Episode 11 - ‘Cycling Facilities’ and ‘Vehicular Cycling’

Roger Boulter’s recent book draft (on www.boulter.co.nz) won a 2020 WSP Golden Foot Award. This post outlines some issues covered in the first of two appendices.

Cycling Facilities’ and ‘Vehicular Cycling’

The idea of paths for cyclists separated from roadways is not new. The first such paths date from the 1930s. A 1950s surge in urban development gave an opportunity for urban and transport planners to go all-out in providing comprehensive networks of cycle paths (shared with people on foot). Notable early examples were in Stevenage (UK) and Canberra (Australia).

The problem, though, was that providing comprehensive arterial road networks at the same time led to declining cycling on the paths, and secluded paths also meant personal safety issues through lack of natural surveillance.

The prevailing culture of planning for motor traffic having priority inevitably led to arguably substandard path design. Another problem was hostility to cyclists on the roadways, not only by the motoring public, but also transport planners, who assumed the comprehensive path systems provided well for all cycling movement, so cyclists ‘would not need’ and therefore ‘should not use’ the roads.

In reaction, and to highlight cyclists’ equal rights on the road, John Forrester in the USA argued that cyclists should cycle ‘vehicularly’ among motor traffic – ‘behave like a car’. His among-motor-traffic cycling skills guide ‘Effective Cycling’ was published by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some advocates of Forrester’s thinking, taken to its logical conclusion, argued that there should not be any need for ‘cycling facilities’ (dedicated cycling infrastructure).

Over the same period John Franklin, from the UK Milton Keynes New City known for its comprehensive ‘redway’ network of shared paths (which Franklin argued were more dangerous than the roads), wrote ‘Cyclecraft’, again a guide to among-motor-traffic cycling skills, this time originally published by cycling advocates but later republished by the UK Ministry of Transport.

The debate on whether cyclists need off-road paths or should ‘skill up’ and ‘behave like a car’ on roadways has run and run over the years, and at times has been very fractious. Opponents of the ‘vehicular cycling’ approach have pointed out it is impracticable for all potential cyclists to safely cycle ‘vehicularly’ among traffic, citing for example children or those new to cycling. Some New Zealand cycling advocates have argued that a ‘vehicular cycling’ focus may distract official attention away from providing separated cycleways (and some have also opposed footpath cycling legalisation for the same reason).

Some, such as the UK Sustrans cycle path charity, from the 1980s consciously sought to attract current non-cyclists through a programme of inter-urban off-road paths. In more recent years Roger Geller from Portland, USA, has theorised a population categorisation according to people’s likelihood of taking up cycling. Between a small proportions of “strong and fearless” (who cycle among traffic), and “no way no how” (who would never cycle no matter what incentives), a large proportion in Geller’s categorisation were “interested but concerned”, saying they would cycle if off-road paths were provided.

 

Coming at the same time as improved cycling facility designs, this led on in New Zealand since 2014 (see elsewhere in this book) to a focus on off-road separated path provision within road boundaries, or alternatively paths shared with people on foot, or legalised cycling on roadside footpaths (also see elsewhere in this book on issues surrounding this).

The arguments will no doubt continue to run and run. Largely missing from them, however, has been measures affecting motor traffic volumes and speeds, or the relative attractiveness of choosing to drive rather than cycle. An approach mainly or largely based around providing ‘cycling facilities’, of whatever type, has always had at best only a marginal effect on the amount or safety of cycling, because driving remains more attractive and therefore most people’s preferred transport choice. And ‘behaving like a car’ among motor traffic doesn’t attract new people to cycling either.

Another casualty of the debate, possibly consciously or unconsciously discouraged under a prevailing approach based on provision of dedicated cycling infrastructure, has been the extreme scarcity of any training or coaching opportunities, especially for adults, on safe cycling skills among motor traffic.