Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Cycling Resolutions: 2014 Edition

I've just listened to a BBC Radio Scotland phone-in about cycling, and it's occurred to me how far we are from a cycling revolution, especially outside London.

So, here are some of my campaign resolutions for the year ahead.

Preach to the Unconverted

I read many cycling blogs and Twitter feeds, and it's easy to think that people are aware of the kind of things discussed, such as 20mph limits, segregated infrastructure, filtered permeability. 

Most people don't know what these mean (or actively oppose them in the case of lower speed limits). We need to tell normal people why these things matter: to their kids, playing in the street; to their granny, able to cross the road; to their town centre, a pleasant environment to shop and drink coffee in.

We also have to clearly identify the problems - not necessarily those for existing cyclists, a tiny group - that a cycling culture (or a people-first culture) will help solve. These include (but are not limited to!) health, congestion, cost of living, freedom for children, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Think About the Big Picture

Stop getting distracted by talking about the little and stupid things. In an hour-long radio programme, the following points, which are of no relevance to increasing cycling modal share, were mentioned:
  • the arrogance of cyclists
  • red light jumping and other 'rule-breaking' (only by cyclists, no other road users)
  • cyclists wearing headphones
  • pavement cycling
We need to talk about the towns and cities we want to live in. Where people come before traffic. Like this. Those pictures can appeal to all kinds of people, current cyclist or (more likely) not. Who would choose to live in a traffic-filled city?

Thinking about the Big Picture means thinking big. It means neither asking for, nor accepting, crumbs. Crumbs tend to coincide with cycling being part of the margins, something fitted in around the real priority, traffic flow. Dual-networks are an anti solution, and we shouldn't be afraid to say so.

Happy New Year

Monday, 21 October 2013

Edinburgh's Quality Bike Corridor

Not worth the paint

There has been a lot of talk recently about why painted bike lanes are largely, well, not worth the paint they're painted with. This has largely been prompted by the tragic deaths on London's blue-paint network, also known as Barclays Cycle Superhighways. There's a good analysis of why paint (in any colour) is not a solution here.

Today, I'm going to be looking at Edinburgh's flagship infrastructure. The 'Quality Bike Corridor' (QBC). Why now? Because if I cycle to work (Brompton pending - I'm currently walking) it'll largely be on this route. And because I walk along this road every day and witness what a disaster it it. Finally, because a lot of cycling money was spent on it, and that shouldn't be allowed to happen again.

This scheme has been covered by others before, doubtless better - firstly here and also here.

Laudable aims

The choice of route for the QBC seems very sound. It connects two campuses of Edinburgh University, approximately 3km apart. Students are great targets for cycling and 3km is a nice distance to cycle - about half an hour to walk, or 12 minutes on a bike. Two trips a day make a 3 hour a week time saving. With the right approach, this could have been a massive success. 

There's also a primary school along the route (Sciennes School), so a great opportunity to encourage cycling to school. Finally, since one of the campuses is next to the city centre, it's perfect to connect parts of South Edinburgh (eg Blackford, Mayfield and Newington) to Princes Street and Waverley Station.

You can view the route here, on Google Maps.

The Problem

So many, it's hard to know where to start. Let's take a look at a few pictures.

Can't see the QBC? You're looking at it!
Unfortunately, there's no room for a cycle lane on both sides of the road here. Well, certainly not where you have a right turn lane and a traffic island which usefully doubles up as a dangerous pinch point. This is a great example of prioritising motorists (those behind someone turning right) over cyclists. If we don't prioritise cycling on a flagship scheme, when do we? Disgraceful, and a potential accident spot.

Just duck under the van!
What do you mean your granny wouldn't cycle here?
I didn't bother to check if this parking was legal - there's a fair amount of legal and illegal parking on the QBC. Cyclists are forced into the main carriageway frequently. It's a recipe for disaster. Edinburgh Council's FAQ on the QBC asks, "Why are people parking on the route?'. The answer is interesting, in that instead of focusing on safety, it focuses on speed. They've missed the point. "Cycle lanes provide a fast way of getting along the route. These are protected from parking by yellow lines during the day – the time when road traffic is heaviest."

Of course, parking on a bike route shouldn't just be discouraged by law (and certainly not only at certain times!!!), but made impossible or completely unnecessary by infrastructure.

From  Cyclists in the City - how it's being done in New York
The above picture shows how it should be done - notice the parked cars are between the bikes and moving traffic - actually increasing the cyclists' safety. Also, the bikes are travelling the opposite direction to the parking, so the chance of 'dooring' is reduced. The excellent buffer area helps here too.

Roadworks Ahead - Cyclists squeeze by
This is an easy-fixed problem (move the damn sign), but it is a good indicator that the council don't take the QBC seriously. They'd never block 70% of a car lane with a sign, so why do they think it's acceptable to do it to cyclists?

From Google Maps
Finally, this surprisingly dangerous junction. There are a few similar examples. Notice the widening of the car lane just before the junction, so that it's wider than required for one vehicle, but not quite wide enough for two. It seems drivers frequently cut across the cycle lane, to undertake vehicles turning right or to turn left themselves. The nearest near miss I've seen on the QBC was at a junction of this style, where an undertaking car had to stop very suddenly to avoid a cyclist on their left. It's not good enough.

I've seen some brave parents ride to school with their children on this road. I've seen them overtake a parked lorry, then be overtaken by a double decker bus. To be frank, my heart has been in my mouth watching on a few occasions. I love cycling - heck, I write a blog about it! - but I don't think I could do it if I had kids of my own. It'd be walking, or yet another car on the school run. And that's sad.


As you can doubtless see, this flagship scheme is full of compromises. Motor traffic is almost never impeded. The closest thing to inconveniencing motor traffic is a 20mph limit along part of the route, which appears to be almost universally ignored. Perhaps the lanes have been narrowed, but they're not terribly narrow now. The aforementioned FAQ mentions this issue:

"Why aren’t the cycle lanes continuous all along the route?
Some sections of road along the route are not wide enough for cycle lanes in both directions, even when the width of the road for car users has been reduced. Where this is the case we have introduced a 20mph speed limit (see below)."

As we know, 20mph are a good thing for cycling. But in this case, I'd argue that they're useless. Firstly, because the volume of traffic is still far too high. The start of this blogpost gives some idea of the number of vehicles that we should consider too high, even with a 20mph limit.

The second reason they're useless here, is that they're widely ignored and there doesn't appear to be any enforcement of them. You could call it box-ticking. That's what it seems like.

Essentially, when we have to compromise, it's people on bikes that lose out. Given that we're trying to encourage cycling and discourage use of polluting, traffic-causing, obesity-raising vehicles, that doesn't make sense to me.

Welcomed by...

SPOKES, who are the most prominent cycle campaign in Edinburgh responded to the proposals quite tamely. You can read it yourself here. They do suggest improvements, but this is not the complete rejection of a waste of money that this scheme deserved. Again, I'll link to a spot-on blogpost about responses to the QBC.

The solution 

The real solution is easy. Perhaps not politically, but in terms of having an environment where cycling is safe and feels safe. Even more frustratingly, Spokes know the solution - one of their members posted it on a comment on a local councillor's blog! I'll quote:

Biggest problem is car parking - tackling this needs political courage - that is the main reason why QBiC was too timid - it's a decision for the politicians, not the officers! Another powerful but politically difficult option would be to not allow through motor traffic in the narrow section - or make it bus/bike/walk only - after all, there are 2 other parallel north-south roads available for cars!

There are two parallel roads. Let's look at one on Street View.

The road cars should be on, from Google Maps
The bus lanes are only active during the morning and evening weekday peaks. This road (the name changes a few times, but the configuration is the same) runs along pretty much all of the QBC. The fact that we're having to debate this is insane. Motor traffic goes here, cyclists and access go on the QBC. Enforce it through bollards, or making the QBC road alternating one-way for vehicular traffic.

This option should have been top of the agenda, yet it wasn't even on the agenda? Why not?

Here's a very rough diagram to show the idea.

Simple Solution? Arrows are on the QBC route.
Making the street (designated the QBC) alternating one way would give extra road space (to be given to high-quality cycle tracks) and massively reduce the amount of traffic on the road. 

Nervous about it? Want to try before you buy? Just get some no-entry and one way street signs and a bit of paint. Try it for 3 months, 6 months, whatever. This fantastic TED talk shows how New York do things quickly and cheaply with paint first. When they can show that the new design works better, they can make the changes permanent. If the data shows otherwise, it's easy to rollback and lessons can be learned.

Let's not waste another £650,000 (including money from the Scottish Government and Sustrans) on rubbish like this again.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Cycling Utopia... In Scotland?

There is a place, only 40 miles from Glasgow. A place where families cycle together; where the bikes have baskets; where cars give space to cyclists (who ride two or three abreast on roads); where few wear Lycra and helmets aren't the norm.

The place is in fact an island, about 10 miles in circumference and on the Clyde. Technically the Isle of Cumbrae, but better known as the name of its only town: Millport.

Cycling on Cumbrae

People, main from Glasgow, travel to Cumbrae for day trips and longer holidays. It's a picturesque island, and one of the most popular activities is cycling round it. There are three bike hire shops, and they do a very good trade on a hot day! The perimeter road is almost flat and some of the views are fantastic.

I feel a bit strange taking photos of strangers while cycling, so I missed my chance to take one of the dog in basket. You'll have to just take my word on that one! Here are some that I did take.

Sharing the road. Lycra-clad cyclist, cyclist with a childseat, walkers and a van

Lots of parked cars, but very few actually moving

A family 'taking the lane'!

I saw more kids' trailers in a day here than in 10 years in Glasgow

Almost everyone (on a sunny day!) arrives at the Fintry Bay Tearooms on foot or by bike
Another picture of Fintry Bay. Image from http://www.millport.org/place/fintry-bay-tearoom/

Explaining the phenomenon

Why do so many people cycle on Cumbrae? Why do families feel safe cycling on a road (that has a speed limit of 60mph for the most part, and a recommended maximum of 30mph throughout)? Can we replicate it elsewhere?

A big part of why cycling on Cumbrae is a joy (and it is - at any speed) is that the number of cars is tiny. The island is very small (as I said, its circumference is about 10 miles) and there is only one main town. A bus meets the ferry from the mainland, taking passengers the 4 miles trip from 'Cumbrae Slip' to 'Millport'. Unless you are transporting a lot of goods, or perhaps someone with mobility problems, there is no need for a car on the island. That fact, combined with the ferry charges for cars (usually £19.65 return, plus normal passenger charges for each person in the car - effectively a congestion charge) mean taking a car onto the island just doesn't make sense in most cases.

While I don't believe in the principle of 'safety in numbers' in general (it doesn't seem to be holding true in London, sadly), there is an element of it here. The car drivers know they're in the minority, and almost without exception act accordingly. The fact that the people on bikes are largely families including children doubtless affects their behaviour too. There is no comparison to the stories of 'road wars' and 'Lycra louts' in Surrey. Finally, most people are on holiday (tourism is pretty much Millport's raison d'être) which seems to also put people in a calmer mood!

Suppressed Demand

What Millport does perfectly, is debunk the argument that British people, Scottish people, Glaswegians or whoever don't want to cycle. Like the 'SkyRides', it shows that people will make a big effort to go somewhere to cycle in (subjective and objective) safety. A good overview of suppressed demand here.

I can't (and don't) believe that these same people, most of whom have travelled about 40 miles and taken a ferry to come to Millport wouldn't cycle to the shops, to schools, to their friends' houses day in, day out if they felt as safe

Like it or not, we can't reduce traffic levels in cities and towns across the country to Millport's levels. In that sense, it is a special case. Normal people will take the lane here, but they won't (and don't) elsewhere. The only way to experience this level of subjective safety is Dutch quality segregated cycling infrastructure. If it comes, really comes, I've no doubt it'll be used.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Cycling in Renfrewshire

I'm back in (surprisingly) sunny Erskine, Renfrewshire for this blog post. As an avid follower of many UK based cycling blogs, where there is some (if certainly not enough) political will for change, up here we're still way-behind. I'll try to find Renfrewshire Council's cycling strategy and look at why normal people don't cycle normal journeys here.


To get started, I thought I'd look for Renfrewshire Council's cycling strategy, or some similar documentation. In the 'Transport and Streets' section of their website, there are sections about 'Parking and car parks', 'Road safety', 'Winter Gritting' and 'Public transport' among others, but no mention of cycling (or, indeed, walking). In fact, cycling information is to be found under 'Leisure and culture'/'Parks and recreation'. Is going to work 'leisure' for you?

There are mentions of cycle tourists, BMX, a 9 year old document 'Renfrewshire Outdoor Access Strategy', featuring this classic picture. In the intervening 9 years, that paint has faded to almost nothing.

Shared use, a dismount sign and a helmet. Yep, we've got it all here.
Making progress. Image from Google Street View

(Sources: [1][2])

There's one positive mention of an off-road path to a school for cycling (sounds promising, haven't seen it personally), but the other cycling links include the 'Bike Helmet Initiative Trust'. 

In the section, 'Glasgow International Airport', there's this gem: "The suggested routes are largely on road and can be busy, particularly at peak hours. Cyclists should take care using the routes. Please also note that the routes are not signposted and that you should use the map to navigate your way." (Source)

Car Sickness

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that there is so much car dependancy and it's so unnecessary. The town I'm from, Erskine, is pretty small. A few measurements on Running Map show the maximum distance North to South is 1.5 miles, West to East is 2.2 miles. Yet the town's biggest shopping area (Bridgewater) has got two large car parks (space for far more than 100 cars) and no more than 15 cycle parking spaces.

The nearest big shopping centre (Braehead, among the biggest shopping centres in Scotland) is as little as 4.7 miles away, the next town, Renfrew, is 4 miles away, Paisley (Scotland's biggest town) is 5.7 miles away and the nearest train station (with fast, direct trains to Glasgow) is 3.5 miles away (featuring 192 car parking spaces and space for about 10 bikes).

All but one of the journeys mentioned are less than 5 miles. The excellent 'As Easy As Riding A Bike' blog focuses on these kind of journey lengths in this post. In the Netherlands, 34% of trips of less than 5 miles are made by bike. In the UK, 2%.

I don't think the people of Erskine are lazy. I really don't. Nor do I imagine they want to be stuck in traffic or suffer from health problems due to inactivity. However, the infrastructure opposes cyclists and cycling between Erskine and nearby towns and villages is subjectively unsafe. Cycling just doesn't seem like an option to most people. That's why people aren't cycling to work, to the shops, to meet friends as they would do in the Netherlands.

Renfrew is a real bottleneck for traffic, with frequent delays for Erskine commuters. There are too many cars. However, one of Erskine's local councillors has a solution - build another road! No mention of cycling (or even public transport or carsharing).

Space For Cycling

Of course, we know that unlike the Dutch, we simply don't have space for cycling! Renfrewshire is no exception. I'm going to focus on the journey from my house to Renfrew. At 4.6 miles, it should be a great candidate to cycle. Google Maps is our friend. I'll follow the route shown below. I'm not choosing this route because it's exceptional, rather because it's very typical. It's a route I do from time to time, to go to my local bank and barbers.

From Linburn, we first hit a road with a 60mph limit and no facilities for cycling. I'd guess most people will give up before getting to this point. I find myself riding defensively and faster than I'd like. It's not fun. A child doing it alone? No way.

Then, this roundabout. Two approaches are 60mph roads, the other two 50mph. All approaches are two lane. As you can imagine, a lot of people travel through it pretty fast. Going straight ahead, we must use the outside lane (there are lane markings stating this). A local councillor recently suggested it needs upgraded, but it's not clear in what way he suggests. Dutch-style priority for cyclists would make a big difference here.

Immediately after, the two lane entry (no good reason for that) narrows into one. So much room for something better.

This is a 50mph limit road in Erskine. Shame there's so little space. http://goo.gl/maps/9mk3S
We then go through a 30mph road for a little while - it's OK (though no cycling facilities), pass some more roundabouts with no cycling facilities. Some Dutch roundabouts and a 20mph limit would be great.

We then want to enter Inchinnan, but it's illegal! Let's be clear, I think stopping cars use Inchinnan village as some sort of rat run is an excellent idea. By making car journeys less convenient and reducing traffic through a village, it's exactly the kind of thing I like to see. But allow cyclists! I note that cycling campaign group Go Bike have highlighted this issue in the past. We can break the law or push the bike for a few yards here.

Cycling through Inchinnan itself is OK, some is 20mph (next to a school, supported by speed bumps), the rest 30mph. It'd benefit from 20mph throughout, but is OK to cycle through.

Then, another 50mph road. In theory. I'd bet the average speed is substantially more than that. As you can see, there should be plenty of space for a segregated lane here. It's horrible to cycle on, and I'm always tempted to use the path (which has very little use). The one person Street View has captured on it is one of the only person determined enough to do it on a normal bike with no helmet - yep, me. Can you imagine a family cycling on this? No chance.

On entering Renfrew, now back to 30mph limit, and this is the photo that frustrates me the most. Look at the space. Look at it! There is absolutely no excuse for not having segregated cycling infrastructure here. None. Yet, what we have is a fairly narrow lane with frequent pinch points where drivers frequently cut in front of people to avoid. This is unpleasant to cycle on.

PS - there is an off road cycle path we could take instead of the road in the picture below, but it's indirect, is very isolated and so subjectively unsafe for that reason and is not well-maintained. I don't think it's a realistic alternative.

Space for hatching? Yes. Cycling? No http://goo.gl/maps/wL8w3
Looking at this, nobody should be surprised that the modal share of cycling for journeys up to 5 miles is 2%. It's not surprising. How can you blame people for not cycling on those roads? Education campaigns are not the answer. Dedicated, segregated infrastructure in Dutch style is. What are we waiting for?


The status quo just isn't good enough. Leisure cycling is all well and good, but I shouldn't feel unsafe cycling in my local area. Nobody should. Families should be able to cycle together being subjectively and objectively safe. Cycling should be pleasant and enjoyable. For all people, all ages. Infrastructure instructs behaviour. Building more roads will only get us deeper in this car-dependancy nightmare.

Support the Cycling Embassy of GB and the Campaign for Childhood Freedom. Tell your MP, MSP and councillors, as well as anyone who will listen.

I've just started a new Twitter account about cycling - please find me there. @justacwab

Monday, 3 June 2013

Cycling in Wrocław - it's not exactly Amsterdam

I highlighted some nice infrastructure that Wrocław has to offer earlier. The bad is that such infrastructure is neither perfect nor consistent. I haven't had to look hard for examples for this post, unfortunately.

When the going gets tough - the cycle lanes get going

Firstly, and most crucially, the segregated lanes frequently give up when you need them most. Coming into the city centre there is decent segregated infrastructure that comes to an abrupt end from a few directions.

Coming from the West (on Kazimierza Wielkiego), this lane gives up on you to make way for a third lane of traffic. Notice the cyclist in the photo, who (just after I took the photo) hopped onto the pavement instead of joining three lanes of traffic. I'd do the same, frankly.

Left turn lane prioritised over cycle safety here
(See Street View for a better view of this)

Coming from the South (along Grabiszyńska), there are some OK cycle lanes, to here where there's clearly no room for any cycle infrastructure. Just look at how narrow these roads are!

Cycling paths taking me round the corner, but the city's straight ahead
No, taking me to a parked car and a no cycling sign
Just after the cycling path ends there's room for on pavement parking and three lanes of traffic

And a little further towards town, no room for cyclists here

Elsewhere on Grabiszyńska, the cycle path reverts to shared use in places and is on some horrible surfaces at others.
Four lanes for traffic, shared use for cyclists and pedestrians

Shared use and rubbish surface - no room for a smooth dedicated cycle track here

Finally for Grabiszyńska, the cycle track swaps side of the road, and to legally cross you must wait at three sepatare red/green signals. It can take as long as 4 minutes to cross all three if you're unlucky (yes, I timed it). We'd never ask motorists to wait at three light phases, so why cyclists (and pedestrians)? It frequently feels like being a second class citizen.

No room for continued path on this side of the road, must swap sides taking upto 4 minutes waiting at red lights
Another major street in the city, ul. Świdnicka, there is some comically painted bikes on the road. Not even an advisory lane. As you can see, there'd be no room for high quality Dutch style infrastructure here.

Braving it on ul. Świdnicka
It seems like planners are willing to take the easy decisions, but ultimately not take away space from motor vehicles. You'll never create a significant modal share, nor a cycling culture, this way

Infrastructure from Hell

Advance Stop Lines. These have been covered extensively by other blogs (probably never better than here). They're somewhere between useless and worse than useless. It's no surprise that most cyclists on this road are to be found on the pavement.

Fancy trying to share this three-lane junction with a bendy-bus? No, me neither.

Useless infrastructure. Why bother?

Lanes too narrow to be usable. Difficult to pass one other cyclist, imagine the ambition in building this?

Not a great surface, and so narrow
And conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians

Good luck giving way to pedestrians coming out of the park - no way to see them until it's too late
Similarly, there's an exit from the park round this blind corner. No better place for the cycle path here.

Signage - Where is It?

Spot the sign for cyclists in this photo.

Excellent signage, but where?

No? Here you go.

Ah, there it is. But what does it mean?
Ah, the R9. Could you imagine if motorists were provided with rubbish like this? No destination, no number of kilometres, no times, just R9. Useless. I need to be able to get on my bike and go to where I want. Normal people don't go on the Internet or check a route map to find out where the R9 goes before they set out, and nor should they. Lack of signage has landed me on a fast and busy dual carriageway (when the path I was on came to a sudden end), but a parallel road had a continuing path. I had no way of knowing this. Motorists don't have to tolerate this, neither should cyclists. This stuff is comparatively easy to fix, an absolute no-brainer.

I think it's fair to say that Wrocław may have some stuff right, and it's certainly better than many UK cities, but it has a long way to go to.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cycling in Wrocław, Poland - Let's start with the positives

We hear a lot about cycling in Europe - Denmark, Germany and, of course, The Netherlands. I'm currently living in Wrocław in South West Poland; it's not exactly known as a cycling nirvana internationally. I'm going to write a few posts on cycling here, the good and bad (there's a fair amount of both).

Since this is the first post on a new blog, I'm going to start out with three big positives.

1) Wrocław has a decent number of cyclists. It's no Amsterdam, but I've seen all sorts of people on all sorts of bkes. Lots of really practical Dutch-style bikes, lots of women and older cyclists. Very few people wear helmets or Lycra and I've seen no-one with illuminous clothing so far. Cycling doesn't seem to be any kind of statement, just a means of transport.

2) There is some really nice, if somewhat patchy, segregated cycling infrastructure.

Great example of a 'floating' bus stop

Priority over side roads (I assume...)

Cyclists separated from pedestrians and cars here

Nice continuity of the path over this junction
The above pictures were taken on a ride from the city centre, to a shopping centre about 5km out of town. There's also an excellent segregated path to the Airport (about 10km from the centre) and a fair few more dotted around.

There are a good number of so-called 'floating' bus stops, avoiding conflict with pedestrians (common elsewhere in Europe and soon to be trialled in London - see Evening Standard

3) There's a decent cycle-hire scheme, run by NextBike. It has around 30 docking stations and use for upto 20 minutes is completely free (no access charge as in London). After 20 minutes the tariff is very reasonable. The scheme is simple to use (there are machines at each docking station and there's an excellent mobile webstite/smartphone app). Bikes are locked and unlocked using a simple 4-digit code on the lock. Unlike London's scheme, if a dock is full you can simply chain your bike to another so you're never stuck with your bike. There's a guide to the system in English at Wrocław Uncut  and some usage stats at here

However, in terms of overall cyclists in Wrocław, Nextbike users are a pretty small proportion (I'd hazard a guess at 5%). In terms of a cycling revolution, cycle hire is always going to be on the periphery.

Docking station next to the entrance of a major shopping centre

The machines are a little fiddly, but you can use a smartphone app instead