Following our slightly long post about the Active Travel Act, perhaps now is a good time to explore why much of the infrastructure provided prior to the Act is often ignored by cyclists or not included on the existing route map.
They don’t go where we want them to go…
Our towns & cities were planned around roads. Roads go everywhere, but cycle paths are usually very prescriptive about where you can go. How many people can honestly say they have a cycle path outside their home or place of work? While we are on the subject, they’re often not very direct, either.
They lead us into a trap
Many of the cycle paths we have in Cardiff simply vanish into thin air, whether they end with a “cyclist dismount” sign, or they land you at the centre of a busy or treacherous junction, or into the blind spot of a lorry…
They’re of dreadful quality
Do you know where much of the rubbish that lands in a road ends up? That’s right, in one of those narrow, red-painted “cycle lanes”. Welcome to Punctureville, population: YOU. This is also where the manhole covers (which may or may not be sunken, raised or at a weird angle) and drain covers are often found.
They’re in the door zone
When you allow cars to park at the kerb, but the cycle lane is painted around them, you can expect someone to get a face full of door at some point. It’s only a matter of time.
There are cars parked IN them…
Wellington Street is a prime example of this. The cycle lane actually runs under a row of parked cars. It could have been easily fixed with a set of double-yellow lines, but no. The only way to stick to those lanes is to crawl under the cars on your face.
They’re shared with pedestrians & dog walkers
Cardiff Council do love their shared paths. Unfortunately, we don’t. It creates a potential for conflict that we just don’t want; it limits how much progress we can make without needing to stop and lets face it, motor traffic has always been given priority at junctions. You can either stop at every crossing, press the button and wait for the green man or you can be in the traffic and have a largely unimpeded journey.
They’re not maintained through the Autumn & Winter…
As a motorist you can generally rely on the council keeping the roads gritted and clear of debris. On the cycle paths however, not so much. From about September onwards the off-road trails can be treacherous, whether they be lined with greasy mulch, filthy or even icy. Best of all, these trails are often completely unlit, so you can take a tumble and not even see the floor when it hits you. Nice…
So, if you are driving along and you see someone riding alongside what appears to be a perfectly good cycle path, chances are he or she has a good reason. It may not be where they are going; it may end abruptly or bitter experience has taught them that they can probably expect punctures, dog mess, ice, mulch or who knows what on that path and it isn’t worth the trouble.
However, the people who are happy to use the road are not necessarily the target audience for new infrastructure. These riders are already confident enough to deal with whatever motorists have to throw at them. No, it’s the beginners; the children and the nervous who we need to provide infrastructure for.
A quick word about bike stands
It’s all very well being able to get somewhere safely, but sooner or later you are going to need to store your bike somewhere. The Sheffield Bicycle Stand is a beautifully simple yet effective design (see photo above), yet instead of these we often see what we affectionately call “spoke benders“.
These are stands that only enable you to lock your bike by the front or back wheel. There are two big problems with this.
They rely on your wheels to hold your bike upright
Wheels can be surprisingly delicate and easily knocked out of true, leading to a noisy, wobbly ride home with compromised braking performance.
Many of us have quick-release wheels
If you have quick release wheels on your bike, it only takes a few seconds to remove them from your bike –that’s the whole point. If you can only lock your front wheel, a thief can make off with the rest of your bike in no time at all.
Across the UK we have some fine examples of terrible provision for cycling. If you are on Twitter, we can recommend Lost Sustranslation and (ahem!) Bollocks Infra for a constant stream of howlers.
Can you think of any reasons we may have missed, or do you have any tales of infrastructure you’ve used that caused more trouble than it was worth? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for the Twitter tips. As using Cardiff’s cycling infrastructure, with the exception of a couple of Sheffield stands, Gabalfa interchange and Heath Park and half a mile of the Taff Trail, I don’t. I mainly use the roads and ignore anything meant for cyclists, seeing it as optional and, as you state, often nonsensical if not downright dangerous.
One issue which doesn’t quite fit the existing why’s, is that even when planners do think about all the above, they still clearly haven’t consulted with cyclists, road tested the infrastructure, thought about it’s major reason for use or impracticalities when in use. Basically, it comes down to monitoring and consulting real users and their needs.
My biggest example of this is Lloyd George Avenue. On paper this looks perfect and even to non-cyclists it probably does too. A dedicated, very wide segregated cycle lane and pedestrian walkway on one side of the road, plus 2 dedicated bike/bus/taxi lanes, the entire length almost from the city centre to Cardiff Bay. Even with this, you still see bikes going down the pavement on the opposite side, going through multiple red lights and encountering pedestrians and road traffic. Why?
So the reality is:
1) the bus and cycle lanes/paths are broken up every 100+ metres with a junction and/or traffic lights. These are disconnected from moving bike users, but triggered by waiting road users, so they’ve been given priority. Every 100+ yards you need to cross a road and may or may not meet a car.
2) The bike lane runs between the entry points of the houses and the main pedestrian walkway. So in addition to road traffic, bikes will be regularly interrupted by pedestrian traffic needing to cross the path.
3) The main purpose of use probably wasn’t focussed correctly. I’m sure part of the design was probably for allowing the residents of the street and back streets to use the facilities, but probably close to all the bike traffic using it, is as a commuting route between town and the bay. So those users will nearly always need to cross at a minimum of one point. Some will choose to do this closer to the bay, some closer to town. But if you want to cross the least number of roads (on foot or bike), you’d always cross LGA at the bay end and travel down the west side of the road (i.e. the one without a bike path), which leads to cyclists using the pavement.
Which leads nicely to the simple solution: the bike lanes were really put on the wrong side of the road for the majority of real-world bike users. Putting bi-directional bike lanes on the other (west) side of the road which would be completely uninterrupted for the entire length. Anyone needing access to side roads from town would need to cross a maximum of 1 road. The majority travelling the full length (in either direction), would also need to only cross 1 road max, not the minimum of 7 as it is now and then would also encounter close to zero pedestrians and zero road traffic.
Result: path of least resistance becomes the only path used, much faster and safer.
In addition, I personally think the Enfys Cycle Design plan has got their priorities completely wrong. Taken from: http://www.keepingcardiffmoving.co.uk/uploads/documents/37/original/Design_Guide_FINAL.pdf
“Hierarchy of provision:
• Reduce traffic speeds and/or flows
• Mandatory cycle lanes
• Advisory cycle lanes
• Providing parallel off road route”
The safest of those, the one which will see much higher uptake of cyclists, and less conflict between drivers and cyclists is the last one, which ironically is also the last option they’ve decided to choose to consider for cyclists.
Wow, Dave, I think that two-part comment probably deserved a post of its own!
Yeah, sorry I got a bit carried away 🙂
Haha! In all seriousness, if you wanted to do a guest post, you are more than welcome.
Wheel-bender cycle stands are dreadful, but if you’re not racing (which, let’s face it, you aren’t)? You have no reason for having quick release wheels. If you don’t want your wheels stolen get a set of security skewers to replace the quick release (Pitlock or Pinhead, cost: around £20 each, less than a new wheel + tyre and tube).
Very true, but most modern bikes are sold with them these days. Plus, it saves carrying spanners out on a ride…