Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Segregation over Integration

There has been a lot of debate about segregation recently. Notably on:

With all this ongoing I realised I’m not entirely sure what my own position is on the subject. I’d reckon most cyclists don’t know either. Dave Warnock’s post is along these lines – i.e. trying to find which sides of each argument suits my own position and thinking. I’d think that most cyclists would broadly agree with Dave’s findings, as I do, especially the point that waiting for segregation will mean I miss out on the benefits cycling can offer me today. But I do want every new piece of cycle facility to be aimed at reducing my interaction with motorised traffic and think segregation is the only way to go with cycling policy as long as its made clear that its decent, properly designed, continuous segregation that is provided. The obvious problem with that is that it would mean relocating road space from motorists to cyclists & walkers.

One thing that is never  mentioned is that integrationists are unbelievably outnumbered. Every single potential rider out there, who doesn’t ride because they fear the road can be considered to be a segregationist. If the UK implemented the facilities and rules that the Netherlands has (or even followed the route that places such as New York are following) then masses of these potential riders would begin to cycle. Why?, because the ratio between cost and perceived safety would be reversed. It’s nothing to do with sustainability and CO2, but entirely to do with providing Joe Bloggs and his family with an alternative way to get from A to B without fear. As soon as it makes more financial sense for the fearful to cycle instead of drive - they will.

Take a look at the Dutch. Dutch cycling policy isn’t about ecofluff and saving the planet. It’s a fiscal policy pure and simple. It makes financial & social sense to free your populace to be as mobile and time efficient as possible, whilst keeping them all healthy, fit, happy and richer.

Vehicular cycling is a reaction not a solution. I’m a vehicular cyclist, so is every other cyclist in the UK. Not through choice, but through situation. I have no other choice but to ride in heavy traffic and mix it with HGV’s, buses and 4x4's on a daily basis. The only alternative would be to get on a train, bus or car and immediately see my income eaten up by costs and my quality of life decline as I not only have less money but I waste time waiting for unpleasant buses that never come,  packed trains that get cancelled or sit in traffic getting fat.

Segregation as the Dutch have done is a solution not a reaction. It was done ‘in reaction’ to the influx of the motor car, but not as a reactionary measure to survive as vehicular cycling is. The Dutch implemented segregation to solve the problem created by motor cars and provide normal people with a way to get about without fear or unfair costs or being killed at every junction.

Currently for 99% of the UK population the perceived dangers presented by cycling so heavily outweigh any of the advantages that even popping to the shops on a bike is unthinkable, let alone doing their daily commute on a bicycle. None of those people enjoy paying out for a train ticket that rises in price each year whilst the service declines. None of them enjoy paying to sit on an uncomfortable noisy bus. Nobody enjoys burning money through the exhaust whilst sitting in start stop traffic for an hour each way every day. If these people had an alternative that would cost them nothing in fares or fuel they would take it. The only way to provide that alternative is with proper segregated cycle facilities on each and every major road in the country along whilst eliminating rat runs and making routes more permeable.

It’s understandable why some cyclists in the UK are against segregation. They see segregated paths as being a white line on an existing pavement, poorly dropped kerbs, no priority over side roads and so on. And rightly so, because this is what so many of the segregated ‘facilities’ are like in the UK. Here’s just one example from Manchester. There are thousands more. (having trouble seeing it?, I'll give you a clue, it runs down the righthand side of the Bull's Head Pub) Or how about this fine example from Great Ancoats

View Larger Map

This is shit. And does not, never would or never will get used by cyclists because not only it is more dangerous than being on the road itself, it’s also more inconvenient and unpleasant to ride on. The fear for existing cyclists that oppose segregation is that facilities like this will be built if people shout for segregation. It’s a genuine fear and even people who dream of having Dutch style facilities (me!) know that this is Britain and the cynicism is well founded.

Segregation isn’t about facilities like this, it’s about a fundamental shift in the way our towns and cities are treated by government and councils towards the Dutch method. I don’t believe it will happen, but I’m free to wish for it.

Properly done segregation isn’t about benefitting us existing cyclists, it’s about creating the only environment in which the other 99% of the population will feel safe to cycle. The trouble for existing cyclists like myself is that whilst the Dutch have spent 40 years building the most comprehensive cycle infrastructure on the planet, the UK has spent 40 years going in the opposite direction. We aren’t just 40 years behind the Dutch we are 80 years behind them and no living UK cyclist has got that much time to wait for segregation. Doing ‘A Hembrow’ looks increasingly attractive. In the meantime we can only try to do our best to improve the situation for cycling in Britain. For me that means suggesting segregated facilities at every opportunity and making it clear that they should be a certain kind of segregated infrastructure (not the shit kind).

This is why it's great to see Jim at the LoFidelityBicycleClub begin to setup a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I still believe the UK is much too far down the slippery slope, but at least this project might provide a focal point for those who don't see their own position represented by groups such as the CTC/LCC.


  1. I agree Jim. Nearly all the people I have worked with who don't cycle have wondered at my continued efforts of becoming a roadside statistic, citing the dangers as the reason they don't ride themselves.

    I've been trying to convince my wife to cycle and I think I have convinced her now. But largely due to the fact that she is only 2 miles from work and the route would be mainly quieter residential streets.

    I've been appalled at the conditions of the roads in Manchester (having only moved here in July) I take to work or I should say the edges of the road which is our primary location, which are cracked, potholed, service hatched etc. even when there is evidence of repair to lanes.

  2. @ mulydoona

    I don't try to convince anyone to cycle in the current road conditions anymore, it's just unrealistic to expect most people to do so, even if they want to.

    In my office alot of people bought into the new cycle to work scheme around August time. Every one of them cycled 2-3 times or so then stopped because they'd been scared off their bikes by traffic. They 'want' and could ride in, but the reality currently outweighs the desires. :(

    Hope your wife can keep at it. The important thing for now is a suitable bike - mudgaurds, chaingaurd, upright etc.. That was the first mistake all my colleagues made - they all bought racing/mtb bikes. (nobody wanted my advice!)

  3. I'm from Naples, Italy. No cycle facilities at all here... so we don't have this dilemma, unfortunatly.