What makes a cycling strategy – You can’t solve every problem

Crap cycle lane

I put this picture in because not only is it rubbish, but its funny too

The downfall of many-a transport strategy is identifying all problems that are related to that mode of transport or that particular issue.

There, I said. Now before you wonder whether or not I’ve been on the beer (it’s a work day, come on!), I will explain what I mean by that. My problem with transport strategies listing almost every possible issue associated with a chosen mode is that it actively encourages a focus on trying to solve all of them as well.

Now, you may think that is a good thing. And in a way you are right – in an ideal world we should look to tackle as many issues as we possibly can to encourage as many people to cycle as we possibly can. Many a time I have been asked by my delivery colleagues “what is our policy on this issue? Its not in the strategy”, so its tempting to write something, anything in your strategies to cover all bases.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. Transport budgets and staff resources are stretched enough already. Besides, do we really need a policy on every problem? Haven’t we got evidence and professional judgement to make those decisions?

A good strategy involves looking at the evidence base and from that determining what are the biggest issues that will stop us achieving the objectives. The remainder of your strategy is then built around tackling those highest priority issues. If there are spin-off benefits from this – and we know that cycling schemes have many – then fine. But focus is needed to target what resources that you have to what you want to achieve.

Rather amazingly, the Mayor’s Vision somehow manages to be both brilliant and poor at doing this. Reviewing the objectives, the quality of cycling infrastructure in terms of actual and subjective safety is a concurrent issue throughout:

London’s streets and spaces will become places where cyclists feel they belong and are safe

We will normalise cycling

 

We will segregate where possible

We will refocus to prioritise early and major improvements at and around London’s worst junctions,

Without seeing the full technical work and evidence base informing the decision to make improved infrastructure the priority, we can only assume that TfL have used a robust evidence base to support their decision. The Vision itself does offer clues that TfL is basing its approach on evidence. The review of the Junction Review process and learning the lessons of the London Cycle Network in delivering the Quietways are but two examples of this.

After starting off on this excellent base, the vision seems to go into bullet point overdrive. Issues are identified, before statements saying “we will do this” are offered. Perhaps its me, being used to the small resources of a rural shire authority unlike the big budgets of TfL, but a lack of the prioritisation of these other issues runs a big risk of simply blowing any post-infrastructure budget on anything and everything.

Smileage

Promotion can be very effective, but is it tackling key issues preventing people from cycling?

Focussing your strategy on key issues does not mean that you should neglect all the other issues that you have deemed less worthy of your attention. A key part of any strategy and its monitoring is a Risk Register identifying all risks that are likely to affect your ability to achieve your aims. Even if your response to a risk is just “keep an eye on it” that’s fine, so long as you are able to react when they do become a serious and persistent issue.

To say so as bluntly as that within a strategy is a difficult thing to do. You’ve realised its an issue, so why should you say you’ll do nothing about it? But doing so raises expectations that you will spend time and effort tackling minor problems, when the major problems should be your focus.

You may have noticed that so far, I have only fleetingly commented on the solutions offered in the Vision. There is a good reason for this. Solutions delivered on the ground are very much reliant on 3 things:

Without those 3, any scheme is doomed from the start. Hence why so far I have yet to focus on what Boris actually plans to do. In tomorrow’s post, that all changes…

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