Thursday 27 January 2011

What won’t bring about mass cycling (5) vehicular cycle campaigning

People who know about cycling: London borough cycling officers meet campaigners

1. Some history

Let’s start with some history.

From 1950-1975 cycling was excluded from the government’s transport planning. Car ownership increased from half a million cars in 1960 to 4.6 million in 1981. Cycling vanished from city centre streets. Bike lanes became filled with parked cars. Proposals to put dedicated cycle lights at major junctions were resisted on the grounds of cost and that they would slow down drivers. Car use was believed to be of major economic importance. One study revealed a situation in which 83 per cent of households owned a bicycle but only one in six ever used them for utility cycling. There was a 70% modal share drop in cycling between 1950-1970.

Sound familiar? But this is a description of the Netherlands. To learn how this country reversed its car dependency and transformed itself into the most successful cycling country in the world a good place to begin is The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan, a document I suspect few British cycling campaigners have ever heard of, let alone read.

Today the Netherlands has about 29,000 km of segregated cycle path (a figure which excludes "off-road" paths) and 7000 km of on road cycle-lane, and about 120,000 km of road. Segregated cycling infrastructure lies at the heart of Dutch cycling provision but it is reinforced by a whole range of other measures, some of which are familiar to British cycling but only in a hideously sub-standard or car-centric format: permeability, contraflows, road closures, traffic calming.

The basic principle of the Dutch cycling renaissance is separation of cyclists from motor vehicles and the privileging of cycling routes over motor vehicles in town centres and residential areas. Around half of kilometres cycled in the Netherlands are on segregated cycle paths; the other half is shared with motor vehicles. However the kinds of roads where cyclists share the road have low volumes of traffic and low vehicle speeds. And of course just about every driver is also a cyclist.

Around 40 per cent of kilometres cycled in urban areas are on cycle paths. These are largely autonomous cycle paths alongside busy traffic arteries. There are also sometimes bicycle lanes. The bicycle lane has a legal status. Motorists may not stop or park on it. Bicycle lanes are often used in traffic arteries where there is no room for autonomous cycle paths.

At junctions the safety and flow of cycle traffic is a decisive factor, determining whether the best solution is lights, a roundabout, or a priority crossing. Traffic lights in the Netherlands generally have separate indicators for bicycles. A number of facilities have been introduced to increase the flow and safety of cyclists. These include detection sensors, simultaneous green lights for cyclists in all directions, and display timers giving the waiting time. 70 per cent of the delays in urban areas are caused by traffic lights, which means that other alternatives are preferred, most notably roundabouts with segregated cycle paths and priority for cyclists in built-up areas. The bicycle street allows limited access for cars but the motorist is a guest. (For more, see this)

And now let’s consider one aspect of cycle campaigning in Britain. Whereas the basic principle of the Dutch cycling renaissance is separation of cyclists from motor vehicles, this has always been vigorously opposed by Britain’s leading cycle campaign organisation, the CTC.

The first (and one of the very few) dedicated roadside optional cycle tracks was built, as an experiment for the Ministry of Transport, beside Western Avenue between Hanger Lane and Greenford Road in 1934. It was thought that "the prospect of cycling in comfort as well as safety would be appreciated by most cyclists themselves". However, the idea ran into trenchant opposition from cycling groups, with the CTC distributing pamphlets warning against the threat of cycle paths.

In 1947, in response to official suggestions that cyclists should use cycle-tracks, the CTC adopted a motion expressing determined opposition to cycle paths alongside public roads.

In 2007, official claims of safety for cycle tracks provoked a position paper from the umbrella body for UK cyclists' groups, stating "Cycle Campaign Network knows of no evidence that cycle facilities and in particular cycle lanes, generally lead to safer conditions for cycling".
[CCN was subsequently rebranded as Cyclenation.]

In 1996 the UK Cyclists' Touring Club and the Institute of Highways and Transportation jointly produced a set of Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure guidelines that placed segregated cycling facilities at the bottom of the hierarchy of measures designed to promote cycling.

Britain’s second biggest cycle campaign group, the London Cycling Campaign, has likewise never shown any serious interest in the Dutch example and remains fundamentally wedded to vehicular cycling.

When Transport for London says that segregation has never been considered for ‘Cycle Superhighways’ because cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles it is referring to those who represent cycling as campaign organisations and as activists.

The majority of regular cyclists do not belong to cycling organisations and remain outside the consultative framework, as do the far greater numbers of non-cyclists.

TfL is not professionally interested in non-cyclists and the reasons for their non-cycling, even though these reasons have been repeatedly and comprehensively documented. TfL’s core aim and priority is accommodating motor vehicle flow and parking, to which everything else is subordinate. Within this traffic modelling framework both pedestrians and cyclists are an impediment, since their presence and activity slows down motor vehicles or may deny vehicles street space.

Vehicular cycling campaigning accommodates itself to this traffic model and seeks to humanise it, through such infrastructure as carriageway markings (Advanced Stop Lines and cycle lanes) or speed restrictions. When the CTC talks about ‘Reallocation of carriageway space’ it doesn’t mean banning motor traffic from streets or taking one lane of a multi-lane highway and segregating it for cyclists but rather bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes

The Dutch template simply doesn’t exist for the CTC, since ‘Cycle tracks away from roads’ is a vague term which could cover everything from a Sustrans leisure route to the classic British segregated cycle path, which is usually poorly designed and poorly maintained and a hideous parody of what Dutch cyclists enjoy. British segregated cycling infrastructure is what put me off segregation, until I learned that there are other kinds.

In the CTC’s ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ there is nothing remotely Dutch about ‘Conversion of footways/footpaths to shared use cycle tracks for pedestrians and cyclists’. Although it piously talks about ‘Traffic reduction’ as the top priority, these vehicular cycling strategies in the ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ in fact do everything to accommodate traffic. The fact that the CTC even considers rubbish, failed infrastructure like the conversion of footways for shared use is very revealing, since this is a favourite device of highway engineers who want to get rid of cyclists from the road.

Because it accepts that the cyclist’s place is among motor vehicles, vehicular cycling campaigners do not seriously seek to challenge the hegemony of the car. There’s a revealing moment in a paper by John Franklin where he writes:

widening the nearside lane on multi-lane roads can be a very useful way of giving cyclists extra space without imposing the constraints of a cycle lane or disadvantaging anyone.

I take him to mean without disadvantaging motorists.

And once you collude with a car-centric infrastructure you end up with cycling infrastructure and campaigning like this.

2. UK cycle campaigning: still in denial

A British cycling activist named Jonathan Wood has written

When we mix in cycle campaigning circles, the demographic of white elderly eccentric men does little to build confidence in the future health of cycling advocacy.

I’m inclined to agree. What I would call establishment cycle campaigning (the CTC, the LCC, Sustrans, Cyclenation) is dominated by a handful of middle-aged or elderly men, some of whom seem to have been around forever. To some extent this is also true of local cycle campaign groups, which quite often boil down to half a dozen activists, who may have been campaigning for 20 years or more. But the problem is not so much the demographic, which is perhaps inevitable within the narrow context of British cycling, but the ideology and the strategy. Ultimately it’s the intellectual eccentricity, the parochialism and the denial of failure expressed by the ideology and strategy that matters most. Outfits like the CTC, Cyclenation and the LCC do bear all the sociological hallmarks of a sect.

The orthodox British cycle campaign ideology is one of seeking small improvements for existing cyclists within a vehicular cycling environment and the strategy is both one of negotiation with decision makers and attempting to encourage non-cyclists to take up cycling through ‘soft’ measures like marketing and cycle training.

Whatever you might think about the merits of this ideology and this strategy, they have signally failed. Cycling in Britain has contracted massively over the past 60 years. In most places it is flatlining or stagnating. The brutal reality is that cycling as modal share is on a steady downward pattern.
Much UK cycle campaigning remains in denial about this, still clinging to the endlessly reiterated belief that a great cycling renaissance is just around the corner.

The optimism can at times be mind-boggling. For example, one delegate reports back from the recent cycling conference in Edinburgh that there was a definite sense that more and stronger investment in cycling lies just around the corner. Which is quite remarkable bearing in mind that the government has just slashed funding for cycling in Britain from about £1 per person to just 20p per person (In a city of 100000 people, it's 20000 pounds. That's not even enough to employ someone to think about doing something… By way of contrast, cycling in the Netherlands is funded at a rate of around 30 euros per person per year, which is about 150 times as much).

And when the new CEO of the London Cycling Campaign is reported as telling delegates that Cycling has come onto the political agenda, and is backed in high places I can’t help wondering who he means. Perhaps the new Road Safety minister? The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond MP? Possibly the Mayor of London? Or maybe the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? As for the LCC’s eagerly anticipated administration under a cycling Prime Minister

But leaving such trifles to one side, what of the places where cycling really is experiencing growth? Take London, which is being hyped as the great success story:

why has the increase taken place? Officially, it is because of the efforts of Transport for London and the London Boroughs (mainly funded by TfL). But there is a more likely reason for at least a large proportion of the increase.

It is one which occurs in road safety and elsewhere where professionals claim credit for changes. Known as “regression-to-mean”, it refers to a change which was due to happen anyway. With cycling modal share, we can point to a typical “underlying average” in northern European cities, including those which have not supported cycling, of some 5%. What has happened in London can at least largely be explained by a spontaneous return to this average.

a large part of the increase in cycling can be seen as spontaneous and not due to official agencies like TfL and London’s Boroughs.

But what if this is true not simply for London but also for the whole of the UK? However unpalatable this might seem, it would suggest that all the efforts of the nation’s cycle campaigners have been in vain. Where there has been a rise in cycling it owes very little to their efforts but would have happened anyway.

In any case, nowhere in Britain has achieved a significant increase in cycling’s modal share. In most British cities modal share languishes at two per cent or less.

The current campaign strategy of organisations like the CTC and the LCC is to argue that cycling is experiencing growth, that more cyclists leads to ‘safety in numbers’, and that in this environment a critical mass will be achieved which will lead to urban planners embracing the bicycle and making British cities just like Copenhagen. But in those rare places which traditionally have had a much bigger modal share (York, for example) there are no signs at all of an already existing critical mass leading to anything other than stagnation or even decline. In 1995 the CTC was quoting a modal share figure for York of 18%, today it is 12%.

But what of Scotland’s most successful cycling city, Edinburgh? At a cycling conference back in 2001 high profile campaigner Don Mathew enthused the delegates with the message “Go for growth”:

The perpetual question asked by policy makers tends to be - 'Can we increase levels of cycling?' The answer from VeloCity is 'Yes - and in widely different circumstances'. Here are some examples:

Glasgow: just starting, but journey to work already up from 0.8% to 2.5%

Edinburgh: 1980s modal share 1.9%, 1990s 3.1%
(2010 target 10%)

And now see what happened:

The modal split for Glasgow is 46 percent private cars (drivers and passengers); 25 percent public transport; 18 percent pedestrians; 9 percent rail; 1 percent cycling; and 2 percent other means of transport. Although according to another source Fewer than 1% of journeys in Glasgow are made by bike

Which is hardly surprising when you read this and this (do read the comments).

But Edinburgh is the great success story. It’s the most successful cycling city in Scotland! So was that thrilling target of 10% modal share by 2010 achieved? Er, no.

Edinburgh has a modal share of 6% compared with 2% for the rest of Scotland

But the term ‘modal share’ is here used very loosely and actually only refers to commuter cycling, which always provides the highest figure. Vehicular cycling campaigners love commuter cycling figures both because they are always the most frabjous of all modal share statistics and because they are themselves, as likely as not, commuter cyclists. But as Mikael cruelly and accurately points out the voices who speak for this form of advocacy are largely sub-cultural.

In reality, for Edinburgh, for ‘Travel as a main mode’ the figures for cycling were 2 per cent in the years 2001-2006, dropping to 1.6 per cent for 2007-2008. A slump which matches that in some parts of London:

Weekday trips per day by London residents of Outer London, by main mode.
Mode share percentage: cycling at 1.5 per cent in 1991 and at 1.4 per cent in 2007/8.

None of this sounds like health or growth to me. But not to worry. Edinburgh has signed up to the Brussels Charter target of 15% cycling share by 2020.

Having examined Edinburgh’s plans for ‘encouraging cycling’ I can confidently predict this target will not be reached. And when it isn’t reached in 2020 it will promptly be forgotten and a thrilling new target will be established for 2030, or whenever.

Cycling isn’t going anywhere in York or Edinburgh or London or anywhere else – except among that relatively tiny percentage of the population which can be persuaded to dress in luminous yellow, put on a cycle helmet, and pedal among high volumes of motor traffic or on roads where significant numbers of drivers are behaving in a careless or reckless way. The demographic indicates that the people prepared to do this are largely male and aged 25-45. The majority will be commuters.

For the non-cycling mass of the population

the thing that stops people from cycling is that they don’t want to ride on busy roads, full of motorised traffic that is going too fast and thinks it’s got the right of way and squeezes them. That’s the reason people don’t cycle.

The orthodox response of British cycling campaigners is to dismiss this out of hand. If people are afraid to cycle they must be persuaded otherwise. Cycling is safe and can be proved to be safe with statistics. Moreover, vehicular cycling campaigners are prepared to cycle in traffic and see no reason why everyone else shouldn’t too. You can cycle for 18,000 years before you get killed by a motorist, they say with an encouraging smile. Having dealt with the fears of non-cyclists scientifically, novices can then be trained to adapt to a mass motorized cycling environment through cycle training. Alternatively, non-cyclists can be derided. Their excuses are bogus. People who won’t cycle are lazy. They are a lost cause. So it’s time to tighten those helmet straps, put on the high-viz jacket, and head off down to the howling traffic on the dual carriageway to assert ‘the right to ride’.

But of course the other side of people’s reluctance to cycle in traffic is their desire to cycle on infrastructure which lacks motor vehicles.

concerns about the safety of cycling appeared to be an issue for a large number of potential cyclists. Of those who were able to cycle, a clear majority agreed that they would ‘find cycling on the roads stressful’ (63%) and that it was ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’ (60%) and that they ‘would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths’ (52%).

The last, desperate prejudice of the opinionated vehicular cyclist is that there simply isn’t space on British roads for Dutch infrastructure, which is just another lazy myth.

Any British cyclist with eyes to see can find their own examples of where segregated cycle paths are possible in urban environments.

And as David Arditti has observed

The big thing that tends not to be understood in the UK about segregated cycle lanes, Dutch-style, is that their main purpose is not safety, per se, as cycling is inherently quite safe anyway, it is the prioritisation of space for cycle traffic. It is, in other words, to give the bike a competitive advantage in the struggle for space on the roads, which makes bike journeys quicker and more efficient, as well as more pleasant. There is no other effective method of preventing parking, loading, queuing, bus and taxi stopping in cycle space, and general obstruction by motor vehicles, other than physical segregation. This is why it is used so extensively on the continent. It is not that the continentals have some malign control agenda to push cyclists off the general roads.

3. ‘Splitters!’

For at least a decade there seem to have been people on the fringes of the cycling community who have pushed for Dutch cycling infrastructure as the way forward, but they have evidently always been in a small minority, with the vehicular cycling campaign majority subscribing to views like this.

But as cycling in Britain continues to languish, and as UK cycle campaign organisations and groups continue to remain in denial about their own catastrophic campaign failures, new voices of dissent are being raised.

The medium of liberation is, of course, the internet and the blog. Anyone can now set up a blog, talk about their cycling experiences, post photographs, and express opinions. The stranglehold which the CTC and the LCC have traditionally had over communication (magazines) has been loosened. And, as with the invention of printing, new ideas and new thinking proliferate in a democratic new medium to challenge the traditionalists, who in turn are quick to sniff out heresy. (Oddly enough even in the sixteenth century the English reformation was ignited by ideas in large part spread from the Netherlands, by the incendiary new medium of the printed book and pamphlet.)

I was intrigued by this comment from Carlton Reid:

when certain bloggers - Freewheeler springs to mind, and others are quite close to his/her position - accuse those organisations, and myself, of being guilty of 'crimes against cycling' there's too much Judean Peoples' Front for my liking. Splitters!

In fact the person who made that accusation was not me, though I quite like the idea of prosecution – I wish to indict Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign for fraudulent misrepresentation by including shiny photographs of people cycling in Hyde Park in their collaborative document Delivering the benefits of cycling in Outer London. Because what does off-road cycling in an inner London royal park have to do with cycling in Outer London?

Why does a document purporting to be about Outer London contain no photographs of what cycling conditions are actually like in Outer London? And why, on another occasion, when it does bother to cast its eyes on the London Borough of Waltham Forest, does Sustrans describe a cycle lane like this (below) on High Road Leytonstone as ‘cycling friendly’?

London is itself a crime against cycling - or at least it was to this visitor from the Netherlands:

I tried London 2 years ago, got pretty annoyed by traffic & the lack of real provisions for people on bikes… I thought it was just criminal how much space a dense city like London allowed for cars and how marginalized it is for people on bikes

To return to Carlton Reid’s comment, it was this blogger who uttered those words to which he takes exception – a cycling philosopher and sociologist who goes beyond the great segregation debate to address another core failing of conventional UK cycle campaigning:

I would say we’re committing a crime against cycling when people continuously talk about promoting cycling without talking about deterring driving. Because that’s what’s actually happening. We’ve got a cycling promotion industry in the UK which refuses to contemplate the act of deterring driving. It’s always promoting cycling around the edges, not seeking to dismantle the central system of mobility in the UK, which is the car.Everyone is still addicted to their cars, and if you just muck around with the edges of the transport system, you’re not actually going to achieve modal shift. If you’re saying you want to double cycling, you’re talking about modal shift. You’re not saying you want someone to ride a bike twice more each year when the sun is shining and they want to have a day out. You want people to ride bikes day in, day out, and you don’t do that by mucking around with the edges and not doing anything fundamental. Everyone who’s passionate about cycling knows that, but I get really frustrated when I see people who have got some ability to challenge a little bit more radically through their positions and just not doing it.

This seems to me true. UK cycle campaigning is a hurricane of activity but it often seems parochial, collaborationist or comically futile. It evades both its own historic failures and declines to engage with traffic modelling or the hegemony of the car. My heart sinks when I read about cycle campaigning like this:

We were recently invited to take part in a focus group to discuss polite cycling. At the invitation of the City Council's Sustainable Transport Officer, we attended a meeting along with Police, community wardens, SUSTRANS, CTC and Officers from neighbouring authorities. The purpose was to discuss the issues around the minority of cyclists who could be encouraged to behave in a more considerate manner

The ‘splitters’ that Carlton Reid has in mind are presumably those bloggers who prefer the Dutch template to British vehicular cycling, and whose influence is beginning to spread.

Very well, say the angry, trembling vehiculars. What would you do?

Calling Dave Horton a splitter might be accurate in the sense that he is a critic of orthodox cycle campaigning but is a little unfair in the sense that he isn’t doing anything to challenge it, because he is.

Elsewhere, and out of the ‘splitter’ blogging community, has arisen the new Cycling Embassy, which has a Mission Statement and a Manifesto.

The Cycling Embassy holds out the promise of a new vision for cycling which is very different to the traditional one. And I suspect when all the ideas have been shared and thrashed out they’ll boil down to this: I want what he’s got.

4. Strategy

Having a vision is one thing, putting it into practice is quite another. The strategy of traditional UK cycle campaigning is one of negotiation with decision makers, which is obviously basic to any social transformation in a society like the UK.

The problem with traditional campaigning is that it is basically collaborative rather than oppositional. The LCC and Sustrans are happy to collaborate with Transport for London in ‘encouraging cycling’ without ever facing up to the fact that TfL is first and foremost concerned with motor vehicle flow and parking and that this transport modelling is by definition antagonistic to cycling.

Except of course it isn’t if you believe in vehicular cycling. The massive growth in car ownership and use becomes irrelevant if you subscribe to more-niceness-among-road-users and ‘share the road’. If you believe in sharing the road you then start fretting about the image of cycling and trying to ‘win respect’ from motorists.

Whether or not the CTC and the LCC can be won round to a new way of thinking I don’t know. When I went on the Redbridge Skyride and went up to the CTC stall I was interested to discover that the organisation is trying to sell itself as a family-friendly cycling organisation which is just right for Skyride cyclists. A contradiction there, perhaps. I am a bit more optimistic where the LCC is concerned. I think Jim is right when he says There’s massive pent up segregationalism out there and 99.9% of them don’t even know it.

I think Roger Geffen’s presentation at the last Cyclenation conference was a tacit acknowledgement that there’s a wind of change blowing through British cycle campaigning (which the orthodox cycling establishment is naturally anxious to close the door on and suppress). And as Jim also notes, Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad are practically ignored by campaign organisations over here which is insane.

What’s even worse is the defeatism embedded in orthodox cycle campaign organisations. Whenever anyone has raised the subject of segregation they have been curtly brushed aside on the grounds that such a demand is unrealistic, impossible, a pipe dream. There is no desire even to ask. But as has been pointed out

Most car users are not political Motorists: they want nice livable streets too. They’ve let pedestrian zones and residential road blocks and people-friendly developments happen, and I’ve seen no evidence that they wouldn’t also let bike paths happen. It is not car users who have been vetoing the development of good bike paths.

As long as Britain’s cycling organisations and local groups remain wedded to vehicular cycling they will continue to be an obstacle to mass cycling, not enablers. This obviously presents problems for any new groups of activists with alternative visions. Here in Waltham Forest, for example, it is difficult to persuade councillors that what’s needed here is a segregated Dutch-style cycle path when on the one hand local shopkeepers believe their livelihood depends on shoppers arrriving by car, and on the other hand the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign gives the enthusiastic thumbs up to a cycle lane like this as the kind of infrastructure which is best practice:

It’s worth bearing in mind that the genuine cycling revolutions in the Netherlands and Dednmark didn’t just emerge from the kindness of traffic planners. They emerged from various kinds of struggle.

In the Netherlands, as Maarten Sneep points out,

At the start of the 70s the bicycle dropped off the radar of the ANWB. At the end of the decade angry cyclists decided that their voice needed to be heard. They started with the 'ENWB' (echte nederlandse wielrijders bond - Real Dutch Cyclists Union). The ANWB promptly sued over the name (and won), giving the new Dutch cyclists union (renamed to Fietsersbond) an amount of media attention they never could have generated on their own at the time.
(see the comments here)

Apart from dissension within the Dutch cycling community, the movement for better cycling conditions was also driven forwards by making it an issue of child safety.

In Denmark the cycling community's resistance was more confrontational:

In the 1970s, as cars got cheaper and the roads widened the bike lanes were going to be bulldozed. This was when the cyclists took to the streets marching, lobbying and yes, even burning cars.

I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall. Let me return to Jonathan Wood, who was enthused by his attendance at a Manchester critical mass:

Its great benefit is that it breeds cycling radicals and activists. It constitutes the opposite end of the spectrum of activism to the cycle campaigners who do the proxy work of the Institute of Advanced Motorists in their ‘Stop at Red’ campaigns. Whilst beyond the scope of this piece, I think the latter campaigning constitutes supplication; no movement for social change in history has ever achieved change by trying to make itself likeable.

Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning. Twenty activists sealing off one lane of a multi-lane urban highway for the benefit of cyclists – that kind of thing. Ad hoc segregation on the Euston Road, a six lane motor-vehicle choked hellhole where air pollution levels are very high and where there isn’t even a crap cycle lane. Spontaneous guerrilla actions! Protests connected to very specific aims (we want Dutch infrastructure here). The press would love it. The majority of people travelling in central London are not in cars, so why are people who choose to drive down Regent Street allowed to do so? Block off Regent Street! Reclaim it for cyclists and pedestrians!

As for the notion of splitters… Like the man said

There is a crack, a crack, in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

The religion of vehicular cycling needs a lot more apostates.