Getting people in the saddle

Getting people in the saddle is what Bike Week UK is all about.  Cycling is a healthy, efficient, accessible and environmentally-friendly way to travel for day-to-day journeys or for leisure. It tackles congestion, reduces workplace absenteeism and our dependence on oil imports, while creating the sort of town-centres and neighbourhoods where people want to live, work and shop. So it’s good for the economy too.

However, if we want individuals and society to gain all these benefits, we need to create conditions which encourage a lot more people to get into the saddle. 

However, if we want individuals and society to gain all these benefits, we need to create conditions which encourage a lot more people to get into the saddle.

 The Government rightly wants to “normalise” cycling for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Yet most people are afraid of cycling on fast or busy main roads, or allowing their children to do so.

The solutions for this will depend on the situation.  On minor roads and lanes, we need to reduce traffic volumes and speeds as far as possible, e.g. by introducing 20mph speed limits and by eliminating rat-running traffic from residential streets and town centres.  We also need protected cycle facilities alongside fast or busy main roads, and motor-traffic-free cycle routes through parks and open spaces.

However it’s not enough to create individual, disconnected cycle facilities. They need to add up to comprehensive cycling networks, enabling people to cycle safely and conveniently from A to B, for any local journey.

However it’s not enough to create individual, disconnected cycle facilities. They need to add up to comprehensive cycling networks, enabling people to cycle safely and conveniently from A to B, for any local journey.

 The idea of cycle networks is a bit of a novel idea in the UK, even though the Dutch have been doing it for over 40 years!

The Dutch have five criteria for cycle planning: they say cycle networks should be safe, direct, coherent, comfortable and attractive.  They are also very clear about what those criteria mean.  For instance, the ‘directness’ criterion requires that a cycle route from A to B should ideally be no more than 1.2 times longer than the ‘crow-flies’ distance.  If that ratio is more than 1 : 1.4, the Dutch wouldn’t even bother building it.

We also need to learn from the Dutch when it comes to the detailed design of roads, streets, junctions and cycle facilities.  Different parts of the UK all have different local or national cycling design guidance, but much of it is vague to the point of woolliness. All too often, this results in cycle facilities that are inconvenient, uncomfortable and even downright dangerous. Yet the Welsh Government’s design guidance is very good, as is London’s. We now need the Department for Transport to standardise this guidance, so that councils invariably and consistently design cycle-friendliness into new road and traffic schemes. Nobody benefits from cycle facilities being designed differently from one borough or county to the next, especially when so many of them are done really badly.

Nobody benefits from cycle facilities being designed differently from one borough or county to the next, especially when so many of them are done really badly.

Even where the traffic planners are trying to get it right though, the UK’s traffic regulations often don’t help.  In most continental countries, the rules about who has priority at junctions are different from ours.  They generally assume that pedestrians and cyclists going straight at a junction ahead have priority over turning traffic – even over drivers turning when they have a green traffic light.  By contrast, UK drivers generally assume they have priority over pedestrians crossing side-roads they are turning into or out of. Unlike most Europeans, the UK’s drivers are therefore unaccustomed to looking out for cyclists coming up on their inside. Too many cyclists are killed when lorry drivers fail to do this. Yet the sheer normality of this behaviour makes it very difficult to design good protected cycle facilities in the UK, without inconveniencing cyclists at junctions.

Take Blackfriars Bridge for example. This busy route over the River Thames now has a two way cycle lane on one side of the road. Transport for London are rightly proud of having constructed a fully kerbed-separated cycle lane, which is best practice for the capital so far. However, it’s not ideal, because cyclists heading southbound who want to turn left typically have to wait a long time before turning across two lanes of motor traffic. The main reason why TfL has done this is because the UK’s traffic rules mean prevent us giving enough green time at the traffic lights for protected cycle lanes on both sides of the road. Adopting continental rules on junction priority would make it safer and more convenient to get around both on two wheels or on two feet.

So much has been achieved so far but there is further to go if we really want to make cycling a safe sport for everyone, wherever they are in the UK.

Bike Week is an annual opportunity to promote cycling, and show how cycling can easily be part of everyday life by encouraging ‘everyday cycling for everyone’. Demonstrating the social, health and environmental benefits of cycling, the week aims to get people to give cycling a go all over the UK, whether this be for fun, as a means of getting around to work or school, the local shops or just to visit friends. The 2017 event will take place 10-18th June and is delivered by Cycling UK.

Roger Geffen MBE

Campaigns and Policy Director
Cycling UK
#bikeweekuk
Roger Geffen MBE

Latest posts by Roger Geffen MBE (see all)

Share:  

More in this category

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
Notify of