Quietways: they aren’t working

They were envisaged as routes for cyclists who prefer to use quieter, traffic-calmed streets. And the Mayor’s vision for them was that they were direct, designed as whole routes, segregated from motor traffic where they briefly join busy roads and make use of “filtered permeability” that restricts through motor traffic etc. As part of the mix of infrastructure planned for London cyclists those ideas are to be welcomed.

It’s time, however, to admit that the first Quietways to reach public consultation and begin construction fail to fulfil these ambitions – and as such, they won’t boost cycling numbers. So, what’s gone wrong, and what does TfL urgently need to fix to improve this programme?

Current Quietways proposals fail at key hurdles: busier junctions are often not appropriately treated to separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic in time and/or space – some of these junctions will remain hostile enough for current cyclists, they certainly won’t enable all-ages, all-abilities cycling or entice those who want quieter routes to cycle; there are also too many busier road sections that are far from “quiet”, without appropriate space for cycling measures – whether that’s protected tracks or modal filters or other methods, too often the proposed design is simply more paint and logos on the road.

Unless Quietways are radically improved, to meet the Mayor’s vision, they will not get many more people cycling – so there’s a real risk the money spent on them won't be good value. On top of that, with some of the Mayoral candidates making positive noises about Quietways over Cycle SuperHighways, there’s a risk that these schemes might end up harming cycling in London if they're prioritised over more controversial, but more effective schemes.

Today, we are calling on the London Mayor, his cycling commissioner, TfL and the boroughs involved to urgently take steps together to fix the gaps and problems in the first Quietway routes, and to improve the programme before any more go to public consultation. Because if Quietways don't meet the standards set by the Mayor and as detailed in the London Cycling Design Standards, we can't and won't support them.

Want to help us improve a Quietway in your local area? Get in touch with your local group and email Simon Munk, our Infrastructure Campaigner.

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Your argument is founded on a false premise. You're suggesting that in order for these Quietway routes to be successful, it only needs for some of the junctions to be treated somewhat better, and for some of the roads to be made somewhat quieter. This isn't exactly true.

In 2008, David Hembrow reported on some research carried out in the Netherlands, the purpose of which was to find out which interventions for cycling were effective (here). One of the conclusions reached is that good quality cycle routes are of almost no use if they are not close together.

More recently, your own organisation reported how Seville had Gone Dutch (here). You quote Ricardo Marques Sillero, who said: "Isolated cycle paths are almost usless if they're not connected, making a network from the beginning."

Finally, the National Institute for Transportation and Communities in Portland, Oregon, undertook a landmark study of protected cycle lanes in 2014 (here). It notes that the most important goal of protected cycle lanes is to get a load of people riding who aren't. However, it says that protected cycle lanes on their own can't do this. "It takes a network," study co-author Chris Monsere noted.

Cycling needs density and connectivity. When the LCC was established, its primary demand back then was for the development of a Strategic Cycling Network. It must be said that you are no longer focused upon this, but rather that you have allowed yourselves to be swayed by "conventional wisdom".

According to J.K. Galbraith, one of the the factors which most contribute to the formation of conventional wisdom is the ease with which an idea may be understood. Space for Cycling is very much a case in point. "We associate truth and convenience with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being," Galbraith wrote, "or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation in life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem." 

For further discussion of this, please refer to the comments on Ranty's latest blog (here).

I think you're being a bit harsh on LCC on the basis of this piece - 

"mayor's vision was that they were direct, designed as whole routes, segregated from motor traffic where they briefly join busy roads and make use of “filtered permeability” that restricts through motor traffic"

"As *PART OF THE MIX* of infrastructure planned for London cyclists those ideas are to be welcomed.

I don't see anything in there incompatible with the idea of a network


Thanks for your feedback, Simon

Simon's article says: "Unless Quietways are radically improved, to meet the Mayor’s vision, they will not get many more people cycling." The clear implication here is that if they were radically improved, then many more people would be encouraged to start cycling. This simply isn't true. (You say that I am being a bit harsh, but I don't know how else to put it.)

You say as well that good quality Quietway routes are not incompatible with the idea of a network. If a network was also *part of the mix*, I would be happy to agree with you. But it isn't, and so I am not.

I keep asking this question, and I never do get an answer: Why aren't the LCC campaigning for these high-engineered schemes to be developed within the framework provided by a functioning cycling network? If they would be prepared to work together with me on this, I am sure we could make significant strides towards this goal.

Edit: I have just seen the LCC's campaign demands for the next mayoral elections. There are no calls for a network to be developed.

The LCC doesn't have evidence on its side, and they doesn't answer their critics. Why should anyone listen to them, just because they're bigger than everyone else? 

This post was edited by Simon Parker at 12:51am 14 January 2016.

Simon Munk has criticised the Quietways that are being consulted on, or are under construction.

It would be useful if he could list which of the Quietways in general and which junctions in particular, that he considers are not up to the mark.

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  • By SimonM at 10:35am 21 January 2016

Simon Parker (and Still), the piece was specifically put up to try and galvanise political views around the Quietways programme. In my opinion, not every piece has to cover every element of infrastructure needed or wanted in London. And when other organisations and individuals in power talk glowingly of Quietways, it makes little sense to talk about a network - we need to be able to counter these issues directly.

The London Cycling Campaign AGM specifically talked about the need for a network. And that is one of the key policies now for us. Therefore a network is absolutely high up my agenda as Infrastructure Campaigner here (it would be anyway, frankly). But how do we achieve a network? How do we build it? Particularly given the nature of London and its boroughs? And what political will is there to shift from a few Cycle SuperHighways and Quietways to establishing a coherent mesh of routes? Have a look at TfL's Central London Cycling Grid to get an idea of the answer.

We absolutely are pushing for a network - and will continue to do so. But we also are going to push for Quietways (and Cycle SuperHighways and mini-Hollands and Better Junctions and etc. etc.) to be the best they can be.

  • By SimonM at 10:40am 21 January 2016

Rich, that piece would a long and complex one. And I doubt would be of huge use to anyone - because the routes are spread across London.

What we will continue to do is highlight, pass to local borough groups and record in consultations and conversations with officers etc. instances of where specifically we think sections, junctions and links on individual Quietways are too weak. So you may well see, for instance, ICAG in Islington, Hackney Cyclists and the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign working on QW2 responses. And I'll be supporting them as Infrastructure Campaigner here.

Thanks for your reply, Simon. 

You ask: "How do we achieve a network? How do we build it? Particularly given the nature of London and its boroughs? And what political will is there to shift from a few Cycle Superhighways and Quietways to establishing a coherent mesh of routes?"

Firstly, how do we achieve a network? Well, how many ways are there? To the best of my knowledge, there are just two: top-down or bottom-up. All of the evidence - and I do mean all of it - is in favour of a top-down (or holistic) approach. For example, when Steffen Rasmussen from the City of Copenhagen was invited to give evidence to a GLA transport committee, the very first thing he said was: "The key note is an holistic approach and then a sepration of functions."

How do we build it? There is only one publication which answers the question How to start?, and that is Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities. I can tell you what it says. It says that "introducing" the network to a minimum level of functioning is "a prudent course to follow." It's only the campaigners who say that everything has to be done perfectly first time around. But they never quote anyone (apart from each other, which is most tedious).

Did you ever read Dave Horton's final blog (here)? It doesn't seem right somehow to quote Dave selectively - it's such an intelligent and passionate article - but he does make the point that to make cycling big requires working with others, and that inevitably entails compromise. "Of course we must compromise," he says.

You suggest I look at the Central London Bike Grid to get an idea of what you're talking about. I have seen the planned length of the Bike Grid reduced by about a half within a relatively short period of time. Why did this happen? Is it because the original network could not be developed to the standard you demand? (Perhaps you can think of another reason?)

The thing is, Simon, you say that you absolutely are pushing for a network, but you also say that you are pushing for cycle schemes generally to be the best they can be. To my way of thinking, you can have a network, or you can have isolated pieces of high quality infrstructure, but you cannot, at this moment in time, have the whole network developed to reasonably high standards (which is what you wanted the original Bike Grid to be).

I made the point above that no matter how high the quality of the Quietways or the Cycle Superhighways and so on, the evidence is that they wouldn't increase cycling's modal share (because they lack connectivity and density). This is why I keep asking, Why isn't the LCC campaigning for these high-engineered schemes to be developed within the framework provided by a functioning cycling network?

Finally, you ask about the political will needed to develop a coherent network. I need to speak freely here. If the main cycling lobby group is going to be standing around, with its arms folded across its chest, waiting for a cyclist to get killed whilst using the network, I don't know that the political will would be there. However, if the main cycling lobby group opened their arms ...

Do you understand why, for example, Kensington and Chelsea would be prepared to develop a network of low-engineered routes, but yet they are not currently prepared to develop a high-engineered CSH route along the High Street? Do you understand this? As Dave Horton explained: "The more people can see and understand the bigger picture, the more supportive they will be." Who's to say that in ten years' time the council would see things differently? But not now, and not in isolation. Do you understand this?


This post was edited by Simon Parker at 11:11am 22 January 2016.

I very much agree with Simon Parker. Many of the high profile cycling tracks are heavily overengineered and, while most welcome in themsleves, are far too expensive to deliver across the whole of London in anything less than fifty years. As an example, the Queen's Circus roundabout development in Wandsworth at £2m seems a total waste of money with its myriad of new traffic lights; and it made no changes to the one place (within twenty yards of it ) where a cyclist was killed.

At the other end of the scale, Quietways are largely an irrelevance for most cyclsists unles they are meandering around as tourists. I was recently asked to comment on the Quietways in Loughborough Junction and my only comment was that until the whole of Coldharbour Lane from Brixton to Camberwell had a safe cycle track either side the Quietway crossing it was of limited value.

We need a coherent, wide ranging, well connected network which starts with very simply engineered changes which enable someone to cycle long distances on clear, separate paths. A willingnes on the part of DoT and TfL to change the rules on road markings might be a good start; an example would be to allow cycle paths to be better marked on roads, run straight through junctions, bus stops, zebra crossing zig zags and other road markings. So any cycle path is totally continuous and totally clear to any driver. Drivers might justifiably argue they couldn't avoid hitting a cyclist when the cycle paths disappear at junctions as they regularly do (we could all provide examples).

Once such a network is in place you can start making the engineering more robust.

And finally, we need to get our planners to take the Dutch route which is to understand the psychology of driving and cycling before resorting to design and engineering. Simple changes could be very effective. For instance, moving traffic lights to the back of Advanced Stop Boxes would probably stop drivers going into them; removing stop lines  at some suburban junctions would create uncertainty and slow traffic down (as they do in both the USA and Australia), using rumble strips to segregate cycle paths from traffic lanes, etc etc etc Drivers drive faster and more dangerously when they have total certainty about what is in front of them. A recent Lambeth Council speed test in a 20 mph road near us logged 4 drivers travelling at over 60mph - the road is dead straight for 150 yds and looks like  racetrack even though it is a densly populated side street. Even re-surfacing our own 20 mph street in Brixton sped up the traffic - no pot holes, shiny new black tarmac and gleaning white lines made it look like Brands Hatch - put yer foot down. 

The nub of the problem is that our Civil Service always look to risk free answers at high cost rather than simpler anwers at low cost but for which they might be criticised if something went wrong. 

Thanks for your reply, Jon.

We need a coherent, wide-ranging cycling network, you say, which starts with very simply engineered changes. Once such a network is in place we can then start making the engineering more robust. This is exactly the process followed in most cycle-friendly cities, including Portland, Oregon.

People for Bikes has recently reported that Portland's Transportation Director Leah Treat has asked that protected cycleways be "the preferred design on roads where separation is called for". I left the following comment on the People for Bikes website:

I am delighted to read that Portland is taking this step. I am sure this is something many advocates of cycling were hoping for. However I think it is important to understand how Portland have got to this point.

In 1996, Portland had 67 miles of cycle lanes and a modal share for cycling of about two per cent. Portland's Bicycle Advisory Committee had previously established that isolated cycle facilities may get all the kudos, but it was the lack of connections between these facilities that was the cause of the greatest frustration.

And so Portland began developing what they called a "bare bones" network. Now there are 319 miles of cycle lanes and a modal share for cycling of just above seven per cent.

The European Cycling Federation have said that a comprehensive, city-wide cycling network is "a basic precondition of mass cycling". Of course, you can only go so far with a bare bones network. The evidence suggests that the increase in Portland's modal share for cycling can be attributed to that group of cyclists known as the Enthused and Confident cyclists. They make up about seven per cent of the population. Thus, Portland is probably very near the limit of what a bare bones network can achieve in terms of increasing cycling's modal share.

Even so, there is now a solid foundation in place, and a healthy cycling population to boot, and this has put Portland in a very strong place to push on further. 


Leah Treat reports that property developers have been very positive in their feedback. "We understand why you want to do this," they tell her, "and why it's good for the city." As I said above, quoting Dave Horton, "The more people can see and understand the bigger picture, the more supportive they will be." 

One final point, Jon. You say: "The nub of the problem is that our Civil Service always look to risk-free answers." I don't doubt this for a second, but I would also add that politicians obviously appreciate controversy-free solutions. A comprehensive, city-wide cycling network introduced to a minimum level of functioning would only be controversial amongst advocates of cycling. This is why it is appropriate for the LCC to adopt a position on this issue. As things stand, the LCC are not campaigning for the development of a network, despite it being one of their key policies.

The LCC also have the "vision of making London the best cycling city in the world". How do they expect to achieve this, I wonder, if not by following the model described above?


Edit: Is it possible to do something about all the spammers? Why not delete their comments entirely?

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