I attended the Space for Cycling Campaigners’ Training Day in Edinburgh last month. I didn’t really enjoy myself. It was nice to chat to people I’d previously known only through Twitter, but I found many of the pronouncements coming out of the CTC end of the spectrum to be deeply dubious and not particularly useful. We were presented with a booklet entitled “Space for Cycling: A guide for local decision makers”. I think we’ll be up shit creek if this thing gets put in front of politicians. It is an unambitious and incoherent document with more than a few hints of a vehicular cycling hangover. It demands only £10 per head of population for cycling, but £10 per head is not enough.
It asks for segregated (sorry, “protected”, whatever that means) cycle lanes, but immediately waters down this demand with the suggestion that gaps in the segregation are a good idea. It’s cheaper, you see, and it also ties in nicely with the classic CTC “don’t trap me in the gutter” dogma. Obstructions of segregated lanes are also accepted as a fact of life, but they’re nothing that good design and enforcement could not fix.
It also insists that lack of road space should not be used as an excuse not to segregate, while simultaneously endorsing unsegregated cycle lanes where roads are “narrower”. They can’t have it both ways.
Oh, and pedestrians and cyclists “mix happily”, don’t you know?
Unbelievably, the CTC are still using their notorious photo of Gilbert Road, Cambridge, to illustrate desirable cycling infrastructure:
And now here’s a piece of brand-new infrastructure on Market Street, Edinburgh, which exactly matches the CTC template for “safe space for cycling, for everyone”:
Remarkably inviting, is it not? Yes, there was much enthusiasm for the various activities of the City of Edinburgh Council at the event. Councillor Jim Orr would have had us believe that the council is working hard to make real progress and deserves support. Many of the attendees thrilled to the imminent imposition of 20mph speed limits without traffic calming on 80% of Edinburgh’s streets – a move that will allegedly unlock the potential of walking and cycling, generate a cultural change among drivers, foster more community spirit, and all the rest of it – and all for hardly any money! This policy appeals to vehicular cycling campaigners, who wrongly regard it as rendering segregation unnecessary, but it’s also attractive to the car-centric local council, because it requires no challenge to the dominance of the car on the streets while creating the illusion that something is being done to help pedestrians and cyclists.
Me, I think it’s hokum. The notion that drivers can be convinced to be more considerate by putting a sign on a pole is beyond belief. Everyone prefers to ignore one of the findings (p10) of the South Central Edinburgh trial of 20mph limits without traffic calming – that, despite a drop in speeds, the average speed remained above the 20mph limit. That trial applied only to back streets, so it’s a near certainty that such a limit applied to unaltered main roads will be flouted to a spectacular extent. The reality is that compliance with 20mph speed limits depends on the presence of large-scale traffic calming – raised tables, tighter junction geometry, that sort of thing. That these measures are expensive is a lazy myth – they only look expensive in the context of schemes to benefit pedestrians, who are not important to any level of UK government. Their cost is insignificant compared to the untold billions lavished on schemes to benefit drivers. And anyway, their expense is irrelevant to their necessity.
I’ll leave you with these photos of the brutal racetrack known as Leith Walk (where inadequate planned walking and cycling infrastructure improvements are now seemingly caught up in the impenetrable machinations of local government), and the kind of location where I’m supposed to believe a 20mph limit is going to make all the difference. Note the pedestrians perched on the narrow central reservation, struggling to get across due to the council’s failure to provide adequate crossing facilities. Note also the absence of any cyclists.
And here’s a nasty, victim-blaming sign on the same road. There have plainly been Accidents here, and in the minds of the kind of people who dominate the UK’s transport establishment, they’re all the fault of pedestrians.
Will some crap cycle lanes and a 20mph limit kick-start the revolution here? I don’t think so. The City of Edinburgh Council is profoundly hostile to both pedestrians any cyclists. Pretending otherwise does not help.
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