Zebra crossings are, in principle, the ideal way for pedestrians to cross the road. They give pedestrians priority, and mean they can cross without delay.
But there are a number of regulatory difficulties which make them rather less than ideal. The first is the absurd requirement that every single zebra crossing has to have two Belisha beacons at either end of it, to make it ‘visible’ to drivers. Trying to implement Dutch-style infrastructure under UK rules would result in a complete forest of these beacons – amply demonstrated by the TRL trial of a Dutch roundabout.
European countries are quite capable of implementing zebras without these ugly poles. In France -
And of course in the Netherlands -
These continental zebras also do not have the ‘zig-zag’ markings on either side of the crossing, that are compulsory in the UK. This ‘extra’ marking not only uglifies the street, like the Belisha beacon – it also presents practical difficulties.
The minimum requirement is just two zig-zags – a ‘zig’ and a ‘zag’. Even this means that zebra crossings will inevitably be displaced from desire lines. Unlike in the French and Swiss examples, above, where the crossing goes from corner to corner, UK zebras have to be set back from junction mouths. Nor, on main roads, can they be placed by junctions with side roads, meaning extra delay and inconvenience for pedestrians.
And, from a cycling perspective, this ‘zig-zag’ rule is also inconvenient. It means that crossings for cycling cannot be placed directly adjacent to zebra crossings, either across main roads, or across side roads.
Under the current rules, placing cycle tracks and zebras around the perimeter of a roundabout means that the zebra crossing is significantly displaced from the natural desire lines, as shown in this mock-up for the Cycling Embassy of a legal perimeter track.
So these rules about zebras really need to be simplified, so we can have simple crossings without all the paraphernalia of beacons and markings.
The other serious problem with zebras involves the rules governing their use. Here’s the relevant passage from the Highway Code, with what I consider to be an unhelpful rule underlined.
That is, drivers have to give way only after the pedestrian has moved onto the crossing, not before – not, for instance, when the pedestrian is waiting to cross.
What does this mean in practice? To give an example from just yesterday, I watched an elderly lady waiting to cross a road, standing on the pavement at a zebra. Because she didn’t step out onto the crossing, no driver stopped. About five cars passed, despite her clearly waiting to cross, as I approached.
As someone who cycles in traffic on a day-to-day basis, naturally I had no qualms about striding out straight onto the crossing the lady was waiting at (it helps if you have a bicycle with you, to wheel out in front of you), commanding, or rather daring, the oncoming drivers to stop, which they did – just about. She didn’t follow me, however.
But this is the problem with Rule 193. Because priority only arrives after you step onto the crossing, Rule 193 expects people waiting to cross the road on a zebra to effectively play chicken with approaching motor vehicles. This is not something people are willing to do. Given the choice between just waiting for a gap in traffic to materialise, and stepping out in front of a driver and hoping they will stop, I suspect most will simply wait for a gap, as the elderly lady did yesterday. Indeed, this (quite rational) preference is reinforced by official advice.
‘Never assume traffic will stop’ (or rather ‘never assume drivers will stop’) means zebras only effectively become useful when there are gaps in traffic. People simply don’t want to chance it. They wait on the pavement – and that means no driver has to yield for them.
It’s not surprising therefore that, as I understand it, pelican or toucan crossings are preferred by the general public, because while delay is involved, the signals give a degree of certainty that drivers will stop – albeit a certainty that is often misplaced.
So, in essence, Britain’s traffic rules have managed to seriously wound a sensible and straightforward way of crossing the road. I suppose we should pat ourselves on the back.
This is a graphic record of the event. Jeremy Harrison, the head of the Institute of Risk Management, is laughing because I have just called him a sneaky bastard for inviting me to dinner without warning me that he had this in mind. And I am looking bemused because I was – and still am. I think the photo captures the lifetime bit fairly accurately.
PS It weighs 4 kilos.
This is a graphic record of the event. Jeremy Harrison, the head of the Institute of Risk Management, is laughing because I have just called him a sneaky bastard for inviting me to dinner without warning me that he had this in mind. And I am looking bemused because I was – and still am. I think the photo captures the lifetime bit fairly accurately.
One million wing-mirror stickers are being sent out by the AA to remind drivers to watch out for two-wheelers on the road. The campaign is based on a poll for the AA showing that nine out of ten motorists admit that when driving, “it is sometimes hard to see cyclists”, with 55 percent of motorists claiming that they are often “surprised when a cyclist appears from nowhere.” It’s nice to see AA president Edmund King say that: “The AA Think Bikes campaign is definitely needed when half of drivers are often surprised when a cyclist or motorcyclist ‘appears from nowhere’. Those on two wheels never appear from nowhere (our emphasis) so as drivers we need to be more alert to other road users and this is where our stickers act as a daily reminder”.
So is this an unequivocal step forward? The main feature of this, as with so many other similar campaigns, is what it tells us about the beliefs underlying what passes for “road safety” – beliefs which we have to challenge.
So let’s take a look at the campaign and what underlies it in some detail:
What should be happening with wing mirrors?
Let me quote one of the commenters on this road.cc post :
If, on your driving test, you failed to check your left door mirror, before turning left you would not pass your test and couldn’t drive unaccompanied (by an experienced licence holding driver) on the road. How come once you pass you never need check a mirror again? (Unless you have a stupid sticker to remind you). If you need that then you shouldn’t be driving on the road as you are dangerous to other road users.
Now, that may seem a bit perfectionist. But it is what is required in terms of drivers’ obligations to the safety of cyclists and motorcyclists. It is stated clearly in the Highway Code in Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202. It is simply what should be happening. As the Institute of Advanced Motorists spokesman said
”The IAM welcomes any campaign which raises awareness of how vulnerable cyclists can be around motor vehicles. Reminders can be useful but the best drivers should already be looking out for cyclists at all times.(my emphasis)” And why just “the best”?
Would we accept this with other types of safety regime?
Let us pause briefly and think of what we would expect from other types of safety regime. Consider Health and Safety at Work regimes operating in workplaces. Or safety under maritime safety regulations. Or with aviation safety regulations. Or safety on the railways.
Let’s say that third parties have their lives regularly put at risk by operators of machinery in the workplace (or airplanes, ships or trains) because they fail to engage in an operation as simple as using their mirrors, in a manner which they have been required to do (and tested on) when they start their careers (in the workplace or on airplanes etc.). We think the issue has to be the extent to which this unsafe behaviour happens irrespective of the numbers of cyclists and motorcyclists hurt or killed by this malpractice. But the fact remains that it is substantial. For example, in the TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (2010) we see that a large part of the biggest type of conflict (close proximity conflict) leading to cyclist Killed and Seriously injured casualties is the following:
o Cycle and other vehicle travelling alongside each other (12%)
o Other vehicle turns left across the path of cycle (9%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to the left across the path of cycle (3%)
o Cycle and other vehicle collide when both turning left (2%)
(percentages are of all cyclist KSIs).
Plainly non-use of nearside wing mirrors has some relevance here in these cases.
So, if such unwillingness or inability to follow the regulations, with such actual or potential consequences for the safety of others, were to occur under these other regimes, would we be satisfied with a campaign like this? One which is essentially just a polite reminder to the operators of dangerous equipment or practices by a sticker placed on the equipment which was not being used?
My suggestion is: No, we wouldn’t.
What might the effects of this campaign actually be?
The reason for my scepticism is not simply one of principle, but one based on a concern about its likely lack of effect. Some, like Chris Boardman, appear to think that “This campaign will undoubtedly contribute to promoting safer driving habits on the road.” Undoubtedly?
What we have is some 4% of the UK driving public being presented with stickers. There is no evidence that placing the stickers will actually lead to previous non-users becoming users of wing mirrors. Then, as always with road user safety, those most likely to change habits will be those most willing to do so in the first place. Is the behavioural change actually likely to be anything more than minimal at best?
One of the reasons why it is unlikely to be more than minimal – if that – is the background set of beliefs underlying it.All in it together? The mythology of “One Tribe”.
The key theme expressed by the AA and British Cycling is the idea that lots of cyclists also drive cars, and vice versa, and that recognising this will lead to reduced casualties. My view is that this is a dangerously misleading approach to safety on the road.
It conceals the fact that when people are using different modes of transport, they have markedly different potential to endanger, hurt or kill others. The fact that they use more than one form of transport is at best irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that the same people are both far more likely to endanger, hurt or kill when they are driving than when they are cycling is part of the problem. Cyclists are more unlikely to see themselves as part of the problem when they drive precisely because they are also cyclists.
One way of looking at this is to consider pedestrians instead. Most motorists know that they also walk, as indeed they do. Has this led to no danger being presented to pedestrians by motorists?
The central theme of Road Danger Reduction is that there is a fundamental difference between use of those modes which have a significant potential to endanger, hurt or kill (essentially the motorised ones) than those (essentially cycling or walking) which have a far lower potential to endanger, hurt or kill. The “Evens Stevens” approach is based on denying this.
Underlying this “Evens Stevens” approach is a fundamentally patronising attitude. According to the AA’s chief executive, Chris Jansen,cyclists have to “recognise when they have been well looked after on Britain’s roads by motorists” – as if drivers are doing them a big favour by not threatening their lives by rule or law breaking behaviour. A duty of care becomes “looking after”.(This is the “New Deal” on safety which the AA offer cyclists)What could work?
There is a definite need for drivers to use their wing mirrors as part of their driving activity. It is a timely reminder with TfL’s encouragement of doing exactly the opposite here with its “Cyclists stay back” stickers It is also good to see the AA oppose a SMIDSY excuse by stating that “Those on two wheels never appear from nowhere”. And as Chris Boardman says: “Looking left and giving way to cyclists is a crucial part of improving safety on the roads. This is what happens on the continent and it should become part of our culture too. Of course, this rule is already written into the Highway Code – we just need to ensure that people are following it.”
But the crucial issue is whether this actually changes driver behaviour or not, fitting into a programme of genuine accountability of those responsible for actually and potentially endangering, hurting or killing others. Such “road safety” initiatives will fail if they are simply polite requests to a minority of drivers who may or may not choose to follow them, particularly if they are embedded in a culture which is based on the “Evens Stevens” school of obscuring the differences in potential lethality between different road user groups. While the AA are being less arrogant than in previous initiatives, they still have a historywhich makes them dubious supporters of real road safety.
As Roger Geffen of the CTC puts it: “CTC absolutely agrees that this is the right approach, but this doesn’t mean cyclists should be doffing their caps to drivers when drivers behave responsibly – responsible behaviour should be the norm.” And the CTC point out: “…experience shows that awareness campaigns work best when supported by related enforcement activity. (Successful) campaigns…strengthen public support for enforcement activity, while the related enforcement activity re-enforces the impact of the campaign by punishing irresponsible drivers who ignore the message”.
Way back in the 1970s, Horsham built a stub of inner ring-road, a dual carriageway that was later extended in two stages to (almost) encircle the town centre. It’s called Albion Way.
It involved almost entirely demolishing a church…
and blasting a dual carriageway through a high street, to link up with a new Sainsbury’s, built on school playing fields (you can see the car park by the ‘A’ on the map above).
Frankly, it’s a bit of a monstrosity – overkill, given that it duplicates a bypass that encircles the town. The severance is crap for people walking and cycling, who only have a few places they can cross it, which are (with one exception) pretty awful.
Motor traffic on Albion has consistently fallen over the last decade, and it needs to be resolved. But even in its current form it represents a bit of a mixed blessing. The town planners who initially set about building it were quite clear that motor traffic should be removed and displaced from the town centre – and that has been achieved, pretty well. The area enclosed by the ring road has only one route through it, as shown below.
This is a one-way road – all the other streets in the town centre have been pedestrianised, or are dead-ends, or do not form useful routes to anywhere, and are only used for access. And the centre of Horsham as a whole was one of the first 20mph zones in Britain, dating back to 1992. As well shall see, the only route through the centre has traffic calming in the form of humps and a cobbled surface, and is deliberately tortuous, in an attempt to discourage people from using it as a through route, rather than the longer ring road (although in my experience many people still try).
It’s pretty good, and I have sung the praises of the town centre before, which has been improved further over the last few years by the progressive removal of motor traffic from more streets.
The only problem… is that cycling has been forgotten about. The town centre is impenetrable from most directions by bike, because of the one-way route through it (that doesn’t have an exemption), and pedestrianisation. There is no useful, direct route across the town from north to south, nor from east to west, nor from west to east. The only route through the town centre is by following the existing one-way street. This lack of permeability is really quite poor.
This may change. West Sussex County Council won some Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) cash in the last round of bidding, which has to be spent by April 2015 – some of that cash is coming to Horsham, to construct (amongst other things) a cycling route across the town, from the station (which lies to the north of the town centre) through to the south. This will obviously have to tackle the one-way system.
The planned route will come from the station, over the inner ring road on an existing shared walking and cycling route (running along the bridge in the picture earlier in this post). It then arrives in the Carfax, where it is confronted by the one-way road in the centre of the town.
The route will have to run from where the photograph is taken, to the red brick building in the distance. There is a huge amount of space available here, but there probably isn’t going to be much money to play with. That means relaying the street (playing with the cobbles!) to make the carriageway wider is unlikely.
My instinct tells me a simple contraflow would be the most straightforward (and cheapest!) approach – simply legalising cycling in a contraflow direction. But there are issues. The carriageway is not especially wide, and while the volume of traffic is not very high, at all, there are potential conflicts with a loading bay on one side, and a combined bus stop/loading bay on the other. This picture gives some idea of the potential difficulties.
The other alternative is to route the contraflow to the left (as we look at it) of that loading bay, but this is not particularly wide, and would obviously impinge upon walking. It’s probably a non-starter.
I’ve taken a short video of this section of road, at one of the busiest times of day, 5:30pm. This is when the density of people driving through the town centre tends to be highest – to pick up friends or relatives at the end of the day, to grab some cash from the banks nearby, or simply to use it as a shortcut. This is obviously combined with the buses – the frequency is not especially high, but it could be a problem.
See what you think – it gives a flavour of how difficult it could be to cycle in a contraflow direction, and also how easy it could be!
Outside of the morning and evening, I think a straightforward contraflow could work absolutely fine. The street is very quiet. Indeed, in the evening, and the middle of the day, it can be absolutely deserted. It’s also a low speed environment, with pretty good (by British standards) traffic calming.
But it could obviously present difficulties at peak times. The street is awkwardly designed, as far as two-way cycling is concerned – the narrow bits are in precisely the wrong place. Optimistically, if it is made obvious that there will be people cycling in a contraflow direction to people driving through the centre, my hope is that people will exercise common sense and not crash into each other.
The advantage of this approach is that will cost next to nothing, beyond signage. If, as I fear, it’s not good enough, and people simply can’t behave, then it will have to be changed.
My ideal solution would simply involve cutting out much more of the motor traffic – stopping the use of the Carfax as a route, by installing a bus gate halfway through it. Buses could still pass through (this is an important bus stop, right in the centre), but private motor traffic could not. The roads would be returned to two-way, for all vehicles.
This would stop people driving through, but would still allow access for people loading and delivering, and to the disabled parking bays in the town centre. Indeed, we have already had an (accidental!) trial of this system last year, when the humps in the Carfax were being repaired, and the route was blocked.
This closure point here would be the natural position for the bus gate. While these repairs were taking place (for over a month) people could still access all parts of the town centre, but couldn’t drive through. I even have a picture of a taxi driving the ‘wrong’ way down the section of road that will need two-way cycling!
This would be the ideal solution, but it would represent a bigger change, all for a mode a of transport that people around here don’t really think exists. It would be a much harder sell. The contraflow would be easier to implement, but sub-optimal.
I’m wondering what you think.
So another person cycling on a motorway has been stopped by the police.
The last time this happened – just a few weeks ago – Beyond the Kerb succinctly described the different types of ‘idiocy’ involved here.
I don’t for one moment condone the idiocy of venturing onto a motorway on a bicycle. And I suspect nor do you condone it. It’s insane. It’s incredibly dangerous. And it’s illegal, and in this case a fine was levied.
But nor do I for one moment condone the idiocy of highway engineering that directs people to behave in precisely the same manner (with about a quarter of the width of tarmac to cycle on and far fewer safety criteria for the road as a whole). Yet, most people do condone it. It’s insane. It’s incredibly dangerous. Yet it’s legal, and people get paid for it.
On the A3, just a few miles from where our first idiot had his collar felt, is engineering that designs in the exact behaviour he exhibited; behaviour that attracted widespread and vociferous criticism from the police, the media and an angry public. And this is far from an isolated example of such engineering.
The latest example of motorway cycling is even more delicious, in that the motorway the man was stopped on is, objectively, far less dangerous than the A-road he had previously been cycling on, which simply ‘becomes’ a motorway at Sunbury.
Lets take a look at these roads.
The chap was ‘surrounded’ by police vehicles and escorted from the motorway with a £50 fine.
The cyclist apparently joined the motorway after riding along the A316, but “didn’t think to stop and walk off,” as the police put it.
Well, quite. Given that the objective conditions on the M3 are superior to the A316, and that the two are essentially the same road, I can see where he’s coming from.
The cycling schemes in Bedford and Southampton – the ‘Turbo’ roundabout, and the Itchen Bridge junction – have been hitting the headlines recently. A post by SmallTown2K (who has been taking a thorough look at the Southampton scheme) goes some way towards explaining why what has ended up on the ground is so compromised -
In traffic engineering parlance, the junction does not operate satisfactorily in the AM peak. What this means is the junction is over capacity. I have no baseline Arcady (roundabout modelling software) for the roundabout to compare to, but the signals are likely lower in capacity and this indicates liable to cause congestion.
Obviously, traffic will readjust and vehicle congestion isn’t the be all and end all, except, in Southampton, almost everyone drives and angry drivers don’t re-elect people. Further, and perhaps less dramatically, as a highway authority, Southampton CC is bound to a Network Management Duty which means they must secure the “expeditious movement of traffic”, albeit that traffic is defined as all road users. In that vein it should be noted for non-locals that the Itchen Bridge is a key bus corridor and congestion over the bridge would affect all these routes and the large number of people thereupon (which offhand I would guesstimate outnumber cyclists in the order of 10:1).
It is this intersection of ‘keeping the traffic moving’ (conceived in terms of motor traffic) and political unwillingness to do anything that might disrupt ‘traffic’ (again, motor traffic) that has seen the removal of the ASLs from the original plans, the extra length of stacking lanes, and so on. The quality of the junction was sacrificed.
There’s a similar story behind the Bedford ‘Turbo’ roundabout. The council simply didn’t want to do anything that might have reduced the volume of motor traffic on the roundabout, resulting in the bodge that is finally going to see the light of day, with cycling effectively pushed onto shared use pavements, with a roundabout design that has the stated intention (whether it will succeed or not is another matter) of increasing motor traffic capacity.
The problem is that cycling is, as always, seen as something ‘extra’ to be accommodated around existing motor traffic, rather than a way of reducing congestion on the network as a whole. In a post yesterday Herbert Tiemens, of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, commented that
congestion easily evaporates with only a low percentage changing cars for bicycles
But we don’t seem to appreciate this in the UK – perhaps because we can’t get our heads around the fact that ‘ordinary’ people could actually switch from their cars to cycling, for short trips, if the conditions were more acceptable.
The truth is that designing junctions properly for cycling hugely increase the capacity of these junctions in terms of the movement of people, even if capacity for motor traffic is reduced.
I dug out an old video of mine, shot in Groningen in 2011, just to demonstrate how efficient junctions can actually be.
This is the north-west corner of Vismarkt, right in the centre of the city, at about 5:30pm.
The video is only 3 minutes long, but I managed to count around 350 people passing through this intersection in just that time – probably an underestimate, because the video doesn’t capture people crossing on the arm to the right. This is a rate of 2 people every second, which amounts to at least 7000 movements per hour. All this in a small space, with no need for signalisation, or delay.
By comparison, busy junctions like the Bedford ‘Turbo’ roundabout currently handle 25,000 vehicles over a 24 hour period, as does the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge. This junction in Groningen is much, much more efficient at moving people about.
I’m not suggesting that the motor traffic on these roundabouts can, or even should, disappear. The broader point is that shifting people out of their cars and onto bikes would serve to reduce congestion, not increase it – even if that means taking junction capacity away from motoring. But it has to be done properly, so that cycling is a genuine, attractive alternative.
Many town and city centres in Britain have extensive pedestrianised areas. Often these areas will be surrounded by busy distributor roads, designed to accommodate the motor traffic that has been excluded from the pedestrianised streets (and which in practice have served to induce demand for driving within urban areas).
Given the hostility of these roads for those on bikes, it is not surprising that pedestrianised areas are attractive routes for cycling, even when (as is often the case) cycling is illegal within them. Pedestrianised streets are also important routes and destinations in their own right. So should cycling be allowed in pedestrianised areas?
Here’s what the Dutch CROW manual has to say -
Pedestrian precincts can be found in many city centres. Although this measure was prompted by the annoying presence of motorised traffic, many of these precincts are now only open to pedestrians, in order to create a pleasant and safe shopping atmosphere. However, the question is whether it is always necessary to prohibit bicycles as well as motorised traffic. After all, compared to the latter, cyclists cause hardly any nuisance. Another issue is that central areas and pedestrian precincts that are closed to cyclists often form a major barrier. Furthermore, these areas also accommodate a great many destination points for cyclists. Bicycle-friendly policy ensures that these destinations remain accessible to cyclists.
The manual then suggests that bicycle and pedestrian traffic can be combined if the number of pedestrians, per metre of route width, is below 200 per hour. (To take an example, for a ten-metre-wide shopping street, this would amount to 2000 pedestrians per hour walking past an imaginary fixed line on the street.) Above this level, the CROW manual does not recommend allowing cycling on these streets.
For pedestrian volumes of less than 100 per hour, per metre of route width, the CROW manual recommends ‘full combination’ – that is, just allowing cycling on a pedestrianised street, without any delineation. Between 100 and 200 pedestrians per hour, per metre, it recommends a marking out of a cycle route, with or without height difference, depending on pedestrian volume.
We have practical examples of this in the UK. East Street, in Horsham, is now closed to motor vehicles between 10:30am and 4:30pm each day, but with cycling still permitted. For these six hours, it’s a pedestrianised area, with cycling in it. After two years, there hasn’t been a single incident involving cycling, or complaint (as far as I am aware). There have been only two (slight) pedestrian injuries, both involving motor vehicles, outside of the ‘pedestrianised’ hours. It works well.
However the background assumption in the UK seems to be that cycling is ‘a problem’, that needs to be clamped down on, and eradicated in pedestrian areas, even where there is scope for its introduction. Cycling is banned on Guildford High Street during the day, for instance, despite this being a very wide street (and despite it forming part of the National Cycle Network).
Cycling is also banned, entirely, in the centre of Stevenage.
And there are doubtless many other examples. Councillors in Peterborough are agitating for a complete ban on cycling in the town centre.
The rationale for these bans – or the refusal to lift them – is usually a single incident (or even just an anecdote) about a near miss, or a collision, involving a pedestrian and a someone cycling. This is a poor basis for making policy, and, if applied to the road network as a whole, would lead to the wholesale closure of roads to motor vehicles.
Amazingly enough, we actually have some pretty good Department for Transport recommendations on cycling in pedestrian areas, that date back to 1993 – TAL 9/93 [pdf]. This guidance was itself informed by a Transport Research Laboratory study, PR15, Cycling in Pedestrian Areas - conducted at a time when the TRL was an executive arm of the DfT.
That study was based on hour-long footage of 21 pedestrianised sites – 12 in Britain (Beeston, Bristol, Cambridge, Canterbury, Chichester, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough (2) and York) and 9 in Europe (3 each in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), followed up by 12 hour video recording sessions at four British sites, and questionnaires.
There are some very interesting findings.
The TRL study gives some background on the nature of the injuries at three of the sites studied in greater detail -
The central conclusion of this TRL study – and one repeated by the DfT guidance – is that
Observation revealed no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas, suggesting that cycling could be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians.
One of the main reasons for reaching this conclusion is how people cycling in these areas behave. They have an interest in self-preservation; they slow and adapt their behaviour to how people are walking around them. The study makes an analogy with people running in pedestrian areas. They run faster when the street is open and clear, but when it is busier and congested, they slow. (And we wouldn’t dream of banning running in pedestrian areas!)
The study contains some interesting data on how people cycling behave, particularly in those study areas where cycling is not permitted. One example is East Street in Chichester, which had a formal ban at all times in 1993, when the study was conducted. I’ve graphed the data below.
What is really noteworthy here is how people cycling behave. At the start and end of the day, very few people are dismounting (the blue line) – despite cycling being illegal. As the day progresses, however, the number of people dismounting increases, with almost everyone choosing to dismount in the middle of the day.
There is a clear match here between dismounting rates (in blue) and the number of pedestrians on the street, per hour (the red line). When the street is busiest with people (with several thousand people walking along it, per hour) almost everyone is dismounting. Conversely when the street is much more empty (with around a thousand people walking along it per hour, or less) the dismount rates are much lower.
These patterns are repeated throughout the other British and European study sites in the TRL report, whether cycling is legal or not, suggesting that the governing factor on whether people choose to dismount or not was not legality, but the density of pedestrians on the street. Indeed, it’s these densities that inform the CROW guidance on whether cycling should be allowed, or not.
The standout message, therefore, is that cycling behaviour naturally adapts itself to pedestrian environments. Rather than clampdowns and enforcement, perhaps we should be moving to trials of cycling in pedestrian areas, and examining how people behave and respond. The evidence shows that we can trust people to make the right decisions.
Presuming we all agree that cycle tracks are a good thing along main roads with high (>2000 CPU/day) motor traffic volumes (which I think we do), then we need to decide whether we’d prefer two single direction cycle tracks on each side of the roadway, or one bi-directional cycle track on one side of the roadway.
Visualisation of the Mayor’s cycling vision along Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Let’s spend 5 minutes looking at the pros and cons of bi-directional cycleways and at when the Dutch use them. Let’s start with the positives:
And the negatives:
So with that all said, which is best?
As always, it depends on context. If we look at what the Dutch say and do we can see that they prefer single direction cycle tracks within urban environments and on distributor roads where conflict with motor and pedestrian traffic is more likely.
The inner ring road in Amsterdam has single direction tracks on each side.
Out of town and on larger through routes where side road turnings are prohibited/minimised, the comfort of bi-directional tracks wins out.
A rural through route with a separate bi-directional cycleway in Drenthe.
If we transfer this to a London context we would come to the conclusion that for example, running a bi-directional track along the Embankment is probably the best solution due to the “completeness” of the route and the lack of side turns on the river side.
Visualisation of the Mayor’s cycling vision of Victoria Embankment.
Whereas the Torrington Place/Tavistock Square cycle route or the Theobalds Road/Clerkenwell Road/Old Street route are probably better suited to single direction cycle tracks due to the number of interaction points with pedestrians and turning motor vehicles.
Images of Clerkenwell Road and Torrington Place courtesy of Google Street View
As always, it’s the right solution for the right situation, there’s no one size fits all solution, you have to look at the bigger picture and look at the road network as a whole, not just at the section or junction in question.