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"Ridiculous" segregated cycle lane under fire from club cyclists — but will it encourage more people to ride?

The three-metre-wide two-way cycle lane has been labelled unsafe and unnecessary by some, although Adam Tranter, West Midlands Cycling and Walking Commissioner, says less-confident riders "appreciate this set-up"...

A major new West Midlands segregated cycle lane installed in April has attracted criticism from local riders who say it is "ridiculous" and "dangerous", however the council and the area's cycling and walking commissioner insist it has been designed to encourage less-confident cyclists.

BirminghamLive reports the first phase of the two-way three-metre-wide Solihull cycle lane links the town centre, retail parks and surrounding villages, and while the council says it will "encourage local people to get active" and is "safer than traditional cycle lanes", some local club cyclists disagree.

The Blossomfield Road lane replaced the painted cycle lanes (seen below in April 2021) which UK-based riders will be all too familiar with.

Blossomfield Road, Solihull (Google Maps)

However, speaking to the local news website, two members of Solihull Cycling Club said the new infrastructure is "not designed for cycling".

"It's not designed for cycling, especially heading into town," one of the club riders said. "You're heading into traffic. It's stop-start, you're having to take your feet out and come across [to where the cycle lane resumes on the other side of the road]. The [old] system wasn't broken."

The other added: "It's not ideal, if you're travelling into town, when you do use it, you're having to come across, potentially into the path of people coming out of town. It's not particularly safe, my worry is the build up of debris, unless they sweep it regularly, it's the ongoing maintenance of it really.

"I imagine pot holes are going to develop at some point and the road surface is going to deteriorate."

BirminghamLive visited the site to film a video of the infrastructure, available on their news story, which shows some bike lane wands already missing, a series of wands narrowing the entrance to the lane (presumably to stop motorists using it), and pinch points with raised speed bumps to allow those waiting at bus stops to walk across the lane to the road.

Blossomfield Road, Solihull (screenshot Birmingham Live video)

In other places, cyclists must dismount and cross the road at a pedestrian crossing to continue to use the lane on the other side of the road.

And while acknowledging the benefits of the infrastructure for families, they suggested it could lead to other problems. "The only time I used that bike lane was on my way to a time trial, so I was in my full race getup. Two scallies on mountain bikes coming the other way decided to swerve in front of me then narrowly miss a head-on collision," the second rider continued.

"They clearly did this on purpose. If this happens to me on my first and only time using it I can't imagine what it's like for other cyclists who perhaps aren't so confident."

When asked if the infrastructure was revolutionary, one of the riders quipped, "It will cause a revolution". Both say it is "dangerous" and choose to avoid the lane or use alternative routes

Designed for less-experienced riders

However, West Midlands Cycling and Walking Commissioner, Adam Tranter, addressed the comments, saying: "In truth — experienced cyclists who are cycling faster speeds, are more confident or are riding in groups, may prefer to continue to use the road, which is their right and totally acceptable under the Highway Code.

> Adam Tranter appointed first West Midlands Cycling & Walking Commissioner

"We know that more people want to cycle in the West Midlands but don't feel it's safe enough. Two-way cycle tracks like this one give dedicated space away from cars and we find people less confident appreciate this set-up. The plan is to continue to develop and expand the route based on future funding and feedback can be taken into account for improvements."

 Solihull Council's cabinet member for environment and infrastructure, Cllr Ken Hawkins, believes the lane will attract users of all ages and abilities, and suggested the infrastructure is not necessarily there for more experienced riders.

"We have been able to create these three-metre-wide two-way cycle lanes by altering the existing road space and our engineers have also ensured that they can be used flexibly in case of emergencies," he told Birmingham Live.

"More confident and experienced cyclists who would rather cycle at speed on the road with cars and buses still can. The cycle lane has been created in order to offer another option and encourage less-confident cyclists.

"It is really important that as a council we provide choices, encourage and support cycling and walking in many different ways so that travelling without polluting the borough or using up the earth's finite supply of oil is a workable option for people."

In addition to the two Solihull Cycling Club members, another local rider, Gemma Queenborough, said the lane "seems ridiculous".

"It starts by Tudor Grange and only goes to the Co-op. The money would have been much better spent on creating cycle paths on roads which do not have them. The old cycle lanes seemed to work much more efficiently and safer," she said.

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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56 comments

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ajones1328 | 1 year ago
1 like

I was heavily involved in the development of this cycle route.

This article is really dissapointing, it was never intended for confident club cyclists. It has been developed to encourage and enable more people to cycle who have safety concerns and wouldn't take up cycling otherwise. A scheme that is fully kerbed and meets national standards is the ideal solution but that can only be achieved with funding

It is not a perfect scheme however, there was not a significant amount of funding available as this scheme was linked to the National Active Travel Fund and had specific timeframes. This scheme is marked for significant improvements through the Solihull LCWIP.

If you were to go to the Netherlands, club cyclists would not like alot of their segregated cycle infrastructure but it is not designed for that purpose, cycle routes such as the one in Solihull are transport infrastructure to get people safely from A-B

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chrisonabike replied to ajones1328 | 1 year ago
0 likes

Yes, road.cc has a very definite "roadie" viewpoint - that's the focus rather than being a specific active travel campaign site.  I'd say it's not limited to that view but that's the default.

Thanks for fighting for better infra.  I wouldn't want perfect to be the enemy of good.  I also appreciate how hard it is to get anything and what you end up with is often different from that promised / agreed.  Sometimes seriously compromising usability.

However too often we end up with something which is billed as "allows the less confident to get from A to B" which isn't truly safe, "subjectively safe" OR convenient.  If the "solution" involves needing to walk a lot, or repeatedly get on and off the bike, it's simply not going to see a great deal of use by anyone.  Inadequate infra isn't the only reason most people don't cycle.  However if it's not convenient - even if we sort out other factors - they're not going to start.

This is different from a "club cyclist complaint".  The point is infra should be both safe (actually and "subjectively") AND convenient.  It is certainly possible to have both.  Without both it is arguably a waste of cash.  No doubt roadies complain in the Netherlands; they complain everywhere.  Having visited I'd say it's a fallacy that they couldn't use the infra to go at a good speed there though.  And likely they'll be faster through many built-up areas too , higher average speed because less stopping and starting / shorter traffic light waits etc.

Again - this is almost always on our presumption of "maximum motor vehicle flow", the local authority and our deficient funding mechanisms.

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ajones1328 replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

Agreed on your points however its often a case (based on funding and Councillor feedback) to compromise and deliver an improvement to white painted lines or get nothing at all.

Times are changing however and with the Active Travel England body, local authorities (particularly councillors) will realise they will only get funding if they meet LTN 1/20 standards. Main issue at the moment is trying to deliver LTN 1/20 standards when you only have 10% of the budget.

I can promise you, transport planners and most engineers know what a good cycle scheme looks like, its the political nature that prevents schemes

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IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
6 likes

This is my club and my neck of the woods.

Firstly, these club members are only representing their own views. Discussing it on the club ride:

1. The interviewees were putting forward arguments that are probably too complicated for the general audience.

2. One member has a child that goes to secondary school along that road and the child thinks it is great.

The problems strike me as:

1. Some odd features that make using it unnecessarily awkward - there are severe speed ramps near crossing points, about a foot high, 45 degrees, and they make it single file, so there is a give way in one direction.

2. At the traffic lights in the middle, cyclists riding against the traffic have to cross back to the other side to go through the junction, them return. This could have been solved with a cycle friendly traffic light design, though there is also a road width issue I think. An alternative is simply to dismount and cross on the pavement then remount. We discussed this and it is something that perhaps doesn't occur to club riders as a solution which would seem natural to a casual rider.

3. There are novel features and it is not entirely clear to a cyclist using it for the first time how it is meant to be negotiated. For example, there are some orange poles denoting the end of the contraflow but I don't think there were clear lanes directing the cyclists to the recommended route.

Edit to add: 4. It stops at a set of traffic lights going out. To the right is access to residential area, straight on is the major shopping park that is taking over from the town centre. No help is given, cyclists are abandoned, with a left turn only lane separated by an island, so any nervous cyclist has no help. Straight on is a red route, but there are so many parking bays, cyclists have to take a primary position to be safe. Then there are the small, high volumeof traffic roundabouts with narrow double laning.

For group rides it nearly works, just the annoying speed humps, but of course, now the road is restricted in width, it does aggravate motorists to be interacting with cycles not on the lane. The reality is that on a Sunday morning, it is quiet and not a big deal, but we did one ride when the lane was under construction and got abuse for not being in it. Previously, motorists frequently used to pass the wrong sides of islands so it wasn't good before.

Overall, it's about a 6 out of 10. A bit more attention to detail, and a bit less treating cyclists as bottom of the heap when it comes to conflicts (cyclists are coralled when interacting with pedestrian, cyclists are restricted when there is conflict with vehicles and the access to the lane from the wrong side hasn't really been thought through). However, the experience into town is worse than going out. Hopefully there is some budget to modify the weak points of the scheme.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for my local scheme in Knowle to have promised improvements since it was implemented and left unfinished last year.

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iandusud replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
6 likes

I cetainly appreciate the frustrations of poorly designed and implemented cycling infra. We have a recently installed section of segregated (from road traffic) infra in Harrogate that is far from perfect BUT it does allow people, including school children, to safely cycle along a section of road that services local schools that would be otherwise far too intimidating to use. This can only be a good thing and with continued consulation with Harrogate Cycle Action hopefully future installations will be better. 

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iandusud | 1 year ago
9 likes

From the IPSOS Survey elsewhere on this site:

  • Seven in ten (71%) say they support actions to encourage more people to walk or cycle instead of driving a car to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.
  • Two-thirds (64%) of people agree that it is ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’.

This is why we need cycling infrastructure. It's not for confident club cyclists (of which I am one). 

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frkrygow replied to iandusud | 1 year ago
1 like

'Two-thirds (64%) of people agree that it is ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’ largely because those promoting total bike segregation have spent decades telling everyone "It is too dangerous to cycle on the roads."

Many millions of miles are traveled by bicycle between fatalities. Cycling is safer, per mile traveled, than walking. Can we not stop the fear mongering?

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chrisonabike replied to frkrygow | 1 year ago
2 likes

That's a hard "No".  Those promoting total bike segregation are a minority of a minority - often not even a household name in their own households.  The notion that these folks are responsible for any kind of "popular perception" is risible on its face.  Even more so than "cyclists are taking over the roads".

I agree that cycling is an extremely safe activity compared to most.  As you know the statistics do not inform people's thinking.  What people do is notice that it's sometimes very unpleasant sharing the roads with motor vehicles when you're not in one.  It doesn't feel safe.  The incidents of people getting hit by cars - while fairly rare* - reinforce this perception.  The results are rather one-sided!  Add in "would I let my kid / parents cycle there" and that's (one of) the reason(s) why most people aren't cycling.

Could it be that there is some kind of correlation between good cycling infra and fraction of trips made on bike / population cycling?  (Good = separated where needed, forming a network - in otherwords "actually and subjectively  safe and also convenient").  Worth a look!

* But still more frequent than they could be for a little effort and investment.

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zideriup | 1 year ago
3 likes

Imagine what we'd have if the CTC didn't spend its earlier years actively campaigning against cycling infrastructure in favour of vehicular cycling.

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chrisonabike replied to zideriup | 1 year ago
4 likes

Well... according to e.g. Carlton Reid, they were right!  The government *did* want them off the road.  However there was a fairly large infra building program (for the time) and some still looks not bad today.

Interesting counterfactual - would the government have put infra everywhere if CTC had gone with them rather than against and lobbied hard for "excellent" infra?  I'm inclined to think that we'd have lost cycling in the UK anyway.  After all transport cycling plummeted most places in Europe / the USA, even in the Netherlands.  I'm not clear why exactly it hung on longer there.  Maybe more infra to start with, maybe something cultural / political, maybe they were just behind the times with the car ...?  Maybe "their streets were too narrow" for cars?

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mdavidford | 1 year ago
5 likes
Quote:

"The only time I used that bike lane [... t]wo scallies on mountain bikes coming the other way decided to swerve in front of me then narrowly miss a head-on collision,"

So it was much better before when someone in a car could have decided to swerve into you instead?

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Backladder replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
3 likes
mdavidford wrote:
Quote:

"The only time I used that bike lane [... t]wo scallies on mountain bikes coming the other way decided to swerve in front of me then narrowly miss a head-on collision,"

So it was much better before when someone in a car could have decided to swerve into you instead?

Those plastic wands won't stop a car from swerving into you and without double yellow lines or some other parking restriction you could quite easily find it full of parked cars most of the time.

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mdavidford replied to Backladder | 1 year ago
4 likes
Backladder wrote:

Those plastic wands won't stop a car from swerving into you

It won't absolutely stop it, but it will make it considerably less likely. The driver (not the car) would have to actively decide to drive through them, rather than just squeeze you out while only half thinking about it, If at all. (Unless they've suffered a serious loss of control, but that's something else again.)

I don't doubt that there may well be a lot wrong with what's been provided here, but 'some eejit once decided to swerve their bike at me, so they should remove it' seems like about the weakest possible argument that could have been made against it.

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Backladder replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
0 likes
mdavidford wrote:
Backladder wrote:

Those plastic wands won't stop a car from swerving into you

It won't absolutely stop it, but it will make it considerably less likely. The driver (not the car) would have to actively decide to drive through them, rather than just squeeze you out while only half thinking about it, If at all. (Unless they've suffered a serious loss of control, but that's something else again.)

or are in their phone or drunk etc etc.

mdavidford wrote:

I don't doubt that there may well be a lot wrong with what's been provided here, but 'some eejit once decided to swerve their bike at me, so they should remove it' seems like about the weakest possible argument that could have been made against it.

There was a similar cycle lane installed near me for a few months before they ripped it out due to the rage of the motorists who were hardly effected by it at all, and riding it in the contraflow direction was really scary with cars approaching you on one side and bikes approaching you on the other, the slightest mistake would most likely send you out in to the road head on to the traffic. I stopped using it because I didn't think it was safe and I was glad when they removed it.

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mdavidford replied to Backladder | 1 year ago
1 like
Backladder wrote:

or are in their phone or drunk etc etc.

Well, yes - but that's a whole different issue, and the cycle lane hasn't made much difference one way or another in that respect, so that doesn't make for an argument against it.

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davkt | 1 year ago
8 likes

As others have said the wrong people are being asked about these, lanes like this will encourage the use of bikes for transport and day to day activity which is what what needs to happen to get people out of cars.

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frkrygow replied to davkt | 1 year ago
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This may be a unique aspect of bicycle advocacy: "We shouldn't ask the opinion of people who actually perform the desired activity and have learned to do it properly. We should pay attention only to those who are ignorant!"

Can you imagine using that philosophy to design motorways? "Don't listen to that crowd! They have driver's licenses!"

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chrisonabike replied to frkrygow | 1 year ago
3 likes

As you know - the target "audience" for cycling infrastructure e.g. "everyone - 8-80" - mostly don't cycle for transport purposes at the moment.  If at all.  The people actually cycling now on UK roads are "the fit and the brave".  Or "cyclists".  To a first approximation a rather specific "out group".  (Wonder why that could be?)

So a better analogy would be "we currently have 'roads' which are used - but by rally drivers.  But we want them to be used by the rest of the population.  Should we take the advice of the rally drivers on what makes a good road and just make more like that"?  Of course simply taking the average opinion of all the people who don't currently drive wouldn't necessarily give you great roads either.

Fortunately we have a "gold standard" we can look to - a place where there really is mass cycling.  In addition we have some "half-way houses" - a whole collection of places - in different countries [1], with different climates [2] [3] and topography [4], with different cultures - that we can compare and contrast to see not just what works but what the bare minimums are and what pitfalls we could avoid.

Even the UK has almost a century of building "cycle infrastructure".  Unfortunately most of it bad or just disconnected and inconvenient.  Built by people who couldn't see why "just mix with the cars" never worked for most people.  Or at best thought of cycling as a minor activity to provide for if we could.  The most "successful" early examples were built in places where the car was being heavily promoted and were less convenient than driving.  Where it's as easy to drive as walk, the UK drives.

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Shades | 1 year ago
12 likes

Good comments here; the boom in UK cycling has been born out of sport cycling so if we design infrastructure around club riding we'll get nowhere.  Worked with someone (didn't particulary like them), who was a die-hard club roadie; using, almost, any cycling infrastructure was an insult/admission of defeat to them, even if it meant holding traffic up where there was (reasonable) infrastructure to allow cars and bikes to coexist.  I've seen people whining on Strava that they were slowed-up on the Bristol-Bath bike path by 'shoppers' when they got closer to Bristol.  People in normal clothes using bikes as transport; it's what it's all about.  Went for a post-work ride recently and the roads were just 'toxic'; if I'd had a novice with me they would have just ditched the bike in the shed and got back in their car.

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Awavey replied to Shades | 1 year ago
3 likes

Decent proper cycling infra should cater for all types of cyclists, that's ultimately the test of it imo, if you've got stuff like this that involves using crossings and dismounting, it doesnt sound like its very decent at all, even if some bits work for some cyclists.

And I dont think the Dutch would build something like this, so why are we ?

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Adam Sutton replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
4 likes

Have to disagree. There will always be cases where compromise is necessary, particularly with old streets etc. The priority should always be to provide safe cycling for those less confident and for people wanting to get from A to B.

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chrisonabike replied to Adam Sutton | 1 year ago
3 likes

But we've old streets!

But they're too narrow! [1] [2] [3]

I agree we want to be able to get from A to B.  Compromise is necessary - and will happen anyway because it's extremely unlikely "cyclists" will ever be seen as the majority.

So often it seems in this context "compromise" means "anything is better than nothing" or "forget convenience and useability, at least it's safe".  It shouldn't.  I hear "compromise" in this context and what comes next is not "finding a pragmatic solution which adequately achieves the overall goal"* but "rule out any change to the status quo to start with, then head for the lowest common denominator".

If "providing for cyclists" means "walking half the time, constantly on and off the bike" you've not provided for cyclists.  Possibly not at all for some with mobility issues.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It needs to be safe and convenient.  Otherwise it will be used neither by the less confident nor by the existing "fit and the brave".

* e.g. "OK - not on this street - but we need to link from A to B so what about a better provision on a parallel street?"

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

Don't mistake that for being dogmatic.  Cyclists can always get places.  Not all will.  People who're not confident on bikes can get off (if they've the mobility...) and become pedestrians at any point currently.  We should not short-change them - and dissuade the majority of people who currently don't cycle - by putting up new obstacle courses.  Pragmatism would be accepting very occasional "missing links" - as long as they're still accessible to everyone.

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Awavey replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

Absolutely, what I'd love to see CyclingUK or some other pro cycling organisations do is take an example road like this, goto one of the Dutch cycling infra build companies and say here's the amount of money you've got to spend, show us what you would do here instead and I bet it wouldnt look anything like what theyve installed here.

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chrisonabike replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
1 like

Careful what you wish for.  Can't find the reference but recall reading that when abroad a "Dutch infra company" will happily build what the client wants and is prepared to pay for.  Just like other businesses.  I'd hope they'd do a better job but again if the brief was "mustn't reduce motor vehicle capacity, cannot touch the junctions, we don't have room for bus stop bypasses"...  Plus they wouldn't have the framework of all the Dutch requirements and wouldn't be connecting to a Dutch network.  Improvising, there's no guarantee they'd come up with something particularly good.

I think this is where we could really benefit from "education" - less individual drivers, more the politicos, planners and designers.  Or alternatively everyone in the UK - here's what you're missing and what you really could have.

Sadly I think there's some truth to the idea that "Copenhagen is the 'entry-level' version of the Netherlands - that other countries can understand and feel they might be able to afford and achieve".

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IanMSpencer replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
2 likes

The issue is that in Amsterdam say, they have entirely inverted the road system, cars are subservient to cycles. So any design conflict, they will design for the bike first and the motorist has to put up with what they are given. They also use a lot of traffic lights, so typically a cyclist might have to stop/start, but they would not be expected to cross traffic unprotected. Of course, a lot of Amsterdam in the centre is virtually traffic free aside from residential access.

In this Solihull example, there are about 4 key points where the cyclist is left to their own devices to negotiate 2 lanes of traffic flowing in both directions.

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Awavey replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

which is not good in the Solihull example then if the scheme is targetted at "low confidence" cyclists, and how does it cope with 2way cycling ? since one portion appears to involve a bit a of hill.

I just feel the Dutch have a very good track record on what makes cycling infra work, whereas UK attempts (that arent based on the Dutch philosophy or LTN1/20) end up as this hodge podge of things that sort of do something to help in places, but never quite feel right, are certainly clunky to ride and not at all the "cracking design that adheres to all the current guidelines" the local councillor claimed for this.

all cyclists just want stuff that makes them feel safer cycling,is easily navigable and doesnt over complicate a journey for them, it sounds simple yet is rarely delivered.

and Ive seen it time and time again with proposals to improve roads for cycling,again to match the guidelines its claimed, but which the default option is to push you onto a narrow shared path at the first opportunity whenever things get a bit difficult or complicated for the designers to cope with taking away space from motor vehicles or slowing them down to enable safe cycling routes, and completely wrecks your route, because instead of feeling like you are going to your destination, you are being diverted off here there and everywhere and pressing begging buttons or hoping friendly motorists will allow you to cross in their presence, and your nice desire line resembles more like a shape of a jigsaw puzzle piece.

I just get fed up of it, because it simply will feed the anti trolls with their "look at all this money spent on more cycling infra that no one uses" because it really doesnt work if you dont make things simple and easy to follow and wont result in the kind of sea change to modal share we want from it.

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IanMSpencer replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
3 likes

Well as I said, the fundamental difference is priority.

Even in high quality London schemes, the designers are reluctant to make cars subservient to bikes. I'd love to see traffic lights that default to red for cars, leaving pedestrians free to cross, and motorists have to wind down their windows and press a button, then wait 90 seconds before the lights condescend to change.

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chrisonabike replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

I agree with your point.  Some details - cars aren't "subserviant" to cycles in NL *.  And I hear it's a pretty good place to drive.  And I think they still draw the motor traffic lanes in first.  And increasingly they try to design so not only are you not held up at traffic lights but you don't encounter them on a cycle at all.

Amsterdam itself may not be the best example to look at.

What really seems to make the difference is a different focus and different principles.

* They do try to make it very clear exactly what you have to do in every environment though - which includes "priority".  But cycles do not always have priority - sometimes for good reason (and not even all Dutch people understand / agree with this)!

There are Fietsstraat where cars are "guests" but I think they're not fully "regularised".  They (or other roads) can have very low speed limits / "no overtaking cycles" rules applied.  However I believe we can legally sign both in the UK, now.  The key point is these things should be self-reinforcing e.g. they wouldn't just stick a fietsstraat sign / other rules on a busy, fast street. We're still trying to "sign it better" too often.

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IanMSpencer replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

Points taken.

What I found really difficult to adjust to was things like right turns across cycle lanes where you had to consciously consider cyclists who would not be stopping
(actually not that different to the revised HWC which has highlighted places where I've had to adjust my driving to allow for the possibility of needing to give way to pedestrians for example). It is examples such as that where I perceived the subservience. It's the same thinking problem as the priority from the right at unmarked junctions across Europe.

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