Build It [Right] And They Will Come
Here in the North East, the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is gearing up to help the City Council get serious about a cycling network. The mantra you’ll most often hear is “Build it and they will come” when we speak about this sort of stuff.
Experience from elsewhere in the world seems to validate this:
Controversially though, I don’t believe “Build it and they will come”, at least not from a UK perspective.
The reason for this is that in the UK, we don’t usually get a “network” at all - it tends to be more of a patchwork of disjointed, and often poorly-thought out bits of routes. We get bike lanes that disappear when you most need them; blue paint on the main roadway when the traffic volumes and speeds would indicate a fully segregated solution as the only sensible option; and cycle lanes to feed you into the bike box (ahead of the advanced stop lane) by taking you through a lorry’s extensive blind spot.
Basically, when there’s a choice of…
- Taking space away from motorised traffic, or
- Squeezing ridiculously narrow bike lanes in alongside motorised traffic, but then not bothering with where these eventually lead you, or
- Not bothering at all
… your average British transport planner, traffic engineer of politician will always go for option 2 or 3.
But it really doesn’t have to be that way - have a look at another video from Streetfilms, which was unearthed by Martin from the Newcastle Cycling Campaign and forwarded on via our Googlegroups email list:
Some quotes from this to think on:
“Convenience, comfort and accommodation”
“The green wave supports continuous and convenient bicycle movement”
“Comfortable, inviting and a sense of safety”
“Cycling is cheaper, easier, quicker, and perhaps safer than any other form of transport”
I’ve been thinking a whole lot about these kinds of things lately. I think if we’re to seriously address the needs of the non-cycling majority and get them out of their cars, then we need to focus on building routes that are:
- SAFE. David Hembrow says a lot on this, and how there are three flavours of safety:
- You need real protection from things like left-turning 40-tonne lorries
- People need to feel safe from traffic, which means 20mph speed limits on quiet roads where cyclists can just mix with other traffic, but then progressifely increasing degrees of separation as traffic volumes and speeds increase
- People need to be safe from muggers, rapists, and the likes of Matthew Parris. So cycle routes need to avoid cutting into back alleys, be well-lit, sometimes have CCTV, or a Bobby on the beat cycling along them - stuff like that.
- CONVENIENT. Cycle routes need to:
- Connect places that people want to get to and from. It’s no good having a fantastic series of leisure routes that no-one can use for getting to the shops, work, or school. You may be able to trumpet a doubling in cycling numbers with such leisure routes, but such claims are worthless spin if you still need to spend millions on improving the road network for an ever-increasing volume of motorised traffic.
- Let cyclists flow like water. Every time a cycle route crosses a minor road, if there’s a “cyclists dismount” sign, or if the cycle route gives way or just vanishes, then the message is for the cyclist to pull on their brakes. If a cycle route crosses a major road without a bridge or subway, then there has been a failure in the route’s planning. Installing a Toucan Crossing doesn’t remove this failure - it just acts as a dam for the flow of bikes. Such barriers to flow have two impacts. Firstly, it removes any time advantage a bike may have over a car - with a much lower top speed, it’s vital that bikes spend less time stationary than cars do (every time a bike stops, it costs the rider 100m). Secondly, it’s really, really tiring: it takes ~16 times as much energy to get a bike back up to cruising speed as it does for a pedestrian walking, while all a driver has to do is press that right pedal.
- DIRECT. So no more routes that force you to zig-zag your way over what’s a motorway in all but name; no more routes on a path that meanders up and down the sand dunes when there’s a perfectly flat, level & straight road running parallel that just needs narrowing to make space for cycle paths; and no more routes that take you on scenic detours because no-one could be wanted to sort out alternative parking arrangements for six cars.