Random Thoughts 1

26 Dec

This post is intended as a collection of my thoughts on cycling and campaigning in the past month (my mind wanders quite a bit when I ride). In no particular order and with no particular theme:

  • Road schemes seem to fall into two rough categories: ‘relieving congestion’ whereby motor traffic capacity of an area is increased, or ‘encouraging sustainable travel’ where an attempt is made to encourage cycling or walking provided that motor traffic capacity and pedestrian space  remain the same or are increased. Both however have the same fundamental flaw in that the belief is that maintaining the status quo can be achieved at the same time as meaningful behavioural change; councils want more people to cycle but at the same time the same amount of people need to be able to drive through the area. A whole idea of ‘you can have your cake and eat it’ and “why on earth would building more runways mean more air travel. They’re quite happy with grassy strips.”. This fundamental issue with not looking at the bigger picture consistently puts campaigners in the difficult position of being consulted on schemes where only minor pieces can be changed and the choice is often down to “Would you like to have the path end at a 90* angle or 45*?”. This allows councils to tick the ‘consulted cyclists’ box while campaigners have been forced into the choice of which rotten fruit to choose from (“Well both the apple and pear are rotten but at least the apple smells slightly better.”). While there is a bull in the china shop, councils would like to know what colour to paint the walls.

 

  • Arguing against cycling and walking infrastructure on the basis that it makes it more inconvenient to get around by car is tantamount to telling your children and the future generations that their future is not worth your personal indulgence. How many parents are willing to move home just to ensure that their children land in a school that is a few more steps up the league tables, yet balk at measures that would improve their children’s lives and futures above and beyond which school they land in.
  • The usual requirement for putting in speed cameras is at least two deaths, which avoids them being placed anywhere else than accident black-spots (mobile speed cameras are moved at the discretion of the police force). If they were set up in a location to create a profit, then it would clearly need to have a significant number of people driving at above the speed limit to justify running costs. Therefore indicating a need for enforcement. Speeding is a crime, it’s ubiquity and current social acceptance does not change that. Plain and simple it is gambling with others lives.The easiest way to opt out of any ‘money collecting schemes’ is to drive at or below the speed limit, park only where it is legal and keep any electronic devices safely stowed away.

Life and Cycling

7 Dec

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Hi all

I am aware that it has been a while since my last post. When I first started up this blog in late 2012 I was college student with almost 4 days a week of spare time on my hands and very little to channel it into, since then I have become much more busy. Beginning with the founding of the Solihull Bicycle Campaign and the start of my university course in 2013, the launching of the SBiC monthly newsletter and my registration as a CTC Right to Ride rep earlier this year (resulting in me joining the Solihull Cycling Steering group earlier this month). All this together with a rapidly increasing university workload and various campaign and consultation meetings, has very quickly made me a busy person. Which brings me back to the blog, due to the time required to research and write posts for this blog it will regrettably be shifting to an as-and-when basis. I may down-shift to random small posts on a periodic basis but I still intend to complete the route review series.

All of this work seems to arrive and disappear in cycles, there will be times where I have to schedule my waking hours down to the half an hour just to get half of the things done that I need to, waking up at 5 am and getting my first down-time at 8 at night, 6 days a week. The are other weeks, especially during the summer, where it seems like I have all the time in the world to channel into the important things in my life. Thinking about these lows and highs, made me consider the other areas in which I experience similar changes.

As a cycle campaigner there are plenty: there are always those times when the council makes the right noises, support appears to be gathering or funding is announced and then you hit the brick wall. Comprising of government regulations, hamstrung funding, cycle behaviour filibusters and general lack of vision, consideration and forethought. Like when the government announces a ‘cycling revolution’ on the backs of a couple of million and then proposes billions of pounds for motoring in almost the same breath. Or when a visionary cycle scheme turns out to be nothing more than narrow shared-use pavements. Meaningful infrastructure is proposed, which is then either hamstrung or binned due to a few very vocal (or very rich) people. This is usually mirrored by cycles within cycling (excuse the pun). You get days where the sun shines, all drivers give you more than enough room, and cycling in the UK doesn’t seem like a bad thing it all, and then autumn hits and the grey drudgery and frustration of life in transportation limbo returns Faced by these constant cycles of depression it is no surprise that campaigners in the UK very quickly lose motivation and are ready to celebrate every advance no matter how small.

However it is also important not to forget what it is that we’re campaigning for. My drive is to make the world a better, happier and more sustainable place not just for me, but for my family and everyone else around me. And I will keep on working towards that ideal no matter what. So even if things look bleak remind yourself of your reasons,  ever lose hope that things can be better and don’t stop fighting just because someone tells you it’s impossible. Remember:
The night is darkest

So never give up!

North Solihull Route Reviews- Part 1

11 Sep

As the majority of the routes in the North of Solihull are part of the North Solihull Strategic Network, I thought it best to proceed with a comprehensive review of all routes in the north so as to provide a joined-up picture of cycling provision. To assess the routes effectively I looked at three central criteria:

  • Safety– Does it improve safety for all users? Does it have a good degree of social safety? Does it feel safe?
  • Continuity– Is the route part of a wider network? Does it provide a meaningful connection? Is priority preserved where possible to allow conservation of momentum? Is the infrastructure and level of protection consistent and intuitive?
  • Attractiveness– Will all ages and abilities of bicycle user use the facility? Does it provide a viable alternative to the car for most? Is the surfacing and design comfortable and usable? 

Safety- The majority of this route is completely off road and therefore offers complete separation from motor traffic. The shared use section at the beginning is wide enough to support both bicycle users and pedestrians, however the narrower sections of lightly separated path later on have the potential to cause bicycle-pedestrian conflict and reduce the safety of the pedestrians. While the route does travel through relatively quiet areas, the sight lines and path lighting is relatively good affording some measure of social safety (the exception being the bridge over the path near the end). With the exception of the one on-road section of the route, the route itself feels very safe.
Continuity- The route links Sheldon country park, and a back road route to Solihull center, to Chelmsley Wood center via well populated residential areas (including a new development). Providing a connection to the wider network of shared-use paths around the Chelmsley Wood center and therefore functioning effectively as part of a wider network. However the actual access to the center is very roundabout and lengthy. Besides the need to give way to slower pedestrians, momentum and continuity is pretty well preserved and the route is also relatively intuitive to follow.
Attractiveness- Besides the one on-road section mentioned, this route is definitely safe enough for those of all ages and abilities. The above mentioned problems with pedestrians and the rough surfacing in places could however reduce the route’s attractiveness as a faster cycling route. Overall the route is pretty attractive and provides a viable alternative to the car for trips to the parks and shopping centers. 

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Provide a more direct and level crossing of Bell Lane.
  • Resurface the service road leading from Bell Lane.
  • Provide a dedicated crossing point and off-road facilities to connect the route seamlessly at Gloucester Way.
  • Widen and more clearly delineate the lightly segregated paths after Gloucester Way.
  • Provide better sight lines and lighting for the underside of the bridges.
  • Provide a dedicated and direct cycle access path to the cycle racks outside the Asda complex (may need to provide more racks in near future due to increased demand).

Safety- Again the majority is shared-use paths of narrow width; safe for cyclists but not as much for pedestrians (particularly people with sight or hearing problems). Social safety is a mixed bag, the first section has appropriate sight lines and foot traffic with some lighting, however the section that passes through the alleyways and underpasses of the residential area lack these completely and as such have poor social safety. Route feels relatively safe, excepting the social safety of the alleyways.
Continuity- This route links Chelmsley Wood to the parks and the shared-use paths around the Woodlands campus of the Solihull College, linking key sections of the network. Besides the ever present issues around pedestrians the section of the route through the parks offers reasonable continuity and conservation of momentum, however the section through the residential area offers numerous barriers and winding turns while taking a less direct route to its end. The second section also lacks intuitive route follow.
Attractiveness- The off-road nature of the route makes it attractive to all ages and lower abilities, however the low social safety and lack of directness in the latter sections makes it undesirable to most users (particularly faster users) and does not provide a viable alternative to car use. Surfacing is fair, but could do with an upgrade.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Possible improvement of the crossing of Chemsley Road through combined pedestrian and cyclists zebra crossing (if DFT approves designs).
  • Widen and more effectively delineate paint-segregated paths.
  • Clean, resurface and provide more effective lighting for underpass.
  • Provide alternative to latter section, possible rerouting section along the Chester Road via existing shared-use path with a direct off-road route along Birmingham Road to connect to Auckland Drive directly.

This one has been covered before, but in the interests of a comprehensive review I decided to do it again.

Safety- Mostly shared-use paths (see above routes), while the on-road sections involved in connecting to the Chester Road are relatively quiet bicycle users are still forced out onto the carriageway without protection. Social safety however is pretty good as sight lines are decent and route is well traveled. 
Continuity- This route provides access to a branch of the Solihull college as well as several schools, however it does lack effective connection routes to the rest of the cycle network. Continuity is extremely poor with the large number of side-roads and cul-de-sacs that the cycle route is required to give way to. Infrastructure is inconsistent in the latter sections as the distinction between shared-use and pedestrian-only pavement becomes blurred, as well as this the mixture of on and off-carriageway provision does not provide effective end-to-end travel.
Attractiveness-  The need to give way to both pedestrians and every minor road entrance, compromises the attractiveness of this route (except for those of low ability and very sedate pace). Therefore not providing a viable alternative to car trips. Surfacing is for the most part very pleasant and the off-road sections are relatively intuitive.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Provide a direct and off-road connection to shared-use paths on the Chester road at both the south and north ends.
  • Preserve cycle path priority across minor roads and dead-ends. Possibly by creating a raised table and reducing the width of the road mouths by half (one car width) with clear markings indicating priority.

 

More route reviews to come in the near future, watch this space.
B

Mapping Sustainability

2 Jul

mind-map-for-the-future_31tjf199
At the core of the map are the goals or outcomes of an integrated approach to sustainable transport and urban planning, the three core values of health, prosperity and happiness are the by-products of leaving a better world for future and represent some of the core values of society.

Health- The sustainable approach has numerous health benefits: exercise fits more naturally into busy lives through active travel; motor traffic levels fall, reducing air pollution and traffic casualties; and public health funding is freed up for those who really need it.
Prosperity- Active transport methods are already essentially low cost and by bringing public transport fares down to a reasonable level, people with limited budgets can still travel effectively as those with cars do now. By freeing up disposable income and reducing transport poverty quality of life can increase.
Happiness- There are countless ways in which sustainable planning increases happiness including: increased community and childhood freedom, the de-stressing effects of exercise, reduction of wasted commuting time, and more money to spend on the things that matter.

The actual map itself is split, for the most part, into three different strands: Cycling and Walking which come under the heading of Liveable Streets, which encompasses any methods to make streets more friendly and safe for people to roam; and Public Transport which stands on its own outside the envelope. All of these seek to reduce motor traffic through the provision of alternative, and more sustainable, modes of transport. The basic argument is that each of these modes fill separate and necessary roles in transport, attracting different people with different needs and distances to travel.

Cycling
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This strand is based on the premise that unprotected and vulnerable bicycle users should not occupy the same space as large/fast chunks of metal, and that a cycle network needs to be intuitive and safe enough to be used by all (from 8 to 80). To deliver the design criteria of a network of safe, convenient, attractive and continuous cycle routes a range of approaches are needed depending on the specific road by road situation.

  • Protected bike lanes- Those on bicycles value direct and intuitive routes as much, if not more than, those in cars, such as those offered by main roads. Major roads can also offer a significant barrier to cycling, effectively driving near impassable rift in between neighbourhoods. Therefore for a cycling network to function, it is necessary to allocate protected road space to bicycle users.
  • Fully separated bike routes- In other areas where space is not at a premium it can be desirable to provide routes that are completely removed from those used by motor traffic. Such as running parallel to high speed trunk roads, providing connections through rural areas or to provide a more direct route for bicycles, such as through a park or green space.

There are also a number of approaches that have benefits for both bicycle users and pedestrians, and therefore falling squarely between the two strands:

20mph- By reducing traffic speeds general conditions and safety of active travel users is improved. Reducing to 20mph means drivers have reduced stopping distance, are able to achieve a greater awareness of surroundings and in the event of a collision the chances of fatality are greatly reduced. This can greatly increase the liveability of a street and at very low traffic volumes can allow bicycle users to mix with general traffic. While these zones should be seen as a minimum requirement in residential areas, there is scope for 20mph replacing 30mph as the default, requiring higher speed limits to be the exception rather than the rule.

Rat-running restricted- Otherwise known as filtered permeability this is the practice of restricting non-residential motor access while still providing a through route for active travel. This can be achieved through effective use of bollards, planters, kerbs and one-way systems (with bicycle contraflow). If used in conjunction with 20mph limits, the volume and speed of motor traffic can be greatly reduced creating a safe and welcoming streets for pedestrians, bicycle users and residents.

Legal protection- While this approach is very much junior to providing safe and welcoming environments (and should not be seen as an alternative to doing so), creating a system were anti-social and/or dangerous behaviour is dealt with appropriately can be seen as a necessity for a safe and effective transport network. To work effectively the system should be based on the logical presumption of; the greater the danger posed, the heavier the sentence. A car driver has the potential to substantially more harm than a pedestrian or bicycle users simply due to greater potential kinetic energy and therefore should be held to a higher standard of responsibility and receive a heavier sentence when failing to do so.

Open street events- These can be as big as Sky Rides and car-free Sundays or as small as single-street parties, but they all involve temporarily reclaiming an area of the road network for people (rather than cars). By demonstrating that a street can be more than just a thoroughfare for cars, open streets can be an effective tool in encouraging people to look at their streets and lifestyles in a different light. Giving people the safety and security to interact others, try out new ways of getting around and generally have fun.

Traffic law enforcement- An effective sentencing system has no benefit if those as to whom it would apply to, never make it to the courts. Policing should be based on the scale and danger posed by behaviour, and enforcement should reflect this.

Appropriate priority across side roads and junctions- An area that has always failed pedestrians and bicycle users in the past is in safe passage across and through roads and junctions. Often offering a choice between lengthy waits at controlled signals or taking chances with the traffic flow, giving way to everything with four wheels or more. Priority across minor roads when traveling along a major one is critical for effective bicycle travel, due to the need to conserve momentum, but pedestrians can also benefit from measures such as continuous pavements (a raised table at a road mouth that allows the pavement surface to continue across it) which reinforce the underused right to priority over turning traffic. Junctions also require appropriate priority and safe areas for pedestrians and bicycle users. With the majority of bicycle incidents happening at junctions and pedestrians often being forced to sprint across multiple lanes of traffic, it is crucial to design effective junctions for all users.

Walking
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While the majority of the above approaches to design benefit pedestrians through either reduction of traffic speeds, volume or priority, there are also a few that benefit pedestrians in particular.

o   Pavement parking ban- Pavement parking is an issue that is prolific across the UK. By exploiting a loophole in the law which does not prevent parking on the pavement but rather acts to restrict the act of driving onto the pavement, drivers are able to wilfully infringe on the rights of pedestrians to have a secure and protected space (note: shared-use bicycle and pedestrian pavements also violate this right). This is particularly problematic when vehicles obstruct the majority of the pavement and force pedestrians, including wheelchair users, the elderly, children and the blind, into the road.

o   Pedestrian zones- By removing traffic completely and giving space to pedestrians on a permanent basis this approach provides a safe, secure and welcoming area to socialize, relax, shop, eat or play. This is particularly effective in areas of high pedestrian density, such as town centres and shopping streets.

 

Public Transport
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The third major strand covers public transport, this strand is based on the need for an effective method of traveling longer distances in between destinations, which is when active travel reduces in suitability. Public transport systems have the ability to move larger numbers of people more efficiently and sustainably than by motor car and, if ticket systems are reasonably priced, provide another solution for transport poverty.

While public transport as a whole could almost make up another entire mind map, this strand has been condensed into two key topics which can arguably deliver the greatest benefits.

  • Bus priority routes- Bus transport can provide more benefits than other similar transport types such as light rail/ metro as it is inherently flexible. As routes operate without tracks, a breakdown or fault in the route does not cause an insurmountable obstruction, capacity can easily be increased or decreased to take deal effectively with daily or annual fluctuations in demand, and the network itself is relatively cheap to set up. However there are some necessities involved in creating a bus network that is able to compete with other modes of transport. Main bus routes will have to un-coupled from the road transport network and given priority to allow them to operate efficiently and reliably, if bus routes are left to the mercy of rush hour traffic their desirability rapidly declines. Other areas that enhance bus networks are: having same level access to enter and exit, self-contained bus shelters with ticketing function, traffic light priority, and a central ticket system.
  • Fare and ticket standardisation- All too often an otherwise good public transport system suffers from complex ticket systems with a variety of largely expensive, and seemingly arbitrary prices, for different zones or distances. This has the overall effect of excluding a good proportion of potential users, it is therefore crucial that the ticket system is affordable, intuitive, easy to use and comprehensive.

o   Affordable- to be ‘public’ transport a system needs to be able serve a wide user demographic.

o   Intuitive- to be able to walk into an unfamiliar transport network and use it effectively is one of the hallmarks of a good system.

o   Easy to use- an example of this is London’s oyster card system, whereby you set up an account attached to your card and you are then able to pay for all public transport in the city by scanning your card at transport entry points, thereby eliminating the need to carry and source small change to pay for tickets.

o   Comprehensive- central ticket systems that allow you to change transport systems and travel between zones easily and without a change in ticket system, make public transport seamless, accessible and attractive to all.

Beautiful Neighbourhoods
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Standing outside the three key strands is ‘Beautifying’ streets. While not strictly a transport approach,this strand recognises that encouraging people to venture out and engage in a variety of transport forms and activities can be enhanced by enhancing the street environment an image. Typical approaches can include: bringing in more greenery such as trees and flowers, painting and refurbishing public spaces, creating green spaces and parks (a relatively new approach are ‘parklets’; small parks often the size, and replacement for a single parking space), providing areas that people can stop and relax in, and creating community art projects. Approaches like these can enhance social safety, draw together communities and encourage people to venture out in their neighbourhoods, however to be effective it is critical that all plans and projects are driven and by and engage the community.

 

Posted from sunny South Africa.
p.s. the cycling is awful around here.

 

A Solihull Cyclist in Wales

21 Apr

Recently, as part of my university course, I was able to spend some time in south Wales. Unfortunately I had to leave my bike behind; but that didn’t stop me from keeping an eye out for cycling stuff. Here are some of the pictures I took on my travels:

Our first port of call was Cardiff Bay; an area of significant regeneration and home to (among other things) the Welsh assembly building.
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As a whole there was little car traffic around; partly due to the restricted access along much of the bay. Barriers such as this rather neat bus gate:
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no doubt contributed to the decent number of cyclists using the bay-side roads. With a few exceptions, the Cardiff bay cycle trail extends pretty much continuously around the bay:

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One of the exceptions being the ubiquitous UK ‘cyclists dismount’ sign (now with added Welsh) for a wide pedestrian bridge:

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The Barrage lend itself to cycling through filtered permeability and low speed limits:

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Although Cardiff bay area appears to be emphasizing cycling as both a tourist attraction and an enhancement to its sustainability credentials pretty well, I do wonder whether better cycle connections with the rest of Cardiff are in the plans. Overall though I thoroughly enjoyed sightseeing around the area, by boat, land train and foot and I reckon I would have enjoyed a cycle around the bay even more.

After this we moved along the coast to the Gower peninsula and a small seaside town called the Mumbles:IMG_3922

While a very pleasant seaside town overall, the Mumbles (like so many other seaside locals) was blighted by motor traffic even during off-peak periods:

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However effort has clearly been made to encourage walking and cycling along the seafront including; cycle parking:
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and refurbishment of the promenade:

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I saw a good deal of cyclists using this path; roughly divided into half  lycra and vis clad, and half wearing ordinary clothes. Here are some of the cyclists I saw while sitting on the seafront:

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The cycle path seemed like a pretty good way to enjoy the spring sunshine, as long as you don’t mind dodging the odd pedestrian. However I would hesitate before chancing the main roads surrounding the bay.

So if you’re looking for a nice holiday in Wales I would heartily recommend the stunning beauty of the Gower:
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(Iwould, however, think before travelling by bicycle).

 

Pollution: Enough is Enough.

2 Apr

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/02/smog-alert-england-wales-air-pollution-saharan-dust
Today (April 2nd) we were granted a vision of what an apocalyptic future might look like.

A thick pall of toxic smog hangs over the landscape, as enclosed capsules roar along barren streets belching out thick fumes. Those few that venture out into the polluted air are ridiculed, abused and endangered by the drivers of the speeding chunks of metal. 

While I may have taken some creative liberties with this account, it is not too far removed from the truth. A truth that might not be in the too-distant future.

So what caused this sudden pollution of British air? According to various newspaper articles, the cause is dust from the Sahara mixing with airborne pollutants from England and the North of Europe, creating a smog that blankets most of the UK and ranks in at a 10 on the air pollution scale (very high). Which in most cases mandates a health warning to children, asthmatics and the elderly to stay inside and everyone to avoid strenuous exercise. So just the result of some unusual weather, it’ll only crop up once in a while. right? Well actually no, air pollution is nothing new for the UK. The UK has been consistently exceeding the legal limits on air pollution since 2005, consistently refusing to take meaningful action to reduce air pollution.

This isn’t just some airy-fairy environmentalist thing, this is keeping the air safe to breathe for us, our families and everyone else in the country. These polluting particulates have been scientifically proven to be damaging to health and are directly linked to the deaths of over 4,000 people in London alone. So why is a pollution problem that is severe enough to breach legal limits for 9 years and mandate health warnings, not a national scandal?

The answer is that the average British person vehemently opposes and denies anything that requires a change of lifestyle or does not agree with their view of the world. Whether it is climate change, peak oil or pollution, any attempt to coax them  out of their air-conditioned bubbles is met with violent opposition. This is reflected by the policies of those in power: who stubbornly refuse to admit that there is a problem,  sidestep the issue, vastly exaggerate plans and progress, before quietly doing nothing.

It’s time for the UK to collectively wake up and smell the nitrogen oxide; air pollution is not going to magically disappear, get better or stay a problem only for the distant future. It is real, pervasive and its effects are already being felt, the time for empty platitudes and meaningless gestures is past. This is no longer a problem of ‘climate change’ and ‘being green’, it is something that if left unchecked will affect not only us, but the very lives and freedoms of out children.

Now if only there was a pollution free alternative to the motor car…

 

Rethinking Birmingham’s Dual Carriageways

14 Mar

Around the South and South-west of Birmingham particularly, there are a number of dual carriageways that follow a very similar layout. As I haven’t been out with a tape measure, rough estimates where the best I could manage. But here is a rough guide:

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As an urbanist (albeit amateur) this road represents, at a basic level, an inefficient use of space. However there are bigger issues to be found while travelling along these roads. (Dual carriageway section starts at 3:37)

As you can see in the video the left-hand lane is occupied sporadically by parked cars: not enough to close down the lane completely, but enough to make it a real pain to use. Cyclists and drivers moving at 30 mph or less (I also drive along these routes, at the speed limit) will generally find themselves forced into one of 3 options:

  1. Dodge in and out of left lane when gaps in the traffic and parked cars allow, which is both time and energy consuming.
  2. Cycle along the median line, putting up with close passes on your right and the possibility of being doored on your left (cyclists only).
  3. Take the lane and put up with the resulting impatience and aggression from following drivers.

This makes it a pretty much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t issue. Labelling and setting these roads out as dual-carriageways does not in fact provide any benefits. The random nature of the on street parking makes diminishes the predictability of the road and merely creates confusion and conflict. As well as this the dual-carriageway approach does not actually increase traffic flow, as combination of cars acting as pinch points and the eventual downgrading to one lane causes traffic to bunch up at points.

Therefore I two proposals for possible solutions to the space. The first is to narrow the grass verges and left hand lane slightly (converting it to parking bays), while at the same time moving the now dedicated parking lane to the right to make space for a protected bike lane along the inside of the parking bays.

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The second is to remove the left lane entirely and replace it with a  protected bike lane, while at the same time allowing parking on the section of the resident’s driveways that is parallel to the grassy verge.

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Both designs remove a unused traffic lane, make little or no difference to car parking (note: the majority of houses along these routes also include spacious driveways, provide protected space for vulnerable users, reduce pedestrian crossing distances and increase the traffic flow of the roads. One of the most prominent arguments that council planners have against bicycle infrastructure is the lack of space on the roads, which is quite clearly not an issue in these areas. Designing infrastructure onto roads such as these could be seen as a quick and relatively painless win, in getting decent cycle infrastructure in on the ground.

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