Achieving cycle-friendly infrastructure

The Institute of Urban Planning at the University of Nottingham recently organised a conference along with the CTC and the Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions. It will be repeated in June. Perhaps our own County Council might like to put the event in their diary.

Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure is the publication that tried to bring some quality to cycle provision. Achieving that quality, as we know only too well in Cambridge, is an elusive goal.

Image as described adjacent
The general view among the planners seemed to be that central islands were such a useful solution to so many of their problems that essentially cyclists have to put up with them. But then they do not cycle through Harston every day.

The National Cycling Forum the body responsible for furthering the National Cycling Strategy recognises the poor quality of so much of the infrastructure being built in the name of cycling all across the country, and the counter-productive effect that has. That’s why this conference, aimed mostly at transport professionals, was organised. I attended, both to hear the speakers and to help in one of the afternoon workshop sessions.

Keynote speaker was Steve Norris MP, former Conservative transport minister, promoter of the Strategy, and recently appointed Chair of the National Cycling Forum. He was keen to stress that he’s not a ‘cycling czar’: the national Cycling Forum isn’t an umbrella organisation wanting to vacuum up all the activity going on, but is one building block in a bigger picture.

Norris described Integrated Transport as ‘the only game in town’, but said that there were gaping holes in transport professionals’ understanding of ‘modal shift’. True Tory that he is, he was keen to emphasise that it’s not a moral crusade, but simply provision of an opportunity for people to do short journeys by means other than the car, otherwise our cities ‘can’t move’.

He said that meeting the national targets (quadrupling cycling by 2012) would only bring us to where Germany was in 1996. There were, for him, three contingent steps:

  • Making cycling safe. In this he was much more forward thinking than our present transport leaders, wanting a more radical approach to legal protection of cyclists ‘akin to pedestrians on a zebra crossing’ and was keen to re-examine the motorist’s love affair with speed, and the relationship between different road users. But his emphasis was on physical segregated infrastructure.
  • Parking. Lack of somewhere secure at the journey’s end is a huge deterrent. Norris cited the ‘pathetic’ and ‘rudimentary’ provision at nearly all the London rail termini.
  • Workplace facilities, where his emphasis was again on infrastructure.

Norris also posed the question we keep debating: ‘is inadequate cycling provision worse than no cycling provision at all?’ He was scathing about the quality of what is being provided at the moment, and in effect gave an emphatic ‘yes’ to his own question.

Norris was scathing about the quality of cycling provision, and in effect gave an emphatic ‘yes’ to his own question ‘is inadequate cycling provision worse than no cycling provision at all?’

The rest of the morning was more technical, peppered with comments like there not being enough local authority staff who knew what they were doing when providing for cyclists, and those that there are being a lowly paid bunch with little directed training or mentoring. How is design guidance being monitored and applied? Why do we still build new residential streets to a standard 7.3 m (24′) carriageway, when 8 m (26′) would be much more cycle friendly?

I was putting a cyclist’s point of view in the workshop I helped with, about central islands and build-outs. The general view among the planners seemed to be that central islands were such a useful solution to so many of their problems that essentially cyclists have to put up with them. But then they do not cycle through Harston every day.

David Earl