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"Cycle proofing" - what does it actually mean in practice?

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The funding settlement for cycling over the next two years will make a difference in the areas which are getting the cash, but the announcement also included some other aspects that may streamline cycle provision in other ways, including the much vaunted concept of "cycle proofing".
Cycle proofing means designing for cyclists from the outset
Cycle proofing means designing for cyclists from the outset

One of the points raised in the Government statement on cycling is the need for cycle proofing.

But what does cycle proofing mean in practice?

The Government defines cycle proofing as "taking action on a variety of fronts".

When it comes to the major road network, the Government can act directly, and has, by ordering the Highways Agency to undertake works and "correcting historic problems" at 20 sites on the network, with more to come in the next few years. This is excellent, as CTC has often pointed out that the major road network can often be a barrier to local trips by bike.

But what about local authorities?

When it comes to local authorities - which control over 99% of the public road network - the Government's statement is limited to just "encouraging local authorities to design road improvements with cyclists as well as motorists in mind."

Not only is this an extremely weak undertaking ("encouragement" could be merely a circular letter from the Minister), the action to be taken by local authorities is not sufficiently detailed.

The main problem with most schemes is often not that cyclists are not considered, just that the designs proposed are not good enough to make cycling a more attractive, safe or convenient form of transport. It is a quality issue, and often it is down to details.

The Government's position of "encouragement" also falls far short of the recommendations of the All Party Cycling Group's Get Britain Cycling Report:

  • "A statutory requirement that cyclists' and pedestrians' needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes..."

And

  • "Revise existing design guidance... and an audit process to help planners, engineers and architects to think bike in all their works."

Haven't we been here before?

There is a high risk that cycle proofing will go the way of other initiatives of the past. In 1996,  the Institute of Highways and Transportation came up with a concept called Cycle Audit and Review. The National Cycling Strategy said that this "will ensure that opportunities are not missed to enhance cycling conditions, and help avoid inadvertently making them worse."

An audit process to improve things for cyclists? That's just what Get Britain Cycling called for and it sounds a lot like cycle proofing to me!

The problem is that it doesn't happen - Cycle Audit and Review is seldom used. Other 'audit' processes often take precedence, such as Road Safety Audit (which may well utterly contradict the cycle audit) or Quality Audit.

So why don't local authorities follow this, and will the new commitment to cycle proofing make any difference?

An example illustrating the problem is Walton Bridge. Here, although money is available and the council committed, the details are weak - and therein lies the problem.

Walton Bridge: an example of misplaced enthusiasm, not cycle proofing

A major recent scheme costing over £30m replaced a bridge over the Thames, between Walton and Shepperton in Surrey. The bridge always had a grotty cycle track, but this has now been replaced with gleaming, wide cycle tracks on either side of the bridge.

The local authority now has plans (funded through the DfT's Cycle Safety Fund) for networks of shared use paths to reach the bridge on the local major road network.

Some of these routes are reasonable (see below), but others are simply dumping cyclists on the narrow footway to get them out of the way of vehicles. Only in a few locations is space from the road being reallocated to cyclists. 

The scheme may well make conditions in Walton and Shepperton easier for some people, but it is doing little to really transform the road network to make cycling the best option. The cycle paths give way at most side roads, while the width of the route is, in some places, down to just 2m, with a wall on one side and road on the other: far below standard for a new cycle route. It's not really cycle proofed - just made a little bit better for some.

A really radical approach would have involved building dedicated, semi-segregated paths along the Brighton Old Shoreham Road model, and this is what CTC suggested to Surrey County Council. 

What could cycle proofing mean?

CTC believes that the Government should be going much further to force local authorities to improve the quality of cycle schemes. This means improving the weak guidance, reducing red tape around new, innovative approaches, and providing local authorities with advice and expertise on quality design - similar to that provided by Cycling England to cycling towns during its existence.

One albeit small element in the Government announcement is really good news: they wish to remove the requirement on local authorities to go through the expensive bureaucracy of acquiring a traffic order when making a one-way street contraflow for bikes, or installing a mandatory cycle lanes. If this ever happens it could rapidly reduce the costs for local authorities, and hugely speed up the process of redesigning streets to be more cycle friendly.

 

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