Tuesday 16 October 2012

The CTC embraces segregation (sort of, in a way, sometimes, but not always)

Spot the cyclist, or: A suitable case for treatment. First photo: Where the eastbound Victoria Embankment (A3211) enters the underpass leading to Upper Thames Street. Second photo: Bootham, a primary route into central York.

Hallelujah! Well done!

CTC declares support for quality segregation while still opposing “farcilities”

No, I take that back. The CTC’s newfound enthusiasm for segregation carries all the conviction of a brothel-keeper proclaiming a sudden commitment to the virtues of chastity.

CTC supports high quality facilities - not fiddly pavement conversions. 

Oh really? Number six in the CTC’s beloved Hierarchy of Provision is Conversion of footways/footpaths to shared use cycle tracks for pedestrians and cyclists.

I don't understand why any smart cycle campaign organisation ever signed up to something like that, which transport planners use to stop cyclists inconveniencing motorists and which almost always ends up with “fiddly pavement conversions” which benefit no one. But then the CTC has been dogmatically resisting full-blooded segregation since 1934. The CTC has long been the road lobby's greatest asset as far as cycling is concerned, as have the rest of the vehicular cycling campaign community.

You might think a statement of support for segregation would be accompanied by an iconic example of segregated cycling infrastructure. If the folk from the CTC can’t quite bring themselves to use a Dutch example (the CTC likes Dutch cycling the way vampires like crucifixes) this needn’t be a problem. Examples from British practice might be a bit thin on the ground but there are existing templates which serve to show future possible directions and which, though far from perfect, are far superior to traditional British “farcilities”. I am thinking of Camden and Old Shoreham Road.

Instead, the CTC’s notion of cycle-friendly design is perversely accompanied by a photograph not of a safe, segregated cycle path but an on-road cycle lane.

Best practice? Annoyingly there is no hint of its location, so it’s difficult to scrutinise the wider context. The clues that the photo contains are not encouraging. What looks like a single-decker bus is vanishing into the distance. This raises questions of what kind of route this is and who this street serves. I suspect that wherever it is, it’s a through route. Whatever the speed limit is on this street – I would guess 30 mph – are drivers keeping to it on a long straight stretch like this? Almost certainly some will not be. If this was NOT a through route then of course there would be no need to have cycle lanes at all; strategic road closures or circuitous one-way systems which only serve residential housing are sufficient to prevent short-cuts and rat-running and bring about traffic reduction.

The CTC’s photograph strikes me as very unsatisfactory in two ways. Firstly, conditions for cycling in that cycle lane are subjectively and, arguably, objectively very unsafe. The lay-out of the cycle lane may appear exemplary but note those dashed white lines. This is a cycle lane which drivers can enter quite lawfully. And see the way the blond-haired male is cycling on the very edge of the cycle lane. What happens when a motorist approaching from the rear meets oncoming vehicles? Some drivers may hang back but there are plenty who won’t, and that cyclist will find himself experiencing a large metal object passing at speed, very close. In short, the kind of thing that deters lots of people from taking up cycling, or which makes them decide to give up as it feels too dangerous. (For a recent example of a cyclist giving up in terror read this)

Secondly, it seems strange to have this photo illustrating a statement about good practice in a link from a statement in support of segregation, since it is a classic example of how NOT to create good, desirable cycling infrastructure. There is plainly space to convert that cycle lane into a proper segregated cycle path, simply by reconfiguring the street. The trees should be cut down and the cycle lane relocated to where the grass verge is currently situated, to create a cycle path which is physically separate from both the carriageway and the footway. That done, plant some new trees to reinforce the separation. Easy-peasy.

The CTC claims that its new policy calls for neighbourhoods, town centres and road networks to be “fundamentally redesigned to be ‘people-friendly’ but the photo it uses simply indicates a feeble adaptation of an existing motorised hegemony, and is the exact reverse of a fundamental redesign. It's collaborationist, not innovative. It serves the interests of the road lobby. It does nothing for cyclists at all. It's subjectively and objectively dangerous, it does nothing to persuade non-cyclists to take up cycling, yet the CTC can't see it.

The CTC inventory of wonders seems to me lamentably unfocused and it includes stuff like ‘early advance’ cyclists’ traffic lights. I assume this means providing an ASL and lights which give cyclists a three-second head start over motor vehicles at junctions. If so, this, I’m afraid, is unlikely to get the masses cycling. It's the kind of crap that TfL have come up with at the Bow roundabout, and it does nothing whatever for safe cycling.

The CTC states that its new policy is based upon a review of the relevant research evidence. Oh really? The Dutch template is sadly lacking. Instead we are invited to bow down before two very questionable studies:

In support of these principles, CTC points to evidence from a study by University College London, commissioned by the Department for Transport, which found that traffic reduction is the most important factor for boosting active travel, while a TRL report found that that speed reduction is the most important infrastructure measure for improving cyclists’ safety. 

The UCL study depends heavily on research from the USA, Canada and Australia – countries which have absolutely nothing to tell Britain about cycling. The TRL report likewise arrives at its parochial conclusions by studying English language material based largely on vehicular cycling cultures. It’s utterly absurd to base a policy on material like this. Apart from shunning the example of the most successful cycling nation in both Europe and the world, the CTC chooses to avert its gaze from a wealth of native research material which consistently and repeatedly indicates why the majority of the British population prefers not to cycle.

If you have the stomach for it, the UCL study is worth reading – it contains some interesting statistics – but it purveys the kind of banal claptrap that academics love in their bubble world of research publications:

if there are no destinations within a walkable distance people will be extremely unlikely to walk 

Gosh, that had never occurred to me.

car ownership did not appear to improve systolic blood pressure or waist hip ratio 

That’s a surprise innit.

Because walking and cycling contribute to physical activity, more time spent on either will help to improve health. This means that a longer trip is better than a shorter trip. 

Sheer genius. Obviously you need a PhD to arrive at insights like this.

However, I must admit even my narrowed, scowling eyes lit up joyously at the revelation that in some quarters there is

Concern about the methodology used in evaluating the Cycling Demonstration Towns 

(Yes, never put the monitoring of cycling targets in the control of those supposed to be increasing them - because the bastards will pull every trick in the book to make it seem that cycling is booming when, er, it isn’t.)

I find it hilariously ironic that the CTC is proudly citing a report which calls for

wider pavements (7.1)

a solution which the authors of this UCL report assert is


No it isn’t. It is very far from straightforward. Because the current transport planners fashion for widening pavements has enormous implications for vehicular cycling. Presumably the report's authors haven't spent any time lately cycling in London.

My depressed and battered heart slumps and flattens even further when I read that

Measures which make cycling more attractive include improving and building cycle lanes as well as wider, clearly marked colour-co-ordinated cycling lanes 

 Oh, please…

Moreover it is asserted that:

The bicycle hire scheme in London is generally seen as a success… so similar schemes could be set up in other cities. 

Well, that's a matter of opinion. The problem is not shortage of bikes.

I’m also amazed to see the CTC citing a report which comes out with assumptions like this:

there were many car journeys which could not have easily been done with another form of transport either because it was dark, there was poor weather or there were people or goods that needed to be transported as well. 

You can’t ride a bike in the dark or when it’s raining? Jeez…

I am not persuaded that the authors of the UCL report know anything at all about cycling or have a clue how to bring about a mass cycling culture. The report is full of woolly sociological and psychological material and ends up asserting that

Behaviour change is required to encourage a shift from the car to walking and cycling (p. 102)

No it isn’t. Infrastructure change is.

As for that other study cited by the CTC:

a TRL report found that that speed reduction is the most important infrastructure measure for improving cyclists’ safety. 

Well, speed reduction may well objectively reduce danger to cyclists in terms of death or injury but in itself it isn’t enough to make cycling subjectively safe, let alone convenient and attractive.

The most important infrastructure measure for improving cyclists' safety is SEPARATION FROM MOTOR VEHICLES. It also happens to be the kind of thing that persuades people to cycle. But if you are going to base your research on British examples of off-road cycling infrastructure then obviously you won't ever understand this because British segregation is traditionally a dismal joke and a monstrous travesty of what is possible. And using Stevenage and Milton Keynes as examples is pitiful. But then the vehicular campaign establishment has never been interested in real evidence-based policy. The CTC is actually looking for research which reinforces its vehicular cycling prejudices.

CTC therefore urges that segregated facilities should normally be created from existing road-space rather than pavement space. They should avoid creating conflict, either with pedestrians, or with motor vehicles at junctions – given that 75% of cyclists’ collisions occur at or near junctions – ensuring that cyclists have at least as much priority at junctions as they would if using the road. Conversely, if the authority does not have the will to meet these standards and its budget only extends to painting some white lines, CTC believes these would be better placed on the road.

It’s a rather weird approach to cycle campaigning, to include unconditional surrender among your core principles. But then it’s no coincidence that the CTC’s commitment to segregation simultaneously expresses its, er, commitment to ‘on-road facilities’, even highlighted in a framed box.

The notion that by boosting cyclist numbers you then enlarge the strength of ‘the cyclists’ vote’ locally strikes me as questionable. Is there such a thing as a cycling vote? Plainly Boris Johnson believes there might be, which is why he announced a last minute conversion to ‘Go Dutch’. But I’m not really convinced. You might be able to get more people cycling but that doesn’t mean they have the slightest interest in transport policy. Even campaign groups like the CTC and the LCC struggle to engage the bulk of their membership, even at the level of bothering to cast a vote.

The CTC’s reluctance to let go of vehicular cycling shines through statements like this:

London has seen substantial growth in cycle use since 2000, achieved primarily through measures other than segregation, but in the process has generated the political momentum needed if campaigns for high quality segregation are to succeed. 

Leaving aside TfL’s own research which asserts that claims of a massive growth in London cycling are somewhat exaggerated, modal share remains risible, precisely because ‘measures other than segregation’ are suppressing cycling, not enabling it.

In any case, how powerful is that political momentum? So far, Boris Johnson and TfL have delivered nothing. The design of the Lambeth Bridge roundabout is nothing but the same old crap.

To a large extent the CTC is doing nothing but restating ancient principles. Traffic reduction was always number one on the Hierarchy of Provision, with speed reduction at number two. The CTC still promotes the Hierarchy as a sacred text, even though it shuns all mention of segregation. There is also the enduring problem of praxis. The CTC has been demanding traffic reduction for donkey’s years, with a total lack of success. The recession has had a greater impact on traffic levels than decades of campaigning by the CTC.

The only practical aspect that the CTC concerns itself with is funding. It comes up with an idiosyncratic solution, citing the example of New York. This is weird. New York is not the answer. It’s as if the CTC remains as phobic as ever about using the word ‘Netherlands’:

Road maintenance budgets - which amount to billions of pounds each year - could be a key source of the funding needed to transform our towns, neighbourhoods and road networks to be cycle-friendly and people friendly – as could the planning system. CTC points to the example of New York which delivered significant cycling improvements by this means in recent years, and is now urging councils in Britain to adopt a similar approach. 

The trouble is, the more that councils are urged, the more they encourage cycling.

And now I feel it’s time for a song.