Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Daring to redistribute space and means

Mobility may be regarded as the ability to travel, although its meaning could be much broader, since mobility encompasses not only the activity of travel, but also, more importantly, the possibility for the traveller to decide when and where to travel, by being aware of, and making use of, an information set for optimising the journey. 

The foregoing is the opening paragraph of the Executive Summary to a policy document produced for the European Parliament entitled Promotion of Cycling. The same paragraph is repeated, word for word, in the Introduction.

Mobility, it suggests, is not just about getting from A to B, but also about knowing how to get from A to B, whichever method of transport is used. The top tip for cycling safely in Amsterdam, by the way, is: "know where to ride".

The report found that people mostly choose to use a bicycle for positive reasons, i.e., it is fun, it is healthy, it is environmentally-friendly, it is fast (in congested urban areas) and it is inexpensive. The major cycling-related benefits are thus classified into the following categories:

> transport efficiency; 
> environmental protection; 
> cyclists’ health and fitness; 
> economic and social impact. 

Despite these positive features, however, the report also noted that cycling has several negative aspects. These relate to: 

> lack or inadequacy of road and parking infrastructure; 
> cyclists’ safety and security; 
> weather conditions; 
> poor intermodality.

The report aims to give an overview of the main policies that promote cycling in the built-up area. These are:

> the provision of good and safe infrastructures in cities and neighbourhoods;
> cycling education, and the promotion of safety for cyclists;
> the importance of intermodality, in giving cyclists the opportunity to make medium- to long-distance trips;
> the challenge of improving security, to prevent theft and avoid aggression towards cyclists.

The report recognises that cyclists are vulnerable to motorised vehicles, and that they may feel more at risk under poor cycling conditions. Safety and a sense of security are therefore significant factors in making cycling a better option. 

The report points out that the development of well-designed segregated cycle infrastructures would obviously be a big help in this regard, though it is acknowledged that many factors contribute to a bicycle-friendly environment. It is vital, for instance, that cyclists are visible to motorists at junctions, and also that cyclists are aware of cars.

The report makes mention of a number of soft measures that could be implemented in the short-term, including changing the way that traffic lights are phased, opening one-way streets to two-way cycle traffic, reducing the speed limit of motor vehicles, and "the safety of bicycle lanes, including good signage".

Good infrastructure for cyclists, the report makes clear, should go hand-in-hand with car traffic restrictions in city centres and residential areas. Indeed, the development of the cycling network cannot be considered in isolation. The availability of safe and convenient parking, for example, is as critical for cyclists as it is for motorists.

The report describes the five main requirements for bicycle-friendly infrastructures, first identified by the Dutch National Information and Technology Platform for Transport, Infrastructure and Public Space (CROW) in 1993: 

> Improved traffic safety;
> Directness: short, fast routes from origin to destination;
> Comfort: good surfaces, generous space and little hindrance from other road users;
> Attractiveness: a pleasant, socially safe environment, without smell or noise nuisance;
> Cohesion: logical, cohesive routes.

The report also outlines the measures for cycling infrastructures in Copenhagen. They have developed an extensive system of cycle-friendly facilities, which means in practice:

> Well maintained, fully integrated paths, lanes and bicycle streets in the city and surrounding regions
> Fully coordinated system of colour-coded signs for bicyclists
> Intersection modifications and priority traffic signals:
  • Advanced green lights for cyclists at most intersections
  • Advanced cyclist waiting positions (ahead of cars) fed by special bicycle lanes make crossing and turning safer and quicker
  • Cyclist short cuts to make right-hand turns before intersections and exemption from red traffic signals at T-intersections
  • Bicycle paths become brightly-coloured bicycle lanes when crossing intersections
> Plenty of good bicycle parking throughout the city
> Improved lighting and security of bike-parking facilities, often featuring guards, video surveillance and priority parking for women

The main features of the report are the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and 'hard' measures in the medium-term.

***

The report also makes the following point about national cycling policies:

"Currently it is not compulsory for EU Member States to adopt a national bicycle plan and there are no compulsory legal or financial frameworks. Nevertheless, an increasing number of countries are voluntarily developing national cycling plans and strategic policies. The handbook for urban cycling policies is Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities published by the European Commission in 1999. This handbook promotes bicycle use in cities to decrease transport-related pollutant emission."

And with regard to the role of the EU, it says:

"Promoting cycling is the responsibility of the national and local authorities, since it is an integral part of urban policy. It depends very much on local political will and the allocation of financial resources.

"The EU, as supranational coordinator and facilitator member, should continue to fund EU initiatives and projects whose aim is to divulge the best practices and their transferability among EU cities. Beginning with the handbook, Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, published in 1999, the EU still continues to promote cycling initiatives through the annual European Mobility Week."
.

I hope you get the idea from the foregoing that Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities is still regarded in Europe as a very credible piece of work.

***

This is taken from the chapter entitled 'Daring to redistribute space and means':

When town centres have been remodelled for pedestrians, cyclists often find their place in them quite naturally. Wherever cars are no longer taking up all the space, bicycles pop up. But if decisions have to be taken between making room for car traffic and for cyclists, the choices made are sometimes draconian. How is one to choose between the demand for cycling facilities on the one hand and the ‘requirements’ of car traffic on the other? What limitations can we allow to be imposed on one mode of transport in order to give the other its chance?

The majority of the population is in favour of cycling facilities

Some towns are short of space, even on the major routes. Taking a political decision to reduce the space allotted to cars (whether for traffic or for parking) in order to create facilities for cyclists requires a certain amount of skill, entails explanations for the population and has to be implemented gradually.

Let us recall that the Eurobarometer survey quoted above shows that there is an overwhelming majority of people who approve of cycling in all countries of the European Union.

More local surveys always come up with results which concur with this. In connection with the promulgation and application of the new law on air quality in France , it was reported that:

> more than six out of ten respondents in France feel that it is difficult to put up with car traffic in town
> more than seven out of ten respondents in France say that they favour closing town centres to traffic at least on some days
> more than nine out of ten respondents in France would like cycling facilities to be introduced.

It is important to emphasise that, even among motorists, there are few who believe that the car must remain a priority mode of transport in spite of everything [their emphasis]. Very often motorists themselves are amenable to safety and quality of life arguments

Investing in proper information for the public

A major factor in the success and acceptability of any innovatory policy concerning journeys in towns is the communication strategy used.

If arguments in favour of a redistribution of space and in favour of certain restrictions are spelt out clearly to motorists, they are happy to support a reduction in traffic or in traffic speed, and will not let themselves be influenced by any recalcitrant pro-car lobbyist.

Before introducing measures to reduce the speed in Graz ( Austria ), for example, the town conducted a publicity campaign which lasted several months. Through this campaign, motorists became aware of the risks to which they were exposing others by driving at 50 km/h in local streets and also the small amount of time they would lose when 50 km/h would be authorised only on major routes. The introduction of the 30 km/h speed limit was implemented at a stroke when the school term recommenced in order to stress the safety aspects. The only measures taken were to install signs and to paint the ground with reminders of the maximum speed authorised in local streets.

Supervision is required to remind motorists of the 30 km/h limit and a small number of motorists are charged with offences, but the vast majority of the population and motorists approve of and accept this speed moderation strategy.

Adopting a gradual approach and alternative solutions

The creation of infrastructures to encourage people to take up cycling again does not inevitably give rise to a mass of insoluble problems regarding the distribution of space. Quite apart from the creation of signposted cycle routes on roads where through-traffic is low or has been reduced, some physical installations carried out at key places can make a powerful contribution to improving cyclists’ safety.

These include:

> the quality of road surfaces (reducing the risks of falling or sudden turns so that cyclists can concentrate their attention on traffic),
> bright lighting at crossroads (leading to fewer conflicts),
> changes to the phasing of traffic lights (fewer conflicts),
> an increased use of small roundabouts (which should reduce conflicts and enable cyclists to waste less time),
> cycle lanes.

The best guarantees for finding intelligent solutions, which must very often be adapted to the specific situation in hand, include taking into account the experience of people who cycle on a daily basis and the imagination and subtlety of analysis of those in charge of the projects.

Only by studying a cycle route network, however, will it be possible to truly grasp the situation, to draw up a list of black spots and to act in a targeted and highly efficient fashion [their emphasis].

When defining cycle routes, there are certain imperatives: they must be simultaneously intelligently chosen, direct and pleasant, and any installations made on these routes must be simultaneously safe and comfortable.

Depending on the size and layout of your particular town, it is quite possible that defining cycling routes will not give rise to any major problems regarding the redistribution of public space. Indeed, the cycle routes appreciated by beginners are preferably separated from the major car traffic flows (criterion of comfort) which can thus follow more local roads, as long as the trip remains direct, without pointless or excessive detours.

As long as the cycle routes are following local roadways, the main measures taken can be those of moderating speed and, as far as possible, cutting down the volume of traffic. In cases such as this, there are few restrictions placed on car traffic and any opposition from the car lobby can easily be defused by a good information campaign and by encouraging the participation of motorists.

The introduction of specific amenities which may require a reduction in the size of the road (including the occasional elimination of parking places) becomes indispensable only when the cycling network is situated on a major route or when obstacles have to be circumvented (bridges, tunnels).

Often, reasonable traffic moderation measures aimed at ensuring that the maximum authorised speed is respected (generally 50 km/h) will make it possible to reduce the width of the traffic lanes and thus create the space needed for cyclists.

Taking account of motorists

When designing facilities for cyclists, account must be taken of the fact that motorists are not accustomed to sharing the road with such small vehicles and whose trajectory they are unable to predict with any accuracy. Facilities can also make a very powerful contribution to eliminating the element of surprise in encounters between cars and bicycles.

One of the defects of cycle tracks is precisely the fact that cyclists and motorists forget each others’ existence until they reach the crossroads, where cyclists have to be integrated into mainstream traffic. In order for cyclists to be more visible to motorists and to avoid this kind of surprise, crossroads should be kept clear of obstacles for a length of at least 20 metres in each direction or space should be provided for cyclists on the roadway.

This argument, that the needs of both motorists and of cyclists must be taken jointly into account, must be stressed in any communication strategy.

The relationship between safety and amenities for cyclists

Cycle tracks (conceived as spaces reserved for cyclists, separate from the main roadway and generally provided on pavements alongside the roadway) require space. They cannot usually be introduced everywhere (it is impossible to construct an entire network of cycle tracks in an existing town). They must be therefore be planned carefully depending on the connections that have to be made and in accordance with the rules of the art:

> If they are incorrectly conceived, cycle tracks induce a false sense of security in both motorists and cyclists (each believing himself to be ‘on his territory’ and with a right to force the other to conform. Nowadays we know that cycle tracks are only a realistic solution in some situations and that they only improve safety for cyclists under certain very strict conditions. Indeed, badly conceived cycle tracks increase the risks of accidents.

> Laying cycle tracks is only realistic if one has the resources for meticulous planning (because, if an error of choice is made, the tracks are not used and the space which has been set aside for them and any investment made will be wasted).

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