Is segregation for cyclists and buses back on the agenda?

As shared space gains momentum across Europe, several dissenting voices are being heard. An EU-funded research project, SINTROPHER, recently held a conference at which speaker Domink Bruhweiler of the Zurich Transit Authority suggested that – since the reliability of bus connections is critical for the famously reliable and punctual network, which is under pressure due to growing road traffic – segregated bus tracks are missing from the picture. Despite the good punctuality record of Swiss trains, punctuality must improve further if people are to move to public transport, sais Mr Bruhwiler.

This comes at a time when many European countries are pioneering, with political support, major shared space schemes that see all traffic, including pedestrians and cyclists, given equal priority on the highway. Now a report suggests that cyclist may be the latest group to be singled out for their own spatial attention.

The appeal of cycling in Britain’s towns and cities will only be broadened if local authorities introduce physically segregated cycle lanes along main roads, researchers have claimed, says Andrew Foster, writing in RUDI's partner publication Local Transport Today.

The three-year ‘Understanding walking and cycling’ research project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. research team from Lancaster University, Oxford Brookes University and the University of Leeds has examined attitudes to cycling and walking in four cities: Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester, says Forster.

Researcher Dave Horton, a sociologist at Lancaster University, said: 'Thirty years as a committed cyclist and 20 as a committed cycle campaigner had convinced me that cycling’s place is on the road. But the research has forced me to shift my position. The sheer weight of evidence that most people will not ride on busy roads is unambiguous and uncompromising.'

Horton said part of the infrastructure requirement to boost cycling was already being delivered in the form of measures such as 20mph speed limits on residential roads.

'But the other half of the infrastructural change needs a similar push. This push should be for very high quality and continuous segregated cycling infrastructure on our biggest and busiest urban roads.'

He emphasised that segregation did not mean a painted lane on a road. 'It means a lane which is dedicated for cycling, which is physically separate from both pedestrians and flows of motorised traffic, and which is continuous,” he told LTT. 'I have in mind the kinds of cycling lanes which one finds across the Netherlands and in Copenhagen, with similar ‘rights of way’ for the cyclist. These are the kinds of facility we need.'

The researchers voice scepticism about travel behaviour change programmes and cycle training in the absence of better infrastructure provision. 'Neither persuading people to change their behaviour by providing them with more information, nor training people how to ride under current conditions, will build a mass cycling culture.'

The research discovered two broad attitudes to cycling. 'One culture of cycling tends to prevail across more affluent, middle class, predominantly white, suburban communities. Here people by and large received and understood the message that cycling is good. They also understand that the car in general, and their own use of the car in particular, is socially and environmentally problematic.'

But Horton added: 'These people are very nervous about cycling in their cities. Most of them simply will not contemplate it. The idea of it is too hard, too strange and far too dangerous.'

A different culture prevailed in less affluent urban populations. 'Here we found people to be by and large indifferent, and sometimes hostile, towards cycling. The bicycle is regarded as a children’s toy much more than as a legitimate, let alone desirable, mode of urban mobility.'

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