Commuting

Liveable Cities and Desire Lines: Urban planning perspectives from Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador

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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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Why should non-cyclists support measures to boost cycling?

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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.

London's Underground: Rammed
London’s Underground: Rammed

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.

Cycling to school: is this really so radical?
Cycling to school: is this really so radical?

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.

The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world - it definitely doesn't have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment
The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world – it definitely doesn’t have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment. These people aren’t even close to breaking a sweat.

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.

yuh, good luck finding yours when they all look the same
Can you imagine how much space you would need if all these bikes were cars? The fact that drivers can no longer find parking on their high-streets has led to the death of many local and independent businesses.

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.

The UK's cycling infrastructure needs improving if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging
The UK’s cycling infrastructure needs radical improvement if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging

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:

Cycling is not (intrinsically) dangerous

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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

no helmets

It isn’t dangerous to cycle without hi-viz
sit up and beg

It isn’t dangerous to cycle with a passenger…

The bike is king of the road in The Netherlands

Dutch bikes - an altogether more civilised way of getting around town.

Looks like fun, huh?

cycling with a passenger

…no matter what age you are!

these guys aren't having too much trouble

Even a couple of passengers (and a suitcase) is no big deal

cycling with two passengers

Cycling with kids isn’t dangerous either
DSC_7251

Riding your bike in the park on a summer afternoon... Such a simple pleasure that is so unreasonably denied to us in the UK

and it isn’t dangerous to cycle with an umbrella

So long as it's not too windy, I find that cycling in heavy rain is actually more difficult without an umbrella.

cycling with umbrella

It certainly isn’t dangerous to cycle next to your friends
children 5 abreast assen oost subjective safety

Even four-legged friends are safe to ride with.

Sometimes up front…
cycling with dogs

…or alongside
alongside

Whether you’re a little bit older…

Gustaf Håkansso
Gustaf Håkansso

a little older

…or a little younger

Vondelpark provides a totally safe environment for kids to ride their bikes

cycling 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

Government approves low-level lights to boost cyclists’ safety

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Government approves low-level lights to boost cyclists’ safety

Low-level lights for cyclists
Low-level lights for cyclists

Transport Minister Stephen Hammond has announced that new low-level traffic lights for cyclists have been authorised for use following safety trials.

More than 80% of cyclists favoured the use of low-level signals during the track-based trials of the system, which works by repeating the signal displayed on main traffic lights at the eye level of cyclists.

The clearance means that Transport for London (TfL) can now install the lights at Bow Roundabout – the first time the lights have been used in the UK.

Initially the system will be piloted at Bow but the Department for Transport (DfT) is working with TfL to extend it to a further 11 sites in London.

The lights will give cyclists improved, clearer signals to ensure they have the information they need at the junction. Research is currently underway that will give DfT the evidence to consider approving the use of these lights to provide an “early start” for cyclists.

Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL said:

“Low level cycle signals are common place in certain parts of Europe and we are keen to make them common place in London. These new signals, which will be a further improvement to the innovative traffic signals at Bow, will provide cyclists with a better eye-level view as to which stage the traffic signals are at.

Working closely with the Department for Transport, we will work to have these on-street during January 2014, and should the technology prove to be successful, further trials will be carried out across London throughout 2014.”

 

  • Bike-only traffic lights work so well in The Netherlands that most cyclists actually obey them!
    Bike-only traffic lights work so well in The Netherlands that most cyclists actually obey them!

    The reason why it is good to have separate lights for cyclists is that they can be used to give people on bikes a head start before the rest of the traffic.

    The system that currently operates in the UK uses an ‘Advanced Stop Line‘ (ASL) which is also known as a ‘bike box’. The idea is that there is a designated area (usually painted red) at the head of the traffic queue  into which bicycles can filter and then get ahead of motorised vehicles. The problem with this set up though is that the bike box is rarely respected and almost never enforced by traffic police. Motorists aren’t informed about the penalties of driving into this box under a red light, and so it is often ignored.

  • Driver pulls up inside an ASL, does she even know it's there? In her defence, the ASL is such a rubbish attempt at cycling infrastructure that I'm not surprised how frequently it is ignored.
    Driver inside an ASL, does she even know it’s there? In her defence, the ASL is such a rubbish attempt at cycling infrastructure that I’m hard;y surprised that it is ignored.
    This City of Edinburgh minicab driver pulled in front of me and my girlfriend as we were waiting in the ASL. The car to the right of the picture takes a cue from the taxi driver and edges into the bike box as well. I ask you, is nothing sacred any more?
    This City of Edinburgh minicab driver pulled in front of me and my girlfriend as we were waiting in the ASL. The car to the right of the picture takes a cue from the taxi driver and edges into the bike box as well. The fact that the box’s red paint has been eroded hardly helps.

     

Space for cycle lanes – it can be found!

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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…

Road comparison 1Road comparison 2 Road comparison 3 Road comparison 4 Road comparison 5 Road comparison 6 Road comparison 7 Road comparison 8 Road comparison 9 Road comparison 10
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.

Red Light Jumpers in London

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Red Light Jumpers in London

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:

Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

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Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

For the many of you fortunate enough to not view the committee’s near two-hour session about cycle safety on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that there are scarcely enough words to describe how disheartening and shambolic it was. To give you a flavour of one journalist’s reaction, follow this link to see a collation of running tweets from the event.

The session followed the recent deaths of six cyclists in London and saw the 11-member committee first quiz a series of cycling representatives and police, then a trio of bigwigs from the road haulage world, along with Andrew Gilligan, cycle adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and an expert from the Transport Research Laboratory.

For the most-part, it seemed as if the MPs were concerned with minor issues. For instance, Sarah Champion (Labour MP) wondered whether helmet use could be made compulsory. How a bike helmet is supposed to help someone crushed by an HGV is something that we might wonder in response… The headphones issue was also raised.

Following this, Jason McCartney (Tory MP) asked if there was a war going on between cars and bikes. His party colleague, Martin Vickers, then asked – and he was being entirely serious – if the panel felt cyclists should “contribute” financially to the upkeep of roads. Yes, that’s right. The road tax question, the litmus test for someone who not only doesn’t understand the very basics about cycling policy but hasn’t the barest minimum of intellectual curiosity about it. Silly enough in a pub conversation. For an MP, let alone an MP on the transport select committee, let alone an MP on the transport select committee discussing cycling, it’s unforgivable.

An extract from a Guardian article on the subject encapsulates some real truths about how cycling issues are addressed by the people in power:

“…when it comes to cycling policy in Britain, we remain, for the most part, in the age of the dinosaur. The odd politician talks an occasional good game on bikes, but look at too many mainstream MPs and we’re right back in the 1960s, where bikes are a toy, or a faddish “pursuit”, perilous and mistrusted, while all must lie down in homage to “the economy”, a narrowly-defined set of interests with motorised pistons beating at their heart.”

Dinosaurs and bikes don't mix
Dinosaurs and bikes clearly don’t mix

Jim Dobbin (Labour MP) then proceeded to regale the committee with a series of anecdotes about misbehaving cyclists and scratched car paintwork before suggesting that currently cycle safety woes could be addressed by requiring cyclists to register themselves and their bikes, and to pass proficiency tests in order to gain a cycling licence.

Although many people may believe that Dobbin’s prescription is a good one, it is worth remembering that not a single country on this planet implements these things for the simple reason that they massively curtail bicycle use. Bicycles don’t have the capacity to be the killing machines that cars and lorries sometimes are, and cyclists don’t produce CO2 or damage the roads to the same degree as motor vehicles; requiring them to be registered and licensed (presumable at some cost) seems a preposterous and misguided contribution to a meeting about cycle safety. And while cycling proficiency is a reasonable issue, no one at the committee meeting seemed aware of the bikeability scheme.

Part two was possibly even more depressing still. The MPs, who had been quite interrogative towards the cycle groups (albeit mainly on irrelevancies) gave the haulage group representatives a far easier time. Jack Semple, policy head of the Road Haulage Association, was left utterly unchallenged when he repeatedly singled out cyclist behaviour as the reason for them being killed by lorries; an assertion for which there is, as far as I understand, no evidence.
What was missing from the committee meeting was an acknowledgement of the fact that cities are changing places. Whereas once they competed on things like skyscrapers and parking spaces, the most desirable cities in the world are now places where there is an emphasis on liveability – a more human-centred approach. People don’t want to live with urban motorways and the noise, congestion, and pollution that they bring with them. The nicest cities are more pedestrianised, with pavement cafes, and safe, communal spaces. They also prioritise (and even incentivise) walking and cycling in such a way as to make them more convenient than driving (just look at Groningen in The Netherlands for the perfect example).

To illustrate this point, it is worth noting that there are three big annual lists of the world’s most liveable cities. Not one of them features anywhere in the UK.
Things clearly need to change, and the mass extinction of political dinosaurs seems to be a necessary first step.