Transport For London (TfL) serves a role similar to our Metropolitan Council except only for transportation. TfL coordinates transportation and road design across the boroughs and cities of greater London and operates or coordinates services such as their subway, red buses, and ferries. TfL also operate the city-wide Oyster card system.
TfL has been increasingly criticized for short-sightedness and poor provision for people walking or riding bicycles. (Some of their designs are real head-scratchers making people wonder if the design engineer has ever walked down a street or knows what a bicycle is.)
Just as in cities across the world, bicycling for transportation has become increasingly popular in London and many people including Mayor of London Boris Johnson would like to see it increase much more for its host of individual and community benefits. Across the London metro bicycling mode share today is about 4% though some communities like Hackney are closer to 25%.
Wanting to catch up to other major cities TfL commissioned a report on best practices which was released in December 2014 and is one of the better reports I’ve read on bicycling infrastructure best practices. While infrastructure is a significant focus, the authors also looked at other elements such as policy, funding,and legal/regulatory issues.
A few highlights are below though I’d encourage you to download and read the full report. Quotes from the report are in italics.
At a high level they had three objectives: (1)what was critical and common among cities that have seen significant success in bicycle modal share, (2) what cities found should be avoided, and (3) how these relate to London. This last element is critical and provides very important context.
The writers visited 13 cities for this report including Minneapolis. They have also previously spent considerable time studying Amsterdam and Copenhagen which were interwoven in this report. Cities included:
- Brighton & Hove
- Malmo + Lund
- New York
- Washington DC
Infrastructure discussion is divided into five areas:
- Junctions + Crossings
- Network + Traffic Management
- Interactions with Other Users
Common Conditions Among Successful Cities
Drilling down from these high-level factors, we found a range of conditions to be common in most cities with mature cycling cultures, recent significant growth in cycling, or a commitment to growing cycling. Together, these conditions comprise what could be considered an ideal basis for growing cycling.
- There is strong, clear political and technical pro-cycling leadership which is supported through all parts of the lead organisation.
- Cycling is considered an entirely legitimate, desirable, everyday, ‘grown up’ mode of transport, worthy of investment, even if current cycling levels are comparatively low.
- Increasing cycle mode share is part of an integrated approach to decreasing car mode share. There is no intended overall abstraction from walking and public transport; and improving cycle safety and convenience is not intended to diminish pedestrian safety and convenience.
- Loss of traffic capacity or parking to create better cycling facilities, while often a considerable challenge, is not a veto on such action.
- There is dedicated, fit-for-purpose space for cycling, generally free of intrusion by heavy and fast motor vehicle traffic. In cities where the aim is to grow cycling rapidly, simple, cheap and effective means of securing this space have been used as first steps, with more permanent solutions following in due course.
- There is clarity about the overall cycling network (including planned future development), with connectedness, continuity, directness and legibility all being key attributes.
- There is no differential cycle route branding, simply three principal types of cycle facility that make up well-planned and designed cycle networks:
- Paths/tracks/lanes on busier streets which provide a degree of separation from motor vehicles that is appropriate to motor traffic flows/speeds and the demand for cycling.
- Quiet streets/’bicycle streets’ with 30kph / 20mph or lower speed limits and often restrictions on motor vehicle access, particularly for through movements.
- Cycleways/‘greenways’ away from the main highway (e.g. bicycle-only streets, paths in parks and along old railway lines and canals), but still well connected to the rest of the network at frequent intervals.
- There is clear, widely-accepted and routinely-used guidance on the design of cycling infrastructure.
- The frequency of occasions when cyclists need to give way or stop is minimised. This means that people cycling are able to make steady progress at a comfortable speed.
- At least subjectively, where the cycle mode share is greater, the driving culture (and indeed city culture generally) is more respectful of the needs of cyclists. Local traffic laws often play a part in this.
- Making better provision for cycling, even in the most well-cycled cities, is an ongoing challenge; with growth in cycling, and of city populations as a whole, requiring clear forward planning.
Some Key Findings
Protection + Separation — The cities with the highest cycling levels, and those that have successfully grown cycling levels over relatively short periods, generally afford cycling good physical protection or effective spatial separation from motor traffic, unless traffic speeds and volumes are low.
They also note that when bicycle paths cross side streets, driveways or similar entrances to a roadway that clearly communicated priority for bicycle riders and pedestrians is critical such as continuing path color, material, and grade unabated.
On dealing with challenges such as ‘we don’t have enough room‘: The report does not categorise techniques in terms of their possible traffic capacity and/or cost implications. This is because the approach of the most successful cycling cities is to meet these challenges squarely, not use them as a justification for inaction.
Long term commitment — Cities with the largest cycling levels and most cycling-friendly street use cultures have achieved that status as a result of policy and associated action over the long term, with an incremental approach to improving provision. Continuity of commitment to cycling as a desirable and benign mode, one worthy of major investment, is essential.
Incremental Change — Some successful cities employed temporary solutions as interim steps to permanent infrastructure. A key example is creating a cycle track with paint and plastic bollards and then following up with cement curbs.
They make a distinction between cities that prioritize safety and comfort for people walking or riding bicycles and those who are more accepting of compromises and lip service solutions.
Cities that are serious about growing cycling do not employ measures that are obvious compromises; such as cycle lanes that are too narrow to be fit for purpose, operate only part-time, and/or terminate abruptly or with a hazardous merge.
Other Interesting Excerpts
Street Scene Impact — Cycling infrastructure can successfully be designed as an integrated part of the streetscape – although there are also unsuccessful examples of this. Though a mode of transport that it is highly desirable to encourage, cycling in cities is primarily a means to an end. Provision for cycling should do as much as it can to contribute positively to, and not to detract from, the wider experience of being in a city. While it is important that aesthetic concerns do not compromise the practical utility of cycle infrastructure, it is also important that purely functional considerations should not compromise the attractiveness of streets for all users.
I have often wondered what role aesthetics plays in society. There is certainly an element of simple appreciation for good aesthetics and most of us enjoy spending time in places with good aesthetics. I do believe that aesthetics also play a role in behavior and that people are likely less aggressive, as people and drivers, in an inviting environment.
Driving Cultures — In study cities with more mature cycling cultures, drivers were found to be notably more respectful of cycling and observant of the rules of the road than in London. To suggest this is simply because the Dutch, for example, are naturally more respectful people is barely credible. Much more credible is that better driver behaviour is a general product of more liveable cities, and specifically the result of a virtuous relationship involving good cycling infrastructure, a supportive legal framework, and growth in the number of people cycling.
Culture — This brings us to the matter of cycling and broader street use cultures, how they differ, and how they change. In conducting this study, only in New York and Minneapolis did we find a cycling culture comparable to that frequently derided in London as dominated by speeding MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra); a culture that is quite different from the much more relaxed, all-age, helmetless and low-viz cycling culture found in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.
A high-speed, assertive cycling culture seems to be a corollary of the prevailing driving culture which, in London and these US cities, is often characterised by impatience and limited concern for other road users. Signs of positive change in this regard have been observable in recent years – at least in certain parts of the cities in question; and these may relate to the introduction of public bike hire schemes, to infrastructure improvements, and to less quantifiable social trends. Nevertheless, London faces a considerable challenge in moving from its current street-use culture – with often divisive modal identities – to one that compares favourably with what we found in mature cycling cities.
Bearing in mind the importance of subjective safety in determining whether people choose to cycle or not, we can report that we always felt that drivers in cities with mature cycling cultures were much more mindful of cyclists than in London, and indeed the UK generally. However, we cannot assert that the reason for this is that these drivers are necessarily more respectful of cycling, or that they think “that cyclist could easily be me or my child”, or that they drive around ever-conscious of their ‘presumed liability’ if a collision with a cyclist were to occur.
In places like Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo, Munich and Utrecht, drivers seemed to take the lion’s share of responsibility for looking out for cyclists while turning. Similarly, drivers in these cities readily fell in behind cyclists in quiet, residential 20mph streets, rather than impatiently (sometimes aggressively) tail-gating them.
There is no evidence that these benign street use cultures are the result of specific ‘culture change’ programmes. Rather, they are a characteristic of liveable cities in which there is a virtuous relationship involving various factors, including good cycling infrastructure, a supportive legal framework, and growth in the number of people cycling.
One explanation for this might be that cities with well-designed segregated infrastructure have much less conflict between motor vehicles and bicycle riders. Drivers are not often impeded by bicycle riders as they are on U.S. roads. Interactions between motorists and bicycle riders (e.g., where bikeways cross roads) are intentional with very clearly marked right-of-way. The driver-cyclist relationship in the U.S. involves greater conflict and antagonism.
Policy + Funding — The best and most mature cycling cities such as Utrecht, Copenhagen and Malmo have enjoyed continuous cross-party support for cycling over many years.
This section on page 104 very briefly outlines features that are found in London but not in cities that have been successful with bicycling. Sadly, many of these are also not uncommon around the Twin Cities such as cyclists required to give way (yield) to motor traffic at side street crossings, abrupt ends to bicycle facilities, or part-time or shared bike lanes.
For more insight see:
http://rachelaldred.org/projects-2/cycling-for-all-ages-some-thoughts-on-infrastructure/ – Rachel Aldred is a Senior Lecturer in Transport at Westminster University, London studying cycling, including the Near Miss project.
https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com – Mark Treasure’s critical and acerbic blog about UK cycling infrastructure.
http://ibikelondon.blogspot.com – London cycling blog edited by Mark Ames.
https://streets.mn/2014/12/19/2014-eu-bici-series-exports-for-minnesota/ – Kevin Krizek’s series for streets.mn evaluating cycling infrastructure in European cities.
(Cover Photo: Copenhagen Cycle Chic)