Here's what we think of all that the exciting developments happening with cycling at present...what with Quiet Ways, sensitive and cycle-friendly street design, bold segregation, Central London Cycle Grid, Turbo roundabouts...the list goes on...what does it all mean for cycling?
Designing for all
Ambition is wonderful, and so the Mayor’s vision for making London a cycling city is one that I completely buy into. I’m all for promoting cycling as a better way to get around.
The devil is always in the detail. Often schemes with the best intentions end up being comprised due to the lack of involvement of key user groups – notably vulnerable users. There is a need for inclusive design and early involvement of key groups including visually impaired and disabled.
These user groups are sometimes not engaged with until the designs have been drawn up and schemes are ‘retro fitted’ with measures to assist these users resulting in a poorly functioning scheme that involves compromise for everyone, reducing the overall benefits.
Vulnerable user groups - not only campaign groups but local people too - need to be fully involved in the design process so a balance can be struck and the end scheme delivers the optimum solution for all users.
Give and take: street-free cycling
London’s congested, constrained streets offer limited scope to create a European-style network of dedicated, spacious cycle routes. Whilst it could be achieved in some locations we should accept that a dedicated cycle network covering large areas of London would be impractical and resources should be used on other measures and initiatives. The big question therefore is how can we improve cycling without recourse to wide-scale infrastructural changes?
The focus should be on improving the user experience for cyclists, be they regular commuters, weekend leisure cyclists or those who haven’t cycled for years but would like to. It is crucial to understand that 'cyclists’ are not a uniform, homogenous group but a disparate set of individuals with different interests, desires and concerns. 'Normalising' cycling as an everyday mode of transport that is a key step that requires concerted, joint action across organisations and agencies.
This can be achieved through encouraging and promoting all road users (cyclists included) on tolerance, etiquette and just ‘getting along’ with each other. Cycling doesn't have to be stressful; in fact it can be the complete opposite when there is give and take between road users.
Just like riding a bike – it’s all about balance!
It’s about time after all, the bike is back – at least in London, and like many others, I’m happy to be part of the bicycle chain reaction, swept away on the present wave of enthusiasm for all things bicycle-based.
But I’m not that fickle really; I’ve seen cycling come and go over my years in the traffic engineering trade. In the early 80’s, I was partly responsible for some of the cruder examples of well-intentioned cycle segregation interventions around London’s Camden town, ideas that are now back in vogue, but with more sophistication.
I got swept along with Bus Priority in the 90’s too, though mostly as a passenger than driver in truth. Recent Public Realm action is great, and Walking is a joy, I’ve been more than happy to walk the talk for pedestrian-based action.
All those modal waves were, and remain valid and beneficial - more power to well-planned Quietways, the Central London Grid and Superhighways! The current biking focus is a wonderful thing, but over-focusing on it to the expense of other users will bring negative impacts, and perhaps curtail such forward-looking initiatives. I dearly hope not – let’s keep our balance on the roads when we’re cycling!