Tuesday 7 June 2011

Separate Cycle facilities: What to do in the meantime.

One of the easiest things in the world is to list what is wrong. Specifically, what is wrong with the situation on the UK's road that makes cycling less popular than it should be.

Bad driving, bad cycling, lack of facilities, risk of accident, lack of momentum, the weather, etc. The list goes on. It's an easy list to compile. What is significantly more difficult is to list the answers, and yet, this is the holy grail. Remove the barriers, whilst at the same time showing people the benefits, and people will cycle. The more that cycle, the safer the roads become for everyone.

Is this safety in numbers?

So, what could be done to get more people cycling?

There are two completely different views on the overall approach to getting more people cycling. I'll call them intergrationists and separatists.  The integrationists want cyclists to be accepted on the roads as they are. They see no need for cycle lanes, in fact they often see them as decisive. Cyclists should be accepted as traffic.
Then there are the separatists. They look to the continent and see Copenhagen and Amsterdam as shining examples of how money well spent (lots of money) can lead to well designed and well used separate cycling facilities. Cyclists are generally taken off the road and out the way of cars.

For those that read my blog regularly (thanks for reading!) you will probably see me slotting into the integrationists. You'd be right, certainly in the way I practice my cycling. However, I concede that in an ideal world separate cycling facilities if done correctly it would be.....well....ideal! So perhaps separatistism is the way for he future, but what about today? I am at heart, a pragmatist, and I realise that utopia is a long way off.

So what can we do now that can get more cyclists on the streets now which would not only make the roads safer, but perhaps give us a louder voice to help bring utopia about?

As I mentioned in a previous blog

1) We need to get drivers to realise that the more cyclists on the roads the better it is for them, and everyone else.

2)We need to get more drivers out of their cars and on to bikes.

So it's all about marketing. Marketing cyclists, showing that we are not the baddies and we don't go about in marauding hordes knocking down old grannies. At the same time we need to market cycling itself, as a viable, and surprisingly fun way of getting about our urban landscapes.

So, do I have any ideas on how to get there?

What about a campaign along the lines of 'Cyclist = Q-1'. That is each cyclist equals one less car in the queue. Thus the more cyclists there are, the less congestion there would be and the faster everyone would get to work. Yes, with more cyclists on the road maximum speeds might be reduced, but what would the effect on average speed be? Certainly in busy urban areas you might be surprised.

The suggestion of Bike Celebration Stations made by Alexwarrior is, I think, and excellent one. On busy commutes Celebration stations are set up when cyclists can pull into and get free breakfast, other goodies, vouchers etc, all in view of the drivers stuck in queues. This could become an annual or even more regular event, possibly moving around the city during the summer months.

These are just two ideas. What do you think? We need more ideas of course, so if you have any.....


  1. First - Sp - divisive? (right shift index finger)

    I use an analogy with railways, when you have different sorts of train running at different speeds and stopping patterns, you lose track capacity, so you get better operation by running each type of train on a separate line - hence fast & slow & goods lines on a busy rail route, and for low levels of all traffic you have single track with passing loops.

    We are already doing this with bus lanes. Bus services operate in a very different way to private cars, so it makes sense to give them a separate bus lane where a high volume of bus traffic can operate efficiently.

    By fortunate coincidence cyclists tend to average a speed similar to buses in bus lanes (although you need to manage this to minimise leapfrogging each other (get in front and stay in front or stay behind. But on some places - for example Rosebery Avenue/Theobalds Road during rush hours, the flow of cycles can justify a separate cycle clearway.

    In Denmark and Netherlands they have just those volumes of cycle traffic generally rolling as a traffic mass at 10-12 mph, and it make clear sense to make efficient use of the road space by guiding this flow as a separate traffic to motor traffic doing 20 or 30 mph, so higher volumes of both can be fed through junctions quickly.

  2. A quick look at the "Aberdeen Cars" satirical blog will tell you all you need to know about the political failure evident in pro-motoring anti-cyclist Scotland. http://aberdeencars.blogspot.com/2011/06/pro-motoring-aberdeen-citizen.html

  3. I think you make a very good point with regards to educating drivers on how quick it can be to get around by bike. Already in London along the much talked about Cycle Superhighways we have signs up that give an estimate of journey times to key parts of town along the route. I can't help but think that if this was larger and clearer it *may* get the attention of some of those sitting in traffic and get them thinking! After all in the usual morning rush hour the times quoted are generally around 1/2 - 1/3 the time it would take in a car :-D And they are quoted using a rather conservative average speed.

  4. As a dutch cyclist, I have to say that I prefer separate cycle lanes.
    That said, drivers' awareness of cyclists needs to be raised too. Even in a country as used to and abundant with cyclists as the Netherlands, quite a lot of drivers ignore or oversee us. Most separate lanes eventually have to cross regular traffic, and, well, if a driver ignores you there, the separate lane won't safeguard you from a potential accident.

    But all in all, I love cycling (both as a commuter and recreational). In fact, I often can't stop grinning when I pass by long queues of cars, knowing that I'll be home at least as quickly as them but without the frustration of having to wait and wait and wait...even rain can't wipe that grin off of my face!

  5. There's certainly room for both the intergrationists and separatists views. For fast, confident cyclists like you there is no reason they shouldn't be on the road, and thousands of youtube clips show why they shouldn't, in many cases, be in the cycle lanes (let's pretend they're perfect for the moment) - basically the train analogy Dave H mentions. For less confident, or simply slower, riders a separate route may well be a good idea.

    But there will always be riding on the road.

    Even with perfect, dedicated, separate cycle routes there will (almost) always be some part the journey they don't cover. Rather like the motorway for cars (again, let's pretend they're perfect), these will provide the fastest, easiest route from B to C, but you still need to get to them, and from them to your ultimate destination.

    Again, youtube shows us many drivers shouting "Get in the cycle lane" even when there isn't one. These dedicated - let's call them "cycle superhighways" shall we - will surely only add to that irritation. Without education, that is.

    On to education though, Bike=Q-1 is a good slogan but, like many, it only really works for the people who already get it. The driver in the queue sees that as "If all these other buggers got a bike instead of a car, you'd have the road to yourself." What we need to do is address what the driver thinks rather than say what we think.
    The driver thinks bikes are slow therefore the journey takes longer - in town that's demonstrably false.
    The driver thinks cycling's dangerous - kind of a circular argument that one, but statistics can prove anything so they'll do.
    The driver thinks cyclists get wet when it rains - ah, you might have a point there.

    And the driver thinks cycling's hard. That'll be hard to tackle, 'cos when you start out it is. I went to the shops by bike yesterday after not riding for years and after two miles I was knackered. The average driver (lets say, those who aren't driving to their "spin" classes) will never be able to just get a bike and take it to work. It takes practice.

    How do you convince them it's worth the effort?

  6. "The driver thinks bikes are slow therefore the journey takes longer - in town that's demonstrably false."

    Not just in town, in my experience the same might apply to (semi) rural areas too: local (motorized) traffic often queues up around highway / non-highway interchanges.
    One example I see every day features a 1-2km queue all the way through a village to a highway interchange.

    "The driver thinks cyclists get wet when it rains - ah, you might have a point there."

    Nothing a bit of good clothing can't fix ;). Suitable clothing might be a point of education as well.

  7. Hi Guys,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I agree that even with separation cyclists will still need to use the roads. However, if separation, even though there will be places where the cars and cyclists don't interact, there will still be more places where they do. So the roads should become safer due to increased exposure.

    I really like the Celebration Station idea, and I am keen to explore this further. Watch this space.....

  8. Interesting post. I personally feel that segregation is our best long-term target, provided it is done right (ie: as The Netherlands and to a lesser extant, Denmark). I am reasonably happy to cycle in traffic (although I avoid certain trips if it requires using a particularly bad road), but I also understand why most of my friends and family do not feel safe enough to cycle like I do.

    You stated that, "Cyclists are generally taken off the road and out the way of cars," in The Netherlands and Denmark, but it seems more like cars are being tamed to keep them out of the way of cyclists. It is a minor distinction but important, segregation which gets cyclists out of the way of cars generally fares worse because it doesn't also deter driving, and it generally doesn't give the same level of convenience to making journeys by bike. Just look at Milton Keynes. Conversely, by making it harder to drive during the process of segregation you offer a carrot to entice cyclists and a stick to beat motorists, giving a more significant relative change to the attractiveness of each option.

  9. I'm with magnatom as an integrationist. My experience of cycle lanes is that they tend to be fairly poor.
    The only way for complete separation is for there to be a nationwide network of cycle paths, such that any journey can be made without needing to share the road with cars. This would be prohibitively expensive. Even the current state of cycle lanes appears to be tokenistic rather than a well designed solution to a problem. Cycle lanes tend to either be painted on the road and thus contain parked cars, drains and potholes, or are part of an extra wide pavement and thus likely to contain glaikit pedestrians, and you lose right of way at junctions (such as this one in Bridge of Allan - http://maps.google.co.uk/?ll=56.150157,-3.948244&spn=0.00441,0.009645&t=h&z=17&vpsrc=6&layer=c&cbll=56.150044,-3.948191&panoid=dGJ4kbFVNGRkPduzpojwZQ&cbp=12,127.09,,0,27.03 )

    Here's am example of a much better cycle lane just by Stirling Police Station - http://maps.google.co.uk/?ll=56.109785,-3.939157&spn=0.004385,0.009645&t=h&z=17&vpsrc=6&layer=c&cbll=56.109894,-3.939092&panoid=PLe4UD_giL6nOE688Rxd_A&cbp=12,194.19,,0,22.22
    It's on a wide section of road and the door zone is clearly marked.
    The only way I'd become a separatist is if lanes like this were ubiquitous.

    Since most cycle journeys involve roads where you just have to share with cars I think that the solution is not to move cycles off the road, but to educate motorists.
    The driving test has a written paper these days, so it should be possible to educate new drivers about how to treat cyclists and them test them on this knowledge.

  10. @thnurg - a certain amount of cycling education does happen on the driving test/theory and of course these are sections of the highway code relevant to this. That said, it's clear the level of education is not sufficient.

    Back on topic :p living in North Devon we have the Tarka Trail that runs parallel to many of the major routes. Its one of the old railway routes converted in to cycle/walking track. There are constant calls of "use the trail" etc when using the roads, however the trail is littered with wobbly kids, walkers, slow meandering cyclists that maintaining progress is often difficult! Are cycleways f Amsterdam shared with Peds out of interest?

    With regard to integration I can only echo some of the other posts that driver education is the key. I drive of course and I find that I am slowed down/put in danger by other car drivers, it's very rare that I get this from a cyclist, (and we have LOADS down here) but of course its easy to single out the cyclist as they are the "break from the norm"....


  11. Another thought is that many more people would cycle to work if they had a safe place to store their bikes. I think the owners of big companies should dedicate a room on a lower floor with separate locking cubicles in it, and set aside one elevator if need be for moving the bikes downstairs. The cubicles could also be fitted with electrical outlets, so employees with electric bikes could charge their batteries. The owners could also charge customers a small fee for the use of a cubicle.