Total Cycling

Total Cycling – Everyday Cycling Everywhere

In any city with a developed cycling culture, there are cyclists everywhere. They don’t just use a handful of excellent routes; they use pretty much every available street. People just take the most obvious, usually the shortest route from where they are to where they want to go. The only roads people avoid are multi-lane roads without street frontage.

In north Oxford, for instance, there are two main roads closely parallel to one another. Neither is that busy, or fast, but there’s a steady flow of traffic on both. One has continuous bus and cycle lanes, the other has a long gap in the southbound direction, with all the traffic sharing a single narrow lane. More people use the good road, but significant numbers still use the not-so-good one. People won’t even divert a hundred metres for a better cycle route.

To make a cycle city, virtually every street has to be made cycle-friendly. Residential streets are fairly easy – introduce 20mph limits, and arrange the parking to stop any speeding. The hard part is making main roads cycle-friendly. It can take decades to make all the main roads cycle-friendly; this is where you need to develop a strategy. A Total Cycling strategy is one that sets out a credible program for making all streets cycle-friendly.

The first part of a Total Cycling strategy is assessing the current situation on the main roads – how much traffic, how fast, how much space, and whether there are any roundabouts or gyratories. The situation will vary from city to city. You may be lucky and have lots of wide streets and no difficult junctions, but in most places it’s not so easy.

The Dutch have developed standard cycle-friendly solutions for various types of roads, based on the level of traffic and its speed. Unfortunately, they don’t always fit (even in the Netherlands). In fact, in UK cities, you’re quite likely to find that they rarely fit. The level of traffic and speed on most UK main roads would, by normal Dutch standards, require separate cycle tracks, but that will often mean narrowing the pavements and rebuilding all the drainage. It may be more palatable to reduce speeds so that painted on-road cycle lanes can be used instead. Even that will often require the removal of parking.

The space constraints at junctions will probably be the hardest challenge. Often junctions have been arranged to maximise capacity for motor-traffic. Making space for cycling will require reductions in junction capacity, and increased (motor-traffic) congestion. Again, painted solutions, accepting a certain degree of conflict, but managing the risks by reducing speed, are more likely to be practical.

For the purposes of a Total Cycling strategy, you don’t have to design every scheme, but you do need to have a reasonable idea of what is going to be required: where the space is going to come from, who will have to be displaced, how much traffic or speed reduction will be needed, and whether the costs are acceptable.

When you’ve identified the strategy for making your main roads cycle-friendly, you’ll need to consider the range of cyclists it will work for. In an ideal world main roads would be suitable for cyclists of all ages, but you may find that is impractical. If you’ve had to opt for painted solutions, particularly at junctions, the main roads won’t be sufficiently cycle-friendly for family cycling. Fortunately, family cycling is more willing to accept constraints on routes – family groups will often avoid main roads anyway, and prefer quiet routes, even if they are less direct. So coupled with a strategy for treating main roads, you need a strategy for family cycling – routes that take families and children starting to cycle on their own to the places they want and need to go – schools, shops, libraries, parks, swimming pools.

If we are to achieve Total Cycling, almost all our roads are going to have to change. That is no small task, and any serious cycling strategy has to address itself to the scale of the problem. Most cycle strategies fail to do this, and all they achieve is delaying the development of an effective strategy until the next time.