Vehicular Cycling (Bicycle Driving)
Until recently I'd never heard of vehicular cycling or bicycle driving. It seems these concepts are at the heart of a worldwide debate between cyclists who believe bicycles should have equal status to other vehicles on the highway and those who prefer them to be segregated with their own infrastructure. In the UK the CTC is taking some stick for being a 'failed organisation in denial about its failure to bring about mass cycling' compared to what's happened in places like Denmark and Holland where segregation is the norm.
According to John Forester, who invented those phrases as long ago as 1970, "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." Advocates of bicycle driving passionately believe in a God-given right to ride on the roads and that local authorities and other bodies like Sustrans are part of a grand conspiracy to confine us to cycle lanes and special paths for bicycles. This has already happened in Holland, where apparently it's compulsory to use the bike path if one is provided (I shall see this for myself in September).
CTC mostly campaigns to increase the number of cyclists on the road (Safety in Numbers, Right to Ride to School, etc), for better roads (Fill That Hole), and for better driving (Stop SMIDSY, an online service for reporting bad driving). It also encourages member groups to organise local club runs. It does not campaign for Copenhagen-style separated bicycle infrastructure (Cambridge Cycling Campaign does that). According to the government's Department for Transport, cycling levels have actually remained fairly steady since 1970, but we don't know what the numbers would be if the CTC didn't exist.
In Copenhagen cycling blogger Mikael Colville-Andersen's sneering remarks on Cycling's Secret Sect he compares 'self-serving' vehicular cyclists to the Flat Earth Society and Pamplonan bull runners: "utterly useless for the rest of society and the Common Good," for standing in the way of getting regular citizens onto bicycles by rejecting bicycle infrastructure. It isn't clear why Mikael calls them a secret sect, especially as John Forester and his colleagues actively seek to spread Knowledge of Proper Cycling and change public opinion.
Nor are they alone. John Franklin, a British road safety expert and the author of Cyclecraft (the foundation of the UK's national standard for cycle training) also advocates vehicular cycling and believes segregating cyclists from other vehicular traffic doesn't increase cycling or make it safer. So, in the world of public cycling, we have the integrationalists versus the segregationalists.
On both sides of the debate are plenty of cycling bloggers who enjoy poking fun at Council engineers and who publish photos of clumsy, useless, and sometimes dangerous attempts at funnelling cyclists along lanes at the side of the road. I don't see these 'infrastructures' as part of a grand conspiracy. It's just the normal local authority process of defending budgets and maintaining staffing levels. To be sure, Council highway planners are messing up the roads with chicanes for raised bus stops and on-street parking bays, and with cycle lanes full of parked cars. What were once simple streets are now an ugly hotch potch of projecting kerbs, coloured markings, and a jumble of signs on posts. Perhaps we'll have less of this nonsense with the impending slashing of public spending budgets.
- Danish and Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure will never be achieved in the UK because there isn't the space, the money, or the will do do it, and anything less won't stimulate significant numbers of new cyclists.
- The gap between bicycles and cars will not be so clear in the future as new types of electric vehicles are developed, including efficient battery assisted bicycles that allow anyone to ride at the same speed as cars in urban areas.
- The real issue for cyclists is the illegal and violent behaviour of motorists*. Justice will be much easier when all bicycles are fitted – as cars will be too – with compact video cams front and back for evidence in court.
*I should qualify this statement. I cycle often, and my experience is that the vast majority of motorists behave well towards cyclists in the UK. The main exceptions are (i) at roundabouts and (ii) car doors being opened in my path. The solution in both cases is to ride a safe distance out in the road. Apart from the weather, the biggest disincentive to cycle somewhere is the lack of a secure place to leave my bike when I get there.
DfT Local Transport Note, October 2008: The road network is the most basic (and important) cycling facility available, and the preferred way of providing for cyclists is to create conditions on the carriageway where cyclists are content to use it. Cycle lanes are not always suitable and may encourage cyclists to adopt inappropriate positioning if the lanes are poorly designed.
Cycling England Engineering and Planning Design Checklist & Guidance: Cycle-specific infrastructure should not be introduced without first establishing whether cyclists’ needs would be better met through demand management or traffic management measures that reduce both the volume and speed of motor traffic.
Segregating bicycles from motorised traffic as a way to encourage mass cycling is clearly not on the British government's agenda.
You see hardly anyone cycling on these special paths. If they existed in the UK I think they would be used more than they are in Denmark because Danes are urban cyclists. These are not converted railways or canal towpaths. They are built and maintained for bicycles – mostly those that are owned by foreign cycle tourists looking for cycling heaven. The UK has its own cycling heaven: thousands of miles of traffic-free bridleways in a natural environment that Denmark and Holland can never match.