Smart Advocacy CAN Increase Cycling

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that I don’t believe bike facilities are the only way to increase cycling. Most of the famous cycling cities in the U.S. actually had the ingredients of bike culture before cyclists lost their right to the full use of the travel lanes and were relegated to gutter lanes. Most are college towns. Even the heralded Dutch culture had a high regard for bicycle transportation before the bike paths were built (key ingredients of their system can’t be duplicated here because of that cultural difference).

I believe it is possible to create a healthy bike culture through education, social marketing and intelligent infrastructure. But I have not seen an example of a place that has deliberately tried a comprehensive alternative to the mindless application of paint… until now.

This article on made my day:

Hackney shows you don’t have to have lots of cycling infrastructure to get more people on bikes

By Gary Cummins

The London Borough of Hackney has one of the fastest growth rates of cycling anywhere in the UK, yet planners and transport professionals visiting this borough with a view to imitating its success on their own turf may be surprised to see little in the way of conspicuous cycle facilities. Danish-style cycle tracks are nowhere to be found and the 1,000-strong local cyclists group, the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney, actively lobbies against the installation of cycle lanes.

😀 … Carry on…

That the penny has dropped regarding cycling as transport in London is well known but the reasons behind this success story are less clear, often being (incorrectly) put down to the development of a comprehensive network of segregated cycle routes. Attend any transport conference with a speaker endorsing the success of London and chances are they will present a slide of a London Cycle Network + (LCN+) route showing a section of segregation in Bloomsbury. Certainly some segregation within the LCN+ does exist but these sections account for only a tiny proportion of that network; probably amounting to not even one percent of the total. Outside of the occasional section of pedestrian-cyclist segregation in local parks there are few cycle lanes or tracks in Hackney itself, where the cycling modal share is ten percent and rising.

Of all the London Cycling Campaign borough groups, Hackney’s is the largest. It has benefited from a longstanding and consistent core of activists creating a mature and confident lobby group that speaks with some authority on what it believes to be the key issues behind the success of the bicycle as transport in this part of London.

Like many success stories, it is due to a combination of factors. These include: the congestion charge; a positive press reaction to the increase in cycle use; the free TfL London Cycle Guide maps and better bus lanes. Along with this there is peer observation (the general ‘fashionableness’ of cycling in London) and the cycling lobby developing a trusting and respectful relationship with local authority officers.

However, there are other factors that may be less familiar to a visiting planner: ‘permeability’ and what Hackney’s cyclists call ‘invisible engineering’.

Local cyclists describe permeability as ‘maximum route choice with minimum diversion’. For cyclists the bicycle performs best when it is used to travel as directly as possible to the desired destination. Diversions are a waste of time and energy. For a commuter with a four-five mile journey the occasional detour may be acceptable but a journey that involves travelling around three sides of a square to avoid a priority junction becomes unnecessarily tiresome.

According to Trevor Parsons, the co-ordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney, the restoration of permeability to non-motor traffic through parts of the borough, along with engineering measures to reduce traffic speeds, have been among the most influential physical interventions carried out. By their nature these measures are almost undetectable to anybody seeking out what might be termed ‘typical’ cycle facilities. Rather, Hackney’s cyclists and their borough officers have developed a consensus that seeks to avoid what they consider to be tokenistic, and in the long-term potentially harmful, engineering solutions such as cycle lanes and tracks. Instead they have implemented measures that seek to reduce motor traffic speeds, restore cycle permeability to sections of the borough where this had been lost (principally to egregious one-way systems), operate a comprehensive programme of cycle training and support a general acceptance for people’s right to cycle on the highway.

Hackney has hardly any green painted cycle lanes and the few dedicated segregated cycle tracks that do exist tend to be there to facilitate cycle access where other motor traffic is not permitted, for example restoring permeability via a cycle contra-flow along a previously barred one-way street.

The restoration of two-way working to the Shoreditch Gyratory, a formerly inner city triangle that stifled non-motorised traffic movement across the borough, has seen permeable access restored. It may be argued that this has assisted ongoing economic development to this previously unfashionable part of the city. Hackney alone is now home to 12 bicycle shops, where in recent years there were only three or four, which says something about the potential economic impact that promotion of cycling as transport can bring to an area.

Conduct a survey on what most non-cycling people want before they will consider riding a bike and this list is likely to include cycle lanes, green paint and segregated cycle tracks. But ask Mr Parsons and other members of his group in Hackney and the list will be quite different. It will involve offering a comprehensive cycle training programme, lower motor traffic speeds, easy direct travel from A to B by bike and general acceptance that we can share highway space.

Within the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges the hierarchy of provision for cyclists places traffic reduction, speed reduction and redistribution of the carriageway via bus lanes and wide nearside lanes among the interventions to consider first when developing infrastructure for cyclists. The large increase in bicycle use within Hackney demonstrates that, when thoughtfully implemented with other complimentary measures, this hierarchy works extremely well.

10 replies
  1. Andrewp
    Andrewp says:

    Wow!! Nice article!!

    I spent some time on the links provided with the London Cycling Campaign. Looks like this was a grass-roots effort, started by a few and it slowly grew to the point of hitting a critical mass, then has really taken off recently. I notice a large part of their effort is education-based (both with young kinds as well as “mums”) getting people to cycle.

    Interesting ….

  2. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Thanks Keri! This is impressive. I’m off today but will look into this report in more detail and see what I can use from it to report to our BPAC and others.

  3. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    The League’s Andy Clarke (who grew up in England) posted some useful contributions to the Hackney story on the APBP list.

    This last link make the point about demographics and economics, which always play stronger roles than infrastructure or education. Hackney has a younger, somewhat poorer population than neighboring London. And a key factor is the London congestion fee of 8 pounds per day (about 11 dollars) to enter the central city. No doubt American cities would see significant cycling increases with such a fee. So if you’re a young person of modest income living in Hackney and commuting to London, cycling is natural solution.

  4. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    Mighk said: “This last link make the point about demographics and economics, which always play stronger roles than infrastructure or education.”

    But Andy always denies this applies to the USA. Here, it’s all infrastructure, all the time. Shameless.

  5. Carfree Floridian
    Carfree Floridian says:

    Mighk nailed it: slap an $11 fee to drive on I-4 and you’ll see changes even in your car-centric Orlando… yes, even without infrastructure improvements.

    Why not a both-and approach for starters? Make motorists pay the real costs of driving– i.e. more– AND couple that with infrastructure improvements to facilitate a broader mode shift to the bicycle.

    And let’s drop the mindless hostility while we’re at it.

  6. Keri
    Keri says:

    not marked by the use of reason;
    showing a lack of forethought or sense;
    having no sensible meaning or purpose;
    (see Baldwin Park);

    inanity: total lack of meaning or ideas
    heedlessness: the trait of acting rashly and without prudence

    People who place the promotion of cycling BEFORE the rights and well-being of cyclists are a powerful force for making things worse for us. People who burst onto the advocacy scene without thoughtful research and consideration of the problems, the possibilities and the unintended consequences of various “solutions” are a powerful force for making things worse for us.

    Whether you agree with my positions or not, they are based on experience, education and thoughtful research into the legal and cultural issues faced by cyclists. And where I have developed “hostility” toward certain actions, it is far from mindless.

    I do believe that infrastructure is part of the solution. I have never said otherwise. And I discuss good infrastructure solutions in a number of my posts. But infrastructure—whether is it greenways, connector-spurs, bike lanes or side paths—needs to be appropriate and well-thought-out. WAY too often it is not. Instead it is the product of political expedience to please a constituency that is not mature or thoughtful in its advocacy. If you look through many of the DOT studies, you’ll see a pattern… “what’s the minimum we can do to get the bicyclists out of the way while tricking them into thinking we did them a favor.”


    We are legitimate vehicle drivers and we are entitled to the same rights, safety, acceptance and respect on the road as any others. In many states, ill-conceived bicycle advocacy has resulted in a reduction of those rights to mandatory facilities.

  7. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    I ran across this nugget in the cycle plan for Hackney:

    1.10 The Hackney Transport Strategy adopts a hierarchy of road users which places cyclists in the second place, after pedestrians:
    • Pedestrians
    • Cyclists
    • Public transport users
    • Powered two wheelers
    • Freight distribution (local)
    • Car users (multi-occupancy)
    • Car users (local)
    • Car users (non-local)


    …. and then this further on …

    3.10 Well designed routes, reduced traffic speeds, designated road space, and more parking facilities will encourage more cycling in Hackney. In keeping with MTS – Streets reference 4G.Po2 – in balancing the use of street space, Hackney will take into account the new road hierarchy proposed in the Hackney Transport Strategy. This provides for a general presumption in favour of vehicle distribution on the TLRN and most other ‘A’ roads. On other roads and local routes there is a presumption in favour of access and amenity, particularly for residents, buses, pedestrians and cyclists.

    As I read this, what they are saying is that certain roads may have a presumption for autos (hi speed arterials, I am guessing) and then other roads a presumption for pedestrians and cyclists (lower speed neighborhood-type roads).

    This makes some sense for I think most cyclists would prefer staying off the hi volume/hi speed roads. But when you don’t have the connectors between neighborhoods, you are forced onto these high-speed roads.

    I’m thinking …. perhaps when we talk about “infrastructure” we need to be putting a higher imphasis on “connectors” between neighborhoods ……….

  8. P M Summer
    P M Summer says:

    carfreefloridian said: “slap an $11 fee to drive on I-4 and you’ll see changes even in your car-centric Orlando… yes, even without infrastructure improvements.”

    Any “sprawl-city” that tried to do that would be a ghost town in five years.

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    Andrew said: “I’m thinking …. perhaps when we talk about “infrastructure” we need to be putting a higher imphasis on “connectors” between neighborhoods …”

    Andrew and I are 100% on the same page about this!

    I think connecting low-volume roads has a greater potential to increase cycling (especially short-trip cycling) than bike lanes. If I was thinking about going to the store with kids, I’d be more inclined to do it on a series of quiet streets than in a bike lane on a busy highway.

    Twice in December I rode with my mother (who is new to cycling) and observed her comfort level. It was instructive to see the road and facilities from the perspective of the “target audience” of most PnP advocacy. Mom was much more comfortable on the quiet streets than on any of the bike infrastructure. The side path on U.S. 98 was fine (albeit extremely noisy), until it unceremoniously dumped us onto a sidewalk and then a parking lot. It’s really unhelpful to build stuff like that without a commitment to terminate it sensibly in a way that facilitates the cyclists’ reintegration. But again, we lack an underpinning of respect for bicycle transportation that is the foundation for good facilities, civility and lawful behavior.

    Another important point in the hierarchy. Pedestrians must come first. Pedestrian fatality rates are so much higher than cyclist FARs.

  10. Gary Cummins
    Gary Cummins says:

    Mighk said: ‘This last link make the point about demographics and economics, which always play stronger roles than infrastructure or education. Hackney has a younger, somewhat poorer population than neighboring London. And a key factor is the London congestion fee of 8 pounds per day (about 11 dollars) to enter the central city’.

    The London Cycling Campaign has always argued that the typical active member of that group is white, male, and middle class (fortunately, and due in part to the efforts of the LCC this is begining to change). Hackney does have poor areas, but it is also next to the City, and is home to some of London’s more affluent populace. As I argued in the article it is a combination of factors that are at work here. On another note, The ‘Standard’ article referenced above baffled us all with it’s claim that Hackney’s success is due to cycle lanes, because there simply are none, there are plenty of cycle routes however.

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