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Tuesday 5 April 2011

Who asks for this crap?

Anyone who cycles in the UK will have encountered our unique cycling infrastructure, which is truly in a class of its own. I, like many other have often wondered who asks for this useless, inconvenient and dangerous infrastructure? How does it come to be?

Warrington Cycle Campaign’s Facility of the Month, January 2011

The answer to this became clear to me whilst I was reviewing the report on the Greater Manchester LTP3, a consultation with the public and relevant organisations on the future of transport in Greater Manchester. These kinds of consultations are relatively common activities run by local authorities all over the UK.

When I was reviewing the LTP3 report, I noticed an interesting disparity between the organisations’ responses and the individuals’ responses. Individuals frequently asked for cycle lanes, but understandably they did not go into detail with respect to design standards of these lanes (except for me in my individual response). Organisations claiming to represent cyclists, such as the CTC and British Cycling asked for things such as 20 mph zones*, workplace showers, cycle parking and cycle training, but not separate infrastructure.
By ignoring cycle infrastructure, or ranking them as the “less preferable” options as the CTC’s Hierarchy of Provision does, councils are left with individual respondents asking for cycle lanes with this request not being mirrored by cyclists’ organisations and no guidance or lobbying on the standards of lanes** forthcoming from these organisations. The DfT does offer some reasonable guidance for cycle facilities, but because historically the national cyclists’ organisations have focussed their energy doggedly on vehicular cycling, these remain advisory and are treated as unattainable ideal standards rather than as the absolute bare minimum.

There is a definite disconnect between cyclists’ organisations such as the CTC and the needs and wishes of everyday cyclists and the millions of potential cyclists, who are put off by having to cycle in close proximity to huge volumes of fast traffic. Individuals continue to ask government for cycle lanes in consultations and cyclists’ organisations continue to ignore the elephant in the room. The result is Facility of the Month.

* 20 mph zones are a great idea in residential and dense urban areas. They are not going to achieve any meaningful rise in cycling alone though. As long at they are surrounded by fast A and B-roads without any separate infrastructure for cyclists, they are little more than isolated islands of safety.
** Hopefully this will change at a national level with the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, offering a voice for separate infrastructure, technical guidance and an umbrella for local cycling campaigns whose goals are the same.


  1. It's like homeopathy, individuals continue to believe X works, whilst knowledgable experts who have studied the phenomenon continue to point out that X is just an expensive placebo.

  2. There's a post (that I've struggled to find again) that said that what usually happens is;

    1) Council propose the infrastructure
    2) Cycle Campaigner/Cycling Officer points out the flaws
    3) Council implement anyway, for any number of reasons. (There's nowhere else for it to go, resource is already committed to this design, &c)

    I think it may have been Howard Peel; although his own site seems to be defunct now.

    Mike, there's several things at work here, I think.

    Firstly is the experience of "facilities" in the uk - having ridden many, as I'm sure Mr C. has, it's hard to bring yourself to ask for more. (If there were minimum standards for them, and those were sensible, I think that would change)

    Secondly is the difference between short and long term aims (to address your "X Works" point). If someone comes up to you wanting to cycle NOW, the best bet currently available is cycle-training, and a dose of healthy scepticism towards bike lanes &c. In this sense, "X" works, or at least, works better than turning the poor sods loose to find out the hard way.

    The alternative is, I guess, to say that it's not worth doing until we have Dutch style segregated infrastructure - a tenable position, but addressing neither the individual's desire to cycle, or the ongoing and increasing pressure of motor traffic in the short term.

  3. @John,

    Of course a hybrid approach is also possible; continue with measures such as cycle training to help those who want to cycle now (the few, the proud and the brave) whilst campaigning for a set of mandatory minimum standards for cycle facilities and consistent and clear specifications as to which roads they must be provided on.

    The only problem is the tendency to forget what it was like when you first started cycling once you become a confident cyclist, leading to an unhelpful HTFU attitude towards new and prospective cyclists.

  4. ...leading to an unhelpful HTFU attitude towards new and prospective cyclists.

    Gotcha, and not something I've heard at our bike group. Equally well, we don't want a sort of Marvin the Paranoid Android approach where folk are told it's all pointless unless they move to the Netherlands. Somewhere there's a balance between unashamed boosterism, and that :)


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