Friday, 16 May 2014


My other half loves her bike but - like a lot of the bikes quietly rusting in Britain's cupboards, sheds and garages - it doesn't get used often. Up until the weekend just past, the last time she cycled it properly in anger was Pedal for Scotland in September which we both managed to complete in six hours - not too bad considering she'd done no prior training and was on a 7 speed roadster (replete with basket).
Just like this one

With the better weather *ahem* she expressed a notion to get back on it to go to work. Bear in mind she drives 3 miles into the city every day - yes, paying the exorbitant parking fees at Candleriggs carpark (although her office provides a discount because she potentially uses the car during work hours). She is, in a sense, the archetypal single occupant commuter. If anyone can and should be persuaded to try swapping the car for a bike for at least some journeys to work, it's her.

A trip to the pub on Sunday night on her beloved bike had reignited her enthusiasm to try the commute again. As she was worried about the route to take, I said I would come along with her for a bit of support, before heading off on my usual path to work. Hence our first attempt on Monday.  After a bit of huffing and puffing to get up and ready on time, there we were. She in her normal work clothes; me in my typical commuting gear: shorts, t-shirt, trainers, gloves, (nnnnngh!) helmet, googles (hey, I'm going 14 miles, give me a break!). Alas, just as we were leaving the house, a little drizzle started to fall and that seemed to sap her already crumbling confidence - in the end she decided to forgo the cycle in favour of the blessed Fiat 500. Remembering what happened last time she lost her will at the last minute - namely, me deciding to get all juvenile and huffy with her, resulting in the bike going back in the cupboard for six months - I shrugged my shoulders (whilst making pains to be patient and accommodating) and went on my usual way. She told me later that, as she sat in the inevitable traffic jam at the roadworks on Cathcart Road, she felt like the universe was laughing at her.

On Tuesday, I couldn't persuade her to get out of bed on time and I needed to leave for work, but I made to sure to leave the cupboard key and anything else she might need. Conditions couldn't be better: absolutely glorious sunshine pretty much all day. I spoke to her from the office: Did she cycle? No. Did she walk? No. Did she drive in? Yes, but again felt guilty about it and envious of those not in the crowd of cars grinding their way to the Clyde.

Wednesday was a similar story and it became increasingly clear that the enthusiasm for it had drained. I asked her to list why she felt unwilling to try again. Here's a short summary of the main reasons she decided not to cycle:
  1.     She's afraid to use the roads
  2.     She felt intimidated by other cyclists 
  3.     She felt intimidated by other road users
I'm going to go through each point in turn, as each in its own way highlights what's wrong with cycling in Scotland.

Fear of the roads

To people well-versed in the language of cycle advocacy and campaigning, this might seem an obvious thing to say, but it bears repeating because clearly the people that matter aren't hearing the message: to all but the most fearless and dedicated enthusiasts, the roads are fundamentally hostile and unwelcoming. All of the other points people make about barriers to cycling (including pretty much all the ones listed here by the Cycle Hack team) have their roots here.

Regardless of any measures put in place - the so-called "quiet-ways" and back roads, the little bits and pieces of infrastructure like the cycle contra-flows and the bollards - there are parts of almost any route which have the potential to be terrifying. Every traffic engineer should have the following maxim drummed into them: as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a bike route is only as useful as its most hazardous section. Let's look at a couple of the on-road routes we could take from the south-side to the city centre.

We live south of the Clyde, which means that you need to get over the water, somehow, to get to the centre. In the centre (i.e. the area bound by the Kingston Motorway Bridge to the west and the edge of Glasgow Green to the east), there are six river crossings: four road (Oswald Street Bridge, Glasgow Bridge, Victoria Bridge and Albert Bridge) and two pedestrian (Tradeston Bridge and South Portland Street Suspension Bridge).

If you want to travel to the eastern half - Merchant City, George Square or by Strathclyde University - the most direct route is over the Victoria Bridge. Indeed, the official "cycle route" directs you this way. Southbound there's a bus/taxi/cycle lane (whoopie!) but Northbound on the bridge, there are no cycle paths - hence you need to mix with busy traffic. Once you reach the north bank, you are faced with an expansive five-point junction, an area which became notorious last year as the site of the Clutha Vaults helicopter crash. Not visible in the street-view image below is the Advanced Stop-Line box - a feature routinely ignored by drivers of course.

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Further ahead and slightly to the left is Stockwell Street - the road to the oblique right is Bridgegate (which we met in a previous blog). Bisecting the junction east/west along the Broomielaw is the NCR75, which follows along the river-front  - a secluded and socially insecure route after dark. Due to a distinct lack of permeable routes north, heading either way along the NCR leads to what amounts to a detour directing you onto further busy roads. Going back to the bridge, the left-hand lane is a mandatory left-turn for all vehicles except bikes, buses and taxis but, in practice, to travel straight-on without being left-hooked you have to make your way into the right-hand lane and hope that you arrive at the junction on a red light. If you want to go anywhere directly, you have to deal with this busy, frightening junction. Your reward after that? A series of bus gates. As you may recall, Stockwell Street is one of the main routes for buses, as such you often have queues of them behind you as you press northward. Not fun. Turning right can be more fraught, as the sweeping bend of Bridgegate tempts drivers to race along towards King Street, not forgetting the dedicated lane for entrance to the car park, forcing you to hover in the middle lane.

The alternatives are two-fold:

To divert about half a mile west by Sheriff Court, along another secluded riverside path to the suspension bridge, which brings you out on the Broomielaw, here:

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Thereafter, you cross the road, then take a circuitous route along a cycle contra-flow behind the back of the St. Enoch Centre - another main cross-town route for buses and quite dingy - then double-back along Argyle Street (admittedly on a pedestrian precinct). Not particularly intuitive nor appealing.

Otherwise, head over to and across the Albert Bridge to Saltmarket. Yet again, there are no facilities for bikes on this four lane bridge:

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Saltmarket leads northwards to Glasgow Cross, High Street, Springburn and ultimately the M8 and M80 motorways - hence this is a major route for motor vehicles heading towards the north of the city, the east end and beyond. As a result, it varies between being a choked log-jam or a racetrack. Glasgow Cross is of course nightmarish in and of itself, but at least there's the option of diverting onto to one-way system on Parnie Street via the short bike-permeable path.

If you forgo on-road routes, what options do you have? You could try the off-road routes, if only they were actually usable. We've not directly encountered it before, but the concept dual-networks is at the heart of most local authority cycle strategies. The core idea is that you have one route for novices, and one for experienced users (a.ka. the fearless and the stupid). This leads to the conclusion that inexperienced or nervous cycle users are sacrificing comfort and safety for inconvenient, circuitous and indirect routes. The bankruptcy of this approach becomes apparent when you look at these "quiet" routes, as it turns out that there's no such thing really because inevitably one has to mix back onto busy roads.

Here's an illustration of an (almost) car-free route across the Clyde, via Glasgow Green and into the city centre

The illustrated route takes you on a detour through the Green and along one of the short sections of bi-directional segregated cycle lane along London Road. The trouble is, like a lot of Glasgow's infrastructure, it just kind of gives up when it gets difficult. Instead of continuing on through Trongate, the path diverts south and east along James Morrison Street and St. Andrews Street and ends up... back at the permeable route to Parnie Street. Every other route requires time on the roads with buses and other motor traffic. Thus, for the traffic-phobic bike user, the only other alternative is to cycle on the pavement or dismount. Effectively the road-averse bike user has - paraphrasing cycle campaigner Katja Leyendekker - to hop frog-like between lilly-pads of safer infrastructure, enduring often unpleasantly busy roads and junctions in the process.

The kind of people who can deal with the horrid parts are already sufficiently resilient enough to handle other roads, thus making the off-road infrastructure somewhat redundant. Hence, instead of concentrating on building infrastructure that can be used by all, the dual-network paradigm is a strategy that fails both the experienced and the nervous.



This is probably the most confounding one for me, because its an invidious, subtle barrier; one not created by tarmac, kerbs and paint, but by social attitude and tribalism. I'll look at both elements together (but in separate sub-sections).

...From Cyclists


No-one she saw on a bike (including me, to my shame) looked like her. The cyclists she sees coming from the south-side look like, well, "Cyclists" with a capital "C": day-glo yellow jackets, helmets, Lycra jerseys with sporting logos, Lycra trousers, wrap-around shades, fingerless gloves, sleek road bikes, mostly pedalled by men. Everyone looking serious and determined - as if they belonged there.

Cyclists "belonging"

To the average non-cycling public, the people above may as well be dressed like this:

With apologies to the Morris Dancers out there but you are the go-to image for naffness

She didn't feel like she belonged, in her normal work clothing, her ladies roadster with its wicker basket, her helmet-less head. And despite my joke up there, it wasn't a case of her being "above" them - more just an anxiety about not being taken seriously. No doubt people reading this will say that you do get normal-looking people on bikes, but they are a small minority and mainly restricted to particular areas like the bohemian west end. Residential south-side cycling is still dominated by "Cyclists".

It's perhaps an easy thing for cycle advocates to dismiss as frivolous, but people care about their appearance - in particular people care how they look in relation to their peers. Despite messages from media telling us to "be ourselves" and to "stand out from the crowd", social signifiers are powerful tools for coercive behaviour. Think about the number of industries that rely on this phenomenon - PR, cosmetics, plastic surgeons, weight-loss clinics - whole swathes of retail business depending on people trying to fit in.

Modern British cycling, with its overwhelming emphasis on sport, racing, danger and excitement, has rendered what should be a utilitarian transport mode into another consumerist money-pit of a past-time like golf, where having "all the kit" becomes the over-riding imperative. Thus, people who don't conform to that image become marginalized - an "outgroup of an outgroup" if you will. Right about now, as the weather improves and night-time riding becomes a distant memory, you'll already see snooty references in cycling circles to "bike-shaped objects", where "fair weather" riders start invading the space of the "proper" cyclists. This is a symptom of the cosetted, exclusive attitude of the cycle club set - the sort of attitude that's kept organisations like the CTC back in the vehicularist stone-age for decades. They are a small clique that's happy to maintain its precious niche; a contented 2% who profess a right to mix with traffic, yelling "you just need to keep your wits about you!" as they sprint off onto the next insane six lane junction.

There is no such equivalent with motoring. Yes, there are divisions within the body of drivers. You get motor enthusiasts, their hobby mainly expressed through the vehicle itself rather than apparel - either by exotic body modification or through the maintenance of immaculate vintage models.They are but a small part of the overall driving demographic, which covers large parts of the spectrum of British society. The vast majority of car-owning drivers recognise their vehicle as merely a convenient transportation tool. Most pertinently to cycling, there isn't an assumption that operating a car automatically means you have any interest in motor-sport. You never see people dressed up in full racing overalls away from a track and there certainly isn't an expected "typical driver" look - jumping into the brief in whatever you happen to be wearing is not taboo, nor is there an expectation for people to wear protective gear while operating their vehicle.

Alas, while British cycling is still dominated by the sporting enthusiast, hobbyist, PPE-wearing demographic, it will remain unattractive to the majority of the public; tragically this includes those who would derive the most benefit,  the elderly or infirm for example. Cycling into old age is common in the Netherlands - indeed as this article by Mark Treasure illustrates, it can be liberating for those who find walking difficult.

... from other Road Users

This one surprised me a little, although it probably ought not have done, given my subscriptions to the channels of various "cam-cyclists" - people who record their journeys and post the most egregious examples of poor road user behaviour in order to name and shame the perpetrators.

She'd made vague mention of an incident encountered last year on a stretch of road I've discussed before - Polmadie Road. As you may recall, most of this road has recently had its footways converted to shared use, thus legitimizing what a number of people previously did anyway (illegally). Again, I'm no fan of shared use, but I can see why someone like my partner might feel safer on the pavement than mixing with the cars and HGVs heading onto the M74 motorway. Apparently, one day last year as we cycled by, someone shouted something at her from a passing vehicle. I don't remember this happening but if even if I did, I wouldn't have thought much of it myself, I guess because I'm inured to this sort of behaviour.

I've had people "buzzing" me as they drove past, I've had people deliberately spray me with their windscreen washers and I've had objects thrown at me.  I remember confronting someone at the lights who had previously shouted at me from the passenger window. He became immediately apologetic and blamed it on the recent breakdown in his marriage; he even meekly offered me a drink from his bottle of Mad Dog (I respectfully declined). All of these things happened when I cycling my bike on the road - never on the pavement (shared use, naturally). It never occurred to me that the same might happen to someone on the pavement.

The under-defined objection bothered me on my ride in to work, hence I emailed her to provide a bit more detail. Here was her response:

It’s the fact that you are almost ‘on-show’ for the passing motorists who already hate you for being a cyclist anyway.  Your point about it being the same as a pedestrian isn’t the same though, and you saying it is is just nonsense.  Drivers don’t hate pedestrians – if anything they feel sorry for them.  However, most drivers DO hate cyclists and that is the perception when you are on the road.  You’re waiting on them to beep the horn or shout something at you and since its happened at that bit of road before Its fresh in my memory.  I guess they resent even the fact that you can go on the pavement too.

That’s my issue at the moment and it puts dread in my stomach rather than the fun of say…cycling along to the pub and back.

(the reference to pedestrians was me saying that, legally, people on foot and bikes have equal legal status on shared use pavements - there should be no reason for drivers to treat the two groups differently)

Now, she doesn't know the politics of cycling - she is just someone that occasionally uses a bike. She hasn't been coached how to respond to cycle-related questions and she doesn't have an in-depth knowledge of the standard discourse in cycle advocacy like I do. Therefore I'd argue that this response is as honest as you could expect from any member of a focus group or survey. And her perception is thus: "people hate cyclists" (although I'm not sure why drivers would feel sorry for pedestrians, but that's another matter). This, aside from the fear of roads, seems to be the main thing holding her back from commuting to work. I personally find this enormously sad. It makes me angry now to think of the thoughtless actions of one idiot in a car has - in a way - stopped her in her tracks, and that ashamed that I was unaware that this had even happened.

I guess as cycle advocates, it can be easy to forget seemingly small but poisonous factors like social disapproval and random abuse from strangers. Perhaps some wear this as badge of pride - being regarded as different or interesting enough to be hated could be comforting for those of a more subversive or perverse mindset. For most, having a thick skin is a simply pre-requisite for facing the street environment on the saddle. But it ought to be different. Why should someone be treated any differently for the mode of locomotion they happen to use at a particular moment? Would it have made a difference to the loudmouth in the car if we had been dismounted at the time?

Many commentators disapprove of explicit comparisons to the politics of civil rights, on the basis that cycling is a voluntary activity, as opposed to a fixed personal attribute like race or sexuality - you aren't "born" a cyclist after all - but there has to be an acknowledgement of this behaviour as a form of bigotry. Anti-cycling rhetoric harms people in very real ways - both physically and emotionally - and yet it is one of the last areas of discourse in civil society where it is deemed acceptable to hold pathologically hostile views. In particular, the arbitrary nature of the justification for abuse - the choice of transport - surely allows some parallels to be drawn with the legal protections recently afforded to other legitimately acknowledged hate-groups who also "self-select" to a degree, such as goths and punks.

I have no doubt that cycle-related bigotry would fade away if cycle culture properly returned to the UK, but that would need a lot more people to be cycling in the first place - a seemingly impossible paradox to solve.


This is where politicians must show leadership and foresight. In the potted history of politics, there have been several examples where policy has been shifted in the the teeth of fierce reactionary opposition and a populist backlash - not because they were vote winners or because they reflected "the will of the people" but because they were the right thing to do: prison reforms, abolishing the death penalty, legalising homosexuality and insuring the reproductive rights of women. Things that only affect a small fraction of people, who thus rely on the moral authority and rectitude of government to protect them from the rule of the mob.

Government at all levels needs to overrule the instincts of the public on cycling policy - for our own good, we need executives and legislators brave enough to shatter our infantile delusions regarding the fabled "war on the motorist". In a sense, despite what I've said above, I believe that drivers would adapt to new conditions. If the true cost of a motor-centric society were publicly analysed, critiqued and condemned - say in a public enquiry - the case for making crucial environmental changes that benefit us all could be made. We need a bottom-to-top reassessment of our built environment - how do we actually want our villages, towns and cities to function? Who are they meant to serve? Mainly, we need to separate policy from instinct and dogma by stressing the importance of proper evidence in the decision-making process.

Without this sort of approach, I fear cycling will continue to stagnate, with millions of people like my partner who desperately want to get on their bikes to work, but feel thwarted by hostile infrastructure and negative societal norms. I will still try to break down barriers where I can...

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Shawlands and Strathbungo

Back to Glasgow now! After last weekend's bike débâcle, I finally managed to get my bike in for some attention at the repair shop. As I waited for it to be fixed, I decided to take a stroll around the area to get a coffee and a pastry, as one is wont to on an idle Saturday with no large cycle protests to attend.


The shop sits on Pollokshaws Road in the heart of the South-side in a small area just north of Shawlands called Strathbungo - an interesting part of the city that straddles the line between more affluent Crossmyloof and Maxwell Park, and the less salubrious areas of Eglinton, (Eastern) Pollokshields and Queens Park. In recent years it's become a little enclave of bohemia, with boutique hipster brasseries like Gusto and Relish and The Bungo rubbing up against traditional working class stalwarts like Heraghtys and The Allison Arms. For a small area, there's quite a bit of cycle infrastructure on display, although it still falls down in key areas of safety and directness.

View Larger Map

Strathbungo lies at the centre of a couple of key local through routes, specifically the North-South route along Pollokshaws Road and East-West routes along Calder Street, Allison Street and Nithsdale Drive/Road/Street, as well as bisecting a couple of train-lines. About 10-15 years ago, traffic routes were amended to create a gyratory system - plans which were vigorously opposed by local businesses and residents - which involved a implementing several one-way streets and the closing off roads to through motor traffic.

At the same time, some cycle-specific elements were implemented to complement. Most of it still survives, but as with a lot of contemporary infrastructure, without maintenance it has deteriorated somewhat. At the same time, there are some ideas that were implemented at the time which seem - in hindsight, quite forward thinking. For example, all the way up Pollokshaws Road, there are examples of raised pavements at junction which give the impression of pedestrian priority.

The concept is good - if only it could be extended to complementing cycle paths
As we shall see later, regrettably this approach seems to have been abandoned for newer projects -  because it's difficult to keep maintained or because it annoys drivers? There's also an example along Torrisdale Street of our old friend the cycle contra-flow, except this time its a fully protected example, whilst still maintaining vehicle parking.

It is possible - why not more of this?
It wasn't perfect though - it's under 100m long for a start. Perhaps it's difficult to see but the lane is also on the wrong side of the road for the direction its intended for (east to west) and is arguably too narrow for a bi-directional route, but the fact that this even exists shows that it's possible. In addition, if you continue the route further towards Queens Park and Victoria Road, you have a potentially useful low traffic route which is shorter than the driven equivalent.

You can also cross onto Nithsdale Road towards Maxwell Park
Regrettably, the reverse is not legal - the eastern end of Torrisdale Street is also one-way westbound, but lacks the cycle contra-flow element. This means that cycles heading eastwards need to divert onto the two-way section of Queen's Drive (albeit turning onto access-only Albert Avenue) or take a detour along Niddrie Road and virtually traffic-free Prince Edward Street - the Glaswegian equivalent of "Quietways".

The western half of Strathbungo resembles something close to the Woonerf's of the Netherlands, namely narrow roads primarily aimed at local access, except minus the lower speed limits. Motor vehicles haven't been removed here, but there's no through roads, with the exception of a narrow lane for bin lorry access at the rear by the railway line.

A little further south, we have another example of what you might call classic filtered permeability, albeit somewhat compromised by the lack of double yellow lines preventing parking across the mouth of the path.

No-one here today but usually that space is taken by a motor vehicle

Heading south along Pollokshaws Road towards Shawlands, you are struck by how wide the roadway is and how underused the space is. Again, Glasgow has done half the job, by taking away some general traffic lanes but without being brave or radical enough to the extra step to make cycling easy and pleasant. Again we have the raised pavements across minor roadways, but that seems to be more about traffic calming than prioritising pedestrians.

No space for cycling here?
As was customary for the time when it was developed cycle provision along here consists mainly of a shared bus-lane in the southbound direction, with nothing on the northbound carriageway. But there's also a median here which appears to serve no purpose that I can see - pedestrians can't (or wouldn't want to) cross here. The southbound pavement by the park is also pretty generous - I walked up here on a dry Saturday afternoon and there was barely any foot traffic other than the odd jogger.

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Continuing on to the border with Shawlands, I was struck by presence of street-lighting attached to the side of tenements, as opposed to the usual free-standing affairs.

A rare sight

Clearly it is possible to do that and, as Glasgow has retained a lot of its traditional sandstone tenements, it seems strange that they haven't made further use of this sort of arrangement. It would certainly help to reduce the plethora of street furniture that litters the pavements.

A pole - yesterday


And onto the crossroads at Langside Road where Shawlands really begins. My fellow Glasgow-based cycling blogger Darkerside has discussed Shawlands at length before, so I won't repeat all of his good work, but there have been a few changes since that post was written which bear comment.

There are apparently plans afoot to transform the area around the crossroads, specifically the Mitchell Halls and surrounds, to turn it into a form of civic square. As you can see in the map and my picture below, there's no shortage of space, but how to allocate it?

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Space for Posters but no space for bikes?
The problem here is the combination of the wide banking left turn (which acts as a traffic light by-pass - the lights across it are pedestrian signals only) and the bus lane. If they close off the left lane, I think the bus lane probably has to go too. Alternatively, they could be radical and ban left turns here altogether, although that would have the effect of forcing more southbound vehicles to stay on Pollokshaws Road, and thence travel through the warren of residential back streets between it and Tantallon Road.

The problem with adding zippy-looking pedestrian-orientated infra on busy through routes - without maintenance it deteriorates rapidly
A bit further along, a section of the main shopping street has been renovated recently (still incomplete), which has widened the eastern footpath considerably and replaced the tarmac with attractive, expensive-looking pink paving stones (similar to what has been done in Merchant City).

Now with added pinch points!

Regrettably, the have also removed some of the raised beds over the side streets, replacing this instead with dropped kerbs:

As it is now... it was a little further up the road

Again, perhaps fashion has changed amongst Glasgow's highway engineers but it seems a shame that this idea has been discarded, given that it could work well if combined with segregated cycle paths.

The widened footpaths have definitely to be commended, and it was apparent that some of the local cafés had taken advantage by extending outdoor seating into it - precisely the kind of thing that makes an area seem much more pleasant. They have also retained the on-street parking, but yet again Glasgow has failed to take into account cycling into the design plan.

This new section corresponds to the footprint of the much-reviled Shawlands Arcade on the western side of the carriageway. Space for the extended pavement has been reclaimed by removing the totally unnecessary central reservation, but I would argue that even more could be done by either entirely removing parking from the western side or by reducing the width of the pavement.

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Now I appreciate the latter suggestion seems a bit extreme, but there's a good reason I make it. The footpath at the roadside only really serves the people who park on the road there - the shops are in an elevated promenade and there are only a couple of entrances for pedestrians at either end of the arcade area. Assuming the Arcade stays in its present form (not a given but there are no current plans to demolish it as far as I'm aware), pedestrian through traffic mainly limits itself to the promenade area. Removal of parking would be a more palatable choice but every bit as contraversial, but there is a relatively un-tapped resource - the Arcade's own 300-space car park, which is free for the first 60 minutes. There have clearly been attempts to promote its use recently, as evidenced here:

That provision easily out-numbers the on-road capacity and is significantly cheaper - all it requires is a bit of consultation and some promotion to change driver behaviour to accept this, and all that under-used space could be freed up for better northbound cycle provision (or indeed creating a wide bi-directional path), whilst still retaining loading facilities on the southbound carriageway.

At the top of the shopping area, its difficult not to conclude that something could be done to improve provision here. Look at all the sheer amount of roadspace  in the next picture:

Feel the width!
The room is there, we just need the will. And for all its faults, Shawlands still manages relatively well - the Arcade aside, most of the shops that line Pollokshaws and Kilmarnock Road are populated and not just by charity shops and bookies. There are green grocers, butchers, bakers, little fashion boutiques, as well as a slew of little coffee-shops, restaurants and bars. I even nipped in to "EAT" cafe on the way back - the place that had chided Glasgow City Council for raising parking rates. Maybe if they paid more attention to where there customers actually came from, they'd be more positive about the changes in the area.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The trouble with Exceptionalism

I've had a couple of idea banging about in my head for a while which strictly speaking are only tangentially related to Glasgow Infrastructure.  I thought I'd dissemble here. First, an admission:

I don't have a twitter account.

Now, I’m not looking for some sort of hipster medal for this mundane factoid but, for various reasons to dull to go into, I never set up an account (and likely never will). That doesn't mean that I don't use Twitter. Far from it: I'll look at it pretty much every time I use a computer (several instances a day) but perhaps not in the most practical manner. Rather than having a timeline of my own populated by the tweets of those I'm following, I'll simply look up people and read their feeds (it's probable that if you are reading this and you have a twitter account, I may have read yours at some point).

I have a handful of people I "follow". Their conversations (and that of their regular interlocutors) provide sufficient fodder for my reading requirements; albeit often in a fractured, one-sided manner. In the old days of USEnet, this sort of behaviour used to be called "Lurking". (I wonder how many people have lurking followers like me?). Suffice to say, you can end up in some pretty unlikely places, far away from your own little world.

This is how I came across Rita Krishna and Vincent Stops - two councillors from the London borough of Hackney. My sister lives in London and I've visited a number of times but I know relatively little about it or its psychogeography - if we're talking London and its not the City and other central bits, Camden, Holloway or Teddington (where my aunt lives), I'm a bit lost. The most I knew about Hackney up until very recently was that it was a nickname for black taxis. Since the advent of the CEoGB and Twitter, I now know a little bit more about the area, specifically that it has one of the highest rates for cycling in Britain. That sounds good until you remember how truly terrible rates of cycling are in the UK as a whole - hovering somewhere around the 2% mark. Even if painted in the best possible light, nowhere in Britain has rates even close to those achieved in other countries with unarguably healthier cycling rates like Denmark or the Netherlands. In a country like ours with such pathetic modal share, its inevitable that if you dice up the boundaries finely enough and cherry-pick the results, somewhere turns out to be the "best". Places like Hackney should more accurately be referred to as "the least worst for cycling" (feel free to insert your own "one-eyed man" metaphors here).

But not if you are either of the two aforementioned councillors, judging by their twitter feeds. Both seem to be unabashedly proud of their borough's (somewhat arbitrary) record and vigorously defend it, even in the face of what come across like logical arguments from dissenting voices. Here's some examples:

Now a number of things occur to me as I traduce these two people by virtue of my limited knowledge of their wards and the opinions they demonstrate in their twitter feeds. Firstly: could I name any other councillors in any other borough, county or district directly by name? No. Why do I know theirs? Because they are vocal and outspoken. In other words, for good or ill, they engage with people, especially those they don't agree with; a rare thing in the filter-bubbled, group-thinking, bias-confirming modern-day internet. This is what democratically elected figures ought to do of course, but they arguably go above and beyond what is expected - they speak to people both within and without their wards.

Secondly, again for better or worse, they clearly believe what they are saying. I don't doubt for a second that Mr. Stops advocates effectively for mass public transportation, specifically buses. He is clearly very passionate about them and perhaps if I was a bus enthusiast too, I would appreciate this. Anecdotally-speaking (the worst kind of rhetoric, I know!) I have used buses for long enough to be grateful that I rarely need to use them any more, but I recognise that there are many people - particularly in a deprived city like Glasgow where the proportion of households with access to a car is in the minority - who absolutely rely on them, and that they are a preferable option for moving large numbers of people simultaneously, compared to an alternative scenario involving those same people travelling in private motor cars.

But buses are problematic. They are noisy, dirty and often too big for narrow urban spaces. Glasgow's two most polluted thoroughfares: Hope Street (officially the worst air quality in Scotland) and Union Street (a blighted, filthy embarrassment) - are utterly dominated by them. Buses primarily run on diesel, which while being nominally "greener" than the equivalent petrol engine (in terms of efficiency and C02 emissions) generate a whole host of dangerous, particulate-laden fumes. The sort of fumes that harm people, particularly those with chronic aerobic conditions like asthma or emphysema. As with HGVs, the sheer unwieldy bulk of buses presents a physical hazard to other road users; specifically vulnerable ones like pedestrians and people on bikes. Even in my pre-cycle advocacy days, I recognised that mixing bikes and bus lanes together was a terrible idea, not least because of the short-term speed differential. People on bikes tend to go at roughly the same speed at a constant rate - buses start, accelerate and stop suddenly - thus creating a scenario of the two vehicle types leap-frogging past each other. Anyone who has ever had a tailgating bus growling behind them will know this problem instinctively - the resentment and frustration emanating from the harassed, (probably) poorly paid driver is palpable.

And yet Mr. Stops appears to think they are the golden solution - he would like to see more people using buses and seems to think nothing of bikes mixing happily with them. He also thinks that Hackney serves cyclists well. Now it is easy for people well-versed in the language of cycle campaigning to dismiss him as deluded, which he may well be. But at the same time, this man, a person with the life experience, knowledge of local government and the necessary rhetorical skills to communicate and persuade people to vote for him, has come to this conclusion: Hackney is good for cycling. And in a sense, he is right.

The pity is that it could be so much better.

In a similar vein, Mrs Krishna also appears to think cycling is well-served, although she comes at it from a slightly different angle to Mr. Stops. She advocates mainly for pedestrians. This manifests itself in a combative approach to dealing with cycling advocates, often employing somewhat tortured logic to get her points across:

She seems to see urban geography as a zero-sum game, with anything perceived to be detrimental to the pedestrian as an affront to be vigorously opposed. She seems to view cycling as distinct minority pursuit for privileged eccentrics, rather than one of several complementary modes of transport, which fluidly segues between pedestrian and vehicle.

By denying the benefits to both sets of road users of implementing good cycle infrastructure, Mrs Krishna creates a false dichotomy - either cycles or pedestrians - which is ultimately detrimental to the well-being of both and ignores the primary problem source: the over-riding deference to motor vehicles. Either a wilful disregard or an apparent lack of imagination prevents her from seeing that the family that "can't walk together holding hands" without an vastly expansive pavement just might (if conditions were favourable) make the same journey by bike and might enjoy it better if they did. Pedestrians and bikes needn't be in conflict with each other. The same goes for wheelchair users or those who use mobility scooters - improving cycle infrastructure invariably helps these groups too. And yet Mrs Krishna ties herself in all sorts of rhetorical knots to create this unnecessary conflict:

Thus reading her time-line descends into a depressing zero-sum game of brinkmanship, invective and victimisation.

I feel part of the problem is due to the two councillors belief in the intrinsically special nature of Hackney. They believe that the sorts of tried-and-tested solutions offered in such things as the Dutch CROW manual aren't applicable to Hackney's unique situation. From what I've seen through the narrow window of twitter and the internet in general, positive things have been implemented there. Some of the techniques employed - route unbundling, filtered permeability - are tools in the Dutch kit for creating cycle-friendly cities. Other approaches - the dogmatic commitment to the removal of one-way systems, regardless of utility - are less progressive.

A cycle route is only as good as its weakest point: it doesn't matter how good individual parts of it are, people will not use facilities if the parts in between - in the case of Hackney, major thoroughfares like the A10 - are still just as hostile and frightening as ever. There are elements specific to Hackney - a younger population, a lower level of car-ownership, a lower density of Underground stations - which explain its relative success in cycling despite the conditions: not because of them.

(As a slight aside, its funny how when foreign observers saw the first autobahns being developed in 1930s Germany, no-one appears to have said "Oh well, that might work okay in Nazi Germany but it's just a part of their fascist culture. It wouldn't work here...". Instead, there was immediate recognition that autobahns were a universally better, safer way to transport large volumes of motor vehicles between cities in short time-frames - of course, the downsides of the sort of urban sprawl they enabled wouldn't be apparent for decades.)

There is a firm belief that the interventions of the council are solely responsible for the slightly-above-average levels of cycling. On the contrary, I think its likely that (if it hasn't done so already) modal share will hit what is referred to in mathematics and the study of algorithms as a Local Maximum. This means that it will reach a peak - well below its theoretical optimum (the "Global Maximum")  - and will not grow any further unless a step-change occurs; specifically a change that may well be (temporarily) detrimental. This is a key principle in a technique for solving a family of problems called a Hill-Climbing Algorithm - sometimes things need to get worse before they get better. We accept this as part of normal life - for example, we put up with the disruption caused by roadworks on the basis that the surface will be repaired and improved. And yet when talking about building cycle infrastructure, any impact on other road users or other interested parties (e.g. local businesses and their obsession with parking) is used to justify compromising or simply not implementing changes that could be helpful to all.

Put plainly, if a major change in circumstances doesn't occur in Hackney - namely, the installation of a network of segregated cycle paths on major routes or traffic congestion reaches truly unbearable levels - its likely that cycling will stall and stagnate, as the borough runs out of the sort of people who are willing to cycle in the currently hostile environment, or the churn of people taking up the activity versus those who give it up will reach an equilibrium.

My worry is two-fold: if cycling modal share reaches a (sub-optimal) peak, people like Mr. Stops may well shrug their shoulders and say "oh well, that's the best its going to get. The demand for cycling just isn't there - MOAR BUSES!". Given that what goes on in London can have knock-on effects for the rest of the country, you might have on-looking councils who then say "well, if it can' get any better in Hackney, should we even try?".

Thus it becomes ever more vital that cycle advocates engage with people like Mr. Stops and Mrs Krishna - people who are at least having the conversation about sustainable transport - and hopefully engender a change of heart on their part. That's the hard part of course. The crux of what I'm saying is as follows:

What would it take for someone to persuade me that I am wrong about some area of knowledge where I felt a rock-solid sense of being correct?

How would I even recognise this situation if it occurred? Would I persuade myself that I felt this way all along ("Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia...")? As I write this, I am genuinely struggling to think of a time when I have done an absolute volte-face on something more important than musical taste or brands of beer. The closest I can think right now is my attitude to Shared Space, which has evolved from a position of admiration for its supposed aims and benefits, to one of scepticism. But then this was borne of a detached sense of ignorance - I didn't have a personal intellectual stake in the belief in shared space or otherwise.

I doubt the same thing could be said of the two councillors, whose sense of civic worth seems to at least partly stem from the idea that Hackney's "success" in  cycling, walking and the use of public transport stems from direct interventions by the council. How difficult would it be to accept that, well, maybe your policies didn't have that much influence and that you are fundamentally wrong on key issues such as segregated facilities and one-way systems. Once a level of belief has been engendered in someone, is it ever possible to contemplate a reversal?

Lastly, is it even right to concentrate energies on people like the two councillors? Would it not be more useful to target those who don't engage with the conversation? For example, the refuseniks of Kensington & Chelsea, or the deluded designers of Glasgow's Clyde Gateway, or the silent partners in the backroom discussions that lead to such car-centric monstrosities as this, this or even this?

Maybe the answer is to engage with anyone who is willing to listen, and then persistently badger those that won't. Perhaps more pertinently for me, the solution is not to take what people say on twitter too seriously; lurking is clearly bad for one's mental disposition...