Thursday, 3 January 2013

Cycling revolutions

This, again, is a long blog post that I started many months ago, and just got round to completing. Some of the statistics may now be updateable, with new data, which I will be interested to hear about, but, so far as I know, any new data don't change much that I have to say here. In the meantime, both At War With the Motorist (back in April) and As Easy As Riding a Bike (just the other day) have published pieces which cover which cover a certain amount of similar ground, and I recommend you to read those as well.

Joe Dunckley, in his notebook, has been doing a great job of collecting quotes from past parliamentary debates on cycling, going back to the 1980s and 90s. The titles he puts on the posts makes the point of this: titles like "more from the archives of history repeating", "yet more from the archives of the cycling revolution". For when you read these, it all sounds like it was said in the  parliamentary debate on cycling we had just back in February 2012.

Simon Hughes, 27 April 1984:
It is encouraging that in this city, part of which I represent, where one would imagine cycling to be the least acceptable form of transport because of the hazards and the heavy traffic, there has been a cycle use increase of about 20 per cent. per year in the past four or five years. Cycling now makes up approximately 4 per cent. of all trips. The interesting additional statistic that is thrown in is that cycles comprise 25 per cent. of all vehicle flows at some major junctions. I did not realise that they were that thick on the ground, but that is the trend.
Lynda Chalker, 16 May 1985:
Cycling has always been popular with the young. In recent years, it has become more popular with adults. I am told that bike sales now outnumber car sales. The reasons are clear. Cycling is a cheap, personal and healthy way to travel. For many local journeys, it can be the quickest. On those grounds alone, I am glad to see the increase in cycling popularity.
John Bowis, 23 November 1989:
I do not know how often my right hon. and learned Friend pedals to work, but I am sure that he agrees with me that the growth in cycling as a form of transport is very welcome.
Anthony Steen, 16 November 1990:
Great progress has been made in our major cities to provide for cyclists. I think that about 90,000 cyclists come into London every day, and the number is increasing. Are the Government going to make progress, so that cars are cleared off the principal routes and cycle tracks are provided throughout the capital, so that we can get about much better on two wheels than on four?
This kind of thing goes on and on. The point has been made by other bloggers before, and I have discussed it before. Actually, I don't need to be shown the quotes. I was there, cycling in London in 1980s. I remember this stuff.

In the UK, certainly as long as I can remember, we have been in a perpetual state of declaring a New Dawn for cycling, a new Bicycle Age, a Cycling Revolution, or some such phrase. And we are always getting cycling levels being declared to be on the up, and increases in cycling in our cities the like of which nobody has ever seen before. And yet the statistics say this:

Compiled by Jim Gleeson
Or, in the similar but not identical graph in the BMA's Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives report that takes it to 2010 (this graph is not per person, so population increase has an effect):

All those quotes, and many more like them, come from the period when cycling was in gentle decay from a small temporary high that it achieved in 1982. There was another temporary high in 1976. These two can be seen to be quite significant changes on the general post-1970 baseline: increases of about 70% on that. What was the reason for them? The first high followed the oil price shocks of 1973-4 and the stock market crash in the same period, which led to the 1970s recession. The second high followed the 1979 energy crisis which led to the early 1980s recession. We can see that cycling does well in recessions, and modern recessions have been triggered by large increases in the price of oil. The same effect, one may reasonably conclude, has been occurring in the last few years.

Oil price change 1966-2006 extracted from graph by TomTheHand on Wikipedia

It is slightly intersting that cycling declined 1977–79 when the price of oil did not. It seems like cycling is related to the rate of change of the oil price rather than its absolute level: in other words, there is dynamic adjustment, and when the price of oil has held constant, cycling continues to fall, for whatever reason: because of an intensification of anti-cycling planning policies in the 1970s, perhaps. Since 2002 the price of oil has risen relentlessly.

Here is another graph, and one which seems to partially contradict the earlier ones:

From TfL Travel in London Report 4

It seems from this that on the major roads in London at least, cycling increased very significantly during the first decade of the century, from an average in the 1990s of about 0.27 to 0.48 in the units of this survey, a 70% increase (but not the "doubling" often mentioned). However, the DfT's figures are somewhat different. This is taken from Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives again:

The trends are the same but the amplitudes are not. The change here is from a 1990s average of around 280,000 vehicle miles to 390,000, a rather more modest 40% increase. I don't know why these two assessments of cycling change in London are so different. There has clearly been a noticeable increase, but its scale is often exaggerated. And I do believe the increase has been an almost wholly central and inner London phenomenon. From where I sit, three miles from the edge of the urban area on the north-west side of London, there has been little detectable sign of an increase in cycling in the decade I have been living here. I don' have separate time series graphs for outer London that cover the last decade unfortunately, I only have the data that Jim Gleeson extracted from the censuses to 2001, and that only covered cycling to work, not all cycling. That showed that trends in outer and inner London have historically been completely opposed.

Cycling to work is always the most robust form of utility cycling. The 0.3% of all school journeys in Brent by bike tells its own story.

It may be that other major city centres have experienced cycling increases similar to that of London, but, again, I have no data on these. The fact that the national growth in cycling over the same period appears to have been so modest suggests that either the London case is unique, or it is not, but there has been a counterbalancing decline in suburban and rural areas, as in the earlier historic pattern in London. In any cases, it seems special factors must have been operating in London, not generally replicated across the country.

If we look into motor vehicle flows in London, we find this:

From TfL Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London
Driving peaked in 1999, a year when the oil price was near its modern bottom. There was another peak in 2006, which was also a peak year for cycling; perhaps this was an effect of the London bombings of 2005 frightening people off public transport, though it seems delayed. Otherwise there has been a decline during this century.

I reach a few general conclusions from all this.

Firstly, we've never had a "cycling revolution" in Britain when people have said in the past that we were having one, and there's no good reason to believe we are having one now.

Secondly, without significant change to the cycling conditions, in terms of the infrastructure provided for cycling, there is a rough correlation between the price of fuel and and the numbers taking up cycling. This may not necessarily be a direct causality in terms of people being priced off motorised transport, but an indirect link through the general state of the economy and amount of disposable income people have.

Thirdly, as less people drive, more people cycle. This is not surprising. The two modes share many characteristics, including independence, self-reliance, and door-to-door character, and thus appeal to the same desires in people and to the same "types" of people. There is likely to be an interchange between the two. Also, of course, it could be that less motor traffic on the roads makes people feel it is safer or more pleasant to cycle, though this is more doubtful, since it could also lead to an increase in average vehicle speeds through less congestion, which would mitigate against safety.

If we are relying on higher fuel costs and less traffic to lead to more cycling in the long term, however, I think we are taking an exceptionally risk bet. There is a respectable expert opinion that 2013 or 2014 may see energy prices starting to head down again. An enormous amount of new energy capacity is going to be opened up in the USA, which may well become independent of imported energy in the near future. This will affect world markets and oil may become cheaper again. There may be a global economic recovery, and motor traffic, as it generally does in economic recoveries, may start to rise again in the UK. I have never particularly believed in the theories either of "peak oil" or "peak car". We have yet to see, but I would not be surprised to see all these trends going into reverse in the next 18 months. Our cycling upturn, slight as it is nationally, without massive reinforcement from improved infrastructure, of which there is little sign, could easily collapse.

I'd like to consider the concept of "traffic reduction" further, and its relationship to the promotion of cycling. In cycle campaigning meetings and briefings one hears and reads of this "traffic reduction" concept an awful lot. It's pretty much a universal article of faith amongst campaigners, not only for cycling, but also for the vaguer notions of "liveable cities" or "streets for people", that "traffic reduction" is what we must aim for, as a primary goal. It's often given as a "first ask" in policy papers and positions put to government. In the CTC's Hierarchy of Provision for cycling, which I have criticised in detail before, "traffic volume reduction" is placed as the top option, the first preference amongst the measures recommended for encouraging cycling on roads:

I was in fact at a meeting of cycling, pedestrian and "liveable streets" campaigners not long ago when the chair of the meeting stated as a self-evident, incontrovertible fact (in his opinion) that whatever else people in the room may disagree on, they must all be able to agree on the desirability of "traffic reduction" as a primary aim. In fact he went so far as to say there could be no place in such a meeting for anyone who disagreed with that. So I left.

For, ever the contrarian, I think this is simply the wrong way to address the problem. I believe cities would be nicer if they had less traffic certainly, but to demand "traffic reduction" as a primary aim, a first step, is to get the necessary causalities inverted. It won't happen like that. For one thing, if you ask politicians for traffic reduction, you are asking them for a negative thing,  for a reduction in a quantity that they associate with activity, industry, prosperity and freedom. They may say they agree with you that there is "too much traffic", but deep down (with the exception of a few Green politicians) they don't believe we should try to suppress motor traffic, in general, for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians. Ask for "traffic reduction", as a fist aim, from a conventional politician, and you are on to a loser.

Traffic reduction, as desirable as it may be, short of economic collapse, which I don't think we want,  can only come about through modal shift to the bike and bike-connected public transport (such as trains with bike parking or bike hire at the stations). Walking cannot take up many of these journeys. The modal shift has to start first before traffic starts to go down. Traffic reduction should not be the primary aim as it is not the first step in the sequence. This is where the CTC Hierarchy gets it profoundly wrong.

The first step, the primary thing to call for, is not traffic reduction, but separation of bikes from motor vehicles. CTC, and with it, many other cycling and sustainable city campaigns and campaigners, can't quite move themselves over to this new paradigm, to make this leap, because their entire history has been one of fighting for something else: peaceful integration. Call it "mutual respect", call it "shared streets", call it what you will, it's a concept with which I, for one, have made a decisive break, having seen what actually works to achieve virtually everything I want to see for cycling, and transport more widely, in the Netherlands (in its most developed form). What works is separation. Separation allows bike traffic to be bike traffic and motor traffic (in the sense of significant flows on distributor roads) to be motor traffic, without interference of the two modes with one another or mutual compromise, and with far higher levels of safety. Traffic in Dutch towns can be "tamed" as a political reality because the mode shares are so different there, and the rock on which the cycling mode share is built is comprehensive separation from motor traffic. The vast majority of the population will not consider cycling at all without that. Then you have elements like lower speed limits, woonerven, stricter liability, etc., as extras on top of all that.

(It is true that the CTC have now stated talking about segregation more, because their members have demanded it, but they are talking about it with the degree of commitment of an alcoholic being dragged to a temperance meeting, saying only they will "support segregation where there is the will to do it well", which doesn't exactly sound like an agressive campaign for the conditions needed for mass cycling. In reality I think they still cannot get their collective head around the idea that cyclists and motor vehicles should in general have their own, separate space.)

Separation, as practiced in the Netherlands and other successful cycling places, works in a wide variety of ways of course. It can be effected using cycle paths away from roads, cycle tracks and lanes on roads (with necessary junction signalling arrangements to create separation in time where cycle and motor traffic flows must cross on the same level), bicycle streets, and almost traffic-free access roads. Even without the building of cycle tracks or new cycle paths, traffic systems can be rearranged so that the routes for cyclists and drivers are comprehensively separated, and, as Mark Wagenbuur and David Hembrow have often explained, this is a major part of the Dutch solution, particularly in older urban areas that were not originally designed around the bike.

I'm a segregationist, not a traffic reductionist. I'm not a campaigner for less mobility, or less travel, or less economic activity. In a sense, I don't mind whether motor traffic reduces or not, because I know that with comprehensive segregation, it doesn't matter to cyclists what motor traffic does. That's of course a narrowly, selfishly pro-cycling position, because we do need traffic reduction for other reasons, not least for reducing pollution and greenhouse emissions. In practice, I know that a modal shift to cycling will cause traffic reduction, and that this will make many other desirable changes to our towns and cities politically practicable.

I know that many other cyclists think the same way as me. I recall a comment by a cyclist, on a thread on another blog which I can't now find, and so can't quote accurately. It was a response to a policy discussion on all these issues I am dealing with here, on the position of the CTC, the Hierarchy of Provision, and so forth. That cyclist said something like "I wish the CTC would stop going onbout traffic reduction. I cycle to work on a main road with a huge amount of traffic. I don't care about traffic reduction. I just want a road designed so the drivers can't keep trying to kill me."

When I first started saying, in London cycling circles, that segregation was what we needed, one of the standard counter-arguments was "But you can't have it everywhere". My response tended to be, either: "Well, or course, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try it in some places, to see what the effect is", or: "Of course, we don't need it everywhere, we only need it on a sparse network of a few routes, to attract hesitant people into cycling". But I see now that I was too conservative. Those critics were wrong. It is possible to have separation everywhere. It's the system today in the Netherlands (which it was not 20 years ago, so I can be forgiven for having been a bit too cautious then). And it is desirable too.

It took the Dutch long time to achieve, and there are still a few bits left to fill in, where there is still not separation of cyclists from significant flows of motor traffic, but that's the principle they are working to, as part of the doctrine of sustainable safety, and in most places they have achieved it. "Separation everywhere" does not mean that cyclists never encounter, or never have to negotiate with, motor vehicles, but it does mean that the major flows are always separated. Cyclists still must, of course, encounter cars, driven slowly in general, on access roads, but there is simply not the jousting for space on through roads that is the bread-and-butter of cycling in the UK. You are never placed in the position of being on a potential collision course with fast motor traffic, as you are constantly on UK roads. This was achieved through separation, not through having a primary aim of motor traffic reduction. Traffic reduction has come about because people have felt it is safe to cycle. That has caused a modal shift and allowed, politically, more and more space to be transferred to cycling.

To start to separate you do need to start to take space away from cars, particularly in city centres. That reduces the capacity for motor traffic, which itself is likely to force some traffic reduction, as congestion is self-limiting. But to say we need traffic reduction to get people cycling is to put the cart before the horse. And to say we need to reduce traffic before we segregate (as UK campaigners have sometimes done) is also wrong.  More cycling does go with traffic reduction, but that's a trivial observation, a sort of transport parallel of the scientific principle of conservation of matter (or "mass-energy" in physics). You get more of one type of thing, you've got to have less of the other, because, in the transport case, people have to continue to be able to get around. The observation doesn't solve the problem that people don't want to change when the alternative seems unattractive. It leaves us just, in the essentially un-engineered UK case, with an economic balance, with people moving over to cycling because motoring or public transport becomes unaffordable, and that trend can, and probably will, change direction at some point. And it won't give us mass cycling anyway (more than a few percent mode share), without an economic and social upheaval.

Putting faith in a cycling revolution built on traffic reduction owing to peak oil, peak car, or other economic or social projections I fear is a weak gamble. If we want a cycling revolution, we have to engineer it, with tarmac, concrete, bridges and underpasses, signs, signals, and law enforcement. That's the lesson I take from the histories of cycling in the UK and in the Netherlands.


  1. From the perspective of the individual cyclist, it is not the level of overall traffic within a given area that is a concern, it is the number of interactions with other vehicles and the nature of those interactions that is of importance. A good cycle path next to a motorway might be preferable to a congested B road with a token ASL. (Having said that, traffic will still need to use surface streets to access motorways.)

    What the hierarchy fails to tell us is that we can often kill two birds with one stone - we can reduce traffic by taking away space from motor vehicles to install segregated cycle facilities. This is the idea behind what the Americans call the "road diet", although generally that means painted lanes rather than physical separation.

  2. Fantastic post David. The oil prices graph is a real eye-opener!

  3. You're right as usual, David!

    "Traffic reduction" makes no sense as an aim in itself, for traffic is made up of individual journeys, so a 30% reduction in traffic would really mean 30% of people staying at home.

    So as traffic is made up of people getting themselves from A to B, "traffic reduction" is undesirable – it means fewer people going to the theatre, to the shops, to visit friends and family, etc.

    Is that what we really want? People still want to make these journeys, we just need to change the mode of transport used for some of them. And we won't convince many to switch to using a bike if they don't feel safe doing so.

    The "traffic reduction" mantra suggests that for a time we'd get a huge chunk of people to stay in, then while they're sat on the sofa we'll put in bike paths. Or we won't need to. Or something.

    You're right – it makes no sense!

    I realise I've just repeated what you said, but I've typed it all now and it might help get the message through to some who are failing to understand.

  4. The problem with trying to convince cyclists in the UK that segregation is a good thing as that we see it done badly so often.

    Take the Rayner's Lane / Imperial Drive cyclepath, which you know well David. The complete absence of cyclist right of way at the side road junctions means that instead of a lovely contiguous few miles of off road cycling we get many tens of short interrupted segregated paths.

    It's hard to see how long urban routes can be facilitated with segregation unless they are elevated, put along side rails, or follow completely different routes to the existing main road network.

  5. First off, well done for a detailed and well put-together post.

    I hear what you're saying and I agree with you, particularly when you get to the crux of the issue in the last paragraph. I'm one of the people that regards traffic reduction as an important issue, but I haven't ever necessarily thought that it needs to come before anything else. Besides, traffic reduction can only genuinely come about by virtue of taking away roadspace from motor vehicles, which is in turn driven by cycle infrastructure (such as separation). The problem is, taking away road space from cars takes enormous political will, and at the moment at least, it seems that it can only happen if traffic volumes decline to such an extent that preserving the current capacity stops appearing to be so vital to economic interests. Public sympathies also clearly lie with drivers more than bike users, which leaves decision-makers extremely hesitant to re-allocate roadspace. Perhaps it's politicians' obstinate refusal to give any road space to bicycles that has caused many cycle campaigners to focus on traffic reduction, as a means of gaining some kind of leverage into the the issue of road space.

    I wonder if the fact that London has particularly bad air quality, more so than other UK towns/cities, also has a part to play in driving the desire for traffic reduction. Aside from how anxious heavy, fast-moving traffic makes people feel, in London it's hard to cycle anywhere without filling yourself with mouthfuls of filthy air.

    1. The point made in the original post about campaigning for a positive (more cycle facilities) rather than a negative (less traffic) is a good one - it's always better to be for rather than against.

      More than bad air I think the "positive" reason to campaign for more cycle facilities is that it will actually increase journey capacity - more journeys are possible within London if people make them by bike than if they try to make them by car.

  6. Peak car: I don’t know whether to believe in this or not. I agree that we may be confusing recessionary effects with changes in values/habits, and we may see that reverse, except of course that some reduction car use occurred before the current recession. That itself might not have been about values/habits, but may instead have been driven by changes to the company car tax rules. At one time it was more tax-efficient to provide a car than to pay the cash cost of it, so employees were offered car or nothing. Unsurprisingly, they took the car, and as they were not liable for tax, maintenance, depreciation or insurance, their use of it was substantially unrestrained, especially so for those who also got free fuel (always a minority, but significant all the same).

    After the changes, the taxable benefit exceeded the cost of provision, so employers offered cash instead, and once you can have the cash, you start to think more carefully about how to spend it, and settle for a smaller car (or none at all), drive less, or both.

    In terms of values and habits, did we not all, as teenagers, spend hours on the phone to mates around the corner, when we could have walked round to see them? Did we carry on that way? Will modern teenagers eventually give up Facebook in favour of face to face interaction? I don’t know, but I did suspect that the baby-boomer propensity for driving some distance to meet friends for lunch or a drink has permanently declined.

    Peak oil: no such thing. There are still squillions of barrels left, it just gets harder to extract it. Gas too – “frackable” reserves are believed to be colossal. But cost of extraction will rise, and demand from China etc will rise so energy prices will rise, inexorably and not slowly. I guess that must have some effect, although fuel is only a small part of the cost of car ownership, and as a marginal cost is over-competitive with public transport options.

    As for your general theme, it really does strike me as self-evident that you have to offer the alternative before you attempt to remove the primary choice, not vice versa. How can any rational person think otherwise?

    But we face an uphill struggle, to obtain funding, to overcome objections to loss of motor-vehicle road space, to show that the schemes won’t be white elephants. How do we do that? I would say we have to first start small – better to achieve a decent stretch of mediocre provision, say 2.5m wide instead 4m, shared if necessary, rather than a lesser length of top-notch provision. Secondly given that an almost universal failing of even our best existing provision is lack of continuity or consistency, we need to identify a few end-to-end routes which we believe have real potential. Something that connects, for example, a large housing area to local secondary schools in a seamless link. If we can’t get teenagers, who can’t get qualified to drive themselves, to use bikes, who can we persuade?

  7. I would disagree that segregation is *the* answer. It certainly is an effective solution alongside distributor roads but the problems arise form conflict - traffic at different speeds trying to use the same space. Reducing traffic speeds to 25kph on residential (ie non-distributor) roads will remove most of the conflict, as well as enabling the modal shift. One solution does not fit all. Having ridden (briefly) in the Netherlands and more extensively in Norway, the difference is in urban traffic speed, with segregation where traffic speed is a priority and livable speeds eleswhere.

  8. I quite agree. Traffic reduction should be seen as a desirable result of a shift towards cycling, not a catalyst. I very much doubt a reduction in motor traffic volume will do much to produce a significant increase in cycling. I believe that the only method to convince the average non-cyclist to pick up their bike, is the implementation of a network of high quality segregated infrastructure along major roads in combination with blanket 20 mph speed limits in residential areas.

  9. Traffic volume reduction and traffic management are woolly terms which are bandied about.

    Many people do not realise that in strict technical terms, cycles are "traffic" and certainly under the Traffic Management Act 2004, so are pedestrians and so highway authorities have a duty to all, it is just where (through political policy) the balance lies.

    As a highway engineer, I see volume reduction in a several shades and we mustn't lose sight of some of the subtleties. For example, motorised traffic reduction in a residential area would help make the same area more civilised for walking and cycling and really, the only people with business in such an area would be residents and visitors (including deliveries)but, at least to start with, a motorised traffic reduction in these streets would force it onto main routes.

    Of course, people live on these main routes (look how many A roads in London are not motorways, just single carriageway streets!) and so they would suffer the congestion, noise and poor air quality - it then lends a need to make these streets better for walking and cycling - I tend to agree with much of what has been commented on above, but there is always a consequence for making a change to the network (positively and negatively).

    Traffic management is generally a way of controlling what different types of traffic do, whether traffic calming (which often still allows rat running, but a bit slower), parking controls, weight limits etc. This also takes political will to deliver, but the politicians seem to go with the noisy people.

    For example, in my street, there is a campaign to put a 7.5 tonne weight limit in to "stop" HGVs trying to get down it to a local industrial estate (we connect to a 50mph bit of the TLRN!). I think that about 90% of people have signed a petition in support (I did not). The politicians voted to go forward to consult which makes my life interesting as it will be my team at work taking the consultation forward (I will have to take a massively back seat, but as a resident I will object and so it will be interesting how it plays out).

    My advice to the politicians was that the reason HGVs are using my street was that they are missing the previous turn which is the proper route to the industrial estate (sat navs?) and the solution is to work with TfL to put advanced direction signage on the TLRN to get the HGVs turned off at the right junction in the first place.

    My solution will cost so much less than a weight limit (a couple of unlit signs) as it will need advertising, consulting, installation of lit signs (and advance signs on the TLRN to warn HGVs not to turn off!) and of course enforcement. They wouldn't even let me try the sign idea first!

    But it got me thinking more. Perhaps the answer is my sign idea and preventing people turning off the TLRN into my street completely. There would still be access in from the other end of the street (so no massive local diversion over not using the TLRN) and we could still drive onto the TLRN as it is a dual carriageway and you turn left onto it anyway. It would then mean that whenever the TLRN gets badly congested (at least once a week or more), then we would get no rat-running from it and motorised traffic would have to stay put.

    Now, our bit of the TLRN has a cycle track already (shared, a bit bumpy and a bit cluttered, but much better than a 50mph dual carriageway)and so perhaps when the TLRN is congested and they cannot turn off, those using it for more local journeys may see a cycle drift past and think about their choice.

    The beauty is that this idea would cost about the same as the weight limit, but remove the HGV traffic and most of the rat-running. There, I have worked out my response to my office's consultation all ready!

  10. Cycling is my main mode of transport for local journeys and I also think that segregation is the way forward.Most importantly segregated routes need to give those cycling more room and priority. I find it really annoying when my local council designates a 'new' length of off-road path which more often than not is shared with pedestrians and is totally inadequate width wise (making it awkward to pass pedestrians safely and without making them jump. Cyclists have to give way (or worse still 'dismount') at every single side road. I do not feel welcome on the roads or the pavements.
    I've ridden several times in the Netherlands. Fantastic and great to see young people getting themselves around safely and independently.

  11. "If we want a cycling revolution, we have to engineer it, with tarmac, concrete, bridges and underpasses" I am afraid that you are absolutely right, and that is why it won't happen.

    Over the past several decades the Dutch have built more bypasses, ring roads and motorways than was demanded by increasing traffic. This gave them the capacity to reallocate roadspace from motor to cycle traffic within the built-up areas thus avoided. In addition to excellent cycling facilities, every town of any size in the Nethelands now has a complete ring road and most smaller places have at least a bypass.

    In Britain we find it politically easier to widen existing roads and build only just enough new ones to keep pace with growth in traffic. When new capacity has temporarily exceeded demand, we did not reallocate any of the surplus old road space to cyling, but let traffic grow even faster to fill both new and old. So here we are, with most urban main roads clogged by traffic kerb-to-kerb at rush-hour and nowhere else for it to go.

    Take a town like Guildford. A population of 70 thousand at the confluence of several main roads and without so much as a ring road. That situation is common in Britain but unheard of in the Netherlands. To make Guildord the least little bit like Assen (a town of similar size in the Netherlands with very nice views from its cyclepaths) it first needs a ring road. But it would take a 'very courageous minister' to plan new main roads across precious bits of Surrey green belts.

    Even if we still had the money (NL built all their roads with north sea oil revenues whilst we frittered ours away), British politicians don't have the stomach for fights like that. It's not going to happen, not even for Guildford's 'beleagured' motorists and certainly not to free up space to build de-luxe paths for 'mere' cyclists.

    I wish you every success in persuading cycle campaigners to support new road schemes! I would, but for most of them I'm afraid that bikes are only part of a wider green agenda.

  12. In the Netherlands the cycle revolution didn't come from the politicians but from the citizens.
    They kept protesting, bullying and made good use of the media . I know I can't compare the Netherlands to the U.K. but if you want things to change you always, always have to do it your self! Don't the children, the elderly and everyone else have the right to safe traffic conditions? Why is it so accepted that cars go before people and livable cities? I know it will take a much longer time and and a tougher battle than across the North-sea . Doesn't mean it will never happen. Come on critical masses, breed you're own politicians.

  13. I tried riding a bike in London, the last time I visited it, but it was not as easy as it is in Holland. There seems to be a war on between motorists and cyclists/pedestrians, partly fueled by the media, something we don't have over here. Circumstances in Holland were very different when we had our 'revolution', maybe the solution in the UK should be coming from the top, for starters. No more committees talking, but a sincere effort to change; wherever roads are being torn up, have a good look and see if pedestrians and cyclists can be taken into account. It is going to cost, of course, but the investment will pay itself back. We all want clean air, easy movement about, fighting obesity for a better health. So there's no excuse to stick to the status quo.

  14. Totally agree with you, and with Solihull Cyclist above (but I'm from Brum way too, so I might be biased :-p).

    A business doesn't turn a profit by focussing on profits, they try to create value by meeting customer demand. First, you find out exactly what the customers are after (for getting around by bike: safer road environments is number one in survey after nationwide survey ad nauseum) and then offer it to them at a cost they are willing to bear.

    But politicians are focussed on winning and holding on to power, and cycling is a niche issue with most politicos and the public at large. 'Reducing driving' is a sure vote loser. But so is 'increasing cycling' in most electoral districts. Should we therefore be re-crafting our message to be more inclusive of the general population? A pro-life, pro-health, pro-livability, pro-child, anti-danger message?

    Just an idea.