By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about reducing the need to stop at traffic lights while cycling, I thought I’d take a look at exemptions to signals – how they work in the Netherlands, and how they could be transferred to the UK.
This is a bit of a hot topic (as far as hot topics go) in cycle infrastructure design, and also something that could offer benefits for pedestrians – pertinent, as we’ll see, to aspects of the Superhighway plans. just announced by Transport for London.
The basic Dutch principle is that if someone is making a right turn by bike (our left turn, obviously) at a signalised junction, they shouldn’t have to stop. Not only is this convenient, it’s also safer – people cycling, turning right, don’t need to go anywhere near the junction itself.
Amazingly the Dutch have been doing this for a very long time. Mark Wagenbuur (BicycleDutch) showed me this example dating from the 1960s, in the Overvecht area of Utrecht -
This signalised junction is completely bypassed if you wish to turn right by bike (much as it is if you were walking). Good design, even if it is clearly in need of renovation, being about fifty years old!
Here’s a more modern example of the same design, in Amsterdam -
In fact, we actually do this already in Britain – but badly. We simply allow cycling on the footway. Either this is a simple footway conversion – ‘you can now cycle here, off you go’ – or it’s deliberate design, like (for instance) on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton, where you are allowed to cycle onto the pavement to make left turns.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s far from ideal, not just because it creates conflict and uncertainly between people walking and cycling, but also because there’s no continuity through the junction.
Happily it seems that moves are afoot to try and bring Dutch-style design to the UK, with cycle tracks, clearly separated from both footways and the carriageway, extending around the corners of signalised junctions, and remaining outside of signal control.
Here’s a detail from a presentation made at the latest LCC policy forum, by Transport for London’s Brian Deegan -
It’s not quite perfect, but the principle are exactly right. Turning left is possible at any time, regardless of what the signals are doing. Likewise, the interactions with pedestrians are managed correctly, with pedestrians having priority across the track on zebras, on both arms of the junction – reaching a waiting island, and then crossing the carriageway with signals.
So this is how someone walking might move across this junction -
They can, of course, cross the ‘signalised’ bit whenever they want to, if the road is clear, because UK pedestrians don’t have to obey the red man.
Flipping a picture of a junction in Amsterdam, we can see how this might look in Britain.
The woman with the dog has crossed the ‘zebra’ bit over the cycle track, and is waiting for a green signal at the carriageway. Slightly confusingly, the Dutch use zebra markings across signalised pedestrian crossings too. (This is so that they can function with pedestrian priority at night, when traffic signals are turned off). But Brian’s example is how it might look in the UK.
Brian himself is pushing hard for an implementation of this kind of junction somewhere in London. His actual intention is for it to operate as a form of ‘simultaneous green’, with people able to cycle across the junction in any direction, at the same time, while all motor traffic is held – and pedestrians also able to cross at the same time, because the ‘signalled’ bit of the crossing doesn’t involve anyone cycling.
But it seems that some people in TfL are quite sniffy and sceptical about how this would actually work – Brian related how he had been told that the ‘zebra’ and the ‘signalised’ parts of the pedestrian crossing should be staggered, or offset, so that pedestrians don’t get confused into thinking that the whole crossing is a zebra. (Yes, seriously).
Funnily enough, I was in Bristol the other weekend, and, well, they are actually building something like this already.
This is the new cycle track along Baldwin Street, still under construction -
It will be bi-directional, which is less than ideal, but I think Bristol have actually pretty much nailed how this design approach should work. The cycle track passes behind the traffic signals, meaning there’s no need to stop. There’s even a hint at a Dutch protecting island on the corner, and the pedestrian and cyclist parts of the crossing (heading to the left) are clearly separated. Pedestrians cross the track on a hinted ‘zebra’, and then wait on an island, if they have to, for the signalled part of the crossing.
The ‘zebra’ has to be unofficial like this, because doing it officially would currently require Belisha beacons, and zig-zag markings – rendering something that should be quite simple very messy. So I think Bristol have taken the right approach – it’s quite obvious that it’s a crossing, even if it isn’t done by the letter.
Are people confused by this design? It would seem not.
I stood here for a while, and nobody appeared to feel the urge to march across the road, convinced that they had priority on a zebra, all the way across it. It’s really quite obvious what’s going on.
The rest of the track will, it seems, have this same kind of treatment at straightforward signalised pedestrian crossings.
A little hard to see, because it’s obviously still under construction, but pedestrians can cross the cycle track on this ‘zebra’, before waiting on an island at a signalised pedestrian crossing. Simple, and it means that people cycling along the road don’t have to worry about stopping for the signals; they just have to yield to pedestrians at the ‘zebra’.
The original plans marked this arrangement much like a ‘give way a footway’ -
This would not have been a bit messy, I think, and I’m pleased to see Bristol using the best approximation of a Dutch approach that they can manage.
So, can this be copied in London, and elsewhere in the UK? Definitely. Here’s a pedestrian crossing, from the new Superhighway proposals on Lower Thames Street.
The whole crossing is signalised. But why not do what Bristol are doing, and only signalise the bit across the road, with a zebra (or ‘zebra’) across the cycle track, at the top? (Note – this would have the added benefit of shorter pedestrian stages).
Likewise, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge -
Do we really need to make people walking go out of their way, on a two-stage staggered crossing, just to get across a cycle track? Surely a simple ‘zebra’ marking would suffice. Why make our lives more difficult with all this staggering, when the cycle track could be crossed directly on zebras?
So I’d love to see all this unnecessary signalisation removed from these (very promising) plans, and replaced with zebra markings. It would make everyone’s lives much better. These plans would make a substantial improvement to the pedestrian environment as they stand, but i think they be even better.
It would also provide firm support for Brian Deegan’s attempts to implement his simultaneous green junction plans elsewhere in London, – as well as support for the sound principle of exempting people cycling left at junctions from signalisation.
Bristol are showing us how it can be done. Why over-complicate things?
I wouldn’t mind so much if the arguments being presented against the new Superhighway proposals in London were actually considered, and credible. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re ridiculous. Let’s examine the recent City of London response, which sadly is pretty much nonsense, from start to finish.
Michael Welbank, the City of London’s Planning Chairman, states that the City
support[s] the two routes in principle
Which sounds promising, until you consider that – from bitter UK experience – a ‘cycle route’ can mean absolutely anything. A bit of shared pavement, a useless stripe on the road – take your pick.
Simply supporting the principle of a ‘route’, therefore, is meaningless, without any detail on the quality and nature of that route. And it is the nature of these Superhighways that the City of London are specifically objecting to. As Mark Boleas, City Policy Chairman, states in the same press release -
We support the concept of cycling superhighways but have considerable reservations about the current proposals
So not really ‘support’, at all – ‘considerable reservations’. Indeed, what ‘support’ the City are offering is merely for a ‘route’ of some description – the vague, undefined ‘concept of cycling superhighways’.
What form of ‘Superhighway’ do the City think TfL should be employing, instead of the current proposals? They don’t go into detail, but a clue is here -
Mr Welbank said the Square Mile’s dense street pattern meant pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all needed to share the space.
‘We’re trying to get all street-users to adapt constantly to each other and avoid a ‘It’s-my-space!’ mentality.’
Let’s pick this apart. The City of London – as far as I am aware – isn’t proposing to remove footways, and make pedestrians ‘share space’ with drivers. Indeed, pavements have been widened in many places in the City of London. More pedestrian-specific space has been created. How do the City’s public realm schemes fit with their own arguments about pedestrians and drivers ‘all needing to share space’? Are the City actually worried about pedestrians (and drivers travelling alongside the footways they are on) having an ‘it’s-my-space!’ mentality? I doubt it.
So the impression created by these comments from Welbank is that what the City of London is really objecting to is, specifically, the principle of protected space for cycling on the roads in question. Pedestrians and drivers are not ‘sharing’ anywhere in the city of London, nor will they be any time soon. The only ‘sharing’ the City is talking about is of a particular kind – mixing people cycling, with motor traffic. These two modes ‘adapting constantly to each other’.
Now, the charitable interpretation of these comments is that Welbank and the City of London haven’t actually worked out which roads are involved in this Superhighway scheme. That is – they’ve responded without examining where the Superhighway will run.
That sounds unbelievable, but note that Welbank is talking about a ‘dense street pattern’, which bears absolutely no relation to the roads on which the Superhighway will actually be built. Namely – very, very wide roads, carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day.
The less charitable interpretation is that they do know which roads are involved, but haven’t got the first clue about how attractive this ‘sharing’ approach might be on them, or are simply advocating ‘sharing’ because they want to maintain the status quo.
Let’s take a look at the amount of motor traffic on the roads involved – the route in the pictures above. Lower Thames Street, which will form a large part of the East-West Superhighway through the City of London, carries 49,000 motor vehicles a day, including over 4000 HGVs, 8000 LGVs, and nearly 2000 buses and coaches.
The Embankment is scarcely any better, with 61,000 motor vehicles a day, including around 3000 HGVs, and 9000 LGVs. Upper Thames Street by Blackfriars station carries 40,000 motor vehicles a day, with around 10,000 HGVs and LGVs, in total. You can see these figures for yourself on the Department for Transport site.
So these are plainly very busy roads, that are wide, and fast. There might be some people cycling here already, ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’ to the motor traffic flowing around them, but to present ‘sharing’ as a realistic design approach for cycling on these roads is extremely fanciful.
These roads are dangerous and hostile to the few people fit and brave enough to cycle on them. They include some of the most deadliest junctions in London, places where experienced cyclists are killed or seriously injured with horrible regularity, one of the most recent being Bart Chan, hit by an HGV on Upper Thames Street in May this year. These awful collisions will continue to happen if, instead of well-designed Superhighways that separate people cycling from HGVs, buses and motor traffic, we get the City’s apparently desired approach of ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’.
In addition, we have a vivid annual demonstration of how actual demand for cycling along the Thames is massively suppressed.
For just one day of the year, thousands of people fight their way into central London – carrying bikes on cars, or walking or cycling on footways – to experience the joy of cycling on these roads.
Is ‘sharing’ with the tens of thousands of vehicles using these roads, per, day a realistic prospect for these kinds of people? And if it is, where are they for the rest of the year, when the roads in the last two pictures look like this?
I don’t think the City of London are really thinking about these kinds of people, to be honest. They cannot seriously be advocating those young children ‘sharing’ with the HGVs you can see here.
So my impression is that they simply don’t like the idea of space being taken away, because they are worried about delays to motor traffic, and are proposing ‘sharing’ the City’s road network, not because they think it’s realistic or attractive for ordinary people, but because they want to maintain the status quo.
They can’t come out and say that, of course, so they instead have to employ these arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny. And there are other poor, weak or self-defeating arguments in that City of London press release. For instance -
more thought needs to be given to the knock-on effects on noise and air-pollution.
Really? We can’t make cycling – a mode of transport that doesn’t pollute, and is (virtually) silent – more attractive, because that might affect noise and air-pollution? Are the City of London seriously making this argument?
Likewise, the City have taken the deeply unhelpful approach of spinning these proposals as being hostile to pedestrians. The release starts -
Square Mile planners are urging pedestrians to have their say on plans for new east-west and north-south cycle ‘superhighways’
Pedestrians tend not to lobby for their interests but this is a chance and I would encourage them to have their say before central section consultation closes on 19 Oct. Crossing times might a lot longer in places.
Is this true? Where has the City got this impression from?
The TfL summary of the proposals states that there would be
longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.
Which the City has presented as ‘a lot longer’ (I’m not sure how they’ve established this).
But it’s quite clear that, overall, these Superhighways would be hugely beneficial to pedestrians. Why?
For a start, as TfL state, they will involve
Increased distance between the footway and the road, creating a more pleasant pedestrian environment
Instead of walking a few feet from HGVs and buses travelling at 30mph, people will instead be walking a few feet from people cycling, at much lower speeds. Far more pleasant, as TfL argue (and, indeed, much safer).
Not just that. Because the vast majority of the space for these Superhighways is coming from what is currently motor traffic space, the distance across the road itself will be much shorter. That means shorter crossing times, not longer ones.
All the elements in these Superhighway proposals that will make life better for pedestrians probably merit a post in their own right, but here are just some examples.
Because Blackfriars Road is being narrowed by the cycle tracks – guess what, TfL can put in a ‘straight across’ pedestrian crossing, rather than a staggered one.
Better for pedestrians.
Pedestrians coming across Blackfriars Bridge currently have to negotiate two signalled crossings across two slip roads. Well, one of those crossings will now be bikes-only. Much easier to cross.
Many other streets and roads involved in this scheme are being closed to motor traffic, or involve banned turns. Constitution Hill is being upgraded, separating people walking from people cycling. Parts of the Tower Hill gyratory are having private motor traffic completely removed. Horse Guards Road is being closed to all motor traffic, except official vehicles. I could go on (and will, in another post!).
Of course, there are some problems with these routes that I think could be ironed out, from a cycling and walking perspective. But the essential truth about these routes is that they will have a positive impact on the quality of the walking experience.
So, yes, like the City of London, I would urge pedestrians to ‘have their say’. But, unlike the City of London, who don’t seem to have looked at these plans in detail, and appear to have assumed them to be hostile to walking, I do so because they will make life for anyone walking in the centre of London much better, not worse.
Finally, let’s briefly return to those DfT figures for motor traffic levels on these roads. They’re quite interesting, if looked at over the last decade. Here’s the pattern on Upper Thames Street.
There’s a bit of noise here, because the counts are only carried out on one day. But clearly, motor traffic here has fallen, quite substantially. Over the last 3-4 years, its about two-thirds of the level it was in the early part of the 21st century.
Or, to look at this another way, motor traffic on Upper Thames Street – on the same road layout – was about fifty percent greater a decade ago. That same road layout could cope with those higher motor traffic levels, so why on earth will it not be able to cope, today, with the proposed reduction in capacity for these Superhighways, when the motor traffic flowing on it is much lower?
And it’s even simpler than that. In broader terms, these Superhighways are really about making the most efficient use of the available space on London’s roads. Cycling, as a mode of transport, is extremely efficient, compared to motor traffic, so that means we should be making it as easy, safe and attractive as we can, for ordinary people, to free up space on the road network. More people cycling means that those essential uses of the road network – deliveries and so on – will be made easier. And – heaven forbid – in a modern, 21st century city, we really should be prioritising a mode of transport that will make a difference, in so many ways. Even if that does mean taking a lane away from four- or five-lane roads.
For all these reasons, the City of London need to reflect on what the Superhighways will offer London, get to grips with these proposals, and change their position.
A new bridge over the Thames in East London would only benefit ‘former Tory MPs’, a Newham councillor has claimed.
Councillor Airdrie Dalden is objecting to plans from Transport for London which include a bridge between the borough and the Royal Borough of Greenwich on the south of the river.
Quoting the example of journalist Matthew Parris, councillor Dalden said: “The vast majority of people currently crossing the Thames here are former Tory MPs in swimming trunks. Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to put on a swimming costume and cross the Thames. Swimming is a discriminatory form of transport.”
Parris was criticised by the Port of London Authority in 2010 after writing about his experience of being swept a mile upriver when swimming across the busy commercial waterway at night.
Mayor Boris Johnson claims that the new Thames Gateway Bridge across the river would link the transport poor Thamesmead estate and Woolwich development area in Greenwich with residential and redevelopment areas around Beckton and the Royal Docks in Newham, creating opportunities for one of Britain’s most deprived boroughs.
But Councillor Dalden told AWWTM that the money Johnson proposes spending on the bridge would not “benefit every aspect of Newham, which is an ethnically diverse borough.”
“You look around and of the people who are crossing the Thames here, they do not belong to wider ethnic groups. The majority of swimmers are former Tory MPs like Matthew Parris and Boris Johnson. Fact.”
Transport for London are now considering a compromise solution which will involve building half a bridge.
I wrote a piece last month about the appropriate long-term response to people breaking the law while cycling – in short, it’s to fix the street they’re cycling on, so they’re not breaking the law anymore.
For instance – if people are cycling ‘the wrong way’ on a one-way street, well, the correct response is to make sure that two-way cycling is appropriately designed for on that street. If traffic is low enough, then that might amount to nothing more than just allowing it with a simple exemption. If there’s more traffic, then the solution will probably involve some engineering – or removal, or displacement, of that traffic – to make two-way cycling safe.
I also mentioned that – if there’s a problem with red light jumping – a proper long-term response is to look at how these signals are designed, and to assess whether they are even necessary.
Let me give a concrete example. In April this year, I made a short trip in the city of Utrecht.
This was a distance of just over a mile, right through the centre of the city. On a heavy Dutch bike, it took me about five and a half minutes, in total – including any stops. That’s a very respectable overall average speed of 11 mph, given that I was stationary for 40 seconds at one signal.
The reason I was able to make such good progress is because, as we’ll see in the video, I only had to make that one stop. There was just one traffic light I had to deal with on this journey. The rest of it didn’t involve any stopping or waiting at all, mainly because there aren’t any other traffic signals on this trip.
With so few traffic lights – guess what! – there isn’t very much red light jumping by people cycling. Misbehaviour just evaporates when the street conditions are adapted to favour walking and cycling.
By complete contrast, the very next day, I arrived back in London, getting a train into Liverpool Street from the ferry terminal. Here’s the journey I made by bike, to Victoria -
This trip was just three and a half miles – only about three times as long as my Utrecht trip – but it included 32 traffic signals. That’s a signal roughly every 175 metres, and I estimate that I had to stop at roughly half of them.
It was hugely frustrating, coming, as I did, straight off the ferry from a country where traffic signals are much, much rarer in urban areas. Even where they do exist in the Netherlands, they will almost always exempt cycling from right turns (the equivalent of our left turn).
So it is possible to deal with red light jumping, not by clamping down on it, but by creating conditions where people cycling simply don’t have to deal with lights at all.
Here’s how to do a bit of reporting which is not just sloppy, but (no doubt unwittingly) contains important prejudices about cycling.
Here we go:“SOARING”
“A City worker who helped save the life of a seriously injured cyclist has called on people to sign up for “invaluable” first aid training as the number of similar accidents soars. “
Now, what is this “soaring”?
“More than 4,600 people were injured last year — an increase of more than 20 per cent on the year before.”
Firstly, this includes the category known as “Slight Injuries” – which is a highly dubious category to use because of the high rate of non-reporting. Trying to assess a trend (what you need to do if “soaring has – or has not – occurred) involves using the category known as “Serious Injuries”. (Sometimes this “SI” category is called “KSI” to include the 5% or so of Killed and Seriously Injured that result in death before 30 days.)
And has this number “soared” when looked at over a period of years? And looked at in terms of the rise in cycling in London since 2000, has the RATE of Serious Injuries per distance, time or journey travelled “soared”? Actually, it has gone down.
The rate for the job?
“Department of Transport figures reveal a huge increase in cycling injuries in London, which has the highest cycling casualty rate in Britain. “
Er, no. Looked in terms of a rate which involves exposure (per journey, time travelled or distance covered) the cycling casualty rate has declined significantly since 2000 and is probably the LOWEST cycling casualty rate in Britain. So you have got it the wrong way round.
Is this important? Yes, it is – because this way of thinking is inherently biased against having more people cycling. As far as these characters are concerned, the Netherlands – with a cycling casualty rate about half as high as the UK, but with far more cycling casualties because they have 15 – 25 times more cycling, has a WORSE casualty “rate” (per head of the population) than the Uk does!
“Gemma Tinson had done a St John Ambulance course months before coming to the rescue of the woman who fell off her bike in Richmond Park. ..: “It should be essential for cyclists in London to learn first aid” (my emphasis)
Now, no doubt obtaining First Aid knowledge can be a very socially responsible thing to do. For everybody. But why cyclists? Why not pedestrians (many of us have seen people collapsing in the street and requiring medical help when walking). Or motorists, who are involved in collisions where people get hurt in rather greater numbers than cyclists falling off their bikes, as in the case in this story?
I’m not nit picking here. It just seems that this story is redolent of the “cycling is dangerous” mythology. Remember:
Getting danger reduced for cyclists – and others – should be the objective. This means understanding what is going on and not relying on common mythology.“The community”
Another bit of mythology
“Ashley Sweetland MBE, of the St John Ambulance cycle response unit, said: “We know the London cycling community looks out for each other, which is why we want to equip as many cyclists as possible with the first aid skills to help when the unexpected happens.
What is this “cycling community”? I’m proud to have been a member of cycling clubs and organisations for 35 years. It’s great. But it is largely a sporting or cycle touring community. If we want cycling to be normalised as a form of everyday transport, it will not be a “community” and more than there is a “walking community”.
I haven’t actually given an analysis of the latest figures because I happen to be in a hurry today. But why don’t you have a look at the figures as gathered by transport for London? As the journalist should have done
So the big story this week is obviously the launch of the consultations on two new ‘Superhighway’ routes in London. One running from Elephant & Castle towards Kings Cross; the other from the Westway to Tower Hill.
Undeniably, there are problems with these plans.
The whole scheme is composed almost entirely of two-way tracks on one side of the road, which aren’t really appropriate, except in some locations – for instance, along the Embankment, and Constitution Hill. Two-way tracks present more danger with turning conflicts, and they are more inconvenient, as often the road will have to be crossed to make a simple left turn onto the tracks.
What Transport for London call ‘early start’ signals (but in reality are ‘always stop’ signals), as employed at Bow roundabout, feature in many places on these Superhighways, particularly around Parliament Square. This design still isn’t good enough, mainly because it’s inconvenient, and can be confusing.
Turns on and off the Superhighways appear to be being achieved through a formalisation of the ‘Copenhagen turn’, with turns being made in two steps. Again, this isn’t really good enough.
And in many places the designs have been overcomplicated, with an excess of signals and markings that shouldn’t really be necessary. Parliament Square in particular looks very messy.
BUT (and it’s a big but) these plans are undeniably bold, and I think they should be strongly supported.
This is for a number of reasons.
As Rachel Aldred has argued in her excellent blog on these Superhighways -
the hard stuff is not digging up and remaking roads, not in a transport rich city like London. And even elsewhere resources appear if something’s a priority. The hard stuff’s the politics – getting support for change.
And this is change – big change. Although these routes are far from perfect, to me they represent a real attempt to actually prioritise cycling as a mode of transport, and on main roads too, something that we haven’t ever really seen anywhere in Britain. There are direct routes across junctions that are currently truly, truly horrible to cycle across, even for someone who is experienced, and familiar with cycling in London. Tower Gateway has a straight, segregated route across it, connecting with Superhighway 3, achieved by completely removing motor traffic from Shorter Street.
Likewise, the sliproad from Blackfriars Bridge to the Victoria Embankment is being turned into a bicycle-only route, which is fairly extraordinary, given the protests and arguments about this location, which fell on deaf ears for so long. The roads involved are the ones that I have been suggesting could easily accommodate cycling infrastructure, if the political will was there. And now that is happening.
In addition, as far as I can tell, every single bus stop in the these plans is bypassed, with the cycle track passing behind them. That means no interactions with buses, whatsoever – no fudged ‘wide bus lanes’ that are alleged to be suitable for sharing. This is hugely significant.
Indeed, overall, the impression given from the plans is that TfL been thinking hard about who they are designing for.
One of my pet moans, for a long time, has been the ‘dual network’ approach, that involves minimal change on the carriageway for those people already confident to cycle on busy roads, coupled with inadequate and inconvenient pavement cycling for those who aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that these Superhighway designs, whatever their flaws, are very different from that approach. There is clear intent to create something that is suitable for everyone, infrastructure that anyone on a bike would be happy to use, be they someone in lycra on a racing bike, or a very young and wobbly child.
And there are major benefits for pedestrians, too. Motor traffic will be further away from the footways, which means walking will be safer, quieter and more pleasant. The carriageways are being narrowed, too, which means shorter distances at crossings. And I strongly suspect that cycling on the footway will be a thing of the past along these routes – no more people cycling along the pavement on the Embankment, for instance, because they will have a much better alternative.
The problems with these designs can, and should be, ironed out. The ‘always stop’/’early start’ signalised junctions should be upgraded to full separate signalisation of bicycle and motor traffic movements, and I think this could be easily achieved at a later date, even if the designs go ahead as they stand. Likewise, most of these roads are so enormous that the two-way track approach could be adapted, with another track on the other side of the road, and the two-way track reverting to one-way.
And there are minor details that could be got right now. The tracks should be built properly, with shallow, forgiving angled kerbing to maximise effective width. Some of the signalisation simply doesn’t need to be there.
These are comments that should be made in responses to the consultation.
But the overall scheme has to be supported. If these Superhighways are built, they will undoubtedly be tremendously popular. The kind of people you see cycling on the Embankment during Skyrides – absent for the rest of the year – will be able to do so, whenever they want.
These tracks would be just the start, of course. They will only cover a tiny, tiny fraction of the routes that people will actually want to use in central London. But they will drive change elsewhere. Roads that connect up to these Superhighways will be the next obvious targets. Even in this consultation TfL themselves state that their ‘wish is for segregation’ on Westminster Bridge – not part of this scheme, but an obvious connector to it.
And more broadly, the Superhighways will make the case for cycling elsewhere in London, and indeed across the rest of the country. They will show that it can be done, and that when you make conditions right, cycling is an obvious mode of ordinary people, and that it will make a tremendous difference to the quality of our roads and streets. That has to happen.
So the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have published their findings into the safety of cycle track design at junctions – or, more specifically, Trials of segregation set-back at side roads [pdf], to give the report (PPR703) its full title. This report was commissioned by TfL.
I’m going to go into some detail about it, but in short -
It’s worryingly bad.
From the report summary -
This report provides an overview and interpretation of the key findings from four trials carried out by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to investigate the effects of ‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track at different distances from a side-road junction.
What do TRL mean by “‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track”? There is an explanation in one of the photographs in the report -
Clearly, ‘set-back distance’ is being used to refer to the distance from the junction at which the cycle track becomes a cycle lane. So, this TRL report investigates the different consequences of different ‘set-back distances’ – i.e., how far from the junction the kerb separation ends.
And nothing else.
No other forms of junction design incorporating cycle tracks (designs we’ll come to in a moment) are investigated.
Why was this study so narrowly focused? The explanation comes in the summary -
A review of existing international guidance and research on approaches for taking cycle lanes across side-roads identified two distinct design strategies. Either:
• Cyclists are returned to the carriageway level at least 20m before the junction, so as to establish their presence in the traffic, or
• Segregation is brought right up to the junction (typically <=5m) and very tight geometry (and often raised crossings) used to keep turning speeds down and encourage vehicles to cross the cycle lane at close to 90 degrees. [my emphasis]
Amazingly, these two strategies – ending the segregation more than 20m from the junction, or ending it 5m or less from the junction – are the only two distinct design approaches TRL identify, and consequently the only ones they investigated.
Both these strategies involve turning a cycle track into a cycle lane at the junction. The only difference is the point at which that change occurs. Other design approaches – those commonly employed in the Netherlands at side roads – have been completely ignored. These include -
Continuing a cycle track through a junction, at the same raised level, alongside a continuous footway. Not investigated by TRL.
Setting back the cycle track from the carriageway, providing an area in which motorists can wait, both to enter the main road (without obstructing the cycle track) and also to pause, yielding to people cycling. Not investigated by TRL.
This technique can also be employed with two-way tracks; again, set back from the carriageway, with a waiting area, and good visibility as cyclists and motorists cross perpendicularly. Not investigated by TRL.
To repeat (I can’t labour this enough) – these kinds of techniques are completely ignored by the authors of this TRL report. The only two ‘distinct design strategies’ investigated amount to nothing more than on-carriageway cycle lanes across junction mouths, with no investigation of designs that continue a cycle track through the junction at a raised level, with continuity, with or without ‘set back’ from the carriageway.
This despite the fact that Britain itself already has a few isolated examples of reasonably well-designed cycle tracks across junctions, that correspond approximately to Dutch design. One of them – this one – is only two miles from the Transport Research Laboratory!
I can’t begin to understand this oversight.
So the results of this trial are really very narrow in scope, and essentially amount to nothing more than discussion of where it is best to revert to an on-carriageway treatment on the approach to a junction.
The trial examined ending the physical segregation 30 metres from the junction, up to 5 metres from the junction, in 5 metres increments. The ‘tightest’ geometry still involved the cycle track ending 5 metres before the side road.
The study found that with the kerb divider continuing closer to the junction (but still 5 metres from it), drivers turned into the side road more slowly, and crossed the cycle lane (for this is what it is, and how it is described in the report) at an angle closer to perpendicular.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it seems that drivers in the trial actually preferred segregation that continued closer to the junction. This was even the case for drivers of goods vehicles who – you would think – would prefer a less tight geometry, to manoeuvre their larger vehicles.
The preferred set-back distance for 62% of the [goods vehicle] drivers (who expressed an opinion) was one that maximises segregation from cyclists on the approach to the junction
cyclists were divided in preferences for short or long set-back distances. The differences reflect different views on the benefits of segregation, including cyclists’ concerns about being able to position themselves for passing the junction and that drivers wouldn’t give way when turning across their path.
‘Position themselves for passing the junction’ – i.e., compensate for poor design. These findings are reflected in this table -
While a clear majority of drivers preferred separation continuing as much as possible, a large number (nearly half) of the cyclists in this trial preferred to ‘join traffic’. The report comments
this suggests that cyclists may feel safer if the segregation ends before the junction so they can merge with the traffic before the turn.
So a large proportion of cyclists in this trial clearly like the idea of ‘merging’ with motor traffic before a junction. (At this point it is worth asking whether these cyclists are representative of the general population, or instead representative of a small subset of the population, namely the ‘traffic-tolerant’.)
However, on the other hand, the motorists in the trial didn’t really understand what on earth was going on with the concept of ‘merging’.
The purpose of the segregation set-back was not well understood [by motorists] – most believing it to be to make it easier for vehicles to turn [!], only a few referred to it providing space for cyclists and drivers to adjust to each other before the junction.
Could it be that the idea of ‘merging’ people cycling and driving isn’t all that intuitive?
This suggests that there is a lack of understanding amongst drivers of how cyclists will behave at the junction.
Amazingly, however, this ‘merging’ technique is actually recommended by this TRL report on roads with higher speeds.
The findings from the off-street trials suggest that two different strategies can then be considered:
Before then stating
These two situations are consistent with the two distinct design approaches adopted in the design practice sin countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands
Well, I’m sorry, I have never seen anything like this in the Netherlands, especially not on roads with higher speeds. It’s just terrible design.
And we know that this is bad design, because Transport for London have built the junctions on Stratford High Street like this, with predictable consequences.
The final boggling issue are those markings! - which make no sense whatsoever. Here’s how the report describes them -
The surface of the cycle lane was coloured green throughout… additionally using triangular give-way markings to highlight the cycle lane for turning vehicles. These markings are not an approved road marking in the UK, however somewhat similar versions are used in the Netherlands as a ‘give way’ marking.
‘Somewhat similar’ – except completely the wrong way round.
The Dutch use ‘sharks teeth’ as a give way marking, but crucially with the ‘sharp’ bit of the teeth pointing at the people who should be giving way. This trial, however, has managed to get this completely wrong, with the ‘teeth’ pointing at the people on the cycle track. Is it any wonder people driving didn’t understand this marking?
This failure to get even the basics right is symptomatic of the general failure of this trial to assess proven Dutch junction design in a British context. How is it possible for the Transport Research Laboratory to have what seems to be absolutely no clue about how the Dutch design well at junctions?
What on earth is going on?
Last year I wrote a long piece about (British) ideological opposition to cycle tracks alongside roads; opposition flowing from the notion that such provision represents a ‘surrender’ of the road network.
People making this argument claim a variety of things. They claim such an ‘abandonment’ of the road network would be bad policy. Motor vehicles would have won; driving will be easier, and we will have failed in our overall goal of attempting to reduce driving and increase cycling.
Or, they claim that drivers – once people cycling have separate provision – will behave with a greater sense of entitlement, seeing the road network as ‘theirs’. Or, they claim that drivers won’t be used to driving around people cycling, with similar negative consequences for the latter group.
These arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, yet, as I wrote in that previous post,
opposition to cycle tracks in the UK, of this ideological form, persists. This opposition is not new; it has a long history, dating right back to the 1930s, a time when cycle tracks were, intermittently, being proposed alongside some arterial roads in Britain. Most strikingly, the arguments advanced at the time have hardly changed in the intervening eighty years.
One of the oddities of these kinds of arguments is an acceptance that the motorway network is unsuitable, and unusable, by people cycling, yet the rest of the road network should be retained as being ‘for cycling’. That will often includes dual carriageways and busy inter-urban A-roads which present, to all intents and purposes, just as much danger to people cycling along them as the motorway network. Building cycle tracks alongside these roads would constitute a ‘surrender’.
The explanation for this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the motorway network was built explicitly for motorists, while the rest of the road network predates (for the most part) the motor age, even if it has been changed and upgraded out of all recognition, often closely resembling motorways. These are the roads that cannot be ‘surrendered’, especially as the motorway network (in the eyes of cycle campaigners of the era in which motorways started being built) was constructed to ‘take’ the motor traffic away from it.
Unfortunately these attitudes about the road network are fossils; they are relics of an earlier era, an era when the motor vehicle was only just starting to explode as a popular mode of transport. And yet they persist.
My petition calling for the introduction of Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – which will involve separate provision for cycling on main roads carrying traffic at 50mph, or higher – has attracted comments of this ilk.
Your proposal accepts the motor centric status quo and asks to remove active travelers from our road network which may not be feasible in many circumstances
I think volunteering to lose rights is a disastrous thing to do from a position of weakness. I absolutely don’t think that offering to get off roads will lead to the powers that be supplying a radical provision of adequate alternatives.
I also think that pushing the idea that cyclists don’t belong on (our) roads near motorists is asking for trouble when we will have to be near motors on most roads. Going along with getting cyclists out of what drivers may think is “their way” is a very dodgy thing to aim for.
The philosophy that lies behind these kinds of comments is that, one day, some day soon, the road network could become suitable for people cycling, if only we could get drivers to behave, or if only we could slow them down, or if only we would enforce the law properly, or if only we could reduce motor traffic.
In short – if only we got tough enough on driving.
Typifying these attitudes, in a comment referring to this picture
How much pollution and noise are the man and boy being exposed to cycling next to that busy main road? Progress would mean people in variety of human powered vehicles moving a varying speeds to a maximum of 20mph, perhaps a tram or other public transport vehicle parallel with the occasional less able-bodied person allowed in a car sharing the space as a ‘guest’
This kind of approach is plainly utopian. It imagines that a motor-centric society can somehow revert to being one in which motor vehicles barely exist; that we can restore the character of our roads, as they were in the early part of the 20th century.
Theoretically, it could be possible to achieve this. Maybe we could remove HGVs from our road network, displacing goods onto rail. Maybe we could persuade people to abandon their cars for long-distance trips, forcing them to travel at 20mph when they do.
But the chances of this happening are so remote it’s not even worth considering. We need to deal with reality. It is not 1934; it is 2014, and we need to start thinking about cycling and motoring as distinct modes of transport, with separate networks, sharing only in very limited circumstances, and under specific conditions.
That, of course, means town and city centres where motor traffic is largely removed, but it must also mean a different kind of separation on main roads, the roads that will inevitably continue to carry motor traffic. This needs to happen not just because mixing motor traffic and cycle traffic presents unnecessary danger, but also because doing so makes cycling far more attractive to ordinary people.
I find it perverse to justify opposition to cycle tracks alongside main roads, carrying significant volumes of motor traffic, in terms of ‘rights’. This ‘right’ is only being exercised by a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of people who regularly ride bikes in Britain, and more importantly such a position denies other people their right to use the road network; those people who would like to cycle, but are currently prevented from doing so because of conditions. People like my partner, who will happily cycle along main roads and dual carriageways in the Netherlands, but would never dream of doing so in Britain – not in a million years – because there is no alternative, except cycling in the carriageway with motor traffic.
So I’m tired, really, of having these kinds of arguments. People have already been pushed off the road network, to all intents and purposes. We need sane policies that make that network attractive, for all potential users.
It’s time to get real.
Organisers: RoadPeace; Road Danger Reduction Forum; CTC: the National Cyclists’ charity and London Cycling Campaign. Hosted by London Borough of Southwark.
Venue: Southwark CouncilCHAIRS:
Lord Berkeley (President RDRF), a.m.; Baroness Jenny Jones MLA, p.m.SPEAKERS:
Dr Robert Davis, Chair RDRF.
Amy Aeron-Thomas, RoadPeace.
Brenda Puech, Hackney Living Streets.
Charlie Lloyd, London Cycling Campaign.
Speaker from Transport for London.
Speaker from Metropolitan Police Service.More detail and publicity closer to the date
The following is a translation of an article in the German tabloid Bild which may be of use to colleagues working on School Travel as an indication of attitudes elsewhere in Europe. Note what the Germans – including the equivalent of the RAC or AA – see as the problemCareful dear children – your parents drive here! PARKING-CHAOS ENDANGERS CHILDREN Primary School Fights Back Against Parent-Jam! by G. ALTENHOFEN 30.08.2014
Düsseldorf – With roaming 4x4s and over-parked Zebra Crossings, the Traffic-Chaos in front of schools is getting ever worse! Because so many of the town’s Parents bring their Children in cars, it’s getting dangerous in front of schools, for pupils and pre-schoolers.
NOW THE PRIMARY SCHOOL FIGHTS BACK AGAINST THE “PARENT-JAM”! ‘Careful, dear Children- your Parents drive here’, it says provocatively on the warning sign in front of the Niederkassel State Catholic Primary School -the sign put there by the School leadership.
Headmistress Imke Hankammer: “Because of the School Run, there are always dangerous situations for those children who come on foot. Cars are parked so ruthlessly that little ones cannot see at the crossing- or be seen. We’re very afraid of what might happen.” Valeria Liebermann, mother and chairman of the Parents’ Association, sees it the same way: “Parents mean well, when they bring their children, but they just thoughtlessly endanger other children.” The State also praises the initiative. Andrea Blome, Chief of the Traffic Management Office: ‘We support the request that children come to school on foot, escorted by adults to begin with. That way they learn independence'”.
ADAC warns of incidents [ADAC=German equivalent of RAC] The ADAC also warns of “incalculable safety risks from Parent-taxis“, which present a double danger. Firstly in front of schools, and secondly, in other accidents- which according to ADAC involves more children in parents cars (10,363 in 2013) than when they are on foot. An ADAC survey of 750 primary schools in the region concludes: “The fewer the Parent-Taxis waiting outside Primary Schools, the safer the way to school.”‘
Thanks to David Robjant for the translation: Some notes by him here:
‘Vorsicht’ carries the force and tone of ‘Beware!’, only there isn’t an obvious way of putting that into English without messing up the sentence, because you’d need an explicit ‘of’, and it’s precisely by playing sardonically with the identification of the monster that the German sentence communicates. You could have ‘Dear Children, Beware: your Parents drive here’, but I think that loses the special emphasis given to ‘dear’/’liebe’ in ‘Vorsicht liebe Kinder, hier fahren eure Eltern’. There’s a reproach contained in the way this placement of ‘liebe’ draws attention to the contrast between the parent’s stated attitudes (‘I love my child’) and the general upshot of their actions. After all, the sign faces the street where the *Parents* can see it- it’s not really for communicating anything to the children! All that needling of the parents is much better preserved in ‘Careful, dear Children – your Parents drive here‘.