As Easy As Riding A Bike)
The way debates around the division of space in urban areas are framed – how much space we should allocate to private motor traffic, to public transport, to walking, and to cycling – presents walking as an ‘essential’ mode, one that all of us engage in, while by contrast cycling is almost always an optional extra, something that’s nice to have, but not all that important.
For example, we wouldn’t dream of building a new road scheme without footways that are suitable for the children or the elderly to use – or without footways altogether – yet it’s extraordinarily common for new schemes not to bother including any cycling infrastructure at all, even in places where cycling is already a relatively established mode of transport, despite the conditions.
A brand new road scheme in Westminster, London. No cycle space included.
What this means in practical terms is that cycling as a practical transport option is limited to the small proportion of the population willing to cycle in motor traffic-dominated environments, further reinforcing the impression that cycling is something that does not need to be designed for, because very few people are using cycles to get about. It’s a vicious circle.
Depressingly these assumptions are built into Transport for London’s latest Healthy Streets guidance – it is only ‘walking’ that needs diverse representation, and needs to include people with disabilities, without any mention of cycling under ‘all walks of life’.
From TfL’s Healthy Streets
But when we look at places where cycling has been designed for, where it is as just as much an integral part of highway design as footways, we see that, in reality, cycling infrastructure coexists alongside walking infrastructure as part of a continuum of mobility.
The combined ‘walking and cycling’ space in the Netherlands is really just one space – a space for human-scale transport, conveniently subdivided according to speed, with humans travelling at under 4mph using one part of it, and humans travelling faster than 4mph using the other part of it.
Footway and cycleway combined is just space for human-scale mobility, divided according to speed
In Britain, save for a handful of locations, we don’t have this ‘expanded’ space. We have slow, footway space, and we have fast, motor traffic-dominated space. People in wheelchairs and on mobility scooters, and people with mobility issues in general, face a stark choice – they either have to adapt to traveling like pedestrians, or they have to try and cope in motor traffic-dominated environments. Their options have been limited.
We also lumber what little cycling infrastructure we have with what I would call ‘able-bodied’ barriers – impediments designed to slow fast, able-bodied cyclists, but that disproportionately impede (or thwart entirely) people with disabilities, or who are less able-bodied. This includes things like the vicious speed humps appearing in the Royal Parks in London, as well as zig-zag barriers and gates – both things that don’t do a great deal to slow down your average, able-bodied cyclist, but represent serious obstacles to those with disabilities.