How often have we heard that our cities need to “Balancing the needs of all transport users”, when all this really means is that they are only thinking of car drivers – a strategy which can only mean that even they can’t be satisfied. What if Balancing the needs of all transport users actually meant what it said? This is easy enough to determine by looking at outcomes, and then working out how cities got there.
On the left, there are cities where less than 25% of journeys are by car – and oh yes, although the Swiss capital Bern has an amazing tram network, it’s also an admirable performer for cycling, even with all those hills! Yet if we’re going to look for places with an even mix, it’s better to look at somewhere that has bars which are as close as possible to equal in length – that’s Dresden, where just over 60% of journeys are made on foot, by bike or by public transport (nowhere has an exact 4 x 1/4 split, but Dresden is closest to this).
Then towards the right, we have the car dependent cities – Coventry is already well to the right, but look further still and find Liverpool, the city we are using as a model to remove our bus lanes!
I’ll start this with the graph itself, and then go into a few notes below:
Cycling – people won’t do it because of hills, right? Or more generally, the Dutch all cycle because “Holland” is flat?
Yes, I know, there is no Holland, it’s the Netherlands, and this matters, because the hillier bits are well outside the two provinces of North and South Holland which some people seem to think makes up the whole country. As with many other myths, “Holland is flat” also starts with an element of truth. It’s not entirely fair just to say that hills aren’t an issue, or that the lack of hills in many parts of the Netherlands isn’t part of the reason why so many people cycle there. But ultimately, that’s all it is – part of the reason, and no more.
Let’s look at this from a few logical standpoints.
If flatness was the only factor which determined cycling rates, then other places which were flat would also have very high levels of cycling. We only need to find one such place to disprove this, and as it happens, somewhere with a similar population to the Netherlands, which is almost entirely flat, and which has two globally known cities will do just fine. That place is the US state of Florida. Oh of course, Florida is hot (as the Netherlands is windy), but the real reason for the general lack of cycling in Florida is almost entirely down to the lack of provision.
If hills really put people off from cycling, then we only need to find one city with hills that has a reasonable level of cycling, and then we can learn from there.
Flatness – a factor and no more
There is no doubt that flat terrain means that less mechanical effort is needed to move a machine like a bicycle across the same distance. However, it’s equally true that terrain is just one of numerous different factors which determine which choice of transport any individual or group will use for any one journey. If hills are going to be a problem in Coventry, then those same hills in Germany or Belgium (yes, Belgium isn’t flat either) are going to be the same problem, assuming relatively similar climates.
Yet the real reason why Dutch cycling rates are so high is not because of the lack of physical effort needed to move around Dutch cities, but because of relative lack of mental stress needed to move through the street environment. Physical exertion tends to mean that people may try a different approach (and for increasing numbers, this means using e-bikes), whereas cycling in unpleasant traffic tends to mean people just won’t cycle at all.
This is where the Netherlands kept a relative advantage in the 1970s. Just as Dutch cities were tearing themselves apart to cater for the car, our British cities were doing exactly the same thing. The saving grace for the Dutch cities was that although the cycling mode share fell, it never dipped below 10% in most cities, thus there was much more of a grass roots movement to spearhead the protests against the road deaths which then followed.
So to say this once more – yes, the flatness in the Netherlands could be attributed to meaning that more people tolerated otherwise unpleasant road conditions in the 70s, but it did no more than that. Almost all of the growth in cycling since then can be attributed to changes in the infrastructure (the liability laws didn’t come until the mid-90s, long after mass cycling had been restored, not before it).
Florida is flat, but nobody cycles here. If you then move on to say it’s hot, then you are just making up another excuse.
Hilly Cities With High Cycling Levels
If we can find one city with reasonably high cycling rates, then we have something to show that hills really aren’t a problem. This doesn’t have to be a British city, because all we are demonstrating is that hills are not a barrier to cycling. In order to do this, I combined two sets of information into a single table:
Which cities in a global list of top cycling cities are also known to have hills?
What is the cycling rate in each city?
For each of these cities, determine a score to show how hilly they are.
Note that I am only aiming to look at cities which are (a) reasonably hilly and (b) which have relatively high cycling rates. For this, I’ve set the bar at at least double what Coventry has now, or 6% of trips. I’ve also included Cambridge in the comparison, firstly as the leading British cycling city, but also because it is not quite as “pancake” flat as certain Dutch cities. I also looked at mode share in a number of other cities, but excluded them as their gradient index was zero. These are – Copenhagen, Oulu (Finland) and the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen and Utrecht.
I’ve made no attempt at all to assess the standards of cycling infrastructure in any of these cities. Doubtless to say, having been to both Cambridge and Maastricht, I know that these “leaders” in this table still have plenty of room for improvement. Arnhem may be a reasonable indicator of the relationship between hills and cycling rates, because it most certainly has gradients, and is hillier than, for example, Edinburgh, using the criteria given. However, even with Arnhem, there has been a significant investment in recent years, especially with the new fast link to Nijmigen, suggesting that the provided mode share of 19% may well be very conservative.
Cycling up Tongerseweg in Maastricht. This photo was taken on a quiet Sunday afternoon, yet there are still more people moving on bikes than in cars.
So do hills really impact cycling rates?
This is a selection of cycling cities with hills, not a random selection of cities, but it is taken from a list of the world’s leading cycling cities. Given this list, there is still a trend which shows that higher cycling rates exist in cities which are flatter, yet I could just have easily found a load of flat cities with no cycling to balance the whole thing out, but this was not the point.
This chart is not presented as a statistical comparison, but simply as a way to show that hills are not a barrier to the development of mass cycling. If positively alpine Innsbruck can have 4x the cycling rate of Coventry, or if slightly more rolling Maastricht can have cycling rates which are 10x that of Coventry, then clearly hills are no impediment to the development of everyday cycling.
Therefore, if “Holland”” is flat, or if Cambridge is “flat”, then so is Coventry!
Cities selected from a list of top 100 cycling cities known to have hilly terrain. Additional inclusions include Bristol (hilly with rapid cycling growth), Stavanger (hilly with relatively recent major cycling investment), and Cambridge as the UK’s leading cycling city (generally, but not quite entirely flat).
Cycling mode share figures taken from City Clock article (2014), unless more recent figures available – http://www.cityclock.org/urban-cycling-mode-share/#.WD9PFLKLQuU
Determining the Hills Index
For each city, google maps cycling route planner was used to select four routes, roughly running north, east, south and west from the main railway station in the city.
The railway station was used as this provided a central point, rather than trying to otherwise define one. In the case of Edinburgh, routes were determined from Princes Street, and do not include the steep climb out of Waverley Station.
Each route selected was roughly 5km or 3 miles, a distance that is reasonable to cycle unaided on level terrain by a reasonably fit person, wearing everyday clothes.
Gradient was determined by dividing the height gain by the total distance of the route. Downhill running was not included.
Generally, journeys away from the main railway station would be uphill. Where they were downhill, the reverse direction was considered.
Routes determined by google maps to be “mostly flat” were given a gradient of zero.
It is noted that “mostly flat” does not mean no climbs at all. For example, Coventry City Centre to Inverness Close is marked as “mostly flat”, but it includes a steep rise of 20m at the end. Irrespective of this, averaged out over 4 routes, Coventry is not considered to be a hilly city.
Who is really being terrorised on our transport networks on a daily basis? Is it tube or bus passengers worried that somebody may be plotting to blow them up? Hardly – our public transport network continues to enjoy record numbers, especially in London. Are there some people who are put off from using public transport because of fears over social safety? Of course there are, just as there are some people who don’t like walking down dark alley ways at night.
Yet across all transport modes, there is only one which has widely available courses to conquer the fear from using it – and that of course is aviation. Fear of flying affects between 15 and 20% of the population according to surveys undertaken by fear of flying course providers, who in turn often claim success rates of above 90%. Fear of flying is entirely reasonable (ie it is natural to fear the impacts of being confined in a long thin tube), but it is also entirely irrational in terms of the statistical risk, which is minimal. Dare I say it, and bring out the big bad “t” word – the statistical risk of terrorism is also minimal, however much our tabloids like to warn of the impending doom. Although there was some evidence of mode shift around the 2005 London attacks, this was often due to disruption as much as the fear from another attack.
On the other hand, fear of cycling isn’t just completely rational and normal, it is also wide spread. Why don’t people cycle when they otherwise might? In other words, if people could otherwise make a relatively short journey without taking a very heavy load and in reasonable weather conditions, why don’t they? We know that a city like Maastricht is very similar geographically ot a city like Coventry, but in the former, around 27% of journeys are by bike, in the latter just 2.7% So 90% of potential bike journeys just aren’t taking place. Remember that these are journeys which would otherwise be likely to take place by bike, this 90% is a percentage of these potential journeys, not a percentage of all journeys. For the record, Maastricht has rolling terrain, just like Coventry, and it has an infrastructure network which is relatively poor and dated by Dutch standards, and no major rail network.
Winners of the ‘Be bright – be seen’ competition @SustransCymru
What is your evidence base to show that high visibility clothing is an effective measure in the promotion of road safety?
What research, if any, has the school conducted to determine which cities or countries have the most successful records in child accident prevention, and which methodologies such places use to achieve these outcomes?
What measures, if any, has the school taken to promote safe driving amongst parents of school children, and other drivers in the locality?
What steps, if any, has the school taken to campaign for zebra crossings or similar such measures, specifically to cross Gwaunmiskin Rd at the junction with Heol Clwyddau, and also at the intersection with the footpath running northeast from Manor Chase?
What steps, if any, has the school taken to campaign for measures such as pedestrian refuges (with cycle bypass) to enable safe crossing on the path running across Gwaummiskin Rd, immediately to the northeast of the northernmost point on Carlton Crescent?
What steps, if any, has the school taken to campaign for the installation of cycle paths on Gwaummiskin Rd?
Following discussion of this matter on twitter on the evening of 19th October, how many twitter accounts in total has the school blocked?
Two weeks ago, on Saturday 20th August, on Midland Road, outside St Pancras station, a Fedex van driver made several lunges at me with his Fedex van, in a manner that was absolutely using his van as a weapon, with intent to cause fear, and potentially harm. At one point, he came less than a wheel length away from my hire bike, and I am in no doubt at all that had I lost my balance at this point, I would have gone under his van, and he would have killed me.
So how have the Met Police treated this clear incident of what’s softly known as road rage, but what felt at the time like attempted murder? Well they tell me the driver will get a “ticket” – a fixed penalty notice, pay a small fine, take perhaps 3 points, or avoid even having to do either by going on a learn to be nice course.
Am I being a bit melodramatic about this? After all, road rage incidents happen in London all the time, and I was just a mere cyclist, riding a hire bike, possibly making the driver think I was being inexperienced by riding in the centre of the lane, as per TfL’s own advice. Frankly, no I am not. The edited and full video are available below, and even this just show what I caught on camera. It’s very clear to see the driver making several lunges forward, together with incessant beeping. So isn’t this just simple dangerous driving? Dangerous driving means driving in a way which falls significantly below what might reasonably be expected of a competent driver in the situation. Dangerous driving is a serious offence, but it is not, of itself, malicious. A very close overtake, speeding dangerously round a corner or veering across lanes on a motorway due to tiredness might all be deemed as dangerous, but they do not carry intent to endanger or harm.
This driver has absolutely caused me serious harm in the form of intense stress, and by sparking off an episode of the mood disorder I otherwise had under a reasonable level of control. My own bike is still parked at Coventry station, where I left it that afternoon, or if it isn’t there, well somebody else has moved it, and I’m past caring. I won’t be cycling again for at least a month, maybe more, at this point I cannot say. Every time I go near traffic, I now feel a heightened sense of fear. For a number of days in the last few weeks, I have just remained completely housebound.
But what has angered me most about this incident is not so much the driving itself (it happens), but the fact that this man was in control of a branded corporate vehicle, and one belonging to a company which claims to pride itself in its safety standards. It is also an example of the complete double standards we have in our criminal justice system, when attacks are made using vehicles as the weapon, despite the CPS having very clear guidelines stating that a vehicle becomes a weapon when it is driven with intent to cause harm or distress. Now think of this location, and ask yourself:
What would have happened if a Fedex delivery agent had taken out a gun insider St Pancras International Station?
What if a Fedex employee wielded a knife in the crowd that surrounds the Harry Potter exhibit inside King’s Cross Station?
I don’t think I need to answer the question – go directly to jail, do not pass go.
Yet try to drive into someone, even when they are still using a TfL branded transport facility? Keep going as normal, do a little course, do not even pay a £200 fine.
Now what about Fedex themselves as a company, and essentially the world’s largest deliverer of parcels and similar such services? Well in the air, their record is perfectly competent. They talk a good corporate game. But are their standards on the road even remotely close to what you’d expect from their pilots and other aviation operatives? Not even close!
Hence, I have asked the Fedex depot manager to explain:
Was there a dash cam installed and running?
Is there an interior camera in the cab to monitor driver alertness?
Does the van use a “black box” – ie telematics, to monitor driver behaviour?
How does your recruitment process screen out potentially dangerous drivers?
What sort of ongoing training is provided for your drivers, and is this mandatory, or only post-incident?
Was this driver a direct employee of Fedex, an employee of a subcontractor, or a freelance operative?
Are Fedex signed up to safety reporting initiatives, such as FORS or CIRAS?
What expectations are placed on your drivers in terms of the number of deliveries or pickups they are expected to make each day?
Are drivers either penalised or rewarded for late or on-time delivery performance?
What specific training is given, in a city such as London, towards driver awareness of more vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians?
These questions were asked a week ago, and as yet, they remain unanswered. It’s been amazing to watch over the last few months how TfL themselves have responded to campaigns, especially by the relentless Tom Kearney (@comadad), to improve their own bus safety. Delivery drivers represent a substantial portion of the traffic that is on the roads of London and other cities. It’s time they were held to account in the same way that people are slowly holding bus companies and other such providers.
Fedex above all else really should be leading the way on transport safety – no other company in the world operates such a large combined fleet of vans, trucks, and of course aircraft.
I hope this post will yield some answers to the above questions.
Thanks everyone for comments. The reason why I made the terror comparison was entirely down to the location of the attack and company involved.
Now turn this the other way round – supposing I was an under-investigation employee of Fedex who tried to bring down one of their planes (see Fedex 705).
Would anyone quibble about whether that was terrorism, air piracy, or attempted murder?
Now suppose a Fedex staff member took out a gun or a knife inside St Pancras – do we then quibble or say it’s outlandish to say it was an act of terror, even if it may well be a lone act?
I can accept that the driver probably didn’t set out that afternoon to knock someone off a hire bike, but the simple fact is that I was there, wrong place, wrong time, and I know that he made a choice to intimidate and harass, rather than just to change lane, which he could easily have done.
I also think there’s every chance he picked me out for using a hire bike. In other words, in his political belief system as was in his mind at that time, it’s highly likely that he decided to threaten me based on his belief that he was the superior, road tax paying, licensed driver, and I was quite possibly just an inexperienced tourist who was in his way.
Either way, if i was in a car going that speed, the attack wouldn’t have happened – we all know that. So an attack based on choice of transport mode is an act of hate at the very least.
Now as a trainist myself, I have always had a few gripes about my fellow train passengers, and if there is a “bingo card” of bad train user behaviour, then it’s certainly going to include things like yakking on the phone in a quiet coach, not waiting for passengers to get off before you try to board and I will also add any sort of general grumble that goes along the lines of “renationalisation will solve everything”, “I want a seat on a commuter train AND I want it at an off peak price”, or just generally bitching because you have a meeting to get to, but you’ve left no time to spare, and the train is a whopping 10 minutes late.
Yet there is one gripe which isn;’t just annoying because it’s selfish, but it’s also annoying because it’s ocmpletely pointless – sitting in the vestibule, ie sitting by the doors on a train that actually has plenty of perfectly good seats available. So why does this annoy me? Well yes, these passengers are blocking the doors, which are there, well, for passengers to get on and off, but also because it just gives people something to grumble about when often there’s no need.
Most long distance British trains have plenty of space available – yes, that’s right, loads of space. Shock horror, nobody wants to believe it, because we just assume that because commuter trains are full, long distance trains must be as well. Except that’s just not the case, and there are two very good reasons for this. Firstly, some peak services are so expensive that even business users just won’t pay to go on them. Evening peak services leaving Euston are typically just over half full. The morning peak is busier, but even then, 65-70% is normal, it’s very hard not to find a seat if you look for one. Now what about off peak trains? Yes, some of them are full, particularly on bank holiday weekends, and there is also often a period before and after the peak “rush hour” (sorry, rip off 4 hours), when trains are often busier than they should be, because of the artificial price spike of peak fares. But on the whole, long distance trains really aren’t full, nor should they be. Why? Because long distance trains run between multiple points, and unlike some of their European (especially Spanish) equivalents, they almost never run non stop between origin and destination. Every time a train stops, there is usually a reasonable number (let’s say a coach load as an example) getting off, and then others get on. Leaving London, the train will usually lose passengers the further it gets away from the capital, although there are points on the route where there can be a net uplift, esepcially at major junction stations such as Preston on the West Coast or York on the East Coast.
Yet whichever way you look at it, British long distance trains are almost never full from end to end, and even if they are, there is still a turnover of seats at each point. So you board at Kings Cross and want to get a seat, but there aren’t any free? Simples – just hang around the MIDDLE of the carriage, not the vestibule, and your chances of still having to stand north of Peterborough are all but eliminated. If you are in a group, then it becomes much harder, as you are dependent on a group of the same size, or two smaller groups sitting next to each other to get off at the same time. But as a single passenger – if you want a seat ut have no reservation, you really have to be trying very very hard NOT to find a seat once the train has passed its first, or at worst, second, calling point (not counting places like Stevenage, which are often pick up only).
This is why I was deeply cynical when the story of Jeremy Corbyn sitting for the “WHOLE” journey broke last week, and why I’m no at all surprise that these claims have been challenged. So there you have it, and back to the real scandal – Virgin Trains boasting about having loads of spare seats – SHOCK HORROR.
If only there was some other sort of transport industry that moved passengers over great distances, and that generally operated at 70-80% full that Mr Branson could learn from. Suggestions for this on a postcard please – by air mail of course!
Following a Freedom of Information Act request, Coventry City Council has revealed that to date, it has conducted absolutely no research whatsoever prior to its planned removal of bus lanes.
This is despite the new council leader George Duggins making it a policy priority, and publicly declaring his intention to have the lanes ripped out from September onwards. The decision is only set to require the approval of Coventry City Council cabinet, and is not currently subject to any further investigation, or scrutiny by a full council meeting, or any other process.
It is already understood that a delegation from Coventry City Council went to visit Liverpool last month, in order to observe the impact of bus lane removal in that city. Despite having a much more comprehensive urban rail network when compared to Coventry, together with its famous ferry services, public transport usage on Merseyside remains low, and it is not regarded as a model by any credible urban mobility experts.
Coventry Bus Lanes – no research
My personal view
If the council had announced a planned review of bus lanes, with a comprehensive analysis of which lanes were working well, which ones were not, and then acting on the review by considering which lanes might be improved, and perhaps as well where there were some bus lanes which weren’t needed, then I doubt that anyone in the city would have any concerns about this.
The problem we have here is that it is blatantly obvious that no such review is taking place – in fact, in accordance with the question as it was asked, it appears that council officers didn’t even know about the Liverpool trip.
Of course, a “study tour” of itself should be welcomed, if it was an act of genuine fact finding, and if the council was also taking the time to have a look at other cities which have an effective network of bus lanes. We know that the council has previously undertaken “study tours” to the Netherlands, but insteead of looking at any number of cities which work, they put all their efforts into visiting totally inappropriate “shared space” junctions in the town of Drachten. We know from the accident data that these junctions do not work at all, and that they are a nightmare for many types of vulnerable road users.
As somebody who uses buses, and obviously somebody who cycles as well, I really don’t think bus lanes are the answer to everything in all places – in fact, far from it. Yet from the point of view of cycling, bus lanes provide a sense of relative protection, especially when compared with a lethal two lane road, where no such facilities exist. This has to be factored into any decision making, along with an analysis of the usage of the lanes by the buses they were intended to serve, just as the council needs to be looking at streets across the whole city, and coming up with a plan to make each one of them safe for every user.
From what we have seen so far, no such analysis has taken place. On a positive note, there is no mention of bus lanes on the agenda for tomorrow’s cabinet meeting. The next one is not until 30th August.
Hopefully the councillors concerned have a few more weeks to think this through before then.
PM Carpentry of Coventry – are they any good with wood, are PM Carpentry of Coventry carpenter(s) you can trust?
Frankly, I don’t know and that’s not my concern, although I can’t find them on any ratings websites. I’m much more concerned about their, or his driving, as witnessed this afternoon.
PM Carpentry of Coventry – Uncaring Road Criminals
As I was walking home alongside the busy Earlsdon Avenue North, Coventry, I note that there’s a left hand van driving past – of itself not particularly exceptional, but it puts the driver on the pavement side. Then I notice that he’s just got his phone out, so I ask him to put it down. Yet of course, Mr PM Carpentry of Coventry isn’t interested in putting his phone down, why should he be, he no doubt uses it all the time when driving, and I’m clearly not a police officer in uniform, so who cares?
PM Carpentry of Coventry
If he’d just put it down, I really wouldn’t have done anything more with the footage – mobile phone driving may be a very serious act of road crime which leads to hundreds of deaths per year, but most people don’t even notice it because it’s so prevalent. Part of the reason why it isn’t enforced more is that it is actually quite difficult to get a clear shot of a phone driving road criminal in the act, except here Mr PM Carpentry of Coventry gave me a bit of a head start by driving a left hand drive van with the window open.
Yet what does Mr Road Criminal PM Carpentry do, instead of putting his phone down? He points it right in my face, and then drives off, phone in hand. Nice move Mr PM Carpentry of Coventry, nice move. Having denied being a mobile phone using road criminal on the grounds that you were stationery, you now drive off, Mr Road Criminal PM Carpentry, phone in hand, doing the very thing you’ve just denied doing.
I’m not Driving
The video is with the police, but in the meantime, if you happen to run a road safety blog, please link to this post about the road criminal Mr PM Carpentry of Coventry, so that potential users of carpentry services in Coventry are aware of the road criminal activities of PM Carpentry, so they can kindly take their business elsewhere.
This video of PM Carpentry’s road criminality is in the hands of West Midlands police
In respect of the trust’s opposition to bus stop bypasses (BSBs), also known as floating bus stops:
What research has the trust conducted, in order to determine that bus stop bypasses are unsafe?
To which locations, if any, have trust staff made visits, in order to see examples of bus stop bypasses in action?
What research has the trust conducted into cycling as a form of mass transit that is open to all users, regardless of age, gender or disability, as opposed to the cycling demographic in the UK?
What scientific tests have been applied to this research, for example:
Peer review of available data.
Published studies showing accident rates at locations with and without BSBs.
What studies, if any, has the trust undertaken, to determine the risks of conventional bus stops, in respect of:
Their usage by pedestrians, including vulnerable pedestrians.
Their usage by cyclists.
The risks to bus passengers from onboard accidents, including trips due to harsh braking by the driver to avoid passing cyclists.
The risk to boarding bus passengers from cyclists under taking buses.
How has the trust equated the risk between the claimed dis-benefits of BSBs, and the advantages they offer to each party?
What methodology has been applied to all of the above, to ensure that the claims made against BSBs are robust, and subject to the same intellectual rigour that the trust would apply when ascertaining the risks to patients from procedures carried out inside the hospital?