Some time soon the government will announce the results of its cycle safety review. One part of it was unveiled at the weekend – a death by dangerous cycling law may be introduced, even though the risk to pedestrians from cyclists is extremely low, as I discussed on Sky News on Sunday. This law was called for by Matt Briggs, widower of Kim Briggs who was killed by a cyclist when she stepped across a busy road in London in 2016. (I spoke at length with Matt on Sunday for the Spokesmen podcast.) The cyclist, riding a fixie without brakes, was Charlie Alliston, and he was jailed for 18 months. (His name is now well-known – motorists who kill pedestrians, of which there are more than 400 per year, remain incognito.)
The “death by dangerous cycling” law generated a great deal of heat and light in the mainstream media, with journalists assuming the law will be brought in soon. However, might it suffer the same fate as a similar proposal made in 1938? Just as today’s transport minister Jesse Norman appointed “independent” legal experts to review the case for a “death by dangerous cycling” law, the 1930s Ministry of Transport tasked outside experts to evaluate similar ideas.
These ideas also generated heat and light at the time, but were not enacted, mainly because preparations for the Second World War took precedence. While Norman has put the “Briggs Law” out for public consultation it may not ever reach the statute books, mostly because of oxygen-stealing Brexit. The law may also be stalled in order to wait for a general road safety review, first promised in 2014.
What follows is speculation, but examining previous efforts can be illuminating. Let’s take a look at the 1930s cycling-specific road safety review. It was started in 1936, just two years after the building of the first Dutch-style protected cycleway, then known as a “cycle track”. The Ministry of Transport published the review’s report two years later. The Report on Accidents to Cyclists has eery parallels to the current cycle safety review – for a start, it suggested the creation of a “careless cycling” law. It also called for the fitting of at least one brake on fixed-wheel cycles.
However, the main recommendation of the Transport Advisory Council’s safety review was that Britain’s cyclists should be provided with continuous, wide, well-surfaced cycle tracks. And use of these tracks, where provided, should be made compulsory. (Up to 500 miles of such Dutch-style cycle tracks were built in the UK between 1934 and 1943 – see below for more details of these, many of which still exist but are hidden-in-plain-sight.)
The Transport Advisory Council was an expert body, founded in 1934, and charged with exploring how to reduce road deaths. The “accidents to cyclists” sub-committee was made up of thirteen members, including five Sirs, three Justices of the Peace, but only one cyclist. This cyclist – Frank Urry of the Cyclists’ Touring Club – lodged a dissenting voice over the provision of cycle tracks.
In the report, he wrote: “I cannot subscribe to the recommendation of extending the building of cycle tracks, or the compulsory use of them by cyclists if and when laid down. The danger of right-hand crossings discounts any presupposed safety obtained by partial traffic segregation; and it has been admitted that where cycle tracks are in being, motoring speeds on the carriageway will increase, to the consequent danger of the cyclists when the cycle track ceases, as it must do on over 95 percent of our highways. Cycle tracks are a palliative at best, and in my opinion a dangerous one.”
Nevertheless, the report was accepted by the then Minister of Transport, Leslie Burgin. “The Transport Advisory Council … have now reported and made a number of recommendations,” Burgin told parliament in June 1938.
“Perhaps the most important of these are the building of cycle tracks of a particular type, and, where such tracks are built and are satisfactory, the making of the use of them compulsory.”
Despite the huge effort in compiling the report by the Transport Advisory Council its main recommendations were put on hold until the publication of a report on general road safety carried out by a House of Lords committee led by Lord Alness. The March 1939 Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Prevention of Road Accidents, generally known as the Alness Report, was heavily biased towards motorists.
“There is much thoughtless conduct amongst cyclists which is responsible for many accidents,” sniffed the report, making 231 recommendations, including that children of ten and under should be banned from public cycling (“children under seven cause 23.9 per cent of the accidents to pedestrians,” claimed the report) and that segregation on the roads should be carried out with utmost urgency.
Cyclists, said the report, should get high-quality wide cycle tracks and that, once built, cyclists should be forced to use them. Pedestrians were also to be corralled and fined for daring to cross the road at points other than designated crossing points. Motorists, decided the pro-motoring Lords, should be treated with a light touch by the law and should be provided with motorways and many more trunk roads. “Courtesy cops”, they suggested, would make sure motorists acted like gentlemen rather than cads.
Then war intervened. The Alness Report – derided by one Labour MP as a “tale of deaths and manglings … and extraordinary conclusions” – was moth-balled. After the war a House of Commons select committee dusted it down and many of the report’s recommendations were taken forward, especially the pro-motoring bits, but, for a while at least, there would be no new “motoring roads” and certainly no provision for cyclists. Post-war austerity killed off putative plans for a national network of cycle tracks.
When, and if, the current government finally releases its road safety review – remember, it was first promised in 2014 – it’s entirely possible that it will contain little to promote cycling, and will almost certainly not truly constrain dangerous motoring. Plus ça change.
If I am wrong, and the “death by dangerous cycling” law is enacted, and sooner than I have predicted here, that would say a lot about the government’s true priorities when it comes to road safety.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 1930s-ERA CYCLE TRACKS? READ ON …
Between 1934 and 1940 Britain’s Ministry of Transport paid local authorities to install cycle tracks. As seen and heard on the BBC, ninety or so schemes were built, resulting in perhaps as many as 500 miles of cycle tracks, some of them protected with curbs. The great majority were built – 9-ft wide and both sides of the roads – next to the new bypasses of the era; a few were built on “trunk roads” through residential areas, such as in Sunderland, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford. A successful Kickstarter campaign in May 2017 has enabled us to start researching some of these cycleways (later we’ll be aiming to rescue many of them). And even though the Kickstarter campaign has now ended it’s now possible to get the same emails and reports as backers. This extension to the campaign was created after people got in touch after the campaign ended asking how to get involved.
If you’d like to be involved please fill in the form below (it’s a form hosted on Wufoo, a secure database service). Once you press “submit” you will be taken, via Wufoo, to a secure, Stripe-powered payment page where you can choose which pledge level you’d like. Information on the pledge levels can be seen below.
(NOTE: Some people have had problems connecting Stripe after “Submit” – it’s possibly a browser issue. Nevertheless you will still get a auto-generated welcoming email – if you do not see the secure Stripe details an alternative is that we could generate a PayPal invoice that has the correct payment details, and which doesn’t require PayPal membership. Hit “reply” on the auto email and ask for this option, which we have to do manually.)
Every penny of support will help us research the history of Britain’s long-lost cycleways and advocate for at least some of them to be revived. No products provided at this level, except basic email updates (no reports), but you’ll be buying us a coffee, and you’ll get a name-check in the final report.
Every penny of support will help us research the history of Britain’s long-lost cycleways and advocate for at least some of them to be revived. No products provided at this level, except basic email updates (i.e. none of the exclusive reports other backers get), but your pizza level contribution will sustain us in our work, and you’ll get a name-check in the final report.
At the Report level you’ll get a name-check in the final report, and you’ll get that report, too. It will be sent as a PDF. You will also get digital updates of the work in progress – these updates will include photos, maps and other materials that will go only to backers of the Report level and above.
Deluxe Report Level
At the Deluxe Report Level you’ll get a name-check in the final report, and you’ll get that report, too. It will be sent as a PDF. You will also get digital updates of the work in progress – these updates will include photos, maps and other materials that will go only to backers of the Report level and above. In addition, you will receive links to videos available only to backers of this level and above. You will also be able to choose the formats of the reports, including Kindle, ePub, and multi-media iPad bundles. You will also get an invite to a London launch event.
At the Belisha Level you’ll get a name-check in the final report, and you’ll get that report, too. It will be sent as a PDF. You will also get digital updates of the work in progress – these updates will include photos, maps and other materials that will go only to backers of the Report level and above. In addition, you will receive links to videos available only to backers of this level and above. You will also be able to choose the formats of the reports, including Kindle, ePub, and multi-media iPad bundles. You will also get a personal invite to a 1930s cycleway ride with the project creators as well as a London launch event.
Go Dutch Level
At the Go Dutch Level you’ll get a name-check in the final report, and you’ll get that report, too. It will be sent as a PDF. You will also get digital updates of the work in progress – these updates will include photos, maps and other materials that will go only to backers of the Report level and above. In addition, you will receive links to videos available only to backers of this level and above. You will also be able to choose the formats of the reports, including Kindle, ePub, and multi-media iPad bundles. And you’ll also get to choose between a limited-edition project t-shirt or project mousemat AND you’ll get a high-resolution print of a plan or period photograph of any one stretch of cycleway. This can be signed by the project team and dedicated to you with a message of thanks. You will also get a personal invite to a 1930s cycleway ride with the project creators as well as a London launch event.
Note: all levels above Pizza Level also gain access to the premium level of a new podcast, CyclingHistory.Today. The site has been registered and a website will be connected to that URL soon. The podcast will feature cycling history from 1817 onwards.
DIGGING UP BRITAIN’S FORGOTTEN CYCLEWAYS
Many cycle advocates urge that the Department for Transport should create dense grids of protected cycling infrastructure – in other words, Britain should “Go Dutch”. It’s almost totally unknown that Britain once had the beginnings of such a Netherlands-inspired network, and with your help we could rediscover it and, in some cases, literally dig it up. This project could result in the (re)creation of many miles of protected cycleways – and as a backer you’ll be along for the ride.
In the 1930s, Britain’s Ministry of Transport commissioned the building of 500-miles of protected cycleways. Between 1934 and 1940 more than 300 miles of these innovative cycleways were actually built, usually both sides of the new “arterial roads” springing up all over the country.
(The video above says it was 280 miles – but, thanks to the publicity generated by this project, more mileage has come to light.)
Some of these cycleways still exist, but they are not today understood to be cycle infrastructure: they should be rededicated. Others are buried under a couple of inches of soil: they could be excavated.
We are seeking your support to make all of this happen. Cash is needed to carry out further research and then work out how the historic cycleways can be meshed into modern networks.
With your help we’ll be able to demonstrate that the space for cycling is there, and in many cases it has been there for a long time!
Those who back this project will be supporting something of potentially national importance, and will gain behind-the-scenes access to our work as it progresses. You will receive timely backer-only reports that won’t be published anywhere else. Whether you’re interested in the historical side of the project, or the modern, practical side backers will receive regular updates and will be the first to be told of what could be important and, in some cases, genuinely ground-breaking developments.
Take a look at the backer options above. You could buy us a cup of coffee to keep our spirits up or go the whole hog and get us to give you an up close and personal presentation to your club, company or organisation. We’ll also be taking some backers on a guided cycle tour of one or more of these innovative-for-the-time cycleways.
“… if Britain managed to find money to produce state of the art bike lanes during the Great Depression, it can definitely do so again.” Feargus O’Sullivan, CityLab
Between 1937 and 1940 the Ministry of Transport only gave grants to local authorities for arterial road schemes if they included 9-ft-wide cycleways both sides of the road, writes Carlton Reid. Some of these cycleways still exist (but are believed, wrongly, to be “service roads”); others have been grassed over (but their concrete surfaces probably remain). Many are not marked on maps as cycleways (or considered to be such by local authorities.)
That Britain once had a great number of protected cycleways is now almost totally unknown. I started researching these Dutch-inspired cycleways for my forthcoming book Bike Boom (Island Press, June 2017) and when I started to dig deeper (sometimes literally) I came to realise there were far more of these 1930s cycleways than I, or anybody else, knew existed. By poring through ministerial minutes I discovered that, amazingly, the Ministry of Transport was working to plans submitted by its Dutch equivalent: Go Dutch, 1930s-style.
To date, I have identified more than 90 separate protected cycleway schemes around Britain, some of which can be found on the map below.
I believe there are more cycleways to be found.
These innovative, concrete cycleways – many with granite kerbing – went out of use so rapidly that they were forgotten about soon after being built. A few were later grubbed up to make extra room for cars, but plenty can still be seen today – if you know what to look for.
By using long-neglected plans and maps I’ve been able to trace many of the buried ones; some appear to be tantalisingly close to the surface.
It’s important to map, record and then rescue these cycleways. Many have lasted this long only out of sheer luck, and need to be “listed” so that they can’t be destroyed in the future to, say, widen roads for motor traffic.
This is partly a historical – and even an archeological – project but, as John Dales says in the video above, it’s also highly relevant today because the space for cycling that many planners and politicians say isn’t there is there!
We are combining to form a small team that will research and evaluate the schemes found to date, and then approach local and national authorities with plans for meshing the 1930s cycleways with their modern equivalents. The success of the Kickstarter campaign enabled us to start work on researching and evaluating some of the schemes identified so far. The more money we raise the more cycleways we will be able to research. We shall use this research – and the modern urban planning work – to push for grants and other monies to enable rescue work to take place.
In 1934, the Ministry of Transport consulted with its Dutch equivalent before starting work on its cycleway programme. The MoT’s chief engineer was provided with cycleway plans and advice by the director of the Rijkswaterstaat.
Most of the 1930s cycleways were built alongside new arterial roads and bypasses. However, some were built in residential areas, such as the separated cycleway in Manchester seen at the top of this page. This cycleway still exists but, today, not all of it is marked or used as a cycleway – motorists park their cars on it, assuming it’s a private road built for such use. The challenge is to find and research the history of this cycleway, and the 80 or so others, then link them into today’s networks.
It’s reasonably well known – in certain cycle advocacy circles at least – that there was a 2-mile protected cycleway on Western Avenue in London, opened by transport minister Leslie Hore-Belisha in 1934 (I wrote about it in Roads Were Not Built for Cars). What’s very much not known is that this was just the first scheme, and that the Ministry of Transport majority paid-for at least 70 other schemes across the country, many of them kerb-protected and separated from carriageways.
After 1949, cycle use in the UK dropped dramatically and less use was made of the innovative-for-the-time cycleways.
In time, it was forgotten that there had once been these many cycle infrastructure schemes around the UK. This project aims to bring many of them back to life both by rededication and by demonstrating how they can be linked in to wider networks. A great deal of further archival research is required, especially in city, county and national archives. Period newspaper reports describe when the cycleways were given the go-ahead and when they were opened, but it will require more digging to find grant-aid documents, further maps and plans, and period photographs of the cycle tracks in use.
Most of the 1930s cycleways (at the time they were called “cycle tracks”) were, on average, four miles long, but the 9-ft and 6-ft cycle tracks on both sides of the Southend Arterial Road (which are not marked on modern maps) extended for more than 18 miles.
If we could bring back to life even half of the built cycleways that’s perhaps 140+ miles of cycleway that we don’t currently know about, or treasure.
This is an ambitious and potentially very practical project, but it cannot happen without your help.
Carlton Reid & John Dales
CARLTON REID is the Newcastle-based executive editor of BikeBiz.com, and author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars and Bike Boom (both of these books were successfully funded on Kickstarter, and later picked up by Island Press of Washington, DC.)
JOHN DALES is a transport planner and traffic engineer, and director of Urban Movement of London (“our job is making better streets”). He is the ex-chair of the Transport Planning Society, and a columnist for TransportXtra.
WHAT DO OTHERS THINK?
CHRIS BOARDMAN: “This is a marvelous proposal. It could recover some of our lost past and give normal people the opportunity to change the way they travel, in safety.
“As a bonus, in these austere times, it would have a meaningful impact for a very modest price.”
THE RANTY HIGHWAYMAN: “This exciting delve into history seeks to rediscover the space which was found for cycling eighty years ago, and it just goes to prove that most innovations in highway engineering have already been built.
“My predecessors made their foray into enabling cycling by looking across the North Sea for inspiration and so this project is sure to provide modern highway engineers with some valuable lessons and inspiration for rediscovering cycle track design in the UK.”
MARK TREASURE, CHAIR OF CYCLING EMBASSY OF GREAT BRITAIN: “It’s fantastic (and also more than a little depressing) that, eighty years ago, this country was capable of building cycling infrastructure alongside main roads of precisely the kind we need today – cycling infrastructure that has now fallen into disrepair.
“It would be wonderful to see this legacy updated, restored and protected, not only because these cycleways would be useful in their own right, but also because they would serve as an inspiration for developing a comprehensive cycle network, using the space we already have.”
ROGER GEFFEN, CYCLING UK’s POLICY DIRECTOR: “What an inspired idea, to unearth and revive the lost history of Britain’s abortive ‘cycling revolution’! The Dutch have since taught us so much about importance of high-quality design and surfacing, and priority at junctions, for ensuring that protected cycle facilities really do ‘facilitate’ cycling. It’s now high time we acted on these lessons. High-quality reinstatements of our lost cycle tracks would be an excellent starting point.”
PHILLIP DARNTON OF THE BICYCLE ASSOCIATION & FORMER CHAIR OF CYCLING ENGLAND: “A fascinating piece of research, which just shows how little progress we’ve made in building proper cycling infrastructure in the last 80 years.”
Engineering and Technology
BBC Radio 4 You & Yours (12m35s)
Mother Nature Network
Fast Co. Design
Why did the Dutch get cycleways but the Brits and Americans didn’t? And why didn’t British cyclists use the 1930s cycle tracks? I discuss the reasons at length in Bike Boom (Island Press, June 2017). Order on Amazon.