Changing the record (bikebiz)

For the UK advocacy scene to be successful it needs a good dose of diversification (as well as resilience, confidence, read article, linked below). Though cycling’s face is slowly changing – yes there are good pockets of really good people doing really good stuff – UK advocacy is still often in a rut of sameness and irrelevance (see sustrans, ctc). Like a record playing in one groove, its eerie sound goes on and on, so much so that after a while you don’t even hear it anymore, you block it out. Let’s face it. Cycling in the UK currently isn’t fun (convenient, safe, comfortable…).

Cycling COULD be fun if the urban design is supportive – then the cycling experience, and with it the social norm, would shift. For population-wide ‘behavioural change’ to occur, nudges are not enough (yet nudges is all we have done for decades).

No, we need to change the environment.

Initiatives that are solely based on “cycling is so much fun” (not linked to building a cycle network which has been mapped carefully etc) totally, tragically and sadly miss the point and can even do damage. Talking positively about cycling is a good thing – but… you have to make it relevant to people or they stop listening. The context must be set. It must address people’s concerns which we hear over and over again is: aggressive traffic and roads, not safe, no space to cycle.

However, just playing the record over and over again of “cycling is so much fun” creates a disconnect and ultimately people stop listening. That is not marketing – that is plain self-defeating auto-destruction.

I think many have stopped listening. What would you do as a parent? Your kids go to a school, cycle training is offered, there is positive talk of cycling but the real world, outside the school gates, the road environments are hostile, aggressive, unsupportive – not ready for walking or cycling. We all know cycling currently isn’t fun. Elements of it are good, of course. Cycling has tremendous potential. Moreover, yes, the evidence is on cycling’s side – but as a general experience cycling in the UK is not enjoyable. Cycling organisations have to orientate themselves towards the full population, get to understand (hear and listen) people and their concerns, stop their patronising messages and start to contextualise cycling in a relevant way – display some empathy. But then, these cycle organisations get small pieces of government funding and are silenced that way. And the DfT likes it like that, and it was all part of the plan.

The UK cycle advocacy must move (on), shift up and get real. The message must be:

Please join us in the campaign for better* cities with cycleways and good walking conditions (which necessitates DfT minister to ensure a regular budget is set aside and design standards are drawn up).

As for directing the message to ministers… I’ll further leave you with this article I wrote for bikebiz http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/changing-the-record/019359 (thanks goes to Paul Gannon and Carlton Reid).

(*) better = cleaner healthier economically-vibrant socially-inclusive active-transport modern (etc)

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10 thoughts on “Changing the record (bikebiz)

  1. Please could you answer a simple question for me, Kats. Once the cycling network has been carefully mapped and so on, what would be the problem with getting it up and running, even if that’s just to a minimum level of functioning to begin with?

    I am trying to understand why the high-engineered infrastructure is being developed without the framework of a developing cycling network.

    Simon

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    1. The problem is in the phrase “once the network has been carefully mapped”. There’s no indication that this is on any political body’s agenda.

      I don’t know if Katja agrees, but I think this is all down to the “localism” agenda: each HA has been set up to compete for limited pots of dosh so there is no overall mapping of the highway geometry in terms of cycling potential, just piecemeal interventions. This has been stated explicity several times by the DfT. What is it about that that you don’t understand? On the other hand, Highways England does seem to have a better plan but that skeleton does not connect to the rest of the physiology.

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      1. Could we try again, please? Let’s have a look at the specific example of Bristol. You can see here that the network has been carefully mapped by the authorities. From your point of view, what would be the problem with getting this network up and running, even if that’s just to a minimum level of functioning to begin with?

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    2. Isn’t the Bristol situation exactly what Katja is saying is a realistic plan for change? I.e. “building a cycle network which has been mapped carefully etc”.

      What is unrealistic is telling anyone who will listen that “cycling is fun”, and expecting them to ignore the stress or anxiety that they felt the last time they tried cycling anywhere. (I have had this conversation with a certain type of cyclist/campaigner more time than I can count. Yes, I sometimes ride a bike. No, I will not ride there, no matter how many times you tell me it’s fun. I did it once, it wasn’t, you talking more will not change my memory.)

      There is a separate issue that, if you fix a single junction and none of the roads around it, then there are no reachable destinations and so you don’t see an uptake in cycling. I think this is what you are concerned about? Engineering in isolation? The consensus I’m seeing in London is that the half-blocked-by-locals Quietways may not see any major uptakes in cycling, because unlike the new Superhighways, they don’t connect up (m)any useful places. There are too many gaps, where not even a minimum level of functioning has been reached. Existing cyclists already use the roads, so the new route is irrelevant, and not enough traffic is filtered out to make it palatable to the rest of us.

      The LCC Sign For Cycling campaign has as one of its goals “Mini Hollands for every borough”. I.e. map out which roads should take motor traffic, and which roads are needed for kids to play and pedestrians and cyclists to make local journeys – and plonk in filters and cycle paths accordingly. I really hope it gets adopted by the next Mayor.

      Infrastructure without network planning will only enable cycling once a very large number of individual roads/junctions have been fixed. But network planning without infrastructure is just signs pointing at bogs and dual carriageways saying “You know North is still that way, right? Guess whether this next bit is cyclable!” So we need both.

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      1. You write: “Infrastructure without network planning will only enable [mass] cycling once a very large number of individual roads/junctions have been fixed. But network planning without infrastructure is just signs pointing at bogs and dual carriageways […]. So we need both.”

        Assuming the network has been designed correctly — assuming, that is, that the network isn’t made up of bogs and dual carriageways — what would be the problem with getting this network up and running, even if that’s just to a minimum level of functioning to begin with?

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  2. Like footpaths, then roads, so cycle routes (not cycle lanes or paths).
    They evolve and are created by the people who want to use them.
    If you live at point A and work/study/shop at point B you will find a route between those two.
    Often, as with roads, the route is obstructed by houses, rivers, railways, etc. so the route taken is not “as the crow flies” but 25-50% longer.
    Why do cycle advocates want the most direct route possible, to the exclusion of all else?
    1mile alongside a busy main road (noise and air pollution, conflict with turnings and access roads, visual hell) or 1.5miles of quiet backstreets, paths beside canals or rivers and through a bit of the park with quiet, clean air and the only conflict being whether the ducks will waddle in front of you…
    Most cities and all towns already have these routes (look on Stava) but we continue to ask for a metre of road squeezed between the shop doorways, pavements and double decker buses to cycle on.
    I cycle 6 miles (each way) to work every day, and this takes me 20-22 minutes. If I drive (when I have to carry 100kg of bulky equipment a bike, even with trailer, is not an option) it takes me 25-30 minutes and is 7.6 miles.
    Careful choice of paths, quiet streets and cut-throughs (all legal, none with no cycling signs) saves time, and is shorter.
    I, therefore, do not want more cycle infra in my town on the main roads. Unlike motorways “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to cycling infra that is parallel to car/van/bus infra.
    It needs to be parallel to houses, shops, schools, parks and open spaces.

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    1. Unfortunately for many of us, our houses, shops and schools are on or near the main roads, so going round is not an option. This was brought home to me cycling through London the other day. Most of my journey was quiet and traffic-free. Where did I repeatedly have to get off and walk? The last couple of kilometres to my house, because I couldn’t detour round that!

      (Oh, and why didn’t I have to walk the first couple of kilometres too? Because we have cycle paths along some main roads now, so I could just use those. Did I cycle to destinations near there before the path opened? Of course not, it was horrible before. I came into central London for some of its many hundreds of things to do. But I came by bike because they built me the cycle path.)

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  3. Rob Shepter, the answer to your question is very simple: because people cycling run on their own steam. The longer it is the less likely people are to cycle. You example is one that I find to be unlikely.

    “1mile alongside a busy main road (noise and air pollution, conflict with turnings and access roads, visual hell)” Honestly, when making journey choices for convenience and efficiency, I think only air pollution would be realistically considered. Turning and access roads can be dealt with through engineering. Should we also not bother with footpaths on these roads, when surely people walking will suffer have the same problems?

    “1.5miles of quiet backstreets, paths beside canals or rivers and through a bit of the park with quiet, clean air and the only conflict being whether the ducks will waddle in front of you” In reality, it will be rat runs, or an extremely inconvenient route, muddy canal paths that are unridable and dangerous at night, and parks with cycling banned or filled with people walking. None of these are efficient or pleasant cycling environments.

    “but we continue to ask for a metre of road squeezed between the shop doorways, pavements and double decker buses to cycle on.” That’s not what is being asked for.

    “Careful choice of paths, quiet streets and cut-throughs (all legal, none with no cycling signs) saves time, and is shorter.
    I, therefore, do not want more cycle infra in my town on the main roads. Unlike motorways “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to cycling infra that is parallel to car/van/bus infra.”

    So, in other words, you are selfish. Because *you* don’t need it, you think it shouldn’t exist. Your second statement is also wrong. Building it made people cycle in the Netherlands, and by building it we are already seeing more people use the routes in London, all on main roads.

    Since you so seem to rely on anecdotes, tell me how to cycle in Enfield from the North to the South of the borough. I do use the towpath when it isn’t a boggy mess, but that is not really a possibility for most when accessing it requires cycling on hostile roads and it isn’t lit at night. Other than that, all the routes will involve cycling on main roads or rat runs

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  4. Sorry, I’m confused.

    Either the network is already physically in place – smooth surfaces, limited motor traffic or separate cycle tracks, protection through junctions – in which case, signs indicating route planning are lovely icing on the cake, and the network already exists. Or the network is composed of off-road paths (muddy canal towpaths, daytime-only parks) and overly busy roads (dual carriageways, multi-lane roundabouts, residential rat runs), and it needs some physical changes to enable mass cycling.

    According to my local council, the problems are
    (a) money for putting bollards in to stop people using the rat runs, money for extra cycle-specific traffic lights, money for anything at all
    (b) vociferous local opposition to the initial closure of rat runs
    (c) TfL constraints on bus journey times that make it tricky to ban or allow certain turns at junctions.
    I mean, I personally think that mass cycling will pay back for all of those (in money, and in public approval for closures once they’re in, and in reduction of demand on buses and of congestion). But isn’t that why we’re campaigning? To persuade everyone that those problems are worth overcoming? We are also trying to persuade our local council to overcome (a) and (b) by putting in cheap temporary measures, like straw bale road blocks, but I think the idea hasn’t taken root yet.

    I suspect, however, that you are thinking about something different, and that I don’t understand what it is. What exactly do you mean, “get it up and running”? Once you’ve decided where the network should be (e.g. through the Mini-Holland design process, or that Bristol map you linked to), what do you consider to be the next step?

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  5. Good blog and, in comparison to most others about cycling, mercifully concise. I’m confused by the responses, however. I have read it more than once and I keep coming to the conclusion that you are saying that cycling protagonists, somewhat perversely, really need to stop banging on about cycling at the exclusion of everything else but all the other responders can talk about is cycle lanes versus cycle networks.

    I live in more rural England than you. We have almost no cycling infrastructure at all. While there is a big “serious cycling” scene (I have my fair share of lycra), when I pop into town on my bike I have a free choice of any of the dozen or so Sheffield stands while car drivers circle the car parks. Mine is the only bike there. Motorists see traffic congestion as something that someone else is causing. It is futile to think that just by lecturing people that cycling is “the solution” that they will all convert to it because for them to recognise the problem (congestion, pollution,inefficiency) would mean they have to acknowledge their contribution to it. The only reason councils will risk pointing that out to their voters is if they are presented with solid commercial reasons for the investment in infrastructure and removing traffic from our streets. Cycling isn’t the solution; it is part of it.

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