This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 115.
Moving away from a two-network solution
The two-network solution describes the idea of designing for two different groups of cyclists. This usually takes the form of a shared-use pavement for ‘slow’, ‘vulnerable’ people on bikes, and a narrow, on-road painted bike lane for the ‘fast’ and ‘lycra-clad’. It is what we currently have on Hills Road and Milton Road, for example. The premise is a flawed one: there are not two types of cyclist. Everyone using a bike for transport wants to get to their destination safely by a direct, uninterrupted route in as little time as possible. No-one thinks that it would be fantastic to take twice as long to get to school in order to avoid mixing with traffic. No-one thinks it is lovely to cycle 50cm away from HGVs in order to reduce their time spent commuting. No-one wants to choose between convenience and safety, but people are forced to do so by existing cycle provision, if they cycle at all when faced with these compromised options.
Two networks: failing all users
The off-road route is almost always shared-use. Summarising the problems of shared-use provision described in Newsletter 111, pedestrians do not like sharing with cyclists, any more than cyclists like sharing with motor vehicles. Shared-use routes are poor for cycling, as they are stop-start, and often abandon users at junctions where the danger is greatest. The off-road network is incomplete so some people who can’t make their entire journey off-road may choose not to cycle at all.
The on-road provision offers no real safety measures for people on bikes. Paint on the road is no protection from vehicles. Lanes can be too narrow, filled with drains and debris, or put bikes in dangerous positions, such as in the ‘dooring zone’ of parked cars. The one advantage it offers is that the existing road network has been designed for making journeys: it goes everywhere, often by the most direct routes.
The presence of cyclists on the roads can also frustrate drivers, who perceive cycling as too slow. The latest figures on rush hour car journeys in Cambridge averaging 11.3mph question this assumption, but it remains the case that many drivers would rather not drive in the same space as where people cycle. However, with the two-network approach many people on bikes continue to use the road, which pleases no-one.
The two-network solution is a poor use of roadspace. A shared- use pavement has to be wide enough to accommodate two- way walking and cycling journeys, and then space on the carriageway is also allocated to cycling journeys. The tight layout of the city centre, and a largely single-carriageway network around the city means we cannot afford to waste any more of the space by duplicating cycle infrastructure.
One network for all
It is striking that when high-quality provision exists, all kinds of people on bikes choose to use it. The Coton path, Riverside bridge and the maintenance track for the Busway have people of all ages and abilities using them. When the cycle network goes where people need to go, and is wide, uninterrupted and well-surfaced, there is no reason not to use it.
Current and future Cambridge schemes
The Hills Road and Huntingdon Road plans should have addressed this problem. A path 2.8m wide allows for overtaking, while an off-carriageway space separate from motor vehicles, and in particular from buses, should provide an attractive environment for all bike journeys. Unfortunately, since the consultation, changes have been made which threaten to undermine this. We may yet find that the schemes have been compromised so much that the main carriageway still provides the most uninterrupted journey. This would be a failure for all users: not just people cycling who are again faced with a choice of safety or convenience, but also for drivers who will find it harder to overtake cyclists who continue to cycle on the newly-narrowed carriageway.
The Trumpington Road proposals are two-network even at the consultation stage, offering a narrow bi-directional path away from traffic to accommodate a single type of journey from Brooklands Avenue to Bateman Street, and a separate on-road lane. The on-road option is at least higher quality than many we have seen in Cambridge.
We need to move on from the two-network solution. Two compromises do not provide the attractive environment that will get more people to choose cycling, relieving congestion on overcrowded roads.