Ade Adepitan leads cyclists in Stevenage for One Show cycling special

BBC investigating the model cycling city that time forgot

by Sarah Barth   June 8, 2013  

Stevenage Cycle Network (copyright Carlton Reid)

With all the pressure from cycling groups to create model cities for bikes, it will be a surprise to many that one exists in the UK - right under our noses. It's Stevenage.

Carlton Reid, author of Roads Were Not Built By Cars, was the historian at the heart of a BBC One Show special filming project yesterday - looking into the cycle network that time forgot, developed by Eric Claxton in the 1950s and 1960s but little used today.

TV presenter and Paralympian Ade Adepitan fronted the piece, and ordinary cyclists were recruited to take part in the filming.

Adepitan rode an adapted trike on the day.

He told the Advertiser: "It helps when we have got a beautiful day but the great thing is you are on a pathway that is specifically for bikes, with no worrying about cars or roundabouts.

"For accessibility, for wheelchair users, for someone on a handbike like I am, or for any non-motorized wheels, it's perfect. In comparison to everywhere else, it's on a different level."

Bikebiz reports that Adepitan's bike needed some last minute repairs, and Andrew Boyle, sales manager of Edd's Bikes of Stevenage, came to the rescue using tyre cement, a patch and some gaffer tape to fashion a repair to his tube which blew out.

As Reid writes on his book's website:  "Stevenage’s cycleway network was built before the one at Milton Keynes, and was built as an intrinsic and key part of the New Town plan, not an afterthought, as at Milton Keynes. Throughout the 1970s Stevenage was held up as proof that the UK could build a Dutch-style cycle network."

But the town succumbed to 'car culture' - and use of the network declined.

Reid continues: "Stevenage was built for Londoners bombed out of their houses and soldiers returning from war; a New Town “fit for heroes to live in”. The compact, socially-engineered town attracted aspirational residents who bought into the post-war dream of car ownership for all.

"These residents voted with their steering wheels, showing they were happy to live in a town where driving was the absolute norm. The town’s Dutch-style cycling infrastructure did not entice many residents to switch from cars to bikes. Walking was rejected, too. Where driving is easy, Brits drive."

The period when Claxton developed the network, based on the high levels of cycle usage he had observed on segregated networks in the Netherlands, coincided with the rise of mass car ownership.

Reid explains that “to Claxton’s puzzlement, and eventual horror, residents of Stevenage chose to drive, not cycle, even for journeys of two miles or less.”

That's a view echoed by local resident Graham Thompson, 79, who bought his house from Claxton in 1979.

“The cycleways could be used more, but humans are lazy” he said. “They can go by car, so they will do instead of cycling three or four miles.

“I think another thing that discourages people from cycling is the English climate and at work very few places have facilities for changing clothes and storing bikes.

“I have been cycling since 1948 and I think this was the first town with a cycle-path system.

“When I first moved here I was racing so didn’t use the cycleways but as I got older and did it more for leisure I used it get out into the countryside.”

It's all about making things tough for drivers, given the human instinct towards laziness, said Reid.

"If we make it super convenient for all, it will be the motorists who win, so we must stop designing for motorists."

The infrastructure remains largely intact, albeit much underused, and certainly not at the levels envisaged by the producers of the 1966 promotional film for town planners and developers called The Design of Space, part of which deals with Stevenage’s cycleways and has been uploaded to YouTube by Reid.

10 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

"If we make it super convenient for all, it will be the motorists who win, so we must stop designing for motorists."

See i dont get that at all, in this case its people that win! They can walk, cycle or drive, all in a pleasant and safe way (Motorists are people too).

So why would we choose to design to make it harder to drive, health reasons?

Or is the comment supposed to be suggesting that in future we develop more for other road users instead of just drivers? well last time i checked they were, ASL's, cycle lanes etc. Its happening, slowly yes, but getting all dramatic about it wont help, and stating that 'motorists' are getting an easy ride is just going to agrivate the normal people who just happen to be motorists too.

RIchard, committed cyclist and none-driver.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [400 posts]
8th June 2013 - 14:12

like this
Like (1)

STATO wrote:
"If we make it super convenient for all, it will be the motorists who win, so we must stop designing for motorists."

See i dont get that at all, in this case its people that win! They can walk, cycle or drive, all in a pleasant and safe way (Motorists are people too).

So why would we choose to design to make it harder to drive, health reasons?

Read the link - in particular the comparison with Houten.

STATO wrote:
Or is the comment supposed to be suggesting that in future we develop more for other road users instead of just drivers? well last time i checked they were, ASL's, cycle lanes etc.

And a lot of them are rubbish.

From the link (http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/stevenage/ )

Quote:

Houten was designed in such a way that it was more convenient to walk and cycle than to drive. In Stevenage, cyclists were provided with safe, protected cycle paths but, critically, motorists were not constrained in any way. In fact, the first New Town was designed to be highly convenient for motorists: cyclists were removed from roads so cars didn’t have to meet slower vehicles; roundabouts kept swift, motorised traffic flowing freely; and traffic lights were kept to a minimum (there was just one set of traffic lights in the whole town). In Houten, cars were provided with a ring road but cross-town access was designed to be always quickest by bicycle.

The point being made is that unless you address the imbalance in some way wrt ease of use in town centres in favour of cycling over car use, it won't change the existing usage pattern. Whether that's changing ease or cost of parking, reducing speed limits, traffic calming and/or congestion charging. Very little will change if you maintain the status quo.

posted by JonD [168 posts]
8th June 2013 - 15:35

like this
Like (2)

Ok, all fair points however...

JonD wrote:

The point being made is that unless you address the imbalance in some way wrt ease of use in town centres in favour of cycling over car use, it won't change the existing usage pattern. Whether that's changing ease or cost of parking, reducing speed limits, traffic calming and/or congestion charging. Very little will change if you maintain the status quo.

Are you (and Carlton) arguing for better provision for cycling OR reduction in car use.

Now i agree there is loads of support for better cycle infrastructure and this may come at a detriment to space for cars (especially in city environments), this is fair, cyclists and pedestrians have been ignored in the past.

but here is my concern...

In the piece above (main article) its basically stating, we should reduce the amount of space for cars. This IS different statement to making space for bikes. Very much a 'i ride a bike so you should too'.

I think thats the totally wrong approach, it will rile road users (even pro-cycle ones) as your saying you want less space made for cars users, essentially so they are forced to use alternative transport.

If your trying to achieve something thats a pretty stupid argument to do it with.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [400 posts]
8th June 2013 - 16:28

like this
Like (0)

I think i need a further clarification...

My main concern is there are 2 different groups arguing the point here.

1. We need better cycle infrastructure (be it on road or separated).

2. We need people out of cars and on (insert green transport mode here)

The problem comes when the vocal people of group 2 also shout for the cause of group 1, that leads to mixed messages as in my comment above. Group 2 have a different agenda and I worry that their message, which will be alarming to many road users, is spoiling the message of the first group. Drivers are already losing space/money for better cycle provision, if they think it is being taken off them in order to force them out of their cars then there WILL be a backlash.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [400 posts]
8th June 2013 - 16:33

like this
Like (4)

>Drivers are already losing space/money for better cycle provision

Are they ? - not to any significance from what I can see (and that's as a driver in/on the edge of Greater London and Surrey)

It's not an either/or, it's both - you need to encourage cycle/public transport use by making them more attractive than car use, and discouraging car use sufficiently to tip the balance for enough people.
That's not making it impossible, just discouraging.

Once you have more people riding it also makes it politically easier to make more provision. I often need to use a car to get to places as much as anyone else, but not all of them require me to use the car. There's also the cultural aspect, that's more difficult to deal with, and some of that is education.

Something as simple as reducing speed limits and other traffic calming schemes, and/or park/ride redresses the imbalance. Councils are doing part of the job already - both Oxford and Cambridge have good schemes that make it unattractive to drive into town, you'd have to be a bit soft in the head to want to commute into London by car (tho' some do). A lot of formerly free town centre parking is now charged for, which discourages some people to a minor degree.

Two arguments, or two strands of the same one - they're inevitably related, whether you like it or. Address one and that will some benefit on the other to a degree.

If you take the view of 'ooh, we can't do that 'cos there'll be a backlash' - well, that's politics for you.

posted by JonD [168 posts]
8th June 2013 - 17:28

like this
Like (1)

Ok, so im going to ask some more questions, there is a bit of quoting going on. Apologies if it looks like im getting shout/arguing, im not (trying to), just easiest way to ask and explain my point. Wink

JonD wrote:
Are they ? - not to any significance from what I can see (and that's as a driver in/on the edge of Greater London and Surrey)

You answer this one later in your own post Big Grin

Quote:
Something as simple as reducing speed limits and other traffic calming schemes...

Councils are doing part of the job already - both Oxford and Cambridge have good schemes that make it unattractive to drive into town...

A lot of formerly free town centre parking is now charged for, which discourages some people to a minor degree...

Quote:

It's not an either/or, it's both - you need to encourage cycle/public transport use by making them more attractive than car use, and discouraging car use sufficiently to tip the balance for enough people.
That's not making it impossible, just discouraging.

But WHY do you need to DIS-courage driving rather than just EN-courage cycling?

Just to get more people riding?

Quote:

Once you have more people riding it also makes it politically easier to make more provision.

But thats only because you've forced more people are forced to ride. Your justifying your provision by false means. 'i want a cycle lane so ill force these 100 other people to cycle so they have to build one'. And as we have seen (stevenage), just cos its built wont mean its used.

Quote:

Two arguments, or two strands of the same one - they're inevitably related, whether you like it or. Address one and that will some benefit on the other to a degree.

Thats my point, your addressing the 'discourage driving' to get more cycling, rather than focus on pushing benefits of cycling.

My thoughts anyway, Rich Big Grin

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [400 posts]
8th June 2013 - 17:58

like this
Like (1)

the thing you seem to be missing is that the status quo represents a massive subsidy for car driving. This applies in virtually every county in the world. Cycling is popular in counties like the Netherlands and Denmark, not just because they created cycle facilities, but because they made car drivers pay directly the actual market cost of things like car parking. Anyone who believes building cycle facilities alone will make people get out of their cars is ,as the above example shows, kidding themselves. There are lots of other examples around the world, Geelong in Australia springs to mind. Whats more,this is often held up as evidence that no one wants to cycle and kill future funding. This has happened in cities here in NZ, and for example in San Francisco where opening cycle lanes at great expense on the Golden Gate bridge was a failure. So if you are planning to promote cycling without addressing the fundamental economics of transport, don't waste yor time, it is literally worse than useless.

posted by imaca [39 posts]
8th June 2013 - 22:47

like this
Like (0)

I know stevenage well and would just add a couple of observations
- cycling with a club on the road gets you lots of abuse to use the paths
- the town centre died; could debate why but the shopping precint became run down about 15 years ago and now isnt really a centre at all as there are multiple big edge of town developments. I mention this as all paths ultimately lead to the 'centre'.

TheHatter's picture

posted by TheHatter [808 posts]
9th June 2013 - 20:30

like this
Like (1)

This is a Bad Thing, obviously. Great to have safe infrastructure but not so great to be shouted at for not using it.

In Stevenage the cycleways are regularly swept and reasonable smooth. They're definitely not like the crap cycle paths we're often palmed off with.

But I saw plenty of cyclists using the roads in Stevenage, and not just roadies.

Yes, the town centre died but cycle use had died the death in Stevenage before that.

It's very possible that Stevenage was a special case, with people there more disposed to drive than cycle (New Towns, in 50s, 60s and 70s) attracted residents who very much bought into the car-owning democracy zeitgeist. And other New Towns have underused cycleways too (although the networks aren't as good as at Stevenage).

Good cycle infrastructure is welcome but it's only as good as its weakest parts. Many people say they don't cycle because "the roads are too dangerous". These people won't be encouraged on to their bikes until there's a 100 percent safe network. Well, even in an ideal world, that's many decades away. What do we do in the meantime?

The Bury Place cycle path in London is often plugged as cycle infrastructure that's packed with cyclists and such cycle congestion is used as evidence that infrastructure creates new cyclists, but I'm not so sure. That separated bike path is relatively short and people using it have had to enter it via London's roads. I'd like to see more such protected bike paths but they'll have to be made wider if they're to be any use.

Carlton Reid's picture

posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
10th June 2013 - 9:25

like this
Like (0)

Any idea when the One Show article's going to be shown ?

posted by JonD [168 posts]
11th June 2013 - 9:25

like this
Like (0)