been personally vetted by David Brailsford. When you walk into the extended velodrome and British Cycling HQ nowadays, even on a normal working day, there is a ‘buzz’ about the place.

It wasn’t always so. In the 1980s the British Cycling Federation as an organization was not well regarded, had a fraction of its current membership and consistently failed to tap into the knowledge and experience of successful British cyclists such as Robert Millar. Britain was not considered a leading cycle racing nation and our remaining outdoor cycling tracks were ancient and dilapidated. 

The velodrome provided a world class venue for coaching staff to work with a new generation of riders, exemplified by Chris Boardman. Instead of simply copying traditional customs and practice they looked to other sports such as Formula 1 for inspiration. They trained in a far more structured way, learning from results and experiments, and dismantling the act of cycling into its component parts to enhance performance.  The benefits of this are immense, for example a 16 year old Jess Varnish was able to come and explain sprint starting technique to Halesowen schoolchildren after receiving coaching on the Olympic Development Squad.  Within 20 minutes a group of kids benefitted from 10 years work of coaching staff to perfect the action. For young racing cyclists nowadays there is a whole regional network of coaches offering anything from basic Go-Ride and Bikeability training through to elite level performance coaching.  But sadly of course, the majority of UK children are not allowed to cycle on roads so their cycling often begins and ends with a car journey.

Back to 1995 and I was embarking on my career in cycle planning, with some research about whether on-road cycle skills training led to more people cycling to school. A survey of 4000 children suggested that yes it did lead to more cycling, but many didn’t cycle to school due to traffic danger and fear of bike theft. In 1996 the National Cycling Strategy was launched, promising to tackle such issues and double levels of cycling by 2002. While the policy and extensive research base was recognized internationally as ‘best practice’ the money didn’t follow and local authorities prepared ambitious strategies but with no finance to build decent facilities. By 2002 most places had seen a decline in cycling since 1996 (although many still don’t have the means in place to record the amount!). The English Regions Cycling Development Team was set up in 2003 to review what was being done for cycling in each local authority and ‘reward’ the best with additional funding in their Local Transport Plan settlement.  This was a successful but expensive exercise, ended by ministers in 2005 just when it was beginning to show results. Cycling England (2006 – 2011) offered a more focused approach through a series of successful funding initiatives that led to local increases in cycling, the aim being to steadily build on this success by replicating the projects in different circumstances and to spread knowledge of this good practice using a website of case studies and a team of expert advisors available to work with local authorities. Since 2012 we have had the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, with an emphasis on projects that will be delivered in 3 years and help stimulate economic growth but no guarantee of money beyond 2015.  There is no leadership or expertise offered on a national basis due to the philosophy of ‘localism’. A short bicycle ride in just about any UK town illustrates that skills and expertise are not always available locally.

 Leadership and Investment

 It is immediately obvious from the above that while British Cycling has undergone enormous change it has (at least since the late 1990s) had a fairly consistent approach to the pursuit of excellence. Increasing elite success since the 2000 Olympics has resulted in increasing funding for the sport from the National Lottery for individual riders, and from external private sector sponsors and the increased funding has enabled growing participation in grass roots cycling.  Young riders are selected for the national squad and nurtured over several years before entering the four-year run up to the Olympics.  There is a clear pathway from beginner to national team rider for anyone with the inherent skills and ability.  Despite all of the problems and reputational risk associated with professional cycling, Sky were willing to invest because they recognised that the positive aspects far outweigh the negative.

In contrast, the period since 1996 has seen a very inconsistent approach to cycling from government, with a series of short-term initiatives typically on a three-year cycle between Treasury spending reviews and changes of government.  This leads to a pattern of short term ‘fixed contract’ employment for people delivering cycling projects.  Despite much work to establish a sound business case for sustained investment, and the eminent success of nations such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany with long term investment strategies, it seems that every few years or change of transport minister cycling policy starts once again at year zero. Unlike British Cycling (or most businesses), there is no formal and routine mechanism for learning from success (or failure) in transport planning. Talented individuals that manage successful projects to increase cycling as transport are not rewarded with more funding or promotion, at best they may get another short-term contract to do it all again, but often they leave the industry altogether. Consequently we see the same tired ideas revamped every few years and serious political debate about cycling is often marred by negative comments about cyclists behaviour rather than consideration of the positives.

Skills Training

To be a British Cycling coach, even at the most basic level, requires a 3 day residential course, many hours of private study, and evidence of organizing several sessions of observed practice in the company of other coaches. When I did my coaching course it was attended by a number of ex-olympic and professional riders as well as ordinary club riders and school teachers. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you know about cycling, to qualify as a British Cycling coach you do the same course.

In contrast, I hold a Masters degree in transport planning but have never been formally taught anything about planning and designing cycle facilities, even within the context of highway design. Planners and engineers have to make a special effort to learn about cycling, so the quality of provision to some extent depends on the personal enthusiasm of the designer and unless they ride a bike, they will not appreciate ‘dynamic’ qualities such as stopping and starting and sharp bends that make a big difference to comfort and convenience. It is still the case that cycling is considered as an 'add-on' to new roads and developments rather than an integral part of overall street design.

Vision and Ambition

Another important lesson from cycle sport is that of ‘goal setting’. If Dave Brailsford had turned up at the Velodrome in 1995 with a goal to win the Tour de France within ten years he would have been laughed out of Manchester. Even in 2010 people were dubious that Team Sky would be successful.  Yet with no investment plan or interim goals, the National Cycling Strategy set out to quadruple cycle use. At the moment there is a strong movement to ‘Go Dutch’ but in places where cycling has a mode share of less than 5% is this type of infrastructure a realistic ambition? Do we have the political appetite for Dutch congestion and high car parking prices that also play a part in boosting cycling? Have we seen the kind of popular anti-car public protests in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool that were seen in the Netherlands in the 1970s?

British Cycling set modest and achievable goals to start with, and concentrated on events such as the pursuit, where there were few external factors such as crashes that would affect performance and progress could be easily measured. Pursuiters just need to learn to ride a fixed distance in the fastest time possible.  In cycle planning the equivalent is cycle parking facilities, uncontroversial, easy to implement and monitor. Similarly measures to encourage cycling to school by improving road safety, installing cycle parking and providing skills training should be relatively easy and uncontroversial.

British Cycling then looked at sprinting. There are two elements to sprinting, setting a fast qualifying time (easy to measure and control) and then the unpredictable rough and tumble of match sprinting. This is like advanced stop lines and cycle lanes, there may need to be a bit of negotiation and elbowing to release road space, but with skill it can be painlessly executed.

If you can pedal fast in a straight line and beat the opposition in a sprint, then it’s a small step to bunch racing on the track or road. There are some additional skills because success requires getting into the right place in the bunch at the right time, mixing safely with other riders and having a game plan for the duration of the race. One of the best ways to learn this is to observe successful riders.  Look at where they ride in the bunch and how they move up for the win.  In cycle planning terms this is equivalent to the holy grail of continuous facilities linked into a whole network, forming part of an integrated transport system working alongside other modes. We have seen from Team Sky that success doesn’t come from simply copying existing teams, but from taking the best elements (sometimes from other sports or areas of life such as business) and putting them together. In cycle planning we can’t just copy the Dutch but we can undoubtedly take a lot from them, but also from the successful shared public spaces of Denmark and Germany, from the intense land use in Tokyo, from the USA such as Portland and Seattle and parts of Manhatten and from cities such as Hull, Bristol and Cambridge that have developed their own innovative ways to increase cycling within a UK context. 


There are perhaps no surprises in my conclusion. The success of British Cycling can be attributed to well known factors:
  •          Clear vision and long term strategy;
  •          Starting small with modest achievable goals but big long term ambitions;
  •          High quality skills training;
  •          A feedback mechanism to constantly learn and improve;
  •          Sustained and increasing financial investment to maintain momentum;
  •          Rewarding success;
  •          Attention to detail and marginal gains;
  •          Learning from the best but improving on their ideas.

If we can learn from this model the work of the cycle planning profession could have the same pride, sense of purpose, professionalism and excellence that we see in our Olympic athletes. If we don’t change, we’ll continue to have the odd Robert Millar facility that succeeds despite the system rather than because of it!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Trigeminal Neuralgia - and the long hard road to recovery

It was raining hard that October morning and the ground was saturated. Even before the cyclo cross race started I was frozen, filthy and soaked.  On a steep technical descent through some trees my wheels started to slide.  Instinctively I released the brakes to regain traction but there was no grip to be had and I found myself careering downhill out of control until, smack! I slammed into an overhanging branch and came to a dead stop, while my bike pinged out from beneath me and cantered off down the hill on its own!

For a moment or two I lay there seeing stars just like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I tried to get up but my legs immediately buckled beneath me.  My helmet was smashed up and I was feeling way too groggy to drive, but I was uninjured apart from a few cuts and bruises and a sore head. Faced with the prospect of a 3 hour wait I gave up on A&E and went home.  I think maybe this episode started the damage to my trigeminal nerve.

Fast forward to the following spring and I had a rotten toothache. Well sort of. It was partly in my tooth but also in the jaw and nasal area and around my eye socket.  I went for a check up but the dentist said I was fine.  It didn’t go away. I went back and my dentist said maybe it was a nasal infection.  A few weeks later it cleared up.  Then the following spring, exactly the same experience, but a more intense pain that came at random, and every time I ate something or brushed my teeth.  Back to the dentist, still nothing wrong.  Meanwhile the pain got worse and more frequent.

The pain intensified and seemed to spread, starting around my nose or near the roots of a tooth, or right in the back corner of the jaw where you get an injection for dentistry.  It was like having an injection, but with a big jumbo size needle lasting for a few minutes, or having a bare electric wire stretched across your face. This went on for a few months, and then just as suddenly disappeared. 

I told myself that maybe it was a nasal infection of some sort, or bad hay fever? In February 2011 it was back with a vengeance. The pain was unbearably intense. Each attack left me shaken, with tears of relief rolling down my face as it ended.  As well as eating and brushing my teeth, talking would sometimes trigger an attack.  It could happen in the middle of a phone call or a meeting, with me wincing and gurning to try and carry on as normal! I felt embarrassed and wanted to minimise the chances of an attack so I started to withdraw from colleagues and friends and worked through lunchtimes to avoid eating.

It was getting worse rather than better.  I was starting to worry that maybe it was something serious. The internet is a wonderful tool way to scare oneself to death! Brain tumour, multiple sclerosis, frightening!  Then I spotted ‘Trigeminal Neuralgia’ (TN) which most exactly fitted my experience. The more I read, the more I realised that this was probably what I had. 

TN is dubbed ‘The Suicide Disease’ because the pain is so unbearable, commonly described as‘the worse pain known to man’, and yes ladies, worse even than having a baby according to female sufferers! It is most commonly caused by a blood vessel on the surface of the brain looped around the Trigeminal Nerve (which runs from the base of the skull in three branches to the head, face and lower jaw) and wearing out the protective sheath that covers the nerve.  When it wears through, the pain starts, when it repairs itself the pain goes away for a while, sometimes months or years, and then the protection wears out again and the pain returns. Once it starts, it usually gets worse and more frequent over time, and never gets better on its own.  This is classic TN, but there are other nasty variations bringing chronic pain and misery. Conventional painkiller tablets have no effect as the pain is caused by the nerve itself.


TN is estimated to affect around 60,000 people in the UK although it is often misdiagnosed as dental pain or stress, and people can suffer unnecessary dental work or simply be dismissed because a GP can find no symptoms to treat. Many people suffer for years without a correct diagnosis because there are no outward signs and GPs rely entirely on patients to describe the symptoms.  Patients are lucky if the GP has heard of the condition although awareness is increasing.

I was lucky, and my sympathetic and knowledgeable GP initially prescribed amitryptelene, which can be effective in ‘damping down’ the raw nerve that causes the pain.  It had no effect (this non-effect is sometimes used as a test for TN).  Next was Gabapentin (trade name Neurontin), which is often given to reduce pain following surgery.  This was great, eliminating all aches and pain so I could cycle up the steepest hill with no pain whatever in my legs, but my TN attacks became less frequent but more intense and long lasting.  This drug makes you slightly euphoric, with the memory span of an absent minded goldfish. I was off work and unsafe to drive a car.  I had to write lists for every simple daily task as I couldn’t remember anything, and would set off somewhere only to forget where I was going or why! After 2 months on the gabapentin I was also given Carbamazepine (Tegretol), which is the best drug for ‘classic’ Trigeminal Neuralgia, and referred to a neurologist.  Within a few more weeks I was pain free but taking a cocktail of Gabapentin and Carbamazepine.

The drugs are anti-convulsants that work (I think!) by planting themselves in your blood stream and interfering with the signals between the brain and the nerve to stop the pain signals from being transmitted. This would be fine if it was selective and only worked on the trigeminal nerve, but of course it doesn’t, it impairs all sorts of signals to the brain.  To me it felt like every thought was going the long way round. I struggled to remember names, couldn’t keep up with conversation, and really had to concentrate hard to watch TV or listen to music. Every task required full concentration and left me mentally exhausted.  Miraculously I managed to stay at work most of the time but my abilities were seriously impaired and simple e-mails and reports were taking hours instead of minutes. 

I wasn’t safe to drive a car and my absent mindedness resulted in writing yet more endless lists to try to remember everyday things. This is the reality for many TN sufferers. If they get diagnosed correctly they are put on drugs that leave them stupid, and over time have to take bigger and bigger doses to ease the pain.  Jobs are lost, relationships end and any quality of life can quickly deteriorate. A very tolerant employer and family have put up with my misery and incompetence! 

I was given a MRI scan. The scan was ‘inconclusive’ but passed to a surgical panel for expert review.  Months passed and I heard nothing.  I think when people say ‘hear within 6 weeks’ in the NHS they actually mean 6 months! In January 2012 I met a neurosurgeon and he said I appeared to have a compression that could be resolved by surgery and I should hear in about 6 weeks.  More months passed as my scan was supposed to be reviewed by a radiologist.  I was finally booked in for surgery in January 2013. 

The surgery works by drilling a hole through the skull, finding the offending veins and putting in some protective Teflon between them and the nerve. It is simple (in principle) but of course everything is done at a microscopic scale and (although it is becoming more commonplace) only a handful of surgeons in the UK have the skills and experience to do the procedure . As brain surgery goes, it is fairly low risk as it is only on the surface and not inside the brain. 

Recovery requires lots of rest and time. It just can't be rushed as surgery and anaesthetic takes its toll on the body. Six weeks later I was back at work, pain free and with only an odd haircut, slight dizziness and a small scar to remember the experience by!  After 3 months I’m almost fully recovered and starting the long road back to cycling fitness.

This could all have been a very frightening, hopeless and frustrating experience but a small charity, the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association (  Tel: 01883 370214) were able to give me advice on treatment options and the comfort of an online web forum and telephone helpline operated by fellow sufferers.  I am looking forward to a ‘normal’ life once more!


Sunday, 17 February 2013

Its not (just) about the Bike! Get Britain Cycling


Get Britain Cycling is by definition concentrating specifically on what it takes to create the infrastructure and 'culture' that induces more cycling.  To do this requires a very fundamental rethink about what our roads and streets are for. They are the arteries by which people not just vehicles move around, but they are also often the public venues for our leisure, sporting, social and cultural lives. Given unlimited funds it would be easy to create a segregated cycle route Utopia similar to the motorway system if we were to ignore all other modes and all other street functions. Whether we would want such an infrastructure-heavy environment in our villages, towns and cities is questionable. A more subtle approach that balances the needs of all users is required. This means selective use of the oft-criticised 'Hierarchy of Measures' to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians by reducing the amount of traffic or the speed of traffic in some situations, either to enable cycling on a shared carriageway OR to create conditions in which convenient and safe segregated cycle facilities can be provided. At present, where cycle tracks are installed, the measures to reduce speeds in order to tighten up junction geometry, or changes to signal timings or junction priorities to give cyclists a convenient crossing of side roads are lacking.  At worse this can lead to more hazardous conditions than using the carriageway, and at best a substandard and inconvenient 'facility' that is shunned by a high proportion of cyclists.

Design Standards

Have you ever driven into a multi storey car park and spotted a vacant space at the end of the aisle, only to find that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to manoeuvre into the space? This is the consequence of designing to the ‘minimum’ dimensions and failing even to make those.

If you look at just about any cycle lane or cycle track in England it is highly likely that it fails to meet the minimum dimensions (which are 1.5m for a cycle lane, 3.0m for a 2-way cycle track or shared use trail) recommended in Local Transport Note 2-08, Cycle Infrastructure Design. Imagine the chaos, road rage and inconvenience that would ensue if all roads were designed to the minimum standards of a multi-storey car park so that cars could only ever proceed slowly, in single file, and slow to walking pace at every sharp corner and junction. Welcome to the world of the ‘cycle facility’!

 It doesn’t have to be this way, plenty of countries manage to get it right, and there are individual items of excellence around the UK (although none of us ‘experts’ at the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry could name a good town-wide network when asked!). A number of witnesses at the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry have been quick to suggest that the design guidance is lacking, or that engineers and planners are ignorant. While there may be some truth in this, the most prevalent issue is lack of leadership and an unwillingness to accept that the free movement (and parking) of motor vehicles sometimes has to be curtailed in order to release space (and time) for pedestrians and cyclists. This is the essence of the oft-criticised ‘hierarchy of measures’ which emphasises the importance of ‘traffic reduction’ and ‘speed reduction’ as a pre-requisite to good cycle infrastructure.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe that cyclists should be on the carriageway or on a separate cycle track, you cannot usually safely provide either on existing streets without tackling motorised traffic and parking in order to free up the necessary space.

A bicycle handlebar is typically up to 0.75m wide, and a cyclists ‘wobbles’ slightly in order to balance, giving an effective width requirement of 1.0m (excluding any need to steer around grates, debris, potholes etc). If a cycle lane is less than 1.5m wide, a cyclist riding in the centre of the lane will ‘hang over’ the edge into the adjacent carriageway and risk being passed too closely by overtaking cars as drivers tend to use the lines as their main guide to road position. If a shared cycle track is less than 3.0m wide, a cyclist cannot comfortably pass two pedestrians walking side by side, nor can the cyclists ride two-abreast and maintain a comfortable margin to the edge of the track, reducing its value and attraction as a leisure asset. If shared pedestrian and cycle facilities are to be attractive and comfortable, as well as safe, then it should be possible to walk and cycle side by side, especially on leisure routes, but also to allow safe overtaking among non-motorised users. Single direction cycle-only tracks in the Netherlands are commonly provided with a width ranging from 1.8m to 2.5m, this width is often used for two-way shared tracks in the UK.
Political leadership and support
In his excellent blog ‘Roads were not Built for Cars’ (, Carlton Reid has explored the history of provision for cycling and the general ‘pro-car’ bias of political interests in transport throughout the last 100 years.

In the 1930s when UK cycling was at its highest levels (with 25% mode share and more bikes than cars on many roads) and there was the beginnings of a comprehensive national investment in cycle tracks (with 60% of the transport budget), the tracks that were built were poorly surfaced, often failed to meet the minimum recommended 9ft width, and yielded priority at every side road.  Consequently they were often ignored by cyclists in favour of the superior cycling experience that was offered by the carriageway, despite the danger from motor traffic. Faced with calls for cyclists to be compelled to use these inferior facilities (as was the case in Nazi Germany, and later occupied Holland), cycle campaigners were naturally protective of their right to choose to use the carriageway. 
The cycle track construction programme was killed off in its infancy by war and post-war austerity, and much of what was provided is now lost to subsequent carriageway widening.
 Most of the cycle tracks that were provided in the 1930s were along the ‘arterial’ roads providing inter-urban and suburban links. In this respect the planners had got the concept right, as these ‘high speed, high flow’ roads are exactly where ‘segregated’ facilities are most valuable, and if well executed can provide a safe, comfortable, direct, coherent and attractive form of provision. This ideally means one-way ‘with flow’ cycle tracks, priority at minor side roads and safe crossings at major junctions, sufficient width to overtake and ride two abreast, and separation from pedestrians.  Unfortunately existing highways with sufficient width available to achieve all of the above are few and far between, but a good recent example is the treatment of Old Shoreham Road near Brighton created by reallocating carriageway space.
Photo: Old Shoreham Road, CTC
The cycle tracks built in the 1930s were largely used for carriageway space as traffic grew, while roads built in the 1950s through to the early 1990s simply didn’t cater for cyclists at all, and major roads were sometimes deliberately designed to deter pedestrian and cycle access in order to improve road safety. 
The Highways Agency looks after the motorway and trunk road network. Historically its remit has been to cater for strategic traffic movements and its approach has been to completely remove ‘slow’ traffic from its network using bypasses, bridges, and subways. It is only since the mid 1990s that it has started to address the needs of non-motorised users in any meaningful way, with guidance in the ‘Design Manual for Roads and Bridges’ and an audit procedure for new schemes. However, this leaves a legacy of high-speed inter-urban roads with no cycle routes and at best a narrow, badly laid footway, and no ‘spare’ space within the highway boundary to improve matters. In some rural areas, it is impossible to avoid these roads without a lengthy detour, or the roads themselves pass through villages and close to schools and local shops etc so they have to be made more cycle and pedestrian friendly. The compulsory purchase of land and buildings adjacent to the highway to make surfaces for pedestrians and cyclists is expensive and the least sustainable option, so the ‘hierarchy of measures’ must be considered.
There is also of course a political dimension. Protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty are attracting increasing numbers of cyclists. If cyclists drive to remote areas, park, ride their bikes and then leave they contribute to the traffic problems and give nothing to the local economy.  If cyclists drive to an area, park in designated car parks in towns and villages and cycle onwards, spending money at the car park and in local businesses their traffic impact is reduced and they bring income to the local economy.  However, it is not uncommon for objections to be raised when trying to create new cycle routes alongside existing roads. Local people don’t want to invest in ‘visitors’ and don’t see the benefit unless they have a business directly involved in cycling, walkers often oppose ‘shared use’ and conservation officers do not want to see ‘green’ space and habitat removed to create cycle facilities. It is not uncommon for rural cycle tracks to be refused because of the impact on fauna or trees, which are generally considered more important than cyclists’ safety, or are so expensive to move that the scheme budget is inadequate. The result is that the vital links between settlements and attractions that would enable ordinary people to try cycling are never completed, and only the enthusiasts willing to cycle in traffic or ‘in the know’ about remote cycle routes get to cycle in the countryside.

Photo: Creating adequate space for cyclists on busy rural and inter-urban roads may require land purchase, loss of wildlife habitat and expensive engineering all of which requires political will and support.
The Strategic Approach
The situation in town and city centres and established residential areas is more complex. There are options to provide ‘quiet routes’ for cyclists using parks, canal banks, new paths through open space and ‘back-streets’ but ultimately if cycling is to be a mainstream form of transport the cycle route network has to connect residential areas with busy transport interchanges, shopping areas, employers, schools and colleges all of which will attract motor traffic.
The most influential publication shaping the philosophy of planning and design in our towns and cities is ‘Traffic in Towns’ by Buchanan, originally published in 1963. Unfortunately the mode-share of cycling was in freefall at the time of publication, and consequently it has little to say on the subject other than to dismiss it as a mode in decline and therefore not an important consideration. The overwhelming idea was to accommodate traffic in towns and cities by creating big wide roads and to separate pedestrian and cycle movements from motor traffic using bridges and subways. The legacy of this approach is particularly evident in places such as Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton where a central area is surrounded by a busy ring road with pedestrian access via subways and bridges. Dismantling these ‘concrete collars’ to enable the city centres to expand and re-connect with adjacent areas is at the heart of regeneration strategies. The extent of works required to re-model these highways to make them safe and pleasant for walking and cycling is enormous, and requires a political and financial commitment that goes way beyond the transport budget. It requires a complete rethink about the role and function of urban roads and is usually achieved as part of a wholesale redevelopment such as Birmingham’s Bullring Shopping Centre.

Photo: Illustration from Traffic in Towns – still influential today. HMSO
 It is unrealistic to expect that a network of fully segregated cycle tracks can be imposed on all existing streets, but using the ‘hierarchy of measures’ it is possible to allocate priority to cycle traffic along some routes and motor traffic along others. A good example of this is Tavistock Place in the London Borough of Camden where a two-way cycle track has been created by reducing vehicle capacity and taking out on-street parking. This offers a parallel route to Euston Road which is one block to the north and carries the motor traffic. Incidentally, the parallel streets to the north of Euston Road also feature road closures and cycle contraflow schemes although severance by railway lines, gradients and the general alignment of the roads provides a less continuous and coherent route.

Tavistock Place cycle track – Created by reducing traffic volume and reallocating carriageway space, and with creative interpretation of design guidance.
Creating facilities such as Tavistock Place required a commitment to traffic reduction, at least on that link, and an appreciation of a strategic cycle network (the LCN+) that complements the strategic road network for motorised traffic.
Most towns and cities have made a commitment to improving public transport and this offers one of the best opportunities to cater for cyclists, especially where the numbers of cyclists are currently small and cycling doesn’t have the political clout required to release road space exclusively to cyclists.  Bus lanes are de-facto bicycle lanes when buses are not present, and thanks to the poor observational skills of drivers, they tend to be clear 24 hours a day even when they are only meant to be part time.  They are not a panacea. Bus stops can be hazardous where cyclists have to move into the all-traffic lane to overtake, narrow bus lanes with insufficient space for buses to pass safely can be unpleasant and threatening for cyclists, and bus-priority traffic lights don’t always detect cyclists unless designed to do so.  However, bus lanes can be one way in which cyclists benefit from at least some priority. 

Photo: Proposed bus priority measures in Belfast City Centre, Arup
The creation of a ‘public transport box’ covering Leeds city centre in the early 1990s helped to release space for a number of cycle facilities and an extended pedestrianised core. Unfortunately the resulting multi-lane gyratory ‘city loop’ for all traffic creates its own severance issues for cross-city journeys by bicycle, but within the core area conditions for pedestrians and cyclists have generally improved due to the removal of through traffic. If the council had fully considered strategic cycle routes at the time of the traffic management and public transport works, many of the current barriers to cycling could have been more successfully addressed at the time. This was perhaps a step too far at the time for a city that had declared itself ‘motorway city’ during the 1980s, had low levels of cycling and had previously done as much as possible using new roads and traffic signal systems to smooth the flow of traffic right through the heart of the city. Routes around the edge of the city centre are slowly improving, but typically involve indirect and tortuous shared footways and signalled crossings with lengthy delays.  Such facilities are of some benefit in giving cyclists a degree of safety but they are of such poor quality that existing cyclists often ignore them and they are insufficiently attractive to would-be cyclists, so they are of limited value to ‘Get Britain Cycling’.
It is at such locations where both political leadership and technical design skills are crucial. Within a given highway boundary, the range of technical solutions is simple: Either take carriageway space to create cycle lanes and tracks and advanced stop lines, and/or take away ‘time’ at junctions from flows of motor traffic, and reallocate it to pedestrians and cyclists at toucan crossings or separate cycle-only phases on traffic lights.  The difficulty is that the principal measurement of political and design success in junction design is usually to ‘avoid traffic congestion’, which is achieved by giving space and time to motor traffic, and the only consideration given to cyclists and pedestrians is to ensure their safety is not unduly compromised. To Get Britain
Cycling, we have to accept that we cannot always offer the optimum conditions for motor traffic even at these strategic junctions where radial routes cross the ring road. Cycling in such locations must not only be safe, but also appear to be an attractive and convenient option.  If we concentrate solely on pedestrian and cycling safety we risk repeating some of the errors of the 1960s and 70s approach that led to sterile and inconvenient pedestrian environments.
The importance of ‘Attractiveness’
Much of the debate around cycling in 2012 has focussed on The Times newspaper ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign and London Cycling Campaign’s ‘Going Dutch’ initiative. Tackling safety on existing streets for existing cyclists is important, but just doing this with ‘cycle facilities’ is of limited value.

Original highly segregated facility in 1983 and at present below (photos: Fietsberaad)


The photos above show a street on the outskirts of Groningen in the Netherlands. In the 1980s it had cycle segregated cycle tracks, a 30mph (50Kmh) speed limit and a signalised pedestrian crossing. It is the classic Dutch scene and reasonably safe for cyclists. It has a lot of infrastructure and signs, and pedestrians can only cross at the designated point, although there are shops along both sides. Cyclists would often go the wrong way along the cycle track or footway to reach the shops and pedestrians would stand in the cycle track to cross the road. The tracks were created by banning parking (i.e. reducing traffic volume) although it can be seen that this leaves a clear road for anybody that wishes to ignore the speed limit.
 In the 1990s the street was revamped with a low 20 mph (30Kmh) speed limit and all kerbs and lane markings removed. This has created a safer (although visibly more chaotic) environment which is more convenient for pedestrians and retailers as the ‘footway’ is much wider and has no kerbs, just a change in surface treatment, and it is easier to cross through slow moving traffic as drivers are more willing to give-way on a shared surface where there isn't such a clearly defined territory for different modes.  Opposing traffic flows are close together on the narrow carriageway, and drivers also wait behind cyclists as there is no room to overtake so speeds are kept low as everybody feels 'vulnerable'. There is more space for official (and unofficial) car parking which also contributes to the speed reduction effect.
To make totally coherent cycle routes we have to use the whole range of measures available. It is important to reconsider the balance between the needs of ‘the car’ and the wider question of moving the optimum amount of ‘people’. In town and city centres, residential areas, rural lanes and village centres and rural we also need to properly address the ‘function’ of roads and streets. While moving and storing cars on them may be important, streets are also places to meet friends and neighbours, to play, to browse around shops and spend and make money, to sit and ‘people watch’, to take leisure and exercise and to host sporting and cultural events. 
 It is clear that many existing town centre high streets are failing to attract the wide range of activities that they once did. Large retailers and commercial organisations have relocated to out of town ‘sheds’ with free parking, large units and low overheads. With fewer workers in town centres and the growth of online shopping, retailers are struggling.  Successful town and city centres are re-inventing themselves with a return to residential development within the core, a growth of independent shops, venues for start-up and pop-up businesses and high quality public realm. Walking and cycling play an important part in the life of such places where the centre once again becomes a hub of cultural and social activity as exemplified by the work of Jan Gehl in Denmark (Public Spaces, Public Life).
Cultural Prejudices
It really should not be necessary to wear high-visibility clothing and protective headgear to go out in public, but it is increasingly regarded as ‘the norm’. One insurance company recently tried to reduce their drivers liability for a child pedestrian injury because the child was not wearing hi-viz clothing when walking on a country lane.  This already happens regularly for cycling injury accidents.  Wearing special clothes adds to the inconvenience of cycling for short journeys compared to driving, and may also draw unwanted attention when ‘off the bike’. These are often derided as minor issues but how many people would object to wearing a ‘driver helmet’ or a ‘pedestrian helmet’? Both of these modes result in high numbers of head injuries each year and there is a good case for head protection to be worn. 
Within the cycling community there is a whole host of sub-cultures featuring roadies, fixies, urban warriors, eco-freaks and gnarly mountain bikers. Magazines full of grainy art photography, brash juvenile cartoons and expensive product reviews together with angry outraged blogs reinforce these cultures. Sometimes these enthusiasts are the only people who engage in the planning process, giving a skewed view of what ‘cyclists’ want rather than what ‘people’ need to enable them to cycle. The research paper ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’ provides a more thorough investigation of this issue (  For many campaigners, road cyclists and mountain bikers concepts such as ‘suffering’, ‘risk’ and expensive clothing and equipment appear to be a vital part of what defines their relationship with cycling, so while they may have excellent local knowledge of routes and problem areas, they are not necessarily the best people to ask about popularising ‘everyday’ cycling for non-enthusiasts. It is like asking train spotters to run a railway. It is a world away from the everyday life of a mother (and it is still mostly mums on the school run) cycling around the corner with her children to the local primary school and then onwards to suburban or village shops or a part-time job, the sort of journey commonly undertaken by car in the UK and by bike in countries with high levels of cycling.
In contrast, people with little or no experience of cycling have an exaggerated perception of the dangers and effort involved, and probably underestimate the frustrations of stopping and starting.  The effort for each stop and start is estimated as equivalent to adding 200m to the length of the journey (Parkin, J. (2005) The users' perspective. Presentation to conference on new perspectives in designing for cyclists, University of Nottingham, 14th April 2005), which is why Dutch guidance places an emphasis on maintaining momentum where possible. They will tend to design for ‘the novice’ cyclist but facilities that are designed in such an extremely risk-averse context are often impractical for everyday use. They also may have an exaggerated perception of the danger posed to others by cyclists as can be seen by the photograph below.

Photo: Harlow, by Warrington Cycle Campaign
A number of assumptions then combine to lead to the sort of infrastructure that is portrayed in this video made by Chris Boardman (
·         all cyclists are slow moving and can share with pedestrians
·         all cyclists are risk averse novices/children
·         motor traffic queuing must always be minimised (hence a vehicle queuing lane commonly replaces the cycle lane at a junction or road narrowing)
·         cycle facilities always have to fit within existing kerblines and highway boundaries, there is RARELY sufficient money to move kerbs or purchase additional land for a cycle route
·         the cycle track surfacing can be of lower quality and maintained less frequently than the carriageway
·         a ‘cycle facility’ must be a cycle lane or track (i.e. there is no consideration of speed limit changes, low-speed shared space, traffic calming, point closures etc).
‘Education escort’, rural and suburban car journeys have been growing, while in contrast car journeys into many town and city centres have stabilised or fallen.  Around 20% of peak time traffic is associated with the school run, and this still often falls to the woman of the household.  Research for Cycling England showed that ‘Mothers’ effectively hold the keys to the bike shed in deciding whether a child is allowed to cycle to school, and that if a mother in a family cycles, children will be more likely to do so.  Often people don’t realise the amount of money and time that is invested in car ownership, and it is likely that many people in part time employment barely earn enough to cover the cost of owning and running the car that is ‘essential’ to enable them to take the kids to school and get to work.  How often are infrastructure consultations held at a time or place that is accessible to working mothers? How many cycling initiatives, websites or campaign groups target this population? Thankfully there is a growing web prescence for stylish young female commuters and racers, and increasing use of bikes in advertising, but it is likely that many women will need further assistance and encouragement to cycle compared with male counterparts because its sporty, healthy or fashionable image may in itself be intimidating.
 The Importance of Sufficient and Sustained Funding
In 1996 I was given my first ‘paid’ part-time job in cycling, at £6 per hour, at a local authority funded with a one-year grant from the Department for Transport. This was part of the National Cycling Strategy which brought together all of the latest research and set out an ambitious programme target to ‘double cycle use’ based on mode share. A year later the money ran out and I was back working outside cycle planning. This is a familiar story to many local authority (and DfT) employees in sustainable transport, on precarious fixed term contracts with low status and low pay. It means that there is no defined career path, limited training and a high turnover of staff, providing little continuity for the development of strategic infrastructure and encouragement programmes.  Much transport planning training is 'on the job' and again, with a typically limited capital programme meaning only a few cycle schemes per year, there are few opportunities to practice skills through repetition.
Unfortunately after these one-year grants for innovative projects and research in 1996 there was little additional money for cycling through the ‘Integrated Transport Strategy’ although it was supposedly a priority, and progress on the ground was slow. We should remember that ant-cycling sentiment was even worse in 1996 than it is now, and that this Sun headline below was how the 1998 sustainable transport white paper was greeted by the popular press (and much of the transport planning profession!).
Targets for progress in Local Transport Plans were initially on ‘outputs’ and so local authorities were rewarded for the length of route created regardless of quality or relevance. When the monitoring parameters were changed to ‘outcomes’ it also became clear that few local authorities were counting cyclists or had any idea of how to measure the impact of interventions. A Cycling Strategy Board and English Regions Cycling Development Team (ERCDT) were established to try to address these issues and to reward ‘willing’ authorities. Unfortunately, with so little data, trying to unpick exactly what was happening in each authority and why some were better than others was expensive and time consuming and the ERCDT itself was disbanded to be replaced by ‘Cycling England’.
Cycling England had a simple remit of More Cycling, More Safely, More Often and a simple philosophy of working with willing local authorities and other organisations rather than waste time and resources on those that were doing little or nothing.  At the consultancy briefing for Cycling England, DfT officials said that the Minister’s view was that this was ‘Last Chance Saloon’ as they were fed up of initiatives but no tangible progress.
From 2006 to 2011 Cycling England was able to unlock an apparently ‘winning’ formula by providing grants to local authorities equivalent to £10 per head of population and developing projects that offered a combination of infrastructure, training and encouragement measures to specific populations (schools, trips to the station, workplaces, leisure riders). The projects were led by local authorities and their partners, but additional experts from the Cycling England Board and consultancy teams were on hand to help support. This provided officers with both political support, often with Ministerial assistance to help overcome objections and technical help with developing infrastructure and promotional ideas. Although the funded project partners were ‘willing’ they didn’t necessarily have the local expertise, skills and experience. The whole set up was not dissimilar to the successful coaching structure at British Cycling with the best relevant experts on equipment, nutrition, training, skills and tactics available but the implementation left to the individual riders.  This is quite a different concept from the idea that a ‘central agency’ would dictate what to do and how to do it.
The Cycling England projects provided documented evidence of more cycling in 18 towns and cities, 4 train operating companies, 4 regional employers and 3 leisure cycling projects.  By monitoring cycle use before and after, and in ‘control’ populations it was able to prove the case for cycling investment. The results of projects, monitoring and economic evaluation of the Cycling England programme together with some of the technical guides are at Many of those involved in the successful Cycling England projects were made redundant at the end of the funding, like sacking Team GB after the Olympics.
Importantly, the minimum benefit:cost ratio from the cycling programmes was estimated at least 3:1 and the maximum much more than that (up to 7:1), and with a short pay-back time and rapid implementation (meaning employment directly in scheme delivery). Contrast this to High Speed 2, a worthy project, but with a benefit:cost of only 2:1 and much longer implementation and payback, providing limited employment opportunities for local people affected, and little direct investment in jobs during the current recession period.
The Local Sustainable Transport Fund has been a key funding mechanism for cycling since 2011, and has taken many lessons from the Cycling England project, but with no central expertise or skills sharing opportunities we see LSTF money being squandered on the poor quality infrastructure such as shared footways, and a host of low rank, low experience employees on short term contracts tasked with delivery.
Our present approach to cycle planning will only ever deliver a pale imitation of the Dutch and Danish facilities for as long as we continue to prioritise car travel over other modes.  Making places pedestrian and cycle friendly by removing traffic will help to make them pleasant places to visit, and therefore to spend more time and money. The core areas of Dutch and Danish towns and cities and residential areas are characterised by high quality public open spaces with little traffic, slow speed limits on access-only roads and no need for segregated facilities.  Residential and urban streets with lots of people and traffic are subject to 20mph limits and designed in such a way that higher speeds are impossible.  It is then only on the busier roads with higher speeds that segregated cycle lanes and tracks are provided.  This is the essence of the ‘CROW diagram’ and Hierarchy of Measures included in LTN 2-08 and the London Cycling Design Standards. In new-build situations, it is of course possible and desirable to create and prioritise separate cycle and pedestrian infrastructure and fully accommodate the anticipated levels of motor traffic, but on existing streets it is usually necessary to make a difficult decision about which modes get priority. Building for cycling is cost effective compared to many transport schemes because the benefits are great and delivered quickly, but this should not be confused with cheap. It will be necessary to move kerbs, drainage and other services to create ‘good’ infrastructure rather than just try to draw lines on the existing carriageway or share an existing footway.
It is not acceptable to live in a society where children are deemed to be in danger as soon as they set foot in the street, and where drivers take no responsibility for that danger unless they are proven to be breaking posted speed limits or committing some other crime.  Vulnerable road users will make mistakes, just as drivers do, and need the protection of the law and a more forgiving highway environment where drivers routinely adhere to a 20mph limit which drastically reduces the incidence of crashes and the severity of injuries. Currently, drivers in a 20mph limit may typically drive at up to 27mph, but even this is sufficient to very significantly reduce the likelihood of death and serious injury compared to impacts of 30mph and above.
Crucially in design we have to recognise that cycling is a dynamic and high speed activity in comparison with walking. The slowest cyclist travels at 8-10mph, typically three times faster than a pedestrian, while faster cyclists are travelling at up to 20mph on the flat and faster than this on gradients.  Cycle facilities should enable cyclist to maintain momentum, and offer appropriate separation from motor traffic and pedestrians. The extent to which separation is required will depend on the mix of users and the function of the route (cyclists must be prepared to slow down in some circumstances just as other vehicles must), but the ‘minimum’ dimensions set out in guidance must no longer be routinely ignored because that creates danger and conflict. Similarly, the extent to which cyclists can safely be given priority at side road crossings needs to be based on design criteria and measures to change the speed and flow of traffic where appropriate, not simply yielding priority at every occasion.
Much emphasis has been placed on commuter trips to town and city centres, but the key territory for utility cycle trips is local journeys typically up to 5 miles, and many of these will take place entirely within a neighbourhood.  Schools, higher education institutions, business parks, commuter rail stations and other suburban destinations can provide a focus for targeted investment in facilities and promotion of cycling for these short journeys.  It is important to understand who is making such journeys, to engage with them directly and to address their concerns. This includes directly involving parents in the experience (of cycling and walking their local area) when promoting cycling and walking to school.
Infrastructure is an ‘enabling’ mechanism that will initially attract people who are predisposed to cycling. To get even more people cycling also requires provision of support, training, marketing and information to help introduce new people to cycling and to help them overcome their personal ‘barriers’.