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04/07/2014

How do we make the UK’s towns and cities safer for cycling?

Words:
Woman on bike

Mark Ames (pictured below) runs the extremely popular I Bike London blog, and is one of the leading campaigners for better cycling infrastructure in London and the UK’s other major cities. In the week that a BBC poll found the majority of people in the UK think the roads are "too dangerous" for cyclists, he told The Planner what he feels we need to create more habitable towns and cities for the UK’s cyclists and pedestrians

“When it comes to delivery of cycling infrastructure in the UK, you need three things: political will, money and design knowledge. Without all of these, we might as well have none of them.
 
In the 90s and the early 2000s there was a move to put in a lot of infrastructure – there was the political will and the money was there, but the design knowledge wasn’t good enough for a lot of it to be usable or futureproof.
 
In the UK at the moment, we have a dearth of design knowledge. For example, I was recently contacted by one of the largest engineering companies in the UK saying ‘We’d like to bid for the money for a cycling scheme, but we don’t know what we’re doing. Can we have a chat and can we borrow your copy of the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (the Dutch cycling infrastructure ‘Bible’)?’ And this was one of the biggest firms in the UK.
 

Mark Ames

“Designing cycling infrastructure is a specialist skill in the same way that designing a railway is a specialist skill.”
 
There’s just now beginning to be an awareness that there’s money to be made from designing large friendly spaces, but we can’t just make it up. You have to know what you’re doing. Designing cycling infrastructure is a specialist skill in the same way that designing a railway is a specialist skill.
 
I think perhaps there’s a thought that this is an easy win and we don’t have to invest in skill. But you do.
 
On the other hand, you could have all the skills in the world as a planner to make people-friendly places, but if the brief doesn’t go there, there’s nothing you can do. And the brief is drawn by the local authority and developer and local community. Or you could have a developer with the best brief in the world, but if they’re not prepared to pay for it, it’s not going to happen. 
 
Campaigning is beginning to create awareness. In London, though, there’s a very clear hierarchy of awareness. Generally speaking, the GLA has awareness and Transport for London has awareness.
 
The boroughs aren’t bad, but London’s public realm really suffers from the borough model. As you cross borough boundaries, you see clear differences in the cycling and pedestrian environment.
 
Outside of cycling hubs like London, Bristol and Cambridge, they have very narrow awareness.
 
People always say go to Amsterdam if you want to see how to create a cycling-friendly city.  But I’d say don’t go to Amsterdam – go to Rotterdam, because it looks like a British city. Or go to Groningen, which is the world’s number one cycling city. Sixty per cent of the modal share of all journeys in Groningen are by bike.”
 
Mark Ames runs I Bike London and campaigns for better infrastructure for cyclists in the capital and beyond. You can follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkbikesLondon.
 
 
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