Transport in cities is a steep uphill affair. If we ever are to transform the quality of the mobility arrangements in our cities, there are certain basic truths about it that need to be repeated again and again. By different people, in different places and in different ways.
Cycling in most cities: You and I know it. It is broke. It cannot be “fixed”. It needs to be reinvented from the street up. All of which is easy enough to say, but what in concrete terms does that mean? This article which appeared in the Guardian a few days back by Peter Walker, reports on the testimony of Dave Horton a cycling sociologist who pounds the table on five basic truths of cycling in cities.
If cycling infrastructure ideas are ignored, very little will change
The parliamentary cycling inquiry must understand that the changes required to get Britain cycling are systematic. Over the next half century we must effectively design cycling back in to the urban environment.
– Peter Walker, article in the Guardian of 7 Feb. 2013
The all-party parliamentary cycling group inquiry, to which I presented some of your ideas a fortnight ago, is rumbling on. Today, MPs and peers examine cycling infrastructure.
Among the assembled witnesses is Dr Dave Horton, a cycling sociologist whose Understanding Walking and Cycling project, which I wrote about in 2011, had a big impact on my thinking.
Below are the five points Horton sent to the committee in advance, to give an idea of his thinking, followed by some more thoughts, penned specially for this blog. This, to me, is somewhere near the crux of the current cycling debate in Britain. Very simply, if the top of government ignore these ideas, very little will change. That’s my opinion, anyway – I’d be intrigued to know yours.
Five points from Understanding Walking and Cycling:
1. If cycling conditions remain much as they are across Britain, cycling will remain a very minor mode of urban mobility, practised mainly by a committed hardcore of cyclists who feel able to “do battle” with motorised traffic, while being completely off-putting for “the normal”, and vast, majority. Current conditions for cycling STOP Britain cycling.
2. A significant increase in levels of cycling requires a reversal in the balance of power between the car and the bicycle. Travel by car for short trips in urban areas must become more difficult, so that it starts to feel abnormal and exceptional. In contrast, policies must be put in place that make cycling easy, safe, comfortable, and accepted as the normal and obvious way of moving around urban areas for most people.
3. It is essential that the urban environment is made safe for cyclists. This requires provision on all arterial and other busy roads in urban areas of dedicated space for cycling, separated from both motorised traffic and pedestrians. It is clear from the research that most non-cyclists and recreational cyclists will only consider cycling regularly if they are separated from motorised traffic and that pedestrians are hostile to pavement cyclists.
4. There needs to be effective restrictions on traffic speeds, parking and access on all residential roads and other routes without dedicated cycle and pedestrian paths so that cyclists (and also pedestrians) feel that they have a safe and convenient environment in which to travel. This could include 20mph speed limits and resident-only access by car in some areas.
5. All provision for cycling should be predicated on people often needing and/or wanting to travel as a group. It is very rare indeed for people currently to feel able to cycle together in British cities, which is a significant barrier to cycling in general but family and child cycling in particular; this must change for cycling to become normal. Dedicated cycling provision must be designed for group rather than solo cycling, and where cycling shares space with motorised traffic cyclists should be given priority.
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* Full text continues here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2013/feb/06/cycling-infrastructure-ignored-little-change
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* The Guardian’s bike blog book, Cyclebabble: Bloggers on Biking, is out now
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About the author:
Peter Walker became a journalist in his late 20s, taking a postgrad course at the University of Central Lancashire before joining PA for three years. He then spent five years with Agence France-Presse in Hong Kong, Beijing, London and Paris, before returning to the UK permanently. Peter freelanced for a while (mainly for CNN) before joining the Guardian about four years go.
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