In the UK, we do not even have a common way to describe cycling infrastructure. There are various reasons for this – one major one is perhaps that serious and sensible cycling infrastructure (let alone a network of cycleways) does not really exist in the UK. To move on, we must talk language, I think.
A report by Sustrans, the Newcastle version is called bikelife, came out yesterday and it demonstrates this exact lack very clearly. Below I list the varied (and confusing) “terminologies” used in the Sustrans reports for the different cities:
- bike route
- traffic-free routes
- off-road cycleways
- shared-use footpaths
- cycle lanes on roads
- cycle lanes
- protected bike lane
- paths alongside roads, separated from traffic
- routes separated from traffic, alongside roads
- cycle lanes painted on roads
- bus lanes you can cycle in
People live within a certain distance of
- cycle lane, track or shared use path
- designated cycle lane, track or shared use path
- designated cycle route
As well as the categorisation (and lost context), it is also the order which is questionable.
I propose that we ought to work very hard to develop a mutually-understood and agreed common language so we can talk to each other, and the public, in a much more meaningful way. Language is our chance to get our message across, clearly and concisely.
This is not hair-splitting, or nit-picking. No. Language is a communication and a campaigning tool.
Sustrans, as self-proclaimed experts on cycle-friendly designs, should know better, I strongly suggest. I met the bikelife project manager earlier this year. It’s a real shame that my suggestion wasn’t taken up: I had asked the project manager to take real care and put a lot of thought into the infrastructure wording and categorisation, and I pleaded that they get in touch with CEoGB to agree a ‘harmonised’ infra terminology for the report. Sustrans evidently decided against this. I am second-guessing Sustrans would say in their defence, that the cities are different and that their data vary. And I have no doubt that Sustrans worked very hard to pull this project off (for a fee paid by each city).
However I would reply, that this was an opportunity to harmonise these varied approaches and inform and educate transport authorities. It would make talking in the future easier, simpler and more cooperative. Now it’s just an opportunity lost, as the bar and the baseline have been set.
Isn’t it time we got together and got talking on infrastructure categorisation, professionals and advocates alike? Maybe the Dutch may have done a thing on that. Or, staying in the UK, and in the absence of a useful DfT standard, the London Cycle Design Standards may help. Naturally, CEoGB know a thing or two on cycling infrastructure. The US is certainly talking language.
It’s about different groups working together. Sustrans sadly, once again, decided against doing so.