World of To­mor­row

Changes in in­fras­truc­ture, tech­nol­ogy and law will have a ma­jor im­pact on the fu­ture of cy­cling, so how will rid­ers fare in the on­go­ing bat­tle for road space?

Cyclist - - Future Cycling | Insight - Words PETER STU­ART Il­lus­tra­tions STEVE MILLINGTON

There was a time in the 1960s when we had the fu­ture all worked out. El­e­vated high­ways would al­low spaceage cars to whiz around our ci­ties at 120mph, while pedes­tri­ans would be trans­ported on a sys­tem of es­ca­la­tors. There wouldn’t be a cy­clist in sight.

Movie-mak­ers, ar­chi­tects and pol­icy mak­ers all had a sim­i­lar vi­sion of the 21st cen­tury metropolis, and it was fast-paced and mo­tor-cen­tric. Had they looked into their crys­tal balls and seen the grid­locked roads, and the rise in pop­u­lar­ity of cy­cling, our ci­ties might look very dif­fer­ent.

Now, in a bid to ease con­ges­tion, ci­ties all over the world are try­ing to retro­fit a trans­port sys­tem to cater more for cy­clists. In Lon­don, suc­ces­sive may­ors have seized upon cy­cling as a so­lu­tion to the great prob­lem of trans­port. Boris John­son in­tro­duced the cy­cling ‘Su­per­high­ways’, which pro­vided seg­re­gated cy­cling tracks across the city. De­spite be­ing a bike rider him­self, his rea­son­ing was all about ef­fi­ciency, rather than an em­pa­thy for the joy of cy­cling.

Space bat­tles

Rachel Al­dred, Reader in Trans­port at West­min­ster Univer­sity and an ex­pert on the study of ur­ban cy­cling, ex­plains how politi­cians came to re­alise the fu­ture might not be car-shaped: ‘In the 1990s, aca­demics and prac­ti­tion­ers within trans­port stud­ies be­gan cri­tiquing the “pre­dict and pro­vide” idea. We couldn’t con­tinue to say be­cause we have more car use we should build more roads. That’s be­cause the in­crease in roads sim­ply cre­ates more car use. In­stead, we have to re­strain de­mand.’

The un­der­ly­ing prob­lem is out­lined by the Lewis-mo­gridge Po­si­tion, which shows that where more roads are built, more traf­fic is gen­er­ated to fill them. ‘The idea de­rives from the use of coal in Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ing in the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion,’ Al­dred says, where in­creas­ing sup­ply of coal led to in­creased de­mand and de­pleted the re­source.

The log­i­cal con­clu­sion of meet­ing de­mand for driv­ing with the sup­ply of roads is a bound­less tar­mac plain sat­u­rated with slow-mov­ing traf­fic – which has be­come a near re­al­ity in a num­ber of US ci­ties. As the song says, LA is a great big free­way…

In the UK, though, con­stantly ad­ding more roads sim­ply isn’t an op­tion. ‘We have his­toric city cen­tres with nar­row streets and we’ve got in­creas­ing car use,’

Al­dred says. ‘If you want to al­low ev­ery­one to drive, we have to de­stroy the his­toric city cen­tres.’

That’s why sud­denly cy­cling is the topic of the day. ‘TFL [Trans­port for Lon­don] isn’t in­vest­ing in cy­cling be­cause it’s a nice, fluffy thing to do,’ says Al­dred. ‘They’ve looked at pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions and re­alised that if ev­ery­one wants to drive, or even use the bus, we’re stuffed.’

Six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion

Lon­don’s Cy­cling Com­mis­sioner dur­ing Boris John­son’s time as mayor was An­drew Gil­li­gan, and his so­lu­tion to in­creas­ing the speed of the city was to cut away part of the road to make space solely for cy­clists. Gil­li­gan as­serts that it was a more than fair re­dis­tri­bu­tion of space.

‘There are 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple com­ing into cen­tral Lon­don each morn­ing, but only 59,000 do so by car, mak­ing up less than 5%. Yet those peo­ple get a vast share of the sur­face of Lon­don,’ he tells Cy­clist. Nev­er­the­less John­son and Gil­li­gan paid a hefty price in crit­i­cism. The slow­ing of traf­fic in Lon­don has be­come a na­tional head­line – the av­er­age speed at the end of 2016 fell be­low that of a horse and cart, and the cy­cling Su­per­high­ways got the blame.

‘That’s ridicu­lous,’ Gil­li­gan says. ‘There are 15,000 miles of road in cen­tral Lon­don, of which just 12 miles are fit­ted with seg­re­gated cy­cle lanes.’

He’d hoped to build more, and is dis­ap­pointed more have not been built since he left of­fice, but re­sis­tance has been con­sid­er­able from mo­tor­ing groups, res­i­dents and politi­cians. That’s per­haps an un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of the fact that a car driver’s time is con­sid­ered more valu­able than a cy­clist’s – a per­spec­tive en­shrined in of­fi­cial Depart­ment of Trans­port pol­icy.

The ‘Value of Work­ing Time’ cal­cu­la­tion was de­vised by au­thor­i­ties and plan­ners to as­sess just how much the time of dif­fer­ent types of com­muters or work­ing trav­ellers is worth to the econ­omy. This in­for­ma­tion was then used to judge the value of dif­fer­ent projects ac­cord­ingly. In 2014, the value of a cy­clist’s work­ing time was put at £17.47 per hour, com­pared to a car driver’s £22.74. So slow­ing driv­ers down to speed up cy­clists flies against con­ven­tional think­ing.

Pre­dictably, many sug­gested the ideal so­lu­tion was not to change the roads, but in­stead move cy­clists onto hith­erto non-ex­is­tent space.

Pie in the sky

Nu­mer­ous fan­ci­ful ideas have been dreamed up to ac­com­mo­date cy­clists in Lon­don, in­clud­ing float­ing paths on the River Thames. Gil­li­gan is some­what scep­ti­cal, though.

‘It was the bane of my life,’ Gil­li­gan says. ‘We kept get­ting ap­proached by these peo­ple with ab­surd schemes, such as el­e­vated bike­ways above rail­ways lines. Then there was an­other pro­posal to cre­ate bike lanes in dis­used un­der­ground tun­nels. I re­mem­ber say­ing, “Where are these dis­used un­der­ground tun­nels? And how would you get down to them? Aren’t most of these sta­tions only ac­ces­si­ble by es­ca­la­tors or lifts?” That ended that.’

The real so­lu­tions are sim­ple, unglam­ourous and of­ten un­pop­u­lar, ac­cord­ing to Gil­li­gan: ‘There are no magic so­lu­tions, there are sim­ple so­lu­tions easy enough for ev­ery­one to sup­port, but you just have to have the balls to do them.’

There is con­sid­er­able risk in­volved – in some cases hugely ex­pen­sive cy­cle net­works have been torn up to make way for cars once

again. That very thing is cur­rently hap­pen­ing in Ade­laide in Aus­tralia, for in­stance. The other risk is that once cy­clists have their own paths, they may not be al­lowed back on the road.

Liv­ing to­gether

‘I’ve heard se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers say cy­clists should be re­quired to use cy­cle lanes re­gard­less of their con­di­tions,’ says Martin Porter QC, a Queen’s Coun­sel bar­ris­ter spe­cial­is­ing in cy­cling-re­lated lit­i­ga­tion.

He high­lights that manda­tory use of cy­cle lanes was al­most en­shrined in law as re­cently as 2004. ‘The last time the High­way Code was re­vised, the orig­i­nal draft said that cy­clists “should” use in­fras­truc­ture wher­ever it was pro­vided, so you would be in breach of the High­way Code if you didn’t,’ says Porter. ‘It was only vig­or­ous work by the CTC, as Cy­cling UK was then known, who per­suaded the Min­is­ter of Trans­port to tone it down to what it cur­rently says – that it de­pends on your ex­pe­ri­ence and it “may” make your jour­ney safer.

‘When Boris John­son built this in­fras­truc­ture, he guar­an­teed there would be no law re­quir­ing cy­clists to use them, but the aim was that they would be so good that cy­clists would choose to use them, which has got to be the right ap­proach,’ Porter adds.

That doesn’t solve the prob­lem of the mo­tor­ing ma­jor­ity, who have seen road space chipped away and are un­happy when a cy­clist uses the road (cue fu­ri­ous Daily Mail head­line).

As good as the Su­per­high­ways may be, they are far from per­fect, which is mainly down to the prob­lems of retrofitting ma­jor Bri­tish roads with sep­a­rated tracks.

‘They use a bi-di­rec­tional cy­cle track on one side of the road partly be­cause of space, and be­cause that over­comes some of the dif­fi­culty of get­ting de­cent pri­or­ity at the junc­tions,’ says Roger Gef­fen, pol­icy direc­tor at Cy­cling UK. ‘That is a sub­op­ti­mal so­lu­tion – not one you’d see on the Con­ti­nent. If you travel south on the north-south Su­per­high­way, your jour­ney starts and ends on the east side of the road, so you’ve ba­si­cally got to cross that road twice. A bet­ter so­lu­tion would be to change the UK’S traf­fic laws by of­fer­ing pri­or­ity for cy­clists.’

Changes to the broader laws of driv­ing could re­move the need for seg­re­ga­tion al­to­gether. ‘To­tally seg­re­gated in­fras­truc­ture is al­most like an ad­mis­sion of de­feat,’ says Porter. ‘In the sense that if ev­ery­one drove well and in ac­cor­dance with the law all the time you wouldn’t need the in­fras­truc­ture be­cause peo­ple would feel, and be, per­fectly safe rid­ing and driv­ing along to­gether on the roads.’

For Porter, the law is a big fac­tor in in­flu­enc­ing be­hav­iour: ‘I wouldn’t be a lawyer if I didn’t think the law was im­por­tant and ca­pa­ble of im­prov­ing so­ci­ety. Peo­ple say that change re­lies on in­fras­truc­ture and any­thing else is a waste of time and ef­fort, but I don’t think it is as black and white as that.’

‘There’s a mas­sive in­dus­try of lawyers who will al­most guar­an­tee to get a mo­torist off los­ing their li­cence’

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