[This blog posting is extracted from a project backer email sent on April 18, 2021, and is being published here as an example of the kind of content you can expect if you back this project. Via new support from Sustrans and the Department for Transport we aim to bring back to life 100s of miles of 1930s-era cycleways.]
Three parallel cycleways run through or beyond the Lancashire town of Formby. There’s NCN 810, a wiggly on-road route through the centre of town. And there’s NCN 62, an off-road route on the former trackbed of the Cheshire Lines railway to the east of Formby. Smack bang through the middle of these two is the cycleway on the Formby bypass. This is not part of the National Cycle Network, so it is not on the NCN layer of the Ordnance Survey map of the area.
Today’s Formby bypass has cycleways on both sides of the road only on some short sections. However, when the four-mile dual carriageway was opened in 1938, the bypass had wide, well-surfaced, and fully adjacent cycleways. The missing sections are now probably buried under grass.
The A565 Formby bypass is one of the 1930-era cycleways on our long-list for possible renovation. One of the upgrades needed would be to dig up and rededicate the missing sections.
Back in the 1930s, the bypass had 6-ft-wide footways adjacent to 9-ft-wide cycleways. A period document reveals that the footway had a pink asphalt surface, and the cycleways — known at the time as cycle tracks — had a non-skid green asphalt surface. The road surface was concrete, laid in 46-feet-long bays. Today, the cycleway — like the road — has a black asphalt surface; the footpaths remain buried.
Many of the 1930s cycle tracks I’ve been researching were surfaced with rippled concrete, so it’s interesting to discover the period surface smoothness of the Formby tracks; to learn that they were green adds to the surprise.
There doesn’t seem to have been any prescribed colour for cycle tracks in the 1930s and 1940s — for instance, the concrete cycle tracks on Lostock Road in Manchester were red, but many others were uncoloured.
The Formby bypass was considered such a technological innovation at the time that Lancashire County Council produced a 16-page commemorative brochure for the opening of the road, packing it with the kind of detail I’d usually kill for.
The bypass was opened with great civic pride at midday on Saturday, December 17th, 1938, and a map included in the brochure even pinpointed the exact location of the dais from which the Earl of Derby, Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, gave a ribbon-cutting speech to a “large assembly.”
“On the covered stand erected for the occasion,” stated a December 17th report in Formby Times, “was grouped a representative company of county and local notabilities.”
Alderman P. Macdonald, the vice-chairman of the county council’s highways committee, said the bypass was “laid out on the most modern lines and constructed according to the requirements of the Ministry of Transport.”
It was the MoT that stipulated that the road should be equipped with cycle tracks. It had been initially planned in 1928 as a narrower road without cycle tracks. For the ten years from 1934 to 1944, the MoT tended to only give road-building grants to those local authorities which incorporated cycle tracks into their arterial widenings and new-builds.
“Whilst it cannot be claimed that this road is an industrial road, it does carry a very considerable weight of through commercial traffic between the great city of Liverpool and the beautiful town of Southport,” continued Macdonald.
That commercial traffic included cyclists, of course, of which there were an increasing number in the ten years before the building of the bypass. A traffic census conducted on the old road — the findings of which were included in the brochure — counted 530 cyclists in 1928, and 2,291 in 1938, a four-fold increase. In the same period, motor car use merely doubled. There were just under a thousand more motor cars than bicycles on the road before the bypass was built. And cyclists were far more numerous than the combined number of trucks, buses, motorcyclists and horse-drawn vehicles.
Given the explosive growth in the use of bicycles — the growth was national — you would think more would have been done to cater to cyclists during the 1930s. Instead, most national and local resources were splashed on motorists. As I wrote in Bike Boom, “Two million rich motorists were deemed to be worthier than twelve million proletarian cyclists.”
Today, because by design motoring was encouraged to grow, it’s a surprise that the pre-war MoT did anything at all for cyclists.
Very fine road
The bypass, said Macdonald, reported in Formby Times, was “divided, as you see, by two carriageways with a central reservation and a cycle track on either side, along with a good footpath.”
The newspaper said he hoped that “by this segregation of traffic that accidents will be reduced, that the flow of traffic will be facilitated, and the comfort of users will be added to.”
The highways committee vice-chairman thanked those “who had contributed to the making of that very fine road,” stated the Formby Times. He praised the county surveyor Mr. Schofield, his chief assistant, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Haywood, resident engineer, and building supervisor Mr. Gore working for W. Turner (Ardwick), Ltd., of Manchester.
“He then asked Lord Derby,” reported the paper, “to step down into the roadway and formally declare the road open as the King’s Highway for all time.”
According to the commemorative brochure, the four-mile-long road was 120 feet wide “between fences” with dual carriageways 22 feet wide. There was also a central reservation of 22 feet (which, it appears from Google StreetView, has been much nibbled away over time) and “cycle tracks nine feet wide and footpaths six feet wide, with grass margins.”
The bypass cost £195,483, “towards which the Ministry of Transport indicated a grant of 60% on 17th April, 1936,” stated the brochure.
“Work was commenced on April 9th, 1937 [and] the bulk of the general contract work was completed by September 1938,” said the brochure, adding that 75 men had been employed on the scheme.
“The carriageways have been constructed of concrete, 12 inches thick (which forms the running surface), laid on a consolidated bed of clinker ballast 9 inches thick,” stated the brochure.
To delight today’s kerb-nerds, the brochure continued: “Splayed kerbs are provided on each side of the central reserve as a safety measure. The near side kerbs joining the cycle tracks are 10 inches by four inches and are laid directly on the extremity of the concrete carriageway slabs.”
The cycle tracks were constructed with “6 inches consolidated foundation of clinker ballast covered with a binder course of tarmacadam [one and a half] inches thick over which is laid a [three-eighths-inch] layer of sand carpeting, squeegeed with bituminous compound and covered with [three-sixteenths of an inch] gauge green chippings evenly distributed and lightly rolled to produce a matt, non-skid surface finish.”
Furthermore, the “near-side concrete kerb of the cycle tracks is set sufficiently low to prevent cycle pedals from coming into contact with it. And the offside timber kerb is fixed flush with the surfaces of the cycle track and adjacent grass margin so that it can be overrun in the case of an emergency.”
Timber kerbs? That’s new information to me. Perhaps other period cycleways had similar demarcation? If so, any non-replacement of rotted wooden kerbs would clearly hasten track decay.
“The footpaths are constructed in a similar manner to the cycle tracks,” continued the brochure, “except that the foundation of clinker ballast is three inches thick and the squeegeed surface of the sand carpeting is covered with half inch gauge pink chippings.”
The surfacing of the carriageways, cycle tracks, and footways was carried out by Cawood, Wharton & Co., Ltd., of Leeds, stated the brochure. The surfacing materials for the cycle tracks and footways were supplied by the Penmaenmawr and Trinidad Lake Asphalt Co. Ltd. of Caernarfon, Wales.
As can be seen on the Google Map for this project, the Formby bypass is one of several 1930s-era new-builds nearby with adjacent cycle tracks. To the north, there was the Coastal Road to Southport, and to the south east, there were cycle tracks on Dunnings Bridge Road in Litherland, and on the A59 at Aintree, Maghull and Aughton. Perhaps more remain to be discovered?
Should the Formby bypass make it on to our shortlist, and then on to recommendation for an upgrade, any renovations would create a helpful route linking to housing on the east side of Formby; housing that didn’t exist in 1938.
If you liked what you read on this sample email please consider backing this project. Details below:
Between 1934 and 1942, Britain’s Ministry of Transport paid local authorities to install cycle tracks. As seen and heard on the BBC, more than 100 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 next to the new bypasses of the era; some more were built on trunk roads through residential areas. A successful Kickstarter campaign in May 2017 enabled us to start researching some of these cycleways, and now in 2021, thanks to support from the Department for Transport and Sustrans, we’re in the process of rescuing some of them.
SUPPORT THIS PROJECT
Even though the Kickstarter campaign is no longer live you’re still able in 2021 to get the same emails and reports and other benefits as the original backers. This extension was created after people got in touch after the campaign ended asking how to get involved.
Check out the levels below, and then email me with your preferred level. Thanks.
Pizza Level — £8
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.
Report Level — £21
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 — £28
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.
Belisha Level — £30
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 — £105
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.
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
We are author and editor Carlton Reid (the project’s historian) and Urban Movement’s John Dales (the project’s urban planner, and with a team behind him).
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 this map.
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 founder and former executive editor of BikeBiz.com and now writes for Forbes.com and The Guardian. He is also the 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.