Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tell Southwark whether you want more cycle training or more bike lanes

Southwark is surveying people who work, live or travel through the borough on its transport plan.
You can go to the survey by clicking on this link

A lot of the questions relate to cycling. Questions such as this one:

"Should we focus cycle improvements on the main roads, where most people cycle, or develop quieter cycling routes?"

And crucially, this one:

"In promoting cycling, should we focus on improving cyclist skills or improving cycling infrastructure?"

I ticked the latter. And then I read Charlie's post in the comments below. And realised that just ticking infrastructure probably isn't the right answer. Both please. But if it came down to one versus the other, I'd still stick infrastructure over training every time. Have a read of Charlie's comment on this article though. He makes a very valid point about how you can enter your comments on the survey to argue it shouldn't be an either / or scenario. 

There's a classic moment in the Southwark transport plan where it talks about how training people to be better pedestrians can improve road safety. I'm all for the green cross code but, come on, why should people be "trained" to walk more safely? Walking isn't dangerous. Neither is cycling.

Crap infrastructure, priotisation of motor vehicles on the ground and legal and insurance anomalies help to make cycling and walking dangerous. 

It is a good thing that Southwark trains school children to be better pedestrians or cyclists. And I fully support teaching people how to cycle more safely. But I disagree with Southwark's believe below, that:

"In order to try and encourage school children to cycle to and from school, Southwark offer free cycle training in schools to all primary school children"

Free cycle training will teach primary school children how to cycle, avoid obstacles and what to look out for. But the reality is that all that encouragement to cycle will be outweighed by a very discouraging reality of busy streets with no space for cycling and fast-moving motor vehicles. 

Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest deconstructs the whole idea that cycle training will bring about mass cycling nicely. And I have to agree with this statement:

Proponents of defensive cycling breezily assert that If you ride confidently, obey the rules, wear visible clothing and control your space you shouldn’t have any problems. And there is no shortage of people urging people to realize that cycling is safe and to get their children cycling to school. But this depends on what kind of environment you cycle in, and for most towns and cities in Britain this is sheer fantasy

As part of our efforts to make the City of London realise we have to do more to make cycling a reality here, I've had dozens and dozens of emails and responses. Including this one which just about sums it up for me from a woman who describes herself thus (and I hope she doesn't mind me re-posting her thoughts but they just speak for so many of the people I talk to who say 'I'd love to cycle in London but I'm too scared to'):

" I wouldn't even think of cycling anywhere near [Elephant & Castle] and get off and walk if a junction looks a bit tough.  I'm not really a cyclist.  I think I'd put myself in the even more under-represented category of people who would like to cycle but daren't!  It's been really great seeing how people like me are getting noticed."

Well, I hope that the City of London does sit up and notice people like you. And I hope that Boris Jonson does too. I'm worried that they won't because they don't see the votes in it yet. But it's people who would like to cycle and daren't who need to get involved and help us bring about a change in the way our politicians look at transport and the way they plan for it. 

Back to the point, though. This is what she had to say to the City of London and which I hope she doesn't mind me re-quoting. And I think she says better than I can why it's not about cycle training. It's about infrastructure: 

"My concern with cycle initiatives being mixed in with other schemes is that while I can see this might appear to save money (by doing all the work once), there is a risk that a cycling elements would take a lower priority and end up not being done at all.   I can see this will be very likely where cycle-specific elements will have to: “….be designed with the needs of all road users in mind” - this will lead to compromise solutions that don't give the real ease of cycling that we need to increase cycle journeys.   

Current road solutions in my area doesn't give me much confidence in this 'design for all' approach.  For example, traffic calming measures, presumably installed partly for my benefit as a cyclist to slow down motor traffic, actually make my trips more dangerous.  The "pinch point" variety combining a hump with a road narrowing arrangement forces me to swing out into the traffic to navigate the width restriction, instead of remaining safely to one side.  The "slotted hump" has channels cut in it, presumably to make life easier for bus drivers, but presenting me with the challenge of steering a heavily laden town bike through a very narrow gulley, and meaning I have to watch the tarmac rather than the traffic.  

If the City is really planning to see a significant increase in the number of people using bicycles then it needs to give cycle infrastructure greater priority in the Local Implementation Plan.  It could also learn from other world cities doing much better than London at getting ordinary people out on to bikes... In the UK - and specifically in London - we have stuck with an approach that puts cyclists out on the road mixed in with motor traffic, and we have failed to see the kind of rises in bike use that we wanted.  We've given the old approach a fair trial - and it hasn't worked.  It's time to try something new:  build a decent cycling infrastructure and watch the cyclists spring up to use it

Let's face it - the City of London is congested with motor traffic.  It has been for years.  You can spend your money on road improvements for motor vehicles, and you will maybe ease a teeny bit of a blockage here, or make a junction slightly better there.  But at the end of your investment period, the City will still be congested.  If you spent the money on a cycling infrastructure instead, you could have a have a world beating cycling city so good that anyone complaining about traffic congestion would get laughed at for sticking with a car
. "

If you have a chance, Southwark wants to hear from you. The Southwark survey really does only take three minutes to complete. And they really want you to say whether you think they should prioritise cycle training or cycle infrastructure. I know where I'd place my bets.


  1. Again a fantastic post. You really are on top of things. I also agree that it should be the people who want to use the bicycle for transport but daren't should be the focus of cycling campaigning. The solution lays not in cycle training (as freewheeler put it - it's not a behavioural problem) but real, safe cycling infrastructure - not bits and bobs they've been trying to fob us off with for the past decades. There's a lot of activity in the bicycle world in UK right now - I do hope we get noticed and that a new cycle campaign will finally get things going.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. To be asked to make a choice between cycling infrastructure or cycle training is a lousy question. While cyclists need to interact with motor traffic there is a need for cycle training which should in no way preclude putting in better infrastructure. Money for both should be maintained and enhanced, diverted from existing motorcentric funding.

  3. adding to the above, I suggest that survey respondents make this point (cut and paste if you wish) in the comment box at the end of the survey.

  4. It's true that riding on the roads in the UK requires a certain set of skills due to the need to deal with traffic, and that's what we should be trying to solve, not just teaching people to cope.

    Promoting training makes cycling seem dangerous and scary and I'm not sure that helps.

  5. Having done the Southwark survey I can confirm it takes hardly any time, apart from crafting your comments. I agree it is flawed - it mainly offers you to answer a or b or don't know when sometimes you would prefer "I do know and it is both/neither" - but it's not such a bad job and it is cycling-presumptive.

    I don't think the infrastructure/training question is such a bad one - perhaps what they are actually looking for is for people to demand infrastructure, and you can do precisely that!

    Finally, there is just one box for free-form comment at the end, so make use of it!

  6. From the training angle, it would be nice if we could teach people not to go up the inside of HGVs and to stop at red lights; but it would also be rather dandy if the infrastructure allowed cyclists to avoid the traffic lights when making left turns. If "the infrastructure" allows drivers to do this, why not have something similar for cyclists?

  7. Christhebull, you made me smile just by using the word 'dandy'!

  8. I think having Eric Pickles on a bike would be dandy (maybe one day he will see the light and stop referring to the need for incontinence pants), until the inevitable happens and he gets stuck trying to filter, when other cyclists will point out the benefits of wider cycle lanes for, er, Christiania tricycles. :p

  9. Training vs. infrastructure is a totally false question. I'm with Mr. Holland on this one. It's a question of scale.... Cycle training costs at most a 6 figure sum (possibly less then £100000) in the City. In other words enough for a few feet of the sort of lanes we would all like to see. You could cut cycle training for ALL of London and not have enough money for even one of the Superhighways and I am sure that you don't want a blue paint excercise... Real segragated lanes/junctions are on a different planet with respect cost. I would dearly love to see it done but not instead of training.... both please!

  10. Yes training is pushed because it's cheap and the authorities can say that they are doing something. That doesn't mean that it brings any massive benefits (I'm not talking about training for kids here which I fully support, in the same way that they learn to cross roads etc)

    The best thing about training is that it gives people confidence, but only a small minority are ever going to sign up for cycle training. It's not going to contribute in any meaningful way to mass cycling and just puts people off cycling when they hear that it's dangerous unless they go on a training course.

  11. @iswas

    "just puts people off cycling when they hear that it's dangerous unless they go on a training course. "

    You are the only person I have ever heard say this... The existance of training puts people off riding? Are you sure?

    People often confuse Adult Cycle Training with a policy for massed cycling. It isn't. Training is for the individual.

    After many years banging my head against local authorities that don't want to do anything for cyclists, I have decided to put my effort where it does some(just a little, i know) good. Over the last few years I have trained over 200 people... For many of them it has been transformative. I have the emails and texts to prove it. Most London instructors will have similar numbers so we are doing something.

    Untill our modal share is larger it will be very hard to get the powers that be to divert the resourses into good infrastructure. Cycling took decades to decline and it will take a while coming back. There is only one person with the political will to really do something for us and he is no longer mayor.

    The question, "In promoting cycling, should we focus on improving cyclist skills or improving cycling infrastructure?" is classic "divide and rule" council BS.

    Yes, lets keep pushing for good infrastructure but in the mean time we should do everything else we can no matter if it's small scale.

  12. It's all about the over-emphasis on fear and safety which is a recurring theme in the UK in any discussion about cycling.

    Emphasising training adds yet another barrier to cycling being "something that people just do"