Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Infrastructure That Will Power The Cycling Revolution

Not my own work, the title of this post, but the title of a lecture i attended this week at the institution of civil engineers, organised by its london branch. here is a roundup and some more opinion from me!

First, thanks to Katja Leyendecker for tipping me off about the lecture - she read about it in New Civil Engineer before I even got my copy! 

ICE HQ at One Great George Street.
Image from ICE
I had always planned a post in reaction to the lecture and I took my (wi-fi only) tablet with me to make some notes. It turns out that ICE HQ (the historic One Great George Street) has wi-fi and so I ended up tweeting what was being said which was a first for me being relatively new to Twitter. It turns out that the lecture was open to all, something which I found out after thanks to Space for Cycling; but I have no idea how many non members were there. For me, a welcome return to the ICE HQ - it has been some time!

The format of the lecture was an introduction and round-up by Rachel Skinner, the chair of ICE London's Transport Expert Panel with a series of presentations by industry experts all held together by the very entertaining Phillip Darnton, former chair of Cycling England and now with the Bicycle Association of Great Britain. There was also a few minutes for questions.

The lecture was often quite London-centric (being hosted by ICE London!), but there were lots of points of interest. The health warning for this post is that it is based on my tweets and so my take of what was being said. Of course, the speakers will have their own affiliations and reasons behind what they said. As ever, I encourage you to do your own research into the topics covered. My interpretations are shown in [square brackets].

Darnton's fellow panellists were;

Adrian Lord - Associate at Steers Davies Gleave and British Cycling's infrastructure expert

Dr Michéle Dix - Managing Director of Planning with Transport for London

Nicola Francis - Principal Delivery Planner (Cycling) with Transport for London

Lord Berkeley started by introducing the work of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and the recent "Get Britain Cycling" report, with a special mention of the group's co-chairs, Julian Huppert MP and Ian Austin MP. He went on to say that the UK needs to be spending £10 to £20 per head per year on cycling, but there was no such commitment from the governments so far and that the new Government appointments to transport would need to be on board following the loss of Norman Baker. He was clear that road space needed to be reallocated to cycling.

Phillip Darnton started his presentation with a side swipe at the loss of Cycling England [lost when the current Government abolished it as part of the austerity cuts]. There was an undertone that Darnton was very displeased about how cycling is being treated [my take]. He went on to suggest that we perhaps need to get away from looking at average modal share across the UK as a measure of success and concentrate on areas which are doing well as our base. For example, he cited Cambridge has having a cycling share of 23% for all urban trips and picked central London's bridges as being places with very high numbers of modal share for cycling [but see Joe Dunckley's health warning!]. It was very hard for him to provide a UK-wide picture because things are so variable.

He felt the challenge for the UK was to try and tackle people's love of the motor car for short trips and the car being a status symbol. whereas the rest if Europe is not so in love with the car. The UK has had a history of supporting its car industry and with so much vested, why would governments want to promote an alternative? Until 2009, he suggested that annual spend on cycling in the UK was 73p per head and silly party politics had each new government tearing up the transport policies of the previous ones. There are parts in the UK where there is a tradition of cycling and that may be why these areas are doing better. 

Darnton then mentioned that a report done about 17 years ago [sorry, I didn't note which one] raised the same things at "Get Britain Cycling" had, especially on political leadership [or lack of it - my take]. He decried the constant stop-start approach to cycling which has prevented learning within local authorities and so they ended up having to employ consultants which sometimes ended up with significant parts of funding being handed over [very close to me this point]. He felt that Norman Baker was the best minister for cycling in a very long time, but the government response [to cycling] was weak.

He then went on to suggest that the Prime Minister demonstrated a total lack of leadership and things will end up with the Treasury making decisions on "business cases", with ideas constantly being put back to provide further information. He said that the role of politicians is to provide leadership and "just do it". The constant changes of politicians and lack of continuity has led to us having cyclists (with a little joke about Lycra), but few people who cycle. Darnton concluded by stating that we are yet to start a cycling revolution, but we knew what was needed and how much it was going to cost.

Cycling in Westminster - only for the brave?
Adrian Lord was next up and he started with his take on the Olympic legacy and continued success of cycling as a sport which certainly is inspirational and may have got some people on bikes. He also felt that the price of fuel might have also got people cycling, but for those people, he posed, is it easy or safe? Lord explained that currently, 200 million journeys a year are now being made by bike in London which equates to 540,000 a day, but many of the routes are not safe and only for the brave. Taking the lane and cycling with traffic is no good for children and the elderly and women are put off by the MAMIL approach taken for cycling.

On safety, Lord suggested that while casualties are low, cycling doesn't feel safe and infrastructure gives up when it is too hard and it must be done right. We need to get away from the stop-start of provision at side roads, tackle junctions and if we really did go Dutch, most of the roads would need protected facilities based on traffic flow alone! 

Lord then went on to make some more points purposely using some slides of good examples in London, rather than those from other countries. He said that in certain parts of London cycles make up 50% of traffic flow. He felt that filtered permeability was needed and streets redesigned to make them look and feel different to motorists to reduce traffic speed. He was happy to see some good things in London such as cyclists being exempt from banned turns and no entries. He quite liked Royal College Street, although he felt it was a half-way house [between on-road cycling and protected facilities]. 

What he wanted to see was a consistent approach to protected cycling at traffic signals with separate stages, green scramble [all cycling movements getting green at ones] and early start [cyclists getting a green before general traffic]. He also wanted to see chamfered kerbs used where there is a kerb upstand next to cycle tracks and he cited other good work in the UK such as the floating bus stops in Brighton. He felt that the 5 Dutch criteria for cycling should be followed and spent some time going through them [coherence, directness, safety, comfort and attractiveness - please do correct me if I am wrong!]. He said if all of the criteria were met, but the route was unsafe, then it is a failure. On training and awareness, he still felt it had a place as a way of helping people to build confidence.

Michéle Dix started with the point that 80% of all trips in London occur on the roads [regardless of mode] and to look at how the roads are being used, the Mayor set up the Roads Task Force, which has broad representation within it. She stated that a sense of place is as important for streets as movement, but there are lots of competing demands. The RTF was given the aim of transforming conditions for walking and cycling, create better destinations, ensure the network was open for movement and access was there for servicing businesses and development.

A TfL road. Is this about movement (of traffic!) or place?
She set out the principle that streets can be for movement or for place and for any given situation, the street's function will be somewhere between the two, possibly one of 9 types [shown on a slide]. At one end of the scale, an arterial route will be all about movement and at the other, a quiet side road would be all about place. The challenge is places like High Streets where movement and place are both important.

She said that there were not enough roads in London [to meet demands on them], with many being narrow and so innovation might be required such as rationing of space by time of day or use of smart traffic signals as examples. Where new roads are provided, they may be for walking and cycling with some access. They might be provided to take traffic away from certain areas completely.

Dix then suggested that ideas such as night time deliveries had proved popular with hauliers during the Olympics and so it was time to look at some of the planning restrictions on deliveries. She stated that new connections to the road network were needed to facilitate growth and that people wanted the streets to be nicer, but not at the expense of movement. She made the point that not everyone could cycle and so their needs had to be catered for. She said that TfL welcomed the findings of the RTF and although noting that TfL was not the easiest organisation for people to deal with, they were investing £4bn (£1bn for cycling, £1bn for technology and £2bn for specific growth projects). She concluded by saying that TfL was looking at the business case for burying roads [presumably for motorised traffic!].

Nicola Francis started with an introduction to the Mayor's Cycling Vision which was frankly a bore for me which ended with a description of the network the Mayor wishes to build made up of Superhighways, Quietways, the Central London Grid and Mini-Hollands, demonstrated with a pretty poor map of London with apparently random lines and blobs.

With the Mini-Hollands, she explained that out of 20 eligible boroughs, 18 had submitted bids, 8 were short-listed to work them up in more detail and up to 4 would be funded. She showed the movement vs place slide, but acknowledged that continuous cycle routes were needed. Interestingly, she said that there were many people who did not know the "rules of the road" as taught to drivers because they hadn't taken up driving and this is where cycle training could help.

She then explained that TfL's Cycle Safety Plan would be published in the Spring with an outline of the aim to provide 80,000 cycle parking spaced in London by 2020 as a mixture of on-street, in schools and at stations. She said that TfL also wants to work schools and communities to identify barriers to cycling and by 2014, there would be 11,000 hire bikes.

For me, the most exciting and long awaited piece of news was that the revised London Cycle Design Standards (LCDS) would be out for consultation on 29th November and will be available via the TfL website! She went on to explain that consistent way-finding [for cycling] was important for TfL and she concluded that London had the political will, but needed help from its partners [I assume apart from certain London boroughs who will remain nameless!].

Main lecture over, it was time for a questions and answer session and most asking questions stated that they were London cyclists which was good. 

The first question asked if the UK could learn from overseas for helping walking and cycling, such as left turns on red traffic signals? Adrian Lord said that lots of things were being looked at; Nicola Francis said that the LCDS had been internationally benchmarked; Darnton observed that the Department for Transport was "very cautious and very slow" which got a laugh!

The second questions was about how minorities could be encouraged to take up cycling. Nicola Francis made a great point that the use of infrastructure could normalise cycling. She also said that targeted community work was needed to engage with the hard to reach.

The third question was to ask if TfL would subsidise cycling kit as it was expensive to start up. Michéle Dix said that if everyone was bought a bike, how many would be sold on! Phillip Darnton then recounted a story about a doctor wanting to prescribe cycling to a fat person, but was worried about the bike being flogged! More seriously, he and Adrian Lord talked about the benefits of community bike recycling in terms of affordability for bikes and giving the people refurbishing them new skills.

The fourth question was two in one; Potholes are a hazard to cyclists and having to swerve to avoid them put people off cycling; and cycle theft is a huge problem, especially with a poor response from the police. Nicola Francis highlighted technology as being a good way of reporting potholes and she explained that security was something the Roads Task Force has looked at and that TfL was running a pilot where new bikes can be registered at the point of sale. Phillip Darnton said that bike theft was often part of serious organised crime and the Metropolitian Police had 2,000 unclaimed bikes.

A pragmatic approach to bikes on trains is needed -
off peak use andfolded bikes may be the only things we can allow
with space at such a premium.
The fifth question was about taking bikes on trains at peak periods. Michéle Dix felt that because rail capacity was so tight and allowing bikes at peak would mean more carriages and platform extensions, it was not something being looked at. Lord Berkerley said that people had to be pragmatic and for those wanting to carry bikes, then folding bikes were the answer. Phillip Darnton praised the National Rail Enquiries app which has bike information as there is no uniform UK approach. He said that there were now 69,000 cycle parking spaces at UK stations and Michéle Dix mentioned the station bike hire schemes such as Brompton Dock [and Bike and Go - my comment]. Lord Berkeley said that the Dutch have gone for cycle parking at stations in a big way to try and keep bikes off trains.

Question six was about whether or not bus lanes should be 24-hours a day to help cycling. Michéle Dix felt that time rationing might be an option and possibly night time deliveries could help. Lord Berkeley mentioned a pilot scheme of parcels being delivered to railway stations for people to pick things up on the way home from work on the basis that it would reduce deliveries by road during the day which often find people out at work!

The final question was about driver training, starting with the bus drivers on CS7 where they are mixing with cyclists and getting frustrated! Nicola Francis outlined TfL's Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme which had HGV drivers getting on bikes. Phillip Darnton said that the driving test should include time on a bike to learn about the issues, but the DfT was not interested.

My views
Look, there was so much said, I am not going to write pages of analysis and views, so I will boil it down to the five things I took away from the lecture (in no order);

  • Protected infrastructure is key to powering the cycling revolution;
  • Political leadership is so desperately needed;
  • The loss of local authority knowledge and learning is a national scandal;
  • TfL is in turmoil over providing for cycling, but not wanting to reduce unrestricted access for vehicles - something has to give, even on a street by street basis;
  • I was really pleased to see perhaps 250 mainly young engineers, many who clearly cycle being enthused by the subject.

OK, a sixth one. Phillip Darnton is a very funny man and is plain speaking, but in an intelligent and reasoned way with facts rather than opinion at his fingertips!


  1. Thanks - I meant to go to this but didn't make it.

    With TfL there is always a 'but'. It seems either they are worried that there could be so much cycling infrastructure non cyclists will be marginalised (I wish), or they are unconvinced by the knock on benefits from cycling to the wider community. I suspect the reason there's always a 'but' is that they seem to be out of their depth when it comes to cycling.

  2. I think the issue here is that if we can get more people cycling, it will reduce pressure on public transport and also offset road congestion. This is why I am excited about the new section of Cycle Superhighway 2 in Stratford as it does reduce traffic capacity. I fully expect things to settle down quickly and a large increase in cycling. However, TfL's wheeze is that this is actually Newham's road and not TfL's!