Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign

In 2012, the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign was launched by The Times, being welcomed by many. For the very first time in British history, cyclist's concerns about their safety were not being made fun of or ignored and actually taken seriously. This was in strong contradiction to the normal perception of cycling in the media of Britain's car driven society.  The fact that the pledge for cycling was found on the front page of a serious curso power bi national paper made it even feel more revolutionary!

For the very first time, many UK cyclists felt they were not on their own and that there is a strong call nationwide for change. This is an amazing achievement in itself and if it were only for this, the Times' campaign was already well worth the effort. It brings back memories of the protest movement in The Netherlands in the late 1960s, early 1970s, which lead to the unique Dutch cycling network and cycling culture as we know it today.

For a while, The Times' campaign thundered on. Over 70 MPs expressed their concerns about cyclist's safety to their minister of Transport and with the Italians being inspired too; it looked like there was even be a pan-European cycling revolution in the making!

Being "" I'd like to focus on the actual manifesto of the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, which consists of 8 points:

1. "Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels."

Cyclists and trucks have always been a bad combination. I have a vivid memory on how logging trucks were overtaking me far too close on my Australian coast-to-coast bike ride many years ago. The only reasons why I am able to produce this article today is because of the many emergency stops I made on road verges and/or by pure luck being able to keep my bike straight in the wind turbulence caused by overtaking trucks.

Of course I welcome all technology to be legally required in this proposal, but I don't see why this should only be applicable to trucks entering city centres, it is just as vital anywhere else. It is important to remember that we shouldn't hide too much into technology on this point. I bet there would be much less accidents with cyclists and trucks if all truck drivers were regular cyclists too! Change of driver's mentality by education, for example by making them riding a bike as part of the driving test, is just as vital. Some education for cyclist's on how to deal with trucks is needed too.

2. "The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side."

I find this a difficult one. To identify "500 most dangerous road junctions" wouldn't do justice too many other equal dangerous road junctions in the country. The main question is whether people would actually like to cycle on these junctions and why people do so at the moment. In most situations, this reason will be because there is just no good alternative direct route for cyclists, painfully showing how there is currently no good cycling network for commuting in many places.

The creation of a good cycle network, via real cycling friendly traffic calmed roads and traffic free cycle routes along main roads where there is no alternative, needs much more thought than just focusing on 500 junctions. Resources would be better used if there was strategic thinking about traffic flows for cyclists in a given area first before upgrading a junction. Upgrading 500 junctions just because of their fatality rates could create many more "islands" of isolated cycling infrastructure, a common problem with cycling infrastructure in the UK.

3. "A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety."

It is evident that the current state of the British road network is the result of 50 years of fully prioritising motorised traffic. People do not cycle because they find cycling on the road dangerous. It is not only a matter of facing the facts about accidents, but also to face the fact the many FEEL that cycling is not safe. This is reason enough in itself to get into action.

Proof of the benefits of a different approach on cycling is ample available in countries like The Netherlands and Denmark. People will cycle when infrastructure is put in place. The evidence of fatalities should not be needed in itself to justify the call for better infrastructure. Also, with more people cycling thanks to better infrastructure, roads will become naturally safer. A motorist who is also a cyclist is more likely to be aware of speeding hazards than those who don't cycle. A national audit of accidents with cyclists could help, but shouldn't be a major aim in itself.

4. "Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision."

This is the best proposal in the manifesto. As a surveyor and consultant on cycling infrastructure I strongly believe it is possible to create a good main cycling network for daily journeys in the UK at a reasonable low price. Key is a good analysis of travel corridors in a given area and the vision to spend money on highways in a different way.

Too often, cycling infrastructure is designed or built by professionals who don't cycle themselves (see pictures). Also, when a road needs resurfacing, too often the old non-cycling friendly lay out is just recreated without any reconsideration. Existing cultures within highway departments is probably one of the largest obstacles for improvements, just as the extraordinary power of landowners and/or general "complaining people" that can obstruct cycle route plans for years. A directorate from the highest levels to overrule short-sighted objections is most welcome!     

A good cycling network links all public buildings and main work, education and housing sites via either real cycling friendly traffic calmed roads and traffic free cycle routes (along main roads where there is no alternative). Dutch style signage is vital to make a network easy to identify and to understand by the public. The total lack of consistent and reliable signage on existing UK cycle routes is a major issue that needs to be addressed. I am due to publish an Integrated Cycle Plan for a major Devon market town in which I present my vision with a clear example. Feel free to me if you are interested.

Regarding the grading of cities on their cycling friendliness; this is a great tool to spark councils into action. The Dutch Cyclist's Federation "Fietsersbond" holds elections for the best Dutch cycling town/city every couple of years. Even in The Netherlands, there are always calls for improvements! 

5. "The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test."

This point draws me back to my own driving lessons in The Netherlands many years ago. I remember my instructor immediately jumping if I overtook a cyclist a bit close. "Would you like it if you were overtaken like that?" he would then ask. I also remember how he kept nagging me on how I should look extra for cyclists when moving out from a minor to a major road. Also, every driver in The Netherlands knows how you also have to look over your shoulder before you move out of a parking bay, as there might be a cyclist in the mirror's blind spot! It is this kind of stuff that is much needed in any driving education!

Meanwhile, education of cyclists is just as important. Fortunately, Bikeability as a new National Standard for cycle training is now well established. Many primary school children in the UK get the chance to do this course. At the same time, there are also still many children who miss out, just because local authorities and/or schools are not keen to take this up. I take pride in having provided Bikeability courses to about 1200 children in the last 4 years myself, but also need to make the reservation that a simple bike ride to school is for many children still not feasible because of current limited infrastructure provisions and/or bad driving behaviours. If you wish to find out about Bikeability Dutch style, I recommend watching this great video about Dutch traffic gardens.

6. "20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes."

I totally agree on this one, but also would like to point out that the presence of cycle lanes should not determine the need for a 20mph speed limit. There are many cycle lanes in the UK which are far too narrow and actually very hazardous (see left). A 20mph speed limit could well be suitable for such a road as well. Also, just installing 20 mph signs is just not good enough if the road layout itself is still promoting speed (see right).

As a rule, many centre lines of roads need to be removed, with wide cycle lanes on both sides replacing it, reducing the truly space for motorists to one central lane in the middle of the road. I explained this Dutch "share the road" principle in my December blog about "a different lick of paint".

7. "Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London."

Of course this is a good principle. What should be added here is that businesses should also be sparked to create better facilities for staff commuting by bicycle. Proper covered bike stands near main entrances of a business are still a rare sight in the UK, just as the provision of showers and lockers.

Business should also be sparked to make their grounds more cycling friendly and should think on how to link their sites better with potential cycle routes nearby. Local authorities should get active to grade companies on their truly sustainable transport values. A reward system could enhance companies' public profiles!

8. "Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms."

As I pointed out previously, existing cultures within council bodies could be a large obstacle to improvements of cycling conditions. A cycling commissioner in every area could definitely increase the pressure to break these cultures. As I wrote in my November blog, local campaigning could well be the key to change. The proposal to appoint cycling commissioners locally fits very well with this assumption.

In summary, is very pleased with The Times Cities fit for cycling manifesto and I recommend anyone signing it. Its biggest achievement is that it has put cycling on a higher political agenda then ever before. It also has created a real nationwide stage for campaigning for cycling, a mission on which other organisations have always failed so far. My remarks in this article are intended to make a contribution to the campaign and to bring in the "Dutch flavour" the issue deserves. If you are interested in my consultancy and vision regarding cycling infrastructure in the UK, feel free to contact me.

What about going for a traffic-calmed cycling holiday with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see also

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see

Other popular Cycling Dutchman blog articles:

Explaining Dutch cycling infrastructure:

Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

The 12 best bike rides of The Netherlands

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom:
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