Saturday 23 February 2013

In absolute terms - I love Copenhagen

"Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study"by Søren Underlien Jensen, Paper, January 2008 on first sight is saying that cycle tracks and lanes are unsafe. But is it? I - intrigued - had a look at the paper.

Let's have a look at absolute numbers first. As with any study, that's the raw data to you and I. Absolute numbers are the totally unmitigated figures, not adjusted for context of traffic volume or distance travelled. Using absolute numbers without considering the surrounding circumstances can lead to hilarities like this one. Remember this? Once upon a time there was Norman Baker who had a 'cycle' chum Mike Penning who proudly pronounced that "The Netherlands could learn from UK on cycle safety" covered by bikebiz, roadcc and guardian.

Little Mikey was looking at total cycle deaths (UK 100 vs NL 300) rather than contextualising it with the number of people on bikes and/or the distance cycled. This silly man was actually saying "Cycling in the UK is safe (there aren't any cyclists)" or "UK is a very safe country for bear attacks and mosquito bites".

Absolute figures are important for before-after comparisons as total collisions numbers may actually go up due to increase in ridership and journeys.

Anyways, back to Denmark.


The absolute figures from Jensen study are as follows ref. Tables 3

Observed Observed

Category BEFORE AFTER Reduction
Crash All 2,987 2,911 3%
Injury 1,313 875 33%
Property damage only 1,674 2,036 -22%
Injury All 1,476 937 37%
Fatal 25 22 12%
Severe 757 665 12%
Minor 694 250 64%

Observed Observed

Category BEFORE AFTER Reduction
Intersection All crashes 2,010 2,171 -8%
All injury 938 636 32%
Links All crashes 977 740 24%
All injury 538 301 44%

Observed Observed

Category BEFORE AFTER Reduction
Pedestrians, all injuries Total 469 315 33%
At intersections 267 197 26%
At links 202 118 42%
Bicyclists and moped riders, all injuries Total 574 406 29%
At intersections 353 285 19%
At links 221 121 45%
Motorists, all injuries Total 433 216 50%
At intersections 318 154 52%
At links 115 62 46%

The numbers of slight concern would be the negative reductions (ie increases) in the right-hand column. I say 'slight' because injuries are down and only property got damaged. Now... this is where we should not forget that these absolute terms haven't even been adjusted for the increase in cycling which was a respectable
  • "20% increase in bicycle & moped traffic and a 10% decrease in motor traffic" on tracks
  • "5% increase in bicycle & moped traffic and a 1% decrease in motor traffic" on lanes
So how is this study used to "prove" cycle infrastructure is dangerous? Well. The Jensen study tested a prediction model (these fancy algorithms listed on early pages in the study) which already factored in a reduction in collisions. And the prediction model predicted lower reductions than were achieved in reality. That's it.

My advice, be skeptical when someone quotes yet another study that "proves" that cycle facilities are dangerous. First look at totals, then check whether adjustments for increase in bike traffic, distinction between collision or injury categories (such as fatalities, major, minor, near-hits) have been made.

And yes, it's important to get the design of cycle tracks and lanes right too. Remember: existence of real cycleways in the UK is few and far between. What the Jensen study is talking about are proper pedal routes, not the substandard sh*te that cyclists - condemned to second-class citizenship by the UK authorities - get here.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Civil cycling courage for cycle paths

It's amazing. I have been in Braunschweig, Germany, my hometown for four days. And after several daily miles on my bike, I've had no beef with peeps in cars. Why? How is that even possible? The starkest difference to the UK is space division: most notable cycle paths on every busy road. And not just because the space was there (WW2 - don't mention the war). Pro-bike planning decisions were actively taken, decades ago.

In the UK the nature vs nurture debate would start here. Why a meagre 2% of all journeys are made by bike in the UK? I believe the answer entirely lies in nature... the nature of our roads, the way the space is divvied up and carefully designed. People react to their surroundings, and get (subliminal) messages of what the coded practice is. It is NOT a cultural thing, it's a inherently human thing.

In my hometown, space is so much clearer to read. It's inevitable. You feel you must use it. And others do, so you "follow".

Cycle path
Wolfenbüttel - typical cycle path, grade-separated

Cycle path
Wolfenbüttel - cycle path on high street

Besides the cycle paths on busy roads, as above examples for Wolfenbüttel (home of Jägermeister), my hometown's one-way streets are fitted with cycle-contraflows. Neighbourhoods are just that: places for people and you know it: parking space is broken up by trees and green build-outs, not every inch is eeked out for car parking akin to a boring and predictable production line in a factory. There are still plenty of cars (of course, Autostadt Braunschweig is nearly "owned" by Volkswagen). But the machine has been tamed by providing space for other ways of getting around too. It is a car city, not afraid of transport diversity. There are Fahrrad-Straßen too. And their network is expanding year on year.

But there are no cyclists in the UK! So transition is the key question.

You don't want to be the odd one out, you do as others do. Herd instinct. Again, people react to the surroundings. Who are we building these "new-fangled and innovative" paths for? It's people not yet currently cycling. People who now say "Too much traffic, too aggressive, there is no space for cycling". Because there's another difference: in my hometown granny and grandad cycle; kids bike to school together; and so many more women use the bicycle here for transport. People feel safe. You see very few helmets, an indicator for the little worry people have about their personal safety.

Elephant's feet
Grandad taking kiddo for a ride

So. Others have done it before. Cycle paths on busy roads opens up cycling to the whole population. I estimate it's a maximum of 30% of roads that are accompanied by cycle paths in my hometown. The others are dealt with by traffic calming and informal 'community enforcement' - where people live and play and they will feel a sense of belonging towards their street. Cycle paths in combination with bike-friendly junctions is important, as these follow the main arteries and primary routes, they are direct and don't send you 'round the houses.

The driver-turning-left concern. I can report there are no problems apart from that by its sheer nature it is a conflict point. Every junction is a danger spot, as routes are crossing. Again, it's clearly in the design. Corner build-outs for slower turning speeds, a clearly marked cycle path across the sidestreet and possibly combined with a speed bump. And I won't lecture you on appropriate junction design and traffic light phasing.

Some civil cycling courage is needed for the transition in the UK.

Fast cyclists (a minority in a cycling country, probably a majorty in the UK) may like to stick to the road. So listen up, CTC. One thing that Germany did get wrong was the "Radwegebenutzungspflicht". Let's learn from that too and not repeat it here. This is not to say cycle paths aren't required for the not-so-super-fast cyclist (ie the majority in a cycling country).

So, how are we hatching this chicken's egg in the UK? And don't say it's too wet for chicks.

Intuitive paving design
Braunschweig - side street with clearly marked cycle path

Elephant's feet
Braunschweig - crossing with clearly marked cycle path (elephant's feet)

Elephant's feet and colour marking
Wolfenbüttel - crossing with clearly marked cycle path

Saturday 9 February 2013

It's YOUR problem... you are lazy.

I wrote this thing here How many UK drivers cycle? a little while back, concluding "not many" (also read the comments if you can). Recent reading (The Way Ahead - Cycling Europe [pdf] pointing me towards Cycling Motorists 1992 [googledocs] << thanks @srobalino) prompted me to think again. The let's-be-friends argument was also repeated again by the AA President in the on-going Parliamentary Inquiry by the APPCG:

“Drivers and cyclists are the same people.  We need to break down barriers – change will come mainly from changing perceptions.”


But. Really? Is it true? Is it helpful?

It's of course a con. It's playing this old scratched and screeching record of the "behavioural change will sort it all" debate akin to "safety in numbers" without explaining how higher cycle modal share could be achieve and thereby ignoring to address the reasons for people not cycling.

Alarm bells.

It's a complete and utter distraction to what's required. By effectively saying "It's your problem", it becomes another victim blaming approach - so well-known to cycle folks. And then promotion campaigns, such as smarter choices, are readily funded - like handing peanuts to monkeys, you know, altruistically.

It is The Energy Glut that makes it abundantly clear that what we are facing is a politico-environmental and not a lifestyle problem ie road space adjustment will trigger behavioural change. And that our politics are heavily influenced by bully lobbies of heavy industry oil, car, roads and petrol.

I remain convinced that AA knows all this. They know nowt will happen, since transport behavioural change - without the design changes to our roads - will remain elusive as ever. And furthermore, AA's own figures bear it out: we are not the same people:

So, back to the Cycling Motorist, referenced above. We are looking for evidence of regular on-road cycling. In 1992, 1 in 5 (18.9%) drivers were also partaking in utility cycling. Interestingly it states "The provision of more cycle lanes and paths may encourage greater use of the bicycle". And further "Things that might encourage cyclists to cycle more" highest ranking at 23% was "cycle lanes/paths" followed by "Better weather 13%, Less traffic 10%, For exercise/health reasons 6%, Better bike 5%, Loss of car 4%, More time 4%, Secure place to leave bikes 2%".

And then in 2002 the figure was, eh, 1 in 5 (20.6%).

It could euphemistically be called an increase. Still too few "Cycling Motorists" to make a tangible difference on our roads for cyclists.

So let's go for the next best thing which evidently is more "cycle lanes/paths".

Thanks goes to AA President for supplying Cycling Motorists 2002. Let's go one step further and speak openly about its findings. These effectively mean publically talking about road space re-allocation to bump up the modal diversity scale. And stop taking the easy-way-out: the behavioural change diversion.

Transport Diversity