A new style ‘zebra’ crossing with a cycle crossing bolted onto it is in place in Bexley.
This is a trial version of this new type of crossing, which is proposed in the Department for Transport’s consultation on TSRGD 2015 [pdf] -
Some people (including me!) have been a wee bit sceptical about this crossing, and so I think it’s worth setting out why, in long form.
Before I get started, it’s obviously worth stating that priority crossings for bikes are plainly a very good idea in principle, and it’s great that the DfT are open to new ideas, and that this kind of crossing (which could work well, in the right circumstances) is being trialled, on street. I am an optimist, and this does represent progress.
However, there are grounds for concern. Mainly, it’s that this design remains a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure, that has had some cycle provision bolted onto it.
Walking and cycling are different modes of transport, with different design requirements, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to lump them in together, on the same crossing.
This is why I made comments voicing concern about this crossing actually being given a name, because doing so legitimises treating walking and cycling the same way. As we shall see, the Dutch don’t name walking and cycling crossings that happen to be next to each other, for the obvious reason that they are entirely separate things.
There is, of course, an existing British crossing that lumps pedestrians and cyclists in together, that has a name – the Toucan.
I think it’s fair to say that Toucans are a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure that have had cycling bodged into them. They are pedestrian crossings that simply allow cycling, and for that reason they are sub-optimal.
They tend to treat people who are cycling as pedestrians, rather than giving them their own clear distinct routes across junctions. It makes cycling slower and more inconvenient. It’s bad for people cycling, and it’s also bad for people walking, as it creates confusion and unnecessary hazards.
Toucans are obviously not worse than having no cycle crossing at all, but they are worse than crossings that treat pedestrians and cyclists separately. Finally, toucan crossings can provide an incentive to create ‘sharing’ areas away from the crossings – shared used pavements, and so on – because the crossings themselves are shared.
Flexibility, and designing separately
Now it is possible to delineate Toucan crossings, providing separate walking and cycling routes across a junction, as in this example from Jitensha Oni -
But we don’t have to do this – it’s perfectly possible to provide a cycle crossing that is entirely separate from a pedestrian one, with their own respective signals, rather than one set of ‘Toucan’ signals.
And this is, unsurprisingly, how the Dutch design. They treat walking and cycling as different modes, and provide separate signals, and crossing paths, rather than lumping the modes in together, like a Toucan would.
Besides the crossing routes keeping the two modes separate, there are good reasons for doing this. Pedestrians and cyclists will take different amounts of time to cross a road, and the signals can be adjusted accordingly, with pedestrians given more time. If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, the ‘green time’ can be shorter.
Of course, the kind of crossing pictured above doesn’t have a name – it’s, well, a bike crossing that happens to be near to a crossing for pedestrians.
And much the same is true of the way the Dutch treat unsignalised crossings. The pedestrian crossing (zebra or otherwise) is a separate element from the cycling crossing, which may or may not have priority. Sometimes the two ‘bits’ are close to each other, sometimes they are not – but at no point are they the same ‘thing’.
This means the Dutch have a great deal of flexibility in how they design crossings. They can, for instance, put a (two-stage) bicycle crossing, without priority, next to a zebra, if that makes sense. Pedestrians have priority on the zebra, but cyclists don’t have priority.
Of course, you could have the same arrangement, but with cycling priority. The key point is flexibility, and treating the two modes separately, at all times.
However, this flexibility is not available with the DfT’s proposed new ‘combined’ zebra crossing, which, to repeat, is a cycle crossing tacked onto a pedestrian crossing. It’s worth quoting here what the Cycling Embassy had to say about this ‘cycle zebra’ -
We are concerned that the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ is simply repeating the mistakes of shared use paths and toucan crossings – namely, that cyclists are simply ‘botched in’ to an existing design, without concern for the needs of cyclists.
We are particularly concerned that there is insufficient difference between the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ and an ordinary zebra crossing, and that drivers may not appreciate the need to yield to (faster) approaching cyclists…
We also note that there is potential for great ambiguity (and hence danger) in the existing rules for zebra crossings, whereby drivers must give way only once pedestrians are on the crossing itself. The dangers of this ambiguity are intensified with faster moving cyclists.
We also feel that the regulations with respect to crossings do not give sufficient flexibility to allow for appropriate crossings to be designed in many circumstances, particularly in the vicinity of road junctions. (For instance, the use of elephants’ footprint markings, with give markings, to indicate cycle track crossings across junctions).
Consequently we suggest that controlled area ‘zig-zag’ markings, zebra crossing markings, and elephants’ footprints cycle crossing markings should be prescribed separately as ‘building blocks’, and that it should be the responsibility of the designer to identify how or if these should be combined in each particular instance, including allowing for combinations with stop and give way lines at junctions.
There are practical problems with cyclists using zebra crossings in this way, because of priority rules that only give priority to pedestrians once they are actually on the crossing. This is really quite unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) for cyclists, who will obviously usually be arriving at crossings at a greater speed than pedestrians.
People cycling would really benefit, instead, from a much more straightforward cycle-specific priority crossing, that can simply be placed adjacent to a pedestrian-specific zebra.
Once this new ‘cycle zebra’ crossing has a name, I fear it will encourage – just as the Toucan crossing has – the employment of shared use footways, and general ambiguity in the areas surrounding crossings, because that’s the easiest way out for designers who don’t have a great deal of interest in doing things properly.
As the Embassy response argues, it would be far better if we could employ priority cycling crossings (something we can already provide!) in the vicinity of zebras, while continuing to treat the two crossings as distinct, separate elements, rather than putting an ambiguous cycle crossing onto the zebra itself.
This ‘building block’ technique, as employed by the Dutch, gives much greater flexibility to designers and engineers – they can decide where to place crossings, how to mark them up, and whether or not to give priority to pedestrians and/or cyclists.
It’s laudable that the DfT are (finally!) open to new ideas, but I worry that this minor ‘cycle zebra’ concession may lead us down an unhelpful path, already trodden by the Toucan, and actually inhibit the development of the more useful and practical ‘building block’ approach – which would also require some stripping away of the (often needless) requirements for zebra crossings.
Time will tell.
It’s been all quiet on Pedestrianise London for far too long, and for that I can only apologise. Over the last 3 years since I started this blog, the cycling climate in London has changed and the beginnings of change are starting to be seen.
So why the radio silence? Over the last 6 months I’ve been busy moving my family and my life out of London and to the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. I think there comes a time for most non-native Londoners when you know you have to leave before the city completely consumes you. With my wife being from Rotterdam, my young daughter being of pre-school age and thus immune to large lifestyle disruptions, and family living nearby, this feels like the sensible move for us.
I hope to continue to write stuff here, but hopefully with more of a lean on how things are done in Holland’s 2nd city (and beyond).
"But", I hear you say, "I don’t know anything about Rotterdam", well, it’s the 2nd largest city in the Netherlands (after Amsterdam) and the largest port in the Europe. It’s situated in the province of South Holland at the south end of the Randstad economic area, has a population of 600,000 people, 1.6 million in the greater Rijnmond area, oh, and it was bombed completely flat in the 2nd World War and was thus totally rebuilt in the 1950’s, as such it’s renowned for it’s crazy architecture.
Oh, and of course, bicycles.
The visualisations Transport for London have been producing recently for the Superhighways – and for the Oval junction redesign – have attracted some comment from naysayers, about how little motor traffic is shown.
But I don’t think there’s any grand conspiracy here – any visualisation of a new road or street scheme will tend to show very little motor traffic, Exhibition Road being a fairly typical example.
However, the reason for this is probably much more mundane than any attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, regarding potential congestion. It’s that filling a visualisation with cars doesn’t make the space you are presenting very attractive. Who wants to look at hundreds of fairly anonymous metal boxes, when you could instead show human beings, smiling, walking, interacting with each other?
Indeed, more generally, cars are very dull things to fill public space with.
Don’t get me wrong - some cars are attractive, and nice to look at. But plonking large numbers of average-looking cars on roads and streets makes those spaces much, much less interesting than if they were filled with people.
Who wants to look at this?
Pretty uninteresting. By contrast, public space filled with human beings…
That’s why visualisations tend not to include large numbers of motor vehicles – even if that’s unrealistic.
The issue of ‘kerbside activity’ and cycling infrastructure comes up intermittently.
In plain language, this is loading, and dropping off/setting down, and how it works with cycle tracks between the loading/drop-off point, and the footway. Just last month, the Freight Transport Association responded to Transport for London’s detailed proposals for the N-S and E-W Superhighways in London, with a particular focus on this point.
FTA’s message to Boris Johnson is that whilst it supports the development of infrastructure which improves safety for cyclists, the association is also asking him to remember that the people of London depend on goods being delivered and collected.
Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Policy for London said:
“FTA supports the development of new cyclist infrastructure which is targeted on improving safety for cyclists, and believes it can provide real benefits. But cyclists are only one user of the road and the needs of all must be considered – Londoners depend on the goods our members supply every hour of every day. It is important that these schemes are carried out in such a way that they do not unduly disrupt traffic flow or prevent kerbside access for deliveries to businesses and homes.”
FTA added that it must be recognised that delivery and servicing activity does not only take place in high street locations but on many different street types including residential streets, therefore full segregation in these locations may hinder access for deliveries. In such areas, FTA favours the use of other measures such as ‘armadillos’ or giant cat’s eyes, which provide partial segregation stronger than painted white lines, but at the same time enable vehicles to access the kerbside. [my emphasis]
My understanding of this passage is that the Freight Transport Association favours the kind of cycling infrastructure that HGVs and vans can park on, obstructing it, so they can park right next to the kerb. In other words – cycling infrastructure that, while nice in theory, is functionally useless, if it’s going to be used as a parking bay.
Similar reasoning appeared recently from Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, who argues that cycle tracks are not appropriate where there is kerbside activity.
Likewise the British Beer and Pub Association had this to say in response to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Cycling Safety -
Segregated cycle lanes already cause particular issues for pub deliveries. Manual handling of bulk beer containers such as kegs and casks (as specified in current Health & Safety Regulations) ideally requires the delivery vehicle to be sited at the kerb-side outside the premises. Physically segregated lanes prevent this access
Given that loading and parking has to occur pretty much everywhere on main roads – where cycle tracks will almost always be necessary – then if we take these objections at face value, continuous cycling infrastructure, separated physically form motor traffic, is an impossibility.
But is this really true? How does the Netherlands manage to cope? Deliveries and loading still take place on their main roads, as well as people parking, and dropping off passengers – and these are roads that will often have cycle tracks.
Well, it’s not really that hard. HGVs and vans park in marked bays outside the cycle track, and then load across it, and the footway.
The delivery driver has put a home made ‘watch out’ sign on the cycle track as an extra (albeit slightly obstructive) precaution. But it’s clear that loading across a cycle track is hardly an insurmountable problem – it’s not really any more difficult than loading across a footway, provided that the cycle track is well-designed, with low level, mountable kerbing between it and the footway, as in both these Dutch examples.
I suspect the objections from these groups are based partly on assumptions about existing patterns of cycling behaviour in places like London – cyclists are perceived as fast and silent car-like objects, whizzing around like vehicles, rather than as the more sedate mode of transport it is in places where cycle tracks are commonplace in the urban realm. It’s easier to imagine loading across a cycle track with these kinds of people moving along it -
… than one with people clad in lycra, riding on racing bikes, in cycle-specific clothing. That’s not to criticise this latter group – it’s just that perceptions can be skewed, because the existing environment tends to exclude other types of cycling.
Their objections are probably also based on their understanding of existing UK segregated infrastructure, which will often present loading issues, due to the use of unforgiving, high kerbing, which is an additional obstacle for drivers to load objects across.
But this is poor design – cycle tracks shouldn’t be constructed like this, not least because it’s bad for cycling, as well as for people loading. Cycle tracks can and should fit seamlessly into the urban realm, allowing easy loading across them. It can be done – just look at best practice, across the North Sea.
I blogged for the Cycling Embassy last week about the value of new audit tools, from TfL, and in the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance.
These tools allow professionals and cycle campaigners to objectively assess the quality of cycling provision, scoring routes out of 100, and 50, respectively. If a route scores less than 35 out of 50 under the Welsh Guidance, it should not be classified as a ‘route’, or be included as part of a cycle network.
I was reminded of the potential uses of these tools by some discussion on Sunday about the National Cycle Network, and how, while some bits of it are genuinely excellent, the Network as a whole is diminished by the inclusion of sections that simply aren’t up to scratch.
Take the National Cycle Network around Bath. Some of it is genuinely high quality, like the traffic-free Two Tunnels Route 244.
But some bits of it aren’t, like this section of NCN 4, which runs into the centre of Bath on a very busy road, with a significant proportion of the motor traffic composed of HGVs.
This is actually Bath’s inner ring road, the A36. This stretch would almost certainly fail to meet the minimum standards set out in the Audit Tool. There’s just too much motor traffic, it’s too fast, and there are too many additional hazards, like car parking and junctions where there are turning conflicts.
Yet looking at the map, this section (circled) is included in the network, as part of NCN 4.
I would assume that this is for reasons of continuity – it makes no sense to have a route that has breaks in it. But there are downsides to this approach.
First of all, it means people can have little confidence in the quality of the network. If parts of it are this bad, how are they to know how much of it is equally bad? What are the criteria for including bits of roads as parts of a ‘Cycle Network’? Having low-quality, or even hostile, sections included downgrades the ‘brand’ of the National Cycle Network, as Joe Dunckley argued.
Secondly, it suggests that a ‘network’ actually exists, when, in reality, there isn’t much of a network, at all, if parts of it are difficult to negotiate, or actively hostile. It suggests that the job has been completed, that journeys can easily be made from A to B on the ‘National Cycle Network’ – politicians can even boast about it.
Sadly even Sustrans themselves fall into this trap, claiming that ‘The National Cycle Network passes within a mile of almost 60% of the population’ – by implication, we have a functioning network already, rather than a bits-and-pieces affair of highly variable quality, that quite often doesn’t really go anywhere near where people live and work.
By contrast, if only the parts of the network that actually met minimum standards were included, we would have a truer picture of state of the network, and of inclusive conditions for cycling more generally. Marking up ‘networks’ that simply don’t work for most people gets us nowhere, and in fact lets politicians and councils off the hook.
The council where I live drew up what can only be described as a farcical ‘network’ map, composed of sections that sometimes link up (but sometimes don’t), and even sections that are ‘proposed’ (we’re still waiting!).
This map has, however, quietly been withdrawn, once the council discovered that cycling in some areas of the town centre (as marked on the map) wasn’t technically allowed. Rather than changing TROs to make cycling legal… it was easier to make the map disappear.
I recently assessed the best part of this ‘network’ with the Welsh Active Travel Guidance tool – it scored 24.5 out of 50, well below the minimum threshold of 35. So in truth Horsham doesn’t have a cycle network, at all, when even the best parts of it are so far below a minimum standard. It’s for the best the map has vanished.
This kind of objective quality control would also mean that councils could no longer get away with boasting about how many miles of cycle lane they’ve put in, if the ‘network’ they produce doesn’t meet minimum standards. If a route composed of painted lanes doesn’t score over 35 out of 50, it’s not fit for purpose.
For all these reasons, I think a ‘downgrading’ across the country to a much smaller cycle network, composed of the bits that are actually of a suitably high standard, would be beneficial. It would be an accurate reflection of where Britain’s cycling provision actually stands, and would act as a spur for genuine improvement.
A bit of a follow-up to last week’s post about the Perne Road roundabout, looking at the potential issues, and what could have been done instead.
This roundabout has now hit the headlines because a child has been injured while cycling on the roundabout, on Wednesday evening. I don’t think it’s massively helpful to leap to conclusions on the basis of one incident, but it’s certainly worth looking at the general design flaws with this roundabout, and the alternative ways in which it could have been designed.
For me, the central problem is that cycling has not being designed for explicitly. Instead, it has been bodged into pedestrian-specific design, and into motor vehicle-specific design, simultaneously. Almost all the potential issues flow from this failure. The roundabout design expects people on bikes to behave like pedestrians, or like cars; something genuine Dutch design would never do.
For a start, the ‘shared use’ paths around the edge are quite obviously footways, on which it is permissible to cycle. They are not cycle tracks, with clearly defined routes. The result is cycling in a pedestrian-specific environment, and this, coupled with a lack of clarity, presents a number of problems.
With ‘shared footways’, drivers will have less certainty over where a cyclist might be heading. Take the scenario below, with the path of a cyclist represented by the blue arrow.
The driver doesn’t know if the cyclist is, or isn’t, going to use the crossing. The cyclist is travelling across an expanse of tarmac, and their intentions aren’t clear. The driver may assume wrongly.
Contrast this with a Dutch roundabout (in Assen) -
And the same is true from the perspective of people cycling. They have more time to assess which direction a driver is taking – staying on the roundabout, or leaving it – and therefore will have more opportunities to cross, more safely. Again, this is without cycle priority -
The Cambridge roundabout does not have this cycle-friendly feature. Because the crossing points are not set back any distance from the roundabout, there’s little time in which to assess which way drivers might be heading. In many instances, it may be too ambiguous to take a chance.
Placing the (pedestrian) crossings at these locations close to the roundabout also means they are blocked by drivers queueing to enter the roundabout, rather than left clear, as on a Dutch roundabout, by setting the crossing points back from the perimeter.
Funnily enough, although I’ve criticised the Poynton scheme, this ‘setting back’ of the crossings has been done correctly there, approximately one car length back from the ’roundabouts’.
This means people can cross behind stationary vehicles, rather than trying to cross in front of a vehicle that might be about to jump into the roundabout.
To compound these issues of uncertainly about where people are going, drivers have to contend with people cycling on the road, and on the footway, simultaneously, as they enter and exit the roundabout, rather than dealing with cyclists at one clear crossing point, on defined paths. This is a point John Stevenson makes here -
Drivers don’t know where cyclists are going to be. Because cyclists can either use the main carriageway or the shared-use, off-carriageway paths, drivers are expected to look for cyclists in a number of places at each arm of the roundabout, instead of just one.
Unnecessary complication has been added by putting people cycling on two different forms of route across the roundabout.
Another issue John identifies – having visited the site – is that a shared-use footway, by definition, involves mixing up pedestrians and cyclists together, rather than separating them, and that can be an uncomfortable experience for pedestrians, particularly in areas with high levels of footway cycling. Again, this problem is not one that should have been created.
What effect might the narrowed carriageway might have on people who continue to cycle on it? John thinks it might make collisions more likely, as people cycling will be closer to motor vehicles (and there also might be a temptation to squeeze through). That said, the geometry has been tightened, which should lead to lower vehicle speeds – so the collisions would probably on balance be less serious. Swings and roundabouts, although it is obviously far too early to make definitive judgements. In any case, a roundabout with this volume of motor traffic shouldn’t – in principle – be designed with the expectation people will be cycling on the carriageway.
Finally, there has been an awful lot of discussion about whether or not a genuine Dutch-inspired roundabout design would offer cyclists priority over motor traffic, or not. To me, that’s not a particularly pressing issue, compared to the overall design problems set out here. A Dutch roundabout with priority would look very similar to a Dutch roundabout without priority. Cyclists would have clear routes, separated from pedestrians – routes which would make it obvious to drivers what they are doing. Likewise the paths that drivers are taking would be clear, and the roundabout would be designed to maximise crossing opportunity. This roundabout achieves none of those outcomes.
My personal inclination – and I’ve been persuaded on this point – is not to offer cyclists priority, for the main reason that it is safer (remember, this is an entirely new kind of treatment for British drivers), and also because the loss of convenience is marginal, if the roundabout is designed properly. We should remember that no Dutch roundabout offered Dutch cyclists priority, at all, until the 1990s, by law. It was only for reasons of convenience – not safety – that his law was changed, and priority was switched in urban areas.
Priorities can be changed easily – bad design can’t.