Monday 3 December 2012

A few notes on getting Britain cycling

The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group is holding an inquiry into how 'Get Britain Cycling' and they want evidence by the 5th, so the following is just some notes for my submission, mainly to get me to write something down rather than endlessly opening more browser tabs.

There is a large latent demand for cycling that is not being realised because of safety concerns
Just 2% of trips under 2.5km are cycled in the UK, compared to 14% in Germany, 27% in Denmark and 37% in the Netherlands (Pucher and Buehler).

Research by Transport for London found that only 7% of 'potentially cyclable' trips in London were currently cycled, and that safety (the lack of it, more precisely) is the greatest barrier to cycling.

A large DfT survey carried out in December 2009 found that:
  • 60% of people who can ride a bike say it's too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, including 71% of women and 72% of those aged 60 or over.
  • 52% agree they would cycle more if there were more dedicated cycle paths (30% disagree).
  • 86% of people say that cycling is the least safe form of transport.
In 2011, two thirds of people in the British Social Attitudes survey said they were not very or not at all confident about cycling on the roads (DfT table).

Research shows that high quality, separated infrastructure is safest and most popular
  • "The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods". Pucher and Buehler, 2007
  • "Consistent with gender differences in risk aversion, female commuter cyclists preferred to use routes with maximum separation from motorized traffic. Improved cycling infrastructure in the form of bicycle paths and lanes that provide a high degree of separation from motor traffic is likely to be important for increasing transportation cycling amongst under-represented population groups such as women". Garrard et al, 2008.
  • "The greater the physical separation from motor vehicle traffic, the higher the women's share of cyclists". Pucher et al, 2010.
  • "The lower risks on quiet streets and with bike-speciļ¬c infrastructure along busy streets support the route-design approach used in many northern European countries. Transportation infrastructure with lower bicycling injury risks merits public health support to reduce injuries and promote cycling". Teschke et al, 2012.

We have a severe shortage of the right kind of cycling infrastructure
The under-utilisation of bikes for short trips, the survey findings on subjective safety and the high casualty rate in places where cycling is more popular all point to a widespread and severe lack of high-quality cycling infrastructure in Britain.

To get Britain cycling in safety central government must urgently address this deficit by
  • Revising DfT cycle design guidance so that high-quality, Dutch-standard cycling infrastructure is given the highest priority;
  • Making available sufficient ring-fenced funding to introduce high-quality separated cycling infrastructure in towns and cities across Britain in the next five years;
  • Allocating this funding through a competitive bidding round in which funding goes to the proposals that combine the highest quality design with the greatest impact in terms of current and potential cycling demand.
Leadership from central government is vital 
Many local authorities lack understanding or expertise in designing for cyclists, and in many parts of the country so few people cycle that they hardly impinge on local political consciousness at all. The fastest and best way to get local authorities to act is for central government to provide the right funding and the right guidance.

Higher rates of cycling will save people money and bring wider benefits
  • In total, people in Britain cycle about 3.1 billion miles a year (DfT). 
  • But on a per person per day basis, people in the Netherlands cycle about 12.5 times as much as those in the UK (Pucher and Buehler). 
  • That suggests that if people in Britain individually cycled as much as the Dutch we'd cover about 39 billion miles a year. 
  • According to these figures from Edinburgh cycling saves you between 55p and 60p per mile compared to driving, taking all costs into account. 
  • So people in Britain are already saving almost £2 billion a year by cycling instead of driving, but if they cycled at Dutch rates they would save over £20 billion.
  • These figures may be a touch too high, since there are other (and usually cheaper) alternatives to cycling than the car. They're also fairly dependent on volatile variables like petrol prices.
  • But they also exclude the wider social and environmental benefits of cycling and driving, which are very large (even taking into account higher average casualty rates from cycling), perhaps three times as high as the private cost savings (Figure 3.1 here).
  • So it's probably fair to say that achieving cycling rates akin to those in the Netherlands would deliver private and social benefits to the value of tens of billions of pounds. 


  1. A few notes on getting Britain cycling.

    At this particular juncture, and at this particular moment in time, getting Britain cycling is our Number 1 priority, is it?

    Even assuming you are right, how do we set about achieving this? Is it network first, and then a separation of functions? Or is it quality infrastructure first, and then join up the pieces?

    1. I looked for a statement in the post that cycling was number 1 priority.

      Didn't find it.

      As to the second para, "what have the Romans ever done for us?"

    2. I am sorry, I hadn't realised that it was the All Party Cycling Inquiry which was entitled "Get Britain Cycling". I hadn't read closely enough.

      I think I read the article, thought about commenting, decided not to, read the title, and then saw red.

      As I have said before, I have never understood why we are in such desperate haste to get more people on their bikes when those that currently cycle are being killed at the rate of about one every twenty-four days, in London at any rate. We can't even keep experienced cyclists safe, and now we want to talk about how best to get a load of novices onto two wheels!

      In fact we don't need to talk about it. Either we spend a shit-load of money or we get real. Because while we talk, ain't nothing happening. As you once said (over a year ago now, and in all that time can you point to anything that actually improves the lot of existing cyclists?):

      "I would dearly love to see substantial parts of Dutch thinking applied here, and I am pleased to see that there is some movement in mainstream campaigning (LCC, if not yet CTC) towards that model, but my fear is that the Dutch model can become so much an article of faith to some people - and I am convinced that some people really are ideologues in that respect - that the absolute necessity of selling our propositions to a sceptical government and public, realpolitik if you like, could be subordinated to a pursuit of some impossible purity of vision, and as a result we could fail entirely."

      My worry is that we are just going to end up with bits and pieces, here and there. This is why I ask, Network first, or quality infrastructure first? I don't understand your response by the way.

    3. I understand your reference to what the Romans did for us, now. Amazing how a good night's sleep refreshes the mind. My first thought was, however, did the Romans build just a few roads, only about three or four of which I could actually name, or did they build a network?

      Of course, they built a network. Of course they did. How else would you expect them to get around?

      During her testimony to the GLA committee hearing, Rachel Aldred said that we don’t need to segregate every single road in London, but rather, segregated routes should form the backbone of a network that is friendly to people of all abilities.

      I suppose these Roman roads would have been the backbone of our road network for quite a long time. But anyway, the question is not do we need a cycle network, rather, how do we set about developing one?

      In big, bold letters, on page 2 of the chapter entitled How to start?, Cycling: the way ahead says that introducing the network to a minimum level of functioning "is a prudent course to follow". If we would accept the wisdom of these words, we could have a network up and running within a year or two. But because we are so obsessed with the idea of quality infrastructure, the likelihood is that we will just end up with snippets.

  2. Bikemapper, thanks for the reminder of what I used to think about these things! I suppose I've changed my mind somewhat, partly because the public doesn't seem to be as sceptical as I thought it was and partly because there seems to be genuine critical mass (if you'll pardon the phrase) of support for high quality. You're absolutely right that we need to think in terms of a network, but I don't think there's a choice between that or quality infrastructure. At the moment we're getting isolated bits of poor quality infrastructure. Isolated bits of high quality infrastructure would be an improvement but a high-quality network is the real prize.

    1. You didn't answer the question, by the way. The options you were asked to choose between are:

      (a) network first, and then a separation of functions
      (b) quality infrastructure first, and then join up the pieces

      You said that we are currently getting isolated bits of poor infrastructure, that isolated bits of high quality infrastructure would be better, and that joined-up bits of high quality infrastructure would be better still. OK, but so what? You're not saying anything at all here but the thumpingly obvious.

      A high quality network is probably at least ten or fifteen years away, so we need to work towards that point. And the question is, How do we do that?

    2. I don't think the offer of a network of some 'minimum level of functioning' is even on the table, and if it was I'd be sceptical about accepting it, since it sounds rather like what we already have in London, which is not all that well used and hasn't led to anything. I think it would probably also take just as long to construct and but just cost less.

      What does seem to be a possibility in London is turning main roads heavily used by cyclists into exemplars of high quality, so I think we should push for that while also promoting policies that slow and calm traffic on other roads.

    3. I've just had a look on bikemapper's blog and found a more detailed explanation of the network idea. There's a lot to like in it and I certainly wouldn't reject it out of hand, but I do think that the best way to get routes that satisfy the criteria listed (meaningful, direct, pleasant, etc) is with high-quality segregated infrastructure on main roads.

      But reasonable people can differ on this, and if you're looking for someone to have this argument out with at great length, it probably shouldn't be me.

    4. This convinced me. Not looking for an argument at all, but if there is anything there that you don't find compelling, I would be grateful if you could point it out.

    5. Hi Jim,

      A comprehensive, city-wide cycle network, introduced to a minimum level of functioning, is not even on the table, you say? That would be on the high table, I imagine, the one at which all the important and clever and charming people sit.

      This strategy has been described as "a prudent course to follow" by the only publication out of Europe which explains how to start, and yet these experts do not have the good grace even to acknowledge it. I might have known.

      Meanwhile, another cyclist has been killed.

      Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain what is to be gained by trying to squeeze all of London's various and fragile "eggs" into a couple of high-quality "baskets", to the exclusion of everything else, that is? For myself, I can't think of even a single advantage to pursuing this approach.

      Why not do as much as possible at least bureaucracy first? Establishing a network might only take a few months, particularly if it was introduced to a minimum level of functioning and the work carried out as part of a cooperative, collaborative effort. And then, working from a solid base, we can build upwards.

      But as things currently stand, what's going to happen over the next year? TfL are going to make improvements to 50 junctions and complete the CS2 extension and CS5 route. Is there anything else on that table, Jim? Please tell us: what can you see?

      I do sometimes think that cycling advocates must be autistic, or something. Are we capable only of doing one thing at a time? Can't even study the functionality of a proposed network because we've got something else that we need to do first? What is the matter with us? Are we so concerned to put our prestige ahead of the public good, just because, absurd as it sounds, we're too proud to admit that somebody outside of our tiny, little group might also have a good idea?


    6. When you're finished insulting me maybe you should go back and actually read what I've said on this, which you clearly haven't done yet. But once you've done that, how about you don't comment again? Because I'm not interested in having a debate with someone who's so keen to get the wrong end of the stick. Thanks for contributing absolutely nothing to this discussion.

    7. I don't think Tom was being insulting there, Jim. Forthright, certainly; provocative, no doubt; but not insulting, and definitely not insulting to you personally.

      Clearly you're not comfortable defending the quality infrastructure first approach, which is entirely understandable. As a strategic plan, it is wholly unsatisfactory. Indeed, there is very little, if anything, to commend it.

      But please don't take offence at this. If you think it's the best way forward, then why not explain why? Remember, it is not the 'end' that is in dispute - far from it - but the 'means to the end'. As Simon often reminds me, the debate is not about where to end up, but where to begin?

      We all accept that the key to achieving high levels of cycling is in the way that junctions are made to work, through the provision of separate cycling facilities, through the removal of rat-runs, and such like. No issue there. But how do we get to this point?

      You said: "I do think that the best way to get routes that satisfy the criteria listed (meaningful, direct, pleasant, etc) is with high-quality segregated infrastructure on main roads."

      I would appreciate a good deal more clarity here. If you are saying that we should do this first, or that we should do this as our priority, then seriously Jim, you ought to be able to substantiate this and explain why. When people's lives are at stake, we cannot proceed upon bare assertion after all.

  3. I have just heard Mark Selby (snooker) say that he wants to win so badly, but the harder he tries, the worse his game gets. He just needs to relax and have faith in his ability.

    So I'm going to leave it there, Jim. Thanks very much.

  4. I am an engineer with a design consultancy in Old Street, and I met with a very earnest young man yesterday who told me all about the London Cycle Map Campaign. He explained that there are two schools of thought among cycling advocates: those that want the authorities to develop a network first, and those that want the authorities to develop a few high profile schemes (to set the standard, as it were, and to serve as exemplars of good practice). He pointed me to this blog because he thought I might have something worthwhile to contribute.

    I can speak only as an engineer. I used to cycle in London, but I gave it up many years ago because I found the diesel fumes too disagreeable.

    The main thing I would like to say is that it is paramount that you define what the problems are, and explain what would be achieved by solving them. What do you want to accomplish, and why?

    The other thing to take on board is the importance of identifying criteria and constraints. That is, you should specify the design requirements (criteria) and list any limits imposed on the design due to available resources and the environment (constraints).

    The establishment of objectives and criteria are two of the most fundamental elements of the design process. Once these issues have been clearly defined, solutions can then be put forward. That approach which makes the best use of the available resources whilst still meeting the stated objectives would be the most likely to be taken forward. A feasibility assessment would follow soon afterwards.

    I hope this is of use, and good luck. Phil.

  5. Gosh, I never realised that there was such a quality-vs-quantity debate! Surely we need both routes and quality infrastructure?

    But regarding the routes, don't they already exist? Aren't the main roads the routes?

    When I was in the Netherlands on a bike for the first time and only the regular Google maps for guidance, I planned my own routes, knowing that there would be quality infrastructure wherever I went. I didn't have to devise complicated routes along back-streets and alleyways, as I do in London.

    1. The debate is about quality versus quantity? Lawks-a-mercy, mate! Where on earth did you get that idea from? And why have you taken the word 'network' and replaced it with the word 'routes'?

      Stop messing about, please. This is serious. The debate - if that is what it is, since no one on your side is actually answering any of the questions - like, none at all - is about a choice between network first and then a separation of functions, or quality infrastructure first and then join up the pieces. That is, should we be encouraging the authorities to pursue the development of an amenable cycling environment from the top-down (global approach) or from the bottom-up (adjustment policy)?

      It really couldn't be any simpler, so please stop trying to confuse the issue.

      But anyway, rant over, if there was to be a debate between us, it might go something like this:

      You: "Surely we need both a network and quality infrastructure?"

      Me: "Yes, absolutely we do. But the question is, in terms of strategy, what should be the priority?"

      You: "I'll be honest, I'm not sure just yet. Believe it or not, I'm trying to keep an open mind about this. But regarding the network, doesn't it already exist? Aren't the main roads the network?"

      Me: "Please consider the following quotes, all of which are taken from aseasyasrididing's latest blog:

      "A policy of [...] minimising interactions with motor vehicles is [...] about making the cycling experience [...] more pleasant. [...] It is more enjoyable and relaxing to cycle [...] away from lorries, buses and vans."

      "The point about segregation [...] is that it is specifically a necessary treatment on certain categories of roads. I don’t know of anyone who has suggested that segregation is [...] a ‘quick fix’ solution."

      "Potential cyclists do not want to cycle amongst lorries and buses, however well driven they may be. [...] It is an unpleasant and intimidating experience. Indeed, this is precisely why they remain ‘potential cyclists’."

      "Ask around amongst non-cycling friends, and the main reason they will give for not cycling is because they don’t want to ride on roads which are busy with motor traffic."

      "I’m not sure why so many people struggle with the twin ideas that (a) cycling on certain roads just is not pleasant, whether or not it’s safe, so segregation there is a good idea (b) you don’t need segregation everywhere, particularly if traffic planning has discouraged through traffic from, say, backstreets and country lanes."

      "I gain no pleasure [in] jostling for space with motor vehicles, whether on my weekday commute or the lanes of Surrey and Kent. The segregated parts of my daily commute – through Battersea Park and across Clapham Common – are always the high point."

      "The majority of roads are residential, and as such aren’t much used by lorries or buses. On those that are, segregation is really the only answer."

      "We allow many of our residential streets to be used as rat runs which also needs addressing."

      "Couldn’t agree more! Through motor traffic has no place on residential roads."

      Very simply, my proposal is for a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. More than half of the routes on this network avoid heavy traffic, but they are often difficult to navigate on, and not always functional.

      You say that when you were in the Netherlands, you didn't have to devise complicated routes along back-streets and alleyways, as you do in London. Welcome to my world.

      Anyway, rather than go into more detail now, I have posted my submission to the All Party Cycling Inquiry onto my blog, here, and so if you are interested, please check it out.

  6. The quantity-versus-quality debate only exists if you assume that there is no chance of significant funding for cycling as a mode of transport. The lack of funding is precisely why almost no-one uses bicycles as transport in the UK: the government clearly don't value it, so there is no decent infrastructure, so it's a frightening activity for enthusiasts only.

    If the UK decided that cycling as transport was worthwhile, they could spend perhaps 10% of the transport budgets on cycling, and very quickly we could have a top-quality cycle network and high modal shares for cycling almost immediately afterwards.

    Providing safe and pleasant cycle networks is not difficult, the Dutch know exactly how to do it for all types of road and different urban layouts. They've tried and tested and refined designs over several decades, and the results are proven. Their networks are used by cyclists from 8 to 80, mostly ordinary people but also including racing cyclists and other cycle enthusiasts.

    So the problem is simply one of political will. The government thinks, as do the general population, that cycling is for the few, and is generally dangerous and not to be encouraged. They are still inexplicably in love with the private motor car, and even now are planning to build horrendously expensive new roads.

    We have to educate the ordinary people that providing decent cycle facilities need only cost £20 per person per year, way less than the cost of motoring or railways. Show someone what is possible to make cycling pleasant, point out that the investment pays for itself many times over, and get them to ask their MPs and other political representatives why on earth cycling isn't being prioritised.

  7. I agree with every single word of the above, but just to reiterate, the quantity-versus-quality debate does not exist.

  8. It is all about politicians. Engineers can design what is needed, but without political backing, enthusiasm and leadership, we are wasting our time.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.