This is an occasional commentary on cycling and unrelated issues - 'blog' if you must - and will be updated from time to time.
Posted 2 August 2012:
So Bradley Wiggins thinks that helmets should be made compulsory for all cyclists, does he?
Helmets may well be suitable for high-speed cycle racing, like what he does, or for downhill mountain-biking and other forms of cycle sport, but they are of little use for low-speed pootling about down to the shops utility cycling on the public roads. If you get hit by a car or larger vehicle, a helmet is not guaranteed to save you, and it most certainly will not stop you being hit in the first place. Not even full body armour will stop you from being crushed under a lorry. What is needed is better infrastructure, segregation on busy roads, and filtered permeability through quieter roads.
Last weekend I was almost hit by a car on a main road. As I was turning right at a junction ahead and the driver had stopped in the Advance Stop Line cycle box at the traffic signals there, I pulled alongside the car and challenged the driver as to why he drove so close to me. In the exchange that followed he said that I should be wearing a helmet (and how would that have helped?) and that I should have been cycling on the correct side of the road (I was). If he doesn't know which side of the road cyclists should be on, and that he as a driver should move out a bit when he is overtaking a cyclist rather than blindly following the lane lines, is he a suitable person to be in possession of a driver's licence?
In countries that have introduced compulsory cycle helmet laws, such as Australia, cycling rates have dropped. Helmet use is low in countries where cycle use is high, such as The Netherlands and Denmark, where they have decent cycle infrastructure.
Wiggins chose to say in his interviews that cyclists shouldn't use mobile phones or listen to I-pods while they are cycling. Agreed, and I was doing neither, yet I was nearly hit from behind by a car driven by someone driving without due care or attention. Wiggins, at least from what was reported in the media, appeared to be blaming the victim rather than addressing the source of the problem. Which is a bit like suggesting chastity belts as a solution to rape.
I was only on the main road because going via the parallel (unsigned) quiet road route would have involved lifting my bike (and shopping) over a gate - a gate that is welded shut, with a narrow gap alongside for pedestrians, that could easily be replaced by a line of sturdy bollards. Had I continued along the quiet road route I would have joined the main road at the junction before my turning, and missed the location where the initial incident took place.
The area where this took place is well served by motorways but there is no cycleway of any form anywhere nearby. While motorists have a choice of motorways, cyclists have to choose between the main road or researching their own quieter route. I have suggested before that quiet roads be joined up and signed as cycle routes parallel to main roads. This is the dual networks approach, where filtered permeability - selective road closures where pedestrians and cyclists can pass through but not motor vehicles - stops the roads from being used as rat-runs, and allows cyclists to use these roads as through routes without the hassle of heavy traffic to contend with. There is also a degree of luck involved, since there is no guarantee that there will be suitable roads available to join up or that they will even approach the directness of the main roads. But the dual network approach will only go so far to producing a modal switch from motorised to non-motorised transport. The busy main roads will need proper infrastructure - not painted cycle lanes full of parked cars, but segregated tracks between the footway and main carriageway - to achieve the development of a cycling culture amongst the masses.
However, starting with a dual network approach will allow a larger number of routes to be developed with the pityful resources presently available for cycle infrastructure. In Glasgow, two areas stand out as having particularly poor existing cycle provision - the East End and South Side. In the East End there are no signed radial cycle routes between the Clyde Walkway (NCN 75) and the Glasgow-Cumbernauld cycle route, except for a couple of short Smarter Choices Smarter Places routes around Parkhead, and indeed nothing at all in Glasgow east of a line from where NCN 75 crosses the River Clyde to where the Cumbernauld route goes into Millerston, that is no cycle routes from Tollcross and Carntyne all the way to the city boundary at Baillieston and Easterhouse. On the South Side, no radial cycles routes heading south anywhere between Pollok Park (NCN 7) and Rutherglen (NCN 756), apart from some door-zone cycle lanes on Kilmarnock Road. No signed cycle routes cross the River Clyde between Polmadie Bridge (NCN 756) and Bell's Bridge (NCN 7). Is Glasgow City Council bending over backwards to encourage cycling in the city?
Routes could be developed along roads parallel to Edinburgh Road (Warriston St/Bellrock St), Gallowgate (Bell St, Bellgrove paths), Gorbals St (Stirlingfauld Place), and Pollokshaws Road (Shawbridge St). Indeed Edinburgh Road has so much space (3 lanes each way plus parking dual carriageway) and feeds into narrower roads through Dennistoun, that they might as well bite the bullet and reallocate some roadspace on Edinburgh Road itself right now!
However, the reality of cycling in Glasgow is that where cycle routes do exist they are under threat. A former railway embankment in Whiteinch, that formed part of NCN 7, was sold off so a car showroom could be expanded (rather than moving to nearby vacant land), with the cycle route relocated to a bumpy poor quality shared-use footway, with the promise of another relocation (to the windier riverfront) at some point in the future. Cycle lanes in Royston Road, Killermont St and Southbrae Drive have been lost to resurfacing, while cycle lanes in Highburgh Road have been made narrower to accommodate kerbside car parking, resulting in the cycle lanes becoming door-zone death traps. The cycle route through the Kelvingrove Art Gallery car park has been interrupted by a one-way system that fails to provide any provision for cyclists in the other direction other than joining the very same main road that the route is meant to be there to avoid. Polmadie Road, which connects the South Side and Glasgow Green, once a wide and fairly quiet useful direct route, now has a busy motorway junction in the middle and busy junctions at each end, and the route to Glasgow Green via Polmadie Bridge has been blocked off. Cycle routes through Glasgow Green and past the Piping Centre are regularly closed - without signed diversions - when there are events on.
Some high quality cycle infrastructure has been provided, but in the wrong places. I'm repeating myself, but I think the Connect2 route from Kelvingrove Park to the City Centre should not have run via a zig-zag route to Anderston's Bridge to Nowhere, but straight along Sauchiehall St, switching to Bath St at some point, and then feeding into the city centre via Wellington St, West Nile St and North Hanover St/Miller St. The Commonwealth Games cycle route has a nice section of segregated cycle track east of Bridgeton Cross, but it only lasts half a mile, with cyclists directed onto the shared-use footway beyond this point. It isn't as if anyone would be using these footways when there's events on at the Commonwealth Games site or Celtic Park.
I am afraid that the Cults of Celebrity and Soundbite will mean that whatever else Wiggins said about utility cycling will be lost, and that the Helmet Brigade will be boosted by his statement. The last thing we need is a Wiggins' Law as the outcome to CycleSafe.
Posted 24 April 2012:
I've been thinking...
I really hope the recent interest in cycling issues doesn't fizzle out and end up in a few nice words from the minister without any substantive action from roads authorities. There is a need for action on a number of levels:
There is no point in doing training and promotion if the infrastructure is not in place. Only the brave head out cycling on certain main roads at present, because the conditions are such that bravery is required. No amount of training and promotion will change this. There are other less busy roads available for cycling, but without some investment in infrastructure linking them up properly, they will often seem to be a second class solution to cyclists. Promotion does have a role to play here once proper infrastructure has been established. But it has to be more than producing a leaflet that will never be seen by the majority of residents who could benefit from such a route – there has to be signage so people can come across the route by chance while making journeys by other modes, and of course so those without the leaflet can follow the route.
The promotion also has to be specific – letting people know about a route in their area – rather than the wishy-washy "cycling: it's good for you" kind, which doesn't tell people anything they don't already know. It is all to easy to come up with an "ah, but", particularly if the idea of heading out onto the roads on a bike seems totally crazy in the heavy traffic they see every day.
Speed reduction and road space reallocation go hand in hand. Some roads will suit the former, others will suit the latter. Many roads do not need to cater for through traffic and can be converted into something more like Home Zones, by blocking off the rat-runs. However, there will still be main roads, and it is the main roads where specific cycle infrastructure may best be located, since speed reduction does not seem to happen if there is no enforcement (see any main road with a 20mph zone out a school). Until the oil actually starts running out, it is reasonable to assume that motor traffic volumes on main roads won't be significantly reducing any time soon.
There are many examples of poor cycle infrastructure across the UK. I doubt the Warrington Cycle Campaign's Cycle Facility of the Month struggles for a new facility to highlight each month. If cycling is to be encouraged, then high quality and appropriate infrastructure must be provided. A shared use footway is a cheap and nasty solution often used by councils and developers so they can claim to be doing something for cyclists ("box-ticking"). But shared use footways put cyclists and pedestrians in conflict, particularly in urban areas, and frequently fail to make any provision for cyclists at junctions. They are really only suitable for main rural roads where pedestrian volumes are low and there is space to do fancy stuff at the infrequent junctions.
Pedestrians don't like shared use schemes, and understandably so. Who would choose to have cyclists whizz past on a footway that probably doesn't meet the 3m desirable minimum width requirement? The problem would be even worse if the shared use footway was on a hill, where cyclists would naturally be going fast...
National Cycle Network Route 756 was conceived and built by South Lanarkshire Council to link Glasgow, Rutherglen and East Kilbride. Apparently the first Sustrans knew of the route was when South Lanarkshire Council got in touch looking for a route number, so wasn't consulted on or involved in the design of the route. The route is mostly suburban in nature, running up the hill through Rutherglen and over the top into East Kilbride. However, in the centre of Route 756 is the shared use footway on one side of the A749 East Kilbride Road dual carriageway, between Cathkin and Nerston, linking the towns of Rutherglen and East Kilbride. The footway has been upgraded to shared use status to allow cyclists use of it instead of legally having to remain on the carriageway. The extent of the upgrading appears to have been the provision of some dropped kerbs, give way lines and shared use signage. Nothing special has been done at junctions, so cyclists have to look behind them to see if anything is coming along the slip-lanes. The footway hasn't been widened (except on one slip-road), and it is still immediately kerbside so cyclists and pedestrians are buffeted by passing lorries, or soaked in spray when it is raining. Cycling by Design says that there should be a separation of at least 1.5m between cycleway and carriageway on roads with a speed limit of above 40mph. But this is only a guideline and councils are free to ignore it.
I wrote previously about the recently "converted" shared use footway in the East End of Glasgow. This directs cyclists along the footway of some quiet back streets, including through a "Twenty's Plenty" zone and along a cul-de-sac. There isn't even any provision for cyclists who wish to ignore the shared use footway and go onto the road themselves. At the other end of the spectrum is Sunderland's Wheatsheaf Gyratory, where Advance Stop Lines have been provided on a huge 3-lane signalised roundabout. Does this make it safe? Is this what cyclists want? Did anyone ask?
Back in Glasgow, as part of Connect2 a two-way segregated cycle track has been introduced between Kelvingrove Park and Anderston Cross, zig-zagging its way around some back streets, with the promise of another section along Waterloo Street in the city centre once the centrepiece of the project, revamping an abandoned unfinished motorway footbridge with a spiral ramp, has been built. The route has had problems with vehicle/cyclist conflicts at one junction, and excessive traffic signal delays at another, leading many cyclists to ignore the cycle signals and go on the main signal phases instead. Now, if the money spent on this project was spent instead on a segregated cycle track straight along 4-lane one-way and more-or-less level Sauchiehall Street, how far would it go? Could it maybe even get as far as George Square? Perhaps it would even be finished by now.
My attention was recently drawn to the mix of cycle infrastructure on Manchester's Chester Road. There is a cycle route that starts in the backstreets (exactly where I'm not sure) next to Deansgate Station on the edge of Manchester City Centre. (It appears that to get further into the city centre one just has to join the busy roads that the cycle route is trying to keep cyclists off of.) A two-way segregated cycle track, separate from both carriageway and footway, starts as the route meets its first main road and heads across a major junction with the inner ring road before returning cyclists to the carriageway on the far side. There are cycle lanes on some sections of road, but a shared use footway appears on the offside somewhere along the road, which if it is followed far enough, leads to a dead end. Chester Road forks left where the dual carriageway starts, and begins to look more like an ordinary road. There is no obvious signage to say whether and where cyclists should cross the road, and no obvious logic to the type of provision made for cyclists, or indeed which side of the road it is on. However, there is a choice of online maps.
Cyclists want straight forward cycle provision that doesn't require research in order to find out how to use it, and where there are complications, for them to be clearly signposted. Having lots of different facilities doesn't mean these are necessarily proper or appropriate facilities. There has got to be a step-change in the provision and quality of provision for cyclists in the UK. Riding a bike has to be made as easy as... riding a bike!
That's why I'll be going to Edinburgh to Pedal on Parliament on 28 April. Will you be joining me?
On my way there I will be taking the opportunity to look at some cycle infrastructure along the way. That means you, West Lothian and City of Edinburgh Councils.