Because the UK lags so far behind other countries in rolling out road and street upgrades that makes cycling an inclusive form of transport, we're often left with 'routes' being planned and then watered down.
It's all chicken and egg of course, but one of the big issues in trying to deliver an end to end route is that any compromise along its length could mean that people will be put off from using it and several compromises means we simply don't attract anyone.
We have spent a long time in the UK looking at routing cycling along back streets and canals, through parks and quiet places which don't get in the way of motorised traffic. Circuitous, sometimes lonely, sometimes full of rat-running traffic, these routes invariably have to cross larger roads and streets or run along them for a while before diving off again.
Canals were designed to move goods on the
water, not people along the towpaths
A park might be a lovely place to pootle through, but if there is nobody else about then it might not feel safe. Once it gets dark, a park is certainly less pleasant to use and of course, if it is locked up at night, that's your route destroyed because you'll have to use the roads that the park section of the route seeks to avoid. So many of our residential streets have become a de facto part of the traffic network that nobody can visualise a way back and so a few wayfinding signs and some paint is not going to make a driver's rat run feel safe.
Paint is not infrastructure
Where we are looking at routes on main roads, then there is perhaps more of a chance that they will be delivered to a decent standard (if we are talking protection) because there is clearly political capital invested for the idea to even be contemplated. It's getting close to the "we are delivering this, how do you want to shape it" approach and when delivered, people flock to this kind of intervention.
An alternative approach to routes is to look at areas; and in many cases, we are not especially looking to design with people cycling in mind because the interventions are great for walking and to deliver low traffic places as a matter of objective. This is looking at the problem from a neighbourhood or area approach. In other words, find a locus and roll out filtered permeability until one hits the main roads, thus creating a low traffic neighbourhood or area. This approach actually makes a lot of sense because most trips are going to be relatively short and it gets the focus away from the commute which has been a significant part of the route approach.
Orford Road, Walthamstow
At the heart of a Mini-Holland 'village' treatement
The locus for the scheme needs to be something that currently attracts a decent number of trips, such as a shopping parade, a town centre, a school or community hub. A scheme which deals with through traffic and manages parking can deliver a great return for very little investment. If one delivers the project using temporary materials and the experimental traffic order process, then change can be rapid. Again, an area approach is going to come with a certain level of political investment - this is an inescapable fact.
So, once we hit the main roads, then what? Well, the simplest way forward is to make sure we are delivering other area-based schemes which meet the same main roads which can then connect together by providing safe crossing points between the two. I realise that not all of these places will meet opposite each other, but it's a starting position. Before we know it, we have not only started to deliver some of the traditional 'routes', but we have low traffic places and we are already changing things for people.
A parallel zebra crossing connecting two
low traffic areas together over a main road
However, we do need to look at the main roads and streets because that is where people need to go as well. A greater shopping choice, more community facilities and access to public transport networks are going to feature much more along main roads and streets. However, we've delivered better neighbourhoods and areas which hopefully helps make the argument for change. From here, invest in the conflict points first and then join them up along the links, picking up other low traffic areas as we go.
Investment at junctions on main roads is critical
Taking an area approach gives a good foundation on which to build and even if there are some gaps and problems, we stand more of a chance of them being carried than we do with an end to end route. It should come as no surprise that in places where a decent network has been developed, people are able to cope with any (small) shortcomings. Compare to many UK examples with several issues along separate routes, it's no wonder that people see them as failures. Of course people must want to change how the live and travel and this absolutely needs a push from the community and politicians willing to give it a try.