Signs of a Bike friendly society

In my last post “What is missing from British Crematoriums” I looked at some of the ways in which British society is not bike friendly. Now I want to look at some of the positive signs of a Bike friendly society. I am going to group these into 3 headings: Cyclists, Bikes and Infrastructure.

Cyclists

When you look at photos or videos of people cycling it is always very obvious which are the Bike friendly societies.

In some you see mostly young men and they are riding fast, wearing lycra, crash helmets and high visibility jackets.

In others you see a wide range of ages with a roughly equal gender balance, you see people in their ordinary clothes even if they seem highly impractical (using umbrellas, riding in high heels or long coats), you see few crash hats and no high visibility.

In some you see people prepared for battle, in others you see friends chatting.

Bikes

Chalk and cheese you might think if you compare the bikes in use in the Netherlands and in the UK.

In a bike friendly society where everyone expects to ride bikes to get around all year round then the bikes come equipped with mudguards, with chainguards and often with skirt guards. They come with permanently attached lights and sturdy racks and baskets. They come with kickstands. They come ready to sit outside all day and not rust. They come with hub gears and hub brakes that need little or no maintenance. They come with upright seating positions that are comfortable and don’t put strain on shoulders, arms and wrists.

In the UK most bikes come without mudguards, they almost all come without lights (obviously in someone’s fantasy life it never gets dark in the UK). Commuter bikes are sold as detuned racing bikes, maybe with puncture resistance and slightly larger volume tyres. Everything the Dutch take for granted in a bike is an extra (or just not available – how many local bike shops can sell you stands, skirt guards or a fully equipped bike?).

Infrastructure

In a bike friendly society the assumption is made that people all ages should feel safe using a bike to get from home to work, school, shops, leisure activities etc. In such a society there is the assumption is that changes to the infrastructure should be made to encourage walking and cycling as the most convenient way to get around for all people. So in a bike friendly society we will see bikes kept completely separate from fast moving and large vehicles. We will see direct routes created for pedestrians and cyclists while at the same time access to city and town centres is made less convenient for motorised transport. We will see provision for cycle storage at all public buildings/places and a big push to integrate bikes with public transport.

At the moment few British politicians, policy makes and transport planners have any idea of what a Bike friendly infrastructure looks like. There is lots of hot air floating around by very little in the way of quality results on the street.

The transport team at Leicester County Council are typical of many. They design and implement very poor quality bits of what they call “cycle infrastructure” but it is to a very low standard and the key impression is that it must not cost much and absolutely should not inconvenience or slow down motorists at all (those being much higher priorities that safety or convenience for cyclists). They have no vision for significant growth in the percentage of journeys that are by walking and cycling, an obvious indication of this is their focus on marketing and training rather than on infrastructure.

One classic example of this approach is that at the Leicester City Cycle Workshop on Wednesday we were told that Leicestershire are planning to develop Loughborough station as a transport hub, encouraging the use of cycling. yet their plans include no infrastructure changes to the entrance which made it into the “Cycle Facility of the Month” for January 2012:

Contrast the approach in Loughborough (by no means abnormal for British Railway Stations. Look at Crawley and Horsham) with how the Dutch do things as shown in  these posts by David Hembrow.

The misnamed Cycle Superhighways in London are another example of very expensive poor quality infrastructure. Despite the design and implementation problems it does seem to have encouraged more people to cycle although in the process as we have seen at Bow roundabout it is putting cyclists into life threatening danger. Even the Guardian has noticed that London is getting short changed compared to Copenhagen.

When counties and cities have committed to making cycling feel safe and convenient by changing the infrastructure then the percentage of journeys made by bike rockets, it especially encourages new people to choose to get about by bike.

A bike friendly society shown by it’s infrastructure can realistically see growth towards and beyond 50% of all journeys being by bike! In such a society most children use bikes to get to school and enjoy the benefits of better health and more freedom.

Summary

For me the signs of a Bike friendly society are clear and when you get those signs you will see getting around by bike rocket in terms of modal share. As yet very few of these signs are visible in the UK with the exception of a few stuttering starts scattered around.

It could change and it could happen quite quickly with real political will to recognise that things have got change as a response to:

  • obesity
  • child deaths on the roads
  • congestion
  • pollution
  • oil prices
  • the need to reduce carbon emissions

Where are the politicians, policy makers and transport planners with understanding, vision and determination to change things?

It seems obvious to me that the first two signs of a bike friendly society (cyclists and bikes) are dependant on and come after real progress is made on the infrastructure.

For example when parents suddenly feel the infrastructure has changed enough for their children to be safe cycling to school then suddenly we have a generation of cyclists who won’t be expecting to wear lycra or change their clothes when they get to school. Suddenly we will see signs of a bike friendly society in children riding to school

We have a generation of parents who will demand mudguards so that they don’t have to keep washing school uniforms. We have a set of schools who will not allow children to leave the school in the dark on a bike with no lights and so suddenly we will start to see the sorts of bikes you get in a bike friendly society.

It all hinges on getting safe and convenient infrastructure. Sadly that also means it all depends on politicians, policy makers and transport planners who all have only a long history of failure to offer us.

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  1. There are some shops selling proper town bikes now. For example the Littlehampton Dutch Bike Shop is doing a roaring trade in fully-equipped, ready-to-ride, bicycles and is expanding fast. That is even in West Sussex, the county whose council actively hates people riding bicycles!

    Sitting outside the Coast Café in Worthing, on the hugely popular car-free coastal cycle route, sensible bikes ridden by people in ordinary clothes outnumber the mountain bikes with high-viz and polystyrene hats. The tide has turned!

    • fonant,

      Agreed there are patches of signs of hope. Yes I do hope the tide is on the turn, but it really has not yet started to flow in the right direction with policy makers and transport planners.

      For example Leicestershire recently cancelled their “regular” cycle forum, they have 2 a year so the next will be in December, they won’t invite Councillors and won’t discuss policy.

      Politicians are still giving very mixed signals and certainly no strong political will for change.

  2. I agree Dave. My Farad came with great mudguards, study back rack, kick stand and integral dynamo. I brought a back frame lock on a visit to Bruge which means if I need to pop into a shop to get a paper I simply put the rim lock on whcih takes 2 secs. (Obviously I use a properlock if leaving it for more than 5 mins) but it also gives me added security when parking my bike in dodgy areas. However I only once tried to ride my bike in a skirt – felt very unsafe and have never repeated the experience!

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