Out on my bike earlier in the week I came across a road closure on a country lane just south of Ashington in West Sussex – Hole Street.
As you can see, a diversion has been put in place. Not a problem, you might think, except that this diversion sends you directly onto the A24, which is a national speed limit dual carriageway, with no cycling infrastructure.
Not an enticing prospect, even at this relatively quiet time of day, even for someone relatively hardened like me. I just do not want to cycle on a road with vehicles like this bearing down on me at 60mph. (For the record, the road at this point carries about 35,000 vehicles per day, and – amazingly – about twenty very brave people cycling).
Essentially the authority (or individual) responsible for putting the ‘diversion’ signs out was only thinking about drivers. It’s simply not acceptable to divert people cycling onto a road of this character, even if – thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s – the A24 is legal to cycle on, with no parallel provision.
I took my chances and ignored the ‘road closed’ warning, reasoning that even if resurfacing was taking place I could, at a push, walk past it. (As it happens, I didn’t encounter the closure before I turned off this lane, about a mile further on down the road.)
But as I pedalled along the deliciously quiet lane (with no through motor traffic) I dwelt on whether those ‘diversion’ signs should actually be permanent. After all, why should motor traffic be using this country lane as a through route, when there is a fairly expensive dual carriageway trunk road running in parallel? Indeed, would there even be that much difference in time if you asked drivers to take the longer (but faster) route?
When I got home, I took a look at Google maps. Here’s the section of country lane that was closed, with point A being where I encountered the ‘closure’ sign, and point B where that lane meets another ‘A’ road – the A283.
The ‘closed’ length of country lane here is 1.5 miles. What would be the alternative? Well, this is the ‘diversion’ that drivers are being asked to take while this lane is closed – the A24 (which I chickened out of cycling on) and the A283 – two sides of a triangle.
But what about in terms of time? The country lane, Hole Street, has a mixture of 40mph and 60mph limits, but really, it should be 40mph for its entire length, at most. At 40mph, travelling from A to B would take around 3 minutes.
Using the ‘main road’ route involves 1.5 miles on the 70mph A24, and then 1.8 miles on the 50mph A283, for a total time of around 4 minutes.
So – despite the extra distance – really not that much more time. And these are the roads that are designed for the through traffic – built and engineered to take heavy traffic. The country lane would be quieter and safer, not just for people using it on foot, horse, or bike, but also for the residents. Really – the kind of diversion that is currently in place should be permanent. Hole Street should be access-only, at all times.
This might sound radical, but it’s a common intervention in the Netherlands. While cycle paths alongside roads (main roads) are a visible and obvious intervention, the approach is quite different on country lanes, which are stopped-up, or simply signed as ‘residents only’, with drivers who are travelling through expected to take the long way round.
One of these examples featured as a Cycling Embassy ‘Good Facility of the Week’ – a country lane closed to motor traffic, except for residents, on the outskirts of the city of Utrecht.
It’s worth placing this example in context.
People cycling are obviously exempted from the closure – that means they can cycle from point A (where the photograph was taken) to point B, in a fairly straight line.
This isn’t really much of a hardship, however – the motoring route is a fast road (equivalent to a British A-road), with the added benefit for drivers of not having any slow vehicles on the road. Agricultural and bicycle traffic shares a separate path along this road (again, this featured in a Good Facility of the Week).
The system employed by the Dutch in this context isn’t about ‘punishing’ driving, but more about putting cycling and driving on separate systems, for safety reasons. On the main road, cycling has its own parallel provision, but on the narrow country lanes, motor traffic is cut out, and forced to use the longer route. Very often, that ‘longer route’ will in any case be more attractive than the direct route that has been closed, because it is wider and faster, and designed specifically take through traffic.
For instance, if you want to drive between the city of Delft and the new town of Zoetermeer, you are forced (or ‘forced’) to take the A12 motorway. An ‘as the crow files route’ is simply not available to you.
Naturally enough, the country lanes between the two urban areas, joined up with cycle-specific paths, form a direct cycling route.
But you wouldn’t really want to use these country lanes in your car, even if you were allowed to, because you have a very fast motorway to connect you – it doesn’t really matter that the route is less direct.
Diversions of this kind are an excellent – good for safety, good for drivers (who don’t have to worry about pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders on their faster routes), good for residents of the country lanes, and good for the people using those lanes to get about, or simply for recreation.
Perhaps we ought to look more closely at whether we can convert our temporary diversions of through motor traffic away from country lanes into permanent diversions – and indeed more broadly about what our country lanes should be for.
There was a revealing detail in Bicycle Dutch’s post last week on a (failed) attempt to create a cycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s.
One of the main cycle routes to the Utrecht University, Burgemeester Reigerstraat, was completely transformed and re-opened as a bicycle street in November 1996. The street got a median barrier to prevent motor vehicles from overtaking people cycling.
Here’s a picture of that arrangement, from Mark’s blog.
Emergency services also complained and they warned about dangerous situations because they were held up. Impatient car drivers were seen overtaking cyclists with two wheels on the barrier. [my emphasis]. This scared people cycling onto the narrow side-walk and that in turn frightened pedestrians. A good two years later (in January 1999) a new Utrecht council terminated the experiment. The centre barriers were removed and so were the signs that forbade to overtake people cycling.
In fact you can clearly see a driver doing this in the photograph above – squeezing past, driving up on the central median.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Dutch drivers really are just as bad as British ones when confronted with design that puts them into conflict with people cycling. The reason why we have a skewed impression of the quality of Dutch driving is that – by and large – Dutch road design separates cycling from driving, and insulates people cycling from the consequences of driver misbehaviour. In trips across towns and cities you will encounter a tiny fraction of the number of drivers you would on an equivalent trip in Britain. On main roads you will be physically separated from drivers, and on side streets you will encounter few drivers because these streets are not sensible routes for through traffic.
And in these few places where you do come into contact with drivers, design ensures that priorities are clear and unambiguous, and that drivers behave in a slow and careful manner – for instance, by placing side road crossings on steep raised tables that drivers have to drive over.
However, just as on that failed design in Utrecht in the 1990s, when Dutch drivers are confronted by design that doesn’t make sense, they will behave badly.
On busy through roads that have little or no cycle infrastructure, they will squeeze past you, into oncoming traffic, in precisely the same way that some British drivers will do, confronted by the same situation.
On country lanes (that are access-only roads) they will drive very close to you at high speed, just like some British drivers will.
On busier rural roads – without cycle tracks – they will squeeze through at speed, into oncoming traffic –
They will even squeeze through at the same time oncoming traffic is overtaking someone cycling the other way.
Many of these streets allow contraflow cycling (like the example above). It is often quite an unnerving experience attempting to hold your ground as a driver rushes past you in the opposite direction.
This also happens on a narrow street in the centre of Utrecht, which is a through-route for taxis, buses and delivery drivers.
And of course Dutch drivers will happily park on footways, on cycle lanes, and on cycle tracks when a suitable parking space isn’t available, or nearby. Even obstructing junctions to do so.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s nothing particular special about Dutch drivers. They will behave in anti-social ways like British drivers, and drive just as badly as them, when confronted with the same types of design.
All the familiar problems that people cycling in Britain encounter – close passes, squeezing through at pinch points, left hooks, and so on – would undoubtedly occur in the Netherlands too, on a large scale, if their roads were not designed to eliminate those kinds of problems from occurring in the first place.
Attempting to change the ‘driving culture’ of Britain without changing the way roads are designed would be a futile experiment – we can see this in the way Dutch drivers behave on roads that put them into conflict with cycling, like the failed bicycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s, and countless examples of poor driver behaviour on ‘British-style’ Dutch roads.
Back in November 2010, a cement mixer crashed through the parapet of a bridge over the (branch) railway line between Guildford and Waterloo, close to Oxshott station in Surrey. The mixer fell onto a passing train. Miraculously, no-one was killed, although several people were injured, including the driver of the mixer, and a person sitting on the train directly under the point of impact, who was seriously injured.
The driver of the cement mixer, Petru Achim, played a large role in this incident. He crashed his lorry into the end of the parapet of the bridge, losing control, and then (in an attempt to avoid oncoming traffic) swerved it through the parapet itself and onto the railway, with serious consequences.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that Achim escaped relatively lightly in court. Charged with driving without due care and attention, he was fined £100, and given five points on his licence.
More significantly, because this crash happened on the railway, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) produced a full report on the incident. The background; how the collision occurred; how it unfolded; how it could be prevented. It’s 36 pages long, and you can read it here.
I stumbled across this incident a few days ago after re-reading Joe Dunckley’s brilliant post, 7 years, 4 months and 18 days, about the safety record of British railways, how that has been achieved, and the extraordinary difference with the safety record of Britain’s roads. As Joe writes,
The last time anybody died on a train that crashed in Britain was on the evening of 23 February 2007 when a Virgin Trains express to Glasgow derailed on mistakenly unmaintained track at Grayrigg in Cumbria
Perhaps the 2010 Oxshott incident was the closest someone has come to dying on a train since 2007.
It’s well worth reading the RAIB report, which produced five recommendations – two for Surrey County Council, two for the Department for Transport, and one for Network Rail – all with the intention of preventing such an incident ever occurring again.
The recommendations for Surrey County Council were that they should ensure the parapet ends of bridges in the county are visible and well-marked, and that they should review ways of protecting the ends of the parapet of this particular bridge in conjunction with Network Rail, and implement the best method for doing so.
The recommendations for the DfT were to issue guidance to highway authorities on how best to highlight the unprotected ends of bridge parapets, and also
to prepare guidance for highway authorities on identifying local safety hazards at bridges over railways which could be mitigated by measures such as signage, hazard marking, white lining or safety barriers, and include consideration of previous accident history and the causes of those accidents.
Finally, the recommendation for Network Rail was that it should
include, within its annual examination of rail overbridges, the requirement for the structures examiner to identify and record any highway features which may increase the risk to the railway such as absence, obscuration or poor condition of parapet end markers.
… and to improve its ways of reporting these issues to highway authorities.
The tone is neutral, without setting out blame. Essentially the approach is to recognise that human beings are fallible, and will fuck up, and sets out the ways to prevent that fucking up from causing injury or death.
I’m not at all familiar with how the Dutch investigate deaths on their roads, or whether they go into this amount of detail after collisions in an attempt to ensure that type of collision never occurs again, but there is a strong parallel here with the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety.
Since humans make errors and since there is an even higher risk of fatal error being made if traffic rules set for road safety reasons are intentionally violated, it is of great importance that safety nets absorb these errors. Behold the Sustainable Safety approach in a nutshell! A type of approach that, incidentally, has been commonplace in other transport modes for a much longer time under the name of ‘inherently safe’. [my emphasis]
As this passage points out, Sustainable Safety is relatively new – it only started being applied in the Netherlands in 1997, much, much later than the air and rail industry began developing techniques to ensure that failures (either mechanical or human) did not snowball into death or injury – the techniques employed in the RAIB report described here.
It’s so new, in fact, that it obviously has not been applied everywhere in the Netherlands. Their crap, unforgiving road designs are still being removed and updated; their country lanes that carry too much motor traffic are still awaiting a systematic downgrading (or upgrading); bypasses to take through traffic away for the places that people live are still being built; the process is ongoing.
There are five strands to Sustainable Safety, but perhaps the two most important in this context are homogeneity and forgiving environments.
Homogeneity in essence boils down to not putting slow and fast things in the same space; and not putting light and heavy things in the same space. If you want motor traffic to go faster than bicycle traffic, then you should not put bicycle traffic in the same space. You should provide for it separately.
Likewise if your road or street is going to carry heavy traffic as well as bicycle traffic, then something has to give – either that bicycle traffic should be separated, or heavy traffic simply shouldn’t be allowed on that road or street.
This hasn’t been achieved everywhere in the Netherlands yet, but it is being aimed at, everywhere. And this principle, even in isolation, ensures that Dutch roads and streets are considerably safer than British roads and streets, where we think nothing of mixing bicycle traffic with heavy motor traffic, or fast motor traffic (and usually both).
It is – appallingly – pervasive and normal.
The principle of forgiving environments corresponds to the approach to rail safety. It recognises that human beings are fallible, incompetent, or inattentive, and attempts to ensure that the environment people are travelling can cushion those mistakes.
A typical British example of unforgivingness is the failure of a lorry driver to look in his mirror, at a particular moment, as he sets off from some traffic signals, just at the same time as someone cycling travels down a cycle lane on their inside.
A failure to spot someone travelling down the inside of a vehicle at a particular moment, in a mirror, coupled with a failure to appreciate the danger of using a cycle lane, should not result in death or serious injury. This is an unforgiving environment.
By contrast a forgiving environment separates movements, and/or ensures good intervisibility, and time to appreciate what the other party might be doing. It also allows rules to be broken (willingly, or unwittingly) without serious consequences. Because that’s what humans do – we break rules.
We don’t appear to have anything like Sustainable Safety in Britain. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that collisions happen, again and again, in the same way, to the same types of people, involving the same kinds of vehicles, even at the same junctions, over and over again, and nothing appears to be learnt.
We blame individuals for their failures – their failure to look in a mirror; their failure to appreciate that some types of cycle provision should be treated with extreme caution; their failure to not react quickly enough – without apparently ever stopping to realise that it’s the broken system that should be fixed, not the fallible human beings who are using it.
Maybe it’s because life is cheap in Britain – but that’s too simplistic. Life is selectively cheap in Britain. As the investigation that features at the start of this post shows, we take life very seriously when it is at risk on the railways, or in the air, and develop rational policies to structurally eliminate deaths and injuries from occurring in the future.
Yet on the roads, that concern for life apparently evaporates. Death and injury almost seems to be taken as an inevitable characteristic of our roads themselves; that they are innately dangerous.
The most telling manifestation of this assumption is the continual grumbling about the lack of personal protective equipment on the part of (a particular) vulnerable road user.
This kind of grumbling goes hand-in-hand with a blinkered view of Britain’s road environment as almost naturally hazardous – that our roads present spontaneous danger, to which the proper response is to don protective equipment before venturing into it, without even questioning the effectiveness of that equipment, or more pertinently whether our public space should even present such danger in the first place.
Other transport systems are designed in such a way that protective equipment is not needed, and make allowances for stupidity, incompetence, or inattention. Yet the British road network remains an inhospitable jungle, where mistakes mean death or serious injury for vulnerable users (and indeed even for those protected within motor vehicles).
The Dutch have appreciated this difference, and moved to put road design and road safety on the same footing as other modes of transport. Why haven’t we?
Marco te Brömmelstroet tweeted this excellent video by Lucas Brailsford today.
It makes a bunch of great points, including the often overlooked point about out of town shopping and how planning regulations have in effect kept the Netherlands as a collection of villages, ensuring the not only that people are within a short walk/cycle of their everyday purchasing needs, but also the survival of the high-street.
This is the second post in a series examining the ways in which West Sussex County Council are spending the £2.46m of cash they received from the Department for Transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), for schemes to be implemented between 2012 and 2015.
The first post looked at the Northgate gyratory in Chichester, where £210,000 (£140k from the DfT, £70k from West Sussex’s road safety budget) will be spent repainting an existing dangerous and substandard cycle lane around the gyratory, and adding flashing warning signs.
That scheme – like most of the other schemes being funded in Chichester and Horsham by the DfT’s £2.46m – is being implemented right at the last minute, before the April 2015 deadline. This delay is symptomatic of West Sussex’s problems with knowing how to spend money properly, and developing schemes that will actually make any significant difference to how people travel in the county.
However, when it comes to spending that same LSTF cash on conventional motor traffc-centric schemes, West Sussex are quickly able to deploy it – and all of it.
In Horsham, well over a hundred thousand pounds of that DfT funding – remember, for allegedly ‘sustainable’ transport – was used rapidly and efficiently for new traffic lights at three junctions on the town’s inner ring road, as Horsham District Cycle Forum point out.
These new lights appeared in spring 2014, well before the 2015 deadline, and involve ‘signal optimisation’ – a fancy word for increasing the capacity of the junctions on the ring road, for motor traffic. So in essence –
Sustainable transport funding has been used to reduce delay for motor traffic in Horsham town centre.
The money has been spent on new MOVA traffic signals, which unlike the pre-existing standard traffic signals, will respond to queue length. For instance, if there’s a very long queue of motor traffic on one arm of a junction, the system will respond, and allocate more signal time to that arm of the junction, to disperse the queue. The system serves to increase the ability of these junctions to handle motor traffic, by ensuring more efficient flow of motor traffic. Driving in the town centre just got a bit easier.
Astonishingly this is against the background of falling motor traffic levels on the road in question, Albion Way.
It’s not as if congestion has been getting worse – the money has simply been hoovered up for a project to reduce queues for drivers.
So how has this use of ‘sustainable’ funding been justified? Here’s the paragraph describing the scheme, in West Sussex’s DfT bid document –
Access improvements around the town centre
Improving access to the town centre (HR4), that will reduce delays and improving safety at junctions with A281 Albion Way/Park Way. These will include Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation. This will help improve and create an efficient transport network to support access for businesses by reducing congestion, and encourage investment in Horsham.
In what amounts to an unintentionally ironic nod to the way this scheme has been delivered on the ground, this paragraph positions the the real purpose of the funding (smoothing the flow of motor traffic, a.k.a. ‘reducing congestion’) behind some ASLs.
Of course, describing the improvements as
including Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation
is a bit like describing a shopping trip as ‘including some Monster Munch, as well as a new car’, because the cost (and indeed usefulness) of the ASLs is absolutely negligible. They are just paint, as we shall see. The near entirety of the £127,000 West Sussex received from the DfT for this scheme has in reality gone on the MOVA system – new traffic signals, new induction loops, and assorted computer software.
The painted ASLs are simply window-dressing, a convenient fig leaf for a scheme centred on improving journey times for motorists. They will do little or nothing to make the three junctions they’ve been painted at any more more attractive, or safer.
They have been thoughtlessly applied, as the following examples will show.
Here is a typical example; a box three lanes wide, with no safe way to access it. Indeed, no legal way to access it, with a solid white line stretching from kerb to kerb, which can’t be crossed under a red signal.
Within a matter of weeks, it had evidently been decided that the green of these ASL were too lurid, and they were all repainted a darker shade of green. This same ASL now gained a hatched entry point.
There was some vague talk of giving this new traffic signal system the ability to prioritise buses, by fitting them with sensors that would give allocate green signal time to buses stuck waiting. This hasn’t happened, and even if it did, without the presence of any bus lanes it’s not at all clear how buses will really benefit, given that – as in the photograph above – they will remain stuck in the flow of general traffic.
This ASL technically allows you to position yourself in front of motor traffic to make a right turn, from lane 3, but this is a deeply unappealing prospect under free-flow conditions, with motor traffic flowing in lanes one and two, and stopped in lane three.
This same junction has other dreadful examples.
It is arguable that these designs actually increase danger, by encouraging people to cycle to the front of the queue up the side of large vehicles, which may then set off.
Any existing cycle lanes have simply been repainted, with no thought or consideration about they could have been widened, or improved.
Likewise this crap – a short stub of contraflow that ends in an absurd fashion – has again been given a fresh coat of green paint.
This short bit of quiet one-way road is crying out for a properly-designed contraflow, to allow people to access the town centre. But West Sussex have failed to use the money they’ve received to design one; they’ve lazily repainted the existing crap, which people continue to ignore.
The ASLs on the other junctions are just as bad. Another three lane-wide strip, with no safe access –
And these beauties –
The final junction, again, has ASLs that have the potential to encourage people to put themselves in danger –
The design of this junction was also altered, making it worse for pedestrians. A direct, single-stage crossing on the northern arm (captured on Streetview, below)…
… has been replaced by a two-stage, staggered crossing.
The pedestrian crossings at the other junctions remain dire. Merely crossing the road into the town at the first junction described can involve up to five separate crossings, because there are no crossings on the eastern side of the junction.
Despite West Sussex’s bid for the LSTF cash having the stated aim of ‘improving access to the town centre’, no new crossings have been added here. People continue to dash across five lanes of motor traffic, rather than hanging around waiting, pushing buttons on four separate crossings.
The LSTF cash that West Sussex won could have been used to make this unpleasant road genuinely attractive for walking and cycling, with direct pedestrian crossings, and a bi-directional track on the ‘town’ side of the road, replacing a traffic lane. Something like this.
But instead it’s been wasted on traffic signals to ease the passage of motor vehicles through the town, and (as at Chichester) on some paint that does very little to make the road safe or attractive for cycling.
How many people will be tempted to start cycling on Albion Way now it has got some green stripes on it, at the junctions? Very, very few. These ASLs might make life slightly easier for the people already cycling here – those who know how and when to safely use them – but in my experience, huge numbers of ordinary people continue to ignore the road, cycling on the pavement, like pedestrians.
Bluntly, we need infrastructure that works for these people, not tokenistic bits of green paint for the handful of people willing to cycle on hostile roads like this one.
To remind ourselves, West Sussex received nearly two and a half million pounds from the DfT to spend on sustainable travel in Horsham and Chichester – over a million pounds, for each urban area. That money could have made a tremendous difference, had it been spent on meaningful, high-quality routes for cycling.
But instead it is entirely going to waste, hoovered up to ease the passage of motor traffic, or dribbled away in the form of ineffective projects like the Northgate gyratory, or hopeless ASLs like here on Albion Way.
So Nigel Farage gave a speech at the White Cliffs of Dover yesterday, in which he suggested that children are not playing football in the street any more because of ‘discomfort’ and ‘unease’ due to high levels of immigration.
I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself. And I sense over the last decade or more we are not at ease.
If we went to virtually every town up eastern England and spoke to people about how they felt their town or city had changed for the last 10 to 15 years, there is a deep level of discomfort. Because if you have immigration at these sort of levels, integration doesn’t happen.
Further clarification of Farage’s and UKIP’s opinion on this topic was provided by the party’s economic spokesman (and candidate for Cambridge in the 2015 election) Patrick O’Flynn, as reported by the Press Association’s political correspondent –
Parents worry about safety of streets because of immigration, so children less likely to play football in them, Ukip's Patrick O'Flynn says
— Arj Singh (@singharj) April 1, 2015
Even at face value, this smells like total codswallop. If kids want to play football, they really won’t care what country the other kids’ parents might have come from. They just want to kick a ball around – the culture, nationality or language of other children they might want to play with is completely irrelevant.
Now it’s possible parents won’t let their children out on the streets because they have fears about safety due to ‘immigration’, but it’s pretty miserable politics to play up to these fears, and indeed to give them some legitimacy by presenting them as a genuine reason why children are absent from our streets.
If there’s a genuine problem with community cohesion, that can surely only be helped by letting children in the neighbourhood – from all backgrounds – play with each other, on the streets. The answer certainly isn’t to pretend that stopping further immigration into Britain can solve these kinds of problems, where they might exist.
Of course, the real reason why children don’t play on our streets is actual danger in the form of motor traffic. Where streets are closed (even on a temporary basis) to motor traffic, children from diverse backgrounds will happily play with one another – for instance, in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse areas, Hackney.
And in the Netherlands, where residential streets are usually categorised as ‘access roads’ – not useful routes for motor traffic, and consequently with very low motor traffic levels – spontaneous street play by children is extremely common.
These are safe environments, where the only motor vehicles present will be those accessing properties on the street – residents, visitors, or delivery drivers. That’s it. There’s no real need to speed, as these aren’t through routes, but in any case, most of these locations will have traffic calming in the form of speed tables and tight geometry. The language of the street tells you that it is a residential area, and that, coupled with the low traffic levels, means that they are safe areas for children to play. That’s why parents let them play there – nothing to do with ‘immigration’.
Most residential streets in Britain, by contrast, will often function as through routes – convenient options for people who want to drive the shortest route, or who wish to avoid congestion on parallel main roads.
That’s why children don’t play on them.
If UKIP genuinely want to see children playing on the streets, they need to adopt Sustainable Safety as a policy.
Last week I wrote a long post about how West Sussex County Council are proposing to use millions of pounds of ‘sustainable’ transport funding (distributed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership) on schemes that have negligible (or even non-existent) sustainable transport benefit.
Even those parts of the schemes that, by West Sussex’s own admission, have no sustainable transport benefit whatsoever, could obviously be designed to accommodate walking and cycling routes. But West Sussex have chosen not to do this. They want to build very large roundabouts on the edge of a major town that have absolutely no walking and cycling provision.
In that post I described how this is symptomatic of a wider problem with cycling outside of cities in Britain – West Sussex in particular is just one many local authorities that have no consistent stream of funding for genuinely sustainable transport, no real enthusiasm for engaging seriously with cycling as a mode of transport, and little or no expertise on how to design properly for it.
What cash that is available for cycling from central government – either through these LEP channels, or through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – appears to dribble away, used on schemes and projects of negligible benefit.
This post is the first in a series that will examine what West Sussex has done with the £2.46 million of cash the county was awarded by the DfT for sustainable travel projects, to be spent between 2012 and 2015.
West Sussex’s initial bid was for £5m, for four towns and cities – Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Horsham. The DfT rejected that bid, and only chose to fund the schemes for Chichester and Horsham – about half the total bid (hence £2.46m). So these posts will cover where those millions of pounds have gone, in Chichester and Horsham. It should also be borne in mind that the total spend will be significantly higher, with matched funding from the local authority in many cases.
A case in point is the subject here. £140,000 of that DfT cash is being spent on the Northgate Gyratory in Chichester (with a further £70,000 coming from West Sussex’s own road safety budget). This is a very busy road system – dubbed ‘The Fire Station Roundabout’ (because it has a Fire Station in the middle of it) - just to the north of Chichester city centre. It is where the city’s inner ring road meets roads heading off to the north, out of Chichester.
What is that £210,000 buying?
It should be borne in mind that the Northgate Gyratory is a significant barrier to cycling in Chichester – to get in and out of the city centre from the north, this roundabout has to be used. And it also has a safety problem – despite its innate hostility obviously suppressing cycling, there have been six serious cycling injuries in the last nine years.
Here’s the video West Sussex have produced to publicise the repainting of the cycle lanes, and the new flashing signs.
The basic problem here is that the existing design for cycling is dire, and it isn’t being changed. The crap cycle lanes are being repainted, and the flashing signs smack of desperation, an attempt to mitigate for inherent flaws in the road layout. As a Chichester local told me –
By definition if you need to have such signs, surely this means you haven’t designed your roads properly for cyclists.
And it’s hard to disagree.
It should be noted that there are already signs at Northgate gyratory – signs that aren’t electronic.
I doubt flashing signs will do much to address the risks for people cycling at this gyratory, any more than the existing metal ones do anything.
The problems are the result of poor design, on both entry and exit to the roundabout.
On entry, drivers will not be looking in the direction cyclists are coming from, which is almost from their side. Their attention will be focused instead on the roundabout, and gaps in motor traffic.
The problems are compounded by ‘masking’ – even if they are looking in two different directions, drivers in the nearside lane will often have their visibility of the cycle lane obscured by motor vehicles in the outer lane.
Likewise on exit, collisions occur because drivers are unsure about where people cycling will be going (or make assumptions about their direction), while similarly people cycling will be unsure about whether drivers will be entering or existing the roundabout. For example.
The blue arrows represent a driver and a cyclist. At the positions pictured, neither has a clue what the other is going to do – stay on the roundabout, or exit it. That uncertainty is a recipe for collisions.
Safely navigating this cycle lane involves looking back over your shoulder, through 180°, in an attempt to observe what motor traffic behind you is doing.
Conveniently this is even demonstrated in West Sussex’s video.
It’s dreadful design, a recipe for collisions.
These are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved. People cycling are not in visible positions, and when they are, there’s uncertainty about who is going in which direction.
Another local, Paul Wreyford, has this to say in the road.cc article on the gyratory plans –
The cycle lane design remains very similar to the existing layout. There still remains the danger and conflict that I and many of my neighbours have experienced on this system.
This is; the high speed of exiting traffic at each junction, the lack of visibility for the kerbside driver when two vehicles are at a two lane entry, the failure of drivers to signal when exiting, and the lack of lane discipline/lane markings on the gyratory system.
I’d also add that even relying on drivers signalling their intentions to exit (or stay on) the roundabout, is simply not good enough, because if someone doesn’t signal, or signals in error, and their intentions are (mistakenly) assumed, the consequences would be catastrophic.
So there are a series of clear, identifiable safety problems, that are a direct consequence of the existing design, which is merely being repainted. The issue is not a general lack of ‘awareness’ of cyclists – awareness that needs to be ‘raised’ by a number of flashing signs -as the video implies.
Here’s a video I’ve taken showing one of the exit points of the gyratory, in the south-west corner.
The video essentially speaks for itself, but a few things can be observed.
An extra insult is how the poor existing road markings – needless ‘Give Ways’ for people simply leaving the roundabout by bike, like these –
Sensible advice would be to avoid these cycle lanes entirely, if you feel confident enough to do so, and to cycle in the traffic flow on the roundabout, to minimise the problems of intervisibility described here. That’s a pretty dire state of affairs.
But it could have been even worse. The initial plans from West Sussex for this gyratory proposed giving cycling priority on both entry and exit.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving cycling priority over motor traffic, but not with this kind of geometry, and with these kinds of speeds on exit. The flashing warning ‘Think Bike!’ signs were included as part of this scheme, again presumably in an attempt to make it slightly less lethal.
That design appears to have been abandoned following a road safety audit, leaving us with the status quo. Plus the signs.
So £210,000 is going to be spent doing essentially nothing.
Unfortunately that simply wasn’t enough money in the first place to come up with a serious, design-led solution to the issues with this roundabout, drawing on best international practice in designing cycling infrastructure that is safe and attractive to use.
There’s plenty of space at Northgate for a major redesign, accommodating cycling infrastructure of the type seen in David Hembrow’s video above, and described in his blog post here. But the aimless result we’ve ended up with has probably flowed from that initial problem of insufficient cash. Northgate needs a major physical redesign, and £210,000 was never going to be enough.
Maybe West Sussex weren’t ever that interested in examining serious alternative designs, or in devoting a large chunk of the money they won from the DfT on implementing one scheme, preferring instead to spread it thinly on a large number of schemes that look good, presented as a nice long list, but are ineffective in practice.
Meanwhile the old paint is being scraped off, ready for new paint.
There’s been some concern that Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its target for cycling to have a 5% mode share in London by 2026. We have posted on the target question before, but it’s time for an update.
While some think we spend too much time on TfL and cycling in London, we’re unapologetic. Cycling has such a small modal share in the UK now, and is so crucial for a sustainable transport future, that it needs attention. And TfL is the one Highway Authority trying to invest significant resources in changing things.
So what should people make of the headline in LTT that “TfL axes 5% cycle trips target”? While studying this I suggest you look at Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio: in particular Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 [Source: TfL Group Planning, Strategic Analysis] which is the same as the graph above before my additions to it.
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – setting the scene
The idea of having a 400% increase in cycling’s modal share was first raised under the first Mayor of London, and was regularly quoted as the target under Mayor’s Transport Strategies and other documents. For anybody with the most basic knowledge of statistics, 400% is a five times increase – although it seems to have been thought of as four times greater.
“4.17 In his 2010 Transport Strategy, the Mayor set an ambitious target to increase levels of cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2026 (from 2001) and to achieve a five per cent mode share of all journeys in the capital.”
Multiplying by 5 instead of 4 would mean:
A. The 2026 target – of 5 x 320k (daily) cycle journeys – would be 1.6 million cycle journeys, not 1.5 million. That is some 100,000 journeys more. In context, the well-known Cycle Hire programme aims for 40,000 journeys daily.
B. The modal share would be 5 x 1.2% (the share in 2001), which would come to 6%, not 5%.2. The axing of the target
On 26 March 2015 Item 10: Cycling Vision Annual Update was presented by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, Better Routes and Places, TfL Surface Planning directorate. She is reported as saying: “Mode share is not appropriate to be used as a target, as it is changeable due to population flux.”
What’s the justification for this? Presumably she’s saying that the increase in London’s population (known about for some years) means that modal share targets for cycling journeys go down, but go up for all other modes. Why? Transport planners are used to employing modal share as an indicator, even with population changes.
The only rationale I can think of is that while TfL are keeping the 1.5 million journey stages by bike by 2026 target – this “remains a relevant challenge” – they can’t really cope with the idea of having to get beyond it.
To explore this further, let’s look at TfL’s conceptualisation of cycling trips by studying the graph (whether as shown above or directly from Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 in Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio).
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – what’s the trend?
The main issue is the two lines on the graph as supplied by TfL: these are ACTUAL in light blue font and TARGET in red font. I have no quarrel with the blue line, although TfL could have done a lot more to get good figures on the numbers and types of cycling trips. My problem is with the red line.
Or, to be more precise, the red curve. I have added a straight BLACK line on to the graph, which runs straight from the 2001 baseline point to the target point.
The characteristic of the red curve as it has been drawn by TfL is that it allows a lower number of trips to be presented as “on target” in the early years.
To be specific: If we used my straight black line, the “on track” number for 2013 – the last year for which we have figures – would be something like 900,000, not the much lower 585,000 for cycle journey stages on an average day announced by Lilli Matson. (Even on the red curve the number should be c. 620,000, but 585,000 is not very much lower.)
Of course, it is quite legitimate to give a curve such as the red one as the indicator of likely growth, rather than a straight line, because it represents a constant percentage increase each year. But this projection has to be based on evidence. In this case it would mean that the rate of growth increases very significantly from about 2016 – 2017. It should also be made clear that this assumption is being made.
Now, there are good reasons for making the assumption. It could be said that TfL has done very little since its inception to generate an increase in cycling. We are now due to have the much publicised measures of changes in highway layout coming in shortly, and these could result in a significant increase in take up of cycling from about 2016/2017 when the changes become apparent – and this would justify the sudden increase in rate of increase in cycling journeys.
So is TfL’s forecasting right?
TfL certainly has plenty of transport planning tools: The Cycling Policy Evaluation Tool (CYPET) which “provides a reasonable estimate of the impact of different infrastructure programmes in different locations”, development of modelling capacity through the Cycle Network Model London (CYNEMON) and the Cycle Demand Evaluation Response working group (CYDER) .
My experience is that TfL’s evaluation of cycling potential comes up with some interesting data. For example through the MOSAIC (a marketing tool used by transport planners) assessment, it is possible to see where he groups least likely to give up car usage live. It all helps TfL to work out where the “low-hanging fruit” – the easiest areas to invest in to get visible return – are.
But that could be the problem.
My suggestion is that TfL are generally cautious about their ability to support cycling as an everyday form of transport, and that this leads to limited initiatives for cycling, combined with an unwillingness to engage with the sustainable transport policies required to have a genuinely equitable approach towards cycling.
This is reflected in the ditching of the 5% modal share target and in another target – the Cycle Safety Action Plan target – chosen by TfL.
The Cycle Safety Action Plan target
We have reviewed the current TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) here.
A key problem with it is – against continual reassurance to the Cycle Safety Working Group – the failure to base its approach on an exposure-based measure of cyclist casualties. As I said at the time:
“The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails… Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate…”.
This is not a technical or abstruse issue. It is an approach which would see as a failure any increase in cycling which outstrips a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate – where the rate is based on a measure of exposure such as journeys or distance travelled by bicycle, or time spent cycling. It means, for example, that if the number of cycle journeys doubles, the main official casualty (Killed and Seriously Injured, or KSI) rate would have to be halved. Along with a greater willingness to report injuries, and a higher concentration of children and elderly people (who are more likely to be seriously hurt after a collision) the casualty rate would have to go down by 60% or more in order to have a cut in overall cyclist KSIs. Such a cut would be very dramatic.
The conventional “road safety” way of assessing safety on the road is embedded in TfL’s culture. And it is inherently biased against a target of more than some 100% of extra cycling trips.What TfL’s current targets mean:
TfL’s targets, as with forecasting, are indicators of what goals it is prepared to pursue. In fact, cycling targets in the UK have historically been way higher than those achieved, and it could be that TfL has simply been unwilling to risk a shortfall. On the other hand, one can point out that no proponent of a sustainable travel target – the most obvious case being John Prescott’s commitment to cutting car usage - has ever had to suffer public ignominy when that target has not been reached. And the target is anyway twelve years away from assessment.
So I would suggest that the current state of targeting within TFL is indicative of caution, based on its reluctance to really push forward towards a genuinely healthy status for cycling as an everyday form of transport in London.
Let’s examine why this is, and what would be required.
The “Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London” is discussed at length here and in previous posts. We have argued that measures necessary to support cycling are weak in terms of failures in:
The above are just parts of the car-centred culture that TfL operates in. It features abuse and victim-blaming of cyclists, and what is in effect discrimination against cycling as a form of everyday transport. Transport for London is, of course, limited in what it can do to deal with deep-rooted beliefs. It is, after all, a highway authority with what it calls “cycling customers” on its TLRN roads.
But it could do a lot more, in our opinion, through its role as funder of the boroughs to address issues away from its roads, and indeed away from the context of highway infrastructure. Of course, that would in turn mean looking critically at its own belief system.
So do the Mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London really want to see cycling have its proper status as a mode of transport in London. Because, if not, maybe cutting back on targets is the appropriate thing to do.
The Dutch ‘simultaneous green’ junction arrangements allow people walking and cycling to progress through signal controlled junctions in any direction they choose, at the same time as people from all the other arms of the junction.
‘Simultaneous green’ works well on very large junctions, as this David Hembrow video shows –
As well as on smaller ones. My video this time –
In Britain, however, there is some confusion about whether these kinds of arrangements would be legal, particularly as they involve ‘conflicting greens’ – green signals running at the same time on arms of a junction that are an angle to each other. (See this thread on the Cycling Embassy forum, for example).
Now of course we already have examples of ‘conflicting greens’ in the UK – greens for traffic from opposite arms of a junction, which allow people to turn right across the opposing traffic stream. For instance, if I’m turning right in my car, or on my bike, I have a green signal to go, while someone heading straight through the junction from the opposite direction also has a green. We both have a green, yet our paths will cross! The answer is – the turning party yields, rather than assuming green means a manoeuvre can be performed without conflict.
So this seems to be a straightforward objection to the ‘we don’t do conflicting greens in the UK’ claim.
But what about greens from junction arms that are not directly facing each other? What about you having a green to go straight ahead, while the junction to your left – at 90° to your junction – also has a green?
I was told last year by a highway engineer, whose opinion I value, that there isn’t actually anything in UK traffic regulations that specifically rules out doing this. He explained that this option is technically available. You could give motor traffic green signals simultaneously on two arms of a junction at 90° to each other. This just doesn’t happen because, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and would probably be quite unsafe – for motor traffic, at least.
There is now a new junction in Oxford that seems to substantiate this – that you can allow ‘conflicting greens’ on a junction, at 90° to each other (or indeed at other angles). The Hythe Bridge Street junction lies between the city’s station, and the city centre. It used to be composed of two separate roads, with a cut-though in the middle diagonal for walking and cycling –
The odd arrangement is on the western arm of the junction.
The signals tells us that all motor traffic must turn left, heading north. Meanwhile, however, people cycling are exempted from that instruction – they are able to cycle off in any direction they please, north, east, or south.
So far so good, but allowing people cycling to do this actually involves a ‘conflicting green’. While this arm of the junction is green, it turns out that traffic flowing south out of the northern arm also has a green signal.
Here’s another photograph, this one from Graham Smith, showing the same location, but from the south-western corner of the junction.
The man on the bike and the van driver both have a green signal. Note that at the time Graham’s picture was taken – January this year – there aren’t any road markings in the junction. Indeed, this was the initial plan, as below.
This is, of course, still far from brilliant – if you are not familiar with the junction, it’s not entirely clear how it will work, and even if you are, you are still exposed to collision risk from motor traffic turning around you, without any protection.
But the main point of this post is that – regardless of the safety implications – it is apparently entirely legal to give green signals, simultaneously, from junctions at 90° to each other, as shown below – even if the ‘traffic’ coming from the western arm is cycle-only.
The safety implications of this odd arrangement in Oxford – which involves interactions between bikes and motor traffic – are surely much greater than a clearly-explained simultaneous green layout, which will involve interactions only between people cycling.
So – what’s stopping us?
In 2011 Ghulam Murtza was stopped by the police, and issued a fixed penalty notice. He was prosecuted for committing an offence under section 24 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, and fined £115. He was carry his child on his bike, on a seat that may or may not have been strictly legal.
This is section 24 –
As it happens, this is a fine I am at risk of receiving pretty much every single day, because I give my partner a ‘backie’ on my omafiets, like this –
This is the law Murtza fell foul off.
In the case of Michael Mason, the driver faced no criminal proceedings whatsoever, despite the fact she ‘could not explain why she did not see Michael when many other witnesses had.’
In the case of Daniel Squire, the driver walked free from court, despite admitting texting while driving in the period immediately prior to the fatal collision, and (from the new reports available) a deeply unconvincing account of what transpired.
Two fatal collisions.
But no fines, not even any penalty points, in either case. Killing people apparently merits less punishment than carrying someone on a bike.