The focus on re-establishing more liveable cities continues unabated. The primary problem however is that 85 years of traffic engineering revolving around the car has failed miserably. It’s time for modern thinking, and good design can help.
Historically, streets were human spaces, so why don’t we still design them in accordance with the desire lines of their citizens? The following talk, given by Mikael Colville-Andersen, makes the case for using basic design principles instead of engineering as the surest route to developing thriving, human-centred cities.
Colville-Andersen is an urban mobility expert and CEO for Copenhagenize Consulting. He is often called Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador but has learned the hard way that this title is a dismal pick-up line in bars.
Colville-Andersen and his team advise cities and towns around the world regarding bicycle planning, infrastructure and communication strategies. He applies his marketing expertise to campaigns that focus on selling bicycle culture and bicycle transport to a mainstream audience as opposed to the existing cycling sub-cultures in particular with his famous Cycle Chic brand. Colville-Andersen gives talks around the world about bicycle culture, design, and social media.
Those who are familiar with TED talks will know that they are synonymous with quality and intelligent commentary. My favourite bit of this particular talk begins at 5:27 and considers Copenhagen’s approach to the “desire lines” of its citizens. After watching this segment, just think about how other cities around the world might be quicker to punish (rather than observe) their citizens in cases where they routinely flout the law – which approach do you suppose is better?
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This article (Kaya Burgess – The Times) describes the multifarious benefits of investment in cycling for all sorts of different groups in the UK. In what follows below, I intend to summaries and illustrate just a few of these benefits.
Motorists, for instance, would benefit from fewer traffic jams and less conflict with cyclists. Even Top Gear presenter and general motor-mouth Jeremy Clarkson has praised cycling as a way of getting around. He last year described Copenhagen’s cycling culture as “fan-bleeding-tastic” and said: “Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.”
People who commute by train and by bus will also benefit if more people took up cycling, as the intense pressure on the public transport system would be eased.
As child obesity soars in the UK, parents and children will benefit from better infrastructure as cycling to school becomes an option again. The more people who cycle, the safer the streets become, and thus more people will be encouraged to take up cycling . With more than 2/3 of car journeys in the UK being less than 5 miles, most of the driving that people do is completely unnecessary anyway. The school run needn’t be the stress that it has become.
Ordinary adults will benefit from the regular exercise as well. Official advice recommends taking 150 minutes – or 2½ hours – of physical activity per week, but we do not always have the time – or inclination – to get down the gym or go for a jog after a long day or long week of work. Building cycling into a person’s daily routine is a brilliant way of nomalising the activity and incorporating exercise into their lifestyle.
Taxpayers will also benefit from investment in cycling. The NHS spends around £5 billion each year on tackling preventable diseases exacerbated by inactivity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Around £16bn is currently being spent on the Crossrail project in London and a further £3bn on upgrades to the A9 road in Scotland. Health experts told the Get Britain Cycling inquiry that investing in cycle provision is by far the most cost-effective form of transport spend, recouping £4 in healthcare savings for every £1 invested.
Investing in cycling is also good for businesses and employers. Not only does a manager get a healthier and more alert workforce, but research in New York has shown that the introduction of cycle lanes led to a 49 per cent increase in retail sales. In terms of parking, bikes take up a lot less space than cars, so it follows that bikes can carry more potential customers than cars can.
As a final point, the article notes that cyclists would also benefit from improved cycle infrastructure. It might seem like an obvious point, but around 2 per of traffic on Britain’s roads is made up by people on bikes, and as this figure grows the infrastructure will need to grow with it. For instance, of all vehicles crossing bridges over the River Thames in London at rush hour, more than half are bicycles – in spite of this fact the cycle lanes (which are shared and often blocked by buses) are at best only a third of a lane in width. It really is time the Government took cycling seriously.
I really liked this article, but it did miss out some other key groups who would benefit from a more Dutch-style cycling infrastructure, as illustrated in the following video:
2013 saw many articles written under titles referring to the ‘dangers of cycling’. A few random examples can be found here, here, here, and here. This one even talks about the ‘terrors’ faced by cyclists on the road.
Indeed, cycling can be a dangerous activity, but this is not because cycling itself is dangerous…
For instance, it isn’t dangerous to cycle without a helmet
It isn’t dangerous to cycle with a passenger…
…no matter what age you are!
Even a couple of passengers (and a suitcase) is no big deal
and it isn’t dangerous to cycle with an umbrella
Even four-legged friends are safe to ride with.
Whether you’re a little bit older…
…or a little younger
…cycling itself is not a dangerous activity.
What these photographs illustrate is how the physical environment affects the relative danger of riding a bike. Many of the pictures also show how good infrastructure is the key factor in determining whether or not cycling is actually safe.
As we move into 2014, I am hopeful that governing bodies in the UK (and elsewhere, for that matter) pick up on the merits of cycling and do what is needed to protect people who ride bikes. At present (and from my perspective), city dwellers face an unappealing trilemma when deciding upon transportation; they can either:
1. Contribute to the city’s pollution and congestion by paying through the nose for a car (+driving licence/insurance/MOT/VED/petrol/parking etc.).
2. Pay to take crowded/crappy (and notoriously unreliable) public transport.
3. Ride a bike but risk their lives by sharing the road with heavy/powerful/fast moving motor vehicles.
If a person is able to ride a bike (i.e. if their health permits it), then it should be in everybody’s interest to support them. Biker riders take up less space on the roads, and so there is less congestion for everyone else; they are not pumping out pollution into the air that we all have to breath; they are exercising their bodies and so easing pressure on an NHS that is currently strained by an obesity epidemic; they aren’t damaging the roads to nearly the same degree that other vehicles do (thus saving tax-payers money); they don’t run people over (and if they do, injuries are usually minor); and last but not least, motor-vehicle dominated cities are noisy and unpleasant places, and so bikes offer a quiet and civilised remedy to this.
I think that cycling is brilliant, not just for the bike rider but for the world. I intend to keep up the pace this year with my campaigning, and I hope to keep you updated with any developments/innovations that might be of interest.
All the best
Whenever I tell people about my dream of having some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK, I am frequently met with the same point about there not being enough space on British roads. The general feeling is that roads are already too narrow, and that there simply isn’t any room to accommodate the type of segregated cycle lanes that work so well on the continent.
In opposition to this, I would like to present you with a group of photos taken from Google Streetview. In the left column you have shots of roads/junctions in the UK, and in the right column you have almost identical shots of places in The Netherlands. The point of the side-by-side comparison is to show how space is used differently, and how the Dutch so sensibly choose to separate pedestrians and cyclists from cars and HGVs. The streets are so similar that they could almost be before and after photos…
In each case, the cycling provision in the UK is rubbish or non-existent, while that provided on a similar street in The Netherlands offers a far superior cycling experience. Of course, if cycle lanes were better then more people would cycle, and if more people were riding bikes then there would be fewer cars on the road and so less congestion and less pollution. Everyone benefits, right?
The following video explains how the Dutch got their cycle paths, and how their cities made the transition from being car-centric to being more bicycle friendly.
What the Dutch have achieved is truly remarkable, and this is why I always hold them up as the best example for the UK to follow. They are the only country in the world able to boast the fact that more than a quarter of all their journeys are made by bike, and it would be my dream come true if we could achieve this feat in the UK.
- Making cycle lanes safe (cyclingnelly.wordpress.com)
- Crosspost: Cyclists and pedestrians as ‘hazards’ for motorists. #wordlturnedupsidedown #takecaregtrmcr (manchesterclimatemonthly.net)
- No, it’s not the narrowest cycle path in Britain! (cyclingnelly.wordpress.com)
- Only 10 fines for illegal cycle lane parking (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
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TfL gathered some data about red light jumping cyclists in London.
This data has been dug up from the 2012 archives possibly in response to the recent hidden-camera footage of cyclists jumping reds (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/cyclists-filmed-jumping-red-lights-in-london-taxi-drivers-hidden-camera-footage-8969043.html)
While heavily-edited footage gathered by disgruntled taxi drivers hardly constitutes scientific evidence, it remains true that cyclists in London need to clean up their act if they want to maintain the moral high ground and support their case for decent infrastructure.
The following video illustrates some related issues:
- ‘More than half’ of cyclists jump red lights (london24.com)
- Cyclists caught jumping red lights in London taxi drivers’ hidden camera footage (standard.co.uk)
- London Cyclists stage mass ‘die-in’ (dutchbikeguy.wordpress.com)