Moving Forwards

In conclusion, my analysis of case studies, and derived principles, reveal the need for two stages of progress. Firstly, the appropriate knowledge and design expertise, as I have explored in this study, needs to be circulated and spread amongst design professionals to prevent the needless production of unsuitable infrastructure. Design guides are already in place to prevent this, and a government cycle-proofing group is actively checking design routes against these standards. However, as we have seen so many examples of dangerous infrastructure, it is clear that this approach needs review, which could be achieved through assessing infrastructure against the principles I have outlined. Once this uniform knowledge is disseminated, a unified approach to urban cycling infrastructure can be produced that can then be gradually crystallized into the urban landscape through sustained funding.

If the government is to reach its ambition of doubling the numbers of cyclists in our cities, then the UK budget for cycling needs to at least match that spent in the Netherlands, and for a continuous period of at least ten years. Prolonged investment and sustained political will is the only solution to providing a coherent cycle infrastructure. Although this might seem financially difficult to maintain, one might consider that a rise in cycling will lead to a reduction of costs in other areas – such as health care. Health experts even claim that the government could save more than £1 billion a year if Dutch spending on cycle provision was matched. (Times, 2013). As we can see in the government ‘Cycle and Walking Investment strategy’ , the numerous benefits of walking and cycling are well known, but the allocated funding doesn’t reflect these potential benefits.

 

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A graphic illustrating the various benefits to large scale cycling / Image from Highways England

One example of this funding discrepancy is the Cycle Ambition Cities programme, which was announced by the Prime Minister in 2013. This provided an annual budget of £10 per person to build cycle networks in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Oxford. This can be compared with the Netherlands, which has an average spending per head of £24 (Telegraph, 2015).  Evidence from a survey by Sustrans suggests that there is a public appetite for such greater amounts of spending here in the U.K. (Guardian, 2015). Although this figure might seem very large, it diminishes greatly when considered within the holistic context of health, oil imports, and road use,

Schemes like the ‘Cycle To Work scheme’, and Birmingham’s own ‘cycle revolution’ help show the momentum that is beginning to grow, but these political gestures need to be underpinned by a strong investment in infrastructure. This is effectively illustrated by the fact that hundreds of Birmingham cycle revolution bikes, despite being free, are still unclaimed by city residents. (BBC Midlands Today, 2016) Although the government has a healthy appetite for spending on rail schemes, and motorways, the infrastructure approach for cycling is not radical enough to ensure a change in levels of subjective safety, and it therefore remains an unappealing option to the majority. Unless this sense of subjective safety is increased, then people are unlikely to overcome their objections and get on their bikes. Evidence shows that people generally do not change their habits in favour of supporting abstract ideas like global warming, planet saving etc, but are motivated primarily by ease and convenience. (Montgomery, 2013) The primary challenge is therefore the attainment of high levels of convenience, and subjective safety, which can never be fully addressed by ‘cycle-training’ and incentive schemes like the UK has previously concentrated efforts on. Instead of schemes like ‘Bikeability’ and ‘Cycle to work’, it would be more productive in both the long and short-term to redirect these funds to the creation of cycle infrastructure that tackles the problem at source.

 

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Graphic showing potential impact on short journeys of effective cycle infrastructure / Image from Highways England

Through effective infrastructure, cycling will become the obvious choice for short journeys, but this can be accomplished only through prioritisation. This means that cycle infrastructure can only be considered successful when it actually makes cycle travel easier and more convenient than other forms of transport. At this point, it becomes natural for the citizens of a city to act in their own self-interest and cycle. Without this added justification, cycle paths are likely to have little to no impact on cycling levels and can therefore even be held up as examples of a waste of money. In the Dutch bicycle Masterplan of 1999, Welleman wrote:

 

…the construction of a network of bicycle routes is insufficient in itself for bringing about a sustainable increase in bicycle use. The simultaneous execution of a policy discouraging car use is deemed necessary, as is attention to good bicycle parking facilities and informing people of the route network on a continual basis.”

– Dutch Bicycle Masterplan , 1999

 

One might also look to Bjarke Ingels for inspiration as to how cycling can be encouraged through economic measures as well as adjustments to the urban landscape. His idea of ‘hedonistic sustainability’, as sustainability that improves the quality of life and human enjoyment, shows how green measures must be sold to the public as life-improvement measures, rather than austere policies of restriction. This can be built on by not just selling cycling to the public as a pleasurable means of transport, but selling it to politicians as a means of transforming lifeless residential neighbourhoods into vibrant, human scaled, communities. Restricting the movement of cars mustn’t be seen as an anti-car measure, but rather as a pro-liveable neighbourhood decision.’ If our cities are to compete on a global scale, then a competitive quality of life is essential, and the bicycle is the ideal way of realising this. As I have determined, an increase in subjective safety is crucial to increasing levels of cycling. Practically, this means introducing measures that invert the hierarchy of dominance on our streets and thus decrease the perceived risk.

Instead of a hierarchy of dominance, where might is right, I suggest a new hierarchy of vulnerability.  Vulnerability on the road is a function of speed and layers of protection, and the least vulnerable have the greatest potential to cause other road users harm. The question is therefore how can a road system give the most vulnerable mobility dominance? Perhaps this can be achieved through legislation, and might result in a situation more like the Netherlands, in which car drivers who hit cyclists are demonised. This is not to argue that vulnerable users of the road are never at fault, but that their vulnerability deserves recognition.

With the appropiate investment and political will, there is potential for great change to take place, which can capitalise on the momentum that is already starting to gather. Increases in the frequency of environmental crises, and increases in the cost of fuel, necessitate a gradual movement towards more sustainable patterns of urban development, and this entails the realisation of the urban bicycle as a tool for enabling this. With the right political will, this natural process can be quickened, and what has been achieved in Copenhagen in 30-40 years can be replicated in UK cities in 5-10 years. At the same time, we can see a realisation of walkable, bikeable and people-focused communities as a means to promote health, equity and economic success. This could initially be realised through pilot schemes, into which significant funding is poured to demonstrate the benefits of sustained levels of investment.

Instead of using the limited amount of available funding to create small changes across a range of different locations, I suggest concentrating efforts on a single city, or possibly two. Such concentration of funding and political will would produce rapid change with all the associated benefits that I have explored. The success of this singular development would then act as a catalyst for the creation of similar scenarios across the country, and act as a precedent study for mainstreaming urban cycling in the UK. This initial pilot study would also give the opportunity to devise a successful infrastructure strategy, appropriate to the UK, and allow the benefits of cycling to be recognised and perhaps measured in a UK context. For such a pilot city, it would be advantageous to specify a location that, with a minimum of political will and funding, could readily be converted into an urban cycling haven. Cities that house demographics with a greater propensity for cycling are more poised to become these future cycling havens, and can quicken and make more efficient the process of demonstrating to the general public and politicians the true potential of urban cycling as a regenerative tool.

For such a location I would recommend a city which has relatively high levels of cycling. As the most successful cities for cycling are generally those which have a high student population, like cities such as Copenhagen and Groningen, a university city would be a wise choice. Cambridge, with its relatively high levels of cycling despite limited infrastructure, is ideally situated for such a scheme. Cambridge has a demographic of students and young graduates that are more likely to cycle and so could be transformed with a minimum of effort in comparison with other UK cities. This could then become a pinnacle city for urban cycling in the UK.

With the appropriate review of international precedents, there is no reason why this initial development could not help us return to levels of pre-war cycling as a starting point, and then ultimately a continually rising level. If we are to continue looking at the past as precedent, then we might also note that the roads themselves were not initially built for cars, as it was cyclists themselves who originally lobbied for the provision of smooth flat paving that cars then benefitted from. As cycle enthusiast Carlton Reid writes, “In the UK and the US, cyclists lobbied for better road surfaces for a full 30 years before motoring organisations did the same. Cyclists were ahead of their time.” (The Guardian, 2016). Perhaps by bearing this people power in mind, we can see that there is great scope for the cycle to once again become the ultimate symbol of freedom and urban modernity.

 

Footnotes

1. The Telegraph. 2015. Bike lane funding ‘is about to plummet [Accessed 9 August 2016]
2. The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan. 1999. fietsberaad. . [Accessed 27 July 2016].
3. The Guardian. 2016. 19th century cyclists paved the way for modern motorists’ roads | Carlton Reid | Environment | . [Accessed 20 September 2016].