Designing Bike Infrastructure
Written by Gary Cummins Published: 14 January 2016
There is an online comic character called Yehuda Moon who, whilst running a bike shop, dispenses homespun advice on all things to do with utility cycling. In one story Yehuda has been recruited to help paint a coloured bike lane on the road outside his shop. He returns to his shop later having painted the whole of the street the colour of a bike lane... “well, you asked for a decent bike lane”.
In four frames the cartoon neatly summarises the cycle infrastructure debate. In the UK, cycle infrastructure implementation has been as stop-start as the experience many cyclists have when they try to use some of the less well-considered examples that currently exist. The best facilities can be a joy, tantamount to riding a silk-surfaced railway that removes the cyclist from intimidating motor traffic. The worst can be anything from a mile-increasing detour through backstreets to a painted line on narrow uneven footway shared with long suffering pedestrians.
This mixed standard of infrastructure delivery has arguably assisted the creation of that modern phenomenon, the cycling tribes: lycra wearing fast road riders, urbane tweed conscious fixed-wheeled hipsters and even....in a few bohemian pockets what appears to be ordinary-looking people riding bikes.
In spite of the differences in appearance, there is an increasing tendency among even these groups that the key to enabling high levels of cycling, particularly among those intimidated by current conditions for cyclists in the UK, is to have very high standards of infrastructure.
Cycling blogger and academic Katja Leyendecker has illustrated this issue simply and rather elegantly in a post arguing that “you get the cyclist who you have designed for”. Her premise is that indicators including the type of cyclist and type of cycle ridden reflect the quality of a district’s cycle infrastructure. Where cycling has been enabled via good infrastructure it is more likely to be considered a routine pursuit accessible to all as a transport option as opposed to those places where it is less good or non-existent and is something participants chose to do in spite of the conditions.
A similar point is made elsewhere by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett in a post ’In praise of slow cycling’ who reflect on how the maturity of a city’s cycling culture may be indicated by the slower speeds and apparent comfort at which its cyclists travel. Both pieces argue a similar point in slightly different ways and both come to similar conclusions; a place where a network of safe, high quality segregated provision for people on bikes is available is a place where you fill find lots of different types of people on lots of different types of bikes.
Here in the UK we are now starting to see examples of high quality infrastructure being created that genuinely enable people to take to bikes who would not have, or not been allowed to have done so before. London’s newest segregated sections of Cycle Superhighway are opening up cycle travel to the types of people, old, young and families, who would not have been seen anywhere near a bike in that same location a couple of years back.
The evidence is pretty clear regarding the infrastructure we need to create, if we want to see all types of people on all types of bikes in very high numbers, we need to give them the infrastructure that makes them comfortable enough to be able to do so, and who knows, we might even get Yehuda Moon coming to take a look.