Chris Boardman says planners must cater for the 60 per cent of people who want to cycle but are too scared

British Cycling's policy advisor goes on a walk round London with internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee

by Simon_MacMichael   December 31, 2013  

TfL Cycle Boulevard on Embankment

Chris Boardman says that transport planners need build segregated infrastructure to take account of the 60 per cent of people who say they would like to cycle but are put off by their perception that it is dangerous – but he warns that routes need to take people where they want to go without needless detours.

The former world and Olympic champion, now policy advisor to British Cycling, was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was guest editor of the Boxing Day edition of the show.

The pair, accompanied by the National Trust’s director for London, Ivo Dawnay, undertook a journey on foot – Boardman had his bike with him too – from St James’s Park, via Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall, to the Embankment.

Berners-Lee was introduced on the programme as someone who “enjoys riding a bike and… also drives a car, but he’s not convinced that the two belong together on the roads.”

Boardman has been a regular visitor to London this year, including giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling Inquiry and, more recently, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

He told Berners-Lee: “This is the first time in fact I’ve brought my own bike [to London]. But having got here and just ridden across from Euston, it’s not a pleasant experience, shall we say, everything is very tense.”

Berners-Lee asked Dawnay: “We’re sitting in St James’s Park and it’s pleasant, it’s car-free, so is one technique perhaps joining up these green spaces to make them into perhaps greenways for bikes?”

Dawnay replied: “The green parts of London are either the Royal Parks or the London boroughs. But you’re quite right, some places like Hyde Park Corner are actually quite hellish places to get over.”

While it’s true that negotiating the road layout itself there can be very daunting, there are ways of avoiding the traffic, and the reality is that the Royal Parks do offer on- and off-road routes – the latter shared with people on foot – that do provide a pleasant way of getting across a large slice of the capital.

Heading from Knightsbridge or out of Hyde Park towards Constitution Hill, for example, a prime commuting route in the morning, cyclists can use crossings to reach the island that the Wellington Arch is located on, then ride across to join the shared-use path running along the south side of Green Park.

Exiting St James’s Park, Berners-Lee and his companions crossed Horse Guards Parade and under the arch of the Horse Guards building itself – not somewhere you can normally ride through, unless you’re a member of the Household Cavalry on duty and on horseback – onto Whitehall.

“Chris, we’re on a bike, what do we do?” asked Berners-Lee.

Boardman responded: “Well, it just got more complicated, we’ve gone from that lovely quiet space over there and now we’re moving back towards the traffic.

“There’s huge congestion areas in London. Where we’ve got much faster moving traffic, as we have here around Whitehall, that also presents a danger.

“There seems to be more space, but there’s more danger from traffic moving quickly as well.”

Heading down to the Embankment and looking for somewhere safe to cross, Boardman pointed out that it isn’t just cyclists who are short-changed by the people who plan our roads.

“We’ve got to walk, what, 30, 50 metres in the opposite direction than we want to go to get across two lanes of quite fast moving traffic,” he said, adding, “I almost feel like letting this piece run unedited so people can get a feel for how long it takes to get across a single road for a pedestrian.”

Asked by Berners-Lee his thoughts about the Embankment from a cyclist’s viewpoint, he went on: “We’ve got a huge, wide road here and it’s being used at the moment by all types of traffic but there is space here, if we wanted to, to allocate it to different types of users.”

That’s exactly what will happen if Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s East-West route, running along the EMbankment then via St James's Park to Hyde Park Corner and dubbed ‘Crossrail for the bike,’ becomes reality, but the point being made by Boardman has a wider application.

“The road space at the moment seems to be all about looking after cars,” he continued. “The 2 per cent of people who ride on bikes now around the country, they’re going to keep doing it no matter what, it’s the 60 per cent who aren’t sure, probably ‘would if you gave me a nice space to do it,’ they’re the ones we should be targeting, and they want separated road space.”

But, he added, thought needs to go into the process; routes have to get people from A to B in the way they want to go there, and not take well-intentioned but frustrating detours.

He cited the example of what are termed ‘paths of desire’ – look at an edge-of-town retail park surrounded by landscaping where arriving in anything but a car involves a longer-than-necessary walk and you’ll see what he means.

“I’ve seen some beautiful infrastructure which costs millions of pounds and in some cases it will go round a piece of greenery and then across that green field there’s a muddy patch right across the middle, and right there, that is human beings,” he explained.

14 user comments

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Chris Boardman for Prime Minister!

posted by Sara_H [54 posts]
31st December 2013 - 0:29

49 Likes

Or at least Mayor of London! Wink

posted by kraut [28 posts]
31st December 2013 - 0:55

27 Likes

Yep, can you imagine?

Suspect the government would have him bumped off first though...the thought of someone doing something creative and ground breaking would make the rest of them look bad.

MI5 would label him as subversive and the wheels of 'national security' would start rolling...car wheels though of course Plain Face

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [130 posts]
31st December 2013 - 1:26

26 Likes

kraut wrote:
Or at least Mayor of London! Wink

Well, he could start with London, but the rest of us need him too.

Despite only riding 4 miles to work I have at least 2 -3 episode of being put at risk by drivers every day, on a good day. This is without counting the fact that most drivers routinely pass too close. A "good pass" is comment worthy.

On a bad day I've been known to arrive at work in tears due to the appaling behaviour of drivers on our roads.

I can wholeheartedly go with what Chris Boardman says. Most of my friends (mostly women in the 30 - 45 age bracket) want to ride but are too afraid. Most of them tell me they think I'm very brave, but I suspect they really think I'm stupid, especially when I have my 10 year old son with me!

posted by Sara_H [54 posts]
31st December 2013 - 8:38

28 Likes

As always, a voice of reason amongst the madness.

posted by IanW1968 [170 posts]
31st December 2013 - 9:21

23 Likes

Sorry to hear that but your account is the sort of thing that would be unacceptable in any other area of our lives. I believe the fear is a major aspect for government to deal with and irrespective of Andrew Gilligans recent declaration of contentment on the roads the rest of us, with no political slant to bow to, know what it can be like out there.

When the stats show you're safer serving in Afghanistan than going out on your bike you have to wonder just how many more lives need to be wasted before they'll take the issues seriously.

The general public would all recognise the dangers of motorised traffic where their children are involved, again all about the fear of what might happen, but when it comes to everyday road use the blinkers go on.

I have actually asked the Dept. For Transport how many lives need to be lost before they'll act in any productive way and unsurprisingly they stated they aim for zero losses and that any death is regrettable but they wouldn't give an actual number...then they'd have to intervene of course!

I was firmly left with the impression that they're happy to leave things as they are, explaining any increase in casualties away with increased cycle numbers...as lazy as it gets.

As for aiming for zero fatalities who are they kidding, it's like being morbidly obese and moving into a cake shop whilst trying to convince the world you want to get fitter.

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [130 posts]
31st December 2013 - 9:40

26 Likes

More power to Mr Boardman's elbow please, everything he says makes sense

posted by arfa [492 posts]
31st December 2013 - 10:29

19 Likes

The irony is, that there used to be a tunnel from Green Park onto the Island in the centre of Hyde Park Corner. For some reason they filled it in and you're left with the crossing, which is two stage, so you can't get to the centre of the roundabout in one go.
In the mornings, the two sets of cyclists and two sets of pedestrians all have about 20 seconds to cross the road, all heading straight at each other and having to dodge to avoid collisions. It can be quite nerve wracking!

posted by alexb [48 posts]
31st December 2013 - 11:27

13 Likes

I suppose the first thing that everyone needs to understand, and I mean EVERYONE! there are no motorists, there are no cyclists, there are no pedestrians, we are all people, we are all trying to get from a to b and not die on route.

Everyone has to understand they are responsible for those around them and their safety as well as their own safety.

Planners need to understand and understand fast, that humans will always take the path of least resistance, blaming road users when things go wrong only deflects the fact that so often it is the planners who are at fault. This is not to say that it is only planners at fault because it is not. even the most badly designed landscape can be used safely if all users act appropriately.

However if we want to get people out of their protective metal boxes, then the environment has to be safe, and it has to be pleasant. To clarify, from experience there are roads I use regularly that I deem safe, but they sure aren't pleasant! There are other roads that I am cautious on but are quite pleasant, in both cases the issue is how other road users use those roads.

Then again 78million is all the government can be bothered to spend on making improvements to cycle routes, and for pedestrians? I guess the car is still king!

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1100 posts]
31st December 2013 - 11:38

14 Likes

I live in South London and used to work in North London. As the crow flies the quickest route was via Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane but it was obvious this was not the best choice. Why anyone would want to cycle along these busy areas I don't understand and yet, people do so.

I spent two Sunday afternoons, one first on my motorbike and the second on my bicycle, working out the best route from home to work. This route got me away from the major traffic blackspots and 20 years later, a lot of my old route is now part of the Boris 'quiet routes'. And for those complaining that the quiet routes are too slow, well I managed to cover 10 miles in 37 minutes door to door, without jumping any red lights and at the height of peak traffic one Tuesday afternoon.

I'm not saying all cycle journeys in London can be made on quiet routes, but using common sense means the really nasty bits like Hyde Park Corner or Elephant and Castle (which I don't even like driving my car round) can be avoided.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2199 posts]
31st December 2013 - 12:31

17 Likes

OldRidgeback wrote:
I live in South London and used to work in North London. As the crow flies the quickest route was via Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane but it was obvious this was not the best choice. Why anyone would want to cycle along these busy areas I don't understand and yet, people do so
........
I'm not saying all cycle journeys in London can be made on quiet routes, but using common sense means the really nasty bits like Hyde Park Corner or Elephant and Castle (which I don't even like driving my car round) can be avoided.

I live in Richmond and work in the City. Any route funnels me to the Wandsworth gyratory (as all roads lead into it without taking a very big detour). Then it becomes a choice of gyratories or bad junctions (Vauxhall, Parliment Square or Oval) along with badly designed roads (Clapham, Blackfriars, Victoria Embankment).

Main roads go direct to useful places, thats why they need cycle infrastructure on them.

posted by thereverent [299 posts]
31st December 2013 - 13:40

17 Likes

London actually has quite a lot of road space despite the "old narrow streets" comments which always come out.

At the moment TfL and the boroughs just cram in another traffic lane or more parking. There is the space to allocate some of this to segregated cycle lanes rather than making multi lane car parks.

posted by thereverent [299 posts]
31st December 2013 - 13:44

18 Likes

thereverent wrote:
OldRidgeback wrote:
I live in South London and used to work in North London. As the crow flies the quickest route was via Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane but it was obvious this was not the best choice. Why anyone would want to cycle along these busy areas I don't understand and yet, people do so
........
I'm not saying all cycle journeys in London can be made on quiet routes, but using common sense means the really nasty bits like Hyde Park Corner or Elephant and Castle (which I don't even like driving my car round) can be avoided.

I live in Richmond and work in the City. Any route funnels me to the Wandsworth gyratory (as all roads lead into it without taking a very big detour). Then it becomes a choice of gyratories or bad junctions (Vauxhall, Parliment Square or Oval) along with badly designed roads (Clapham, Blackfriars, Victoria Embankment).

Main roads go direct to useful places, thats why they need cycle infrastructure on them.


I have a similar commute, and really there are some junctions which you are simply forced towards. At least the Wandsworth gyratory has an underpass you can use on a bike. Although it will slow you down, and as Boardman rightly says, people want to use the route of least resistance.

posted by MrGear [85 posts]
31st December 2013 - 16:59

11 Likes

Can we have CB as mayor in Birmingham first please. This place is in the Stone Age for cyclists! There are virtually no cycle routes.

My 14 mile each way daily commute is along very busy dual carriageways with about a mile of bus lane as light relief. The alternative is a dark and muddy 20 mile route along canals or the rat runs which are even more dangerous. I see about 3 or 4 other brave souls on bikes a day in a city of 3 million people. No wonder the West Midlands has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe.

posted by Col Nago [10 posts]
2nd January 2014 - 16:29

6 Likes