It Got Built. Why Didn’t They Come?

I had a meeting in Cramlington on Thursday (I was getting my photo taken with a parrot as it happens - sometimes my job is just plain strange!) Naturally, I rode a bike there, and used Bikehub and Cyclstreets to navigate in the unfamiliar territory.

I rank both these apps as game-changers, as they have detailed knowledge that can help plan this kind of journey in ways that constantly surprise the typical UK cyclist who’s used to crappy, car-centred roads. And Thursday was no exception - look what Cramlington has (sorry for the shaky focus - I didn’t have time to stop):

That’s a dedicated, segregated cycle route, wide enough for two-way traffic, with a lovely smooth surface, and a separate footpath. And here’s another one - this one’s surface was a little broken up in places, and someone from the council has been round marking up these defects for repair. No, really:

In fact, Cramlington has a complete grid network of these routes, with a grid spacing of around 500m - shown here as blue dotted lines:

This is really high quality infrastructure, covering the whole of the residential area (green), but not the industrial estate (pink):

So how come I only saw two other people on bikes, despite the fact that there was plenty of traffic on the roads?

The answer I think is that there’s another Cramlington grid:

  • With a grid spacing of ~1,000m, there’s a network of easy-to-use, broad, direct roads, and a plethora of high-capacity roundabouts for the junctions.
  • There’s a shopping centre in the town centre (just below the “C” of Cramlington on the map) with a whopping great car park.
  • And if Nelson Industrial Estate (the pink area on the map) is the major local centre of employment, then you’re plainly not supposed to get to work by bike - the cycle grid doesn’t go there and the wide, straight roads that accommodate HGV deliveries give drivers very little perception of their actual speed.

Cramlington is similar in size and population to Houten in the Netherlands:

  • New town from 1979.
  • A ring road surrounding an area of 3 km across.
  • Extensive cycle way.
  • The area within the ring consists of sixteen residential zones.
  • Car access from one zone to another is possible only via the ring road

Does this explain why in Cramlington, only 1.3% of trips are by bike (see this Sustrans’ report - page 63), while in Houten it’s 30%?

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27 Responses to “ It Got Built. Why Didn’t They Come? ”

  1. Carlton Reid on August 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Quite. Building cycle infrastructure is only part of a much bigger picture.

    It needs to be built but it’s not a solution in its own right, especially when it’s not built everywhere and with direct, pleasant routes.

    As you say, in Houten, car trips are actively discouraged by the road design. If we ever got loads of great protected bike lanes in the UK, would we ever get a policy of car discouragement? What signs are there that Government is anywhere near to wanting to invest in cycling and disinvest in mass motoring?

    Even where it can be shown that cyclists are in a majority (Blackfriars bridge at rush hour), the powers-that-be still favour motorised transport.

    It’s going to take a major shock to make local and national Governments sit up and take notice. The 1973 oil crisis spurred on cycle infrastructure development in the Netherlands.

    Maybe Peak Oil and price rises will have a similar impact here, but it’s a slower price rise so takes longer for the impact to be noticed.

    At some point, mass motoring, gridlock, obesity and ill health (and deaths of peds and cyclists) will be seen as all part of the same problem.

  2. Steven Fleming on August 3, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I’m doubting the wisdom of focusing on modal shares. Those stats seem like blunt instruments. It matters more that everyone who wants to ride, has no infrastructural impediments, preventing them from riding as much as they would like to. Are people who own bikes making 100% of the trips by bike that they would like to, or only half as many, because of bad roads? Does anyone know of a mechanism via which stats like those are collected and compared?

  3. Mr C. (@MCRcycling) on August 3, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Make it quite nice to ride a bike, but extremely nice to drive a car and this is what you get. I think that the vast majority of people who are aiming for a future where the UK has the kind of infrastructure as The Netherlands (or at least Denmark) wants the kind of infrastructure they have in The Netherlands (or at least Denmark); the infrastructure isn’t just the cycle paths, but the town/city design which gives cycling an advantage over driving, such as forcing motorists out onto a ring road because the city is divided into quarters which cannot be travelled between by private car. Karl notes that in Cramlington, this has not been the case.

    The suggestion that cycle paths alone are a complete solution seems to have come from outside the various communities asking for cycle infrastructure. Some people use this suggestion as a straw man, attempting to make the argument for high quality cycle infrastructure seem indefensible. In the case of Cramlington, it seems to be more a case of “I laid the foundations for a house, why am I still cold?” than “It got built. Why didn’t they come?”

  4. Carlton Reid on August 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Mr C. - tens of thousands of words have been written on this topic by a number of bloggers over the last few months and so it’s impossible to summarise one of the over-riding views exactly, but here goes anyway…

    “The ‘old’ cycle advocacy groups never asked for cycle infrastructure; we’re going to ask, and show the powers-that-be that it-can-be-done because it has been done in the Netherlands, and here’s the proof.”

    My point is that asking and getting are two very different things. And even when infrastructure is put in place it will never be enough because those who say they’re afraid to ride among motorised traffic still won’t get on bikes if the network isn’t 100 percent complete.

    And even if the network was perfect in every way, the masses still won’t take to their bikes if driving is still more convenient. Houten does it well: making it very convenient to ride bikes, a pain to drive cars.

    There also needs to be a sea change in punishments for drivers who harass, injure and kill. This is because no matter how good the network, there will be times when cyclists have to mix with cars and, currently, motorists need have few fears when they hit a cyclist.

    CTC is very good at lobbying for changes in the law to make punishments for bad motoring more severe.

  5. KarlOnSea on August 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    As a bit of a closet yoghurt-knitter, I’d say that we’ve hit the nail on the head here.

    I actually do want to live in a society where 20, 30, 40% or more of all trips are not made by car. Given how far people generally drive (~70% of trips are less than 6 miles), this is quite achievable. But only if…

    Significant numbers of people feel that they can make their regular trips about town safely. That probably means streets that are engineered to be <20mph without the use of speed cushions & pinch points for drivers to race between; or for higher volume, higher speed streets or those used by large vehicles (HGVs & buses!), segregation. We can debate the stats of actual safety ’till the cows come home, but most people are not open to this kind of persuasion - they feel unsafe, and so cycle training and telling them to HTFU really isn’t going to work.

    Significant numbers of people feel that it’s just too much hassle to get into a car for such short trips. That means actively working on getting policies that are anti-car. A good place to start with this would be the hierarchy of provision, but properly implemented instead of the myopic travesty we’re currently so often fobbed-off with.

    Only when we have both these sets of conditions will we see significant numbers of people cycling rather than driving. Until we can accept this, the best we can hope for is to fight a dogged, guerilla, rear-guard action in the increasingly futile war on the motorist (sic.).

    This isn’t to say that the efforts of CTC et al. are futile - without them, we’d probably already be compelled to use the current crap cycle lanes and segregated infrastructure where it exists, no matter what it’s condition, convenience or safety. But lobbying for changes in the law to make punishment for bad driving more severe isn’t actually going to change the behaviour of the small number of small minded road bullies who think they have a God-given right to the roads. And it isn’t going to lead to a situation where anything other than a small minority use their bikes for regular transport.

  6. Carlton Reid on August 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    The small minded bullies will be bullies whatever happens. They drive up on to pavements to kill pedestrians so separation won’t always create 100 percent safety. But a more punitive justice system - starting from a civil insurance beginning ie strict liability - will make the unthinking bullies sit up and take notice.

    Now, a more punitive justice system for bad drivers is very possibly even further away than Dutch style separation. But it should be pushed for, just as separation - on busy roads - should be pushed for.

    Lots of things should be pushed for. And all together. Many of the things we should be pushing for are of equal importance. Separation should be in the armoury, it shouldn’t the one and only weapon.

    In many local situations, separation isn’t necessary at all. I was using the Bike Hub app today - to get from one part of Newcastle to an unknown part - and I was directed on to some streets that were surprisingly quiet. The reason? One of the streets - a key one - had been blocked off. Cars could still reach parts of the street but it was no longer a rat run, no longer convenient to use, so motorists avoid it. It was bliss on a bike. I hadn’t known of its existence, even though I used to live close. The provision of this information made that journey doable by nanas and nippers.

    If a lot more streets in Cramlington - and other towns and cities in the UK - were also blocked in this way, this would be a relatively cheap way to create cycle-permeable networks.

    Cambridge is a very good example of this sort of thinking.

    Blocking off a street here and there is achievable and can work wonders. Pitching such bike permeability to councillors and transport engineers is something that has a greater chance of success than asking for city-wide separated bike lanes right from the get-go.

    This may be considered not terribly ambitious but it’s pragmatic and I’d rather have something than nothing. Right now, we’re getting nothing.

    Partner with pedestrian groups, parent groups, disability groups etc etc to lobby for street closures, coupled with 20mph zones, and we can tame our towns and cities, street by street, area by area.

  7. KarlOnSea on August 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    I seriously doubt it’s about making anywhere 100% safe - more about taking away the perception that it’s dangerous.

    That said, yep - all these things you talk about are needed. In many ways, Cramlington is a great place to ride a bike, and the model of what we should be building, except for it’s convenient car-focused grid. The only trouble is in getting ANYONE to take seriously the idea of closing off these “main roads”.

    We had a similar discussion with the local council officers last week as part of the Cullercoats regeneration consultation. The concept of closing a road that’s actually used (i.e. the concept of making it hard to drive places, and thus, maybe reducing overall traffic volumes) was so far outside of the officers mindset that it was impossible to discuss with any seriousness.

    Getting minor roads closed is probably less difficult (see the examples around where I live - here, here, and here - although these probably all have more to do with smoothing the flow along the sea front than any traffic reduction - they perversely probably increase traffic!), but an uphill battle.

    Any ideas on how to start this?

    Oh, and one other thing - I’m actually not such a big fan of the strict liability thing. I mean, I’m sure it’s the mark of a civilised society, and a good thing in and of itself. Unfortunately I don’t think it’ll have that big an impact on British motorists, most of whom still think they pay Road Tax, and getting the current government voluntarily to adopt an EU Directive strikes me as tilting at windmills territory. But that shouldn’t stop you pressing for it!

    One thing I would like to see though is an update to the Highway Code, to explain what the “primary position” is, and why people adopt it on busy / narrow roads, at junctions, when passing parked cars, etc.

    All of which reminds me . . . my CTC membership needs renewing this week!

  8. Carlton Reid on August 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Gosh, I didn’t mean main roads, that’s lunacy, Karl (won’t feel quite so mental once the oil runs out, mind).

    Cambridge Cycling Campaign are the go-to guys on this permeability thing. I was taken on a tour last year and it’s amazing what happens when certain side streets are blocked off.

    There are also a fair few examples in Newcastle and likely every other UK town and city (cars can access but can’t go anywhere, they tend to be more placid when kettled in this way). It’s a known technique, isn’t a ‘cycle measure’ so can be sold as a people friendly measure. It’s a cycle-friendly network by stealth. Sadly, local and national politicians often get it in the neck when they provide stuff for cyclists (esp when ‘cycle facilities’ are so under-used) so the stealth method is a pragmatic one.

    And, yes, I agree with you about the primary position thing. Good thing to hold up in court: but expecting motorists to study it is another thing altogether.

    If strict liability is tilting at windmills I’d like to tilt at some more: an EU law to make all new cars come fitted with speed limiters, for safety and eco reasons. Roadside beams would make sure cars can’t ever break speed limits, and all cities would be 20mph max (pref 20kph). The technology is there for is, and to extend it to all cars. The lack of oil may force this sort of measure, a form of rationing.

    Yes, I can dream, too.

  9. Martin, Cambridge Cycling Campaign on August 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Petersfield in Cambridge is a brilliant example of where cycle permeability has been created while shutting off through-routes to traffic.

    It is not possible to drive south/north through the area - only the major streets around it provide that link. The result is that the whole area is automatically civilised, by preventing through traffic.

    This is done by an extremely simple and cheap measure:,12506,10233,5641/
    (Ideally these would be bollards rather than gates, as sometimes cycle/walker flows are high, but the principle remains.

    Compare this cycle journey:

    with this driving journey:

    Personally I think these gates are one of the most effective pro-cycling measures in Cambridge.

    What is now needed is some cycle parking in the area - the situation is dire…

  10. Jim on August 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    “That means actively working on getting policies that are anti-car.”

    I think that’s right, but I’m not sure changing the hierarchy of provision will have the desired effect. I think charging appropriate prices for (a) parking and (b) driving (i.e. ‘road pricing’ or ‘congestion charging’) would have very large effects on people’s willingness to drive. Of course, this is also just the kind of thing that many motorists tend to fiercely resist, but that just means we need to be more committed and more organised in building coalitions in favour of these policies. Right now there is no coalition or lobby group in favour of road pricing, but it may be the single most important change we could make if we want to make our roads safer.

  11. Carlton Reid on August 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    @martin I clicked on those two journeys. Beautiful! And practical. I also love the way there’s access for emergency vehicles, which nullifies one of the objections. Do you know of any reports or papers which have examined these ‘road blocks’ and their effectiveness for creating cycle networks on the cheap?

    @Jim I have a road pricing book from the 1970s on my desk, further developing the ideas of Smeed from the mid-60s. It all made sense back then, it makes sense now but it’s political suicide. However, part of the coalition already exists: RAC Foundation is very pro road pricing and brings out reports saying so every few months. Motoring org says road pricing is inevitable, which it is.

  12. Kim on August 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    As I point up in my post Say no to ridiculous car trips there has been a real shift in peoples travel patterns since the 1970s which accelerated over the last decade with people making short trips by car. We now have the situation where 20% of adults saying they take walks of 20 minutes, less than once a year or never. In 2010 77% of all trips less than one mile (1.6 KM) in length were made on foot, with 20% made by car! And we wonder why we have rapidly rising levels of obesity. All this is not helped by the fact that the motor industry which spends upward of £820m a year on advertising telling people that they should travel by car as often as possible.

  13. KarlOnSea on August 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    @Carlton - “Main Roads” depends on your definition. I’d like to see the sea front from Tynemouth to at least St Mary’s turned into a series of person-permeable boulevards . . . but apparently it’s a through route for exceptional loads. Pfft!

    On the other windmills list . . . I’d probably happily pay extra for most of them! I guess I’m not the target market / majority. I actually think it’s OK to press for these seemingly unobtainable goals though - including the stricter liability one. It’s good guerrilla tactics to simultaneously go after multiple objectives, as it makes you look bigger than you’d appear if focused on a single narrow objective. And getting movement on one can lead to movement on many others.

    @Martin - Love ‘em! What was the time line for these / hook to get people to take the idea seriously? Oh, and BTW - sorry for the delay with your comment approval. The sp^m filter goes after multiple links in comments - even my own comments!

    @Jim - I’d do away with VED and all road pricing, and just put it all on fuel - the bigger more inefficient vehicle you drive, the more you pay. I don’t expect me to win a seat in the Commons any time soon . . .

    @kim - those stats on your post are among the most jaw-droppingly depressing I’ve ever read!

  14. Kim on August 4, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I was thinking about it over night and the statistic (in my post) which I find most worrying is that between 1995/97 and 2010 “trips to visit friends declined by 22% during this period, with the fall entirely due to visiting friends at their homes rather than meeting them elsewhere”. With children being being increasing taken everywhere by car and not having any freedom of their own, they are loosing the idea of going round to a friends to play.

    I haven’t carried out a detailed analysis of the figure, but I have a feeling that most peoples travel is increasing restricted to driving to and from work & the shopping centre. This maybe why the cycle network you show above is so little used, as it doesn’t service either of these needs, which is deeply worrying for the future of our society.

  15. Angus on August 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Legislating at EU level to make all new cars come fitted with speed limiters might be tilting at windmills, but there’s another route to it.

    First of all, you don’t need any expensive roadside equipment. GPS / sat nav gear is good enough to do the job nowadays. AFAIK the EU is already taking an interest in making a lower-cost version of aircraft Black Box recorders mandatory for new cars.

    The way to see wide adoption of such tech is to convince insurers to offer significantly lower premiums to drivers who agree to use it. I would imagine that the tech could be made cheap enough to be cost effective for both the driver and the insurer over three years or so.

    Insurance is already pricing a lot of young drivers out of the market, and premiums will continue to rise. This kind of approach can be remarkably effective - there’s a lot of business legislation, in e.g. employment/HR law, health & safety, that isn’t mandatory (because that would be “draconian”), but if a business wants to take out insurance to cover the potential liabilities, they have to comply with the “guidelines” otherwise nobody will insure them.

    Thing is, though, it has to go hand in hand with 20mph limits to be an effective safety measure. Because once such tech comes in, no doubt the lazy sods who currently insist on driving at 40mph through built up areas for a 2-3 mile journey will get used to having their foot glued to the floor regardless of whether the limiter-controlled speed is appropriate for the street conditions.

  16. Carlton Reid on August 4, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Shopping areas in Cramlington can be reached by the bike network.

  17. KarlOnSea on August 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Correct - yes they can. They’re also really easy to get to by car, and the residents of Cramlington have had forty years of experience telling them that’s the way to get to the shops.

  18. Simon Geller on August 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Sadly, the current government is not disposed to bring in measures to restrict car use (see “ending the war on motorists”) although Nick Clegg jokingly told me that he thought Norman Baker would happily ban all cars if he could. Where we are making progress is with slower speeds, which are not an anti-car measure - 20mph limits make very little difference to average journey times.

    What the Cramlington experience shows is that, in the UK at least it is not enough just to put in protected infrastructure - you also need cycle promotion measures, training, right of way for cyclists at junctions, 20mph for when you have left the cycleway network, and strict liability. This is where cyclenation parts company with those evangelists who beleive that you build the segregated network, the cyclists will come - we’d love to see a network of high quality segregated cycleways but it needs to be done as part of an integrated package. That’s one of the lessons learnt from the Cycling Demonstration towns - in places like Darlington where they brought in a range of measures it was pretty successful.

  19. Grant on August 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Interesting debate! Re: black boxes and insurance premiums, some insurers already offer ‘pay how you drive’ deals to young people, though not sure why this can’t be offered to all drivers. The cost/benefits of the technology is quite stark. I also suspect they are more palatable politically than speed limiters. Roadpeace have a briefing on black boxes:

  20. Ali B on August 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I love cycling, its one of the main joys in my life. I’m lucky to have a bridleway that runs from my house to the Wiltshire town I live outside. 10 minutes and I’m in town, with nice cycle parking.

    But, and I’m ashamed to say it, its often simpler to jump in the car, drive the five mins into town and use the free car parking that the good people of the town fight tooth and nail for as an entitlement.

    Simply put, driving is too easy. Move to London & it’s different - congestion charging, congestion, expensive car parking, there’s a big disincentive to drive.

    Build the infrastructure, have more just treatment of dangerous driving, do all these things but until driving is less convenient, behaviours won’t change. Increasing fuel prices will probably have the greatest short term impact

  21. Peter Kinsella on August 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Can I recommend viewing the excellent video “Beauty and the Bike” from Darlington Media Group. It explores why so few young women ride bikes. The usual suspects appeared: poor roads, inconsiderate drivers and lack of infrastructure.

    Then one girl came out with what was almost a throwaway remark but proved to be key. “Bike shops sell the wrong type of bikes” Now, I know the bike shops in Darlington and they have a pretty good range of bikes, MTBs, road bikes and hybrids in the main.
    The group of girls who featured in the video didn’t like the look of any of these. So the team brought in “Dutch Bikes” and after some well delivered training and support, they were much happier to ride.

    There’s a major underlying problem here for cycling. Bike retailers and importers have too strong a focus on the sort of bikes bought by enthusiasts (like ourselves) and almost no apparent interest in the practical, day-to-day bike of the sort used in major cycling environments like The Netherlands etc. I found it quite interesting having a stroll around a bike shop in Belgium last year. 50% road bikes and 50% sturdy “Dutch” bikes.

    One last comment, unless we have an environment where mothers are happy to allow their children out on bikes then we will always struggle to build that level of cycling we see elsewhere>

  22. Richard Mann on August 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I’d echo Simon’s point - speed reduction is the line-of-least-resistance. I’d also say that it’s perfectly feasible on main roads, by narrowing traffic lanes - if you can get out of the wide-cycle-lane-or-nothing dead end.

  23. Anthony Cartmell on August 5, 2011 at 8:24 am

    It’s really very simple. Every time someone wants to go somewhere, they weigh up the pros and cons of different modes of transport. As we all know, the number one factor against cycling, in the mind of the general population, is safety/danger.

    So do we try to:
    * increase safety (advanced cycle training, helmets, high-viz) or
    * reduce danger (slower speeds, traffic reduction, segregated routes) or
    * a combination of the two?

    I think that one leads to an arms race, the other leads to disarmament:

    Once we’ve cracked the safety problem, the advantages of cycling shine through: flexible, healthy, fun, cheap, easy parking anywhere, etc. But it’s the safety that is the real blocker.

  24. Anthony Cartmell on August 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Heh, just noticed a pair of comments:

    The suggestion that cycle paths alone are a complete solution seems to have come from outside the various communities asking for cycle infrastructure. Some people use this suggestion as a straw man, attempting to make the argument for high quality cycle infrastructure seem indefensible.

    This is where cyclenation parts company with those evangelists who beleive that you build the segregated network, the cyclists will come - we’d love to see a network of high quality segregated cycleways but it needs to be done as part of an integrated package.

    Segregated cycle routes can work, even without the other stuff, with a few provisos: the route must be pleasant, useful and continuous for at least a few miles. Come to Worthing and watch the amazing selection of people-on-bikes riding along the Promenade at all times of day. No need for training, high-viz, helmets, etc. here, and people love it! When this route was built, people certainly did come, and they’re still coming :)

  25. tom on August 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Basic issue with cramlington is that by and large it is a car commuter satellite town of newcastle. Internally it is designed for the car. There is little or no reason to ride a bike there.

  26. tom on August 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Been mulling this one over together with another chat witj karl a few weeks back. It strikes me that a significant proportion of bike infrastructure is being built on routes and in areas where journeys are quicker and more convenient by car. Look at a cycle map of my area north tyneside and you find that most half decent bikeways do not serve town centres but serve out of town locations. Why is this happening? likely reasons are that these are the locations where s106 money is available, these are the locations being promoted as part of NCN by sustrans and most importantly these are the easy places to put in bikeways. The difficult urban locations where there is congestion and parking pressure are ignored. But the lesson of Cramlington is that building bikeways in out of town car centric locations is a waste of money. If we think infrastructure is the solution or part of the solution we need to make sure it gets built in the right places.

  27. Speedlinking 15 November 2011 | Treadly and Me on November 15, 2011 at 12:15 am

    [...] Kim Harding: say no to ridiculous car trips, while Karl McCracken and Carlton Reid trade ideas on how to increase the proportion of short trips made by bike. [...]