In a chicken-and-egg letter to a cycle advocate, roads minister Robert Goodwill has dismissed calls for segregated cycle infrastructure until there are more cyclists.
Goodwill said that Stuart Helmer's suggestion of looking to the examples of dense cycle networks in Denmark and the Netherlands wouldn't work in the UK at the current time. "We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK … in urban environments space is often at a premium," wrote Goodwill.
The minister for roads (and for cycling) added: "Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic … might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority."
This point of view was brought into sharp focus earlier this week in the BikeBiz story of cycle priority markings being burnt off a minor road outside a primary school and placed instead on a newly-built £300,000 cycle path in Yarm near Stockton on Tees. Andrew Sherris, the Tory councillor who lobbied for returning priority to motorists expressed his pleasure at having being instrumental at removing priority for child cyclists and pedestrians close to the school where he's a governor:
"I'm very pleased that having met with council officers the priority has been changed back to a more standard design that we experience elsewhere."
Similarly, the Tory minister for cycling doesn't wish for motorists to be inconvenienced by cyclists, especially as there are parts of the country where there are very few cyclists (often because of dire cycle provision). Goodwill said: "In the UK we tend not to encourage cycle priority ... because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way."
It's true that some motorists may ignore give way signs when they fail to see cyclists on a new-build cycle path but the same could be same about traffic lights at night, when there might be very little traffic in the opposite direction but that doesn't mean the road user can ignore road laws.
Goodwill's chicken-and-egg letter (which is a DfT boilerplate letter penned by a civil servant and used since at least 2012) added: "If we begin to see the increases in cycling that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our … position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.”
However, Adrian Lord of Steer Davies Gleave, British Cycling's infrastructure consultant, told BikeBiz that whether to segregate or not wasn't down to road widths:
"Segregation should be decided on what is technically the correct solution bearing in mind the needs and relative speeds/movements of all users. That is already written in LTN 2-08 and even more clear in Wales Active Travel, LCDS etc. Where space is constricted the issue is usually that it is being used for car parking or to provide junction capacity for vehicle movement, not that the space doesn’t exist."
"We already have design tools that point us towards segregation (CROW diagram, tables in LTN 2-08 etc) but they are ignored when it comes to taking space on existing streets as this requires political leadership to take unpopular short term decisions."
Lord claims such decisions will be "popular in long run."
Sam Jones, campaigns co-ordinator at CTC, said:
“If we want cycling conditions where 8 to 80 years olds can cycle comfortably and safely, we either need to lower traffic volume and speeds or create separation between motors and cycles.
“Should separation not be possible, then traffic volumes and speeds must be reduced.”