Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Cycling in Dublin - Ireland is years ahead of UK on cycling policy; way ahead in implementing that policy; and has much higher targets for cycling than anywhere in the UK. It's fantastic to see but embarrassing to put the UK in such sharp perspective.

Cycle lane behind bus stop. Standard design guidelines exist for this already in Ireland but not yet in the UK. 
Last month, Transport for London announced design plans for Cycle Super Highway2 Extension to Stratford. The design would include what the Americans now call "barrier protected" bike lanes running the length of the route. At most points, when the bike lane comes into contact with a bus stop, the plan is to route the bike lane behind the bus stop.

For Transport for London this is quite a brave move and something not yet seen in London. It has the feel of something quite new and quite untested.

And yet, get on the plane to Ireland and it turns out Ireland already has exacting national design standards for exactly this sort of thing. Those standards have been created by the National Transport Authority which was founded in 2009 to act "(a) to regulate the provision of public transport services in the State and (b) within the Greater Dublin Area, to secure the development and implementation of an integrated transport system in a manner that contributes to environmental sustainability and social cohesion and promotes economic progress."

Get that second part? The Irish transport authority is designed to develop and implement integrated and sustainable transport that provides social cohesion and promotes economic progress. Have you ever heard such an incredibly common sense approach in the UK? Does TfL have an obligation to do this? It does talk about delivering on cycling in its road surface transport commitments but there is nothing as clear and undeniably 'let's get people on bikes' in the Act that gives TfL legal powers. The Highways Agency? Not really. The Department for Transport? Again, not really.

What an off-road bike lane looks like at the moment
in Ireland (and UK). No priority over driveways, no
clarity of design. Courtesy
Irish National Transport Authority Cycling Manual
The NTA has a hugely detailed set of designs for cycle lane infrastructure. It has designs for what a cycle lane should look like behind bus stops, for example There are four designs, each to cater for different pedestrian and cycle flows. They have minimum requirements and minimum standards. None of this exists in the UK. It has designs for bike tracks, it has policies for how to plan a cycle network, it dictates what traffic speeds and traffic volumes require what sort of cycling solution. In short, it's embarrassing. The UK is a decade behind Ireland.

A year ago, I wrote about the fact that Transport for London already has a set of cycling design standards. In 2005, Peter Hendy, then managing director of surface transport, ie head of London's roads and now TfL commissioner, wrote to all local authorities saying the standards were to be included in ALL new road schemes in the capital. There were two problems. Firstly, the standards were nowhere near as good as those in Ireland and secondly, they were never implemented and have just sat on shelves gathering dust.

What that cycle lane should look like. Courtesy NTA Ireland
Last week, I wrote a submission to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Inquiry to Get Britain Cycling. My key theme was this: "I worry that the government wants cycling to be delivered at a local level. In many ways, that is the right thing to do. But the disparities between Hackney and Newham make it abundantly clear that different local authorities have very different biases when it comes to cycling. It often seems that the personal opinion of one or two heavy-weight councillors about the use of bicycles will determine the chances of a local authority going the way of more cars and more congestion or the way of giving its residents the chance to walk or cycle instead."

Brighton's new bike lane behind a bus stop. Picture by
Mark Strong, Transport Initiatives
Not only does each local authority have different biases, each authority seems to be able to get away with implementing cycling infrastructure at an entirely different level. So you have the complete farce of cycling along a protected bike lane in Camden but as soon as you reach the City of Westminster boundary, that bike lane becomes a lane for parking cars and you're back to mixing with motor traffic. On the same road.

It can be done in the UK. Just look at the bike lane that has just been built in Brighton (pictured left, courtesy Mark Strong of Transport Initiatives) and bear in mind that Transport for London really is getting its act together these days.

Cycling in Dublin - The numbers.
By the excellent Cycling in Dublin blog
But Ireland's authorities are being much more vocal about what's really wrong than their equivalents in the UK. Michael Aherne from the National Transport Authority came out last year and said this: “For years local authorities have had aspirational networks on their development plans – we want to work with them to move from aspirational to reality and to make that reality a prioritised one.” This is exactly what the UK needs too. A national transport body that commits to getting people using sustainable transport methods (and I don't mean electric cars, for goodness sake) in a way that actually means something for people's social and economic well-being. 

I leave with a infographic created by freelance journalist Cian Ginty on his excellent Cycling in Dublin blog. Not everything in Dublin is rosy. But the direction of travel is simply astonishing when you compare to the average UK city. You can read more of the background on and it's well worth having a look at this brief speech by the National Transport Authority. It will make you want to move to Dublin.  


Just a couple of examples from the Irish National Cycle Manual. If only the UK was thinking about this as well.

Design for a cycle-friendly roundabout

How to handle left-hand filter lanes and make them friendly for people on bikes