Cycling struggles, 1

This is the first in a series of short case studies examining how different people do and don’t move around English cities by cycle. (With luck and a tailwind, I aim to do about ten between now and Christmas.) Like those which will follow, it comes from fieldwork I conducted as part of the Understanding Walking and Cycling project, which ran between 2008 and 2011.

People’s own words are always within speech marks and italicised. I’ll sometimes add words in […], [like this], in an attempt to clarify potentially unclear meaning. I have changed people’s names, and am not drawing direct attention to locations (partly in a bid to make it harder to identify people, and partly because I believe the issues I’m trying to raise are not specific to place, but are much more general – certainly across urban Britain, and I think further afield too).

Most of the data I’m using comes from either a sit-down interview (which usually took place in people’s own homes); or from conversations and observations undertaken before, during and after riding alongside (and/or behind) people making one of their usual journeys by bike.

1. Rick’s cycling story

Rick is in his forties. He lives with his wife and dog in a modest but comfortable terraced house about a mile out of the city centre. He and his wife have a car and a bike each. Rick works as a peripatetic care worker, moving between the homes of disabled clients, who – with his help – live independently. Although he uses a car for many of his other journeys, and walks extensively, Rick has recently switched from driving to cycling as his main way of getting around at work.

“For the last two months I’ve been going round by bike. I got sick to death of the traffic, absolutely sick to death, especially with the road works when they were doing them. It drove me crazy. I just got sick to death of it; you’re stuck in traffic and you can’t get round quick enough. And now it’s actually quicker.”

His decision to start cycling for work can be dated: “6th October I made the decision. Stuck in traffic for an hour. Gridlock. I was just angry and also, you can’t get to people; I’m going to see diabetics who need regular feeding, regular insulin and regular tablets; if you are late for them it’s dangerous.”

His employer has been “quite supportive”, allowing him to shift his workload towards a set of clients within an area small enough to be cycled. He carries stuff in a ruck-sack (he has considered, but decided against, at least for now, panniers).

A big problem is finding somewhere to park his bike outside clients’ homes – “it’s not a posh bike, it’s not worth a tenner, but that is a problem”. (At home he stores his bike in the backyard; his wife’s bike, stored in the cellar, “doesn’t get used very much at all.”)

Nonetheless, he does feel a certain stigma. “There is a down side to it though. People do think you are somehow poor – ‘you’ve not come in a car?’, ‘you’ve not driven?’ As though it’s a little bit weird … Certainly for some people in the office it’s a bit of an odd thing to do, to choose to do it, because you are also given a [car] mileage allowance.”

There’s no mileage allowance for cycling journeys; only those made by car. This allowance normalises car use amongst his colleagues, and renders his choice to cycle less ‘logical’. Perhaps strangely, Rick doesn’t mind not getting a cycling allowance: “Fair do’s I suppose; there’s no cost to it, it’s the bike that I actually had when I came [to this town] so it’s 15 years old. What’s a helmet and a few batteries?”.

Rick cycled more regularly in the past, but for ten years until recently he’d become an occasional leisure cyclist – he’d go on a ride, perhaps with his wife, on a sunny summer’s day. As he says, it was local traffic congestion which got him more regularly back in the saddle, but he’s also aware that cycling is saving him money and could help combat growing middle-aged spread:

“I have felt a lot better, an awful lot better this last couple of months … I actually feel a lot healthier, I’ve lost 6 pounds which is bound to go on over Christmas, but it’s best to lose it then put it on again, rather than have it on all the time; I’ve felt a lot younger actually strangely enough and I’ve had a warm self-satisfied ‘I’m doing my bit’ glow to myself. So it’s worked quite well”.

He enjoys cycling “big time, but I’m not evangelical about it.”

The weather hadn’t put him off thus far. He started cycling regularly in October, which “was nice wasn’t it? … I got into it. And then the rain came in November. I thought ‘oh well, I’m hard, I used to be hard, it didn’t used to bother me. Just do it’.”

Talking to Rick about how he connects his clients’ homes by bike, I’m struck by how skilled is his route planning; “Well I walk the dog so I use the same routes as for walking, walking the dog”.

A new walking and cycling link through the hospital and over the canal is “a boon to me, because you can go from here to [another area] without going on the main road … and it’s flat and it’s safe and it’s doable for me.”

Rick’s figured out how best to keep off the main roads. He knows all the quietest routes; he utilises bridleways (“mud’s nothing to me”). Some of his methods are ingenious; “When I’m around [particular suburb], instead of using the main road there are lots of alley ways; although they are cobbled it keeps you off the road and that’s the one thing I am really worried about.”

But of course, Rick’s routes aren’t always coherent; they can’t always get him where he needs to go. So, what happens then?

“I don’t like going on the road, particularly [name of road, very close to his home], which I find the most dangerous, frightening experience, especially the pinch points round by the post office and the fish shop because you get the traffic there, the narrow lanes, you get parking either side, you get the wagons [trucks] which have been sent through town.”

“The buses and wagons thunder past, and the number of times I’ve had to pull in off the road on to the pavement because they don’t seem to give a monkey’s.”

So Rick avoids riding on these bigger local roads. But he’s not a pavement cyclist. When he’s forced onto the pavement, he dismounts and pushes his bike.

He also pushes his bike up the sharper short hills in the district – “you do use the gradient; it works”.

Rick avoids this traffic island (photo below) too (although since talking to him, it has undergone changes in an effort to make it more legible and welcoming to cyclists unwilling to negotiate it by road); “I’ve had a couple of run-ins there … I’m frightened in that respect.”

His basic position is clear, and something he reiterates at various points during our conversation: “I don’t feel safe. Cars and bikes don’t always mix. Particularly, it’s the big wagons and the big buses. I don’t want to get killed or knocked off”. At his age, he says,you do think about it, you don’t have the same blasé attitude to it.”

But still, he rides …

There’s a deep – and I think very revealing – irony to Rick’s story. The ‘final straw’ which got him cycling was road-works at a key local junction, which for a while caused serious congestion, and made it difficult for him to make his usual journeys by car. These road-works were aimed at re-designing the junction in cycle-friendly ways. The works represented a big and high-profile investment in cycling.

Yet Rick still won’t cycle through this junction.

“This sounds quite cowardly but at [name of junction] I’ll get off my bike and walk it through because I don’t like going through that amount of traffic. I’d much rather stay off the road and away from the vehicular traffic.”

Have the recent changes not improved things?

“I don’t see any difference at all. I really don’t, because having the red bits at traffic lights in front of cars, I don’t feel confident enough and I don’t think many people do, to go out in there. You want to be at the side, cyclists generally tend to do that. It seems they’ve spent an awful lot of money and there’s been absolutely no improvement for anybody. I’d rather go under the canal or get off and walk there.

Rick gets off and walks his bicycle across other junctions, such as the one below, which has also been rendered ‘cycle-friendly’. (You can see that Rick is not alone in taking to the pavement here, though some riders don’t dismount.)

What would Rick like to see?

“Proper cycle paths – separate or on the quiet roads. There are little bits of red and it’s no good having them, because as soon as you come to the difficult points and the pinch points where the cars are parked, you have to go out … these little stop, start ones – stop, start, stop, start.”

“Separate cycle tracks, they’re the big thing, because you feel a lot more safe.”


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26 Responses to “Cycling struggles, 1”

  1. fonant Says:

    A fascinating story, and one that I suspect is being repeated all over the UK. I love the fact that he’s feeling so much better, and saddened by the fact that as usual he’s expected to “be brave” and mix it with heavy and fast-moving vehicles to get anywhere by bike.

    I’m impressed with his dedication to walking when on pavements. Personally if I feel the need to use the pavement with my bike I will ride it, remembering to give plenty of space, or stopping, if there are pedestrians around too. The additional effort to stop, get off (especially with my son or daughter on the back), walk, get back on, and get going again, is significant and worthless. There is no safety benefit, and when walking my bike takes up more space and is less easily controlled.

    I can see no logical reason why cycling on some pavements (ones converted to shared-use with some paint and some signs) is apparently legal and not a problem, while cycling on other pavements is a criminal offence with fixed penalty notices applicable.

    The physical situation is the same in both cases. The criminal offence is only there because historically (before cars were invented) a bicycle was deemed to be a “carriage” and thus had to stay in the “carriageway”.

    But, yes, people on bicycles need their own dedicated infrastructure, away from both pedestrians and motor vehicles, if we’re ever going to have significant numbers of ordinary people using bicycles for local transport.

  2. HKCambridge Says:

    Worth mentioning that employers can pay tax-free cycle mileage at a rate of 20p per mile. Most don’t. I can’t get my employer to see the benefit, even though they’re quite good to cyclists otherwise, with plenty of work showers and covered cycle parking.

  3. Wolf Simpson (@Dark_Wolf) Says:

    Perhaps the Cycle to Work scheme could sort him for a better bike too…

    • Dave Horton Says:

      It was interesting, though, how at several points during our conversation he made it clear that he was perfectly happy with the bike he rode. I’m not sure why this is. Do ‘we’ (an assumption) ‘cycling enthusiasts’ tend to fetishise bicycles, seeing them as more important than they actually are to many people? All Rick seemingly wanted was a machine which got him around a relatively limited area more quickly, cheaply and healthily than his car. Is part of ‘our work’ the promotion of ‘appropriate bicycles’, or should we concentrate on getting the conditions for cycling ‘appropriate’, and leave it to people to figure out how much they want to spend, if anything, on the machinery by which to negotiate those conditions? I’m just thinking aloud; I don’t know. But examining my own biography, my hunch is that personal financial investments in cycling (‘to the next level’, rather than simply replacing stuff which wears out) tend closely to follow an expansion in my cycling horizons; my sense is that many of the people I’ve met, including Rick, are keen to cycle but that they have pretty limited (at least for now) cycling horizons. These are precisely the people we want to get cycling more. So does one question then become, ‘do we erect another potential barrier to their cycling, by suggesting they need a better bike and more specialist equipment?’ Or another question, ‘will encouraging people to equip themselves ‘appropriately’ facilitate and enhance a positive cycling experience and make it more likely that they’ll stick with cycling over the medium to longer terms?’

      One thing which strikes me about Rick’s cycling, and some of the other people I’ll be writing about over the next couple of months, is how in an important way they’re engaged in ‘experiments in cycling’. My guess would be that – with the currently high-profile (and in some ways elevated status) of cycling – there will be many more people across Britain similarly now engaged in their own ‘experiments in cycling’. People test it out and see if they can make it work for them, in the context of their own lives (although as Rick’s story suggests, people also change those lives in the process – cycling has to fit into a life, but that life also changes around the cycling). Of course, I (and I assume you) want these experiments to be ‘successful’, and to lead to more cycling. But raise the stakes too much at this early, exploratory level, do we risk putting people off? Tell them that, ‘actually, you really should spend £450 to get a bike which is up to the job and which you’ll enjoy riding’, and we might knock them back. We want them to engage in testing …

      There are important questions to do with paternalism here. I think a ‘paternalistic’ (excuse the potential sexism of the language) attitude should prevail at the broadest level, when we’re thinking about the kind of world and society we want, the kind of cities we want, and how we institutionalize cycling as part of that world/society/city. This requires production of space/environment conducive to cycling. There’s a paternalism there, for sure. But maybe it’s appropriate, and better than a paternalism at more ‘intimate’, ‘personal’ levels, which could just come across as ‘elitist, smug, self-satisfied, ‘we know best’ interference’.

      I still don’t know quite where I’m going with this, but it sounds like I’m saying something along the lines of “let’s get the broader picture sorted – as The Times’ says (although its manifesto is not ambitious enough), ‘make our cities fit for cycling’ – and then let people figure out more-or-less for themselves how to get cycling within that new context (though I’m not saying good schemes, services and support aren’t important – of course they are).”

      Sorry to give such a lengthy response to so simple and sensible a suggestion; just for me the suggestion triggered a brief moment of mental activity which producing a blog can render transparent and public! Yikes!

      Cheers, Dave

      • psychobikeology Says:

        Dave, this is just great – to hear experiences of day to day-to-day active travel from (ahem) ‘real’ people – (that sounds wrong, but you know what I mean – I’m sure there is a better way of saying that in sociologist-speak).

        My own situation is that I’ve kind of nailed my colours to the mast as a “cyclist”, in that I belong to my local cycling campaign and am slightly active within it. I’m completely convinced of the importance and the socio-politics of cycling. Yet in practice, for most of the journeys I take, it just seems easier to walk – less faff and hassle basically. Is it because I don’t have the ‘skills’? Well I did acquire those vehicular riding-in-traffic skills at one point – but working myself up into reacquiring them seems like a wearisome prospect.

        And if I – who has some cycling experience and who knows the statistics about relative safety – can feel like that, then of course the people who just want to get around with no hassle can be put off by messages which only seem to add to their difficulty.

        So yes, I’d say that a message which can be heard as “here’s how to do it properly; you must have the right equipment; you must follow these rules” represents a barrier. Cycling enthusiasts can actually seem quite scary – even yourself I have to say … 🙂 Just tame the blasted motor traffic! Is it because that seems such an impossible task that we resort to what is possible rather than necessary?

        I’ve been following your blog for a while btw and have had thoughts in response to a number of your posts, (but have found my comments too time-consuming to articulate). Many thanks for writing this – I look forward to the other cycling-histories.

  4. Christine Jones Says:

    Worth doing. This story is in many ways similar to many cyclists. I find it very frustrating this same story has been told since the 80’s and still it’s not just the same, it’s far worse. What then? What will it take to for us to have legislation putting cycle paths in at the planning stage of road building and maintenance. What will it take for the government to change the law making driving a lethal weapon into a human being on a bike a punishable offence. Hit and run should be seen as no respect for human life and therefore a lifetime ban for instance. If you drive a lethal weapon you need to face the consequences when you point it at someone. I see what you are trying to do but how can we get this information to anyone who once they’ve listened will actually do something?

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  6. phil Says:

    bikeability adult cycle training rolled out to people really will improve safety for all road users and give cyclists confidence to tackle those – vehicle biased – road junctions – keep pedaling

    • Fonant (@fonant) Says:

      Can you really train enough adults to make any impact? I reckon you’d need to train around 20% of the population, some 12 million people, before you’d trained everyone who rides a bike at least once a month. Then you’ve got many more millions to train to try to encourage those who don’t ride a bike.

      Even then, training can only help a little bit, and only in a few situations. A car driver texting on their mobile, or a lorry driver who overtakes and then turns left, still has just as much potential to kill and injure a cyclist in their path, however much the cyclist has been trained.

      My non-cycling friends who don’t cycle because it’s too dangerous, are no more likely to take Bikeability training than they are to take training to parachute jump.

      Adult cycle training should not be needed if the cycling environment was made safe. The perceived need for cyclists to learn “self defence” techniques to ride in the UK is a massive symptom that our road conditions for cyclists are terrible.

      • phil Says:

        yup – your opinion – there is no such thing as ‘the cycling environment’ we all share the road

      • Fonant (@fonant) Says:

        In the UK we’re forced to, yes. Other countries provide cycling environments that are safe enough for 8-year-olds to cycle to and from school on their own. Why should people on bicycles have to share the road with heavy motor vehicles? Pedestrians aren’t expected to!

        How many people do you think you need to train to Bikeability levels in order to make cycling safe and pleasant in the UK?

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Hi Phil

        Thanks for your comments. As you’ll probably have guessed though, I tend to agree with Fonant. Because we don’t “all share the road”; most people who would love to cycle have been driven off it!

        It sometimes seems to me that one reason why there’s a disagreement (and nothing wrong with disagreement, especially if something productive can come of it) between cycling advocates here is based around what we want. Many cycle campaigners seem to be concerned about providing for existing cyclists, and are keen not to compromise the ‘freedoms’ of existing cyclists. But I think more recently we’ve seen a turn (and I myself have made this turn) towards a more impatient style of advocacy which isn’t really interested in providing for cyclists, nor even – actually – in promoting cycling, if promoting cycling means bits and bobs of infrastructure designed to ‘promote’ rather than to ‘produce’ cycling; and I think it’s very actively producing cycling which is what people such as Fonant and I are now pushing for. And the production of mass cycling will require conditions to change in ways which will tread on the toes (‘grind in the gears’?!) of more experienced cyclists, who often think it’d be easier if people could just become as competent and fearless as they are.

        It took me three years of listening to people’s experiences to realise I’ve spent most of my life ensconced in a ‘cycling advocate ideology’, which made me almost totally oblivious to the difficulties most people confront in imagining either themselves or their loved ones riding on today’s roads. (In fact, I was pretty oblivious to these difficulties, because you don’t find them unless you look for them, and as a cycle campaigner you’re much more likely to hear ‘good news stories’, based around people who are successfully ‘making the transition’ – they’re the stories we all want to hear and we’ve become pretty good at providing them for ourselves and each other!)

        These days I often conduct an experiment. As I ride along an A road (there’s one which I deliberately use for this purpose – the A6 south of Lancaster between the town centre and the University; but you can choose any other – often we’ve developed routes which avoid them, but it’s still worth occasionally seeking them out, I think), I try genuinely to experience how close some of the cars, trucks and buses are coming, and – were I not so acculturated to it – how that actually feels; and then I imagine people I know (my children, my neighbours, choose who you like ..) being in my place, and how I would feel about them being there, and also how they might cope.

        Quite rightly, you might say, ‘well they need cycle training!’ And I agree, of course they do. But we will never get to mass everyday cycling down this route; it’s too individual, too incremental. We need cycle training, but as part of broader changes to create a cycling environment – yes, a cycling environment! – which is accessible (appealing, attractive) to most people, and then we can work on their skills as effective, competent, respectable cyclists. Most people don’t want to be taught to ride in the ‘primary position’, and quite right too (they’re not assertive advocates out to prove a point, but merely people trying to get around as conveniently and as safely as they can). (And I know something for sure, if I rode ‘primary position’ down the section of A6 I mentioned above, I’d be in the Royal Lancaster Infirmary before I could shout ‘treat me like a car, you tosser!’)

        I’m very happy to continue the debate, but I just wanted to make it obvious – in case it wasn’t – broadly which side I am on, here.

        Best wishes

    • Christine Jones Says:

      Bikeability is good but I agree the roads could follow simple principles like in Holland and be safer. Towns stay under 20mph, we can all share the road with dedicated paths and cut throughs where available. 60mph roads provide a separate path or route on a disused railway, along rivers and canals etc. Seeing things like the painted path for cyclists on the A14 makes me want to ask who ever commissioned such insanity to attempt to cycle on it. Perceived safety is down to the roads being slower places. 30mph is too fast. Coupled with the fact that cars are marketed as bullet proof – more needs to be done to deter drivers from driving like movie stars.

  7. S Says:

    The four things that struck me about Rick’s story were:

    1 Confirmation that dedicated, segregated cycling infrastructure that enables people to avoid the busier roads is the only way to get the vast majority of people to consider cycling as a serious transport option;

    2 The ‘cycle friendly improvements’ to existing junctions may (and that is a big ‘may’) make things better for existing cyclists but are highly unlikely to make any difference to persuading non-cyclists to get on a bike;

    3 Even for the few of us who do cycle, secure parking remains an issue. It is entirely possible that Rick might end up cycling less if he had a more expensive bike as the fear of having it nicked or stripped increases – certainly my experience when I upgraded, suddenly the pootle to the supermarket where the bike racks are hidden became out of bounds;

    4 The low status issue is interesting. People do see you as odd, assume you are poor and make other value judgements about you as well as holding you responsible for the actions of every other cyclist. ‘Why do you/ I hope you don’t jump red lights’. To which they are always confused when I reply ‘Why do you/ I hope you don’t kill people’. However, I also judge myself harshly – the cowardice and sense of failure as a real cyclist when I dismount to get over a particularly scary roundabout.

    I look forward to the rest of the series Dave.

  8. Richard BrainsLike (@Donkey_Hoty) Says:

    Stupid Q; (Normal for a brain Like mine) If the bicycle is needed for your employment could you get an allowance from the Tax man? There is a cost, in terms of wear & tear, tyre, mech, servicing Etc.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Hi Richard

      Not at all a stupid question; rather, the kind of question which increasingly and recurrently needs to be asked, if we’re to achieve a successful transition from one, deeply problematic mode of mobility (the car), to another, much more enlightened one (the bicycle). So please, keep asking such things!

      Indeed, some employers do pay a ‘cycling allowance’, a kind of equivalent to the more usual (hegemonic) ‘driving allowance’. When I worked at Lancaster University, if I used my own bike (e.g. for fieldwork) rather than the work Brompton, I was able to claim 20 pence/mile. I’m not sure of the details here, but most employers don’t offer this allowance, and I’m not sure how responsive most employers are, when their employees lobby for it.

      Of course, in the ideal pro-cycling world which we’re working towards, this kind of cycling allowance would be obvious, straightforward, ordinary. (As with most things, we need a reversal of the current situation, away from one which favours the car (continuously reproducing car travel as ordinary), and towards one favouring the bicycle (so that cycling is instead reproduced as ordinary).

      Thanks for reading

    • Hester (@hesterkw) Says:

      Since posting above, I have found that even if you aren’t reimbursed cycle mileage you can still claim tax relief on 20p a mile. Unless you’re filling in a tax return already, or you do substantial mileage, it’s probably not worth it. But it can be done.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Thanks for the update Hester; that’s good to know (it’s also great to know that some people who read this blog come back again; I sometimes wonder! ;-). (If I can convince the Inland Revenue that all the riding I do is for work, I should probably claim, but am not sure they’ll believe me if I say it’s six or seven thousand?!)
        All the best

  9. Anna Says:

    A couple of years ago, my hubbie and me had to go to a relative’s funeral in South London, we live in Oxford and the obvious thing to do was to take our bikes and go by train. We got a very frosty reception from some of the other rellies, people thought we were being disrespectful and someone asked (probably jokingly) if we were on hard times. No, there was no bike parking at the crem. We do a lot of cycling and it is quite a shock when you come up against these old prejudices about people who cycle when you fondly imagine the world has moved on.
    It’s good that Rick’s employer was supportive because I’ve heard of people being told by their employer that they were not allowed to arrive on a bike (estate agent) because it would give the wrong impression.
    I’m a supporter of Bikeability but I wish it could be made part of the driving test for cars! I live near a horrible bit of road – the road narrows (and the on-road cycle path disappears) 50m before the road dips under a railway bridge and rises to traffic lights. It’s very busy, on the way into town, and cyclists get jammed into the gutter or completely obstructed. The pavement is about 18 ins wide and is on one side only so cyclists can’t use it. Over the last few years, cyclists have become more confident and many now go down the outside of the line of traffic (why do motorists cleave to the gutter?) and pull around to the advance stop box by the traffic lights. I’ve been interested in watching this change and have wondered whether it is because of cycle training (this is Oxford so it is not unknown) or just imitation. You have to be reasonably confident to do this although you can usually stay to the left of the centre line and traffic coming the other way will almost always be going slowly. I do it because I don’t like being confined in the gutter and I actually feel safer going on the outside and then to the front.
    I think cycle training for adults is useful because it raises awareness that a bike is a vehicle too – a friend was injured by a cyclist cycling the wrong way down an on-road cycle lane (i.e. he was cycling as though we ride/drive on the right!!).
    Lastly, to my amazement, I recently discovered a fantastic shared cycle/pedestrian route over a huge new roundabout on the outskirts of Reading. I would definitely not have dared to cycle one metre of road on this roundabout and I was so pleased to see that somehow, the funding had stretched to considering other road users. It was such a big roundabout it must have been a major infrastructure project so a take heart (well, a bit anyway!).

  10. Matt Hodges Says:

    It’s a chicken and egg situation. We can’t get good Dutch style facilities until we get Dutch cycling numbers, which we won’t get until we get Dutch facilities.
    Your A6 South out of Lancaster is a case in point. There is plenty of room for a good cycle track beside the road all the way to Hala but it is dedicated to car parking. Politicians will not get rid of the car parking until cycling delivers more votes than parking.
    So where do we go from here? We campaign frustratingly to get more people cycling in the conditions we have in the hope that we can get enough cyclists to carry weight with the politicians. But many of our keen club cyclists do nothing to help. Many won’t ride their bikes into town and I have been told I’m stupid for cycling on the A6 and round the giratory.

    We must also make common cause with pedestrians and public transport where we can to limit the car and civilise the city. Could a bus lane on at least part of the A6 get enough political support to get rid of some of the car parking and make Park and ride viable? 20 mph is already starting to help but it has to come because it’s good for pedestrians. Cycling is a collateral beneficiary.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Matt

      I tend to agree with the chicken-and-egg situation, BUT I also think that: i) leads towards defeatism, if we’re not careful: and ii) systems (and urban transport, politics, mass media, public opinion, cycling, driving are all intersecting systems) are much more complex, and prone to sometimes unpredictable, sometimes unintended change, and we ourselves are important ‘agents of change’ who can help to make unexpected things happen.

      Personally, as well of course in having a vested interest (I want the A6 to be a much more civilised place for cycling), I’ll be following how Lancashire County Council (rather a dinosaur, when it comes to transport practice) responds to the kind of changes we see happening in London. *If* London gets very serious about embracing the bicycle as a mode of everyday transport for all, then there will inevitably be repercussions elsewhere in Britain. This doesn’t mean ‘letting London take the lead’ – positive change is more likely to happen in London if there are also voices clamouring for change across Britain; and it will be up to us to make the case, to insist, that what’s happening in London can happen here too. But it’s plausible that London could prove to be the epicentre of the ‘systemic shock’ which is so urgently required to Britain’s urban transport.

      Thanks for reading!
      Best wishes

  11. Brian Fernée Says:

    I live in Milton Keynes, and I used to cycle to work (now retired) most days doing something like 20miles using mostly cycle/pedestrian cycleways, called redways were you can get to most parts of Milton Keynes mostly separated from cars and other vehicles, the cycle paths do cross some roads, but at big junctions for cars, the cyclist go under or over them. There is somewhere in the region of 200 kilometers of these cycle routes.

    But the car still seems to be King, yes its easy to get around by car and parking is quite easy.

    I don’t see much comment in the press or the cycle magazine, re cycling in Milton Keynes.

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  13. goetzendaemmerung Says:

    Thanks for that!

    Can I come back to the specific point about Rick opting not to cycle through junctions with new “cycling-friendly” layouts? That’s his prerogative, I’m certainly not saying that he’s making the wrong choice there. But the planners don’t seem to have achieved what they were aiming for, and now you have left me wondering about why that might have been the case. I can think of two possible reasons, maybe there are others:

    1) Bad design, or
    2) Good design, but rubbish marketing

    Was the new layout/paint job just dumped down on the road, or were people given any help interpreting it? Was anything done to try and “sell it” to people, or to explain to them what the planners were thinking or how it is supposed to work? It’s obviously not practicable to give the entire cycling population of a town formal training on every new road layout, or full Bikeability training, but I can think of fairly quick and cheap ways of introducing design features that haven’t been used much in an area before.

    1) A local leaflet drop – a short text and a few basic images explaining what has been done to the junction, why, and how it works (at which points must drivers yield to cyclists or pay extra attention to whether there are cyclists, for example).

    2) Invite local residents to a “cycle with the mayor and the engineer on Saturday morning” type of event when the roadworks are complete and before the route is re-opened to traffic.

    3) Brief induction sessions in schools.

    4) A local helpline. Ideally every local authority would already have a Potholes/Glass Helpline. The staff in charge of that could presumably also invite and respond to queries from members of the public about route planning and junction layouts.

    All junctions obviously have to be legible to local and non-local cyclists and drivers alike. I’m not suggesting that local planners could tear up the rule book (rather than following national and international best practice) and then write leaflets to explain their crazy logic. But if national guidelines dicate physical changes at local level and the reasons for those changes are not understood, maybe local communication channels should be employed. Build it, don’t leave everyone wondering what it is and how it works, and maybe then they will come?

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks very much goetzendaemmerung, for all that – very good points, and the kind of thing which typically isn’t – but ought to be – done after so-called ‘cycling improvements’. (My (not very well-informed) sense is that Sustrans – the charitable organisation behind the ‘National Cycle Network’ is a lot better at this kind of surrounding/supporting publicity than are most local authorities.)

      But I think the more fundamental problem is your first reason – bad design: the changes made aren’t substantial/ambitious enough to satisfy ‘timid’ cyclists such as Rick into using them, let alone non-cyclists into using them. And that is their main point – to get new people (‘non-cyclists’) cycling; but in this they’re not fit to task. So we can explain to people how they’re supposed to negotiate them (whether by bike, car, on foot), but that will have limited (albeit probably some) effect, if what people want is: either the motorised traffic to be so civilised that it no longer feels threatening; and/or cycling to be effectively separated from it.

      I know we can’t jump into a perfect cycle-friendly world straight away, but at junctions such as this one we need a set of institutions bold enough to i) take lots of space away from motorised traffic (enough to make people go ‘ouch!’); ii) effectively (which probably requires policing) slow motorised traffic down to below 20 mph; iii) reallocate the freed-up space to quality dedicated (and to some extent protected) space for both walking and cycling. Only then will we be sending a powerful, unambiguous message that we’re starting to re-structure our towns and cities away from the car and back towards people.

      I feel sorry for the planners, designers, engineers and builders in a case such as this. They are only doing what’s deemed politically feasible, and even then they’re stretching the limits. But it’s stretching the limits of the current paradigm, which isn’t enough; we need a paradigm shift (where even the worst cycling infrastructure would be better than the best possible under the current paradigm). But however much you’re paid, surely it must be soul-destroying to invest so much hard work into something which has so little effect? (I’m surprised I haven’t met more disillusioned ex-planners, ex-designers, ex-engineers and ex-builders who have realised this isn’t the way to mainstream cycling and who have become radicalised; but I suppose they’re probably more likely to have given up and either made a career-change or else slipped back into their old ways!)

      I’m not disagreeing with your sensible suggestions – they’re all things which should certainly happen; but by themselves I fear they’re simply not enough.

      Thanks for reading and commenting in such detail – much appreciated.
      Best wishes

  14. Driving struggles - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed Says:

    […] No real 'struggles' Interesting to compare with people's stories about their attempts to cycle:…g-struggles-1/…g-struggles-2/ […]

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