Segregation v integration: which way now for UK cycling?

Recent UK research concludes most people are unlikely to take up city cycling unless conditions improve dramatically. For anyone interested in seeing many more people on bikes and our towns and cities transformed, this begs the question: how do we best promote urban cycling?

There are two schools of thought. They’re often seen as incompatible, even opposed, though we’ll see here how that’s not true. First, ‘integrationists’ argue for cycling’s place in the existing road network. For them, cycling is best promoted by teaching people to ride effectively and safely on the roads, and by making those roads more hospitable through, for example, slowing down motorised traffic. Second, ‘segregationists’ argue cycling be separated from other modes. For them cycling is best promoted by giving it infrastructure of its own, separate from motorised vehicles on the one hand, and pedestrians on the other.

Britain is finally taking the bicycle seriously as an ordinary mode of urban transport. Cycling’s profile is rising fast, and it’s finding advocates in some unlikely places; The Times newspaper, for example, is running an ambitious ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign. Cycling’s urban revival is bringing the segregation v integration debate to the boil. Following a vote of its 11,000 members, London Cycling Campaign recently launched a ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign. One aim is clear space, Dutch-style, for cycling along major roads across London. With city cycling in the spotlight, and people questioning the way ahead, which route should UK cycling take? Will more people ride if we improve the on-road environment, or if we build separate infrastructure for cycling?

Recent attention centres on London, where cycling is growing especially fast, but also where concerns about its safety are most pronounced. We’ll look elsewhere, but with the Olympic Games so close and all eyes on England’s capital, and with what’s happening there likely to impact on other places, let’s start there.

David Dansky is Head of Training & Development at Cycle Training UK, an independent provider of on-road cycle training. ‘London’, he says, ‘is a model of good integration. Cycling has doubled in the last decade, and more than 8% of inner-London’s commuting journeys are now made by bike; all with little if any segregation.’

London has actively promoted the sharing of its limited road space and encouraged people to ride through measures such as training and marketing: ‘The more people on bikes the safer the streets become, and the easier it is to get still more people cycling – it’s a virtuous circle’, says Dansky. He says there’s more work to be done, especially around driver education, but still sees the capital as providing a model for other cities: ‘What’s been achieved here can be achieved elsewhere.’

If cycling is doing so well, why has the London Cycling Campaign launched its ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ initiative? Chief Executive Ashok Sinha says ‘many people are now cycling, but cycling levels remain far below their potential. Conditions remain intimidating, and we believe far more people will ride when they’re improved. Concern about sharing road space with congested or fast-moving motor traffic is the number one reason why Londoners don’t take up cycling or cycle more often. Our ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign is a response to the deep worries that existing and potential cyclists have about safety, and calls for a radical new approach to street design, as well as for greater priority in general to be given to the safer movement of cyclists and pedestrians.’

If segregating cycling is the key to getting people on bikes, haven’t we been here before, and failed? Look at Milton Keynes – a comprehensive network of segregated cycle routes, but very little cycling. Dr Tim Jones is an expert in urban planning and sustainable mobility at Oxford Brookes University, and a keen cyclist. When it comes to segregation, he says Milton Keynes is a red herring. ‘It appears to provide for cycling, but was designed for cars, not bikes’, says Jones. ‘Driving in Milton Keynes is quicker, easier and more convenient than cycling which is consigned to paths through areas devoid of life – a relic of a zoning system where activities are separated and spread out. Segregating cycling only works if at the same time it’s hard wired into the existing street network where you typically find activities and people, and of course, it’s made easier and more convenient than driving.’

Milton Keynes has given segregation a bad name. So too have the sorts of ‘facility’ you probably know all too well, the ridiculous bits of so-called ‘cycling infrastructure’ you can see on Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘facility of the month’ webpages, and which inspired a book fittingly titled ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’. You know the kind of thing – truly rubbish bits of cycle lane which might be hilarious, were we not expected to ride on them. Cycle paths which suddenly disappear or stop at every junction aren’t just inconvenient, they’re dangerous too. Bad segregation makes cycling more difficult. It hinders cycling, both our own and that of others. It certainly doesn’t help people who want to cycle actually do so. Segregation done badly is something we definitely don’t want.

If we know what we don’t want, how do we get what we do?

Newcastle Cycling Campaign last year ran a ‘Loopy Lanes’ campaign, highlighting the awful quality of cycling provision across the city. Unlike London, there’s no sign yet of a ‘cycling revolution’ taking place here. Campaign Chair Katja Leyendecker is an advocate of cycling for all, and this, she says, requires a transformation in existing conditions. ‘I don’t see how cycling will grow in the absence of segregated cycling on big, busy main roads.’ Have there, I ask her, been attempts to segregate cycling in the city?

‘Some attempts at making cycling safe on main roads have been made over the past 20 years or so, in dribs and drabs. But they still leave cyclists woefully exposed at junctions. There isn’t one example where cycling has priority over driving.’

Leyendecker says a new standard of segregation is essential if Britain is to get on its bike. ‘We must follow neither past nor current practice in the UK, but look elsewhere: to the Dutch, Danes and Germans. The UK has never built cycling facilities which actually advantage cycling over other modes, but if we want to get more people on bikes, hopefully women too this time, for an inclusive cycling revolution so to speak, that’s what we must do. Segregation’, she says, ‘is about integration, really, and inclusion.’ New improved segregation would make cycling continuous; giving the cyclist priority over drivers turning across her path. It also requires taking space from cars, both parked and moving.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is a new organisation inspired by Dutch cycling. It sees quality segregation as vital. Sally Hinchcliffe, its Secretary, says ‘it seems obvious that cycling won’t become mainstream until something’s done to make it feel safer. Clearly, we aren’t calling for separated tracks everywhere, but if you look at our main roads, they just look dangerous, especially if you don’t already cycle. Even sticking to back roads, there’s usually a nasty stretch of road that’s off-putting to all but a minority.’

‘Nobody’s going to let their children out on bikes where they have to negotiate heavy traffic or lorries, even slow-moving ones. Properly designed Dutch-style cycle tracks and networks make cycling easier as well as safer, allowing everyone to go at their own pace.’

For Tim Jones, greater separation of cycling from motorised traffic would enable a different culture of cycling to emerge:

‘Riding a bicycle shouldn’t require someone to become ‘a cyclist’. People shouldn’t have to wear specialist clothes and protective gear, or ride a sporty bike. Because segregated routes enable people to remain themselves whilst cycling, they allow a culture to flourish which is currently the preserve of the equipped – physically, mentally and materially speaking.’

A leap of faith’s required here. Because we’ve never done segregation well in the UK, we can’t predict precisely what its effects will be. What we can do is take seriously the consistently stated concerns of people who’d like to cycle but currently don’t, and respond accordingly – and that’s to build dedicated cycling routes on big, busy roads. We can also look to the higher levels of cycling wherever it is effectively segregated. And we can note how current integration, although it’s clearly substandard, simply isn’t making city cycling a normal thing to do.

London shows that some people will cycle without segregation. Other cities such as Cambridge and York have relatively healthy levels of cycling, achieved through integrating more than segregating it. Leicester and Sheffield have both won impressive recent gains without much segregation. Segregation isn’t everything. It’s not a cure-all. There’s more to building a broad, democratic cycling culture; for example, more effective integration via widespread 20 mph limits, and legislation and enforcement to promote greater respect and courtesy between cyclists and drivers. We need to work on two fronts: civilising our streets where we can; and separating cycling from flows of motorised traffic where we can’t, or at least not yet. The big challenge is to ensure any segregation is up to scratch – wide, well designed and maintained routes, with priority at junctions giving cycling an advantage over motorised modes. Quality segregation is not about getting cyclists out of the way; it’s about making cycling for everyone, viewing it as a more sensible way of making short urban journeys than the car. The struggle for safer integration must also continue alongside a push for more and better segregation, as part of efforts to get people cycling: cycle training results in more competent riding, irrespective of where that riding occurs; reduced speed limits and driver education encourage safer, more considerate driving and a more civil society.

Tim Jones says the way ahead requires quality segregation but as part of a broader package of measures: ‘Segregation’s a vital but insufficient ingredient.  Underpinning the success northern European cities with higher rates of cycling are strong policies that promote compact urban form and a land use diversity such that a range of activities are accessible close to home, but importantly, all this is complemented by restrictions on private car use. This creates an environment where travel by car is exceptional and cycling unexceptional and obvious. Dedicated cycle systems embedded within this context (including segregation and separate junction signals for cycles) render cycling safe, civilised and easy whether you’re 8 or 80, travelling alone or together.’

Only quality segregation will do, and only alongside integration. Both approaches work together, boosting cycling towards the mainstream. Many campaigners agree. Dave du Feu of Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaign, says ‘a pragmatic approach which blends elements of segregation and integration is the way forward. This defines Spokes’ current strategy in its work in and around Edinburgh.’ There’s no conflict between segregation and integration; we need both, done well. So should we drop these terms, and talk instead of re-building our cities for cycling? Building ‘cities fit for cycling’ means being bold and ambitious for cycling, prioritising it over the car to build cities for everyone. Better segregation and better integration go hand-in-hand, promoting cycling and putting it at the heart of the twenty-first century sustainable city.


20 Responses to “Segregation v integration: which way now for UK cycling?”

  1. samsaundersbristol Says:

    And perhaps the advent of a dozen City Mayors provides a political target to attract the current range of cycling campaigners behind the coherent hybrid approach advocated here. If there are engineering professionals in the cities concerned, these people (a number who could fit in one room?) would also need to be generally sympathetic, informed and strategically experienced enough to know how to get the dream realised.

  2. Forrest Says:

    The UK offers generous incentives for people to commute by bike, don’t they?

    I commute by bike, mostly. Some of the reasons for this are personal, but others are practical: it takes slightly longer to get to work in the morning when I bike in, but, with our traffic situation, I usually get home faster on two wheels than in four. And my commute times are very predictable, it will take me about the same amount of time to get home today as it did yesterday. When I drive, it can be a 20 minute trip, but, if there’s a game or a concert, I can be stuck in my car for an hour or more. This isn’t especially particular to Seattle – change the specifics, and the situation applies to most any city.

    But my thought is that bike lanes and paths are wonderful things. I tend to prefer roads, especially quiet ones, but anything that draws more cyclists out is good for everyone.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks for your comment Forrest, but I have to disagree pretty strongly with your first, rhetorical (?) question – the UK does not unfortunately, currently, offer generous incentives for people to commute by bike. The complete opposite, in fact – to commute by bike in almost every town and city in the UK you have to either be (like me) a bit counter-cultural, so that all the disincentives to cycling can be re-worked, at the individual level, as (pseudo) incentives, or you have to risk your status and your life. I am very, very angry about the state of cycling, and about all the ways in which the terrible state of cycling is taken-for-granted and is continuously reproduced, even by many of those individuals and organisations who claim to be promoting it. Like you, at a personal level I have very little problem cycling, I prefer roads over cycle lanes, and I cycle everywhere; but this isn’t about people like us, it’s about people unlike us, and how to get them cycling, and for that to happen, we need some pretty seismic changes. So I certainly agree with your final claim – that bike lanes and paths are (or at least, when done well, can be) wonderful things. However until they form a network, and until that network forms part of a broader and deeper bicycle system, I’m afraid those like you and I will remain a minority, and – from a dominant/conventional perspective – very much second-class/inferior citizens. There’s a new ‘Summer of Cycling’ just been launched in the UK, partly I think to capitalise on 2012 London Olympic fever, and most of the UK cycling promotion industry is encouraging people to ‘get one more person cycling’. Aaarggghh! All this misplaced emphasis on prodding/nudging isolated individuals to start cycling in such an atrocious cycling environment, instead of combining anger and energy towards a fundamental transformation of conditions, which would make cycling the obvious, ‘natural’ choice (and perhaps see people such as us start to look elsewhere for resources to carve out ‘interesting’ identities). Sorry, you’ve caught me at a frustrated moment; I love cycling, but I want to see its benefits spread so much more widely.
      Thanks for your comment, and please, keep reading and responding. Best wishes, Dave

  3. Forrest Says:

    I guess I’ve either been confused, or misinformed. A year or two ago, I read (several times) that people in the UK were given a free bike of their choosing (I think it was some type of card that could be redeemed at a bike shop) every three to five years, if they affirmed that 90 % of the use they got from it would be commuting.

    This is probably the point where you tell me that anything sounding too good to be true probably is… 😉 Still, I’m sorry to hear this isn’t true – it gave me something to be jealous of.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Ahhh, that sounds a bit like the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme, under which – if you have an employer who participates – it’s possible to buy a bicycle tax-free. So, for example, a bike which might have cost £700 instead costs £450 (I’m making the figures up, but you get the general point). I don’t know of any robust evaluations of the scheme, but it’s undoubtedly encouraged people who might not otherwise have bought a bike to do so, and no doubt also encouraged others who would have bought a bike anyway to buy one of better quality and/or with more accessories. I bought a bike under the scheme, but reckon that in my particular case the final benefit to me was probably no greater than if I’d simply shopped around and taken advantage of one of the many ‘special offers’ or ‘sales’ which are regularly available from cycle retailers (under the scheme you have to purchase a bike at its full price). There have been some recent changes to the scheme, which I haven’t looked into. Still, I’d say that even if bikes were being given away, most people would of course probably grab one, but still wouldn’t routinely ride it – we’d just end up with even more bikes slowly rusting at the back of garages and sheds than we have today; “have bike, would love to ride, but no way out there, with all those crazy fast cars and crazy frustrated drivers!”.

  4. steve Says:

    “Milton Keynes has given segregation a bad name”

    No it hasn’t. In fact I find the Dr’s argument plain bonkers, the roads are too good so that means the cycle lanes must be bad, huh? The MK redways are by far the best cycle network in the UK bar none. Are they right for other places?, probably not, as room is too constrained in most towns and cities, but given the room they are the right solution.

    How much they are used is more complex, certainly getting into MK by bike is hard, as outside the limits of the old MK Corp Bucks CC did very little to help, with only major roads leading in. Even alternatives like the grand union are actually footpath only in the last MK stretch. Even given that the usage is perhaps more than you give the impression here, measuring usage on a couple of km of cycle lane is quite different to measuring it on 270Km.

    There are just as many crap on road facilities a their are off road ones, take the 1 1/2 miles of on road cycle lane outside my house, recently burnt off and replaced with pictures of bikes as random intervals, WTF is that about.

    Perhaps the CTC should be trying to educate planners more, it seems the common thread here is that people are well meaning but have mad ideas.

  5. Kim Says:

    Your description of integration of tamed motor traffic with cycling and segregation from high volume/fast moving motor traffic, sound very much like the Dutch solution which Cycling Embassy of Great Britain are calling for. If riding a bicycle as transport is ever going to become normal again (it was until the 1960’s), we have to ditch the current attitude to cycling, that it is either an extreme sport or a leisure past time, and not serious transport. Unfortunately certain mainstream cycling organisation insist in promoting this myth, with their mass rides once a year and survival training, rather than thinking about how to make the roads safe for people to ride bicycle or walk as the defult means of transport for jouneys. Instead the car is rapidly becoming the defult means of transport for jouneys of more that 200m.

  6. Luke Says:

    People talk about the high or healthy levels of cycling in York and Cambridge. They’re wrong. Considering both cities are flat, medieval (ie not designed for cars), and have loads of students without cars, why are there so FEW cyclists? That’s what we should be asking.

  7. Tim Jones Says:

    Dear Steve

    Thank you for you comments. I think you have misinterpreted my point. Of course the two (design road system v cycle system) are not mutually exclusive but when one system has clear advantages over the other then it will clearly win out.

    MK was never designed around the bicycle but was designed around distributing (and parking) car traffic as efficiently as possible – the layout of MK (with many zoned activities and lack of frontages along distributor roads) is predicated on car use.

    The segregated cycle system, on the otherhand, was developed as an afterthought with resulting routes often circuitous and through excluded areas let alone far from engineered to the standards one would expect of a truly efficient cycle system.

    Taking into account the MK transport ‘system’ as a whole then, and the clear bias towards moving cars and not bicycles, I am suggesting that MK does not provide a template for a segregated cycle system for say future new town in the UK, in fact, far from it.

    If you want an example of a new town where the bicycle was planned into the system from scratch and is advantaged over car use for intra urban journeys then you need to look at examples like Houten in the Netherlands - – I expect residents of this town would balk at the idea that cycling has been taking seriously in MK!

    Anwyay thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Best wishes


    • amcambike Says:

      Houten has an excellent system of heavily segregated bike paths, that was an integral part of its urban design. It also has a cycling rate lower than the national average, and the rate is declining. Evidently planning the bike into the system is not the whole story.

  8. amcambike Says:

    Why do you want to ‘see more people on bikes’ and ‘promote cycling’ anyway? That question seems relevant to your concern, that conditions in Britain are so bad that they deter cycling.

    Cycling has no environmental benefits in itself, and it has no health benefits that can not be obtained from other forms of exercise. So why should the government promote cycling specifically?

    Probably there are political reasons for cycle advocates to evade this issue, but it seems reasonable that a researcher is explicit about policy goals, when assessing transport policy issues. Why do you expect cycling to ‘transform cities’ and in what way?

    Cycling promotion often uses these kind of hollow phrases, and it is always a goes what they mean. Of course I suspect a political background, there usually is when people advocate government policy. But rather than speculate, it would be better if you stated the benefits you expect form ‘more people on bikes’, and also that you were explicit about what that means, in terms of modal split, frequency of use, and type of journey. That would also help to understand what exactly is being deterred by the road and traffic conditions.

    • sicrates Says:

      I think you are being disingenuous here. Cycling is a form of transport, and by replacing other forms of transport there is an environmental benefit. Likewise, the health benefits you can gain whilst travelling to work are difficult to get without cycling. Isn’t this fairly obvious?

      • amcambike Says:

        Cycling does not necessarily displace other forms of transport, and there may be no environmental gain even if it does. The health benefits of cycling to work are marginal for typical short commutes, and may be less than for walking. The issue is what exactly Dave Horton is promoting. Recreational cycling in cities?

      • Harry Ramsdens Says:

        “cycling does not necessarily displace other forms of transport”

        “Cycling has no environmental benefits in itself, and it has no health benefits that can not be obtained from other forms of exercise.”

        What rubbish! The only circumstances when this cycling doesn’t displace another journey is leisure cycling, which is largely outside the terms of the safety debate because it’s easy to choose where you cycle for leisure, but you can’t choose your route to work, or the route your children take to school. These are journeys that frequently replace motor or public transport ones, and safety is paramount, and the environmental benefits self-evident.

        You make a point to compare the health benefits of cycling to walking. But why not a more meaningful comparison with the health ‘benefits’ of driving or getting a bus? In a large city there are few people who live close enough to walk to work (and thus gain health benefits) but hundreds of thousands live close enough to cycle and could improve their health dramatically by getting exercise every day.

        Cycling is a cheap and convenient way to integrate regular exercise into daily life. Surely this is a more practical means towards improving mass public health than state-sponsored zumba classes (or whatever)?

  9. snibgo Says:

    To me, the imperative isn’t to increase cycling, but to decrease motoring. If UK cycling increased tenfold, the reduction in motoring would be scarcely noticeable. The damage to communities — rural as well as cities — is caused by our slavery to cars. Our society has arranged itself to encourage, almost to mandate, the use of cars.

    We allow cars to block pavements so wheelchair-users must take to the road in order to “overtake”. This is lunacy.

    Thus, I think the integrate/segregate argument is moot. If we want to make a serious difference, we must make motoring less attractive than cycling and walking. We must make active travel the obvious choice, the no-brainer. And that means, among other measures, disadvantaging the motorist.

  10. Ralph Says:

    With the low modal share that cycling suffers in the UK (2% of all journeys) the arguments for and against segregation are hypothetical.

    It is clear from the recent Transport Select Committee that government has a direction of travel which includes cycling as a public health measure implemented locally.

    Given that cycling can be a realistic option for journeys up to 5 km in length, there really is a case for barriers to cycling being removed on a settlement by settlement basis.

    For example, London has seen a dramatic growth in cycling, primarily commuting into the square mile and to universities inside the congestion charge zone. There is still a massive opportunity for improving provision for cycle commuters in the outer London boroughs.

    It’s likely that different local authorities will have varying appetites for implementing change and in the current political environment, in which councils are reducing costs, it’s likely that community-led proposals can succeed.

    There is growing evidence that local activists can influence policy to the benefit of cyclists. There is a logical progression of measures – I see the political challenge as first getting elected members to consider the needs of cyclists, then to deliver low risk (i.e. low budget) schemes so that they are in the habit of allocating resources to cycling.

  11. When ‘ordinary cycling’ meets a hill « thinking about cycling Says:

    […] is safe, whether or not people are inherently lazy (and so reluctant to get onto bicycles), or whether segregation or integration is the way ahead for UK cycling. It’s an awkwardness based on an awareness that both ‘sides’ have a point, but […]

  12. Janet Paske Says:

    I’m a passionate cyclist and love your blogs. Please keep posting.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Janet, just what I like (and need!) to hear. I’ll keep posting so long as you keep reading! And you keep up your great work for cycling too, please!
      All the best, Dave

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: