What concerns me in this post is the argument, related to the "No Surrender" one, that we should not be aiming to "get cyclists out of the way" of motor vehicles. This has gone down the ages. As Easy As Riding quotes The Times from 1934 reporting a conference on road safety:
The Cyclists’ Touring Club stated that the provision of cycle paths at the side of any of the main roads would not be with the object of giving cyclists a good path on which to ride, but to remove them from the road in the interests of motorists.So we have the from this stage association of "the interest of motorists" with the convenience, safety and relaxation of traffic-free cycle paths, as if the former were an undesirability so huge that it necessarily trumps the latter. The sentiment is effectively: "A cycle path might be lovely for cyclists, but it might also help motorists to go faster, so we can't possibly have that".
Taking this theme up to date, see, for example, CTC's recent campaigners' briefing on Cycle Friendly Planning & Design (that I have quoted before). On Page 3, under "What cyclists want", it says that, according to the results of CTC's survey, one of the things they they want is:
To feel valued, not "kept out of the way of the traffic"So again there is this opposition being set up between benefiting cyclists and benefiting motorists. If cyclists are valued, then they will not be "out of the way". And when I have heard Roger Geffen, the author of this document, talking about the results of this survey, this has been a point he has always emphasised: "yes" to segregated cycle facilities, in the right places, if they are good enough, but "no" to just "getting cyclists out of the way" of motorists.
The trouble is that the one effect of constructing segregated tracks on main roads, where segregated paths are most needed, must be to "get cyclists out of the way" of the motor traffic flow. But why is this seen as such a big deal? Why is it seen as wrong?
It's partly a matter of language, of course, of phrasing, the way the situation is expressed. Deliberately negative language is being employed by the cycle advocates quoted here. One, more constructive, way of thinking about the segregation of modes is to say that we are "segregating cars away from people". And there is always a pro-safety argument to segregation, for any of the modes segregated, foot, bike or car. If you make each flow uniform in terms of speed and momentum, as nearly as you can, which can never be achieved when mixing modes, then you reduce the change of serious damage occurring as a resault of accidents. This is one of the principles of Dutch philosophy of sustainable safety.
If motorists do not have the worry of how to negociate around bikes, vehicles with very different characteristis to their own, it takes one stress away from them and one source of unpredictability in their enviornment, a thing that they might well welcome, and a thing that might actually be beneficial even to their safety. But does that make it wrong? Are cycle advocates supposed to be so opposed to motor culture in all its forms that anything that is done that might make life easier or safer for motorists must be opposed whatever possible benefits it might also have for cyclists? And yes, if we get cyclists "out of the way" of cars, then, on some roads, in some circumstances, that might cause cars to go faster. It might result in smoother journeys, and these might be more fuel-efficient. Lesss pollution might be generated by a road traffic composition which allows drivers to cruise rather than have to break behind cyclists and then accellerate to overtake them. Is all this wrong?
Now, in the early stages, the period of the 1930s in Britain discussed above, I think part of the driver for the "don't get cyclist out of the way of cars" attitude was the frequently poor quality of the cycle path alternative that was on offer: though whether there was or was not generally a more fundamental philosophical objection behind this, such that no quality of cycle path would have been good enough for the leaders of cycling, it was the "principle of the thing", is open to debate. And of course the quality of cycle facilities continues to be the big issue in the UK, as this blog has continually pointed out from the first. But we do see the same objection raised, weirdly, even when the quality of the provision for bikes is world-class, and the results massively successful in transport policy terms.
Here's the example which actually prompted this post. Mark Wagenbuur posted on his blog Bicycledutch a piece about a new flyover for bikes that has been constructed at Enschede. It looks rather good. It allows them to cross a main road without interaction with the motor traffic at all, replacing what used to be a signalised crossing. It allows more capacity for bikes, because they don't stack up at the lights, and it takes away a delay (replacing it with a slightly longer journey as cyclists have to cycle a curved ramp to get up to the flyover). Of course, there are equivalent benefits to motorists. Because the crossing is eliminated, the capacity of the road is increased, motorists' journeys are speeded-up, and their journeys are likely to be more fuel efficient, because they do not have to stop here anymore.
So basically here you have major infrastructure dedicated to cycling, constructed at great expense, to totally separate cycling form the motor flow. Something you get a lot in the Netherlands, the word's most cycle-friendly nation: there are other good examples on the same blog. So, to quote Anna Soubry, Health Minister, giving evidence to the all Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Enquiry yesterday, "What's not to like?"
Well, something, apparently, for some cycle capmaigners in the UK. It's the old "we don't want to be got out of the way of traffic" thing again, isn't it? Richard Mann, cycle campaigner from Oxford, advertised the post about the brige in Enschede on his Twitter feed in this way:
Cyclists given a long looping ramp in Enschede so they don't hold up traffic http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/cycle-bridge-enschede/ … >HmmAnd in the three letters of that "Hmm" lie a distillation of a century of "attitude" in the relationship between cycling activists, motorists, and infrastructure in the UK. The example here is a slightly new type, as this is not the old business of objecting to the "pushing off" of cyclists on to paths, the paths were already there. Now the Dutch are going further, as they are increasingly doing all over their country, and separating by level to completely divorce the cycling experience from the motoring environment, rather than relying on the old methods (old for them, but still not much adopted in the UK) of signals to share space at different times on the level road crossings. The objection now seems to be that this is taking away some "function" of cycling in limiting or controlling traffic or "civilising the environment", and you see this very often in British and American writings on sustainable transport.
I have actually changed my position on this one. I used to be very sceptical of the idea of engineering mode separation by level, particularly in cities, because I associated it with the kind of community severance I see in north London, near where I live, riven by the North Circular Road, dominating the landscape, that pedestrians, and cyclists if they can manage it, given the total lack of specific provision for them, must burrow under in dank holes, or fly over on windy walkways, to cross. And London and other British cities are full of this kind of thing. I wrote in my article about a successful German cycling city, Münster's Cycling solution, published in the April/May 2009 edition of London Cyclist, the following:
Cyclists [in Münster] are treated as a proper flow of traffic, integrated into signalised systems. There are generally not multiple levels of transport infrastructure, as beloved by British traffic engineers. Space is shared at surface level, and cyclists and pedestrians are not inconveniently forced up and down over bridges or through underpasses. Motor traffic is made to give way as necessary to give the sustainable modes enough priority.So, like many now, at that time I was uncomfortable with the idea of accommodating flows of cyclists, pedestrians and motor traffic in cities through separation by level. (I heard this model of urban planning described recently by an LCC activist as "the last refuge of the scoundrel".)
What changed my opinion was seeing just how well the Dutch are doing this now, and what it can do for the cycling environment. I didn't believe, before I went on the study tour in Asssen with David Hembrow, how totally it is actually possible to separate cycling and motor flows, and how nice that makes the cycling experience, by removing almost all the delays you get in other systems, and even removing quite faint, but significant, environmental impacts on the cycling experience from the motor flows, like the noise, the smell from exhausts when cars are held at signals, the tension of judging timings at intersections, and the agitating effect of having heavy machines at speed pass you by not very far away, even when you have segregated tracks. The Dutch are increasingly taking all this away from the cycling experience, and the effect is that everybody wants to cycle in the environment so created. So, whereas four years ago I would have argued that problems like the North Circular Road crossings should optimally be solved with surface-level crossings to reunite the severed communities, now I would prefer to see this kind of thing that we saw in Assen:
|A recent innovation in Assen: where there was previously a level intersection between the motor trunk road and the cycle road, there is now no contact between them. The road is elevated and isolated behind noise barriers.|
It's like there is another agenda going on behind this cycling thing. You may have thought that when you get on your bike, you are just using it as a cheap, efficient and fun way of getting from A to B with minimal invasion on the pleasure and convenience of anybody else. But no, in a fundamentalist "pro-integration of all forms of traffic" world-view, what you are doing is serving a higher function. You and your bicycle are helping to control the motor traffic. You are making it go slower and you are "civilising the street". No matter that you didn't ask for this job, it is YOUR JOB, as a sort of Holy Responsibility, to sort the whole world of transport and the urban environment out, and "civilise the street" by getting on your bike. You are just the instrument of this method of civilisation of the city. YOU are The Martyr.
The thing is, most people just want to ride their bikes, and not have to interact with motor traffic, and they don't think it's their job, when on two wheels, to "get in the way" of cars and slow the traffic. Many British traffic planners seem to think it is, witness the rash of road narrowing schemes in London, where a stated objective is often deliberately to allow insufficient space for cars to overtake cyclists in the narrowed lanes, so cyclists regulate the speed of traffic. I am one with many other cycle bloggers who think this is a terrible policy that will do nothing for the attractiveness of cycling.
Now, don't get this wrong, I do believe we should have slower, more civilised city streets. I do believe we should have more genuine "sharing" of space on streets between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. But doing that, I think all the successful European models conclusively show, involves reducing motor traffic to a bare minimum on streets (as opposed to roads for movement, of which the road in Enschede with the cycle bridge and the road in Assen with the cycle underpass were examples), and enforcing very low speeds through both policing and design. So achieving that "sharing" and that "civilisation" is mostly about actually removing motor traffic, in practice, and what that means is the deployment of the technology of segregation in its various forms, providing routes round urban centres that are specialised to take the heavy through-traffic from one place to another, with suitable alternatives for pedestrians and bikes, and unravelling modes so that the streets you want to be civilised in town centres are actually dominated by human traffic. To get that dominance, you have to allow safe and pleasant mass cycling, cycling for all, regardless of determination or willingness to act as "human traffic calming" or "street civilising material". For that you need all the apparatus of segregation, of low speed limits, of preferential treatment and priority for cycle traffic. You need quite a lot of engineering. All the experience of cycling systems the world over shows this.
The trouble is in part that people have different agendas, and campaigns for more or safer cycling can get wrapped up in all kinds of other political objectives. I take the view that the car is here, with us, to stay, for a long time yet. We can't abolish it, but we can get people to make smarter travel choices, and only use it when it really is the most sensible mode for the purpose, and walk, cycle and take trains at other times, for the vast majority of their journeys. We need to employ the best methods we can to do this, and we need to do the things that have been actually shown to work to get people on bikes in societies similar to our own. We can't solve all the problems of the world and of the environment in this one step, and we can't get rid of private motorised transport. We can engineer its environment so that it is less intrusive on our cities and countryside and less obstructive and less discouraging to the sustainable modes.
It may well be, indeed it is the case, that sometimes, in the history of debate on these things, the most rabidly petrol-headed of commentators or law-makers has been in favour of the construction of cycle paths ands tracks principally in order that cyclists should be got out of the way of their motorised activities. But that is not an adequate reason to go on opposing proven solutions which demonstrably can create a better transport environment for all, more inclusivity of mobility, and innumerable health and social benefits. That is a simplistic politics of reaction – "My enemy thinks it is good, so I must oppose it" – not reason, that we need to move beyond.
For ultimately the "not out of the way" mentality is a motor-centric one. We don't think it unreasonable to keep bikes and pedestrians "out of the way" of trains or aircraft. Why not? It's that this "not out of the way of cars" concept depends on the thinking that "in the way" is necessarily "where the cars are at". In other words, the contention is that the roads that cars are presently occupying are the basic, central social territory that other transport modes must not cede to them. But it doesn't have to be regarded this way.
The Netherlands show us another model, one that's actually workable in an advanced industrialised society much like ours. Cars can be pushed out of our towns, and out of the residential and social areas of our cities, if we wish it, to a considerable extent, and their principal arteries, while recognising they need to continue to exist, can be made irrelevant to cycling and walking by parallel provision. Clearly we are a long way from this in the UK right now, but so were the Dutch 40 years ago. (This in a way was what British motorway-building was all about, though that didn't solve our problems because of other policy failures.) The argument about getting bikes "out the way of cars" can be made irrelevant, because "where the cars are" is no longer critical territory for everyday non-motorised living, any more than the railway lines or canals or docks are. There's a paradigm shift in thinking that I'm alluding to here. But if cycle campaigning continues to obsess about "not getting us out of the way" of the cars, we'll continue to be be stuck in the same old loop.