Tuesday 23 October 2012

Gilbert Road - Revisited

Ages ago I posted some thoughts on Gilbert Road to my old Livejournal blog, here and here. I sort of forgot about that old blog because the Livejournal interface is so bad that I moved here instead, but its still there for anyone who wants a look.

I mention this now because Freewheeler has, in his joyfully scathing blog, quoted me here. Apparently Gilbert Road is used by CTC as an example of 'best practice', and folk across the country suddenly seem keen to point out everything thats wrong with it. And in response a few others are keen to point out everything thats good with it. And I find myself, all of a sudden, in the middle of that.

So lets have another look at Gilbert Road, a year and a half on. How good is it really?

I rode it yesterday, and I'll go and have another ride on it later with the camera. I'll add a link to the footage here when I youtube it. You'll see if you go and ride it that for the most part its not dreadful - for a UK cycle lane its wide (1.7m). Its surfaced well and only a fool would say that its not a better ride than it was.

My issue with Gilbert Road is not, and has never been that the new lanes are not better. I'm not opposed to all on-road cycle lanes - sometimes thats not the worst solution! But here? On Gilbert Road, in Cambridge?

Lets put this into context. We're not a minority. Half of the populace ride a bike regularly, we account for upwards of a fifth of all journeys. We're mainstream. But we're also flatlining - stats for cycling in Cambridge have been similar since at least the '90s. So despite Gilbert Road cycle lanes, extended bike parks underneath City Centre car parks and cycle lanes on many roads, we're going nowhere. It is demonstrably true that cycling is making no advances in Cambridge, not matter how often Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the County Council smugly pat each other on the back because 22% or so of journeys are made by bike. Success such as would be measured by increasing share has not happened.

So I think we should ask a very obvious question. Who is the investment in cycling infrastructure for, and why do we make that investment? Is it for those who are already cycling, or is it for those who are not?

If its for guys like me, who ride their bikes come rain or shine, all year, Gilbert Road is great. But frankly I would ride the road with or without a cycle lane; why invest in me? Why spend money on facilities to encourage me to do something I'm doing anyway? I'm not the target audience for such facilities; you won't increase cycling modal share by being nice to me. You'd have to physically bar me from the roads to keep me from riding on them.

So lets assume that Gilbert Road changes were for those too scared to ride on it before. Lets say they were all about making the road feel safer for people who previously rode on the pavement. If Gilbert Road worked then there would be practically no one riding on the pavement any more, right?

This is where we see the real failing in an inadequate cycling facility. Now that we have improvements in Gilbert Road, and a cycle route on Milton Road (one giving way to each and every side road, slaloming through pedestrians who share it), cyclists choosing to ride on the pavement instead or who continue on the pavements after the unlabeled end of the shared use facilities are 'antisocial', and our councillors have declared war on them. Note, they didn't say that clearly the cycle lanes have failed if there are still lots of people on the pavement (which seems an obvious conclusion to me). If you don't use the cycle lane because its not safe or if you ride on past the unlabelled, invisible end of a cycle route, you're an antisocial law breaker and the Police have been instructed to deal with you. Its your fault. Not the fault of those who have created a facility thats still not good enough for you to feel safe there, nor is it the fault of those who have utterly failed to make a joined up, useful cycle network. Hopping on to the pavement because there are cars illegally parked on Gilbert Road and getting out of the cycle lane into the steady stream of rapid traffic isn't appealing? Tough titties, we're sending the Rozzas out to get you, cyclist scum.

You can't measure the success or a facility by asking those using it. You deem such a facility a failure if some still fear to do so. There are still many who ride on the pavement on Gilbert Road, therefore that facility has failed. Bottom line is if we measure by results Gilbert Road isn't good enough.

Which brings us back to what we should have had there.

Its a wide road. There is ample room for fully segregated cycling routes there, but after a decade of campaigning Cambridge Cycling Campaign settled for third best. I've dealt with that in the blog posts linked to at the top. Bottom line is that this route was the best that Cambridge Cycling Campaign thought they could get, and they really must answer the key questions raised by this facility. Namely, if we're not, In Cambridge, here and now, going to hold out for the best facilities for cyclists, then where, and when? And who are these 'facilities' for if they have failed to increase modal cycling share, and if they act as a catalyst for  punishing cyclists who are merely trying to remain safe?

The politics of road use in Cambridge have failed us. Why should cyclists now continue playing nice if it leads to failure?


  1. I would agree with a lot of what's written here, but if you're not going to "play nice", what are you going to do instead? And what evidence do you have that it will bring better results?

    Believe me, I'm as frustrated as anyone by the frankly pathetic efforts made to allegedly encourage cycling around here. Anyone who has a responsibility for making decisions regarding road\cycling infrastructure in the UK should look at Dutch cycling, compare modal share, and be ashamed. I sit here watching video of the Netherlands and dreaming of doing a Hembrow.

    So I understand the indignation, but to quote the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, where does "shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy" actually get us?

    1. I think we need to learn lessons from overseas. I'm not one of the out and out advocates for doing things the Dutch way, but there are some things that the Netherlands got right.

      Dutch politicians didn't wake up one day in the '70s and say 'lets make this a nation great for cyclists', they bowed to pressure from actually quite loud and vocal protestors who were 'shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy'.

      Look also at London - massive demos by cyclists lately, which haven't made as much progress as they need to YET, but they've had an impact and at least the Capital is starting to move in the right direction.

      Here in Cambridge we've got a cycling campaign group who sit on the sidelines and rubber-stamp poor facilities. Try getting grumpy and County and City Councils point to Cambridge Cycle Campaign and their cooperation therewith, and they can effectively sideline protests. Cambridge doesn't have a Critical Mass movement. It doesn't have a 'claim the streets' movement. Its got a cycling campaign who I'm afraid oppose the kind of actions that could very rapidly and very effectively change conditions on the roads of Cambridge.

      Yes, in some ways, we get things better here than elsewhere. We're not getting it right though. We don't even get gritting on routes like Kings Parade, arguably the most cycled route in the UK. And we've got a narrow, ancient road network - bluntly, any cycle campaign group could effectively own these streets. And Cambridge Cycle Campaign resolutely will not do so.

  2. I was directed to your blog by a posting from Freewheeler. I do absolutely agree with a lot of what you say. However, I am trying to encourage people not simply to take a bottom-up approach to the development of an amenable cycle environment, but perhaps more importantly, a top-down approach as well.

    You can see what I mean by looking at this simple map (best viewed with the terrain box ticked). For a more detailed account of my proposal, please click here.

    Many thanks.

    1. I forgot to add that the reason cycling levels are stagnating in Cambridge is because the authorities have not seriously taken any steps towards the development of any significant cycle infrastructure (Step 5), with the result that people are riding on the pavement in Gilbert Road, and also with the result that councillors are getting peeved off about it.

      Introducing a network to a minimum level of functioning will only get you so far, and the development of cycle lanes, such as at Gilbert Road, will only get you a little bit further. If you want to go all the way, you have got to properly develop segregated routes, and you've got to make it progressively more difficult to drive around by car (by removing rat runs). Unless Cambridge is prepared to take these decisions, cycling levels are never likely to become impressive.