Friday 8 May 2015

Beyond the Bicycle

This week (Wednesday 6th May) I attended a seminar on inclusive cycling which was being jointly held by the London branch of the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC).

I don't know if these to groups have ever met like this before, but it was a cracking idea and I really hope it happens again. Of the 40 (my guess) or so people who attended I think the split was about 50/50 campaigners and engineers, although there were quite a few of us there who belong to both organisations!

Rachel Aldred shows us that we need to be designing for everyone
Perhaps it is a sign of change in London when a meeting like this; perhaps the silo mentality is gradually breaking down. I certainly hope so. Chair for the evening was fellow CIHT and LCC member, Philip Loy who introduced three speakers who I am sure many of you know (at least on Twitter!); Dr Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster (yes another CIHT and LCC member), Isabelle Clement of Wheels for Wellbeing (self-confessed fair-weather hand-cyclist) and Phil Jones of Phil Jones Associates (another CIHT member, and as he spends so much time in London on a bicycle, I am hoping a potential LCC member!).

Now, I was there to learn and although I attempted a bit of live tweeting, I did get absorbed into the discussions and so this post I guess is a summary of the highlights or interesting points (for me at least).

Rachel Aldred's theme was essentially why inclusivity matters and how it should be central to good design (in its widest sense). Something which is designed to assist and enable specific people will also help the wider population. She went on to explain that cycling is a way to enable people move independently, even when walking might be difficult, and so we should be concentrating our efforts on designing for under represented groups as after all, we get the people cycling who we design for. 

The next good point made by Rachel was that the Equality Act 2010 gives local authorities additional duties, including the important "equality of opportunity" which extends to being a transport provider (i.e. highway authority). When put in cycling terms, it means that designs which are not usable by all will deny the opportunity of use to some, and so the "old" way of designing may arguably be indirectly discriminatory. My observation was that highway authorities need to up their game as a challenge under the Act is bound to happen. 

Isabelle Clement spoke next and started with a personal history on how she came to hand-cycling, starting in parks and then gradually moving up to using the roads, but as a way of getting from A to B; although she admitted that she was rather fair-weather! She did explain that she had been going through a steep learning curve on the technical side of things, but at least knew what a splay kerb was - nice!

The serious part of her talk was that "we" have been designing for people who can walk their bicycle, lift it up steps, cope with kerbs, can stop and stay on the saddle and so on - in essence a narrow group of people. She explained how traffic calming of various types presented significant disadvantages to many people such as those using tricycles and hand-cycles. Speed cushions, for example, were cited as a particular problem for cyclists on more than 2 wheels. She also suggested that we had forgotten about those using trailers, cargo bikes and we really need to be designing "beyond the bicycle" which is a great way to put it.

Phil Jones then spoke about some of the design standards and engineering which needs to go into inclusive cycling. He reiterated the narrow nature of the target cycle user so far which was telling given the front cover of the official government guidance in Local Transport Note 2/08 (see left). He said that regular cyclists are most likely to be male, white, in work and non-disabled.

He went on to say that LTN 2/08 does recognise children and disabled people, but it all gets rather vague and is out of date. In terms of the Equality Act, it is referenced in the new London Cycling Design Standards which also sets out a range of different types of bicycles which need to be designed for. Beyond that, he said that the Wales Active Travel Design Guidance has looked at inclusive cycling and on that aspect was ahead of the Dutch and the Danes!

At the discussion/ debate at the end of the session, there were some good points made and questions asked. Isabelle said "cycling cannot be survival of the fittest" which was a double-pointed issue in my mind in terms of how people often have to cope now, and how the conditions put so many people off.

A question was asked about what might happen after Boris if we had a less interested Mayor. It prompted comments about the Mayor perhaps not being that interested (half-jokingly), but the panel felt that despite a lack of National guidance, London seemed to be doing well at officer level within TfL which would give continuity as after all, politicians always come and go.

L-R; Philip Loy, Rachel Aldred, Phil Jones & Isabelle Clement
There was a point made about needing standards to take us beyond guidance as engineers want to be able to refer to numbers and parameters and in turn they would be pushed to do better. The panel was warm to the idea, but standards would have to cater for all users. Phil made the point that Highways England would be releasing an Interim Advice Note on inclusive cycling and while aimed at trunk road schemes, it would provide a "design vehicle" which if used to design a scheme, would cater for all.

We had a question about the gap between design standards/ advice and what we can afford to build with the gap getting greater as new standards get better. Rachel said that there were always underspends in London (so money is not necessarily the issue), but it would be better to go for the highest standards and spend properly on fewer schemes. This led to a point about campaigners using the new LCDS to measure the quality of current TfL and borough consultations. On the subject of boroughs, a good point was made about staffing cuts being a huge issue with volunteers often being expected to take up the slack.

The final point of interest for me was raised by Isabelle on how some protected infrastructure can create access problems for non-cycling disabled people and how this can create tensions. She felt it really important that both cycling and non-cycling disabled groups engage with each other to find common ground and compromises.

Yes, an excellent session which leaves me with this thought ; for engineers "beyond the bicycle" should mean that we are designing for inclusive active travel with high levels of experienced safety. As well as applying to those riding bicycles, it equally applies to those walking.

Update 14th May 2015
You can access the talk slides and audio here.


  1. [Rant] So, is there any recording of this seminar for us poor souls who aren't fortunate enough to live in London and be able to just pop in to these things (there seem to have been a few cycling/urban design seminars in London recently)? I know it's difficult to imagine down there in the centre of the universe, but 90% of the population of the UK (including, presumably, 90% of its engineers and cyclists) actually live elsewhere. If these messages (whatever they may be) are to get out to the rest of the nation, then keeping meetings like this exclusive to those who live and work in one corner of it is not the way to go.[/Rant]

    Andy R. (also a member of the CIHT)

    1. Aw ;) To be fair this was a joint meeting of the London Branch of CIHT and the London Cycling Campaign - probably reasonable that it was London-centric!

      I really think this link up at local level is a great idea - perhaps ask your local CIHT branch to do the same with the local cycling group?

  2. Many thanks for that. One could view continuity of TfL officers as a bit worrying, given what they have done previously and are still getting away with at, e.g. Malden Rushett. More seriously, I'd definitely worry about the principle of 'spending properly on fewer schemes "to the highest standard" ' - how long would it take with that approach to achieve a usable network for inclusive active travel?

    1. Fair point, although hopefully things are changing with engineers. Yes, less but better will take far longer, but we need to be able to point to stuff that works; plus there always seems to be money for bullshit like the "Garden" "Bridge"

    2. You say "less but better will take far longer". Why is there a "but" after this sentence? Less but better will take far longer. Full stop.

      We have "best", "better", "better than nothing" and "nothing". Why have we allowed "best" to be the enemy of "better than nothing"?

      Finally, did anybody at all speak up for the "mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again" (aka the Enthused and Confident)?

    3. I'll disagree on that point (and support Dr Aldred). Putting in low quality infrastructure means that either the infrastructure needs to be replaced only a few years after it was installed (as in the case of CS2 which is currently being replaced) or is actually more dangerous than not having infrastructure at all but because it looks like a bike lane it remains in place for many years (as I suspect will probably be the case for the Limehouse/Poplar section of CS3 and the cycling provisions at the Bow roundabout).

      At the Bow roundabout, there's already a pedestrian tunnel and canal running underneath it in the North/South direction and an overpass in the East/West direction but they went for the low quality but cheaper paint-and-head-start-traffic-lights option which has resulted in several deaths.

      The practice of installing bad bike lanes and then replacing them later is more expensive than doing it correctly the first time.

      Low quality lanes don't improve cycling rates. For instance, I would never take a less confident rider or a slower rider down that section of the CS3 because it's a series of rat runs and is where nearly all of my close passes happen. For those types of riders, that section might as well not exist which means they have a disconnected network.

      It is important to achieve a network - that's what actually improves cycling rates - so the focus should be on connecting the high-quality infrastructure rather than providing a denser network of lower quality lanes that many potential cyclists will not use.

    4. I am grateful to you for your reply.

      I think you're right to say that it takes a network to improve cycling rates. David Hembrow blogged recently that a very fine grid of efficient cycling routes is "the most important enabler of mass cycling". He explained: "For a grid of routes to enable cycling, it must be high density and go everywhere." You appear to be saying something different?

      You say low quality lanes don't improve cycling rates—that's true—and that many potential cyclists would not use a dense network of low quality lanes—that's true, as well. However, a dense network of low quality cycle lanes *would* improve cycling rates. True, it would only take you so far. A cycling modal share of 6% would be typical, and a cycling modal share of 8% not unreasonable. But now you have a functioning cycling network in place; now you have a significant cycling population (the majority of whom don't wear lycra, by the way); now you're in a much stronger position to develop the network further such that it would appeal to less confident or slower cyclists (the key here is sustained investment).

      You say that the practice of installing bad bike lanes and then replacing them later is more expensive than doing it correctly the first time. Assuming by "bad bike lane" you mean the sort of thing on the cover of LTN 2/08, I don't accept this.

      You mention CS2. This was installed on an urban dual-carriageway. CS7 and CS8, by contrast, were installed on single-carriageway roads. To my mind, these serve as more appropriate exemplars (numbers up, casualties down, fatalities nil).

      Cycling numbers on CS7 and CS8 went up by about 70%. If this growth was repeated London-wide, it would be the start of a cycling revolution not just in name, but in deed.

      It is expected that once the North-South and East-West superhighways have been completed, cycling numbers would increase by 300%. That sounds more like it, I know. However, do the maths and you will see that, even assuming the best case scenario, the cycling population in London would increase by no more than about one / one-and-a-half per cent. That sounds less impressive. Convert those numbers into a modal share of all journeys in London, and what increase there is in the number of cyclists would barely even register.

      The case is, a sparse network of high quality routes does not improve cycling rates. (According to Bob Davies at rdrf, TfL have already given up on the idea of a cycling modal share of 5% by 2026. If that doesn't make you suspicious of the current strategy, I don't know what would.)

      Sorry, I forgot to mention as well that the new superhighways is consuming about 40% of the Mayor's cycling budget up to 2016.

      Ricardo Marques Sillero of Seville has said: "Sometimes politicians want to check first if the idea works, for instance, by making one or two isolated bike paths before making a stronger decision. But isolated cycle paths are almost useless if they’re not connected, making a network from the beginning."

      The Strong and Fearless cyclists don't need cycling networks; the Enthused and Confident cyclists do. I am curious to understand why an "inclusive" cycling strategy should so narrowly focus on the needs of the Interested but Concerned cyclists at the expense of "the mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again" (to quote Cycling: the way ahead once more).

      Rachel's theme was that we should be concentrating our efforts on designing for under-represented groups. The Enthused and Confident cyclists are assuredly the most under-represented group of them all, and yet the funny thing is, they hold the key.

    5. The theme of the seminar was very much one of designing for all and that implicitly includes people who want to cycle but don't because of the danger and people who don't know they would like to cycle yet! Plus, there was a heavy emphasis on designing for disabled people with the theory being that by helping the people who need the most help, we actually help everyone.

      I like the point about trying out a couple of routes, although the reason the EW and NS routes have come to fruition (in my opinion) has been through hard and constant slog by campaigning for a part time Mayor to make good on his promises which only appeared because of another hard slog.

      I am positive though, Waltham Forest is starting to develop something grid-like with the mini-Holland project and so this is what I mean about continually pointing to things which work, especially in the UK so that our engineers can understand what can be done.

    6. One of the benefits of a 'Network First' approach is "the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and 'hard' measures in the medium-term" (to quote a European Parliament document entitled Promotion of Cycling). One such soft measure—which is linked to a different aspect of good cycle provision—is to make alternative cycle routes more numerous, more comfortable, easier to follow, and more convenient (by removing annoyances for cyclists, for example). When Isabelle Clement complained about steps, kerbs, barriers, speed cushions, and the like, all of these issues can be dealt with in the short-term.

      Any scheme for cyclists is best undertaken *within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network*. Thus it is that to begin with, as Lynn Sloman pointed out in her book Car Sick, "the focus of our attention should switch from a few grandiose schemes to thousands of small initiatives". Rachel Aldred is saying directly the contrary. According to her, "It would be better to go for the highest standards and spend properly on fewer schemes".

      Now you already accept that Rachel's approach "will take far longer", so what actually are the benefits of this strategy to the men, women and children who are riding bikes now, and to "the mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again"? I can't think of one.

      At least one cyclist in London was killed because she was not aware of an alternative route to her destination and was thus obliged to stick to the main roads. What we are doing—the way we are going about things—it's not right.

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