Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)
Posted by Sally Hinchcliffe on Monday 13th of March 2017
Last week we reported about the guerrilla bike lane plumbers – this week we learned that their DIY protection had been made permanent while People for Bikes tracked down the initially anonymous team behind it, who know a thing or two about savvy stunts. All of which raises the question – is it more effective to be a town planner by day or a masked superhero (or, indeed, plumber) by night when it comes to safer streets?
Bikes and other causes of gridlock
Toilet plungers famously clear blockages – but are bike lanes the cause of congestion and pollution as claimed by one MP who even the Daily Mail refers to as a petrolhead? This is a widespread problem, as bike lanes cause gridlock in Seattle that had absolutely nothing to do with a truck full of butane crashing on the Interstate. At all. While Denver clearly has too many of those pesky bike lanes too as its road network simply isn’t working. Fortunatly Belfast is onto it, closing a pedestrian and cycling crossing to make space for expanding traffic – and just in time too as the city has some of the worst congestion in the UK, and clearly needs to road-build its way out of it. Meanwhile Portsmouth is planning a ‘sustainable’ new town without thinking through its bike access at all. Boston is subsidising parking like it’s 1989.
Sarcasm aside, Austin understands that the way to grow without gridlock is to build a bike network – and Washington DC has been quietly getting on with it. Berlin is planning a network of superhighways but even a city like Hull could have cycling rates to rival the Dutch if the infastructure was there. And in Surrey, a couple of hospitals recognise the inherent efficiency of parking bikes over cars.
A fine balance
‘But what about the needs of all road users?’ we hear politicians cry – or by ‘balance’ do they mean entrenching the current (unbalanced) status quo? If London’s leaders try and avoid controversy and confrontation it will mean a lost year for cycling in London (even if the mayor seems prepared to think the unthinkable about the school run) – if the policies are right they will be able to overcome the barriers to building active travel infrastructure locally. We need policies that explicity restore the balance – such as Colombia’s Ciclovias, apparently the cheapest public health initiative per head there is – for anywhere in the world, closed road events such as these in Seattle make walking and cycling with kids so much easier, while even before it’s been finished, a greenway in Vancouver is already filling up with walkers and cyclists of all sorts – but you don’t need to wait for a railwayline to close to use it as a bike path. And as some roads become less important for motor traffic they can be repurposed as recreational routes, bringing tourism into the countryside. One area where balance might need to be restored is between cyclist and pedestrians – put yourselves in the shoes of a ninety-six year old and you might cycle differently when you’re both sharing a pavement – although the vicious rumble strips beloved of the Royal Parks do nothing to help; perhaps Glasgow’s drivers have found a more effective solution. Or perhaps we should be taxing vehicles according to the inconvenience they cause instead.