Two Seconds

Last week and this week have seen several inquests into London cycle deaths, with a series of sometimes almost unreadably sad tweets by Ross Lydall at the coroner’s courts. One of the inquests has been into the death of the architect Francis Golding, killed by a coach last November at the junction of Vernon Place and Southampton Row.

Vernon Place

Vernon Place

A report by the BBC’s Tom Edwards quoted a fellow cyclist present at the scene as saying: “I don’t think he was paying enough attention for two seconds of his journey and he really paid the consequence” while “[e]vidence from the [Metropolitan Police] showed [the coach driver] had two seconds in his mirrors to see Mr Golding. The driver did not see him.”

Leaving aside the specific details of the case and the comments made, Vernon Place clearly is a location where two seconds (one’s own momentary distraction, or a driver’s) could mean the difference between life or death for people on bikes or on foot.

There are still so many places like this, including places supposedly designed for cycling. Riding to Brixton and back last night for a meeting (on designated or recommended cycle routes, for most of the journey) I experienced around four near misses, where two seconds could have been fatal, including a Northbound junction on Cycle Superhighway Seven where left hooks are invited: motor vehicles swing left across the cycle lane, with the turning radius positively encouraging them to continue at speed. Another near incident was my own ‘fault’: I had failed to realise that I needed to take a sharp right turn after traffic lights, and so had to cross a fast moving traffic stream to do so. I wobbled slightly in front of another cyclist when I realised this, to her annoyance. And fair enough: had I wobbled more, we might both have gone under the wheels of a van driver who wanted to go straight on, and was not keen to hold back to enable cyclists in ‘the wrong place’ to cross his path. Had we had safe infrastructure, the potential risks of my slight incompetence would have been far, far lower. Being hit by another cyclist, and being hit by a motor vehicle, carry very different risks.

I wouldn’t expect or accept this kind of thing elsewhere in my everyday life. At the meeting I attended, two seconds’ inattention would have at most mildly irritated my colleagues. If I briefly lose concentration while writing, or while lecturing, the effect is minimal. At most I might write a nonsense sentence or say something that isn’t clear. Two seconds looking out of the window while doing the washing up has once or twice led to minor cuts, but that’s pretty much it.

I’m not singling out CS7, or London. These kinds of ‘routes’ exist up and down the country, in fact more so in many other places outside the capital. Environments where, as a person on a bike or on foot, if you make a small mistake, or get distracted by something, you face the death penalty. We know this, and we know how to change it. Until our streets are designed for safety, inclusiveness and kindness, rather than for motor vehicle capacity and convenience, these preventable deaths will continue. Do we want streets where motor vehicles can shave two seconds off their journey time, or do we want streets where a person walking or cycling can be pleasantly distracted by a garden, a shop, or a passing cat, without dying?

Designing Well for Both Walking and Cycling

Tom Platt leads off the discussion.

Tom Platt opens the event.

A short post about last night’s workshop, a London Cycling Campaign/Living Streets joint event. This also formed part of the LCC Policy Forum seminar series, which I run – we’ve had roughly one a month since I started it going a year ago. (Living Streets and LCC have both just launched important campaigns focused on the London local elections).

Some of the group discussions.

Some of the group discussions.

There were sixty people there, with six expert facilitors – Brian Deegan, Bruce McVean, Caroline Russell, Esther Kurland, John Dales, Mark Strong. Thanks to all of them for their excellent work, to people who helped with directions and room arrangements (Ben, Ross and Charles) – and to Tom Platt from Living Streets who co-organised and whose idea it was. The range of imagination and expertise gathered in the room made me feel a little bit like a seventeenth century salon hostess (albeit with less poetry and more kerb talk). One early comment that made me nod enthusiastically was that we need to create streets that encourage kindness – which (a) brilliantly set a higher bar than risk reduction (though that’s also very important) and (b) nicely set the scene for some ambitious yet practical discussion. Everything from the broader concepts (from Link and Place to separation and unbundled networks) to the detail of bus stop bypasses.

The first workshop session was me asking people in groups to think ‘What would a Perfect Walking and Cycling Environment be like?’ The idea behind this was to get people thinking positively, about ideal futures. We always have to compromise and we’re all – on foot, or on bikes – used to things being well below par. So it’s very easy to get fixated on small apparent ‘quick wins’, which can be very important in specific cases, but don’t necessarily help us get our vision across. Thinking positively about what we want can help set that bar high – and help us be clear about when and how provision for other uses and modes is going to have to be compromised, if things are going to be really excellent for cycling and walking.

Here’s three of the groupsnotes on the question to give a flavour of some of the ideas discussed.

The second workshop session involved the small groups discussing key principles in relation to specific schemes – Bristol Clarence Road, Cambridge Hills Road, Manchester Oxford Road and three in London – Leonard Circus, Enfield Town Centre, and Kings Cross. A very diverse group of places, schemes and contexts! I have notes from all these discussions but I think it will make most sense to type them out and upload them alongside pictures/drawings of the schemes involved. I hope to do this by early May.

The really exciting thing about the event was seeing people learning from each other – in relation to specific schemes, but more broadly, about how we need to think and plan to do well both for cycling and for walking. Forward to people-safe streets – or, maybe, thinking about the point made above, to people-generous streets. Streets that don’t kill; and more, streets that are positively friendly and welcoming. What a prize that would be.

Cycling and Children: how good does it have to be?

When I see children cycling in London (or elsewhere in the UK), they’re almost always on the pavement – except when we have our monthly Play Streets. The Play Streets represent an inversion of the norm: cars are (politely) excluded or – if resident – slowed to walking pace, while people get their space back. It feels like a little carnival: they walk, cycle, run, dance, and draw in the street. Once a month, we put people before motor vehicles.

At a recent session of my MSc Transport course Lucy Saunders did a guest lecture about the new TfL report ‘Improving the Health of Londoners‘, which came out recently. The report’s quite ground-breaking in talking about a transport authority as having a public health role, and needing to ensure that schemes and policies promote health – particularly through enabling walking and cycling, which can make a big difference to healthy life expectancy and quality of life, especially for older people. During the discussion, one of the students spoke about how difficult it was to keep health benefits in view, when planning transport: ‘The time savings benefits appear up here, and health is off down there somewhere’. He was right. At the moment, as with Play Streets, our planning tools are often stuck at the stage of only prioritising people’s lives over motor vehicle convenience every now and then, in exceptional circumstances. Bring out HEAT occasionally if something’s a ‘walking’ or ‘cycling’ scheme, turn people’s lives into money, and weigh the value of a statistical life against motor vehicle flow.

How do we get people back into planning? At one of the Modelling on the Move events that I organised, much reference was made to the ‘data gap’ (in relation to cycling, but it’s not only cycling that’s affected). We don’t have the data, so we can’t put it into the model, so we don’t know what will happen, so we can’t plan for it, so very few people do it, so there’s no policy interest – and no data. Nicely circular. A lot of people are trying to intervene at different points in the circle, but as with any entrenched paradigm, it often feels like there’s no movement: the system has the ability to absorb and marginalise challenges, and keep rolling along in the same old way.

But the right data, at the right time, can help bring about change. Watching The Human Scale, the film about the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, the role of data was clear. He talked about realising that transport researchers and planners studying streets collected information on what motor vehicles do, but not what people do – and realising that when you have the data about people, you can start to think about planning for people.

So I was thinking about data gaps in planning for cycling, and one area I thought it might be worth looking at is around cycling and children. Cycle Infrastructure Design says (page 12) that children:

may require segregated, direct largely offroad routes from residential areas to schools, even where an onroad solution is available.

Our classic ‘onroad solution’ – as per the cover of Cycle Infrastructure Design – is a narrow painted advisory lane right next to motor traffic, while the ‘segregated, direct largely offroad’ routes has turned into (widespread, but patchy) tolerance of children cycling on pavements. Looking at cycling rates among both adults and kids we can see how successful it’s been. As we seek to move away from these ‘solutions’ towards universal design – see my post on Hills and Huntingdon Road schemes – just how good does it have to be? What kind of segregation – will armadillos work? How quiet does a residential street need to get before parents will let their children ride on the road?

If London’s going to get to 5% mode share, we have to broaden the demographic of cycling, and get people cycling for non-commute trips. One key aim must be to create environments that are good enough for people to choose to ride with their children. This can help gender balance (and we know that seven in ten of London’s cycle commuters are still men), as women are more likely than men to have complex, chained trips that involve escort journeys (e.g. taking kids to school). The tradition of planning separately for the nervous newbie and the hardy commuter forgets that many commuters need to pick up or drop off kids on the way, either sometimes or all the time. If the mainstream cycling infrastructure isn’t good enough for people to ride on with kids, it’s going to create a glass ceiling that severely limits our cycling mode share.

So I’m planning to carry out a survey looking at people’s views on cycle infrastructure, in relation to kids. In other words, asking: would you ride here on your own? With a child on the back? Would you let a 12 year old ride here alone? This can help to quantify the extent to which existing – and planned – schemes and streets include or exclude people. If we’re building stuff that isn’t suitable for children, not only are we marginalising children, but because of the gendered division of labour, we’re also disproportionately excluding women. Failing to enable people with pushchairs to access a service can be indirect gender discrimination, so what about cycling environments that don’t feel safe enough for people with children to use? Maybe being able to pin down a bit more clearly when cycling infrastructure is and isn’t child-friendly can be a tiny step in moving towards cities, and planning tools, that are built around the needs of people in all their diversity.

Tonight The Streets Are Ours by Richard Hawley on Grooveshark

Cambridge Matters

Here’s a post about Cambridge. What Cambridge does matters for all of us: those in charge of transport policy in Cambridge – the British city with the highest cycling rate, and rising – should be setting high standards. So are they? What can others learn, positively and negatively?

Cambridgeshire County Council is currently consulting on a couple of schemes, in Hills and Huntingdon Roads. They do have some problems – about which see below – but overall, they’ve got some important positive features and some lessons for London and other cities. I’d also of course encourage people who live in, work in, or visit Cambridge to fill in the consultation (Hills here, Huntingdon here). You can skip to my specific discussion of the schemes here.

I’m going to focus on the Hills Road plans, partly because I know Hills Road better, and partly because it’s the more extensive proposal (on both sides of the road, for one thing!) I remember cycling on Hills Road for the first time, when doing research in the city. It seemed odd to me, with cycling being permitted both on a shared pavement and in a narrow cycle lane on the road. Hills Road This, I later discovered, was not that unusual in Cambridge. Which did I chose? Being a regular London cyclist, it’s probably not that surprising that I rode on the road without really thinking about it, only seeing the shared pavement sign later. (Although now, I notice, I do briefly consider the pavement before deciding on the road: this must be the ageing process).

The current Hills Road layout is an example of the dual networks approach. This approach seeks to provide two cycle networks; one to serve the ‘confident’, and another to serve the more ‘nervous’. A somewhat ambitious approach in some respects given that in the UK we have never had anywhere near enough money for half a network, let alone two networks. What it’s usually meant in practice is perpetuating a main road environment that creates fear of cycling, alongside providing some circuitous scraps aimed at the majority who have been frightened off those roads. The direct, scary route, or the wiggly but more relaxed route.

Even where people planning for cycling want to break away from this approach, we are so steeped in it that our language easily slips back into a ‘hierarchy of cyclists’. Superhighways are for the fast and confident, Quietways for less confident cyclists, and so on. We shouldn’t be thinking like this. Our cycle networks shouldn’t exclude any users. If we have high-quality segregated infrastructure on a main road, there’s no reason a twelve year old boy or a disabled grandmother using a tricycle can’t use it, just the same as a 30-year old commuter on a road bike. However, as the Dutch recognise, people from all demographic groups will often prefer a route through a park to the main road, even if the main road’s pretty safe. So you provide that too; but not just aimed at the nervous. It’s called unbundling – providing direct routes that allow people to ride not just segregated from motor traffic, but away from it (which we know most people would prefer, all else being equal).

Unbundling is great – and ideally, much of London’s Quietways and Grid should be unbundled routes – but it’s not an excuse for failing to provide safe infrastructure on main roads. You need both, and then people have a real choice. You get many types of cyclists, whereas under the traditional UK approach, you’ve had the choice of being either the fast-hardy-aggressive-cyclist-happy-to-ride-on-the-road or the slow-nervous-defensive-cyclist-don’t-mind-being-late-or-muddy. Neither great.

Here – with apologies – I’ll quote a journal article of mine that will hopefully be published later this year. It’s relevant because I’m talking about how the DfT justify ‘Dual Networks’ in relation to the system of road classification we have in this country.

The ‘dual network’ approach (main roads with limited cycle provision shadowed by slower, more circuitous alternatives) may initially seem to mimic roads provision, where different categories also exist. The DfT makes this case:

Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others. In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to combine measures or to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority. Such dual networks may be considered analogous to a busy main road carrying through traffic and a service road catering for access to homes and shops at lower speeds.’ (DfT 2008: 11-12)

However, the two cases are crucially different, as for motor traffic routes, distinctions relate primarily to journey length and purpose, rather than driver skill and competence. Cycle Superhighway Two is not analogous to ‘Strategic Routes’ for motorised traffic, because these are not seen as existing for the benefit of more confident drivers. Instead, they exist for the benefit of specific types of journey, primarily long distance journeys with few stops in between. The assumption is that most qualified drivers are happy to use a motorway, and rightly so, as they offer relatively safe and pleasant driving conditions. By contrast, the ‘cycling system’ is seen as a patchwork within which different routes are suitable for different cyclists: so some would use Superhighways (as originally conceived), while some (perhaps due to ‘inexperience’ or ‘inability’, or having children with them) would use slower and/or less direct alternatives for the same journey.

With this in mind, let’s imagine what the current Hills Road approach to ‘dual networks’ would mean if we implemented it for the car system. It’d be a motorway that caters for the ‘nervous’ and the ‘brave’. In the ‘brave’ lane, you’d be sat in your little car, regularly passed closely by HGVs able to use the overtaking lane to travel at 150mph, while your maximum speed is 70mph. M1 The nervous lane, by contrast, is fairly well separated from the 150mph HGVs, but you can’t travel at anywhere near 70mph because this lane has a gravelly surface and is regularly interrupted. Every time there’s an entry or exit sliproad, you have to give way: so although you’re generally away from the fast and heavy traffic, periodically if you’re unlucky you’ll have those HGVs cutting across you from the right, with priority over you. Now imagine that such a ‘dual network’ approach to motoring exists in the most car dependent part of Britain… And for contrast, here’s the M1 as it skirts just East of Milton Keynes.

For cycling though, Hills Road represents a relatively good approach to dual networks, in that the ‘nervous’ – unusually – get a direct route. OK, they have to use a pavement that gives way to every side road, while the ‘brave’ experience close passes from motor vehicles travelling at or above the 30mph speed limit. But it’s better than the more common practice of directing the confident to the nearest main road and the nervous down a badly signed back alley route with multiple twists and turns. The existing layout has probably helped Cambridge maintain its historically high levels of cycling, whereas putting it in place somewhere else probably wouldn’t help anyone much. Still, the Cambridge planners recognise it’s time to move on and do better.

The Schemes

Cambridge wants to move away from dual networks on the Hills Road, towards a universal approach. Rather than (as with the current Hills Road layout) providing two unsatisfactory options, the Hills and Huntingdon Road plans seek to provide one good option. Here’s the video about the schemes:

The Hills Road plans remove the currently existing right to cycle on the pavement, which is a clear benefit for pedestrians. Good; however, it means that the cycle infrastructure has to be excellent, and suitable for all abilities, because the people who are currently using the pavement will not now have this option. (By contrast, no one’s suggesting that the road be legally prohibited to cyclists.)

First, the positives for the plans:
1. This is clearly an attempt at proper segregation, and to maintain it throughout the scheme area. Like TfL’s CS2 extension, while it’s not perfect, you can see what the designers are trying to do, and it’s the right idea. Bus stop bypasses are slowly becoming less controversial in this country. Obviously they need to be done right and won’t always be appropriate, but this sort of infrastructure is widely used in The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, which all perform well in relation to the UK in terms of levels of walking and cycling, and injury rates for both modes.
As an aside, David Arditti has pointed out that in this country we often have bus stop bypasses for cars, where pedestrians must cross motor traffic lanes to get to a bus island. Here’s one in Dalston (the bus island is just visible behind the van).

Kingsland Road

2. The proposed tracks/lanes are over 2m, which is a luxury in the UK context although – and I’ll return to this later – I don’t think this is enough given the Cambridge flows.

3. There is clear priority over side-roads for people cycling (although, in my view this should be extended to pedestrians – see below).

4. There is a focus on making the main roads safe – and in Cambridge, that’s where the clear gap is (there are a fair few nice secondary routes through parks and side streets)

There is a choice offered on both routes between kerbed and level segregation (or a mixture). The plans acknowledge that the latter is more vulnerable to poor driver behaviour, and that it will provide less subjective safety. These – given what we know about driver behaviour and cyclist preferences, and the nature of these roads – are for me very convincing reasons to choose the kerbed segregation (which must of course be done well – for example, using angled kerbs). If we’re taking away cyclists’ current rights to use the pavement, we have to provide something that (a) feels really safe, and (b) doesn’t rely on the British driver doing the right thing. If we provide something that’s not good enough, we’re going to have cyclists on the pavement, cyclists on the track, and cyclists in the road – and no one’s going to be happy.

However, I don’t think that the 2.1m width offered is sufficient. I believe that at present, the plans are for the Hills Road carriageway to be 7m wide (I think Huntingdon varies, but some of it has more space, some slightly less). Would it not be possible to cut the main carriageway width down somewhat, say to 6.2m or 6.4m, also perhaps reducing the segregation width slightly from 0.6m to 0.5m, to provide a segregated cycle track of 2.5m width? 2m might be ok on Stratford High Street (Cycle Superhighway 2 extension), but in a city where one in three commuting residents cycle to work? On an arterial road with schools and workplaces as key trip attractors? There needs to be plenty of space for commuters to overtake children safely, and along with clear segregation this demands in my view minimum 2.5m widths, not 2m.

Both schemes, but particularly Huntingdon Road, contain some seriously problematic junctions. For Hills Road, side roads generally (although not always) are shown with relatively tight junction geometry, which helps enforce cycle priority, because motorists have to slow before they turn. (The Huntingdon Road plans are less good on this point). But why stop there?


Pavement continues over side road, in Clapham Old Town.

This scheme affects pedestrians; why not make it as good for pedestrians as possible by giving them priority too? I noticed recently in Gent that pavement continuation over side roads is routine there, as it is in Copenhagen and many Dutch cities. I even saw it in Clapham recently. These plans could include pavement continuation alongside the cycle priority at many of the side roads. This treatment would help pedestrians and help support cycle priority, because motorists would be expected to give way both to cycles and pedestrians.

The major junctions either end of the Hills Road scheme are unpleasant for people on bikes and on foot while universal design disappears. The Huntingdon Road scheme contains very problematic junctions within the scheme area itself; for example, at Girton Road.

Girton Road

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire County Council

The flaring of this junction is a concern, with two lanes of traffic entering Huntington Road and a very wide entry to Girton Road. It’s not going to be easy for pedestrians to cross either. While the Clapham picture above makes the driver feel they’re entering a pedestrian realm, here the worry is that people on foot and on bikes feel like the guests – and unwelcome ones, given the road geometry. While the main carriageway is made narrower with hatchings and islands, ultimately this space could have been better used creating more cycle and pedestrian priority.

Lawrence Weaver Road is a particular problem. Here it appears that left hook risks are maintained, with cyclists mixing with motor traffic at the junction. After Whitehouse Lane (just to the left of the section shown), cyclists wishing to continue straight on (back on the segregated track) are expected to get into the middle of two motor traffic lanes. Those who don’t do this (either because they’re nervous of pulling out into motor traffic, or they just don’t realise that’s what they’re meant to do) will find themselves trapped in the track, with drivers expecting them to turn left.

Lawrence Weaver Road

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire County Council

Given that we’ve just had approved a cycle segregated junction in Camden, surely this junction’s an ideal opportunity to do something similar. Without a right turn, and with two motor traffic lanes, it wouldn’t be difficult. Rather than forcing cyclists going straight on to merge into motor traffic and then back to the track, you just keep them in the track, and then use the signals to separate the cyclists from the motor traffic. Basically, you let left-turning and straight ahead cyclists proceed at the same time as straight ahead motor traffic, with a separate phase for turning motor traffic. I’d probably separate straight on and left turning cycles within a widened track – using the space now allocated for a centre cycle lane – and allow left turning cycles to continue during both phases. It’s a bit of fiddling with signal timing but should be possible, while eliminating the left hook risk and not expecting cycle track users to suddenly mingle with motors. I’d also improve the pedestrian crossing there which is currently an uninviting pigpen.

These schemes are a step forward. It’s good to see plans developed that take on the main road issue – and these main roads do require difficult decisions. They’re not six lane highways with lots of room; they require some thoughtful trade-offs. There are – in the UK context – some innovations here. Bus stop bypasses, while safe and tested in other countries, are new to Cambridge, and will necessitate learning on the part of planners as well as users. As something new to us, they need to be done carefully with particular concern for disabled people (as pedestrians, and also as cyclists).

Please respond to the consultation, if it affects you. I will be broadly welcoming the proposals, expressing a preference for the segregated options, while making points about lane width, junction safety, and pedestrian priority at side roads. (At the end of the survey there is the option to make such comments). Those links again – Hills Road consultation here, Huntingdon here.

Those of us based outside Cambridge can take the lessons back to London or to our local context. One of which, for me, thinking about it, is that pedestrian and cycle priority over side roads should go together. If pedestrians are going to need to cross cycle traffic to catch a bus, then as well as making this work as smoothly as possible, planners can also compensate pedestrians by giving both groups priority over motorists at side roads. Finally, the plans – however imperfect – are a clear sign that universal design is slowly gaining ground in the UK cities that are leading on cycling, but improving junction design remains a priority.

Transport In The Media: draft programme available

I’m looking forward to visiting Lancaster University’s Centre for Mobilities Research in May and June, in my role as a 2013-4 Visiting Research Fellow. During my visit I’ll be organising a symposium on Transport in the Media.

Transport In The Media
This interdisciplinary symposium explores relationships between transport policy and practice, academic research, and the media. It includes presentations, workshops, and roundtable discussions with academics and practitioners. Themes include –
- methods for studying ‘new’ and ‘old’ media
- how transport academics could or should engage with the media, including as commentators or ‘pundits’
- media coverage of controversial transport topics including debates over road-building and rail safety
- how (and if) media coverage can lead to policy change, with examples including the coverage of cycle deaths and injuries.
The symposium starts with lunch on Monday 9th June (12-7pm) and continues on Tuesday 10th (9:30-12:30). It will be held at Lancaster University’s Conference Centre and is organised by CeMoRe in collaboration with Westminster University.

Draft timetable – note that speakers and session timings may change, although the overall timeslot will remain the same

Location: Lancaster University Conference Centre

Booking form:

Monday June 9th

12:00-1:00 – arrival, lunch, welcome (Rachel Aldred)

1-2:15pm Controversial Transport Topics: the role of the media

Presentations with Q&A

Presentations to include -

Geoff Vigar: Media Reporting of Road Pricing Proposals

Pat Kinnersly: The Media and Road Schemes: the case of the A303

Andrew Evans: Rail Safety in the Media

2:15-3:15pm: Can and Should Academics Engage in Transport Campaigning? (Chair TBC)

Open discussion, including short contributions by Steve Melia and others, discussion & debate

3:15-3:45pm – tea break

3:45-5:15pm ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Media – Methods (Chair TBC)

Part 1 – short presentations with Q&A, including Gaurav Dubey and Ronald Roberts on print media.

Part 2 – Workshop led by Tim Ryley on ‘Content analysis of newspaper articles: transport applications’

5:15-5:30pm – short break

5:30-7pm – Transport Academics in the Media

Part 1 (30 minutes) – Cristina Irving Turner (Emerald) on the practicalities of communicating research findings to the media

Part 2 (1 hour) – roundtable discussion with participants (including Marilyn Johnson (via Skype), Robin Lovelace and others) drawing on personal experiences of academics engaging with the media about research and policy

Tuesday June 10th

9:30-10:00 – opening comments (Jon Shaw), discussion

10:00-12pm – From Media Coverage to Policy Change? Session co-ordinated & chaired by Tom Cohen.

Including brief presentations by Rachel Aldred and Ian Walker on analysis of coverage of cycle safety in London and Bristol.

Plus contributions discussing the media, cycle safety and cycle advocacy in the UK.

12-12:30 – summing up, comments, next steps (Rachel Aldred)

12:30pm lunch

Afternoon – CeMoRe annual research event

Good Cycling Environments – on ‘stated preferences’

This morning I had a meeting with a representative of one of London’s Business Improvement Districts, to talk about cycling provision in the area, and the potential for further improvements. I offered to pull together some recent research evidence on preferences for different types of cycling environments, and as I was doing so I thought it might be worth also highlighting some of it here.

One of the things I’ve been arguing for lately is the need for high standards in planning cycle provision, based on the evidence about what will get those new people cycling. It’s not just about new people though. We sometimes assume that to get existing cyclists riding more, we can just do more of the same.

But that’s not necessarily the case. In London, there is a substantial disparity between commute mode share, and mode share for all trips. For example, Hackney has an impressive bicycle commute mode share of around 15%, but the overall bicycle mode share’s more like 5%. We’d expect some disparity, but these differences are very large.

Why is this? It seems like people are fussier about cycling environments when they’re not commuting. This makes intuitive sense if you think about it. When I’m riding to work, I know my route extremely well as I ride it most working days. I’m travelling on my own, so I only have to worry about my own safety, not that of any companions. I know where the dodgy bits are, where I need to concentrate super hard. I know the timing of the traffic lights – whether I have lots of time to get through or not. I know the hidden cut-throughs I can take to make the journey nicer. As I’m travelling with the peak commuting flows there’s often plenty of other cyclists around, creating a greater sense of subjective safety.

For people’s non-commute journeys, often those things don’t hold. They don’t know the route well (maybe it’s a trip to visit family that they do once every week or two). Maybe they’re not even sure what their destination is (maybe they’re going to a shopping area, but haven’t decided which shop to choose). They don’t know the traffic light timing, and they don’t know where to expect those super-hostile sections you just can’t foresee from the cycle map. It’s off-peak, and there aren’t many other cyclists. They don’t know the nice cut-throughs. They may well be cycling with less confident or able others, or have a child with them.

No wonder then that the research and the data suggest the bar is higher when you’re not commuting. I cycle into work every day, but I don’t have a great desire to get on my bike and tootle down Regent Street at lunchtime to do a bit of impromptu shopping. (Regent Street’s loss is the Internet’s gain.)

I believe that the way we model transport tends to mis-represent decisions about cycling. We know that in the UK, most people simply don’t consider getting on a bike for everyday trips. They are not doing a cost-benefit calculation. Cycling just doesn’t come into it at all. It’s more of a threshold calculation than a trade-off. If cycling seems normal and safe, they might start considering it; but right now, it’s completely outside the choice set. That’s even the case for existing cyclists, for certain types of journey (like me, for whom the bike commute’s normal, yet at lunchtime, not even considering a cycle down Regent Street to buy the new shoes I want).

So one thing that worries me about stated preference surveys into cycling environments (where we ask people about hypothetical route choices) are that we are shoe-horning the evidence into a decision-making paradigm that doesn’t fit most people, given the current (woeful) state of infrastructure. We ask them, ‘would you be prepared to spend an extra 2 minutes to ride through a park rather than along a main road? An extra four minutes? An extra six minutes?’ And we end up coming out with a result that people say they’d be happy to make long detours for the sake of safety. The problematic policy implications of this (in the context where London’s Quietways are still being defined) are clear.

With this in mind it’s instructive to read Appendix C of the route choice research commissioned by TfL recently. This is where the researchers discuss the results of their pilot survey and what surprised them there. One interesting finding that they didn’t expect was that respondents showed no preference for cycling on a high street compared to a main road; which tells us something about the state of London’s high streets in relation to cycling. But more relevant here, they were surprised by the extent to which people said they would be willing to travel further for an off-road route. The authors write:

We found that the off-road option was almost always selected, even at the highest levels of time increase. This makes it difficult to accurately value this attribute and therefore we have increased the time intervals from 12, 15, 20 to 15, 20, 25 minutes.

Now I find it hard to believe that people would potentially double their journey time to take an off-road route – at this level of time penalty it’s going to be well out of their way. Personally, if the choice was this stark (the on-road route hostile, the off-road alternative lengthy) I would probably just use another mode for the journey. And this is exactly the choice that most people are making in the UK. So for me, the responses to the route choice survey show just how strong the support for separated infrastructure is (and this is a survey among those who currently cycle in London). It doesn’t tell us about an accurate coefficient to use in a route choice model (it is indeed ‘difficult to accurately value this attribute’); but probably more importantly, it tells us what people want.

And this is backed up by other evidence. Here I just pull out a few quotes from the TfL report and from other relevant research:

The presence of an off-road route was particularly highly valued.’ (TfL 2013: iii)
Across all cyclists, the key considerations around route choice centred on choosing the safest routes, and avoiding traffic [...] Female respondents were much more likely to prefer safer routes, away from other traffic, and away from difficult junctions.’ (TfL 2013: i)
Facilities that were segregated from traffic are the preferred form of cycling infrastructure, regardless of cycling confidence. Routes through residential streets and parks are the second choice.’ (Caulfield et al 2012 – Dublin study).
[R]egardless of the level of cycling confidence, routes which have ‘no facilities’ or ‘bus/cycle lanes’ are the least favoured cycle route types. There appears to be no direct correlation between cycling confidence and route choice preference with confident cyclists demonstrating a similar preference for the presented infrastructure types as respondents with no cycling confidence. There are, however, a small proportion of very confident cyclists who place high importance on short journey times and direct facilities with low cyclist volumes.‘ (Caulfield et al 2012)

the biggest shift to cycle that may be possible is if all cycling after the change takes place on the bike path far from the road. The proportion of cyclists in this sample would then increase from 51.0% to 61.3%, i.e. an increase of 20%.’ (Björklund and Isacsson 2013, Swedish study combining stated and revealed preference data)

Everyone prefers routes with less interactions with traffic and riding in safer conditions.’ (Wang et al 2012, Auckland study)

Most respondents were likely or very likely to choose to cycle on the following broad route categories: off-street paths (71%–85% of respondents); physically separated routes next to major roads (71%); and residential routes (48%–65%).‘ (Winters and Teschke 2010, Canadian study).

My conclusion: set the bar high, using the evidence to define what will get people cycling, and then look at what trade-offs are needed in specific contexts to realise this level of service. If compromises are proposed, be honest about them – knowing that advisory lanes and ASLs are pretty irrelevant to the discussion, if a city seeks to be in cycling’s Premier League.

The bicycle is human scale

A short piece I wrote for the LCC website as part of their International Women’s Day collection. It and a range of other pieces are here.

I’ve ridden a bike in London now for around 12 years. My commute runs from Hackney to Westminster, and while some of it is downright unpleasant, much is enjoyable. I love how it varies by season. London Fields Park changes colour week by week. In Summer, I spot the house in Islington where the roses precisely match the front door paint. In Winter I enjoy riding past Camden’s 1930s built Welsh Centre and peeking in through the lit windows to the oak panelled interior.

Each year I notice new things, or am reminded of the past by seeing things that bring back old memories. I appreciate opportunities to interact with people, like smiling at pedestrians when I stop at zebra crossings. The bicycle is human scale, unlike a car where the driver is cocooned in a ton of metal and steel. This for me is a key reason why we should encourage cycling: it can help create sociable and welcoming cities. But cities must choose to welcome cycling, and in London many of our politicians and officials still seem unsure.

For me, space for cycling is about freedom from fear; creating cycling environments that are positively pleasant, where interactions with motor vehicles are kept to a minimum. On many main roads, this means wide, direct, and prioritised cycle tracks. On much of our street network, it means removing or dramatically reducing through motor traffic, changing the balance of power on the streets. Where cyclists interact with motor vehicles, this should be on cycling’s (and walking’s) terms; motor vehicles should be slowed down, diverted and held back to allow cyclists and pedestrians safe and speedy passage.

This approach allows cycling to become truly equitable and liberating. Cycling is inherently democratic. For some people, it’s easier than walking, and it’s certainly easier than driving. Yet cycling in the UK seems only something for the skilled and the super-confident. It’s an incredible reversal. Something by nature easy and safe becomes difficult and unpleasant, while driving – by nature complex and scary – seems easy and even expected. The growing recognition of this injustice was what prompted me to get involved with LCC.

Space for cycling means space for people. Re-allocating space from motor vehicles to cycling is a win-win. My street is no longer a short-cut for motor traffic thanks to ‘modal filtering’ (some carefully placed bollards and trees stopping up a rat-run). The street’s nicer for everyone and local people now organise a regular ‘play street’ for kids. Similarly good quality cycle tracks on main roads, using space taken from motor traffic lanes, can create a pleasant, quieter, and less polluted atmosphere for walking. My office fronts Marylebone Road. Walking along it would be much nicer if there was a cycle track next to the pavement rather than a motor traffic lane.

We need space for cycling not just for (current) cyclists, but for the city and all its people. I believe that London’s at the crossroads, and that space for cycling needs to be seen as part of a vision of a humanised city which is better for everyone.

On Reinventing the Wheel: learning from others and the past

This week, Londoners heard the very welcome news that 33 of London’s biggest and nastiest road junctions were to be transformed:

Gyratories at Archway, Aldgate, Swiss Cottage and Wandsworth, among others, will be ripped out and replaced with two-way roads, segregated cycle tracks and new traffic-free public space.
The Elephant & Castle roundabout, London’s highest cycle casualty location, will be removed. At other intimidating gyratories, such as Hammersmith and Vauxhall, safe and direct segregated cycle tracks will be installed, pending more radical transformations of these areas in the medium term.

Of course, there will be a lot of work still to do to ensure this programme (a) really happens and (b) really does provide excellent cycling and walking environments. However, it’s a positive sign. As is the description of the junctions to be removed as being ‘Sixties Relics’, linking motor dominance to an imagined undesired past.

Once, the car was the future. As Dudley and Richardson have written, the motorway lobby didn’t succeed just by its (important) economic and political power, or by convincing the British public of the need for motorways. It’s also crucial that they tied motorways to a vision of a utopian, consumerist future, without the rationing of the past. A shiny new individualist world where everyone would have their own washing machine, fridge, garden – and private car.

More than half a century on, we’re living with the new forms of ugliness and squalor that the private car has imposed on our cities and countryside. And yet, in much transport policy discourse, the default imagined future is still an even more motorised one. The Department for Transport’s National Transport Model perpetuates this vision, even though in many countries and cities the facts suggest something rather different is happening. It is possible to build a future that centres walking, cycling, and public transport, and marginalises the car, and moreover the evidence suggests that there is strong demand for such a future. In London, TfL research suggests that half of all those London commuters who don’t currently ride to work believe their journey could be cycled. That’s a lot of ‘near market’ people waiting to be convinced, by a clear vision of the future allied to good infrastructure on the ground. Casting the bike as the future, and the car city as the past, can help support the coalitions needed to build that infrastructure.

The cycling movement arguably has a lot to learn from other movements who have sought to shift the status quo. The motorway lobby in the middle of the last century is one such movement. Others may have nothing at all to do with cycling or transport, yet there may still be similarities that can lead to mutual learning – for example, around dealing with processes of victim-blaming, which often involve the pressure for ‘out-group’ members to be held responsible for the behaviour of every other ‘out-group’ member (while every ‘in-group’ member is an individual, responsible only for his or her own behaviour).

Cyclists are not the only people to be told, when they are the victims of violence, that they were at fault because of their dress or behaviour. Cyclists are not the only group to be misrepresented as ‘dangerous’ or ‘aggressive’ in the media. Cyclists are not the only people to be regularly described as ‘vulnerable’, although their ‘vulnerability’ is imposed by a system that exposes them to risk. Cyclists are not the only people to be disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies.

It’s worth saying clearly that I am not equating any of those linked-to experiences to what people might experience because, or when, they cycle. Clearly, there are big differences.

However, some of the processes – for example, the construction of some people, but not others, as ‘deserving victims’ – are related, just as the motorway lobby’s construction of a vision of the future parallels some of the ways we might talk about cycling in the city of the future. Cycling movements can learn from the challenges – and successes – of other movements. For example, while many problems remain, the situation of women in relation to the legal system has improved, influenced by the efforts of advocacy movements in that area. I used to touch on this issue while lecturing in my previous job, and students were always surprised by how new some rights were that they took for granted – such as the legal right not to be raped by your husband, established in 1991 in English and Welsh law.

So I was really pleased when Ellen, who was involved in the Londoners on Bikes campaign, suggested to me organising a workshop where cycling advocates could learn from people involved in other movements, such as domestic violence campaigns and campaigns around the use of stop and search. It seemed like an ideal event to hold as part of the LCC’s Policy Forum Seminar Series, which I organise with my advocacy hat on.

We’ve put together an event on the evening of the 13th March entitled ‘Reinventing the Wheel’, with four facilitators from other movements, and an agenda that will allow sharing ideas and experiences of responding to victim-blaming. The four key areas we’ll be discussing are: influencing decision-makers; working with the media; liaising with the police and judiciary; and changing public attitudes. There are still a few places left and if you’d like to contribute to this debate, please sign up online.

Please Respond to the Central London Grid Consultation

Grid Consultation (click to view document)

Grid Consultation (click to view document)

If you live in London, or cycle in London, please respond to the Central London Grid Consultation. It closes Friday, so time is short. The consultation page is here. I’ve copied below a draft of the response that I’ll be putting in by Friday; please feel free to borrow bits of it (or add suggestions). Email your response to

It’s quite a challenge to respond to a Grid covering all of Central London, and involving eleven organisations (which was why I was putting it off). But it’s important that the voices of people who want to see more cycling are heard, particularly where we think that a route is (a) important and/or (b) missing. I’d focus on the following two issues, remembering that detailed consultation on route interventions will follow:

1. Briefly commenting in broad terms on the general principle of having a Central London Cycle Grid.
2. Commenting briefly on the plans put forward by (or in the area of) each organisation involved – both the good and the bad as the good is not confirmed and the bad may yet be avoided… I’ve only highlighted a few key issues here, and I have more knowledge about some boroughs than others; more detail can be found elsewhere (e.g. via LCC local groups).

My draft response:

I am writing in response to the Central London Cycle Grid consultation, as someone who works in Central London and frequently travels through the area, primarily for work purposes. I support the principle of a Central London Grid. It’s important to have this kind of strategic overview for cycling, and I’m pleased to see the eleven partners involved taking this forward. The existence of a mesh of high quality, direct routes – whether Superhighways, Quietways, or park routes – in Central London will, if realised, encourage much wider take-up of cycling. Adequate funding and ongoing political support across the area will be crucial.

I hope that the good parts of the current Grid plan will be swiftly implemented, and the more problematic aspects – such as the lack of routes in Kensington and Chelsea, or circuitous proposed routes in Westminster – can be remedied so that the Grid works as a coherent whole. Whatever the infrastructure type – Superhighway, Quietway, park route – all need to be suitable for a broad range of cycling abilities, meaning direct routes where interaction with motor traffic is minimised (the LCC benchmark being no more than 2,000 Passenger Car Units per day for routes shared with motor traffic).

I would like to comment specifically on some of the routes offered by the various partners.

Canal & River Trust

The Regents Canal forms part of the Central London Grid. I’d like to see access improved to the towpath where it is currently difficult (e.g. Charlbert Street Bridge) and the improvement of alternative cycle routes (e.g. along Outer Circle) so that they provide similarly pleasant and attractive environments, which offer higher capacity and are more suitable for use after dark.
City of London
The superhighway links over the bridges into City are welcome, and I hope that the link across Smithfield Market (Grand Avenue) can be opened up to cycles when not in use by the early morning market. The route around Bank looks confusing.

City of Westminster
The Westminster section includes some very useful routes, and some that need to be re-thought. Cycle Superhighway 11 (presumably, it would continue along Gloucester Street, given the starting point) and the suggested Quietway on Harley Street are very important direct N-S routes, that cross Marylebone Road and link up with routes to the North through Regent’s Park. Some of the other routes – in particular, the convoluted section north of St James’s Park – are patently not direct, and do not meet the aspirations of the Vision. It is disappointing not to be offered a safe route through Trafalgar Square, which will remain a barrier. Routes need to be developed through Soho.

London Borough of Camden
Very pleased to see the inclusion of Clerkenwell Road which fills what would otherwise be a gap in the grid; and which is currently used by very high numbers of cyclists albeit in relatively poor conditions. Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street are currently marked as ‘alternative’ route suggestions. It is important that at least one of these routes is designated as part of the Cycle Grid, with the quality implications that that entails. Both are highly problematic for cycling, yet are direct routes on key desire lines. East-West connectivity could be improved – there’s no joined up East-West route between Tavistock Place and the North of Regent’s Park.

London Borough of Hackney; London Borough of Islington
Again commend the inclusion of Clerkenwell Road.

London Borough of Lambeth
Clearly Lambeth has been enthusiastic in its designation of Grid routes: perhaps too much so, because it’s hard to see what the core Grid proposals are (those that are to form part of the joined up core Central network, as opposed to additional local routes).

London Borough of Southwark
Southwark should benefit from the additional Superhighway bridge crossings; more could be done to join these up though, for example there is no route shown continuing South from London Bridge. Other gaps include a large hole around Elephant and Castle.

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Kensington and Chelsea seem to have done the opposite of Lambeth; very few routes are proposed here and large gaps remain, more so than in any other borough. There is little in the way of East-West connectivity. One obvious option would be to open up a route within Holland Park for cycling; even just allowing cycling in the short link between Duchess of Bedford’s Walk and Ilchester Place would be useful. As it is, it’s hard to see how Kensington and Chelsea’s part of the map will facilitate cycling among those currently put off by heavy motor traffic; the links just aren’t there and to get anywhere you’d need to divert to busy main roads (with no dedicated space for cycling). Routes just stop, and the centre of Kensington is impermeable, while proposed routes through Hyde Park go nowhere when they leave the park. This section of the map needs a clear re-think.

The Royal Parks
It is good to see the Royal Parks considering facilitating cycle routes to a greater extent than previously. The proposed routes through Green Park and St James’s Park will be crucial for providing pleasant and direct routes through an area with many unpleasantly busy roads. Similarly transforming the Outer Circle into a high quality cycle route does much needed work to facilitate North-South and East-West journeys in that area.
Opening hours need to be re-thought; more parks should be made 24 hour and some current opening hours are clearly unsuitable for Grid routes: at present Kensington Gardens closes at dusk, which makes routes unusable for much for the year. There’s scope for considering additional routes, for example in Regents Park – why is the South section of the Broad Walk not included?

Review of ‘Promoting Walking and Cycling’


Hearing Colin and others on Kevin Fong’s Radio 4 programme on cycling this week reminded me to put this in press book review online. Because of workload pressures I usually try and avoid doing book reviews but I thought I’d make an exception for this one. I’ll be organising an event in June as part of a visiting fellowship at CeMoRe in Lancaster, to further discuss some of these issues.

Promoting Walking and Cycling: New Perspectives on Sustainable Travel, Colin Pooley et al, Bristol, Policy Press 2013

The is the book of the EPSRC-funded Understanding Walking and Cycling (UWAC) project. UWAC (2008-11) helped shift debate in UK cycle advocacy circles, when its 2011 project report argued policy-makers should not base policies about walking and cycling ‘on the views of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians’. While this proved uncontroversial for walking, some cycling advocates vehemently criticised this approach, even when adjusted to ‘not only on the views…’
The debate was not just about the views of individual people who cycle and walk. It tapped into a fault line within UK cycling advocacy. Should cyclists be on the road, “integrated” with motor traffic, as was the dominant assumption for many years? Or, should advocates aim for a Dutch-style approach, separating cycles from motor vehicles, with segregated cycle tracks on main roads and removing through motor traffic from minor roads? Many supporting the former option saw the criticism of “existing committed cyclists” as referring to them. Supporters of Dutch-style infrastructure in established advocacy organisations, and new organisations such as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, welcomed the report.

Two years on, Promoting Walking and Cycling appears in a different policy and advocacy landscape, where Dutch-style provision has gained ground in the UK and other countries. An interesting and readable book, it makes a series of radical yet sensible recommendations, from improving walking and cycling infrastructure, to legal and policy changes. Most are fairly uncontroversial within the sustainable transport field; although not, sadly, within the political class. The mixed methods used, from survey research to ethnography, usefully highlight the range of often interconnected barriers to walking and cycling. Although providing safe infrastructure is very important, it is far from the only issue and policies around, for example, school “choice” help make active travel harder.
Yet reading these recommendations, I wondered from where change could come, if existing cyclists and pedestrians have – as the book suggests – mostly learned to live with low expectations. One reasonable criticism levelled by cycle advocates back in 2011 was that if policy-makers did not listen to existing cyclists, they might just ignore cycling altogether, as happened for many decades after World War Two. I felt the book might have usefully reflected more on the changes in cycling advocacy that UWAC helped to influence, including whether there is the potential for new advocacy to lead to policy change. (Some interesting material in this respect is found on the blog written by UWAC researcher Dave Horton, “thinkingaboutcycling“).

My research for the Cycling Cultures project suggested a slightly more hopeful picture. Cycling Cultures found many existing cyclists do want infrastructural improvements. Why this difference? Our empirical research took place slightly later; but probably more importantly, UWAC research was in four cities where cycling had been low for many years. Cycling Cultures research areas had relatively high and/or rising cycling rates; perhaps generating more awareness both of cycling and of the continued problems with local cycling environments. I believe this can potentially provide impetus for policy change.

In relation to the mixed methods used, I felt the book somewhat underplayed the interesting negative findings from the work package examining how the built environment influences active travel. Local connectedness seemed to have little influence on cycling levels, in particular. This seemed to support the team’s focus on cycling infrastructure (rather than broader land-use changes) and I was surprised more was not made of it. I wondered whether the same is true in high-cycling contexts such as The Netherlands. With good cycling infrastructure, does land use come to the fore?

Finally, I’d have liked to see tensions in the “walking and cycling” interface explored to a greater extent. The book highlights “walking and cycling” are not the same thing and hostility to cyclists is sometimes expressed from a “pedestrian perspective”. How best to deal with this conflict while attempting to improve conditions for both cycling and walking? Current debates around providing for buses, pedestrians, and cycles within urban areas highlight the need to tackle some tricky issues around space allocation and urban design. The conclusion of the book refers approvingly to “shared space” in Exhibition Road, London but this (a) is not a truly “shared” environment for most of its length and (b) remains problematic for cycling, at least.

Overall, I would recommend this book to planners, academics, and others interested in learning more about how the UK (and many other countries) have failed walking and cycling, and how we might start to make things right. To get the full context for the study, I suggest reading it alongside the debates it sparked on the blogosphere back in 2011.

Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster Department of Planning and Transport

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in Transport Reviews [copyright Taylor & Francis]; Transport Reviews is available online at