Why “Cycling by Design” belongs in the bin

In November of last year, Glasgow City Council finally got round to responding to David Brennan’s Cycle Friendly Glasgow petition. The response is a wildly boastful bit of fluff – many of the points it makes have already been subjected to my criticism here and here and here and here. I also gave my view of the council’s claim that “widths are almost double those recommended by Cycling by Design” on the Cathkin Braes cycle route, in a comment on David’s blog post:

The use of Cycling by Design as some kind of benchmark is absurd, because that document recommends nothing but the same old rubbish

Recently, I have felt moved to expand on this point, and will do so today.

Cycling by Design is Transport Scotland’s guide to (alleged) best practice in the design of cycling infrastructure. It’s a very typical piece of UK cycling policy – it starts out with all the usual warm words and fine intentions, but it all falls apart when you look at the detail. It was first launched all the way back in 1999 by none other than then-Transport Minister Sarah Boyack, who claims to support Pedal on Parliament. What we have today is the 2010 edition, which was itself updated in 2011. I haven’t read the 1999 edition – I daresay it was far worse – but the reality is that the current edition is not fit for purpose and needs to be rewritten.

Cycling by Design is fundamentally flawed in that it recommends such failed concepts as the Hierarchy of Provision and the Dual Network:

In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of different skill levels and trip purposes, different types of facilities may be required.

For example, a cycleway may be appropriate where it provides a short link for primary school children while cycle lanes on the adjacent roadway may be more suitable for adult commuter cyclists. Having a cycleway next to a cycle lane may be a good dual network solution in such circumstances. (p10)

I’m sick of drivel like this, I really am. Every street in this country needs to be divided into 2 categories: those where there are high-quality segregated cycleways suitable for everyone, and those where the speed and volume of motor traffic is low enough (or can be made low enough) for everyone to find cycling on the carriageway acceptable. This is the only way forward. Transport Scotland’s notion of cycle network planning, by comparison, is inept. The last thing we need is cycle lanes, which are a joke. We don’t need two types of cycling infrastructure on the same street, either – that’s a waste of space and inevitably results in both types being substandard. The term “cycleway” (as used by Transport Scotland) also lacks precision and could easily mean shared pavements, which are another joke.

Cycling by Design also jam-packed with specific examples of crappy infrastructure, like this ASL with a nearside feeder lane and a central feeder lane (p91):


I happen to recognise this street – it’s Bristo Place in Edinburgh, part of the route from Waverley station to the Meadows, where Pedal on Parliament begins – and I remember what happened the first time I cycled along it only too well. I realised quite late on that I’d end up being taken off in completely the wrong direction unless I swerved across a lane of motor traffic from the nearside cycle lane to the central cycle lane. I did not enjoy this experience – stressful, you see, with all those cars and buses around me – but Transport Scotland actually perceives arrangements like this as “beneficial”.

Then there’s this (p92):


Expecting cyclists to use the road when the lights are green and go up onto the pavement when the lights are red is just the kind of nonsense that results in people ignoring the designer’s intentions and doing whatever they like. Note also how it’s seen as acceptable to cut the pavement back to almost nothing at a signal-controlled junction, where it’s likely lots of pedestrians will congregate waiting to cross, to make way for the bypass cycle lane. Transport Scotland is anti-pedestrian to its core and will stop at nothing to suppress walking.

On the subject of segregated cycleways, Cycling by Design has this to say:

They are most effective on high speed rural roads

No. We need segregated cycleways on roads in built-up areas every bit as much as we need them in rural areas. If anything the need is greater in towns, because that’s where people live. This is so obvious and I cannot believe I’m having to point it out.

There is so much more nonsense in there, and I could go on and on about it, but I just can’t be bothered.

The people at Transport Scotland need to face up to their ignorance. They need to acknowledge that everything they think they know about cycling is wrong. They need to throw out Cycling by Design and start again. They need to ditch the ludicrous Dual Network concept and plan one network for everyone. They need to abandon all their wacky ideas about ASLs and start endorsing simultaneous green junctions. They need to go all-out for segregation and forget about all the other crap. And they need to adopt the best Dutch practice wholesale, instead of wasting years repeating research already done by competent people and coming up with their own dodgy conclusions.

But they won’t do any of this. Instead they’ll blunder on, doing what they’ve always done, even though it’s never worked and never will. Transport Scotland is an amateurish organisation, oblivious to best practice and devoted to failure.

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  1. I agree that both the Hierarchy of Provision and Dual Networks are failed concepts. I also agree that high-quality segregated cycleways suitable for everyone are needed on busy roads. But given the place where we are starting from, what is the most effective way forward?

    Say your city has £10m to spend on cycling. Should they plan a cycle network and then get it up and running, warts and all? or should they develop a couple of high-profile schemes, as it were, to set the standard? If you think the latter option, what is the evidence or reason which says that developing a few routes for the people who are uncomfortable riding a bike amongst traffic is more urgent than introducing a comprehensive, city-wide network for the “mass of non-cyclists who are most likely to take up cycling again”?

    To be clear, we’re talking here about where to start, not where to end up.

    1. Hi Bikemapper,

      I wouldn’t actually be very excited by either of those options. I want the core segregated network built in one go. It’s perfectly feasible. Seville built 50 miles of cycleways in one year, and a further 30 miles over the next three years. Modal share rocketed from 0.5% to 7% (http://lcc.org.uk/pages/seville-goes-dutch). That’s what I want here as a starting point. I would then want the network further developed until modal share is well into the double figures.

      Of course, this requires political leadership. Under the current Labour council, Glasgow is only managing to build the odd mile every other year. There is no reason to think it will be different if, as looks probable, the SNP take over in 2017. Both parties regard themselves as doing enough already. The Tories are even worse – just yesterday, we witnessed them complain that Edinburgh’s cycling budget is too high. The Green party is gaining traction in the aftermath of the referendum – with the proportional system used to elect Scottish councils they may well gain influence, and I perceive this to be the only conceivable scenario in which things will improve.

      I want to see real movement over the next few years. I’m not optimistic. I’ll probably end up looking for somewhere else to live – much as I would miss home, I’m just not going to waste my whole life in a place that’s in the state Glasgow’s in.

    2. That sounds awfully like a false dichotomy. Talk of pragmatism, incremental change, being grateful for crumbs from the table and so forth by cycle campaigners over the years is precisely why we are where we are today: poor quality, incoherent, patchy dual-networked “provision” and a sub-2% modal share. Asking, nay, demanding quality is not some utopian ideal; it is an acknowledgement of the fact that you either do things properly or not at all. Why waste time with half-measures that please nobody and which will inevitably need to be replaced, when you can start doing things properly from the start. An apt comparison is motorway construction – no half measures there!

      The gradualists have had their time – now there are people demanding rapid action: proper investment, high design standards and a cohesive strategy. Time for folk to get in line with this or get the hell out of the way, frankly.

      1. Where to begin? Well, let’s start at the beginning, I suppose. Firstly, am I presenting you with a false dichotomy? I am suggesting that there are basically just two ways to develop an amenable cycling environment: top-down (holistic) or bottom-up (adjustment). If there is another way which I don’t know about, I would be interested to hear the details.

        When taking an holistic approach, it is prudent to begin by making the making the minimum change for the maximum effect. Quality infrastructure comes afterwards, and is best developed within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network.

        That I not be accused of assertion, what do you think of this: “a coordinated and properly-managed city-wide core network of cycle routes which reflect the main routes that cyclists want to use and which are designed to a standard of journey quality likely to attract increased use”? Does that sound good? It’s from 2002, and it was called the LCN+ (source). Part of the plan was to “make London’s town centres, residential areas, business areas and interchanges attractive, safe and secure, encourage more people to travel on foot or by bicycle and enhance the quality of public space”.

        In November 2005, Darren Johnson oversaw a review of the LCN+. It had become apparent by this stage that the LCN+ was floundering, and that “without a change of gear” the whole project might ultimately fail. Amongst the review’s several recommendations, it was suggested that TfL should identify a small number of key routes across London, and prioritise their early completion. “These routes should encompass ‘difficult’ areas such as Parliament Square,” the review added, “and be of a standard for other schemes across London to emulate” (source).

        Ten years later, and the first “showcases of good design” are starting to appear. Ten years! Worse, as Andrea Casalotti reports, because “the fight” to install these high profile schemes was much more demanding than anticipated, “insufficient effort” was devoted to the Central London Cycling Grid, “with the consequence that no progress has been made on the core of the Vision”.

        You say that the gradualists have had their time. When was this? In which towns and cities? It’s you lot who have had their time. You lot are the single biggest obstacle to a ‘network first’ approach. No, you are the only obstacle. Demanding quality at this stage sets the bar too high, with the consequence that paralysis sets in. If you cannot see this, it is because you have become blinded by ideology.

        You ask: “Why waste time with half-measures that please nobody and which will inevitably need to be replaced, when you can start doing things properly from the start?”. I can think of about ten reasons.

        You also say that either you do things properly or not at all. If this is a “fact”, as you claim, then presumably you would be able to find the evidence of it. What is that evidence, Joel? Are you able to quote somebody? Which wise old owl ever said such a thing?

  2. Thank you for your reply.

    The thing I got from the LCC report is about the importance of networks. Jose Garcia Cebrian noted that for any scheme to be a success, cycle lanes had to form a joined-up network that people would really use. Ricardo Marques Sillero added: “Isolated cycle paths are almost useless if they’re not connected, making a network from the beginning.”

    I was curious to see what Seville’s cycling network actually looked like. The network map is available here. Do what I did. Go to Google maps and have a look at some of the routes on StreetView (e.g. here). I was surprised at just how roomy many of the roads are. I was also surprised that, in providing for cycling, very little space was taken from the motorist. Thinking about it now, it is clear that the LCC report is somewhat misleading.

    Seville’s cycling network (80km) cost €42m. It is extremely unlikely that here in the UK we would be able to do relatively so much for relatively so little. So when you say it’s perfectly feasible.to build the core segregated network in one go, I am not looking for an argument, I am looking for movement, like you.

    The politicians do not hear about the need for movement, however. The only thing they hear from the cycling lobby is “Quality!” (see here for example). This is not prudent. As Churchill said, “The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘paralysis’.”

    1. Again, framing the argument as a false dichotomy: the problem isn’t “quality vs. network reach”, it’s the level of investment. The issue isn’t whether or not cycle campaigners are asking for quality – it’s the £10M funding is too little.

      As for Sevilla’s streets being wide, we’ll I can play that cherry-picking game too: check out Edinburgh Road (A8) and London Road (A74) for a start, then look at Sevilla’s old town… Width is not the problem, it’s design.

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