One Inclusive Cycle Network

During the first session of the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry on Wednesday the panel asked a question about getting some under represented groups in the cycling community out on their bikes, the disabled being one of them.


I have a whole other post lined up to address that question but coupled with a reminder about a chance encounter last year it drew a few other inclusive thoughts together. I’m not saying anything I haven’t said before, I’m just finding another way to say it because it continues to fall on deaf ears – every time I pick up a policy document or refer to some guidelines about cycling I see the same exclusive recommendations.

A link to this story about Beth in Bristol took my mind back to the Cyclenation/CTC campaign conference in October. Beth, who enjoys the local all ability cycle sessions there, had come along to the conference, out of the blue, to get something done about cycling in her local area. She says:

“…I’m a young disabled woman and I live in Bristol. I love cycling on my trike when I can, but I feel there are not enough wide or safe cycle paths for disabled people to ride on. This is why I am doing a Cycling Campaign to try and get more people in Bristol cycling and feeling safer.”

In particular she’s concerned about the Gloucester Road (A38) and the need for a cycle path that’s safe but also wide enough for her trike and for people to pass – she doesn’t want to hold anyone up (the width of a trike is less than 0.8m). She’s started with this survey, and having made contact with the Bristol Cycle Campaign and Sustrans what could possibly stand in her way?

Since then Cyclenation helped organise the excellent ‘Love Cycling Go Dutch’ conferences. Following up on LCC‘s popular Go Dutch campaign the Royal Haskoning sponsored four conferences around the UK to bounce around the ideas of transport bods from the Netherlands with those working here. Nerd that I am, I followed the presentations online and had been enjoying Ben Plowden of TfL talk about the pace of change in a large organisation when he made the following comment in connection with types of cycling in London (watch for 48s to 3:25):

He’s talking specifically about types of cyclist there but in the context of the cycle superhighways it also alludes to the dual network. Types of cyclist and dual networks are concepts embedded in the DfT‘s guidelines on designing for cycling in the section ‘Underlying principles’ – LTN 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design .

The five core principles are convenience, accessibility, safety, comfort and attractiveness. So far so dreamy.

Practitioners are advised to identify which type or types of cyclist they expect to see in a particular situation and to design appropriately for them…

1.3.6 These principles are useful when designing for the differing priorities assigned to various aspects of a route (for example, perceived safety versus directness) for users with different requirements resulting from their journey purpose, level of experience or ability. The design of the most appropriate infrastructure needs to take account of the type(s) of cyclist expected to use it.

Practitioners are advised to create two networks to accommodate the different types of user…

1.3.7 Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others. In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to combine measures or to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority. Such dual networks may be considered analogous to a busy main road carrying through­traffic and a service road catering for access to homes and shops at lower speeds.

Applied in this way the five core principals are  divvied up differently across the cycle network. However, that’s ok because bikeability levels 1 to 3 mitigate for it by providing a clear pathway for people to attain access to the primary network. Tidy as they say in Barry.

BUT, and it really is a discriminatingly big but, it simultaneously legitimises the exclusion of anyone physically or mentally unable or just plain unwilling to use a bike in a level 3 environment. From the point of view of inclusive cycling, the neatly knotted bikeability bow wrapping LTN 2/08 together unravels so we’re left with, as the name itself implies, a divisive dual network.

By only designing for children near schools they’re effectively being banished to the pavement elsewhere. By deliberately setting out to design a dual network the majority of bike users are effectively excluded from half of that network. For good.

As a coping strategy in a climate of no political will, no apparent demand and little funding that might be considered acceptable – I’m a local campaigner, I spend my time doing what every other small local campaign and even Sustrans have been doing, looking for those easy wins to link quiet routes together and avoid the congested main roads. Now though, and heaven knows it’s been a long time coming, in the context of ‘Get Britain Cycling’ and the possibility of political will at the very highest level, it’s selling far too many bike users short.

At the conference in Bristol I remember there being repeated calls by Cyclenation and CTC for unity among campaigners. What I don’t recall is anyone ever asking the question: “So what would unite us?”

This is my stab at it. One inclusive cycle network for all is something I could get behind.

Turn LTN 2/08 on its head by accepting that there are myriad different types of bike user who all need to be catered for properly. We can debate what that network might look like, what the minimum entry requirement might be or what the best way of achieving it is, but as a basic principle to ‘Get Britain Cycling’ surely that’s one thing we can agree on. A solution that gives us all a stake in the same thing.

Going back to that clip of Ben Plowden, let’s take his 25 year old commuter on the £2,000 carbon fibre racing bike, place part of that commute on the Gloucester Road, and then reflect upon the question Ben was posing. Is our hypothetical commuter going to begrudge sharing a part of what is currently the primary network with Beth, or anyone else living in her community, who wants to cycle safely and legitimately along the Gloucester Road? Are we really suggesting that our commuter, the one demanding that motorised traffic share Gloucester Road as it currently stands, isn’t going to share a cycle path, one that’s wide enough to pass a trike, with the local community?

Judging by some of the announcements TfL have made recently I imagine Ben has come to the same conclusion I have, which is that we’re taking a very dim view of our commuters who, if they’re that bothered, will probably just get up earlier to have a clear run.

With the help of Bristol Cycling Campaign and Sustrans, and to the benefit of all of those under represented groups in the cycling community, Beth will achieve her goal if we all pursue one, unifying, inclusive, cycle network.

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