Considerate Cycling 41: Why Are Some Cities Cycling Or Walking More Than Others?

Blog 39 graphed the provisional cycling figures for Bristol as a member of the the “core cities” group of comparable cites outside London. I also included data for neighbours in what was once called Avon. Now that confirmed figures have been published (see here) I have abstracted a table and graph that includes Cambridge and uses this year’s updated figures. For most places the data are derived from a reliable sample of 500 residents. I have added walking to give a broader picture of active travel.

Percentages of selected Local Authority residents reporting that they cycle or walk at least once a month 2010-2011

Cycle%

Walk%

Walk-or-Cycle%

Local Authority Walk % Cycle % Walk or Cycle%
Cambridge 94 58 96
South Gloucestershire 92 20 93
Bristol, City of 92 24 92
Newcastle upon Tyne 91 12 92
Bath and North East Somerset 91 18 91
Leeds 91 11 91
Nottingham 91 13 91
Sheffield 89 10 90
North Somerset 88 15 89
Liverpool 89 11 89
Birmingham 88 11 89
Manchester 84 13 87

I have been reading (and fascinated by) the recently published “Promoting Walking and Cycling” by Colin Pooley and others and I would  be very interested to hear from anyone who has observations about the cultural, geographical and infrastructural variations that might be associated with the wide range of walking and (especially) cycling levels across this group of urban areas.  One clear truth is that English cities are not all doomed to the same low levels. One obvious question is whether sheer campaigning effort can  generate the big changes in the patterns that the natural and built environments seem to be crying out for.

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Considerate Cycling 34: “What’s Wrong With These People?”

There are some things that we can do, lots of things that we ought to do and even more things that we have to do. Among them there are also some things that we want to do. But in practice there are, eventually, only things that we actually do. I have cycling on mind, of course, and I am interested in a kind of sociology that would make sense of the following situation.

It’s a practical cycling problem in a specific place: a short section of College Green in Bristol has a two way segregated cycle track that runs for about 100 metres on the rise up towards City Hall, with Clifton beyond. At the end nearest to City Hall it stops abruptly. The picture shows the options. There is a left turn into shared space on the Green itself, there is an easy continuation on the pavement towards a bike rack and City Hall and there is a right turn onto the roadway.

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It’s the right turn in picture 1 that interests me. Sometimes I am going towards Clifton and want to join the road here. Sometimes I am coming the other way and want to turn right from the road onto the segregated track. Look at picture 2 and notice that apart from the ordinary light controlled crossing there are also three sections of dropped kerb. I have marked them with big red and white arrows. If you ride a bike you might take a moment to visualise yourself coming up the track and then down the road, in each case intending to continue in the same direction. What do you want to do? What can you do? What should you do? Is there anything you absolutely must do? The cyclist has chosen the middle approach and is waiting against the post that has no button to press. The car is approaching the first of two sets of studs that mark out the pedestrian crossing.

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Picture 2a shows the three options from a different angle.

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In picture 3 we have the normal mêlée on a quiet sunny day. There are bits of all sorts going on.

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Picture 4 starts to clarify my problem. A cyclist is travelling towards Park Street, on the segregated track. Until this point he wanted to go somewhere, had the wherewithal to get there, and would be happy doing what he knew he ought to do.

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In picture 5 he is a little closer to finding that one of those things is changing. He is going to find that there are three dropped kerbs. One for the pedestrian crossing and one each side – possibly for cyclists.

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Picture 6 has him heading across to the offside of the cycle track and over the pedestrian crossing. Seeing there was no one around he has taken the easiest route for that manoeuvre, as most people seem to do when conditions allow.

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A few minutes later, (see picture 7) the move has become less easy. Someone else coming the other way wants to use that dropped kerb so he can get into the left hand cycle lane where he will feel comfortable. He’s in a hurry to stay clear of traffic approaching a green light at the crossing.

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In picture 8 the other cyclist has hung back but then he goes. He chooses the first of the three dropped kerbs, uncluttered as it is by posts or standing kerbs. Basically it’s a lot easier than tacking round the posts.

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As long as no one is around none of this matters much. But look at what happens in pictures 9 and 10. Notice the hidden fellow far left with green lining to his hood in picture 9. He’s on a bike and he turns across someone heading up the track in picture 10. Meanwhile a pedestrian is using his green light to cross the road while another cyclist is waiting at the red.

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Two seconds later the lights are changing and more is happening (see Picture 11). The car is revving to go, the downhill cyclist has set off, our small-wheeled cycle has chosen dropped kerb 2 and someone coming more quickly off the cycle path to our left is already in the roadway and heading into the road space being approached by a cyclist and a car. Fortunately the car is holding back because a pedestrian has made a late appearance on the crossing while the traffic light has changed from red to flashing amber.

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The crossing is often much busier than this, with heavy traffic at peak periods. It’s safe to say that traffic movements are unpredictable and the “correct” way for cyclists to use the lights and the dropped kerbs are not straightforward. This is a bus route with a frequent service and the roadway is used fairly indiscriminately by delivery drives at all times of the day (note the white truck with its back doors open in picture 11).

This fairly innocuous situation interests me because it’s an example of a common phenomenon. That is, it is a sophisticated bit of cycling infrastructure that offers a positive experience for a short span and then inflicts a difficult decision on what to do next. My suspicion that too many experiences like this lead both cyclists and sceptical road users who interact with them to become less co-operative and less confident.

My Venn diagram offers some insight I think.

The diagram isolates four background features of an individual’s action in a given context. Given that an action can be purposeful, personally satisfying, socially approved and skilfully achieved, each to different degrees, it offers a map of the balancing act that comprises any action and the zones of congruence that might be associated with greater or lesser social comfort. The denser the overlaps the greater the unity of purpose, expectation and accomplishment. The closer to the periphery an action falls, the less coherent and the more disruptive it is likely to be.

The “should” part is what other people want or expect to happen. Formally, informally, explicitly or implicitly there is usually some sense of what should happen in any situation. The “has to” part encompasses those parts of the context that cannot be gainsaid. Force or vital need might be involved. “Wants to” is the individual’s own desire to complete the action successfully. “Can” is the result of the individual’s ability, knowledge, instruction and resources relative to the inherent demands of the action itself.

So if things are a bit chaotic, what can we conclude? Assuming that the degree of chaos matters at all, how can we fix it? The diagram suggests we look at four sets of questions – not just the one or two things that first come to mind. And then it asks how a responsible person or body can evaluate the efficacy and efficiently of trying to improve the situation having considered each of the background features.

In our “end of the cycle track” case let’s assume that the general level of unpredictability and discomfort is higher than we want it to be. Let’s imagine there have been bumps and bruises (or worse) and some complaints that are spilling over into wider conflicts between different kinds of road user. How can the background features of the troublesome actions be adjusted?

Let’s not try to influence “has to” or “wants to” for now. They might be significant but fo this exercise let’s take them as given, or, at least randomly distributed. “Can” is more promising. “Can” implies knowhow. Do our pedestrians and cyclists know how this arrangement works? Do they know which buttons to press or which route of dropped kerb to take? Are they able to monitor all the other crossing users and where they might be coming from? Can they manoeuvre the bicycle confidently enough to make the tight turns necessary for some of the options? Is it clear which phases of the light sequence applies to cyclists who want to shift from track to road in a diagonal or convergent manner? Have they been able to read anything about this in the Highway Code? This last question leads onto the “should” section. If you are expected to do one thing rather than another it will soon become obvious if you are doing the wrong thing. At some point someone will call you up on it, formally or informally. Maybe a police officer will have a word. Or there might be a mass media flurry of disapproval like the red light jumping panic or even a campaign. In the case I have described it was clearly possible, and easy, for cyclist to just keep cycling and complete the journey up Park Street on the pavement. It says something about the strength of “should” among cyclists that most people did not do this. So much for my “Bristolians are all anarchists” theory.

Changing minds (“wants to”) is hard. Changing the geometry of those turns, putting some paint down, separating pedestrians and cyclists – one or all of these might improve things on the “can” front. People can be given information via simple signs on the ground and the manoeuvres can be made easier with gentler, more visible curves. Difficulties associated with perceptual overload can be reduced by moving the end of the cycle track much further away from the pedestrian lights. Eventually habit itself makes things more predictable and invests them with a sense of “ought to”.

Other situations will be different. But each one might benefit from using some sort of thinking guide like the one I started with. At least we would be dissuaded from shouting “What’s Wrong With These People?”

Considerate Cycling 33: Cycling Over Prince Street Bridge

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Prince Street runs North-South and crosses one of Bristol’s several waters on a swing bridge, helpfully known as “Prince Street Bridge”. The bridge is guarded by traffic lights and is sometimes closed to all traffic (even bicycles) and swung round to allow boats to pass along the channel. The first picture in this sequence, with its bright yellow bendy bus, looks north from the bridge itself. Local political processes are currently struggling to decide on how or whether to make this bridging place part of a new scheme for bottling quarts of travellers into pints of road space.

My narrower interest in Prince Street Bridge is in the pedantic but immediate question of how I should use it as a considerate cyclist. Let’s imagine I am crossing it from the south.

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Picture 2 shows my approach. Ahead of me is a blocked advisory cycle lane, traffic lights, swing bridge lights, some cast-iron bollards and a Shared Space sign. A black car has moved across the centre line and is waiting for a green light before moving into the right hand lane and crossing the bridge.

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Inching past the parked van, another vehicle is parked in front of it. The black car is still waiting for the green light to cross where oncoming vehicles are currently moving. My cycle/pedestrian route seems to be between cast-iron bollards. I notice that the bollard directing the car is plastic and well-lit.

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Moving up to the line I see that another cyclist is using this side of the bridge and that the road-painted symbols indicate pedestrians and cyclists can use the whole lane.

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Looking back I can see the end of the advisory cycle lane emerging from underneath the van and car. On another day that would be the approach I should adopt. I also note the wisdom of high-visibility clothing.

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Picture 6 show the view from the opposite side of the bridge. It looks south. Traffic lights and bollards reflect those on the other side. There is an advance stop line for cyclists to get ahead of the pack. but it is not very clear. The bike symbol itself is very faded.

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Looking back there are marks leading up to the bridge that might once have been an advisory cycle lane across the cobbles. Back at the junction we can see a hint of a bike symbol on the tarmac that might confirm the hypothesis. The row of bollards is impressive. Its lack of reflective properties rather less so. Let’s see how a cyclist negotiates this northern approach.

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During my brief observation this crossover tactic was used many times. The nearside cycle lane in ignored and the cyclist crosses the road to go “contraflow”. Here is an interesting example of the same thing:

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While his mate has cut across early, a second cyclist, pushing a third bike, is manoeuvring towards the lethal bollards. A motor cyclist is waiting at the white line in front of the traffic lights.

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And a final hurrah from a determined pavementeer. Wobbling past me ( I was standing on the footpath) he wobbled off into a happy cluster of pedestrians.

The conclusion I draw from this (and so many episodes around Bristol) is that many accommodations have been made for cyclists at the expense of creating further conflicts that can only be resolved with ingenuity and/or unpredictability. It would be nice if the next wave of progress is done with reference to guidelines that have this kind of muddled situation designed out.

Considerate Cycling 32: Roads And Circuses

At the centre of the top half of this Google capture a white car is passing the end of an advisory cycle lane at the top of Queens Road in Bristol. I went there yesterday to photograph and observe the lane as part of ongoing efforts to identify cycling infrastructure that seems to create as many problems as it solves. My impression was that the lane encouraged unwary cyclists to approach the imminent junction and the subsequent lane narrowing in a vulnerable road position. I noted that while I was there buses, delivery vehicles and cars often made left turns that included encroachment into the cycle lane and that an old-school vehicular cyclist would opt to approach that junction further away from the curb than the cycle lane allowed. My observations indicated that nearly all cyclists stayed in the lane and that none of them suffered as a consequence. However, they also made me more confident that moving out of that lane before its end would be a sensible thing to do for anyone not making a left turn and that using it to undertake slower moving traffic would be a bad idea, given the increased possibility of a collision with a left-turning vehicle on the junction itself.

As I watched and took photographs I noticed a number of non-standard improvisations by people on bicycles. Most of these were the ordinarily annoying pavement cyclists of Bristol. One, however, stood out as exceptional. I noticed him opposite the zebra crossing in the outside lane in the spot marked with the red cross nearer the top of that Google picture. He ended up at the red cross in the shadow of the building at the bottom of the picture. His progress is captured in this sequence of 6 photographs.

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The six pictures cover the space of a minute, most of which were spent expertly balancing the bike on the narrow island between the lanes of briskly moving traffic. A gap in the north-bound traffic coincided with the arrival on the footpath of a baby buggy and a determined gentleman in a suit.

I wonder what the impact of the cyclist’s display of circus skills was on passing drivers, on the woman with the baby and the man on foot? My first guess is that they did not make any of them feel more calm, more safe or more well-disposed to cycling in general.

I would rather not have to say this, but this kind of thing is not hard to find in Bristol and it does harm the cause of sustainable and inclusive traffic rather than help it. Circus tricks might entertain the easily entertained, but (just as with Jeremy Clarkson) the improvement of public life is not advanced one bit.

Considerate Cycling 30: One idiot can do a lot of reputational damage

Image

I hope Google don’t mind.  I was crossing the road yesterday and something very odd happened. I was outside Boston Tea Party standing on the central reservation facing that big clump of trees you can see in the picture. It was dark at the time. Both northbound traffic lanes were empty as far as the eye could see and I set off towards the left hand side of the picture. I was looking straight ahead and walking inside the dotted lines you can see ahead of an ASL.

The was a sudden rush of air and a scuffle of bicycle tyres as someone fizzed past me on a bicycle at maybe 15 or 20 mph, within a metre from me. I’ve put a big fat red dotted line to show his trajectory. He had come down a hill, cycling in a contraflow cycle lane lane in the wrong direction. He had then turned onto the northbound lanes to head south passing me and then the central reservation on the wrong side before joining the southbound lanes as shown by the dotted line.

This is not the first time I have seen this happen on this junction. It seems to be a regular occurrence. Personally I think it’s rank idiocy and I suspect that every time it happens there will be one more sworn enemy of cycling signing up to the This is Bristol comment feature.

With idiocy of this calibre, pro-cycling arguments are harder to make. I wish it didn’t happen, but I suppose I have to accept that it always will.

Considerate Cycling 29: It’s very rare but when it happens you know it could have been avoided

Late on Sunday afternoon (March 10th) a woman in her 80s was walking along Church Walk (sometimes known as Lime Walk or Birdcage Walk) in Clifton, Bristol. A man, apparently in his 30s, riding his bicycle along the footpath, collided with her.

She made her way home, but by mid-day on Monday 11th an ambulance had been called and she was later found to have three cracked ribs, a cracked pelvis and badly bruised arms. At the time of writing she is in Bristol General Infirmary.

Can I raise my own voice a little to reinforce my view that cycling on footpaths of any kind demands a great deal of thoughtful consideration for others and (in my view) should not be done as a routine.

I have been told that the man in question was very apologetic and said “I rang my bell”. It reminded me of an incident I reported in this blog:

https://samsaundersbristol.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/shared-space/

I hear from neighbours that Church Walk is often used by cyclists hurrying through and that it upsets them when it happens. I would urge everyone to treat footpaths as places where a great deal of care is needed. As a part of cyclists’ public campainging for better cycle facilities I think we should all be as cautious around pedestrians as we expect cars to be around bicycles. Personally I think that cycling along Church Walk (or any footpath like it that isn’t designated as a shared path) is reckless and unnecessary.

Considerate Cycling 28: Geese and Ganders

Chris and I are walkers. We bought our retirement flat in a place where all the main amenities would be within walking distance. Chris doesn’t cycle at all and the difficulties of Bristol’s primitive road network have put her off any idea of becoming a COTTA (Cyclist Of The Third Age).

Not that walking is straightforward, of course. Her main route to the larger shops takes her along a narrow pavement that has had a locked-up bicycle impeding a tight corner for most of this University year.

Like this:

That’s not her, by the way. You might be able to imagine how awkward this corner would be if you were carrying two shopping bags, especially if you hadn’t expected a bike to be there. We talked about telling the owner, with a polite note that the bike was a bit of a hazard at that particular place. Look at it from round the corner:

Even standing well out into the road, the bike is only just visible. Walking along the pavement it is invisible right up to the last few inches. Check the situation from this angle too:

It’s not good is it? However, life is short, we have learned to live with it and there are more pressing issues than inconsiderate cycle parking. We did nothing about it and walk in the road.

This morning however, there was a DEVELOPMENT.

Someone had attached a notice of some kind. Bristol City Council, it seemed, were taking ACTION! And judging by the wording on the notice, DRASTIC ACTION was imminent.

The bicycle is in such a condition that “it ought to be destroyed” and that if not moved within 24 hours, will be destroyed.

There could well be a joker at work here. Students are a humorous lot and what japes they occasionally spring on each other. But the notice looks, at least, like a very good forgery. I took the liberty of examining the obscured part of the notice.

I also thought (more seriously) about the hundreds of other obstructions left cluttering up pavements, crossings and junctions all over Bristol, day in and day out. They are so ubiquitous and so taken-for-granted that complaints are rare and actions even rarer. Look just round the corner from the poor beleaguered bicycle.

If I have a point here it is that when we leave a vehicle out in a public place consideration for others is worth thinking about. There is no specific right to put your bike, car, lorry or tank wherever you like and both collectively and individually we ought to take a lot more care than we do. In particular, Bristol City Council and its Officers could be more systematic about balancing the selfish urge to leave things wherever it suits us and the collective need to have highways, byways and footpaths free for people of all degrees or modes of mobility to move along. Geese, ganders, drivers, walkers, cyclists, disabled or otherwise: we all deserve a fair share of sauce.