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Where driving is easy, Brits drive

Wide, smooth cycleways adjacent to main roads but separated from cars and pedestrians. Perpetually-lit, airy, safe underpasses beneath roundabouts. Direct, convenient and attractive cycle routes designed not by car-centric town planners but by a transport engineer who cycled to work every day. Schools, workplaces, shops: all linked by protected cycleways. Recreational bike paths to nature areas. Colour-coded sign-posting. Plentiful cycle parking in the town centre, at workplaces and at the rail station. An urban cycle network lionised at global conferences and the subject of lectures, books and study tours.

Amsterdam? Copenhagen? Groningen? No. Stevenage in the 1970s.

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Fifty kilometres north of London and the first of England’s post-war New Towns, Stevenage was widely proclaimed in the 1970s as a shining example of how provision of high-quality, joined-up cycle infrastructure would encourage many to cycle, not just keen cyclists.

Stevenage cycleway, 1970s. The cycleway is still there today, see base of article.

Stevenage cycleway, 1970s. The cycleway is still there today.

While most cycle path advocates and cynics like to argue over the merits and demerits of the duff ‘red ways’ of Milton Keynes, very few pay any attention to Stevenage. This is odd because Stevenage’s cycleway network was built before the one at Milton Keynes, and was built as an intrinsic and key part of the New Town plan, not an afterthought, as at Milton Keynes. Throughout the 1970s Stevenage was held up as proof that the UK could build a Dutch-style cycle network. An article in New Scientist magazine in 1973 claimed that “Stevenage cycleways and cycle underpasses [are] premiere exhibits…[in a] traffic revolution.”

In the first edition of his 1970s million-copy classic Richard’’s Bicycle Book, Richard Ballantine enthused that “Stevenage…is a transportation dreamworld, a kind of magical Walt Disney fantasy in which everything flows with perfect smoothness and problems evaporate.” The 1992 edition of the book was still in awe: “you can cycle or walk anywhere you wish in Stevenage and never encounter a motor vehicle…What is the worth of never, ever, having an obstruction or aggravation in travelling? What price a mother’s peace of mind, knowing that her children can walk or cycle anywhere and never encounter a motor vehicle?”

According to Tim Jones, a Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University and an expert on traffic-free trails, the cycle infrastructure of Stevenage was designed to “produce maximum attraction, comfort and safety.” Cyclists were:

“provided with their own segregated junction by elevating the road by two metres and lowering the cycleway one metre to obtain a compromise in achieving the three metre difference in level. This design was crucial in recognising that cyclists could be deterred by difficult gradients and also allowed good forward visibility to improve perceptions of personal safety. Routes were lit with overspill light from road lighting. The ten approach possibilities into the town centre were colour coded on a signpost system and facilities for the storage of cycles were considered at end destinations such as the town centre and railway station.”


Stevenage was planned by Eric Claxton, a utility cyclist. Construction of the cycleway network was started in 1955 and was built at the same time as the primary road network.

The annual report from Stevenage Development Corporation in 1958 said:

“Segregation for those who wish to avail themselves of it begins about half a mile from the centre of the Industrial Area and at peak traffic times the separation of pedestrians and cyclists from the main stream of traffic is an advantage to all types of road users.”

The cycleways were mostly flat and there were cycle and pedestrian bridges, and underpasses which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Netherlands at the time, mainly because they were modelled on Dutch infrastructure. Stevenage was compact and Claxton assumed the provision of 12ft wide cycle paths and 7ft wide footways – separated by grass strips as a minimum, and sometimes barriers, too – would encourage residents to cycle and walk everywhere. He had witnessed high usage of cycle tracks in the Netherlands and believed the same could be achieved in the UK.

Instead – to Claxton’s puzzlement, and eventual horror – residents of Stevenage chose to drive, not cycle, even for journeys of two miles or less.

Claxton was chief engineer of Stevenage for the ten years until 1972. He poured scorn on those who chose motor cars rather than bicycles, complaining that motorists “seem to have a problem with their logic” because “they use their cars as shopping baskets; or use them as overcoats.” Claxton provided Dutch-style infrastructure for the residents of Stevenage but cycle use in Stevenage never reached Dutch levels of use. (In the mid-1970s there was an energy crisis, driving was expensive and the sale of bicycles was booming.)

Cycleways of Stevenage leaflet c.1975

According to a 1975 leaflet on the cycleway system produced by Stevenage Development Corporation, the town’s 69,000 residents owned 15,130 cars and 14,030 bicycles: “Of these, 12,540 cars were used for the daily journey to work and 4,200 cycles were used for the daily journey to work or school.”

This leaflet wasn’t for local consumption, it was produced to give away to those visiting the town on study tours: Stevenage was often wheeled out as an example of how to design a modern town and attracted a great many study tours, which invariably took in the town’s cycleway system. [The leaflet is from the archive of Jan Ploeger, a Dutch cycle campaigner in the 1970s, who visited the town on a study tour. He is now a programme manager for South Holland and gives talks at ‘Go Dutch’ cycling conferences].

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The leaflet stresses that the cycleway system was well-maintained with “sweeping and snow-clearing procedures” and that “surface maintenance is probably more important to the cyclist than to the motorist and the speedy repair of any imperfection is necessary.” The importance of cycle parking was also stressed: “Facilities for the storage of cycles are worthy of as much consideration as the cycleway system itself…it has been necessary to ensure that ample cycle racks and parking bollards have been provided. In the case of factories there is much to be said for ensuring that the racks are fully covered and as close to the building as possible.”


Most of the infrastructure built by Claxton in the 1950s and 1960s – and which was a mature network by the 1970s – is still there. [Check it out on Google Street View]. Today, less than three percent of Stevenage residents cycle to work, about the same as the national average. The town’s cycle infrastructure is frozen at about the same quality as the Netherlands in the 1970s.

Very little has been done to extend the 40km network. New housing developments and new shopping centres have been built with easy access for cars but only standard UK ‘crap’ infrastructure for bikes, with seemingly obligatory ‘cyclists dismount’ signs where none are needed. Some cycleways that were formerly continuous are now punctuated by crossings where priority is given to cars. Unlike the roads which they follow, the cycleways are not named, adding to the feeling this is a hidden network. Some signage is missing and what’s there is from the 1970s, an indication that this is an ossified network. Despite lighting, underpasses are dark and, for some users, less than inviting (although similar infrastructure in the Netherlands is well-used). The lack of cycle access to the pedestrianised town centre is a modern aberration, not one engineered by Claxton.

Today’s network may be faded and somewhat less useful than the one Claxton put in place but there are still wide, segregated cycleways next to the primary roads; the underpasses beneath the roundabouts remain; glass and debris is regularly swept up by council clean-up squads; some of the cycleways have been resurfaced recently; and in many places, cyclists and pedestrians are still separated by barriers not just paint. Squint and, where the infrastructure is intact, under the roundabouts for instance, and you could be in the Netherlands. Except there are very few people on bikes.

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Cyclists in Stevenage have a hidden-in-plain-sight road system all to their selves. Yet pedestrians outnumber cyclists, and on the roads, solo motorists in cars far outnumber both.

Stevenage Borough Council’s defeatist Stevenage Cycle Strategy – not updated since 2002 but still on the council website – is in no doubt why cycle usage is so low:

“Stevenage has a fast, high-capacity road system, which makes it easy to make journeys by car. Residents have largely been insulated from the effects of traffic growth and congestion and generally there is little incentive for people to use modes other than the private car…Stevenage, with its extensive cycleway network, has largely the same level of cycling as other Hertfordshire towns, where facilities for cyclists are less developed. This seems to suggest that the propensity to cycle depends on factors other than the existence of purpose built facilities.”

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Claxton may only have been chief engineer for ten years but Stevenage New Town was largely his creation. He had worked on the New Town plan from the very first inklings of the idea in 1946 and, despite having superiors brought in above him, much to his chagrin, it was he who was in charge of where to place the sewers; he who decided where the new roads would go; he who decided whether or not there was to be a boating lake (there was, he built it at the insistence of his daughter, a primary school teacher who wanted somewhere scenic to take her class); and it was he who insisted that cycleways should be a key and wholly inter-connected part of the town’s transport system. He had to fight to get many of his plans funded but, sometimes by stealth, he managed to secure permission and funding for his cycleways and his cycle bridges and his underpasses.

Claxton’s grand-daughter Joanna Brown told me he was very proud of his cycleways and insisted on calling them that:

“I remember as a child being pulled up for using the wrong term and being told ‘paths are for pedestrians, tracks are for horses, I built cycleways.'”

Evelyn Denington, chair of Stevenage Development Corporation from 1965 until it was wound up in 1980, said in 1992: “One important feature of the town is its segregated cycleways which duplicate the main arteries and feed both the housing and the industrial areas. Mr Claxton was a keen cyclist and was well aware of the need to cater for this enjoyable and excellent mode of travel.”

Claxton was an everyday, practical cyclist not a racing or touring cyclist. He had no truck with cycle campaigners. In fact, when he was a junior engineer in the Ministry of Transport in the 1930s, he wrote to the CTC asking for feedback on the London cycle tracks he had helped to plan: “Imagine my dismay when I received a rather dusty answer from the general secretary. CTC wanted nothing to do with cycle tracks and demanded freedom to use the carriageway – it seemed I had been added to their list of devils hell bent on snatching away such freedom.” (CTC later gave Claxton honorary life membership for “services to cycling.”)

The cycle tracks he worked on in London were sub-standard, admitted Claxton. “As a cyclist they gave me no satisfaction,” he said in his memoirs, published a year before his death in 1993:

“The [London cycle tracks] were too narrow. They were made of concrete and suffered from either cracking or construction joints. They provided protection where the carriageway was safe but discharged the cyclists into the maelstrom of main traffic where the system was most dangerous. For me worst of all the tracks were uni-directional either side of the dual carriageways; thus if for any reason one needed to retrace one’s way, one was compelled to run the gauntlet of crossing the streams of traffic on both carriageways to return on the far side – woe betide the person who left money, keys, books, tools or even lunch behind.”

The engineer was determined not to make the same mistakes when given the task of shaping Stevenage. Claxton’s cycle tracks – now called cycleways to differentiate them from the failed London paths – would be designed with scientific precision: “We were in an era about to give birth to a whole new technology,” said Claxton.

“Organised cycling rejected the [1930s cycle tracks],” he wrote in an academic paper. “However, organised cycling changed its opinion when the Stevenage New Town system had reached a sufficiently advanced stage to be assessed.”

He wrote this paper in 1975 for the Institution of Civil Engineers. Three years after his retirement from the Stevenage Development Corporation he was now a roving ambassador for the town, and, most specifically, the town’s cycleways. His cycle infrastructure consultancy business enabled him to tour the world extolling the virtues of Stevenage’s cycleways.

nationalplanThanks to the oil shocks of the early 1970s there was a growing realisation that reliance on Middle Eastern oil wasn’t terribly bright. In the Netherlands this realisation kick-started the boom in better quality provision for cyclists, building on a rock-solid foundation of already high cycle use. In the UK, where cycling had fallen off a cliff in the 1950s and, by the 1970s, was thought by many to be an urban anachronism, some councils decided to explore whether cycling could be revived. A number of local authorities commissioned Claxton to evaluate cycleways for their towns and cities. Raleigh sponsored Claxton to write a report on behalf of the Corporation of the City of Nottingham; Portsmouth trialled a Claxton-designed segregated cycleway alongside the main road to the docks (the trial was cancelled after businesses along the route complained the lack of car parking impacted adversely on trade); and Claxton helped Peterborough Development Corporation to plan 38 miles of “cross-city cycleways”, separated from motor traffic, and 34 miles of “secondary routes” designated as “cycle priority streets.”

Ladybird The Story of the Bicycle 1975

Ladybird’s The Story of the Bicycle of 1975 lauded Stevenage for its “careful planning” and said that the “dangers of mixing with heavy traffic on main roads can be overcome with the use of ‘cycle only’ roads, called cycleways.” This double-page spread in the book also mentions the plans Claxton drew up for the reallocation of roadspace in Nottingham (the plans were not taken forward).

Claxton’s first break in the consultancy business had come from the British Cycling Bureau. This was a PR body run by Planned Public Relations of London and funded by the British bicycle industry via a levy on all bicycles sold. In 1972, George Shallcross, national director of the National Association of Cycle and Motor Cycle Traders, gushed that the appointment of a high-profile figure such as Eric Claxton was “exciting.”

In Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader, for May of that year, Shallcross said:

“The next step is to press for traffic-free cycleways and to make the authorities, national and local, recognise the bicycle as an asset to the environment, as it is noiseless and fume less, and takes up so much less room in parking and riding than motor cars.”


In June 1972, with Claxton as the figurehead, the British Cycling Bureau launched a National Plan for Cycling. Demands for cycle-specific infrastructure were contained in a handbook which stated cycling should be encouraged “before the traffic grinds to a halt.”

The plan said Stevenage was “a place where segregated traffic – motorists and pedestrians and cyclists – has led to increased convenience all round…Stevenage saves £28,000 per year in hospital charges because of the use of cycleways.”

Harold Briercliffe, editor of Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader, said British Cycling Bureau’s National Plan for Cycling was “the most hopeful outline of what we must all do that has been seen in Britain for many a long day.”

The National Plan for Cycling was promoted to national and local government. The British Cycling Bureau organised for Claxton to guide MPs around Stevenage’s cycleways. “All the MPs were very impressed,” claimed Claxton. Despite these efforts, the National Plan for Cycling was roundly ignored by the powers-that-be.

Originally from Surrey, Claxton made his home in Stevenage and was a regular user of the cycleways he had brought into being. He must have been solely disappointed that he was one of the few residents to actually cycle on what was meant to be the British equivalent of a Dutch-style cycleway network. Where did he go wrong? Why does Houten in the Netherlands have such high cycle usage, and Stevenage have such low usage?

Houten underpass. Pic by

Houten underpass. Pic by

There are many differences between Houten and Stevenage but there are also many similarities. Both were expanded as satellite ‘overspill’ towns for bigger cities nearby. Stevenage was planned as a residential relief valve for London, the first of many New Towns envisaged by the motor-centric Abercrombie Plan; Houten was planned as a ‘Groeikern’ – a centre of growth – close to the city of Utrecht. Stevenage’s heyday was in the mid-1970s; Houten was planned from 1966 but expanded fastest in the 1980s.

“In 1968 Dutch architect Rob Derks offered [Houten] a plan heavily focused on filtered permeability: a dense network of direct routes for cyclists and a course network of general roads, offering limited city center access to cars. The city council, which was then made up of civilians and farmers and no politicians, approved Derk’s plan, which they believed would provide a more liveable quality to their city…42 percent of trips shorter than 7.5 kilometres in Houten are made by bike.” [PDF]

Cycleways of Stevenage leaflet c.1975

Houten was designed in such a way that it was more convenient to walk and cycle than to drive, and faster, too. This was the case in Stevenage as well: cyclists were provided with safe, segregated cycleways alongside, and slightly below, the main roads and also had cut-throughs unavailable to motor traffic. Cyclists therefore had fast, direct routes between every part of town and also had short-cuts. The 1975 cycleways leaflet said the “cycleway system…starts at the edge of the residential area, uses the primary road corridor to the town centre and the industrial area and then extends for the full length and on both sides of the spine road serving the factories. Links are made with each estate, each school and each factory and in addition lateral connections are made between the main routes through parkland, woodland and along old country lanes.” The cyclists of Stevenage had (and still have) a dense network of safe routes available to them and cyclists, said the 1975 leaflet, had “an advantage in time over the motorist.”

But, critically, motorists in Stevenage were not constrained in any way. In fact, the first New Town was designed to be highly convenient for motorists: cyclists were removed from roads so cars didn’t have to meet slower vehicles; roundabouts kept swift, motorised traffic flowing freely; and traffic lights were kept to a minimum (there was just one set of traffic lights in the whole town).

Much of the superlative cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands was installed in the 1980s, by which time it was clear that the cycleways of Stevenage were being used less and less. The cycle path networks in the Netherlands have been expanded and improved continuously; the cycleway network of Stevenage was left as is. It wasn’t expanded or improved because residents of Stevenage didn’t use the network in large enough numbers. Stevenage’s extensive network of separated cycleways are now used by just 2.7 percent of residents. There are safe cycle routes from homes to schools, but only a tiny proportion of Stevenage’s children cycle to school. Many are ferried by car, a situation that Claxton abhorred: “it is pathetic to see the way some parents bring their child to school by car and later park in the street near to the school to give them a ride home.” Brits, it seems, are in thrall to the car, even when perfectly safe and convenient alternatives to motoring are provided.

Stevenage underpass. By Google Street View.

Stevenage underpass. By Google Street View.

The car culture of Stevenage is not unusual. In fact, it’s maddeningly mainstream. The British cultural affinity with motoring – even slow, inconvenient motoring – is all pervasive. Perhaps Claxton was trying to force water uphill by promoting cycling to Brits in the 1970s? Perhaps a cycle-friendly New Town built in the future could achieve far more than Stevenage’s current 2.7 percent cycle modal share?

Stevenage’s 1970s multi-modal transport system was held up – by Claxton and many others – as an example of good practice, with walking, cycling, driving and public transport all provided for, almost equally. Very quickly, motoring became the overwhelmingly most popular choice of transport mode. In Stevenage ‘build it and they will come’ worked for cars, yet despite all the best efforts of a chief designer with an empathy for would-be cyclists, it failed for bicycles.

Rachel Aldred, a sociologist at Westminster University’s Department for Planning and Transport, blames car culture:

“Stevenage didn’t generate a cycling revolution primarily for cultural and political reasons. The 1950s were a terrible time to be encouraging cycling in the UK. It simply wasn’t part of mainstream transport policy and discourse. The bicycle signified poverty while the car was an object of desire, particularly in a New Town with wide, free-flowing dual carriageways. The outcome – not particularly high cycling levels – wasn’t just a product of infrastructure, but of infrastructure in its cultural context.

“Car use being so easy in Stevenage did – and does – matter a lot. There may also be an issue related to economic activity and land use. Stevenage’s town centre looked rather run down when I visited, with empty office blocks and betting shops. Where do people work? Where are they trying to get to? It may not be the centre, it might be London or other nearby towns or green field sites, or those new shopping centres that were often built with little consideration for the cycle infrastructure.”

No doubt many of the commuter journeys in Stevenage are out-of-town ones for which people will always tend to choose to drive but this doesn’t explain why cycle to school levels are so low. Some children use the cycleways to get to school (Eric Claxton’s great grandson among them) but no more than the national average i.e. numbingly low.

Stevenage was built for Londoners bombed out of their houses and soldiers returning from war; a New Town “fit for heroes to live in”. The compact, socially-engineered town attracted aspirational residents who bought into the post-war dream of car ownership for all. These residents voted with their steering wheels, showing they were happy to live in a town where driving was the absolute norm. The town’s Dutch-style cycling infrastructure did not entice many residents to switch from cars to bikes. Walking was rejected, too. Where driving is easy, Brits drive.

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Today, there’s a (slight) movement away from car culture and, if Claxton’s cycleways were built today, in a different place, there might be a different outcome. To get the different outcome in a different place there would need to be a Houten-style restraining of cars. In most localities – where unfettered car-use is seen as a basic human right, a right that is tampered with at a politician’s peril – this will require a cultural u-turn of significant proportions. ‘Build it and they will come’ may not always work for bicycles. This does not mean cycleways should not be built. The new protected bike paths in New York, Seville, Chicago and Vancouver show that cycle use can be increased after the creation of separated infrastructure but cycle infrastructure works best when part of a greater whole, and that usually means restricting car use. When cycling is the fastest, easiest and safest way to get around, cycle use can grow.

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High-quality Dutch-style cycle infrastructure is desired by many cycle campaigners (myself included) but the failure of the cycleways of Stevenage (and a modal share of 2.7 percent is a failure) is a warning that infrastructure alone isn’t enough.

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John Pucher and Ralph Buehler’s influential report Making Cycling Irresistible says that “The most important approach to making cycling safe and convenient…is the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections…”

However, they add:

“separate facilities are only part of the solution. Dutch, Danish and German cities reinforce the safety, convenience and attractiveness of excellent cycling rights of way with extensive bike parking, integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling…The key to the success of cycling policies in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany is the coordinated implementation of [a] multi-faceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies. Not only do these countries implement far more of the pro-bike measures, but they greatly reinforce their overall impact with highly restrictive policies that make car use less convenient as well as more expensive.”


Eric Claxton was the moving force behind the creation of Stevenage yet there’s no mention of him on the town’s website (update: there is now, thanks to this article and the mainstream media it has inspired, such as BBC’s The One Show). He doesn’t have a wikipedia entry (update: he does now, but it’s not very extensive). He spent the best part of forty years trying to get Brits on bikes yet his name is now known only to a handful of specialist academics and historians. There’s no road – or cycleway – named in his honour.

In 1992, Claxton warned: “What a dreadful example these car drivers are setting for future generations…They become selfish and almost exclusively travel alone…They do not care about others.”

StevenageBBCOneShow 1

Stevenage's grade-seperated roundabouts - with cycleways beneath - look a lot like similar roundabouts in the Netherlands. This is De Berenkuil, in Utrecht.

Stevenage’s grade-seperated roundabouts – with cycleways beneath – look a lot like similar roundabouts in the Netherlands. This is De Berenkuil, in Utrecht. And this video shows that the grade-seperated roundabout was planned in 1939 and may have inspired Claxton: he certainly went on Dutch cycle infrastructure tours.

But by not restraining motor vehicle use – and, instead, encouraging it – Claxton is partly to blame for the bad behaviour he describes. The low use of Stevenage’s cycleway network is also probably the fault of Claxton, and his colleagues, because they failed to spot that cycling was a mass mode of transport in the Netherlands for reasons other than provision of infrastructure: culture, history and politics were – and are – major factors. It has been a societal norm to cycle in the Netherlands since the early 1900s but it hasn’t been societal norm to cycle in the UK since the early 1950s. In a few areas of the UK there are pockets of high cycle use, places such as Cambridge and some London boroughs, and in these places there’s a clear case for installing Dutch-style infrastructure. A cycle census by Transport for London has found very high cycle usage on certain roads, where up to 64 percent of the traffic is bicycle traffic. On such roads, where bicycles already dominate, it would be perverse not to provide better, safer facilities. It’s a chicken and egg thing but providing cycle infrastructure in places where there’s not already high cycle usage could lead to underuse of such facilities, as happened in Stevenage.

Cambridge has high cycle usage because it’s a student town and, historically, has restricted student ownership of motorcars via the Special Pro-Proctor for Motor Vehicles; London’s bicycle boom came about through a mix of factors including the congestion charge and the public transport meltdown that followed the 7th July bombings. Cities without high cycle usage, but which want to gain the benefits that such usage brings individually and collectively, would need to restrict usage of cars.

This does not require Soviet-style dictats, changing travel habits can be done by stealth over a number of years. How so? By removing car parking spaces, slowly at first; by reducing motor vehicle speeds by strict enforcement; by placing bollards on rat-runs; and many other well-known measures. Sadly, such measures are collectively known, by media and politicians, as the “war on the motorist”, and in our short-termist political cycles it’s incredibly difficult to do anything that interferes with the sacrosanct Great Car Economy. (Funny how car ownership in the Netherlands and in Germany is higher than here but the cars are used less.)

In designing for bicycle use in Stevenage, Claxton was ahead of his time but by also designing for unfettered car use his cycleways efforts would be wasted. Few foresaw the problems that mass motorisation would bring. Today we’re far more aware of the social, environmental, health and spatial problems of unrestrained car use, but will today’s planners and politicians ever take on the motorised majority to tackle these ills? Can we ‘Get Britain Cycling’ without taming the car?

If the use of private motor cars was discouraged in Stevenage (even just an incy-wincy bit) perhaps the town could experience Dutch levels of cycle use? And here’s what it could look like. Almost. This photograph is a composite of 27 cyclists using a Stevenage cycleway, with some trickery done by photographer Trevor Coultart. He took pix of cyclists passing the same spot over the space of an hour and later merged them together via Photoshop layers. A clever bit of wishful thinking … The pic is © Trevor Coultart 2013, all rights reserved.

Cyclepath Composite

Eric Claxton (1909-1993), O.B.E., B.Sc., C.Eng., F.I.C.E.

Eric Claxton (1909-1993), O.B.E., B.Sc., C.Eng., F.I.C.E.

102 thoughts on “Where driving is easy, Brits drive

  1. Matthew Hardy / Reply February 25, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Excellent article – thank you!
    I’ve cycled along those empty bike routes on the Little Green Ride and wondered what happened.

    • carltonreid / Reply February 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Thanks, Matthew. I’ve not been on that ride but I’ve ridden in the town many times and thought the same thing. However, it was only when I read Eric Claxton’s name in the 1972 trade mag that I cite in the piece that everything fell in to place.

      It’s always surprised me that so many people fixate on Milton Keynes as the cycle success/failure story when Stevenage’s cycleway network was far superior to the longer network of bike paths in Milton Keynes. You need a GPS and a puzzler’s brain to work out the way in Milton Keynes, Stevanage’s cycleways are logical. When first built the network must have been a superb facility as it’s still pretty good today. Shame on Stevenage for not keeping the network up to date but I suppose the low usage dictated budgets.

      • Doug Wedel / Reply November 10, 2014 at 10:15 pm

        I disagree. It’s the reverse, no matter what politicians and bureaucrats say. Budget follows usage. What’s been missing is the social side. We only need to look to Malmo, Sweden. Their No Ridiculous Car Trips campaigns done annually, plus so many small gestures to encourage cycling had a massive impact there. To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done in Stevenage. In fact, I don’t think the Stevenage cycling story is yet finished. Let’s wait and see what cyclists do there to endorse their own transportation mode.

        • Doug Wedel / Reply November 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm

          Hi. I can’t correct my post by editing it. I meant to say Budget dictates usage, not budget follows usage. Sorry, and please don’t post this comment along with the first! Thanks so much!

  2. Kim / Reply February 26, 2013 at 9:53 am

    So when are you going to create a wikipedia entry for Eric Claxton?

    • carltonreid / Reply February 26, 2013 at 9:58 am

      I’m sure the ‘hive’ will now create one…

  3. Alex Monaghan / Reply February 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

    The cycle paths in Stevenage are excellent, however, the major problem I see as a Stevenage cyclist is that most areas built since the original cycle network was laid out do not have cycle paths making it impossible to get around safely, why the planners failed to get these new developments to join the cycle network is beyond belief. In a town with a huge cycle network, our kids can’t cycle to secondary school without using the road! The cycle paths are full of kids, pedestrians and joggers and as a result do not lead to safe cycling, near miss and collisions are almost a daily happening.

    • tweagle / Reply March 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Without knowing the roads that you’re talking about, I venture to suggest that “can’t get around safely” may be over-pessimistic; most of us get about by bike most of the time without the benefit of full segregation, or facilities of any kind. I do wonder too whether we’re not getting a bit hung up on infrastructure; if we as a society prioritised, mainly but not only through the justice system, the safe sharing of the roads that we have, we could concentrate our infrastructure efforts on assisting cyclists in specific locations, such as big roundabouts. Really enjoyed the main article btw.

      • iswas / Reply March 3, 2013 at 12:14 am

        Sadly “most” of us don’t get around safely by bike. Only a small percentage of us even try! While this article certainly shows that proper infrastructure by itself is not enough, that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary if we want to expand the reach of cycling as a means of transport to those who currently feel excluded.

        • Ian Brett Cooper / Reply March 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

          I’m not sure that it’s a case of people feeling ‘excluded’ so much as that it’s a case of people simply not wanting to cycle. Sure, people say “If it was safe, I’d cycle”, but the fact is, it is safe (at least as safe as driving and possibly up to twice as safe, according to the stats I’ve seen) and people still don’t cycle.

          And while it’s true that modern populist bicycle advocacy groups (segregationists) work hard to make cycling seem unsafe (what’s up with that?), the fact is, motorized transport is too convenient and people are too lazy.

          The problem with infrastructure advocacy is that it promotes infrastructure by inculcating fear of traffic and defending cycling incompetence. It would be all well and good to say “Everyone of any ability should be able to cycle, and we need infrastructure because roads are scary” IF there was a complete network of fully segregated cycling infrastructure, but there ISN’T, and there never will be.

          • Ruth Fletcher / February 24, 2015 at 9:08 am

            True, the overall health benefits are reckoned to outweigh the risk of collision, but I dispute your claim that cycling is twice as safe as driving. A high proportion of driver KSIs are to people who are behaving recklessly (youngsters speeding late at night, drink driving etc). The majority of cycle KSIs are found to be the fault of the motorist -so careful drivers are at quite low risk, whereas the only way to really cut your risk when cycling (after basic good technique) is to simply avoid cycling on fast roads, large roundabouts and risky junctions.
            As an adult who is used to cycling, I feel able to ride fairly safely in town, but I am far more conscious of my personal safety than when I drive (when I am more concerned about not hitting anyone). I think the figures back me up- local urban cycling modal share: approx. 1%, cycling share of KSI: 21%. The risk of death or serious injury per mile cycled on the rural network is higher than in town. To cycle to the adjacent large village there is a choice between a roundabout (where about 1 in 1000 vehicles are cycles, but 1/3 of KSIs are people riding bikes), a country ‘lane’ with fast and heavy rat-running (where a person cycling lost his life just a few weeks ago) and a track deep in mud and puddles.
            I have not been prepared to let my 11 year olds ride to school across town roundabouts. Figures show that cyclists made up 11 out of a total of 18 injury accidents on one of these -and I think the risk is higher for kids.
            I agree that there are also other reasons for not cycling, but safety is a genuine and significant reason and better infrastructure is needed.

  4. Julian Ferguson / Reply February 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Definitely some important lessons to be drawn from this brilliant article. How on earth you find the time to dig up all this gold is beyond me. Great read

    • carltonreid / Reply February 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks, Julian. It’s a labour of love…

      ….but one that I have to make money from, too, otherwise I couldn’t justify spending the time on research. The website has bike trade sponsors, the book research was supported by grant-making bodies, and I’m hoping folks will buy the limited edition books via a Kickstarter campaign.
      What I won’t do is hand over the project to a traditional publisher. I want the book to be eclectic: a trad publisher might want to knock into a shape I wouldn’t be happy with.

      • TonyR / Reply March 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

        Have you got any details of the kickstarter campaign – I’d buy one to support the superbly informative research you’ve done. What it needs though is to be made mandatory reading alongside the Highway Code for all new drivers who should be tested on it.

        • carltonreid / Reply March 9, 2013 at 11:00 am

          Thanks, Tony. That sort of comment is very encouraging! I start shooting the Kickstarter video on Monday. I’ve hired in a Roman Centurion, and a bike collector is bringing an 1880s high-wheeler and a selection of early 1900s bicycles. I reckon I could have the Kickstarter campaign ready in a couple of weeks.

          The text for the book will be published on this site for free, and in e-pub format. There will also be a black and white print book (and a stupidly expensive colour one) and a fancy iPad version. The print and iPad versions will be available via the Kickstarter campaign and will come out in advance of the free text version. I’m also working on a speaker tour and, to my surprise, have already been asked to give presentations: the first is in a House of Commons committee room…

          • TonyR / March 16, 2013 at 7:59 pm

            Prof. David MacKay had great success with a similar approach of free online plus paid for print book for his Sustainability without the Hot Air. Hope yours does as well as his did.

  5. Anonymous / Reply February 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    I used to commute across Stevenage as a 16yr old in 1990 to my first real job by bicycle, it was a huge boost to my independence. First by safe cycleways away from the station, but then by the then quiet London Road. This area has expanded into retail-park central with massive growth in traffic.

    Looking at the same route today, London Road has typical UK cycle infrastructure – a mix of thin on-road lanes and shared use paths that cross many busy side roads. There is a parallel route that could be safe but the vision of Claxton has not been continued and the underpasses were not built in this area. Nobody will send their 16yr old to cross a multi-lane fast entry roundabout. Google StreetView near where I worked

    I wonder how todays 16yr olds get about? My route would certainly not be viable today. Independence lost.

    • carltonreid / Reply February 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Yes, not adapting the network has resulted in a curate’s egg situation: good in parts, and it’s the gaps in provision that put people off.

  6. Brian Robson / Reply March 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Fantastic post. It’s topical for me, as I’ve just re-read a Department for Communities and Local Government publication on ‘Transferable Lessons from the New Towns’, published in 2006. Even allowing for the limited progress over the last seven years, the mention given to cycle provision makes pretty shocking reading, I think:

    “The Redway network (i.e. the system of routes for pedestrians and cyclists which run separately to the main road carriageways) in Milton Keynes has supressed cycle use, lowering the public’s expectations of cycling as a mode of transport. They have given a limited freedom to young people, but at the cost of developing good cycling skills and confidence. The Redways have proven consistently less safe than grid-roads for adult cyclists. Separating cyclists from other road users does not appear to improve their safety”

    This report considered 21 different new towns or town extensions – very disappointing that they’ve drawn a lesson from Milton Keynes’ implementation and made this blanket extrapolation that separation = bad, especially when there are examples like the one you highlight in Stevenage which they could have considered.

  7. Herbert Tiemens / Reply March 2, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you for your excellent post! I’ve worked as a traffic engineer in Houten for 12 years and had a lot of visitors asking for the success of Houten and if there are any copies in the world. I knew about Milton Keynes and Stevenage, but never had such a good article to explain why these New Towns didn’t work as Houten.
    Your article also shows that good cycling provisions are best designed by an everyday cyclist. They know the best the cyclists needs. Thank you very much! I am looking forward to read your book.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks, Herbert. Great to hear from somebody with such an intimate knowledge of Houten, one of the places, for cycle usage, we’d love to replicate!

    • Alexander Neisig Moller / Reply September 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Herbert,
      I am looking into Dutch style cycle infrastructure from a planning context. Without going into detail on this blog, would you have an email address I can contact you by to ask you a few questions about Houten if possible. Alex

  8. Simon Parker / Reply March 3, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    A superbly well-researched and thought-provoking article. Thank you very much for writing it, and for the conclusions you draw.

    You finish by asking, Can we ‘Get Britain Cycling’ without taming the car? It’s a good question. I agree with your view, which says that cycle infrastructure works best when part of a greater whole, and that usually means restricting car use.

    I agree with most of what you have written, actually. Although you are clear that the creation of separated infrastructure can result in an increased use of the bicycle, you are equally clear that infrastructure alone isn’t enough. There has to be a range of interlocking measures, you say, of which infrastructure is but a part. Moreover, infrastructure is perhaps not even the first part to consider. I agree with all of this.

    You make the point that since unfettered car-use is seen as a basic human right in the UK
    – a right, you suggest, that politicians meddle with at their peril – a movement away from the car will require a cultural U-turn of significant proportions. As you point out, “The British cultural affinity with motoring – even slow, inconvenient motoring – is all pervasive.”

    Analogies are always useful, and a good way to regard our ‘car culture’, then, is not like some nifty little dinghy, but rather like a chuffing great oil tanker. Turning it around is obviously going to take time therefore. In part this is because democracies have great difficulty in solving the long-term problems created by those policies which had previously provided short-term benefits, as Anthony Downs has noted. Once people receive the ‘benefits’, they do not want to give them up.

    That being the case, asking the authorities to consider reducing the volume of motor traffic first is, I think, a somewhat naïve way to set about creating an amenable cycling environment. According to Dr Robert Davis, this would involve raising the price of fuel, enforcing traffic laws, taking away the number of car parking places, and reducing the amount of road space given over to cars. A bare-knuckled, toe-to-toe fight against the motorist, in other words. Wow.

    As David Arditti has recently explained, “If you ask politicians for traffic reduction you are asking them for a negative thing, for a reduction in a quantity that they associate with activity, industry, prosperity and freedom.” Besides – just talking about London for a moment – since the mid-90s there has been roughly a 20% reduction in the volume of motor traffic. This is a big drop! And yet, no one could seriously claim that the cycling experience for more vulnerable users has in any way been improved directly as a consequence of this. No: I think David is absolutely right to say that the primary thing to call for is not traffic reduction.

    I am sure that in your heart of hearts you would accept this, too. You acknowledge, for example, that in a car-centric society it is a struggle to install even the most basic infrastructure (because of the planning process). Indeed, even when there is a good deal of political support in place, it is still a struggle. For example, in October 1999 Councillors in Cambridge voted overwhelmingly in favour of installing a mandatory cycle lane on Gilbert Road (there were only four votes against). Even so, it took about twelve years for this work to be completed. The delay, of course, was caused by having to deal with all the complaints from local residents who didn’t want to lose their on-road car parking places.

    It has to be said that focussing on a reduction in the volume of traffic first as a means to encourage mass cycling has much the same effect as focussing on infrastructure first, that is, other measures are given less credence. Bearing in mind that these other measures can be made to work relatively quite quickly, and that the cumulative effect of their implementation can be made to add up to more than the sum of their parts, I take the view that by placing all the emphasis on difficult-to-deliver schemes – be it the development of quality infrastructure first, or a reduction in the volume of traffic first – the best interests of cyclists and would-be cyclists are not necessarily being served.

    There’s a lot to like in your article, and I think that on the whole you draw the right conclusions. However, we are cycling advocates, and that being the case, we are going to have to find something to disagree about, you know, or else people might start to get the wrong idea about us :o)

    I think the main bone of contention between us concerns the exacting standards you expect of Claxton. Not that I necessarily have a problem with this, but why do you not apply these same standards to CTC? You quote Pucher and Buehler who said: “The most important approach to making cycling safe and convenient […] is the provision of separate cycling facilities.” CTC rejected this approach, however, but in opposing the development of such facilities, you say that it wasn’t them who failed cyclists and would-be cyclists, but planners
    and politicians!

    You want it both ways, it seems. You report that superiors were brought in above Claxton, and that he had to fight to get many of his plans implemented, even to the point where he had to use “stealth” tactics. And yet, you suggest that he is “very much to blame” for failing to constrain the use of motor vehicles in Stevenage. Are we certain that the higher-ups did not oblige him to compromise on his plans? Given that someone might be writing a piece on Wikipedia about him some time soon, I think we owe it to him to make sure that details such as this are correctly recorded.

    Just one other thing, please. You say that the routes on the Stevenage Cycling Network are distinguished by “colour-coded sign-posting”. Is this still the case, do you know, and if it is, do you have any idea why the current network map doesn’t reflect this?

    In closing, I would like you to be assured that it is absolutely not my intention to take anything away from the excellence of your report, and that being so, I would like to leave the last word with you: ‘Build it and they will come’ works for cars, but it may not necessarily work for bicycles. This does not mean cycleways should not be built of course, but the failure of the Stevenage Cycling Network is a warning that infrastructure alone is not enough.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      A long and detailed reply and one I’ll reply to in greater depth soon.
      I agree that motor traffic reduction is a tough ask for the reason David states. We live in a democracy and the majority want their motors.
      There has to be other tacks. One of those is clean air. Govt wants to wriggle out of its EU clean air commitments and are fighting in the courts on this. One of the bar ways of getting cleaner air is reducing motor traffic pollution.
      This could be via e-cars but that doesn’t help with congestion. Reducing motorised traffic is still seen by the powers that be as anti economy.
      So, how about health as a tack? Should be a no brainer. But Govt doesn’t seriously do anything about active travel.
      Given that Govt won’t do reasonably sensible things I can’t see how it will provide infra for bikes either.
      There’s a great quote from the former PM of Luxembourg. He said politicians know what the problems are with transport but they can’t do anything about them if they want to be re-elected.
      People are comfy in their cars. Most people are happy to be lazy.

      How much of a percentage of UK population want to walk and cycle more? Is it the lack of infra that stops them? Some say that it is and that if only roads weren’t dangerous they’d cycle more. But then there’s Stevenage. It’s all highly confusing and there’s no simple solution.

      • Simon Parker / Reply March 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm

        Thanks for your reply, Carlton.

        I didn’t respond at the time because you indicated you would soon be replying to my comment in greater depth, and I just wanted to wait and see what you would say.

        You conclude your reply by asking if it is a lack of infrastructure that is stopping people from cycling more. Some say that it is, you point out. But then, as you also note, there’s Stevenage. “It’s all highly confusing and there’s no simple solution.”

        Personally I am not at all confused by this, and do believe that there is in fact a simple solution. Indeed, because the solution is so simple, this is probably one of the reasons why it is rejected by the cycling community. This is despite the fact, incidentally, that it comes very highly recommended by the Europeans.

        Analogies are always useful, and perhaps a good way to think about this is to consider those steps that you would need to take if you had several acres of land and permission to build a house thereon. The first thing you would need to decide is where the house is going to be built. Then perhaps you would spend some time thinking about what the house is going to look like when it’s finished. Thereafter you might want to study the feasibility of bringing these various ideas to fruition. Once you had done all your planning, and started to build, you would then lay the foundations, all at once probably. Finally, working from this solid base, you would build upwards.

        A similar process could – indeed should – apply to the development of a city-wide cycle network, as follows:

        1. Think in terms of a network.

        Only by studying a cycle route network will it be possible to truly grasp the situation. (p.40, Cycling: the way ahead)

        2. Plan the network.

        Analyse journeys — origin/destination (headcounts, statistics, interviews). (p.56, Cycling: the way ahead)

        Design from patterns to details.

        3. Study the feasibility of the network.

        Studying the feasibility of a network is of a similar importance to setting up a cycling unit or appointing a cycling coordinator. (p.57, Cycling: the way ahead)

        4. Introduce the network.

        The level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow. (p.56, Cycling: the way ahead)

        5. Develop the network.

        Implement the network on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable. (p.56, Cycling: the way ahead)

        For CTC, the most contentious aspect of this proposal is probably Step 1. There already is a cycle network in place, they say: it’s called the road network.

        For the Cycling Embassy, the most contentious aspect of this proposal is Step 4, but I do not understand why this should be so. If you were building a house you would lay the foundations all at once, so why would you do differently if you were building a cycle network? (I never do get an answer to this question, by the way, so I would be very surprised if you did anything other than just ignore it.)

        Once the network has been introduced, and made to work, albeit at a minimum level of functioning to begin with, it would then be possible to progressively reprioritise the urban environment in favour of more active forms of travel. The key here is sustained investment.

        “It’s a long-term plan,” Andrew Davis from the Environmental Transport Association once said, “and it’s not about being anti-cars, because our members are car-drivers, you know, we’re not anti-car. It’s having the right form of transport in the right place and at the right time. And we need to do it, and we can do it gently and purposefully, that’s the point. You know where you’re going to go, and you tell everybody this is why we’re doing it, and you bring them on board. If you make swingeing changes, no one likes that, it’s quite understandable. A change of ramping up petrol prices or blocking roads is not on. It’s got to be saying, ‘This is where we’re going in our cities, and we’re going to do it purposefully, and we’re telling you why we’re doing it.’ That’s the main thing.”

        P.S. If you do decide to reply, could I ask you please to also consider this comment which I posted on Rachel Aldred’s blog? Many thanks.

        • carltonreid / Reply March 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

          Hi Simon

          I was going to keep my first answer short but it grew, and some of the rest of the answer is for the book.

          I don’t disagree with your points but that’s ideal world stuff, and we don’t live in an ideal world. The UK’s motorists are in the majority and we live in a democracy. I don’t see any planner or politician having the balls and strategic long-term thinking to create the network you envisage.

          The one in the Netherlands was built up, in fits and starts, over 40+ years and was put in place with the approval of a largely willing population. Cycling in the Netherlands has been strong for 100+ years, far stronger and with more mass appeal than anything witnessed in the UK, even during the peaks of cycle use, pre-1950s.

          In the UK, those who wish to cycle – or who are already cycling – are very much in the minority and it’s a very tough sell to argue for more facilities for such a minority. Chicken and egg, I know, but that’s life.

          Couple that with the fact towns with a great planned cycle network – like Stevenage – didn’t bring home the bacon and you can see it’s an even tougher sell.

          Now, motor cars are relatively late on the scene, and as I show elsewhere on this site, roads have changed radically in the past 100 years and can change radically again. Think of all the tram infrastructure that was hugely dominant for a time – and which was thought to be a permanent fixture – and then witness how the infrastructure was quickly grubbed up for cars.

          We *can* reimagine a different future, and it would be great if cities became more people friendly and less car friendly, but this is not a majority view. Just look what happens when towns and cities take away a few parking places: all hell is let loose. Brits are married to their cars and it will take a convulsive transport revolution to change such behaviour.

          There are the first small inklings of the forthcoming transport revolution – peak car, fossil fuel shocks etc etc – and perhaps cities will be transformed to be better places for people and not just their speeding tin-boxes but my piece is attempting to show that the building of world-class infrastructure is not enough, car use has also to be curbed – as per Houten. There are few signs yet of politicians really wanting to curb car use. In fact, it’s very much the opposite.

  9. Hugh Madgin, Stevenage / Reply March 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I’m sure that Eric Claxton worked with the best of intentions (I knew him in his latter years and he was a charming man), but the legacy of segregation has done nobody any favours in Stevenage.
    First, where cycle tracks have not been laid people on bikes feel they have an entitlement to cycle on the pavement ringing their bells and tutting to clear inconvenient pedestrians out of the way (this is especially bad in Stevenage High Street). Furthermore, the roundabout and dual carriageway culture of Stevenage New Town has inculcated the idea in motorists that they can just get in their car and put their foot down and anybody on foot on a bicycle should not be on the road. Not healthy!
    Sadly, the ‘and that’s official’ policy which is embodied perfectly in Stevenage (which is after all the National Museum of the Mid-20th Century) was a case of ‘segregate segregate segregate’. With a blank sheet to work from, the planners said ‘you will work here, shop here, relax here and live here and never will these functions overlap’.
    All very Postwar and ludicrous now, but this was how our forefathers thought. Even as late as the 1990s, this separatism was still alive when a Leisure Park was built to corral all late night entertainment in the town together.
    Thank goodness things are now moving forward and leaving the 20th century behind: there are still lessons to be learned from Holland, but I think they are 21st century ones where all road users coexist with consideration for each other, rather than being shielded from each other to everyone’s ultimate disbenefit.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      What follows won’t be news to most cyclists…

      When I cycle on some roads in Newcastle that have bike paths beside them I’ve been shouted at by drivers for not using the bike paths. The bike paths may be strewn with glass and wet leaves and don’t go quite where I want to go but, according to some drivers, I *have* to use them.
      I’d love to see more protection for cyclists but should we ever get high-quality, NL-style bike paths they would have to be direct and well-maintained. Yesterday’s display by the transport ministers in the Get Britain Inquiry fills me with no confidence that what is required will be delivered. Political leadership is lacking and there’s simply no comprehension from the Government that cycling would need steady and growing investment over many years, not the current stop/start, found-some-spare-change-down-the-back-of-the-DfT’s-sofa strategy that we get given at the moment.

  10. Frank Proud / Reply March 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    This is probably a really good article that deserves to be read. I’ve read half of it, but it is just too long!
    Is there a summary or a conclusion?

    • Richard Higginbottom / Reply March 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Here’s a summary:
      Stevenage is a great place to cycle. But the people who live in the town are too fond of the tin idols sitting outside their houses they can’t be bothered to make some physical effort to get to work or to the shops. The man that designed the cycleways powers the lights in the cycle underpasses via a generator as he constantly turns in his grave. Get out and use this great resource, people of Stevenage!

      • carltonreid / Reply March 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

        I didn’t mention laziness in the piece but I fear it’s a major reason why people may not cycle even if the infra is great.

        • RH / Reply March 8, 2013 at 9:39 pm

          Yes got too much of my own opinion / knowledge in there – apologies!

      • TonyR / Reply March 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

        A briefer summary: Build it and they won’t come

    • carltonreid / Reply March 8, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Short version: ace bike infra built in New Town by a cyclist but very few folks used it cos infra for cars was great, too. Moral: bike infra in isolation may not work, needs raft of measures, including curbing car use.

    • Roger Suddaby / Reply July 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      Wow! Ten to fifteen minutes of reading… Are you really that time starved? Just read it for goodness sakes.

    • Philip Grice / Reply November 7, 2014 at 4:32 am

      Conclusion: You’re an idle git. Get out of your motorized tin can and ride the cycleways of Stevenage. I grew up there from soon after they started construction. My father became active politically and served on the council at the time when many design aspects were still being decided. I can remember meeting Eric Claxton one evening when he brought some design drawings to our house so he could lobby for my father’s support, which was not difficult as we all rode bicycles still in those days.

      When I started at Hatfield Technical Grammar School some years later I often rode a bicycle there and back, in uniform, satchel on my back. Riding on the A1 Great North Road (which only had only three lanes in total), through Knebworth, Welwyn and Hatfield. It was a physical challenge but I did it for the exercise and freedom from bus schedules.

      The drivers were kind and shared the road, but often just barely. This was before the A1(M) bypass was built. Later I rode to my job in the industrial area each day, happy not having to interact with the growing road traffic as affluence increased. The cycleways were fantastic.

      Now I live in California, where many people freely admit they can’t handle driving around a few roundabouts! But then they can’t drive well in a straight line either. I still ride a bicycle to my office and back when I can. A round trip of around 14 miles most days. I have to deal with drivers doing 55-65 mph on six lane divided highways (dual carriageways) that are really just intended for local traffic. The city has painted lines to mark off narrow bicycle lanes in the gutter. But with no physical separation drivers frequently drive deliberately overlapping these lanes or drift over while preoccupied blathering or texting on their phones when they should be paying attention to where they are going.

      The world need more visionaries like Eric Claxton. Everywhere.

      So if you managed to read this far, go back and finish reading about Eric’s vision for a utopian city with separation of traffic appropriate for their respective speeds. Try it. You might like it. I did.


  11. Richard Higginbottom / Reply March 8, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Superb article I really enjoyed finding out all the history and rationale for the design of Stevenage Cycleways. I’ve lived in Stevenage since 1990 and I’m constantly amazed at the lack of cyclists. Perched up at the North end of Grace Way I cycle to the railway station each workday never having to use a road. I go shopping and visit the pool and the gym at weekends by pedal power. With a bit of forethought and a willingness to hop off in pedestrian areas it’s by far the best way to access everywhere in the town. I’ve been considering more active promotion of cycling in the town for a while (I’m the local Sustrans volunteer and a CTC member) and I think we need to connect with people who could become “utility” cyclists. Time to get into some of the companies in the town and get them to encourage cycling to work. My daughter rides her bike to work and her workmates seem to think she’s a freak!

  12. Paul Robison / Reply March 8, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    What a great story – thank you Carlton. Great timing for me as I only recently cycled round Stevenage for the first time a couple of weeks ago, on the way to a cycle training conference to which most people seemed to have driven (with their bikes on racks).

    I’m sure you have lots of ideas for future chapters, but how about one on Cambridge? Pretty well the opposite of Stevenage: lots of cycling in spite of the provision. As you know, I have my own theory about why Cambridge has a cycling culture: start by looking at the history of the Motor Proctor.


    • carltonreid / Reply March 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks, Paul. I’m happy to hear about your theories. Feel free to email me.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 8, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      Ah, quick Google and there’s this:

      Interesting. So, students have to apply to use motorcars in Cambridge and need to show off-street parking and additional insurance. Presumably some applications get turned down and, because of this, other students don’t bother applying. Good use of stick.

      Yes, that looks like a very good subject for research.

      • Anonymous / Reply March 9, 2013 at 1:26 am

        Cambridge is not so different to London. In the historic centre there is a shortage of parking for staff let alone students. Student activities ( lectures, practicals, sports etc) are in different locations over the city typically within a few kilometres. It’s not unheard of to have lectures finish and start at the same time in different locations. Bus routes don’t have the coverage, frequency and hours to compete.

        • Chris Juden / Reply March 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm

          What!?! Okay, London has some universities and quite a lot of students, but as a percentage of the whole population, as an influence upon the culture and ambience of the whole city, there is nowhere else in UK remotely like Cambridge. Until the expansions of the last few decades, Cambridge was pretty much a one-industry town, and that industry is learning.

          In reply to Hester, I didn’t personally know any students who had cars, with or without permission, but did hear of someone who was able to have one by being secretary of the sailing club. I think this University rule goes back a long way. Were students ever allowed to keep horses in college? I somehow doubt it and don’t know of any old stables. And whereas growing numbers of bicycles have been accommodated quite painlessly in odd vacant corners, there is no way the old central colleges could ever have provided mass car parking. That practical aspect is surely the main reason for this rule, plus perhaps a bit of egalitarianism.

          And as for walking: one of my friends thought he’d do that, but soon discovered how limiting that was, quickly learned to ride a bike (which coming from a poor family in darkest Merseyside he’d never done yet) and accompanied me and a couple of mates on a tour of Scotland in our first long vac!

        • TonyR / Reply March 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

          I agree with Chris. London is completely different in its student population and has the benefit of a very good public transport system they can use to get around. I can get around London easily on my bike or Tube or bus with my preference for the bike because of crowding on the Tube and buses. In Cambridge I use a bike because there are few buses and they tend to not go where I want.

        • Anonymous / Reply June 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

          I think you might find that historically for Oxford (and I believe Cambridge also) the requirement to lodge within a set distance of the University, and restrictions on keeping a horse/carriage in livery in the college area may have pre-empted restrictions on horseless carriages, perhaps making draisennes and their later development to machines with driven wheels likely well vefore the dawn of the 20th Century

      • Paul Robison / Reply March 9, 2013 at 7:17 am

        Glad I’ve got you hooked! As you know, it’s by no means just students who cycle in Cambridge, but I believe the sheer numbers who do provide the example/excuse/safety in numbers for everyone else to do so too. They’re a sort of catalyst.

        The balance of power between the University and the Council is one factor to explore. I’m not certain of the history, but I cannot imagine that the Council would ever have been able to force the University to introduce this restriction, so the chances are it was the University’s own decision. I’m also not sure when it happened, but it was a very long time ago (i.e. before I came here!).

        What motivated it? How do they get away with it? Could it be done elsewhere? Just a few of of the many questions I’d be pleased to help you try to find the answers to.

        Come to Cambridge. Take some great pics. Interview some ancient dons. Write another great chapter.

        • carltonreid / Reply March 9, 2013 at 10:50 am

          It’s definitely worth exploring. For BikeBiz I interviewed a clean air don the other day and she was telling me Newcastle University has exceeded its targets of getting people out of cars, partly by removing parking spaces. And thinking on, I could see she was right. A number of new buildings have sprouted up recently and they’ve been built over former car parks.

          More cities/institutions should do the same.

      • TonyR / Reply March 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm

        Its much more than having to show off-street parking and additional insurance. Its that having a car within 10 miles of Cambridge centre is forbidden except in “exceptional individual circumstances” and carries a fine of up to £175. The other university in Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin, also forbids students to have cars in the city. So you have some 30,000 young people whose only way around is by cycle or walk which is some 20% of the population. A good start for creating the impression that cycling is normal. Its interesting that the other place that has a similar but weaker arrangement, Oxford, also has high levels of cycling although not as high as Cambridge. So place with great facilities but no constraints on cars = low cycling levels; place with few facilities but strong constraints on cars = cycling at Dutch or Danish levels.

        • TonyR / Reply March 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

          I should say the high cycling levels are not just students. One third of non-student journeys in Cambridge are by bike also and you see lots of cargo bikes and trailers delivering children to school too.

        • Hester / Reply March 11, 2013 at 11:43 am

          I knew students who had cars without permission. It’s impossible to enforce. The main reason students don’t have cars is because they don’t need them. Distances involved are small, roads are congested and there’s nowhere to park.

          Also for the students I knew walking was much more the norm than cycling. Obviously it depends on your college / dept what sort of distances you need to cover, but I think student cycling is exaggerated. Cycling is common all over Cambridge in areas where there is no student presence. My employer’s bike parking is overflowing in summer and well-used in winter, and it’s not at all unusual in Cambridge for that.

          • TonyR / March 16, 2013 at 9:00 am

            That might have been but the University is spread out over a large area from the Addenbrookes site in the south to the West Cambridge site, a distance of 5 miles, where lots of the departments are moving and the soon to be Northwest Cambridge development. You can walk but it can be a long way/time when you are a student who is already under severe time pressures anyway. If you did have a sneaky car hidden away it would either cost you a fortune in central parking or you’d need a bike to cycle out to where you’d hidden it.

  13. Chris Commonsense / Reply March 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    But, did this enable cycleway users/commuters to get from a [e.g. home] to b [e.g. work] in less time, compared to those using cars for the same trip at the same time? obviously, this should be the benchmark for these schemes.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 8, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Totally not. Car use was encouraged, too, hence cycleway’s failure.

    • Richard Higginbottom / Reply March 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      TIme is only one factor. Cost and (increasingly) health and environmental concern are getting people onto bikes. And the bike racks at Stevenage station have twice the capacity vs 15 years ago – and fully utilised when there used to be spare space. So it’s slowly getting there. £6 to park a car makes a difference!

      • Chris Commonsense / Reply March 9, 2013 at 12:21 am

        I don’t see that people (en mass) really care about long term health and environment issues. Time is the #1 factor.

        Bike vs. car to the station – both are multimodal transport options, so not really important factors.

        £6 for parking, what’s that – 20 minutes at work for someone who earns £32k? Hardly going to cause a modal shift, is it?

        • Richard H / Reply March 9, 2013 at 9:52 pm

          £6 per day works out to £1400 per year that’s going to be about 6% of the net pay on £32k. Then add in the fuel cost. Then double that for wear and tear on the car. But you’re right, people do think about time as number 1 factor then try to work out why they’re skint.

    • Rebecca Hart / Reply March 8, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      I think this was part of the point. No, it did not. It was still easier and quicker to get around by car, so that is what people did. And still do.

  14. eddie / Reply March 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for a brilliant piece of work, if only he had spoted the point about restricting car use. He definitely deserves more recognition

    • Peter Parker / Reply March 9, 2013 at 12:11 am

      Why are you for excluding/discouraging certain road users…this opinion really beggars belief imo.

      • Chris Commonsense / Reply March 9, 2013 at 12:26 am

        The case clearly shows that with improved traffic flow, all road users can benefit. Allowance of multiple types of road user and eradication of obstacles being the main points that stand out. I personally believe people will choose the fastest mode.

      • Anonymous / Reply June 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm

        The general, fundamental, reason is because certain road users impose costs on everyone else. Motorists are hugely subsidised (propagandistic drivel about the non-existent ‘road tax’ notwithstanding), so discouraging them would benefit everyone.

        The current situation is economically inefficient, as the hidden subsidies received by drivers completely distort people’s decision-making.

        Sadly the political power of the motorist-lobby makes it extraordinarily hard to remove that subsidy. It certainly can’t be done at a stroke, so the only possible hope of getting out of this mess seems to be to try and push motorists, a few at a time, onto alternative modes of transport, in the hope that this will gradually weaken the power of the subsidy-hungry petrolheads. I’m pessimistic that can work, but the only other option is to wait for the oil to run out.

        That’s my take on it anyway.

  15. Pdcopsey / Reply March 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Excellent article and web page Carlton!

    One matter that might be investigated further is the degree of containment within Stevenage (how many residents live and work in Stevenage). Typically new towns are net importers of labour, and this may be a further influence on mode choice that might explain why such a well conceived network is underused.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      I agree, and that would very much explain today but I’m not so sure it would explain 1960s or 1970s. Stevenage was designed as a 60-80,000 population ‘model village’, totally self-contained with most workers (manual ones, at least) living in the town itself. When the traditional employment dried up in the 1980s, people had to spread their net wider. And it doesn’t explain why children’s journeys to school are also v low.

  16. Prof.I.Etsen / Reply March 9, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    What this article hints at, but doesn’t quite say, is that car driving should be viewed in the same way as smoking: a danger to public health, and not just the health of the drivers themselves. The parallels between smoking and car driving run deep. Car drivers behave selfishly (although most probably don’t realise it) and car driving is not just socially acceptable it is socially encouraged. Most importantly, unnecessary car driving (such as taking children to school, or driving to the shops or to work) deters others from engaging in a healthy lifestyle and sucks up massive resources. Until car drivers are made to feel ashamed of their behaviour, there is little hope for cycling in the UK.

    • carltonreid / Reply March 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      I tried – as far as possible – to keep my views out of the piece and not make too many value judgements. I’m freer with my views in the comments and, yes, I agree with what you say.

    • Michael Prescott / Reply June 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      Unfortunately this will not happen, as the motor industry is unfortunately a major employer and the UK Gov obtains a large amount of revenue from the motorist – a cash cow.

  17. Steve Hedges / Reply March 10, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Reading this article made me realise what a failure the Milton Keynes traffic system is, given there was such a prime previous example of what could be achieved. I used to cycle on the MK redways when I lived near there, but gave up and switched to cycling on the roads after some close shaves that were a direct result of stupidly tight corners and planting that seriously restricted sight lines.

  18. Anonymous / Reply March 10, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I remember cycling round Stevenage when I lived there, personally I found the numerous intersections and underpasses for the cycle network very confusing, until you figured out where they all went, to the point where i would sometimes choose the road because that way I could reliably predict where I was going to end up.

    Another problem with the Stevenage cycle ways is the small issue of lane discipline. Once or twice I would come down an underpass take a corner too fast and meet another cyclist/ pedestrian cutting the corner coming the other way! Lighting and broken glass could also be a problem as would the understandable reluctance of mainly female cyclists to use underpasses late at night.

    It is interesting to note however from the Dutch experience that providing a good cycling infrastructure is not by itself enough. Steps have to be taken to actively discourage car use. Also in Holland you can be fined for not using a cycle path which would not find favour with the more militant wing of the cycling community in the Uk.

  19. The Purple Cyclist / Reply March 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Great article. Here in the US attitudes are very similar to those in the UK. People here absolutely love their cars and consider driving to be a birthright. Many would prefer to keep pesky cyclists off the road. So if we had a place like Stevenage, it might have suffered a similar fate. But there is hope, at least many cities, businesses, and universitites are getting into the spirit of the League of American Bicyclists, bicycle friendly America program.

  20. aadjanson / Reply April 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Stevenage, Houten, what about Leiden, The Netherlands: 52 08 29.55 , 4 29 12.93 ?

    • carltonreid / Reply April 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      I chose Houten because it’s often the town used as Cycle Nirvana and because the pix of Stevenage and Houten looked so similar, and the infra was put in place in similar periods. I could have used Leiden or any number of other Dutch towns, I guess.

      It’s well known that many Dutch towns have stellar bike networks, it’s not at all well known that at least one UK town had something very similar. Why does the bike infra in these Dutch towns do so well compared to the flop that was Stevenage?

      A number of people have told me that 14 percent modal share is a reason to celebrate but if a whole town is given NL-style cycle infrastructure and – at its very peak – we only get 14 percent modal share I don’t see that as a success at all.

      Clearly, there are many factors at play here and infrastructure alone is not the be all and end all of provision for cyclists.

  21. John McCartney / Reply April 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    A bit of extra history:

    In 1955 I was 6 years old and had been living in Stevenage New Town for a year with my Mother, baby sister and my Father, who worked at English Electric – later to become BAC. One winter evening I took part with my Father and his workmates in a blockade of the A1 Great North Road near the Roebuck pub, with several hundred workers from EE and other factories, to protest the death of a workman knocked down by a truck on the A1 on his way to work. I remember the excitement of the men with flares actually stopping lorries in the dark – one man threw his bike down in front of a truck and dared the driver to run it over – he didn’t! At that time there were no cycle lanes and very few through roads in Stevenage. The people of the New Town (few in number then compared with now) were promised safe cycleways as part of the development of the Town, and the first was built due west from the north-western end of Broadwater Crescent to the factory estate shortly after – in my memory the cycleway was put in before the road was completed. But the problem was the Great North Road which had to be crossed. This was one of the busiest A-roads in Britain, and was obviously lethal for cyclists. So the Army were called in, and they built a steel girder Bailey Bridge over the A1 just for cyclists and pedestrians. It had a wooden deck and was still there 5 years later – I often cycled over it when I graduated to 2 wheels myself.

    My Dad and his mates were convinced that they’d been the driving force behind the first cycleway; he used it every day for many years until he gaveup cycling and me his (extraordinarily heavy) Raleigh bike with a 3 speed Sturmey-Archer dynohub.

    • carltonreid / Reply April 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks, John, fascinating stuff.

      This episode is in Claxton’s memoirs. He describes the union protest. The man killed was a postal worker. The bailey bridge was loaned from the War Office. But, said Claxton, unions wouldn’t allow volunteer labour from the TA to help install the bridge so it took 9 months longer to install than it need have. “So many months of enhanced safety had been lost in the process,” he complained.

      • John McCartney / Reply April 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

        I will read the book when it appears. Was I right on the date? I was very small and it was a long time ago! John

        • carltonreid / Reply April 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

          Claxton doesn’t mention the date but the 1950s Stevenage development reports – issued to Government departments responsible for the New Towns and transport etc – are online and as the bailey bridge is discussed in the past tense in the 1956 report I’d say you were spot on with 1955.
          The 1956 report doesn’t mention the A1 demo or the blocking tactic by the union. In fact it says there was “speedy construction” of the bridge.

    • Colin / Reply August 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Hi John I have only just read this article and your own story. You are the same age as me and I lived in Stevenage / Knebworth and remember the baily bridge, my father also worked for English Electric at the time as your father.
      You mention the Roebuck pub junction blockade on the A1 following an accident. Was this unfortunate person killed when hit by a lorry at this junction? I remember seeing an accident there when a cyclist went under a brick lorry. We were on our school bus alongside on our way from Knebworth to Shephalbury, School in the morning.
      Several of our class mates were suffering from shock and were taken ill during the same morning.
      I would be interested to know if this was connected to the blockade story?
      Colin Percival

      • John McCartney / Reply August 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        Hi Colin – just read your reply. Were you bussed from Knebworth to Shephall for your Junior Schooling? If you’re the same age as me the accident would have happened when you were about 6 or 7. I went to Roebuck Infants and Juniors from 1954 until 1960, then to Alleynes with quite a few Knebworth-ites as classmates – Michael Clark, David Maclean and Clive Norris spring to mind. As for the accident I don’t know where the accident was – I’d guess a search of the Stevenage Gazette’s archives would furnish the information. I’ll see if I can dig up the info when I’ve got a spare couple of hours!

        Cheers, John

  22. p / Reply April 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    i lived in Stevenage in 1995 and worked in St Albans area – cycling in the immediate area was excellent shops sports centre station parks hospital etc were all on our doorstep – the real issue is that Stevenage is a commuter town – people live there but worked elsewhere – the elsewhere was not linked by good cycling infrastructure so the car (and the A1) wins everytime. It is a great model of how it can be but retro fitting of cycle paths into car centric town and city centres in a cash strapped local authority is not a priority. I hope things will shift once critical mass is achieved and folks see how cycling benefits all.

  23. rich257 / Reply May 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    The network in Stevenage caught the attention of Cambridge City Council when it was preparing it’s development plan that was published in 1966. They seemed to view the network as a success at the time, more on the Cambridge plans here:

    • carltonreid / Reply May 16, 2013 at 11:17 pm


      Yes, Eric Claxton prepared some ambitious plans for Cambridge.

  24. Simon / Reply June 7, 2013 at 8:21 am

    If he doesn’t have a wikipedia page, then create one!

    That is the point afterall…

    • carltonreid / Reply June 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

      You’re right, I could. I’d edit an Eric Claxton page but I wouldn’t start one as it would be a direct plug for this story.

  25. George Johnston / Reply June 9, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Very well written and informative post!

    I completely agree that car use needs to be curbed, especially in our towns and cities. Hopefully Boris Johnson and TfL can lead the way in London with a reallocation of road space *away* for motor traffic as well as towards cycle traffic, and the imposition of 20mph limits which will make driving more inconvenient.

  26. Tom Bailey / Reply June 18, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Hi Carlton,

    very interesting worthwhile stuff.

    For cycle infrastructure to be considered economically viable in its own right by DfT it must serve a catchment with a considerable population of either middle class families or young urbanites. i.e. groups that it is relatively easy to convince to cycle.

    The sorts of areas where these demographic segments tend to live generally speaking are already areas where the car never quite became king. Most UK cities stopped short of bulldozing enough space to build the sort of road network that Stevenage has.

    Getting around by car is already pretty inconvenient in places like Islington or Jesmond. Hence building a Dutch style network can and does make immediate sense. There is plenty of data out there now which shows good growth in usage resulting when even quite mediocre infrastructure is installed.

    It is not impossible to get public support for arterial cycle routes and for traffic calming / filtered permiability schemes in residential areas where motor rat running is seen as a problem. Car parking is a big issue but not insurmountable.

    So, how relevant is the Stevenage experience to current debate over where we go with cycle infrastructure development in the UK?

    My own view is that its very relevant when looking at how we plan new communities like Newcastle Great Park, and some of the lessons do appear to have been understood by the planners. However when it comes to funding and retrofitting new networks funded by transport money its almost irrelevant as you’d never get any cash to do anything in a place like Stevenage anyway.

    Yes its complicated, but when you look at where geographically there is public pressure to build cycle infrastructure, where emerging pockets of cycle culture are, where a decent rate of return on investment can be achieved, where the car has been tamed already, then it actually gets a lot less complicated.

    How about we all just agree that going dutch in our traditional inner suburbs and city centres makes huge sense and spend the next ten years getting on with it?

    • carltonreid / Reply June 19, 2013 at 4:05 am

      We can agree all we like but, unfortunately, the people we have to convince (local politicians, planners, voters) don’t always want what we want.

      I agree about the pockets thing, though. Building a network by stealth, joining up the pockets.

      It’s in the areas (and whole towns – such as Cambridge) where cycling culture is strong that the most gains can be made. This doesn’t help those areas that probably need cycle infrastructure the most, but where car-use is extremely high and any gains whatsoever would have to be in the teeth of much local opposition.

      • Tom Bailey / Reply June 19, 2013 at 10:49 am

        Yep, its a tough choice to direct investment only to where it will generate the best return. The decision Newcastle ended up making for its Cycle City bid was to build the two routes with the best return but construct a 3rd into the west end on principal that leaving 1/3 of the city out couldn’t be justified.

        The further route construction gets away from the City Centre the more the problem you highlight with Stevenage rears its head, if it’s really, really convenient to get around by car most people won’t cycle.

  27. The Pedalling Pedant / Reply July 6, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Interesting article. While not as extreme a similar situation exists in Perth, Western Australia. Seriously good, comprehensive cycling infrastructure isolated from major roads yet the school gates are a mass of grand SUV’s dropping off/collecting children – a large percentage of whom are overweight. However, as with Stevenage, Perth also has a good road system where traffic jams are relatively rare, though this is changing as the population is increasing dramatically as a result of the mining boom.

  28. Binghammer / Reply July 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Good heavens, we’d all forgotten about Stevenage.
    A little piece of Netherlands style cycling infrastructure we shall never see in Britain
    as long as this car lifestyle thing continues, it seems.
    If only the Dutch had won the last Anglo-Dutch war in the 18th Century, invaded these shores
    and taken charge.
    Things may have been very different!

  29. ben / Reply January 7, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I live in Stevenage and used the cycle paths though out my childhood they was excellent but now I drive more but get on my bike from tome to time the thing is most cyclists use the bloody road next to the the cycle paths its crazy please could someone tell me why its like they are saying fuck you Claxton!!

    • carltonreid / Reply January 7, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Not everywhere in Stevenage can be reached by Claxton’s cycleways: there have been new developments and out-of-town shopping centres which are not connected to the grid, hence the need to use standard roads.
      Also, quite a number of Stevenage residents don’t know the cycleway system exists so use the road system. The cycleways are not well-signed.

      • ben / Reply January 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

        I am sorry but if people drive or walk in Stevenage they will see tge cycle paths they are everywhere the only place that has not got them is grate Ashby. It still dose not exsplane that nearly everyday I see cyclists on the road next to the cycle paths its so silly and have not got a clue why they do it

        • carltonreid / Reply January 8, 2014 at 1:47 pm

          When cyclists don’t use cycle paths it’s usually for very good reasons.
          If a cycle route network doesn’t go everywhere – and, in the UK, they rarely do – cyclists have to use the roads. Getting on and off a cycle route network can take time, and add detours. Also, cycle paths don’t tend to be as well maintained as roads so they are strewn with glass and, in winter, aren’t gritted.
          If cycle paths went everywhere and were wide and well-maintained, cyclists would use them.

          • ben / January 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm

            This it in Stevenage they are maintained I use them my self some times, they do get gritted in winter they are a wast of money if cyclists use the road. Why dont people come to Stevenage and do a survey Before spending silly money on making cycle lanes everywhere that will not get used its silly. And buy the way you can get Anywhere in Stevenage on Cycle paths apart from one area. There is no point putting them in there as they will not get used!!!

    • Law @ Drumtrip / Reply February 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Great question. I live in a village outside Stevenage and drive to work every day via the very busy Gunnels Wood road (A1 roundabout) and even at that time cyclists seem to rather bike on the dual carriageway / roads despite being parallel to a cyclepath. It blows my mind that most would risk the dangerous rush hour roads rather than use the perfectly functional cycle paths created for them.
      I know Stevenage inside out and have cycled a lot myself; the vast majority of Stevenage is accessible by these very wide cycle paths yet they are not used nearly as much as they should be.

      • carltonreid / Reply February 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm

        The answer’s in the article. (A long article so, yes, the answer might be tucked away). Today’s network isn’t as good as the original one so there are gaps that mean cyclists can’t always use the cycleways. Also, if the cyclists are riding in from outside Stevenage it’s not always easy to get on to the cycleway network and the access points aren’t always designed to very high standards. It’s quicker to carry on using the roads.

        I’ve done that myself. On the outskirts of town it can be very frustrating to follow the suggested cycleways because they’re pretty crap. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and in Stevenage there are a great many weak links.

        However, it does depend where you’re going to and from: some of the routes are easier, quicker and nicer on the cycleway.

        They could do with being better signed and advertised. Many cyclists might not know they exist.

  30. Paspie / Reply September 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I agree that more towns should have a system like Stevenage’s (it’s not a problem if very few use it as long as it is there), but I can’t agree with the ‘iron-fist’ approach on discouraging motorists. People have the choice what mode of transport they use, each has it’s advantages and disadvantages but most people are not prepared to brave roads with a bicycle everyday, nor create conflict with other road-users. The automobile is the best way to avoid conflict because we have come to expect them on our roads. Cyclists might not be a problem on the face of things, but they inhabit an ‘unhappy medium’ between motorists and pedestrians, our society doesn’t really know how to handle them, that’s why no one wants to be a ‘cyclist’.

  31. Trevor / Reply December 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I made the cycle paths look busy by the magic of photoshop last year…

  32. Rosemary Metcalf / Reply February 10, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Came across this article while feeling nostalgic about my home town of Stevenage and looking for photos of it in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My father Roy Lenthall was deputy to Eric Claxton and later went on to become Chief Engineer after Mr. Claxton retired. Mr. Claxton was an absolute gentleman he and my father were passionate about the Stevenage cycle paths, roads, roundabouts and street lighting. I grew up watching cine films of pedestrian and road traffic, I thought they were fun particularly when played backwards. As a child growing up in Stevenage I loved the cycle paths, they gave me freedom to travel around the town on my bike while being safe from traffic. My father and Mr. Claxton spent many, many hours researching and planning for the New Town of Stevenage. Not everyone liked the end result and sadly the town has been allowed to deteriorate over the years, but the intentions behind the plan were to make Stevenage and pleasant and innovative place to live. For many of us living there during the 1960’s and early 70’s it was that pleasant and innovative place. I have many happy memories of those early New Town years. Ironically now I live in New Mexico in a town that has poor roads and no pavements (sidewalks), how I miss those Stevenage roads and cycle paths now!

  33. jan michiels / Reply March 6, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    With a group of some 20 students from the Academy of Traffic (Verkeersacadie) Tilburg (NL) I visited Stevenage in the 70s . Eric Claxton himself spent a complete day (lunch included in a local pub!) showing the marvelous system of cycleways. I have never forgotten this day!

  34. Jeremy F. Parker / Reply March 31, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve just read your article about Stevenage, and everybody’s comments. The article is spot on, as usual. There’s a good article about Stevenage, by Claxton, in the proceedings of the very first Velo City conference, held in Bremen, in 1981, which must be about the time of Stevenage’s being handed over from the New Towns people, to the county of Hertfordshire, and Claxton’s retirement. The article probably won’t have any revelations that you haven’t seen elsewhere, however.
    In Herts. roads are maintained by the county. Bikes are vehicles, so the bike paths of Stevenage must be roads. In fact they must be part of adjacent roads, because, when Stevenage was planned, special purpose roads, open to only one kind of vehicle, were illegal (Harlow found a loophole, so Harlow’s paths are different from those of Stevenage)
    There is an era that you may not have looked at, around 1952, when there was a major Europe wide controversy: were mopeds bikes, or were they motor vehicles? Denmark said motor vehicles, as did the UK, of course; the Netherlands said bikes, and I think France did too.
    The Netherlands, of course was the HQ of one of the Seven Sisters oil cartel – Shell. In the ’50s and ’60s Dutch bike paths became moped paths – good sight lines etc, for excessively fast travel, and rough Belgian block surfaces acceptable, because mopeds have suspensions. Faster travel making circuitous detours round major intersections acceptable.
    In 1973 the Netherlands proved a good country for the Arabs to boycott: a little country with a big oil company. The Dutch came to their senses, and built a couple of prototype bike facilities, in Tilburg and the Hague, completed in about 1978. I still have somewhere a couple of booklets about the schemes, that the Dutch embassy in Washington DC handed out back then, at some meeting there
    I regret that didn’t contribute to the funding of your Bike Boom book, so I guess I must wait my turn to buy it. When that turn comes, a cheque will be promptly in the mail.
    I lived in DC from late ’63 to ’88. That was a good place from which to observe the bike boom, because that was a major source of relevant money, and people were vaguely pro cycling, rather than hostile. For a time the Washington Post managed to get the impression that every cyclist was liable to be a lawyer, which did wonders for the behaviour of motorists.

  35. Peter Bate / Reply September 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    The Stevenage Urban Transport Plan states that 58% of Stevenage employed people live & work in the town but only 5% of that 58% cycle to work whilst 59% use a car. Are the reasons behind purely cultural?

  36. Ian / Reply December 13, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    As one of the 3% I cycle to work every day and particularly enjoy when I glide past all the traffic at rush hour without a care in the world!
    I spent 5 years commuting by bike in London so I know how dangerous the alternative is. I agree it’s not perfect but it’s a much better starting point than most other UK towns as cycling steadily gains in popularity.

    Thanks for the article.

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