How To Build A Transport Network?
You can’t say that we don’t ask the big questions here!
So. Here’s my problem. I have this image in my mind of a point in the future, where there’ll be integrated networks for people on bikes in all British towns and cities. It will be possible to get pretty much from your front door to where ever you want to ride, pretty much without having to interact with motorised transport - cars, busses, taxis, motorbikes, lorries, white van drivers, etc. Where it’s easier to ride your bike, safer, and more convenient than any of those alternatives. A bit like things are in other parts of the world (just over the North Sea, in fact), but without the need to drive on the wrong side of the road.
But how to get from where we are now? Basically, we already have an integrated network that runs through every village, town and city. That same network connects these all together. It’s a network of roads, that are of high quality, and facilitate the rapid movement of people and stuff.
Until this year, I accepted that this was good enough. In 1980, when I learnt to ride on the road, things were quieter, and there was less traffic. The little experience I had of dedicated cycle infrastructure was of narrow, poorly maintained tracks that didn’t seem to connect anywhere useful to anywhere else. So I’ve always ridden on the roads, and like anyone who’s done this for a while, I’ve developed a sixth, seventh, and possibly eighth sense about what other road users a about to do.
But now I want something different - something better than a situation where I really do need eyes in the back of my head to ride to the shops, and something that encourages the many to ride, rather than the few ‘enthusiasts’ and ’serious’ cyclists who do now.
So how to grow this sort of system? We’ll leave out all the stuff about firing up the political will to make it happen for now. What I’m trying to get straight in my head is, if this change takes twenty years to flower, what will it look like after five, ten, and fifteen years?
Maybe this article in New Scientist gives some clues. Essentially, once the ‘main routes’ have been put in place, the network evolves itself. In effect, route usage, and the need for more localised optimisation (fixing the small problems of how you get from A to B, when B isn’t on the pre-installed network) creates a complex adaptive system, whose properties are emergant, and remarkably hard to predict from the initial starting point. In other words, put in place the joined-up routes to attract a critical mass, and the next step of a range of potential steps becomes so obvious that it’s almost self-fulfilling.
This could be where it gets sticky - it’ll need to involve civil servants, and specifically, traffic engineers. Oh, and probably spending a lot of public money. Not a lot compared with, say, the cost of building a new runway at Heathrow Airport, but a lot compared with a couple of pints with your mates. Civil Servants, traffic engineers, and public money - not three things that sit well with the concept of ‘emergant properties’.
Hmmm. Some more thinking to be done on this. I may have to ratchet up the Kool Aid for the people I need to convince!