6 March 2012

Political Will v Engineering Standards

It has been a crazy exciting time in the world of cycle campaigning, with the thundering weight of the Times thrown behind the Cities Fit For Cycling Campaign. Suddenly, for the first time in ages (ever?), an infrastructural approach to cycling is making waves both in the press and in the political world. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how far support for this campaign has spread amongst MPs, with a significant attendance at the special debate in Westminster Hall and, more importantly, a relatively sensible discussion (?)

This is the beginning of a long journey, and a necessary starting point. However, I agree with a recent posting from Joe Dunkley at War on the Motorist, who reminds us that it is only one side of the coin. As I have previously written, we must also win over and persuade the engineers that all things are possible. Their dogma is not political, or fashioned and filtered through the press and the lens of public opinion. It is based instead on the intractable guidance and technical design notes that form the basis of the highway schemes that we must change for the better.

I suspect that this is the harder battle to win. Politicians may bend to a vigorous and well supported campaign and their response could be policies and hopefully cash on the table. However, it is the engineers that will turn this cash into reality, and they will base their designs not on policy or public support, but on the guidance that exists. We must therefore ensure that the guidance is capable of producing what we want on the ground, and the wheels turn slowly in the world of engineering publications. For instance, The Manual for Streets is new(ish) guidance on how to design roads particularly in new housing estates and yet still designers and architects have a battle on their hands persuading local authorities that it is reasonable and effective. What is more, this particular manual is considered to be innovative and cutting edge (not concepts highway engineers are typically associated with), but does not come close to being able to deliver the kind of separated cycling infrastructure seen in the Netherlands, and demanded by groups such as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Even it refers to the Hierarchy of Provision we are so familiar with, and so rude about. Even it is influenced by vehicular cycling publications and ancient research now long superseded.

Joe Dunkley has chosen the LTN 2/08 as the particular target for his ire in his post and rightly so. We must continue to question these perceived articles of faith and provide the intellectual debate and research to counter them. We must create the body of knowledge that can be referenced and referred to. We need to create a bibliography that is ready and waiting for when the political will turns and the cash arrives. We need to become the recognised experts in the field, who are turned to when the moment comes.

This leads me to comment on a sad event of the week, which stands in contrast to the progress elsewhere. The decision of David Hembrow to close his fabulous and influencial blog A View from the Cycle Path is a sad loss. We must be inspired by David's Herculean efforts but also his accurate and clear style. We might also usefully buy something groovy from his shop and go on one of his tours to see this stuff for ourselves IN PERSON, which was after all his constant refrain.

(In a brilliant twist of organisational nonsense, David has resurrected his blog whilst I was dragging my feet attempting to post this. So, I am both current and out of date all at the same time).

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