This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 133.
11-12 May 2017
Cycle planning professionals, cycle campaigners, and companies selling all things cycle infrastructure headed to Bradford for the large Cycle City conference. Cycle City is now in its fifth year and has firmly established itself as the main annual cycle planning conference. Again the conference organisers (Landor) did not disappoint with an excellent range of workshops and speakers.
Leeds-Bradford Cycle Superhighway
The conference started with a ride from Leeds to Bradford, to try out the new Cycle Superhighway. About 12 miles in length, this connects the two cities and is segregated from traffic and pedestrians almost all the way. I was fairly impressed with what had been achieved.
Although there are sections where compromises have been made, and others where cheaper construction methods have been used to get it within budget, there were many parts which were genuinely Dutch standard. Segregation, priority over sideroads, and bus stop bypasses were all standard features.
You can see a full gallery of the route at: https://www.cyclestreets.net/galleries/275/
The opening session was a panel-style discussion featuring representatives from the local area.
The area has been administered by a Combined Authority since 2014. Cambridge and Peterborough, with its new mayor, is another such new local government structure. The first speaker described how the rise of the city region will bring more discretion and freedom in transport provision. It remains to be seen if the government will properly hand down powers and allow local areas such as our own to try innovative cycling infrastructure (well, innovative for the UK – most innovation in the UK is about 50 years behind the Dutch!). More likely, I suspect that strict rules dictating in immense detail the permitted signs and regulations will persist.
Speakers from the health sector mirrored our own criticisms about Addenbrooke’s – ‘we can never have enough parking, yet cycle infrastructure is usually appallingly bad around hospitals’. One noted that the NHS invests in fixing people up, but nothing at all in preventing health problems in the first place – the result of a silo approach to funding.
The next speaker also echoed our own criticisms about the lack of proper design guidance, pointing out that the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges is standard around the UK – we design motorways to standards – but not cycling. Why should it be left to every local authority to reinvent the wheel (while of course we should allow some degree of local flexibility to let leading places to go further)? Some would call this ‘localism’; I would call it lack of political will to regard cycling as a real mode of transport.
CWIs and LCWIPs
The (supposedly) big news this year at the conference was the launch of the Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Strategy, and its associated local programme, the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs, pronounced else-whips).
Speakers from Sustrans, British Cycling, Cycling UK, and Living Streets were all pleased by the new CWIS strategy. Yet it proposes no money (merely a list of potential existing sources from which cycling might, if Local Authorities so chose (good luck!), be funded; it proposes no design guidance, which we’ve been pushing for what must be at least a decade now; and no legal changes. About the only thing it offers is a requirement for the Secretary of State for Transport to report on progress towards targets (unfunded targets, that is) each year. Given the very short-term nature of every transport minister in recent decades, and given the lack of media interest in cycling, presumably a quick five-minute speech would fulfill this very meagre requirement.
It was bizarre to see these four organisations welcoming the strategy, rather than criticising it. Something which is supposedly ‘good’ offers no incentive for the government to do any better. A strategy with no funding and no significant change basically signals something that isn’t a priority.
The DfT gave several workshops to introduce attendees to the strategy and the LCWIPs. Essentially they are asking local authorities to create these local plans, with no guarantee of funding for them. In an environment where cycling and transport staff are becoming squeezed in local councils, it is hard to see what the point of all this is. On the other hand, those local authorities who do create such plans – hopefully Cambridgeshire will be one – will find themselves in a better position when opportunities do arise.
A unified voice
A positive development, though, was to see those four organisations all speaking with one voice on the question of cycling improvements. For instance, they have been working together for a Clean Air Act. In particular, to have Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrians’ Association) speaking was very welcome.
The new CEO of Sustrans spoke, reminding us that they were now 40 years old as an organisation. He noted that the National Cycle Network is to be reviewed. Given the many criticisms of it – with some sections merely being signs added to unsuitable existing paths and roads – this is long overdue. He recognised that Sustrans’ aim of a network suitable for ‘a sensible unaccompanied 12-year-old’ was not yet universal around the network. It was disappointing also to hear him describe Sustrans as trying to take cycling ‘from a fringe activity to a fashionable hobby’. These criticisms aside, I did get the sense that the new CEO is keen to see change. It will be interesting to see over the next few years where Sustrans goes.
The Chief Executive of Living Streets spoke next. He outlined work with cycling organisations to put out common messages, saying ‘we need a common cause between cycling and walking’. That is certainly an aim strongly shared by Camcycle, often the only body in the Cambridge area opposing poor-quality shared use or legalised pavement parking. He noted that a car takes 20 times the space of someone on a bicycle, or 75 times that of a person walking. These figures are very relevant to our own growing city. Living Streets sees public transport as part of the solution to free up roadspace for reallocation to cycling and walking. Living Streets also wants to see routes barrier-free and avoiding underpasses etc.
Transport for London (TfL) representatives gave two presentations, and again wiped the floor in terms of what they are achieving compared to almost every other part of the country. London cycle infrastructure has seen a 75% uplift in usage in the areas directly concerned, plus an increase of 7% of cycling across London – showing that the effect of high-quality cycle infrastructure spreads.
London is powering ahead in terms of quality of cycle infrastructure – and thus usage.
Newly-built infrastructure includes:
- 30km ofsegregated cycle superhighways in 2015 and 2016
- 50 bus stop bypasses
- a lot of innovation for the UK, e.g. low-level signals, hold left turn, early release, cycle gates, two-stage turns
- 23 new and 37 upgraded pedestrian crossings
- over 1,400m² of additional footway.
By Dutch standards, this rate of progress is slow, but for the UK it is miles ahead. Delegates were however left wondering whether the new Mayor will keep up progress.
The new route along the Thames at Embankment is seeing 12,500 bicycle users per day. Compare that to the 3,000 that pass by the counter beside Parker’s Piece in Cambridge.
Interestingly, TfL have learnt to work closely with utilities – they have future-proofed the Cycle Superhighways by putting in 2km of utility ducts, in the segregation space. This is projected to save £1m in future traffic delays.
All this hasn’t happened by accident – it has required political will and funding, and it has involved their designers actually going abroad and learning from decades of best practice rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Well done TfL.
Some diversity please
One area of the conference that was very noticeably lacking was the appallingly bad gender balance in the speaker panels. Several panels were all-male, and this is inexcusable while there is such inspiring work being done by a far broader gender spectrum. People like Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster and Isabelle Clement from Wheels for Wellbeing are really helping move key debates forward.
In fact, only the week before, the Women in Cycling Conference had been held in the same city. Couldn’t some of the speakers from that been asked to speak at this one, perhaps to relay some of what came out of that?