Tag Archives: cycling

How do we model for cycling?

large signalised junction

I bet LINSIG loved modelling this

I start this post with a confession to make. While I claim to be an expert in many areas of transport, one area that I have always struggled with is transport modelling. Honestly, ask me anything about models outside of the basic 4 stage model and be prepared for a blank expression. But the art of being a professional is not necessarily to understand all of the technical details of each area of your craft, but to understand its importance and relevance.

Transport modelling is both very important and very relevant. The very fabric of our cities, towns, streets have been determined by computer programmes like ARCADY, LINSIG, SATURN, and VISSIM. In all of this logic and mathematical equations based on vehicle flows and cost-time calculations, many different highway users have lost out. Cyclists are one of the biggest ones.

But there has been some movement recently to challenge this orthodoxy, to see how the profile of cycling can be pushed further up in the modelling world, led by the tireless work of Rachel Aldred. Just over a week ago I went back to my old stomping ground of the University of Westminster to attend Modelling on the Move 6 – Cycling and Transport Modelling. After a bit of pre-seminar swotting, and chats with colleagues far more knowledgeable about this stuff than me, I entered the seminar interested in the answers to 3 questions.

Should cycling be modelled at all?

In an ideal world, transport models are just one factor in a much wider decision-making process that ultimately leads to the delivery of transport schemes. If a model says that a junction will fall over in vehicle capacity terms, do the other benefits (health, societal, economic etc.) of a particular scheme outweigh the model and result in a scheme being built?

This raises a fundamental question of whether or not we should seek to represent cycling in our transport models at all. Considering much wider benefits of cycling are very well-documented, is it worth the time, effort, and expenditure to completely redesign transport models for them? Transport for London certainly seem to think so. So much so, they are actually ahead of the Dutch in doing this.

One of the common areas that most of the attendees seemed to agree on was that transport models – rightly or wrongly – have a significant influence on transport decisions. Roger Geffen put this point across very well, whereby the new roads policy seems to be almost built on making the forecasts of the National Transport Model come true.

A matter of interest to me was there were two presentations during the day that did not even mention traditional transport models – those of Herbert Tiemens and Paul Schepers, both transport friends from the Netherlands. I am not sure what role traffic modelling plays in the redesign of streets of junctions – I am sure that it plays some role. But the feeling from the presentations, and the research that I have done, seems to indicate that model results are very much a secondary consideration.

Perhaps this reflects the relative importance that professionals from different countries and contexts give to model results. In the UK, the model result is almost sacrosanct – we cannot distress the model, annoy it, make it fall over. We don’t even want to test to see if model results are correct. In this context, modelling cycling is needed not because it is the right thing to do to come to a transport decision, but because out decision-making philosophy dictates it.

Do our current models take account of cyclists adequately?

It is safe to say that almost everyone agreed that current models do not take account of cyclists adequately. And a common theme ran through this – adequacy of data.

As explained helpfully by John Parkin, in a typical junction model cyclists are assigned a value of 0.2 PCU, or Passenger Car Units. This figure is based upon quite simplistic research into the matter – assuming that cyclists have the same gap acceptance, relationships with other users, and headways as car drivers.

More research is required into virtually all aspects of cyclist behavior and interactions with other vehicles at junctions and across networks. Is there tighter gap acceptance and does this vary with different vehilces? What impact does the faster acceleration time of cyclists have on capacity? How does cycle-friendly junction design impact on behavior? Some significant and expensive research needs to be undertaken into all of this if we wish to model cyclists properly.

Examples given by Transport for London and Tim Gent for Cambridgeshire represent a decent first step on the road to better cyclist representation in transport models. It shows modellers fundamentally rethinking how their models are structured and undertaking some research on cyclist behavior – even if there is a critical lack of good data validation in both examples. That and cyclists are simply being retrofitted to what are still traffic models at heart.

A point made often in the seminar was how it was impossible to model cycling owing to the variability of current cyclists themselves, and their decision-making processes. In my view this is a side issue. As John Parkin touched on, micro-simulation modelling is increasingly introducing this variability into modelling of highway networks. Also, a model by its very nature is a simplification of a vast number of decision-making processes based on observed behavior. Nobody can say that every driver’s responses are reflected in many transport models at the individual level, but we do understand what the average driver, and drivers as a collective, are likely to do because we have good quality data to support that.

How can our models be improved?

I have already touched on the improvements to transport modelling being undertaken in London and Cambridgeshire, and the issues that they have faced. I wish here to concentrate on another matter: modelling the unknown.

As I have already touched on before, current transport models are based upon projecting forward behavior that has been observed, and thus they are only as good as the data that we have at the time. For cycling, as Nicholas Sanderson points out, any data collected on current cyclists now may become obsolete soon if cycling becomes more normalised.

In this sense, transport models are always playing catch-up to observed trends. Perhaps modellers could make much more use of stated preference data (for all its flaws) in future demand forecasts, but even this is an uncertain science.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, we could simply not rely on a computer programme on a laptop to help us make a transport decision? Nah, that’ll never catch on.

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The dangers of blue sky thinking

I should start this post by stating something very clearly – I am not a blue sky thinker. I not a person to ‘think outside the box’ or ‘delayer problems’ or whatever other management bollocks you like to come up with for it. But I am a supporter of it – thinking creatively on how to tackle known issues that are not limited by current thinking. It is healthy to challenge established thinking and procedures, and I fully support creative solutions.

Blue sky thinking and transport, in my experience, has a sticky history. Transport is a very practical business. It is driven by rules and procedure, with practical problems requiring practical solutions.

A recent announcement, or should I say re-announcement, got me thinking about the applicability of blue sky thinking in transport. Lord Foster’s latest (re)announcement of plans for SkyCycle, a network of raised cycle tracks above railway lines in London accessible by ramps to street level, certainly strikes me as a blue sky thinking project. Lord Foster does his best at a sales pitch for the project:

“I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle rather than drive are more congenial places in which to live, To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.”

SkyCycle

SkyCycle. Image from Foster and Partners

That distinguished architectural minds such as that of Lord Foster are paying attention to how we can make cycling safer in our cities should be welcomed. I have no doubt that he is a clever guy, but sadly this proposed solution shows the danger of blue sky thinking – by coming up with a radical solution to a problem, you don’t actually solve the problem.

Lord Foster actually puts the finger directly on the problem – making cycling safe. But this solution only tackles part of it. The fundamental problem that is not tackled is making our streets safe for cycling. I don’t imagine that Lord Foster pretends that this plan is the magic solution that makes everybody want to cycle, nor should it distract from making our streets safe. But making our streets safe for cycling simply has to take priority.

Reading the public information on the scheme, it is clear to me that rather than the focus of SkyCycle being on safety, the focus is on capacity and speed. Reducing commuter journey times and providing capacity for up to 12000 cyclists per hour are laudable aims, but I thought that we as transport professionals were moving away from simple speed and capacity to measure scheme success? Subjective safety and route attractiveness (and I don’t just mean that as in the colours on the route look pretty as indicated in artist impressions of SkyCycle) are just two further criteria that I can think of.

This is where the second issue of blue sky thinking comes into play – distracting from other, more comprehensive and meaningful solutions. Streets are where life in our towns and cities takes place, where vulnerable road users face the greatest dangers and are in greatest need of our expertise on making them safe. Junctions, lack of segregated links on major roads, and poor permeability are just a few of the myriad of issues facing cyclists everyday at street level. Shoving them up in the sky does not tackle any of those issues, and at worst will distract decision makers and funding providers from tackling these issues.

It is reassuring to see that, publicly at least, Transport for London’s response to the SkyCycle idea has been nothing beyond considering the idea, as highlighted by As Easy As Riding a Bike. Network Rail seem very supportive of the idea, and why not? What they will get is a way of reducing overcrowding on peak hour inner-suburban trains through building an asset that I am very sure they won’t be responsible for maintaining.

The final issue with blue sky thinking is that bad ideas – ok, perhaps not bad, but say less desirable – become implanted in the imagination, and once done so is very hard to shift. We have already mentioned this regarding zombie road schemes, where poor schemes developed with the best intentions never get fully killed off purely because decision makers think that it is a good idea, but is ‘not a priority right now’ or ‘there are not enough funds available’, without being given the thorough critical review required of every transport scheme.

It is often said that in transport circles there is a preference for projects that make a statement as opposed to projects that just get on with it quietly by simply working. Ask a politician to open either a new link road or a new cycle path, and most will prefer the former because of the statement that it sends out. Schemes that are ‘modern’ or ‘futuristic’ also score well on this, though how vertically-separated routes are futuristic is beyond me. Buchanan anyone?

That is my fundamental worry with SkyCycle. By focusing on a piece of infrastructure that is expensive and of little practical benefit, both attention and funding will be drawn from proven, tried-and-tested, and deliverable schemes that will deliver real benefits to cyclists.

Blue sky thinking in transport is great, as it allows us to innovate and think of solutions to problems that can be delivered practically. But that is so long as such thinking is grounded in practicality. SkyCycle is a nice idea, but until we make our streets safer for cyclists, its going on my nice to have list.

Now, Lord Foster, can you come up with some imaginative ways to improve our streets for cyclists? That is something that I would be very interested in hearing.

The politics of Get Britain Cycling

Image from London Cycling CampaignYesterday, I travelled to Westminster for a very important reason, and not just my 3pm meeting with Network Rail. And no, it wasn’t for the Space4Cycling protest ride. Though from the reports, it seems that there were more than enough people there for me to go unnoticed!

I instead went to the public gallery in the House of Commons to sit in and observe the Get Britain Cycling debate (a full transcript of which can be read here). My thought behind this is that this would prove to be a useful insight into the politics behind the cycling debate in Government. And applying a footballing analogy, watching it on TV can only show you so much. The BBC Parliament Channel cannot reveal the atmosphere of the chamber and the off-camera discussions and reactions of MPs.

I stayed at the debate for about 2 hours, until the Deputy Speaker stated that a further 19 speakers wished to speak and I realised that I wanted to be home on the right side of midnight. During my time, there were many excellent speeches. I was particularly impressed by the contributions of Dr Sarah Wollaston, David Lammy, and Ian Austin. And any MP whos slates Eric Pickles is always ok with me.

What struck me about the debate wasn’t so much it’s content, but about it’s tone. The Chamber largely agreed on most of the issues raised in the report, with the only real bone of contention being the thorny issue of cycle helmets (expertly swatted away by Ian Austin, I must say).

By tone of the debate, I don’t necessarily means it’s positivity. I had no doubts the debate was always going to be a positive one. But what I mean is that is was, by and large, free of party politics. By way of contrast, I sat in on the last 35 minutes of the preceding debate on Post Offices in Rural Areas. This debate focussed as much on political point scoring as about the issues at hand. What the Lib Dem Manifesto said seemed to be a particular matter of interest to the opposition benches. It was Westminster politics at it’s advasarial worst.

Royal College Street

More of this please

The Get Britain Cycling debate was not like that, with most MPs focussing on solutions and the issues at hand. Yes, we may complain at some of their understanding (the idea that 20mph zones seem to be the saviour was a particular bug-bear of mine) and their priorities. But there seemed to be a great willingness to do more for cyclists, and get things done that will achieve the Get Britain Cycling vision.

The cross-party consensus revealed to me where the real political battles lie for cycling. They are not between parties – that would be too easy, as we would just vote for the party with the best cycling policies – but within them. They are discussions between politicians in parties in Government and opposition about the relative priority of cycling as part of their transport policies.

For campaigners and professionals, this presents a difficulty. Whilst we can argue based upon fact and reasoning to sympathetic politicians, this counts for little if they are unable to influence policy. That is why it is important to not just have a Cycling Champion, but to have the right person as a cycling champion.

What I mean by that is it shouldn’t be just a politician who says the right things and agrees with our point of view. But they should be a person who has influence over the right people, and importantly is willing to do what it takes to get things done. From my experience in local government, many infrastructure improvements get through via political deals as opposed to their technical merits. As professionals and campaigners, we need to accept that to get what we want, we may have to accept various political deals that we don’t like or agree with. I know that’s not a puritan view, but that is harsh reality.

In a sense, the fact that the Commons voted to endorse the Get Britain Cycling recommendations is somewhat a side issue to me. The important outcome of this debate is that the cycling champions within Government – Norman Baker, and if reports are to be believed the Prime Minister – take confidence from the support of the House into their work and negotiations with other Cabinet members and even their departments (judging by the response of the Department for Transport to Get Britain Cycling, Norman will need it). The cross-party support for cycling is there to see, and cycling champions on all sides of the political divide should take great confidence from this debate and it’s outcomes.

But as many MPs observed yesterday, these are just warm words. The proof of the pudding will always be in the eating, but if yesterday’s events in Parliament inspire our political cycling champions to deliver and not just promise, then it will have been a very good day indeed.

On funding for cycling (and transport generally)

Cycle commuting stockI was working on a few posts about driverless cars in cities, but now that our beloved Government has announced that it is chucking a few extra quid at cycling, I thought that I would bash out a few words about effective funding for cycling. This is something that I really meant to cover in my previous posts on what makes a good strategy, but this seems as good a time as any.

I should state from the outset that, as a practicioner and one who has worked with a Cycling Demonstration Town, any additional funding for cycling is a good thing. We will complain about how it is not enough to achieve real change and how it has all gone to the wrong areas (i.e. not us) in the office while we make a cup of tea. Even the winning bidders will be reasonable and won’t expect Dutch levels of cycling with this new funding. But we are practical and will try and use whatever funding we do get in areas and on schemes that we judge to have the greatest impact. That’s what we are paid to do after all!

But today’s announcement does underline two things how existing funding for sustainable transport infrastructure is woeful and inconsistent. For local authorities outside of London, the only consistent sustainable transport infrastructure funding we have is the Integrated Transport Block. This year’s allocation is £320m for England, about £6.46 per head. The ITB is not just dedicated to cycling, but to traffic regulation orders, walking schemes, bus stop improvements, safety schemes, and a whole manner else. Despite it being a pittance, this funding enables local authorities to plan their infrastructure workloads with reasonable certainty over 3 / 4 year periods, and certainty is a valuable commodity in transport planning!

There are of course other funds available like the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and Local Pinch Point Funding, but while the amounts are substantial (though still below Dutch-level cycle investment) they are time-limited and subject to a successful bid. Again, while this funding is welcomed, it is not condusive to good long term transport planning, though it is condusive to the electoral cycle and modern politics by press release.

What strikes me is that while campaigners and planners fight for consistent infrastructure funding only to see one-off investments in cycling announced by the Prime Minister, there is already a mechanism in place to provide consistent funding. It just needs boosting, and here is my suggestion of how to do it:

  • Cancel plans to merge 50% of ITB funding into the Local Growth Fund. It’s an insane idea.
  • Keep to your promise not create lots more individual funds for specific projects (I have counted at least 10 so far). At the end of this round, re-invest LSTF capital funding into the ITB and invite bids for 5 years of promotion money of which a critical part of the bid has to be substantial cycling investment through ITB and other sources.
  • On cycling investment through LTB, increase this gradually over time. While Dutch-levels of investment tomorrow is a laudable aim, the practicality is that many authorities do not have the capacity or skills to deliver. Give them the opportunity to gear up for this.
  • On ring-fencing cycling funding, ITB is not ring-fenced. Typically, a letter containing advice from Government on appropriate levels of each authorities’ contribution to spend on cycling should be enough. But if you want real teeth for this, advise authorities that their future ITB allocations are dependant upon their ability to spend on cycling infrastructure and their outcomes. If you fail, it gets cut. If you deliver or put in more of your own funds, you get more next time. Harsh, but effective.
  • Cut spending on road schemes which will not result in demonstrable and committed improvements for cyclists to pay for it all. But that goes without saying.

Any chance of this happening?

Transport and the Spending Review

Yes, two blogs from me in one week. Aren’t you lucky devils?

In case you have not noticed, this week our lords and masters at the Treasury, namely George Osborne and Danny Alexander, gave details on how much money Government will be spending on infrastructure as part of the Spending Review. There has been much comment on the content and the message of the Spending Review on transport, which featured heavily for once. But what do the numbers say, and what on earth does it all mean? This is when skills in reading Treasury documents come into play.

Roads

The one in the middle is the improvements to the A14

The one in the middle is the improvements to the A14

I should make it clear that in this context, I mean investment in roads primarily for the benefit of passenger cars and freight movements. It goes against my professional instinct to include all potential highway users, but it is necessary to portray the message that Government is making: Roads to Prosperity is back, and its meaner than ever.

The numbers seem pretty impressive: £30bn to £50bn over 15 years to revive many zombie road schemes and to complete the ones currently planned. The full list is pretty long – 110 schemes in all – and in it I count just 16 schemes dedicated to public transport. All schemes are at various stages from feasibility to completed. How many will see the light of day is another matter entirely.

These numbers also exclude the recent announcements on the Pinch point Funds. That’s another £507 million (£317 million Highways Agency Pinch Point Fund, £190 million Local Pinch Point Fund) and 195 schemes primarily aimed at reducing motor vehicle delay. So that brings the figure up to £50.5bn potentially. It doesn’t include infrastructure being delivered by the Growing Places Fund (up to £730 million), Regional Growth Fund (£380 million), and City Deals (£489 million). It does include Local Major Schemes being overseen by Local Transport Bodies, but nothing in London.

What will be interesting is the plans for the Highways Agency to become a publicly-owned corporation. From my understanding, this will be a similar arrangement to Network Rail with the railways (though they are a company limited by guaruntee), namely:

  • The Highways Agency will be responsible for delivering the powers of the Secretary of State relating to the strategic highway network;
  • The Highways Agency will still get most of its money from the taxpayer;
  • The Highways Agency is likely to be given powers to borrow from private markets, which may or may not be underwritten by the taxpayer;
  • Highway infrastructure debt will be transferred to this new body, artificially boosting the nation’s balance sheet.

So yes, road building has become the fashion again. Not a good message for the greenest government ever. And it isn’t necessarily good news for Integrated Transport, as we will now see.

Now, to be fair, not all the major road schemes will be bad for walking and cycling. For example – and speaking purely pariochially here – as part of the A5 to M1 Link named scheme, the local Council is looking to improve a local town centre for pedestrians and cyclists. But without further knowledge of the other schemes, I do think that this will largely be the exception as opposed to the rule.

Integrated Transport

By Integrated Transport, this simply means investment in transport infrastructure that isn’t road and rail. Like walking and cycling routes, bus stops, pedestrianisation. You know, the stuff that is excellent value for money (because we all must worship the mighty benefit cost ratio until its inconvenient). The stuff that helps local economies. The stuff you would think the Treasury would support.

What is of interest here is Table 9.A, and its explanatory text that sets out a new funding mechanism called the Single Local Growth Fund (SLGF).

Single Local Growth Fund

In brief, the SLGF is a fund that Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) will need to negotiate directly with the Treasury to secure improvements for their areas. Whats important here are the figures for the Local Sustainable Transport Fund or LSTF (£100m) and Integrated Transport Block (£200m) for 2015-16.

Simply, these two are the main ways by which local walking, cycling, safety, and bus stop improvements are funded in England. By 2014-15, £450m will be provided to local authorities through the Integrated Transport Block to fund these schemes every year. LSTF is awarded by bid, but this is currently about £420 million over 4 years.

What the SLGF appears to do is swallow up LSTF post-2015, and effectively siphon off half of the annual grant to local authorities for walking and cycling improvements to another fund. Local authorities will then have to argue for its current funding to be included by a bid approved by a LEP, which in turn has to argue the case to the Treasury. What’s more, local walking and cycling schemes will be competing against Major Transport projects and projects to boost skills throughout this process.

I am hopeful that LEPs will be grown up about all this, and accept the need and case for investment in sustainable transport infrastructure. But you’ll forgive me for being slightly worried that (a) the routine investment – which in itself is a paltry amount – in walking and cycling in local authorities will be cut by half, (b) the big boost to this investment in the LSTF will be gone, and (c) the funding lost will have to be argued for, twice, and to the Treasury!

Rail

On rail, I won’t dwell too much, as like all other rail announcements much of it was already announced as part of the Higher Level Output Specification. The only additional bits of any note at all was further electrification – the Gospel Oak to Barking Line and the feasibility of doing the same on the Lakes Line – and plans to devolve some parts of the West Anglia Franchise to the Mayor of London. Oh, and studying the feasibility of Crossrail 2 and HS2 needing up to another £10 billion to build.

One very interesting thing on this that Government is actively looking at how it managed franchises in the future reflecting the lessons of the West Coast Franchise debacle. This will be either under a dedicated unit within DfT (a dedicated unit is very much different to a specific team, with a very specific remit and is often a cross-department initiative with experts being seconded in from the likes of the Treasury for example), an Executive Agency, or a new arms length body.

Buses

Not so good news for buses, I’m afraid. Whilst BSOG and the National Concessionary Bus Pass were protected, local authorities are facing yet another round of cuts – 10% in cash terms. That’s many supported bus routes gone, then. Unless the magic efficiency savings known by Michael Green can be found or that £50 bajillion that every authority has in reserves is used to save us from the cataclysm. At least that’s what Government would like you to believe.

Maintenance

In his speech, Danny Alexander made a big play on spending on the maintenance of highways, with £6 billion from 2015 to 2021 being allocated to local highway authorities, and £4 billion to the Highways Agency in the same period. And contrary to my initial thoughts, thats not too bad, with investment of an additional third on the planned 2014/15 local allocation. Improved maintenance of the network is clearly of significant benefit to all highway users, so I don’t think anybody can complain too much about that.

London

Danny from the Cyclists in the City Blog covers the impacts on London pretty well. The majority of the planned £220m cut in the grant to Transport for London is likely to be achieved through efficiency savings, with the Cycling Vision and Tube investment plans spared the axe. In fact, if you throw in the Crossrail 2 feasibility study and potentially devolving some West Anglian rail routes, London has done rather well out of this Spending Review. Typical.

Accessibility

Reflecting on my post earlier in the week on accessibility, it appears the Government is doing its absolute best to continue the trend since 2003 of making accessibility worse for people. Cuts to buses are clearly bad, as will some of the savings that public services need to make. Requiring job seekers to attend the Job Centre every week is especially evil, considering that the Government’s own analysis confirms that those in the lowest income quartiles will be the hardest hit by this Spending Review. Still, their equalities analysis says that everything is rosy, so why should we worry?

Spending Review Analysis

Summary

Wow that’s a lot, but if I was to summarise the Spending Review for transport in a few bullet points, it would be:

  • If you are a road builder, you should be singing “money, money, money” right now;
  • If you are a cyclist, pedestrian, or bus user and do not live in London, you should be worried;
  • If you are a Londoner who is complaining about how much you got shafted by the Treasury: Shut up, you got lucky

And with that, I need to give my fingers a rest. Phew

Not Making the Connections

Community TransportOthers may no doubt disagree with me, but a report that I consider required reading of current and budding transport professionals is Making the Connections. For those of you who are not familiar with this 2003 report, it is the first Government report (that I know of at least) that makes a very clear case on the relationship between social exclusion and transport, particularly being able to access public services. And like seemingly every other book or report that I consider seminal transport reading, it is written by non-transport professionals, the now defunct Social Exclusion Unit in the Cabinet Office.

The case that it presents is a simple one: being able to access public services is critical to being able to take part in civic life, those who are the most excluded from public services – physically or financially – are those who need them most, and transport infrastructure and services (if provided at all) can also negatively impact on being able to access everyday things, like getting to a job or Doctor’s appointment.

A key factor in these issues manifesting themselves, the report states, is that nobody has taken the responsibility for accessibility in its most general sense. The accessibility consequences of decisions, for example where to locate a new NHS Drop-In Centre, are considered a ‘transport problem’ to be solved by transport people, or worse are overlooked or ignored.

Again, to be clear here, we are not talking about being able to get to a new out-of-town shopping centre or retail park, but getting the most vulnerable people in society to doctors appointments, job centres, council offices – the things they need to get by. That is the problem of everybody who delivers public services. If you can’t serve the people you are meant to serve, what are you doing in your job?

The reason why I bring this up is because today a report from the Environment Audit Committee states that, 10 years on, we haven’t learnt a single thing. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite: accessibility of services is actually worsening.

As someobody who has worked with the likes of the NHS and Social Services in their delivery, the fact that the lessons of Making the Connections have still not been learned makes my blood boil. The EAC report makes a big play on funding – with cuts in bus services being mentioned prominently, and a very worthwhile suggestion of focussing transport investment on accessibility improvement schemes and not big new roads. But funding is only the half of it, and the report shows it.

The fundamental problem still remains; nobody outside transport owns the accessibility issue. To list some of the shocking admissions in the report:

  • How the NHS measures accessibility of its services is in terms of waiting times, not the actual ability of people to get to their services;
  • The Department for Work and Pensions being ‘unsure’ as to whether accessibility statistics are used when assessing the impacts of their policies;
  • Insufficient weight is given to the ‘social cost’ of transport changes – just journey time accessibility and financial cost of services;
  • Local authorities becoming risk-averse to measures that could reduce social exclusion amongst key groups because of the failure of previous poorly-researched initiatives that failed.

A favourite quote of mine, which is almost Sir Humphrey-esque, comes from the Department of Health:

We have spoken to the Department for Transport … and they have done some analysis about that … It could be that services are reconfigured. It could be that transport services are changed. We need to understand what is causing that change, particularly at local level, so it can be acted on at local level. It may not be a systemic problem, but it may be. If it is a systemic problem, then clearly we in the Department are responsible for helping to get it sorted.

The stats also paint a poor picture. Over half of the population of the UK is over a 30 minute public transport ride from their nearest hospital, worse than in 2003. It takes longer for most people to access town centres by public transport now than it did in 2010. On almost every indicator, it now takes longer to travel to services than in 2007.

Accessibility journey time statistics

The fact that public bodies still don’t think about how people will get to their services is wrong. I am at a loss of how to explain why this is so. Yes, finance plays a role, and there is only so much you can do with reducing budgets and manpower. But mentality of decision makers is a major barrier. I have been fortunate to work with many like-minded people from many public services on improving accessibility over the years, but they are the exception and not the rule. And as I have stated before, without the support of your partners, your strategy is basically screwed.

Nowhere is the accessibility issue more prominently shown than in my own local authority. Our HQ is simply in the middle of nowhere, in a rural area served by an infrequent bus that is under constant threat of being pulled. Yet managers and some members feel that there is not an accessibility issue – or at least it is not significant – because “we haven’t heard people complaining about it” or “but most people have access to a car.”

That ignores one of the key findings of Make the Connections: accessibility issues go unnoticed because those who suffer them either don’t have the means to raise them (e.g. through access to the Internet) or simply do not even try accessing the services because its too hard. In that sense, accessibility issues are hidden from the decision makers who make accessibility decisions – they don’t see it, they don’t hear it (or when they do they don’t understand it), so its not a problem. Or its something that transport can solve.

The most frustrating thing is that accessibility issues associated with past decisions only come to light when they become a service delivery issue – often an expensive one. Delivering services in communities costs a lot of money through support and training. Delivering buses to serve new services adds to stretched revenue budgets. By saving a few quid on a bit of land, the long term costs of maintaining accessibility are increased. Yet still these decisions are being made.

Us transport professionals are not immune from criticism of course. Non-car accessibility is often framed as accessibility by public transport only. Making the Connections makes it very clear that in many cases, even public transport cannot overcome accessibility issues due to people’s circumstances, routings, and costs of public transport. Our solutions need to be more rounded than providing a new bus service.

This has been the main failing of Accessibility Strategies to date, even the ones I have worked on. The approach has been to do a public transport accessibility analysis using Accession, identify the gaps, and develop policies based on that. Many have failed to consider accessibility in the round; to improve walkability and cyclability of our towns and cities, to tackle public transport affordability; to reshape public service delivery on accessibility lines. Or they have paid lip-service to them.

In fact, why on earth are we not thinking about walking and cycling more? Many groups who are socially excluded are struggling to pay bus fares, and do not yet own a car. Accordingly, investment in walking and cycling infrastructure could have significant benefits in the more deprived areas, where cycling rates are hisorically low. The investment need not just be infrastructure. In Dunstable, for example, hybrid bicycles are being offered as part of a Wheels to Work scheme, so people can access their workplace until they have sufficient funds to buy their own bicycle.

We have to work with public services, to teach them about the impacts of their decisions on our services and budgets, and that social exclusion has a societal value often unmeasured in a benefit:cost analysis. We also need to go back to basics when tackling accessibility issues – don’t just think about buses, but about walking and cycling too.

Transport solutions to accessibility problems are known. Any transport professional who had Buchanan’s teachings rammed into their head during their training knows the importance of accessibility. Its disheartening to read that the accessibility agenda has lost its way since 2003. Its time for us public servants to Make the Connections again, otherwise we are failing in our basic duties to our residents.

What makes a cycling strategy – A strategy is not a document

What separates the best transport authorities from all of the rest is their understanding of the full delivery process of delivering transport schemes, presented here in an incredibly simplified form:

  1. The strategy setting out what we want to achieve, and to some degree how we want to achieve it.
  2. Identify what you actually want to achieve from this scheme.
  3. Technical guidance and legislation setting out what you can / should and cannot / should not do.
  4. Expectations and engagement of everybody interested in the scheme – whether or not they have decision making authority over it, or provide the cash.
  5. Cash and staff resource setting out what you achieve practically
  6. Decide on a solution, and deliver the thing.
  7. Monitor whether it is achieving what you want it to.
  8. Make changes if needs be.

 

Yes, this is incredibly simplified. There will also be many times where schemes are developed and delivered which have no justification in policy terms, or are delivered as experiments to test new ideas. But the majority of transport schemes are delivered in accordance with the above approach, or something similar to it.

 

This delivery process is important to understand – whether you are a policy wonk like me or an engineer working on a CAD drawing. It really should not need saying in this day and age, but producing a transport strategy like a Local Transport Plan with some nice objectives and an action plan is not an end in itself, but its a means to an end. The end being, of course, to deliver the vision that you have set out in the strategy!

I will confess now that I have written and helped to write strategies that – despite best intentions – only gathered dust. If you asked me detailed questions about the Second Bedfordshire Local Transport Plan for instance, I’d be stumped! For me, this was part of the learning curve of effective strategy development.

You can only judge the effectiveness of a strategy as a delivery document in the fullness of time. No doubt the Cyclists in the City, Vole o’Speed, ibikelondon, and As Easy As Riding A Bike – as well as the London Cycle Campaign – will keep a close eye on things to ensure that London truly does go Dutch.

The early signs from TfL are promising, and showing signs that they are willing to learn…

Segregated cycle route planned as part of CS2 at Stratford

Segregated cycle route planned as part of CS2 at Stratford

Dutch style roundabout

A Dutch style roundabout being tested by TfL and TRL. From Danny at the Cyclists in the City Blog

Royal College Street

Plans for Royal College Street, Camden, where a feeling of safety is as important as actual safety

The willingness to learn is there, the willingness to test new ideas, deliver significant improvements to cycling and the public realm, and even remove traffic lanes for this purpose. Its certainly an interesting time for cycling in London, and I hope that in 10 years time we will be looking back on a vision that has actually delivered a cycling revolution, and made London a more cycle and people friendly place.

No pressure, TfL.