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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Integration vs Segregation

If you are new to cycling (or at least to the politics surrounding cycling in the UK), you may be unaware of the two major schools of thought regarding cycling’s place as part of the wider transport spectrum; integration and segregation.

Integration is more commonly referred to as vehicular cycling. The ideal behind vehicular cycling is that bicycles are vehicles like any other, and that they belong on the road (with the exception of motorways). Segregation sees bicycle users as more vulnerable than other road users such as cars and buses, and strives for separate infrastructure to be provided for them (to varying degrees depending on the road environment). Most existing cycling campaigns focus on a vehicular approach to encouraging the uptake of cycling (CTC, LCC etc). Fewer campaigns focus on a segregation approach (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is the only one I can think of on a national level, Sustrans also believe in providing off-road facilities, but with a primarily recreational focus). I genuinely believe that campaigners from both schools of thought want to make conditions for cyclists better, and wish to encourage the uptake of cycling by more people.


The main focus of vehicular (integration) cycling campaigns are as follows:

  1. Reducing (non-cycle) traffic volume
  2. Reducing traffic speed
  3. Improving driver behaviour through educational campaigns
  4. Vehicular cycling training for cyclists

Reducing traffic volume is commonly done by either reducing road capacity, increasing the cost of driving or making driving less convenient. Reducing road capacity whilst maintaining the current vehicular cycling approach means reducing the capacity for cycles as well as cars, HGS and buses. This approach is not really feasible for a vehicular cycling approach because it will inevitably lead to greater conflict between cyclists and other road users. Making driving less convenient by instigating circuitous routes in dense urban locations is also going to make vehicular cycling less convenient. Increasing the cost of driving would reduce motor vehicle traffic and improve conditions for cyclists, but it is politically difficult to achieve any meaningful results from this policy.

Reducing traffic speed is commonly done by narrowing the carriageway (either with kerbs or with white lines). The white lines method of reducing traffic speed is how many of the UK’s existing awful cycle lanes were actually created; their primary purpose is traffic calming, the bicycle lane aspect is more of an afterthought. In a vehicular cycling approach, reducing the width of the carriageway is undesirable because it brings cyclists into conflict with other road users. Another option is to keep the road width but reduce the existing speed limit. The problem with this is that the width of the road has a psychological effect on drivers’ perceptions, making them feel safe to travel at higher speeds. Enforcement through speed cameras can help keep drivers in line with the lower speed limit, but they are costly, politically unpopular and drivers commonly flout the law during the stretches between speed cameras.

Improving driver behaviour through educational campaigns is difficult. New drivers can have their behaviour modified during the examination and licensing procedure. Existing drivers are hard to reach, due to the lack of regular re-examination of existing drivers at present. The main problem with this kind of educational campaign is that it requires the driver to consciously modify their behaviour, and to do so solely for the benefit of someone else (the cyclist), someone they don’t know.

Vehicular cycling training is beneficial to many, helping to equip them with the skills they need to survive on the roads as they presently are. It does seem like a counter-intuitive way to encourage cycling though, riding a bike is something which should be as easy as riding a bike. The very fact that vehicular cycling campaigns feel there is a need to train cyclists how to survive on the roads seems to underscore the fact that there is something very wrong with our roads as they are.


The main focus of segregation cycling campaigns are as follows:

  1. Providing cyclists with dedicated safe, convenient and direct infrastructure
  2. Reducing (non-cycle) traffic volume
  3. Improving driver behaviour (such as speed) through infrastructure

Dedicated cycle infrastructure consisting of lanes separated from other traffic, providing direct and convenient routes has been shown to encourage mass uptake of cycling in other countries with a similar level of development to the UK (including The Netherlands and Denmark), including places with  similar old town/city layouts as seen in the UK. The infrastructure is provided by re-allocating road space away from motorised traffic, which also has the benefit of encouraging cycling indirectly by deterring driving.

On smaller roads, or roads where separate cycle infrastructure cannot feasibly be provided, traffic volumes are reduced through the use of one-way streets with exemptions for cyclists, sending motorised traffic along inconvenient circuitous routes whilst still providing cyclists with a direct and convenient route through.

Driver behaviour is modified on an unconscious level through infrastructural changes. Narrow roads do not bring cyclists into conflict with other road users when they are provided with a separate lane, but still have the effect of slowing other traffic. This allows conditions for those on foot to be improved (by reducing motor traffic speed) without making cycling inconvenient or undesirable at the same time. Narrowing the width of the connections between side roads and main roads makes drivers turn into and out of side roads at a lower speed, reducing the possibility of conflict with cycle lanes as they cross side roads (with right of way given to the cycle road). There are many other small infrastructural tricks like this used in segregated cycling cultures.


Vehicular cycling used to be a successful strategy in the UK in the era before mass car ownership, because the conditions vehicular cycling campaigners now strive for were largely intact at the time. In the time since the era of mass car ownership began, only segregation has been demonstrated to be able to bring about mass cycling, as demonstrated in The Netherlands and Denmark.

If ideal vehicular cycling conditions could be  produced, I do believe that many more people could be encouraged to cycle. However, I do not see any viable way that these conditions could be brought about; pricing people out of their cars without the subjective safety of cycling infrastructure as an alternative is not going to be at all popular politically. Generally, people don’t like feeling like they are being forced to do something.

Without being able to use inconvenient, circuitous routes or road capacity reduction to bring down (non-cycle) traffic volumes, and you can’t use carriageway width reduction to reduce speed, if you somehow still did manage to produce ideal conditions for vehicular cycling, you’d have also created ideal conditions for driving too.

And as has already been demonstrated by history, if you create ideal conditions for driving, you end up in the sort of mess we’re in now.


  1. Excellent post.

    Would disagree that Sustrans has "a primarily recreational focus". Sustrans does vast amounts of work for everyday cycling. The whole Connect2 project (£50m Lottery funding, another £100m of matched funding) is just one example - Britain's biggest single investment ever in off-road, utility cycling infrastructure. Then there's DIY Streets, Safe Routes to School... much more.

    The C2C, Camel Trail and the like are high-profile routes that are known to many existing cyclists - but really just a fraction of what Sustrans does.

  2. 100% agree with your post. One problem in London (not your focus I know) is that we are seeing more and more road narrowing of major routes to slow traffic but with vehicular cycling still the dominant force this is done without any cyclist provision.

    The traffic then moves more slowly but that doesn't really help since you now get stuck behind a bus with no room to overtake as the carriageway has no space!

  3. Connect2 is very worrying. The routes in Croydon were planned to including narrow, steep, unsuitable footpaths that would become accident blackspots.

    Sadly Sustrans seems to have lost the plot on route design sometime in the mid 1990s and has been getting less and less relevant ever since.

  4. To be fair Richard, the work of Sustrans that many of us see on the ground isn't encouraging. A Connect2 project close to where I live consists of a canal towpath upgrade - great for recreation, but of no use for everyday cycling whatsoever.

  5. Pretty in depth article about Sustrans

  6. @Richard,

    Most of the work I have seen by Sustrans has been off-road routes which don't tend to lead to places people want to go to for anything other than leisure use. This is a great facility to have, and I appreciate the work they do, but I'd much prefer to have a lot more dedicated cycle routes to useful places, such as urban centres.

    I think their heart is in the right place though, and if they stop spreading themselves too thin they could start to contribute to some of the safe, dedicated utility cycling infrastructure we need.

  7. @Ian: Towpaths in London and Birmingham are very heavily used by commuters - in London so much so that there's had to be a whole new code of conduct to keep the peace! I don't know where you live, of course, but if it's also Manchester and you're referring to the Rochdale Canal scheme, I don't see any particular reason (I know the Rochdale fairly well) why this should be unsuitable for utility cycling.

    @Mr Colostomy: Point taken on previous work, but it's worth catching up with some of the stuff they do now. There's still some tourism-centred development (such as the fabulous Way of the Roses) but the focus has shifted very much to "enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day" - it's even in the mission statement. ;)


  8. @Richard

    With respect to the Rochdale canal, whilst it is a useful route, the lack of illumination along most of the route makes it unsuitable for many during the darker months. Large sections of the towpath are merely bare earth. In the lighter months, the presence of (or fear of encountering) undesirable characters during the lighter evenings is also off-putting to many potential users of the route (although this is a law enforcement issue rather than just a transport issue). All of these problems would be resolved if there were decent segregated facilities along all of (or even just one of) the existing roads into Rochdale.

    Whilst I use the canal as a utility route at certain times of the day/year, I know that at certain other times or during/after certain weather conditions, the route isn't really useful/safe.

  9. @iswas Your point that london's traffic calming measures of narrowing roads do not make provision for cyclists is well observed though I believe you have reached the wrong conclusion.

    Slowing traffic speeds by design and law (20mph zones across the capital) is excellent provision for cyclists as it forces cyclists and drivers to share the same space forcing cyclists out of the gutter to the centre of the lanes while giving drivers an expectation that a cyclists can be in front of them without them desperately attempting to overtake. When the traffic slows, cyclists should be encouraged to pass the stationary queue on the right where there's more room (Like a motorcyclist would). This behaver is being taught across the country by national standard cycle training. The next generation of riders is being taught to ride assertively and claim their space on the road.

  10. I overtake stationary cars on the right (I copied my Dutch neighbour), but it's not for the faint hearted and it certainly isn't great having a toddler screaming "don't want to be on the road" from the front seat! This may be ok as a survival strategy, but it is hardly a way of getting mass cycling.

  11. @skydancer

    Lower traffic speeds are great when imposed by design, as long as the design which imposes them doesn't impede cyclists. For example; my street has speed bumps which make me slow down on my bike, but which can be driven over at speed by a pimpmobile. Lowering traffic speeds by law only is difficult, because without enforcement, a significant portion of the motorist community will feel entitled to ignore them.

    Generally these 20 mph zones are used on side roads and residential streets. As soon as you get to a bigger road you are usually left on your own. Residential 20 zones are only really useful if coupled with infrastructure on the bigger roads. Cycle training is a great survival aid for many people as things currently are on the roads, but I'd much rather design away any need for it with infrastructure, whilst simultaneously attracting many, many times more people to cycling than could ever be achieved in an environment where cycle training is a necessity (although I apologise if this would put you out of a job :-P ).

    @Sheffield cycle chic

    Agreed, I can live with cycling on the road. I can also see why most people can't, and the segregation approach seems to be the only viable route to mass cycling.


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