Tuesday 22 January 2013

Get Your Hands Off OUR Cyclepath

It seems to be a cycling hot potato at the moment, with the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group starting their ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry the discussion of cycling provision in this country.

There seems to be some really polarised views amongst two distinct ‘camps’ (I am purposely using camp as it makes me think of a John Inman style bitch fight) which are at loggerheads with what they would like to see happen.

There have been many bloggers out there with far more knowledge than I possess at present who have done a very good job of documenting pros and cons of each.

Peter Walker from the Guardian wrote this piece and he is due to give evidence to the inquiry also http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jan/20/cycling-in-britain-government-inquiry?commentpage=4

The things that struck me most from his report was that 2.2% of people use a bike.  

Wow, really, that low? That fact made me feel quite sad. Ask around. Go on, ask the person sat next to you if they can ride a bike, chances are they will say ‘Yes, but I've not cycled since I was a child’.

So most of us can ride, but only a very small number of us are choosing to.

2% of children ride to school compared to 40% in Denmark and 20% in Sweden.

I actually thought this was about right. At my sons school only 1 family cycle. I am sad to say it isn't us. We used to, but there is no safe place for us to leave his bike. There is also a large main arterial road which we can use the pavement albeit illegal (and I defy any police officer to suggest my son should ride on the road) but it is not ideal.  However I am hopeful this will change, I am fighting for a cycle path and a bike pod at the school.

Out of that tiny 2.2% of people who use their bike a massive ¾ are men.  Now Peter Walker got a bit of stick in the comments section for suggesting  “a statistic that speaks of a macho, gung-ho cycling culture where riders are expected to mix it with speeding cars, buses and trucks.

couldn't agree more, but I took to twitter to ask my friends why they did not cycle.  Oddly (or not) I got the same response from both my cycling friends and my non cycling friends.  All the people who replied were female.

“sore bottom and the traffic, I have a bike but only ride@centerparcs..tried around Sale, crazy motorists made me sad n fearful..”

I dont cycle to work cos I like being this shape with no broken mangled bits. And alive.

 I do drive but not into work. Too much traffic to consider cycling, plus only one shower at work, crap bike parking...

“I have hardly cycled since living in London. As with xxx roads and traffic here just too much to cope with.

“Too many taxis, buses, other random cyclists. Assault on the brain trying to navigate.

What I was most surprised by and then really quite cross about was some of these people had done IRONMAN! 

These aren't inexperienced women on an old bike dusted down after a lifetime in a shed. These are competent cyclists who are fit and can handle a bike.  Yet they are citing traffic as a reason for not cycling!


Can you see I am angry?

Many many people are asking for segregated bike lanes.  The CTC and many others have suggested that if we ask for segregation we will lose our right to the road?


Who will lose out? That tiny 2.2% of people (of which I am one)? Please?


Look at all the hundreds of cyclists using this main road. 

Oh wait hang on. There isn’t any. In fact I walk along this road every day. It is permanently gridlocked. I see one maybe two cyclists. But look how wide it is and how much space the pavement takes up.

This is how it used to look
Washway Road, Brooklands, n.d

Can people not see?

We already do not have the freedom of the whole road network.

There is a complete de facto ban if 97.8% of people are too scared to cycle!

What about the rights of those people?

What about my son and his friends RIGHT to be able to get to school? 

What about YOUR kids? Your friends and neighbours who don't cycle?

What about the family who can't afford a car?

Should they just HTFU and get out there?

These people are the majority!

I am a club cyclist. I love a good 50-60 mile jaunt into deepest darkest Cheshire on a Sunday.  Is anyone seriously suggesting that by providing decent cycling provision in towns and cities I will somehow lose my right to my Sunday Club cycle run? Wake up!

And to suggest you wouldn't use a cyclepath if you are a ‘proper’ cyclist is nothing short of complete arrogance!!!

Holy shit…..its people using cyclepaths in club kit and PROPER ROAD BIKES!

I am trying to resist talking about the The Hierarchy of Provision, I refer you back to the earlier link to David Arditti’s Vole O'Speed Blog.

I work in Engineering. I understand Health and Safety. 

You cannot simply expect people to do as they are told and to behave. 

The same is true for motorists. There has to be good design to eliminate human error.  The construction sites I often work on, one of the biggest causes of fatalities is vehicle movement.

What has been done to prevent this? Better driver training.  Speed limits yes sure, but these were already being done before. 

Now we have strictly enforced physical separation from pedestrian traffic and when there is vehicle movement a banksman is provided to ensure it is done safely.  

We don’t just assume Trev the lorry driver who has been driving safely his entire life will always get it right. We design out the chances that today Trev might get it wrong and squash someone.

I hope that the APPCG take note that we shouldn't be just listening to cyclists. The people we should also be listening to are the non cyclists. We shouldn't be fighting for the 2.2%. We should be fighting for everyone's right to be able to cycle without fear.


  1. The important rider to all this is "Dutch Quality" segregation, of course.

    A lot of the skepticism about segregated paths comes from the woeful quality of our existing network, I think, both in design, build and maintenance. It's understandable, and needs to be taken seriously.

  2. Bravo! Great blog post. I'm a confident male cyclist (commute 40 miles in total 3-4 days a week through London). I do not want vehicular cycling, which is what I have to do at present. I want to see high quality cycle paths that are continuous, direct, go where people want to go (like roads do), well maintained (like gritting in winter), have same priority as the parallel road (& priority above turning vehicles from the parallel road). This, alongside changes in law to bring in strict liability (but that's a secondary priority). If it's not good enough for an 8 year old to cycle safely to school unaccompanied then it's not worth it.

  3. I think you are right John, wee have a cycle path at the NCC which is segregated and it is dreadful. It is cut up by junctions regularly, drivers turn across its path, it is bad design. This is why I added the videos to the post, to show people what good design looks like, because I dont think we have any in this country yet.

    Thanks Parimal! I completely agree with what you are saying. It has taken me a while to think this way. As a club cyclist, I am not really keen the idea of segregation, but I think we have already lost many of our roads to traffic.

    1. Sites like David Hembrow's were a real eye opener for me, personally. I'd have been in the "anti" camp without them, if I'm honest.

    2. I was very much in the anti camp. Until I realised so many of my cyclist friends dont cycle apart from training runs. If they are put off by the traffic what hope is there for everyone else? For children?

    3. That's the thing, nobody sane wants to cycle on the A3 (around Richmond) or A406 (north circular). They are multi-lane fast roads that are completely dominated by motor vehicles. We have the legal right to cycle on such roads, but none whatsoever in real/practical sense. Same with many gyratories (like Elephant & Castle, although I did used to tackle that one).

  4. Nothing like enough on its own of course, but the objection that "there is only one shower" at work needs to be addressed.

    And I don't mean "get them to instal another shower", I mean "what do you need a shower for?"

    There are of course stalwarts who cycle furiously many miles, perhaps as many as ten or more each way, to work, and to do that in reasonable time you have to go hammer and tongs, you are probably a vehicular cyclist, you probably wear lycra and you *definitely* need a shower when you arrive - unless you work in a farmyard.

    But the pont of course is that more than half of all journeys, and nearly two thirds of urban journeys, made by car are under 5 miles. You really shouldn't need to dress up like a pantomime chicken and shower after to do a journey of that length, in fact by slowing down to a less sweaty speed and avoiding the showers, you are probably saving time. I have cycled 5 miles across London to a formal dinner, wearing a DJ and black tie, and arrived perfectly fresh simply by reducing to a walking-effort speed. I'll bet it took at least 5 minutes longer than sprinting.

    1. Provide decent infrastructure and most people will cycle for utility, dressed in their normal clothes and at a pace where people don't start profusely sweating.

  5. We have a parent at my sons school who DRIVES less than 500meters to school.

    I dispair

    1. The National Travel Survey 2011 (DfT) showed that 63% of primary school children that live within 1-2 miles from school are driven their by car or van. At about the same time as that report coming out, there was a news article by the BBC saying that nearly a third of primary school leavers are overweight. I'm not saying that the two are completely directly linked (there are other factors such as lack of playing fields, etc.), but there is a link somewhere. As in we need to set kids up with good lifestyle habits such as taking in exercise from what they do every day - go to school and back. This of course, applied to the population as a whole too...

  6. Well said Emma. I do cycle...in London...with children...and most people look at me like I'm mad. But it seems more common here that many places. I reckon about 10% of parents at our children's nursery cycle. I tend to take quiet and traffic free routes mostly but these aren't going to get me everywhere I want to go. I frequently resort to getting off and wheeling my bike across the pedestrian crossings at bad junctions when I have a little one with me. Segregation would definitely work in some circumstances and probably mean I'd have to take fewer weird, convoluted routes that require copious map checking just to get from A to B without ending up in pile of snarled up traffic!

    1. Thank you Fiona!
      My son (2) goes to nursery 2 miles away. I should cycle there, but I drive. If I did cycle I would be the only one. The road his nursery is on also has a primary school. It is a 30mph road. I have yet to see anyone do 30 along it. There are sections of the route along the canal with no footpath, so it isn't even safe to walk. I am only not marginalised when I am in my car.

  7. I have to admit, I am one of those cyclists that would have said that cycle lanes would have been a pain and stop the joy of the morning commute.... BUT - I actually think you raise some excellent points, consider me a convert - safer cycling for all! Great blog!

    1. I was an uneasy convert too. I cherish my right to the road, but not over the rights of others. Thank you for your kind words Mike

  8. This statistic is really sad:
    2% of children ride to school compared to 40% in Denmark and 20% in Sweden.

    1. and I fear it is going to get worse. My sons Headteacher banned cycling a while ago. Refuses to provide cycle storage as she wont promote cycling as a safe way to get to school. We wonder why children are suffering from Obesity and Vit D deficiency disorders.

  9. I don't think we know if women only comprise 25% of cyclists because of fears about safety.

    Women have a far lower participation rate in all sorts of perfectly safe sports, hobbies and other activities which involve physical exertion.

    1. This is very true and for lots of different reasons, which is why I asked around my friends as to what they were. I expected all sorts, helmet hair, weather, sore bums (which someone said) but what I was not expecting was the majority of people said traffic. And I was very much alarmed by the fact it wasnt just coming from non-cyclists. I think that was what made me so cross.
      To expand slightly on your point though, getting younger girls to participate and stay involved in sport has been increasingly difficult. Maybe cycling as transport could go a huge way to improve that?
      If people are just using their bike to get about, then they arent always thinking about the health benefits. And as I mentioned in a previous post, if it gets mainstream then maybe H&M will do a womens cycling line of clothes and not just a mens one, then we really will have cracked it :-D

    2. To be honest Emma, I find your reply incoherent.

    3. Sorry, I think I tried to cram so many things in there.

      Participation is a problem in every single sport where women and girls are concerned. I am not sure why or what the answer is. My only offering is that if cycling is seen more as an easy and quick mode of transport (because it is safe and there is great infrastructure) then people will use it as such, rather than viewing it as a sport. The by product of which is a healthier population. Albeit unwittingly.

      My point about H&M is reference to a previous blog post. They have brought out a range of mens cycling clothes, which to me suggests cycling is becoming more mainstream. What I was trying to say (badly) was once a company like H&M brings out something similar for women, we really will be making progress.

      But the real litmus test will be when people just hop on a bike to go from A to B in whatever they're wearing, without the need for 'bike clothes'

    4. I fear I may still be rambling in an incoherent manner :-D

    5. In the Netherlands, 55% of people on bikes are women!

      Cycling as transport is like walking for transport. When it's done right you don't need to sweat and it's nothing like participating in a sport.

      pete may have a point, and fixing the infrastructure and the streets so that cycling not only feels safer, but also isn't like a race, is going to help in both cases.

  10. This post is bang on!

    For those who are still a bit conflicted I would heartily advocate watching some YouTube videos of cycling in the Netherlands to understand that physically separated cycle paths don't have to be the horrible cludges we see so often in the UK (and in the facility of the month).

    1. The word Cludges has tickled me more than is probably necessary. You are right, those who arent convinced just havent seen good design yet.
      Thank for taking the time to read and to post :-D

  11. Thank you for describing what the heck a balance bike is! I always see it on deal sites and people seem to rave about them, but I was like.. huh?? A bike for balancing? Thanks for sharing