Tuesday 18 September 2012

The CTC and segregation

The Alternative Department for Transport identifies a significant lacuna on the CTC’s Right to Ride to School website page and asks

why the UK’s biggest and most influential cycling group – “the national cycling charity” no less – insists on sticking to this “Right to Ride” mantra. 

This provoked a response from Roger Geffen, the CTC’s Campaigns & Policy Director, which you can read here.The CTC subsequently changed its website page to respond to the blogger's criticism. (By coincidence there simultaneously appeared some Roger Geffen bashing here.)

Mr Geffen claims that the interpretations of the phrase “Right to Ride”

is complete and utter nonsense. Far from being a “mantra” at CTC, the name isn’t actually terribly popular, even among CTC’s “Right to Ride” local volunteer campaigners themselves. We’ll probably change it when we can agree on a better one! 

It is also total nonsense to suggest that CTC isn’t in favour of quality infrastructure, either to school or anywhere else for that matter. And it is is even more nonsensical to suggest that CTC’s members are opposed to quality segregated cycle facilities. 

For an organisation not opposed to "quality segregated cycle facilities" the CTC has remarkably little to say about them, or indeed about the Dutch template for successful mass cycling.

If you scrutinisethe CTC’s “Right to Ride to School” pages you encounter this:

Over half of UK children say they would rather cycle to school than be driven. On the other hand, there are also many reasons that schools and parents give for not allowing children to cycle. These are mostly grounded in fear – fear that children will not cycle safely, that surrounding motorists will drive dangerously, or that children alone in public are at risk. These fears simply do not reflect real experience, as discussed below

Children can learn safe cycling through cycle training. Bikeability helps children protect themselves by teaching the techniques for looking and anticipating the movements of motorists and other road users. 

The health benefits of cycling - in terms of greater cardiovascular fitness, reduced levels of some cancers and obesity - far outweigh the risk of being hurt in a traffic crash. 

Furthermore, the risk involved in cycling is similar or less than the risk involved in many other everyday activities. A person is less likely to be injured in an hour of cycling than in an hour of gardening. 

The roads surrounding the school are too dangerous – this can be one of the most difficult objections to overcome. The CTC has some ideas on what could be done about them – e.g. introducing a new crossing point or 20 mph limits. 

Remember also to think about measures that would help discourage people from driving their children to school, e.g. no-stopping zones around schools and reducing nearby car parking. 

Keep pushing the idea that more children cycling to school will mean fewer people driving, and that will make the roads safer, as well as reducing school run congestion on roads in the school’s neighbourhood. Stress that you want the whole community to benefit, not just you and the school! 

Sustrans’s Safe Routes to Schools programme offers free information and advice to parents, pupils, schools and local authorities 

In other words, patronise parents by playing down their perfectly valid anxieties about the safety of their children, tinker around the edges, and do almost anything except ask for the kind of Dutch-style cycling infrastructure which is proven to work. 
I must admit I’m intrigued by this assertion by Roger Geffen:

stirring up vehement arguments about segregation is entirely counter-productive. That’s what happened among cycling advocates in 1997, when we’d persuaded the Government to agree to the targets of the National Cycling Strategy, but not the money to achieve them. All we did was to give the Government a perfect excuse to allocate £0, on the grounds that cyclists couldn’t agree how the money should be spent. 

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. So please, let’s not make that mistake again! 

I've no idea what was going on in UK cycle campaign circles in 1997, and I wish someone would write a blog post about it, as I’ve encountered the “stab in the back” argument before. I’m guessing (but I don’t know) that this refers to campaigning which originates with Paul Gannon.

The reason why the arguments for segregation are so "vehement" is simply that orthodox UK cycle campaigning, at a national and local level, remains overwhelmingly committed to vehicular cycling solutions which have decades of failure embedded in them.

Plainly someone was campaigning for Dutch-style segregation at the turn of the century, because excavating the Waltham Forest archives I was stunned to come across a reference to a scheme for Leytonstone High Road which involved “cycle lanes tracks (sic) to be provided the full length with segregation where possible” (London Borough of Waltham Forest Environmental Services Interim Transport Plan 2001-2002, p. 59). Needless to say, that weasel phrase “where possible” ensured that this perfectly possible scheme was deliberately sabotaged, almost certainly by a combination of weak political leadership and most of all by the council’s car-centric car-driving highway engineers.

And something was still bubbling away when at the 2003 spring conference of the Cycle Campaign Network, the Cyclists' Touring Club and the London Cycling Campaign, Christian Wolmar of the National Cycling Strategy Board curtly dismissed campaigners for Dutch-style infrastructure: Many cyclists are wrong to argue for totally segregated facilities. They won’t happen

Roger Geffen doth protest too much, I think. The problem isn’t that calls for segregation are a distraction but that UK cycle campaigning has long been dominated by a clique of male vehicular cyclists who are embedded in the managerial and organisational structures of CycleNation, the CTC and the LCC. The “cycling spring” of the late 1990s was seen off by this clique, but now the internet has opened the floodgates, and many diverse voices are now challenging the gatekeepers of official cycling policy, its received wisdom, and its supreme authority, the Hosni Mubarak of UK cycle campaigning, namely John Franklin, whose influence has been catastrophic both nationally and at a parochial level in his own home town of car-sick, car-sodden, cycling-hostile Cheltenham. Moreover,  in response to this cycle campaign hegemony, a disillusioned refugee from the CTC set up this.

The CTC’s Policy Handbook (which can be accessed here) is extremely illuminating. You would never know from it that a template for mass cycling existed just across the North Sea. The CTC’s position seems to me quite unambiguous. It fervently believes in on-road cycling and crappy on-road cycle infrastructure like Advanced Stop Lines and cycle lanes.

When used as a mode of transport the cyclists’ preference and indeed, right, is on the road and all scheme designs and standards should presume in favour of on-road cycle provision. (8.1.1.i)

For many urban and inter-urban trips there may be no alternative to cycling on heavily trafficked roads; approximately one quarter of cycling (24% in 1990) takes place on major roads, mostly on "built-up" roads of up to 40mph speed limit. (8.1.1.b) i.

Conditions at roundabouts can be improved by; tighter, continental-style geometry; single lane entries, circulation and exits; signalisation. ii.

Major signalled junctions must allow sufficient space for priority access by cyclists without squeezing or pressure from left-turning traffic.

Advanced stop lines and a separate phase giving priority to cyclists can improve safety. 

Where traffic conditions are a deterrent to cyclists sharing road space with other vehicles, speeds must be reduced to make cycling comfortable or sufficient space provided – 1.5 – 2.0 metres, depending on speeds – by wider nearside lanes or cycle lanes (8.1.1.b.iii-v)

CTC View 

i. Cyclists have the road network available to them for their use. Where use of this network is rendered unattractive or dangerous by traffic conditions, there is no single correct solution to providing a suitable infrastructure for cycling and local conditions will frequently dictate which solutions are possible. However, the following hierarchy of solutions indicates the possible strategies in order of preference. Each strategy should be thoroughly considered before a solution is chosen. 
a) Traffic reduction 
b) Traffic calming and restraint 
c) Junction treatment and traffic management 
d) Redistribution of space on the carriageway 
 e) Cycle lanes and cycle tracks 

In other words, the Dutch solution comes LAST.

The CTC fetishes York, which is a truly crap city for cycling, and where cycling is in decline:

A hostile road environment has contributed heavily to the decline of cycling since the 1950’s in the UK. Cyclists have found that their two most fundamental needs, that routes are safe and that trip destinations are made easily accessible, have been ignored. An effective strategy for reversing this trend has been adopted by York City Council in the form of a 'hierarchy of users'. This strategy places the needs of disabled people, pedestrians and cyclists above those of other users and is designed to ensure that accessibility and safety for these modes is maintained 

The CTC’s intoxication with York as a template for success is bizarre and laughable. More on that next week.

The problem remains. British cycle campaigning is dominated by a layer of activists (almost always male) who personally find nothing substantially wrong with vehicular cycling and who believe that what is wrong with vehicular cycling can be effectively treated with legislation, training and education designed to correct bad behaviour by drivers. These activists don’t really believe the sincerity of people who give fear of vehicles as the primary motive for not cycling, while themselves being acutely fearful that physically segregated cycle tracks will be substandard in design and maintenance and unsuitable for fast cyclists and risk being accompanied by legislation banning cyclists from the roads.

From this perspective those who call for Dutch-style cycling infrastructure are the road lobby’s useful idiots and unwittingly play into the hands of those who have always wished to remove cyclists from the road.

From an historical perspective, however, it is surely outfits like the CTC which have acted as the unwitting tool of the road lobby. David Arditti provides the history:

The resistance to cycle-specific infrastructure displayed by British cyclists, and particularly by the CTC, as the largest body representing their interests, during the mid-20th century, proved a spectacular own goal. As cycling numbers dwindled and pressure to create more space for motor traffic grew, the fact that cyclists did not seem to want their own space proved very convenient for politicians. Cyclists did not want the tracks such as the ones on the A40, or so the CTC told the government. So they were eliminated to make more space for cars. Some time after the Second World War (no doubt someone can tell me exactly when, but I guess it was in the 1960s), a third lane was added to both sides of the A40 over the top of the old cycle track and grass verges. 

The consequences of asserting the ‘right to ride’ (or however you wish to define vehicular cycling) while simultaneously shunning the example of the Netherlands have been devastating. Today, at grass roots level, some CTC activists are vainly attempting to repair the damage, which is vividly illustrated by this remarkable example:

According to official statistics, in 2010 this section of the A3 had over 47,000 motor vehicles per day travelling along it, and only 3 cyclists. 

This is simply an extreme example of a phenomenon which has happened across Britain as cycling has become marginalised.

The “vehiculars” remain in denial, however, and stoutly assert that Cambridge, York and Hackney prove their case that cycling can thrive in a vehicular environment. Such examples are unconvincing, since modal share in these places rests on unique local factors, and in any case cycling is not expanding significantly here, despite impressionistic claims to the contrary.

The contraction of cycling in the London Borough of Waltham Forest ought not to be in dispute after the latest TfL figure putting modal share at under one per cent – a contraction, it is worth remembering, concealed by a great deal of percentage froth. Yes, avert your eyes from that TfL ‘Freedom’ poster on the side of a house on Aveling Park Road at the junction with Chingford Road, get on your bike and pedal, and sixty seconds later these are the conditions for you to celebrate your freedom and your right to ride along a cycle lane.

Although it is interesting to learn that there is some dissent within the ranks, at an organisational level the CTC’s distaste for the Dutch template seems glaringly obvious. Just listen to this, for example:

CTC will need to weigh up the benefits from providing stronger support to segregation despite the risk that this may undermine conditions for existing cyclists. The strongest message is that the existing quality of cycle facilities is of considerable concern for all road users and CTC must prioritise their improvement.

My translation of this is: it’s business as usual at the CTC.
This is also illuminating:

In a recent blog post former Chief Executive of 14 years Kevin Mayne confessed that he had never visited Amsterdam. Which other senior CTC staff have not visited the city within the country from which we have the most to learn? Those that have visited, do they think mass cycling for ordinary people has been achieved there by training and encouragement or by infrastructure? Grant

Grant – right now there are 9 of us sitting in the room answering questions as quickly as we can – a quick show of hands says 6 of us have been to Amsterdam. I’m not sure what that tells you about the managers here! Another straw poll says that our shared view on why mass cycling is so popular there is that it’s partly down to long habit – the Dutch never lost their habit of cycling – and partly due to the restrictions on motor traffic in the city. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it gives an idea of our view on the subject. Gordon 

That strikes me not as an oversimplification but as a serious distortion of the actual history of Dutch cycling development over the past fifty years.

There's a lacuna here which is as revealing as the one originally identified bt the Alternative Department for Transport on the Right to Ride to School page. What is missing in this account is the principle of separating cyclists from motor vehicles. 

Another Freudian slip by an organisation saturated in a vehicular cycling frame of mind.