Sustrans – making things worse?

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  • Sustrans – making things worse?
  • g5604
    Member

    got stopped by two very friendly sustrans campaigners on my commute. They informed me that another 10,000 miles is being added to the network, but knew nothing about the various danger points on my commute and did not know of any planned improvements in the local area.

    The one suggested sustrans route on my commute simply takes you off the main road and round the houses with many junctions. My concern is the council thinks this is cycling sorted and proper inferstructure is never discussed…

    TheBrick
    Member

    I think the heart is in the right place they do a lot of good work but much of the roues are only on paper and of little real use.  Quantity over quality in some cases rather than solving actual problems or making existing infrastructure useable / less of a bog etc. I also get the feeling they roll over too easily to councils with sub standard solutions that the council get to tick a box with but are too much to a compromise. Standard British way.

    butcher
    Member

    We have some really good Sustrans routes around here, with miles and miles of railway paths. They’ve improved local cycling immensely.

    The one suggested sustrans route on my commute simply takes you off the main road and round the houses with many junctions. My concern is the council thinks this is cycling sorted and proper inferstructure is never discussed…

    Personally I’d much rather spend a little more time around the back streets than risk the increased traffic on the main roads. I rely on Sustrans routes quite a lot to plan safe journeys, and usually find they provide one of the safest available options.

    And that’s just it. Infrastructure is a difficult problem around most towns and cities and it’s really down to the local councils to provide it. Sustrans is a charity relying on volunteers and public funding and they can only work with what is available to them. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but I’m guessing they don’t have a whole lot of say when it comes to town centre planning.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to criticise Sustrans for something they have little control over.

    TheBrick
    Member

    I am a big fan of their long distance stuff for recreational cycling but it’s someone the in town diversions or seemingly exceptance of the poor quality of some diversions and putting their name to them.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    It’s one of those circular things where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the source of a problem from its effect. We have a broken system whereby motor traffic is catered for by both national and local government, but where cycling is handed down to a quango charity. Sustrans has a long history of rubber-stamping rubbish, it would seem, though opinions will differ as to how often that is simply (excessive) pragmatism and how often it is incompetence. Whichever it is, it serves the same function no matter how well-intentioned the volunteers are: cycling is isolated from highway engineering at large, and remains correspondingly sidelined as a transport choice.

    Bez: Some Blue Signs

    g5604
    Member

    Yeah, probably was a little harsh – just wondering if they would be better off using all funds to lobby government to make cycling inferstructure mandatory on new works, rather than putting up 1000s of blue signs

    stevextc
    Member

    Personally I’d much rather spend a little more time around the back streets than risk the increased traffic on the main roads. I rely on Sustrans routes quite a lot to plan safe journeys, and usually find they provide one of the safest available options.

    The problem is it’s horses for courses….

    The overwhelming majority of users are like Boris…

    I live on a specified cycling route (where the road has been specifically adapted to not interfere with cycling) and 100m away is a dedicated cycle path by the river and lake.  It’s a bit longer but much nicer but it’s barely used and I’ve never seen a proper road bike on it despite it being perfectly smooth.  (Not saying a few don’t use it just didn’t see them)

    Weekends early on we usually have club cyclists leaving town on the road… but other times most of the cyclists are of Boris’s ability or lower..  and 50% are using the pavement anyway.

    To my mind too many cyclists want what they accuse cars of and knocking 5 mins of their journey… ????

    So it becomes one size doesn’t match all….

    In spite of that… I am sometimes shocked by how badly the routes and cycle paths don’t join up and specifically stop in all the most dangerous areas with no clear way to avoid them.  (Even pushing on the pavement not being an option were you to follow the cycle path to its end)

    amedias
    Member

    You could look to get involved with your local branch if you want to try and improve things and find out how it all works and the challenges in getting anyone with any real power to listen. We are lucky here in that the LA is kind of engaging with a local Cycling Partnership, goals are much the same and many members of the CP are also the local Sustrans vols. but it’s not Sustrans driving it because it’s very tightly focussed on local improvements and future strategy not the wider network.

    Fundamentally as Bez says though, they’re the wrong tool for the job, cycling infrastructure needs to be considered and designed in from the start as part of a proper strategy, not delegated as an afterthought to make the best of a bad/non-existent plan. Dicking around at the edges and trying to do ‘something’ is mostly all they can do especially when the organisation is so disparate and fractured with some LAs more willing to engage than others.

    amedias
    Member

    To my mind too many cyclists want what they accuse cars of and knocking 5 mins of their journey… ????

    Thats not a cyclist or drivers thing, that’s a people travelling thing. The issue in both cases is the route/infrastructure not offering an efficient and agreeable option. If routes are safe, efficient and easy they get used. If they fail in any of those regards then some people will look for alternatives (regardless of travel mode).

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    To my mind too many cyclists want what they accuse cars of and knocking 5 mins of their journey… ????

    Chances are you live near a park or some other piece of urban greenery where there’s a path which takes a dogleg route and people have worn a path across the grass, creating what’s called a “desire line”.

    People will take the path of least resistance: they “desire” convenience and efficiency. It’s a human thing. (It’d be an animals-in-general thing if some animals built convoluted paths.)

    The thing is that “resistance” comes in many forms. The most commonly recognised is distance, but other forms of resistance include physical ones such as path quality or climbing (it’s often easier to take a longer route round a hill than a shorter one over it) and less tangible ones such as risk (often the physically easiest path, which you’d take in the absence of motor traffic, is not the one you’d choose on foot or by bike once other people are driving cars along it).

    The thing is that these resistances play out differently for different people at different times, depending their personal psychological traits and what they’re using as transport. If you’re on a road bike you won’t take the bridleway you’d happily use on the mountain bike; if you’re towing kids you won’t use the busy street you’d be prepared to use in your own; and so on.

    I think there’s a total lack of recognition of this balance of resistances when it comes to highway engineering: it’s easy to assume one mix of those parameters (typically one of the extremes: either someone who will ride at 20mph without being bothered by fast cars at lose quarters, or someone who will meekly push their bike for half of their route if it keeps them off the carriageway), but very rarely do you see a piece of cycling infrastructure that works across most or all of the possible mixes.

    Premier Icon scaled
    Subscriber

     other forms of resistance include physical ones such as path quality or climbing

    Ahh like how everyone takes the 1km of footpath down past Chorlton Brook rather than following the actual route of NCN62 that requires you to dismount twice to get through the bloody stupid bike gates 😀

    Edit: Hang on a minute, google maps seems to suggest they’ve moved the path to the sensible one, shame the signs on the ground haven’t.

    TheBrick
    Member

    I think there is more of an issue bwith longer bike routes too being as the itS a physical activity, stopping and starting are more of a issue too.

    Premier Icon mikewsmith
    Subscriber

    I had the pleasure/pain of riding the Trans Pennine from Manchester to Liverpool on Sunday, some of it is brilliant, some is rubbish, some have signs missing and other have them in the bushes.

    I agree in the city stuff they head off down some back streets, dog legs and all that – again with crap signs. I ride the TPW and Bridgewater canal for my commute and it could do with some work, not much just enough to make it a really good cycleway, the Bridgewater is a very busy rote which is great to see.

    TheBrick
    Member

    Said better above.

    One of the reasons I don’t cycle commute much in the winter is the aweful surface. Not as bad as the photo in the link above but not far off.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    I think there is more of an issue bwith longer bike routes too being as the itS a physical activity, stopping and starting are more of a issue too.

    Yup. Some forms of resistance are virtually negligible for motorised vehicles: few people would avoid a direct route because it went up a hill, for instance.

    In reality, the performance indicators for highway models are normally based solely on motor vehicle flows and casualty rates; not person flows, let alone anything less obviously traffic-related such as liveability, child independence, public health and so on. So a modification is considered successful if, in the short term, it improves traffic flow and/or reduces casualties. And the best way to achieve both of those is to push walking and cycling further out of the picture.

    Basically, whatever works best for cars is what gets chosen, and anything else gets sprinkled round the edges, even if the “resistance elasticity” of motor traffic is so low that you could hand over many direct/flat routes to active transport and redirect motors and still not cause major flow problems (not just because cars nullify many resistance parameters, but because local movements would be offered a viable alternative to contributing to motor congestion).

    stevextc
    Member

    Chances are you live near a park or some other piece of urban greenery where there’s a path which takes a dogleg route and people have worn a path across the grass, creating what’s called a “desire line”.

    People will take the path of least resistance: they “desire” convenience and efficiency. It’s a human thing. (It’d be an animals-in-general thing if some animals built convoluted paths.)

    The thing is that “resistance” comes in many forms. The most commonly recognised is distance, but other forms of resistance include physical ones such as path quality or climbing (it’s often easier to take a longer route round a hill than a shorter one over it) and less tangible ones such as risk (often the physically easiest path, which you’d take in the absence of motor traffic, is not the one you’d choose on foot or by bike once other people are driving cars along it).

    The thing is that these resistances play out differently for different people at different times, depending their personal psychological traits and what they’re using as transport. If you’re on a road bike you won’t take the bridleway you’d happily use on the mountain bike; if you’re towing kids you won’t use the busy street you’d be prepared to use in your own; and so on.

    I think there’s a total lack of recognition of this balance of resistances when it comes to highway engineering: it’s easy to assume one mix of those parameters (typically one of the extremes: either someone who will ride at 20mph without being bothered by fast cars at lose quarters, or someone who will meekly push their bike for half of their route if it keeps them off the carriageway), but very rarely do you see a piece of cycling infrastructure that works across most or all of the possible mixes.

    I completely agree…. which is why the ‘one-size-fits-all’ is doomed to fail and why ‘cycling advice’ needs to be specific and directed at the right sectors.

    but this also applies to cycling infrastructure…. which I struggle to really call infrastructure.

    Not every drivers chooses motorways but they are joined up… if not always directly to another motorway to a bypass.

    What they don’t do is end on a unmetalled road etc.

    When you look at my local cycling infrastructure it’s the cycling equivalent regardless of which group of cyclists you are in or at the time.

    There is indeed a local park… and it is the alternative to cycling up the hill with barely two lanes and no pavements.  However the exit is footpath only…. you can get in and out but only by the same entrance…

    The other option is cycling or pushing the wrong way up the one way…. or crossing various A roads you can ten get onto some footpath only paths mixed with bridleways .. (to follow the legal cycle route would end up going 5x further) and the other non-realistic option is another barely better hill onto dual carriage way and roundabouts.

    Or i can go down the canal towpath (once that’s navigated) which then ends and swaps over sides of the canal on an A road with no pavement…

    The thing is that “resistance” comes in many forms. The most commonly recognised is distance, but other forms of resistance include physical ones such as path quality or climbing (it’s often easier to take a longer route round a hill than a shorter one over it) and less tangible ones such as risk (often the physically easiest path, which you’d take in the absence of motor traffic, is not the one you’d choose on foot or by bike once other people are driving cars along it).

    There is also the elephant in the room… many of the more able cyclists don’t want to have to go slowly behind those less able… this is at least to me the same argument as car’s should wait behind cycles and be patient…

    This also includes the most problematic group in some ways… those who use the cycle path until they see a cyclist in the way then jump into the road to avoid slowing down or cut the wrong way on the one way etc.

    I’VE CERTAINLY BEEN IN THIS GROUP MYSELF …

    The basic problem is all the most dangerous parts are what links them together… My own road was already pretty bike friendly and so were most of the places designated as cycle routes or cycle paths… its just the 100-200m between them that has just been ignored…. they look great on a 1:50,000 map for example until you try and join them up…

    It’s conceivable (don’t think it will happen) that the dangerous hill could be one way and a bike path built but I honestly don’t think that it would be used by 90% of local cyclists…. Instead it would become a “party no-one came to” and the drivers delayed are still going to object to people cycling on footpaths through the park they drive their kids to complaining about the unused cycle path.

    IMHO the smart thing would be to have put a through cycle path through the park….

    This is only a partial fix because 20m after the exit you are back at the top of the hill … so then something needs doing from then on.

    My town is split by a railway, canal and major A road… but I don’t think those are unique… it’s the poor joined up infrastructure of getting from one to the other that is the real problem.

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout
    Subscriber

    It’s one of those circular things where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the source of a problem from its effect.

    Isn’t that the truth.

    Our local Sustrans advisor (and friend) is just fine with these examples:

    https://goo.gl/maps/A1TCnZXb88M2

    and

    https://goo.gl/maps/a34jLaxMimL2

    butcher
    Member

    To my mind too many cyclists want what they accuse cars of and knocking 5 mins of their journey… ????

    Don’t get me wrong. I would like the option of the quickest route A to B. I would like the flatter and better surfaced routes of the main highways. I would like not to be opening and closing gates every 5 minutes, continuously stopping for dog walkers, and meandering around parks. But I do value my safety over a few minutes of my time, and I have found Sustrans routes invaluable for that purpose.

    They’re not always for everyone (in some cases I avoid them like the plague). But as Bez says, I don’t think it should be down to Sustrans to do it.

    We have to remember that they started out resurfacing railways and canal paths. Then they linked some of those routes up. The network expanded a bit. And that’s all they really are. They are not responsible for the national cycle infrastructure. They only set out to provide some safe alternatives.

    I’m really not sure where the lines cross, but I’m in complete agreement with Bez that the infrastructure as a whole needs to be considered at a higher level by national and local government. All Sustrans can do, is put their best polish on a turd.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    I completely agree…. which is why the ‘one-size-fits-all’ is doomed to fail and why ‘cycling advice’ needs to be specific and directed at the right sectors. but this also applies to cycling infrastructure…. which I struggle to really call infrastructure.

    Well… Actually in the UK we often have the reverse problem.

    Highway engineering basically acknowledges the two types of people I mentioned above: one type who they assume will always use the carriageway, and another who they assume will accept every conceivable inconvenience to avoid it. (Both of these types are of questionable validity, let alone the binary view itself.) For an example where this is explicit, see the Bedford Turdo—sorry, Turbo—Roundabout, where these two groups were catered for independently and the provision for both was a long way short of ideal. And this is what we end up with: dual provision, where one option tries to be safer but ends up so inefficient that no-one wants to use it, and the other is efficient but is prohibitively daunting to all but the brave few.

    Whereas if you look at a lot of examples from (yes) the Netherlands, you’ll see urban cycleways that suit urban journeys for the entire urban cycling population, and rural cycleways that suit rural journeys for the entire rural cycling population. The “one size fits all” idea of combining efficiency with freedom from traffic danger is not doomed to fail, it just requires a level of political and economic commitment that is beyond the willingness of most authorities in the UK.

    ninfan
    Member

    I believe that the biggest problem is that theres two separate and distinct issues here:

    i) Commuting and utility routes

    ii) Leisure routes

    Unfortunately, theres little money for leisure routes but plenty of money available for ‘green transport options’ as a result we’ve seen routes that are entirely unsuitable for commuting and utility use ‘sold’ as sustainable transport (C&U) infrastructure in order to attract funding, and loads of really lovely leisure routes tarmaced over in a way that was unsympathetic to the locality and with the effect of increasing user speeds and breeding conflict.

    I think Sustrans needs to decide which it wants the network to be.

    The ‘big picture’ of health and wellbeing demands promoted leisure routes *as well as* commuting and utility routes. Putting them all under the same banner of the NCN has been, IMO, a huge mistake

    Premier Icon ransos
    Subscriber

    IME the majority of the network is totally unfit for purpose. I wish Sustrans would stop lending their name to rubbish.

    TheBrick
    Member

    i) Commuting and utility routes

    ii) Leisure routes

    I don’t see why they can’t be both. I cycle to work along a railway line. Regarded as a leasure route, but there is no alternative route due to a River and a dual carriageway road. It is a horrible surface in all but several days of dry weather. Frequently narrow. Hence cycle commuting is uncommon in all but the best weather. If it was wider and a good surface there would be higher speeds by a few people but a lot easier to avoid conflict, and hopefully more people using it.

    kcr
    Member

    I see Sustrans as providers of weekend leisure cycling routes, but in some places they are guilty of cobbling together ridiculously convoluted routes in order to demonstrate a continuous “network”. There is no consistency in what they provide, and unfortunately some of it is just not very good.

    I think good urban cycling infrastructure is much more important than NCNs to get more people cycling regularly, and I don’t really see Sustrans doing a great job in this area. For example, the canal is one of the main cycling routes into Edinburgh, which is fine for a relaxed potter, but is not really fit for purpose as a dedicated urban cycle route to shift lots of people safely and efficiently.

    If you want to replace sub 3 mile urban car trips with cycling, then knocking 5 minutes off a cycle journey with a well designed, easy to use cycle route is a big deal. Cycling in The Netherlands opened my eyes to how a transport system should work. There is zero compromise for cycling. The cycle routes are wide, well signposted and go directly to the desired destination. If there’s something in the way, the Dutch don’t mess about with dismount barriers and unnecessary detours. They just bulldoze through the obstacle or build straight over it. Look at the cycle paths on this Dutch junction, and imagine how it would have been built in the UK:

    Are Sustrans making things worse? No, but I don’t think they are really tackling the fundamental problems of urban cycling infrastructure (they might reasonably argue that’s not what they are about anyway) and I think the benefits of the Sustrans routes are oversold a bit.

    Dickyboy
    Member

    Local authorities can’t even get it right for pedestrians/electric scooter users with lack of pavements adjacent to fast A roads, there are at least two locations* near us where 0.5km of pavement would make the world of difference to the local communities transport options.

    * Verges are plenty wide enough

    tjagain
    Member

    Sustrans seem to take the view that any provision is better than none leading to ( certainly Edinburgh) council being able to claim ill thought out and often dangerous routes are “approved by sustrans”

    I can understand this position but think it badly wrong

    One in particular comes to mind.  We follwed a sustrans route from Oban to Ballahulish.  Most of it was on old railway and great but to avoid one short section of a road ( where there was plenty of room to put in a decent cycleway alongside the road) the sustrans route took you into a village and back out again adding a couple of miles and several hundred feet of climbing.

    philjunior
    Member

    I’m not sure they make things worse, but all the points above are pretty valid.

    Really, a cycle path should be capable of being used by anyone from an old lady on a shopper to a lycra lout like me on a bad day. Ideally at the same time. I’d draw the line at suggesting a chaingang should be able to use it at the same time, but it’d be nice. As it is, a cycle lane can be anything from a pedestrian magnet that won’t be navigable on a sunny day to a half foot wide green stripe down the side of a road right where any parked car doors will open.

    I don’t think Sustrans are really to blame, they’re doing what they do on a shoestring, and things will only change when cycle provision is added to every major route and most minor routes, and bikes are given priority over cars in town, and separated from pedestrians where possible.

    retrorick
    Member

    I’ve been riding on the RAVel routes in Belgium the last few days and I’m very impressed. Some of the routes are fully surfaced and others are loose gravel. The sign posting is excellent and the upkeep seems pretty good from what I’ve seen.

    bikebouy
    Member

    I am a big fan of their long distance stuff for recreational cycling but the in town diversions or seemingly exceptance of the poor quality of some diversions and putting their name to them are accepted by the local councils.

    FIFM.

    Big fan of sustrans, whatever you may think of some of the routes and random diversions in/out of some random places….

    A lot of the long distance stuff has been collated and put down by volunteers, local people who in thier opinion choose the route of least resistance amongst traffic whilst keeping an eye on the environmental views and links to other routes.

    I have used loads of them, linked up many to create routes all over the country. TBH there is nothing like it anywhere else, miles of routes crisscrossing the U.K. that take you to some very interesting places and spectacular views.

    Sustrans should be applauded, it’s volunteers lauded.

    IMO

    Go do the full NCN72 one day… from start to finish… awesome.

    Premier Icon ransos
    Subscriber

    Sustrans should be applauded, it’s volunteers lauded.

    For legitimising dross? No thanks.

    kcr
    Member

    Go do the full NCN72 one day… from start to finish… awesome.

    Looking at the Sustrans route map, most of NCN72 is just country roads, which sort of illustrates the points made above. Signposting leisure routes on existing minor roads is OK, but it is not actually creating new infrastructure where people currently find it difficult to cycle.

    Premier Icon cookeaa
    Subscriber

    We have NCN4 pretty much on the doorstep and it has formed part of my preferred commute for my last two places of work, it also meets up with some of the local cycle routes in Reading (and to some extent Newbury) this allows me to take my daughter all the way into town without her needing to tackle a road, or for me to drive a car…

    How much of that is sustran’s work and how much is the local authority’s is unclear to me.

    Bits of NCN5 also form some of my other local, more rural routes, basically I pick and choose the odd nice bit that happens to be a sustrans route, which is what they’re aiming for I think…

    It’s not universally wonderful, where routes come into contact with roads things seem to break down a bit, signage could do with improving generally.

    I’d not want to see the organisation wound up, but maybe some consultation with users, ideally leading to some updates to their own guidance and policies and periodic reviews of sections of their existing network looking for possible improvements… Or was that why the OP got stopped in the first place?

    project
    Member

    Im a volunteer for Sustrans spent part of Sunday at a bike ride day handing out free maps and offering advice to fellow cyclists about local and not so local routes,the maps are useful as is google maps using the cycle pictogram for directions.

    Quite a few people/cyclists didnt know about the work sustrans does mapping the quiet roads and producing the maps and signage, and while some routes dont go direct, the routes are planned for people who may have a fear of major roads, so they use smaller quieter roads, bridleways and old railways, it all started with a chap called Grimshaw who developed the Bath Bristol cycle route in the 70,s and it spread.

    Problem is funding to get better  surfaced tracks, eg not crushed stone or dirt, they cost money and us volunteers give up time to clear them and sign them and also attend cycle days and rides.

    If you want better routes write letters to the local council, your mp, sustrans, the local papers etc, make videos of routes near you, and as a supermarket says EVERY LITTLE HELPS, more cyclists on the road means more lanes created, less cars ,more fit people ,less of a drain on the NHS for being un healthy.

    bikebouy
    Member

    Sustrans should be applauded, it’s volunteers lauded.

    For legitimising dross? No thanks.

    If if you don’t like it, then join up and do your bit (if you can do any better that is… which by your tone I think you’re better off behind a keyboard moaning)

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