Implementing Cycling infrastructure is tough. Singapore is only just beginning our foray into Cycling paths and already things do get heated between the public and gov officials.
Reading about how Cycling is unfolding in London provides some insight into how things are going for our Neighbours overseas.
Lots of choice quotes below:
Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who became Johnson’s cycling commissioner in 2013, says that “a lot of councils are really cowardly” and that while majorities usually support cycling schemes, local politicians are easily impressed by vocal minorities. In Kensington and Chelsea, he says, it only needed 15 objections from residents for one proposal to be stopped. It therefore required Johnson’s “leadership” and investment of “significant political capital” to make anything happen. Gilligan himself is not an especially diplomatic figure. “He pissed off large numbers of people,” says one involved in London’s bike politics, “but he made it happen.”
Cycling infrastructure, as commonsensical and humdrum as it might seem, is not just about engineering. It is political, cultural and social. It has to reconcile territorial disputes between people on bikes, people in vehicles and people on foot and between different kinds of cyclist. It can take on aspects of class conflict, in which drivers sometimes cast themselves, counterintuitively, as underdog victims of a two-wheeled elite. It obliges choices as to what kind of city its citizens and politicians want, with what balance of public benefits and private freedoms and for whom.
A superhighway, in theory, is a route that separates cyclists from other road users, although early examples achieved this sketchily, with strips of blue paint that acted more as ignorable suggestions than actual barriers to trucks and cars. It is linked to other measures given catchy names by the journalists Johnson and Gilligan. There are “mini-Hollands”, whereby three outer boroughs get to share £100m on making local improvements. There are also Quietways, which join up the slack and underused byways of the city to make safe and unthreatening routes. The first of these runs six miles from Waterloo station to Greenwich through council estate car parks, little-known parks and along disused railway embankments. Created with the help of the charity Sustrans, it opened in June.
The logic, says Gilligan, is that London is facing ever more demand for transport and that encouraging bicycle use is the best way to meet this demand. Building more roads on the congested and high-priced land is physically and politically unfeasible. Expanding the underground network is slow and expensive. A cycling commuter takes up much less space than one in a car, which rather obviously means that they use the existing roads more efficiently. Cycling has the added benefit of reducing pollution and benefiting the health of participants, at least of those who don’t get injured.
His basic argument is indeed overwhelming: it can only be good if more people use a city’s roads more efficiently, at less cost to themselves and in public expenditure, while causing less pollution and less danger to themselves and others than is created by driving. More than that, a city that is more pleasant for cycling should, at least in theory, be more pleasant for everyone else. Sustrans says its new Quietway has helped civilise an area around Millwall Football Club, whose character was previously dominated by brutal fences for segregating fans. At their best, mini-Hollands create quieter, calmer zones for pedestrians. The Victoria Embankment is now a better place for walking thanks to the buffer that the cycle lane creates between pedestrians and cars.
The idea behind Cycling paths seems simple enough. But people hate change and can’t foresee how things will play out other than the initial inconvenience.
Hope that the London Cycling project gets better in the long run though.