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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Milton Keynes Redways

The town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was built as an experiment in town design, started in the late 1960s. At this time, private motoring was almost universally viewed as the future of transport. The now-obvious problems of induced demand, suppression of walking, cycling & public transport, dependence on ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources and health problems related to both the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by excessive car-dependence, the killing and maiming of people in collisions with cars and the premature deaths related to particulate air pollution, were still not widely considered. Milton Keynes was designed primarily around the needs and desires of the private motorist, constructed around a grid of national speed limit A-roads. In order to facilitate high-speed motoring, cyclists were effectively removed from the roads with a separate grid of separate cycle paths; known as the Redways.

The Redways are often used as an argument against implementing any form of separate cycle infrastructure in other parts of the UK. Whilst at the most superficial level, it can be argued that the Dutch and the Milton Keynes approaches are similar (they both involve some degree of separation of cycle and motor traffic), the similarities do not extend beyond the superficial. Unlike the Dutch approach to separate cycle infrastructure, designed to promote cycling by making it subjectively and objectively safer, direct and convenient, the Milton Keynes Redways are primarily an infrastructural intervention designed to benefit the private motorist by removing cyclists and pedestrians from the grid roads, permitting higher speeds and less-attentive driving, whilst leaving cyclists with a network of poorly signed, surfaced and maintained narrow two-way lanes with poor sight-lines, having no priority over side roads or driveways and bringing cyclists into conflict with pedestrians. The Redways have become a popular straw man to be used in forums against anyone who argues for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK; suggesting that what they actually want is a network similar to the Redways in other UK towns and cities.

John Franklin wrote an article about the safety of the Milton Keynes Redways in Traffic Engineering & Control in 1999 (around the time he appeared to lose interest in new research being published about the safety of separate cycle infrastructure). In it, he notes that the now-defunct Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) stated that the Redways were designed primarily as a leisure facility, rather than to be a useful part of the transport network. Generally the Redways have grade-separated crossings either under or above the grid roads, although several at-grade crossings also exist. A secondary grid of Redways was originally planned, passing through the centre of estates and bisecting the main roads, but never materialised, leaving instead a maze of largely indirect and poorly signed local paths. The result was that the faster, more confident cyclists instead chose to try their luck on the grid roads; multi-lane roads with speed limits up-to 70 mph, linked to other primary grid-lines by huge roundabouts. The cross-city Redways were constructed in the early 80s in response to the numbers of cyclists choosing to use the grid-roads instead of the low-quality Redways network. These cross-city Redways ran alongside some of the grid roads, although due to the daunting nature of the high-speed grid roads, since the mid 80s there has been a tendency to route Redways alongside estate roads (with no priority over side-roads).

Franklin's article suggests that despite the many inherent limitations of the Redways, cycle ownership in Milton Keynes was higher than average at the time of the 1991 census, with cycling having a 4.3% commuter modal share, half of which took place on the Redways. The current Milton Keynes LTP3 states (rather less helpfully) that at the time of the 2001 census, 9% of people in Milton Keynes travelled to work on foot or by cycle. The article shows the injury and fatality statistics for cyclists using the Redways, grid roads or local roads from 1988-1997. Unfortunately, these statistics are not given in the context of relative cycling rates on each of these types of road, although the fact that at the time, half of the commuter cycling trips took place on the Redways may in itself be indicative of approximately how many of all cycle trips took place on the Redways.

Injuries (percentage)
Serious injury/ Fatalities
Serious injury/ Fatalities (percentage)
Grid Roads
Local Roads

Table 1. Injuries and serious injuries/fatalities of cyclists in Milton Keynes between 1988-1997, broken down  by road type. In the original article, these figures are given independently for each year. These figures show us literally nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types. Despite this, Franklin says of the figures, "There have been as many, or more, serious accidents on Redways as on grid roads in five of the past 10 years, and more than on local roads in four years." As a statement, it is factually true, but it could equally be said that there had been as many, or more serious accidents/fatalities on grid roads & local roads as on Redways in five of the ten years, more minor injuries on grid roads than on Redways in seven of the ten years and more minor injuries on local roads than on Redways in six of the ten years. None of which means anything without context provided by the relative amount of cycling taking place on each type of road.

The author notes that there is considerable under-reporting of accidents on the Redways, although provides no source for this claim, and so goes on to look at hospital data from Milton Keynes Hospital from 1993-1997. The hospital data includes no information about the severity of injuries, and for the years 1993 & 1994 makes no distinction between accidents occurring on the Redways or on 'other' routes; accidents occurring on non-road, non-Redway routes in an area covering a wider area than just the Milton Keynes 'new town' area.


Table 2. Cyclists attending A&E at Milton Keynes Hospital between 1993-1997, broken down by road type. Again, these figures tell us absolutely nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types.

The author also mentions two hospital-based surveys which went into more detail; a one month survey in 1991, and a longer survey between April and July of 1992, breaking down the numbers of  cyclists admitted to hospital by the type of road they were injured on. Once again, without providing context of the relative frequency with which the different types of route are used, these numbers tell us precisely nothing about the relative safety of cyclists using the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways.

The closest the author gets to addressing the issue of providing relative usage figures for each of the road types is the results of a survey by the Milton Keynes Cycle Users' Group in 1993, asking cyclists to report their accident experience in the previous year. 27 % reported having an accident on the Redways in the previous year, versus 6% on local roads and 3% on grid roads. The author suggested that some might assume that the relatively low rate of grid road accidents would be due to the grid roads being used by so few cyclists, and those who elected to use them being particularly proficient and experienced (and fast). To counter this assumption, the author states that "43% of respondents said that they cycle on grid roads at least once a week." However, 43% stating they use the grid roads "at least once a week" could mean the grid roads represent anything from almost of the respondents cycling, to a minuscule fraction, and it does not address the issue that those electing to use the grid roads being more experienced, proficient and faster cyclists. Without being able to see the source survey, who was polled, where and how, it is difficult to rule out sample bias. When it is considered that the survey was carried out by a local cycling group, it is difficult not to wonder if roadies, who are traditionally fast, confident and experienced cyclists, often preferring a vehicular approach to cycling either for their own convenience of on ideological grounds, were not over-represented in those surveyed when compared to the general population, perhaps grossly. It was stated that;

"This survey also attempted to relate accident risk to exposure. Cyclists were asked to estimate the distance they cycle in a week on each of the three kinds of highway. Inevitably there will be a wide margin of error in these estimates, but there is no reason to believe that they favour one type of highway over another. Some cyclists were able to give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage."

It seems very naive (at best) to ignore the potential for bias here. Roadies in particular are both more likely to travel further (because they travel faster), choose grid roads because they prefer to travel faster (and have the confidence and experience to survive in such a cycle-hostile environment), be a member of their local cycle users' group (compared to less experienced & enthusiastic cyclists) and be much more likely to be able to, "give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage." 

Injury accidents
All accidents
Grid road
Local road

Table 3. Survey estimate of cyclist accidents per million km cycled, broken down by road type. This is the first attempt to frame the accident figures in the context of relative usage of each road type, although the numbers are estimates given by survey respondents, which disproportionally favours the grid roads because they are favoured by experienced and proficient cyclists, such as roadies, who travel further (due to their greater speed), are more likely to keep detailed records of their mileage and are more easily reached by local cycle users; groups, such as the group which conducted the survey from which these figures were collected.

I would like to make it clear at this point that I am not attempting to defend the Milton Keynes Redways. As an infrastructural intervention designed primarily to benefit the private motorist, with a massively compromised design, they are about as far away from best practice for cyclists as seen in The Netherlands as any of the rest of the road network in the UK. However, I do find it amazing that an article containing so much bad science, acting as a fairly transparent vehicle to further its author's ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic, could have ever found its way into a (presumably peer-reviewed) journal such as Traffic Engineering & Control. When I look at the Milton Keynes Redways, I see something which, at best, represents the most superficial similarity to the Dutch solution to providing for cyclists. It depresses me that despite this, the Redways are still used as an argument against adopting the Dutch model here in the UK by the ill-informed and a tiny minority who are ideologically opposed to any type of separation of cyclists from motorised traffic.

The figures presented in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes tell us very little about the relative safety of the grid roads, local roads or Redways in Milton Keynes. Despite this, the author used the conclusion of the article to push his own vehicular-only agenda:

"There is a temptation to think that Milton Keynes is a 'special case' and that its experience is irrelevant elsewhere. But the cycling infrastructure in Milton Keynes is not inferior to that being implemented in many other places and certainly the constraints are fewer. Many cycle facilities do not achieve the use predicted, and are often ignored by existing cyclists. Major projects such as the National Cycle Network are facing increasing criticism with regard to quality and danger, and for not meeting the real needs of cycling.

At the same time, cycle facility accidents seem to be becoming more common throughout the UK. This should not be a surprise. The author has trawled research from across the world (Ref 11*) and found little to support the hypothesis that separating cyclists from traffic improves safety, especially when account is taken of unreported accidents. Facilities do, however, seem to increase fear of cycling elsewhere.

There seems to have been little research into the deterrent effect that facilities may have on cycle use and competence. It may be difficult to comprehend that cycle facilities could lead to an overall decline in cycling, but the experience of Milton Keynes suggests that it may be time for this to be considered more closely."

(*) Ref 11 is John Franklin's own Cherry-picked list of research into cycle paths from around the world. The selection criteria for this list is not specified, but it appears to be that only research which agrees with John Franklin's ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic is included.

Milton Keynes did separation of cyclists from motor traffic wrong, and for all the the wrong reasons. The problems with the Redways are described in detail in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, these problems do not exist with the Dutch approach to cycle provision. Using the Redways as an argument against implementing Dutch style infrastructural changes to the road network in the UK is little more than a straw man. Milton Keynes separated cyclists from motor traffic, for the benefit of the motorist. The Dutch separated the motorist from cyclists, for the benefit of cyclists (and pedestrians). They made driving short distances, and within towns more trouble than it was worth, whilst making cycling subjectively and objectively safe, direct and convenient. No one can honestly say that the Redways were designed with the same goals in mind.


  1. As someone who is just past 50 years of age I am not surprised by this sloppy bit of research.

    I've been aware of all sorts plans to get more people cycling ever since the mid 70s. The main result has been the employment of lots of extra public staff to promote cycling, lots of fancy reports, plans and 'initiatives', and lots of poorly designed and executed cycle facilities.

    It's all been a cosy, lazy, very disjointed and lucrative little job creation scheme by councils and other public bodies, with no real, serious attempt to boost cycling.

    For example, my work has taken me to many schools. Nearly all of the new build ones have no bike sheds whatsoever, yet their car parks are often vast. And I worked at a civil service building in Chorlton about 4 years ago which had recently been renovated. The renovations included the removal of the bike shed and the extension of the staff car park. The government Cycle to Work scheme was unavailable to the government staff in the building. Allowances for use of a private car on government business were so ludicrously generous that staff were keen to get out and about, using any excuse to do so.

    Cycling hasn't been the only failure. Integrated transport systems were all the rage too, and remain so to some extent. They've also failed miserably, with trains especially becoming something only the affluent can ever contemplate using, and buses, London excepted, becoming ever more dirty, slow, infrequent, expensive and unreliable.

    It's taken me 35 years to realise that the same government promises on cycling come round again and again. For all I know they'd been made for decades previously before I was born.

  2. The lack of context behind those figures is shocking - I'm glad you've taken the time to deconstruct Franklin's analysis. Without even providing the percentage of trips made on the various parts of the network, the numbers are meaningless.

    (BTW the link at the start of the 2nd para appears to be broken)

  3. @pete,

    It seems like a lot of creative inertia from those in charge. Your comment about an integrated transport policy rings particularly true, the lack of progress a subject of ridicule in a Yes Minister episode 30 years ago and no closer today


    Thanks, I've fixed the link, not sure what went wrong. As someone who has spent a great deal of time reading research papers, I am truly shocked that something as shoddy as Two Decades would ever get published in any journal

  4. A lot of rubbish like Two Decades gets written and published. I've read lots of it during my working life in the education industry.

    Writing reports which are hardly read or criticised is a big industry these days, especially for government staff. It doesn't pay for anyone involved to rock the boat.

    Peer review is not a problem when your peers are in the same self-serving racket.

  5. Franklin's take on cycle infrastructure seems to haver got everywhere on the net. If you look up "Fietspad" on Wikipedia, the Dutch for "cycle path", you get a page in Dutch about cycle paths in NL/BE. But then at the bottom there is a list of references disconnected from the text, apart from the first. All are in English, even when they reference foreign work, and all are advancing the "cycle paths are dangerous" argument. And two of the "external links" are to Franklin's site. It almost looks as if Franklin himself inserted all those irrelevant anti-cycle path references in English into a Dutch page that he did not understand – especially as Milton Keynes is there.

    Vole o' Speed

  6. Mr.C - It seems like a lot of creative inertia from those in charge.

    It's a shame that 'those in charge' apply their creativity in the wrong direction.

    Given all of the many variables that must exist in planning a network and shoehorning it into what space we have would surely be an interesting project requiring creativity by the bucketload.

    If only the political will existed to make it happen.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. As someone who’s lived in Milton Keynes, and now lives in Denmark (where they have a Dutch style cycling infrastructure) I can only agree with the comments on the Red Ways. Yes they are clearly designed to keep bikes off the roads, so the cars can have free reign there. They are very badly signed and often disappear off into a housing estate, leaving you attempting to navigate my remembering where the sun was when you think you were last cycling in the right direction. Actually I learnt to look for the Xscape building in the centre and navigate relative to that.
    The cycle paths in Denmark virtually all follow the roads. You have the pavement, then the cycle path, then the road. The cycle path is not part road usually, but stepped up, just like a pavement in the UK. This works very well. These cycle paths are every where you need them. They are not required in suburban areas so usually end there. I can get from one side of town (Aarhus) to the other with no problem what-so-ever. It’s a joy. Incidentally, all these cycle paths in Aarhus have been retrofitted. The city was never designed for all these bikes, they have simply adapted it to accommodate the bike. So it can be done.
    Now compared to my home city, Manchester, cycling around Aarhus, Denmark is a joy. And there are lots of people cycling here. But just to mention Milton Keynes again. Yes it was only designed to keep pesky bikes off the roads and not designed to really help the cyclist, but it’s a millions miles better than cycling Manchester.

  9. @Pete,

    Peer review can be a problem when the peer group is extremely small, both in terms of any old rubbish from 'one of the boys' getting approved and in personal rivalries stopping perfectly good research being published.

    @David Arditti,

    It is disturbing how fast misinformation can travel, and how persistent it can be. I have written a follow-up to this post which addresses many of the Franklin canards I have observed in the time I have been reading his work. As for the wikipedia issue, if it was Franklin, I'm pretty sure that those edits would be against Wikipedia policy due to the obvious conflict of interests.


    It would certainly be an achievement to get anything halfway decent done in the UK at the moment. The best example I can think of from the top of my head is the Camden Cycle Campaign's two-way segregated track (the continuation of which was de-railed by Franklin's misrepresentation of the Helsinki paper (see David Arditti's post for more)


    That comment seemed to double post for some reason (Blogger fail), so I deleted the first one. Even with all their limitations, the Redways seem to have encouraged more people than average for the UK to cycle. If they weren't in a town designed primarily to facilitate frequent, high speed driving, I can only imagine this effect would be more pronounced. I can only imagine what it must be like in Aarhus after cycling in Manchester...


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