Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The twisted logic of vehicular cycling: why Waltham Forest is a failed cycling borough

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a failed borough for cycling, with cycling flatlining at one per cent modal share for as long as anyone can remember. This naturally concerns no one – certainly not the Council (which continues to encourage car dependency and increased car ownership by re-allocating roads and even pavements for cars and car parking), not the borough’s ineffectual cycling officer, and not the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign, for whom ‘cycle campaigning’ is a social event rather than a serious attempt to change the borough’s car-centric transport infrastructure.

At the root of the borough’s failure to increase cycling is its insistence that cycling MUST be done on roads, amidst motor traffic. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the population don’t want to do this is of no concern. The fact that the local cycling group’s own survey among existing cyclists revealed a deep dislike of vehicular cycling and a clear preference for off-road cycling is likewise of no concern to ‘campaigners’ who represent an organisation which displays no interest in arguing for the kind of safe, segregated cycling which results in mass cycling.

The borough’s Cycling Action Plan asserts:

Most cycling takes place on the road and this will continue to be the case. So it is essential that the road network is made suitable for cycling. Segregated cycle routes and networks will play an important role in some areas, but they will be of limited use if cyclists are unable to use ordinary roads freely.

What these flabby and ill-informed generalisations add up to is the belief that vehicular cycling can be encouraged by ‘improvements’ to the road network. On page 11 of the document is one such example (below). With characteristic dishonesty, the photograph shows High Road Leytonstone in the kind of deserted state you would normally only find early on a Sunday morning or late at night. My own photographs, taken on the same supposedly exemplary cycle lane, show what it’s like to use on an ordinary weekday. And the simple reality is that this supposedly exemplary cycle lane does not encourage cycling but rather suppresses it and keeps it stagnating. Families won’t cycle on cycle lanes like this. Few people will want their children to cycle to school in conditions like this.

If you really want to get lots of people cycling you need to accept the first lesson of how to succeed:

Cyclists should never mix with high speed or high volume motor traffic.