Cycling, signs and separatism

These are interesting times for cycling and cycling matters, at least in the national newspapers (for national read London-based). Several newspapers have recently added their weight to calls for something to be done about what is claimed to be the rising toll of cyclists killed on our roads, especially on the roads of the capital, and cities in general. At the end of last year there was a spike in the number in collision with lorries, particularly at notorious junctions in London. The Independent started a campaign some time ago, so too the London Evening Standard. The Times has its own campaign, with eight points drawn up in conjunction with the CTC. The manifesto was launched three months after an accident in which one of its reporters was badly injured as she cycled just yards from her workplace. She has been in a coma ever since.

The campaign by The Times, "Cities fit for cycling", is well-intentioned, I don't doubt. I'll leave it at that for now. (I've yet to read the full 12-page supplement produced for the launch of the campaign; I still won't buy Murdoch's papers, but some material at least is not hidden behind the online newspaper's 'paywall'). Instead, and by way of a comparison to the doom of stories of cycling in London, here is another flavour of the cycle network in the nearest city to where I live (see also the variation to my commute).

Kingston upon Hull is said to be the fourth best cycle city in the country. Some facilities are good; some not so good...


Traffic lights at Charles Street, Hull

The image above shows something that London cyclists presumably don't come across too often. It is a set of traffic lights that stops five lanes of traffic for cyclists only to move away in one of three directions. I can't be sure, but I think it was installed during the then Labour council's administration in the 1990s.


The beginning of the segregated route on Charles Street

The road immediately across from the cyclists' traffic lights can be busy at peak times. So there is a "segregated route for pedal cycles and pedestrians only" (formerly a footpath now with a line painted down the middle and a bike symbol drawn on it). I won't use the thing. I don't hang about on the road, but that didn't stop a woman in a car that over took me – I didn't look at her so I don't know if she was the passenger or driver – reminding me that there was a cycle path alongside the road. Or words to that effect. I didn't respond; I just cycled on at a fair pace.


Junction 1: a crossroads

I have no idea if the woman genuinely believed I was supposed to use the cycle path. That there is some compulsion for it to be used. But I do imagine that many motorists believe this. And that some other motorists feel that cyclists should use it to get out of their way regardless of whether its use by cyclists is compulsory or not. It is not compulsory, of course.


Junction 2: a 'T' junction for traffic coming from the left

In fact, apart from needlessly slowing down my journey it actually puts me in greater danger. Along this short stretch there are two junctions and a works exit. One of the junctions is a crossroads, so by my reckoning that means the cyclist riding on the path has to watch out for vehicles coming from seven possibile directions (plus those coming in and out of the works exit), and the drivers of these vehicles will feel they have right of way over cyclists on the path. I'm sure they do have right of way, but a cyclist on the road has the right of way over all of them.


The works exit


End of the line if, like me, you want to get back on to the main road

Ignorance of the rules regarding cycle lanes isn't the preserve of motorists, however. Elsewhere on Hull's cycle network is the following bit of handiwork. Presumably some aggrieved cyclist took matters (and a can of yellow paint) in to their own hands and sprayed this and other statements on to "their" side of the route. But the person is misinformed.


"Cycles only". Not true, actually

According to Hull City Council's helpful "Go Cycle" map, on a segregated route pedestrians may use either side, the implication being that cyclists must, however, stick to their own side. Admittedly, this isn't stated in the Highway Code.


(And does a misplaced apostrophe compound the error? Tsk)


On some paths in Hull cycling is especially unwelcome


"Your honour, in the absence of a comma between these two words, my client took this sign to be a casual observation and not an instruction to be followed"


Route 1 & 66 of the National Cycle Network. Note that this is a segregated route, with a seemingly expensive series of bricks along a fair stretch of the route


It's probably a legal requirement, but I find it odd that motorists need to be warned about cyclists crossing when they are likely to be riding their bikes across the road whilst motorists wait at a red light


Route 65 of the National Cycle Network, a few hundred yards to the east of Routes 1 & 66 with the correct sign for this shared route: "(no separation) cyclists give way to pedestrians". (Note the incorrect sign further down the track suggesting that this is a segregated cycle route. It isn't)

There have been a few deaths of cyclists in Hull over the past few months. Just this week a "cyclist struck the vehicle [a DAF truck] and fell off", according to the Hull Daily Mail, at one of the big roundabouts I now avoid if at all possible. But overall I think that cyclists in Hull have a fairly good deal. That would not seem to be the experience of cyclists in London.

In a piece that doesn't sit behind that Times paywall Jon Snow – CTC president, Channel 4 News presenter and celebrity cyclist – made a number of rather pessimistic observations, including the following paragraph:

"Cars and bikes do not mix. It’s not just the fumes that compel me to wear a mask, but the obvious reality that so consumed Mary Bowers’ [The Times journalist] consciousness. It is the absolute fact that half a tonne of vehicle and 80kg of bike and human cannot coexist in the same road space safely. "

Crikey. I have to confess that this simple northern fellow wonders why people would want to live in the capital, let along cycle there, judging by all the alarming stories we see and read, but each to their own, I suppose. I don't share Jon Snow's separatist mentality. He must realise that what he is suggesting is simply way too impractical in over-developed areas of the country such as his. It's surely too late in this country for the ideal others point to on the continent.

Although The Times manifesto was drawn up in consultation with CTC, it seems that a few things have been slipped in that CTC wouldn't normally support. Cyclists are urged by the newspaper to wear hi-viz gear and helmets. (It has been pointed out by some that James Cracknell, the former Olympian and fervent helmet propagandist still recovering after being hit on the back of the head by the door mirror of a US truck, is sponsored by a manufacturer of cycle helmets.) Unsurprisingly, the campaign by The Times has divided cyclists (we're a bit like the Peoples Front of Judea, aren't we? Or should that be the Peoples' Front of Judea?). I had a brief look at some of the message boards and quickly got bored reading the sniping comments on some of them. Much like avoiding the pointless exchange that would have followed had I responded to the woman in that car when she reminded me there was a cycle lane I wasn't using, I no longer use the message boards such as those on the CTC forum. It's not just that I found they took up too much of my time. It's also because I found some people on them to have a little too much aggression.

There's enough of that on our roads.

One more thing...


More of those disarming dismounting cyclists in Hull


Sign of the times. A close-up of that elderly proclamation on railings along Routes 1 & 65 of the National Cycle Network and Trans Pennine Trail 🙂

16 comments on “Cycling, signs and separatism”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    The environmental and social disaster loosely characterised as 'provision for cyclists' in the UK is encapsulated by the nonsensical statement (from The Times campaign) that: "Ministers, mayors and local authorities must build cities that are fit for cycling." I have hardly seen a single example of 'cycling infrastructure' that does not do more harm than good. As for signs with bicycle symbols, they should be banned. Bollards should be illegal. The only points I agree with out of the 8 in the campaign are (1) equipping lorries and (5) training of cyclists and drivers. The rest of it – 'next generation cycle routes' and 'cycleways and cycling super-highways' – will achieve nothing, or worse: it will set cycling back another two decades.

    Whole books could be written about this of course, and probably have been. They probably mention the Netherlands, where I have cycled myself and enjoyed the almost universal segregation of bicycles from motorised traffic. It works in Holland because they began over 100 years ago, because their country is flat and compact, and because their towns and cities are full of canals that make motoring almost impossible. Are British Ministers, mayors and local authorities going to reshape the landscape? I don't think so, even if this is what people wanted (which they do not).

    The examples in Hull – botched junctions, empty cycle paths leading nowhere – (not just in Hull of course but everywhere in urban areas) exemplify the stark fact that highway engineering technicians have neither the money nor the intellectual wherewithall to do the job properly, and even if they did they would simply be pandering to pressure groups and other minority lobbies pedalling peddling their agendas in the same way as people who want to put health warnings on wine bottles and ban smoking in public places.

    Much of my cycling is on roads that are shared between cyclists and motor vehicles. It is not a problem. There is no problem. The vast majority of motorists are careful and courteous towards me as a cyclist. We do not have a problem. Unless, that is, we are confused by the local council's painted lines, bike symbols, signs, needless kerbs etc when one of their technicians has decided to waste his (or her) budget by imposing his (or her) 'designs' on the community in the name of road safety, or something. I wish they would go away but unfortunately they will not, and The Times is making it worse.

    I recognise there are occasional tragedies on the roads and that we each have a civic duty to try to prevent each and every instance of somebody getting killed in an accident, whether they are a pedestrian, cyclist, motorist, or horserider. But this is not a political thing. It is a moral thing to do with human behaviour and how we relate to each other in public places. This is about behaviour, not the design of steel and concrete. Cyclists are not a breed apart (although you might think so reading the CTC forums). But publishers love statistics.

    I also recognise there are some roads that are dangerous to cycle on and traffic conditions in which it would be foolish to venture into on a slow moving bicycle. In these cases there is little to be done except to avoid them. It is no big deal and no reason to embark on a campaign.

    Over the past couple of years I have come to the view that the only place where bicycles should be separated from other vehicles is at roundabouts because their concept makes them fundamentally unsafe for a slow vehicle where faster vehicles are going off left. The rest of it should be scrapped – the separation, I mean. It only reinforces the idea that bicycles should not be on the roads by right, and most of it doesn't even work properly anyway. Doing it properly would take a generation as road designers are retrained to think differently, and money is found which does not exist. There is simply not a political will do do all this.

    So... to recap: "The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test." IMO this is by far the most important point in The Times campaign.

    This is a very good article Chris. The only thing is that is raises my blood pressure! LOL

  2. Mary wrote:

    Quote "This is about behaviour, not the design of steel and concrete".

    TOtally agree here.

    Great article Chris, and when I read about city cycling, I am so very grateful I dont need to ride in any. My biggest bug bear when cycling in teh UK, is those bloomin cycle lanes, I get completely confused by them. They encourage undertaking on roundabouts – mini and large. (I use the pedestrian crossings on big roundabouts, but I cycle like a small motor bike on the mini ones if I have to use them. Cars simply do not take note of traffic (read bicycles) on their inside.

    And I agree, that it is time the driving test and lessons take a lot more notice of other road users. My eldest past her test last year, and she really didnt get any information on other road users, other than they exist and she had to take care passing them.

  3. Kern wrote:

    Well. I’m not sure I should wade in here – the waters are pretty frothy 🙂 .

    Two observations from a distance:

    1. Regardless of the particulars of the Times “manifesto”, its existence will increase awareness of cyclists’ safety. This is a good thing.

    2. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to cyclists’ safety, particularly in “retrofit” situations (i.e. anywhere but the Netherlands). Local conditions and habits will dictate different approaches, all of which are potentially valid. However, consistency is important – all stakeholders should know what to expect in a given situation, and piecemeal, partial or dead-end “solutions” should be avoided.

    3. There would be a strong benefit in having influential people (politicians, business leaders, newspaper editors, etc) take to their bicycles for a week. There is nothing like first-hand experience to bring clarity to an issue. And just think of the number of instant experts we would have!

    Okay, that was three observations.

    Good post, Chris. Love that last photo.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, I wasn't having a go at Hull. Apologies to Chris if it came over that way. It is probably a much more pleasant place to cycle than Manchester. But the basic issue is the same:

    ... consistency is important – all stakeholders should know what to expect in a given situation, and piecemeal, partial or dead-end "solutions" should be avoided.

    Exactly so. That is why separation of bicycles is not a solution in Britain. If there was a British Standard road junction, and a British Standard cycle lane, and they were properly designed to accommodate bicycles (as they tend to be in Denmark even more than Holland), and they were implemented throughout most of the land like the decent railways we will be able to enjoy in the not-too-distant future, I would be in favour. Except that voters would complain about the cost. "What is all this for?" they would ask, and: "Where are the cyclists?"

    It is all pie-in-the-sky. There is neither the will nor the money so the debate is all theoretical. And frustrating, which is where I think the aggression Chris refers to comes from: how nothing changes and the same debate will be going on ten years from now after hundreds more cyclists and others have been killed and my local council (Bolton in Lancashire, not Kingston upon Hull) has disfigured another 5,000 road junctions. However, I do agree that the manifesto and debate will increase awareness of cyclists' safety.

  5. Hilary wrote:

    Kern wrote

    There would be a strong benefit in having influential people (politicians, business leaders, newspaper editors, etc) take to their bicycles for a week

    If I had my way I would make it compulsory for all new drivers to ride a bike for 3 months before being eligible for driving lessons. That way they would have some understanding of cyclists and their needs. It used to be a natural progression from bike to motorbike and eventually car whereas now many people have no experience of anything other than a car.

  6. Alan wrote:

    Excellent and thoughtful article, Chris. It's worth pointing out that "cyclists dismount" is merely advice, not an instruction. Another point is that pedestrians are allowed to walk on any part of any highway (except motorways), hence they can legally walk on either side of a divided pedestrian/cycle path but cyclists must stick to their own side.

    I confess I signed the Times Manifesto when it first appeared. Although it was flawed, I was happy the issue of cyclists' safety was being raised. Cycling in the UK could be more safe and inviting than it currently is. I soon regretted my decision when the Times campaign seemed to be a call for rubbish facilities to get cyclists off the roads. The campaign doesn't attack the root of the issue, our dependancy on cars.

    They've even done a survey claiming "four out of ten cyclists believe they should pay their own form of tax to finance any schemes to improve cycling safety, rather than the cost being met from general taxation."

    As a rule, I hate and despise UK cycling facilities. If I use them, my personal danger increases. When I don't, motorists probably think I should and may be tempted to "punish" me. (In fairness, I've never even been shouted at, and the rare toot might mean anything.)

    I love country lanes that have no cycling facilities, but nor do they have junctions that have been "improved" so that motorists can take them at speed. The playing field is levelled. There is often a civilised balance between motorists and non-motorists, and we get on with each other.

    I don't enjoy cycling in cities, not even Cambridge. If I lived there perhaps I'd grow accustomed to it, but they keep adding new cycle lanes that might split in weird and wonderful ways, bus lanes that we might be allowed in, and off-road paths that might turn out to be rubbish — I never know until I try them. As Patrick says, consistency would help.

    If we had segregated roads that were as good as roads, I'd be happy to use them. Basically, roads without motorists — wonderful. But that's not what the Times is calling for.

  7. Chris wrote:

    Alan wrote: It's worth pointing out that "cyclists dismount" is merely advice, not an instruction.

    You're right, of course, Alan. When I took most of these photographs in November I was thinking of doing something about cycle signs. I never did, but I thought I'd use them with reference to the campaign by The Times. My bad, as I believe the kids on the street – and indeed the pavements – say these days.

    I should have realised the advisory nature of blue rectangular signs. Here is one over in Lincolnshire (Caistor) that we took note of as we rode past. Does this mean that the planners (or whoever) down there are more polite, or have a slightly bigger budget...

    cyclists advised to dismount


    On this subject as a whole I think Chris Boardman, writing in that 12-page special edition of The Times, summed up my own attitude better than I managed to do in this post. I only read this on Thursday:

    "For me, the core issue is road hierarchy. While I am glad to see more and more cycling infrastructure going in, the philosophy behind its design seems to be: get the cyclist out of the way of the car.

    But the thinking behind road design needs to be: how can we make life easier and safer for cyclists? These two things must go together to be effective. A sign at a roundabout or where a road narrows that reads “motorists, give priority to cyclists” would have a massive impact on road safety by giving a clear instruction to both parties. It would cost little to implement and, in most cases, I doubt it would have much effect on traffic flow. In my opinion that simple signage, indicating a change of priority, would do more good for cyclists than 1,000 miles of cycle lanes that take me miles out of my way.

    I could go on about all the different types of road improvement and the need for all road users to respect and be courteous to each other, but ultimately, if the political will is there to make this step-change in our city environment, the tools of how to do it are all around us in Europe. It just needs the desire to do so."

    The more I read about The Times campaign the more I am convinced that "the philosophy behind its design seems to be: get the cyclist out of the way of the car " just as Boardman notes about 'cycling infrastructure'.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    Spot on. Chris Boardman: the voice of reason. I've never heard him say anything that is not sensible. He has thought things through (Jon Snow hasn't). It's exactly right about political will. Ultimately all these campaigns are aimed at public opinion and what is politically achievable. Re Alan's point above: dependency on cars... the London congestion charge couldn't be replicated in Manchester because most local people didn't want it. I hope it survives in London as it does seem to work.

  9. Alan wrote:

    I noticed Chris Boardman's suggestion of "motorists, give priority to cyclists" and I'm not entirely convinced. For example, it would mean drivers on a roundabout would need to give way to cyclists joining it. The "give way" marking at the entrance wouldn't apply to cyclists (unless another cyclist was already on the roundabout, of course). Wonderful for us cyclists, of course, but a fundamental shift in the way that roundabouts and give-way markings currently work.

    On the other hand, perhaps Boardman is being crafty with this innocent-sounding genesis towards the radical extension: "motorists must always give priority to cyclists everywhere". Yay!

  10. Patrick wrote:

    Perhaps he means give way to cyclists already on the roundabout rather than those coming on to it.

  11. Patrick wrote:

    It's now official: Cameron backs the campaign. It's just a pity he said you take your life into your hands every time you cycle (especially as walking is 'statistically more dangerous' LOL).

    I've never seen any cycling statistics that are convincing one way or the other. I doubt if anyone except politicians and campaigners takes any notice.

  12. Chris wrote:

    As a bit of a postscript, I was broadsided this morning on one of the quiet side streets recommended by the local council. After a misty night the white van man hadn't completely cleared his driver's side window.

    I was on the 'main' road and he came out of a side street from my left. After getting off the front of his van I helped him clear that side window a bit more as he wound it down.

    Not fun, I was a bit shaky, but apparently unhurt.

  13. Hilary wrote:

    Blimey Chris, that was a close shave! Glad you're ok. Any damage to your bike?

  14. Chris wrote:

    Just a wonky front mudguard I think.

  15. Kern wrote:

    Too close.

  16. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, glad you're ok.

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