Last year I wrote about the stalled attempts to improve Bank junction in the City of London. The problem appears to be the time it is taking the City to model the effects of potential changes to the junction – in fact, the City are developing a new model from scratch, which is taking eighteen months, meaning results won’t even be in until Spring 2016.
Our next task will be to build a computer traffic model to assess what is likely to happen if traffic is prevented from crossing the junction for example in certain directions or times of day. Information from pedestrian and cycling movements will also help to develop solutions. This is likely to be a big piece of work and will take some time to complete but it is very important to have credible options for alterations to the junction. We hope to have this work completed by early 2016.
As I wrote then, this is a very time-consuming and expensive way of finding out something that could be established by trial arrangements, on the street itself; this could involve closing or restricting some of the streets in the area to motor traffic. Such a trial could be temporary, meaning that if genuine chaos did ensue, then the layout could be reverted back to normal very quickly, with alternative arrangements tried at a later date. The results of such a trial – given that they correspond to the real world – would also be much more accurate than those provided a model, even a very expensive one.
Of course tragedy struck at this junction last month, with the death of Ying Tao. If action had been taken more quickly to try out arrangements to improve Bank, rather than waiting years to develop and test a model, then improvements could already have been in place by now.
In a similar vein, in their response to the consultation on Quietway 2 in London, Transport for London rejected closing parts of the Quietway as a through-route to motor traffic, for the following reason –
Some respondents to the consultation felt that closing Calthorpe Street and/or Margery Street to general traffic would be a more appropriate intervention. The changes proposed at this junction are due to be delivered this year, in line with the opening of the new Quietway route. These suggestions would have a wider impact of LB Camden and LB Islington’s road network and would require much further investigation. It is considered this would not be deliverable within the timescale, as investigation would be needed of the impact on adjacent streets.
Such a measure would apparently require ‘much further investigation’, because of the impacts on the surrounding road network.
As it happens, I was passing along this very road – Calthorpe Street – earlier this week, and was amazed to discover that it was actually filtered, in the way respondents to the consultation had been calling for.
Well, not in exactly the same way – people cycling were bumping up onto the footway to get around the closure. But the effect is the same. What look like some water main repairs have seen the total closure of this street to motor traffic.
Was there carnage on the surrounding streets? Total gridlock? I didn’t come across any, at least nothing out of the ordinary for London. At the very least a simple trial closure like this could be implemented for, say, six weeks to genuinely investigate whether such a closure would cause gridlock elsewhere. It would also give residents (who, by the way, are in favour of such a closure on this street) a chance to experience the benefits in terms of quieter and safer streets for a short period, buying-in support for a permanent closure.
What seems to be at play here, both at Bank and with TfL’s response to closure requests, is what Rachel Aldred has recently called
The terrifying spectre of delays to motor traffic
Fear of holding up drivers, even for a few more minutes, seems to be crippling, to such an extent that rather than just trying out closures we will spend years developing models, or carrying out ‘much further investigation’, to establish what we could find out quickly and easily by on-the-ground trials.
To be fair, some local authorities are much bolder, and are keen and willing to experiment with reducing routes and capacity for motor traffic. Last year Camden coned off a lane on the entry to Royal College Street, just to see what happened.
That means there’s a whole lane’s worth of space that can be (and is now) being re-allocated to cycle provision on St Pancras road, in the form of a stepped cycle track.
And this week Camden announced plans to trial reallocating an entire vehicle lane along the Tavistock Place route to a westbound cycle lane, restricting this road to one-way for motor traffic, in opposing directions (which should mean a large reduction in through motor traffic too). The existing two-way track, grossly over-capacity, will become a one-way track. More about this in a future post.
Waltham Forest are also keen to experiment; their bold mini-Holland scheme of closures to through traffic is now becoming permanent.
And in Leicester – were the Cycling Embassy spent last weekend for their AGM – the council is apparently keen to trial lane closures in advance of building cycling infrastructure. This cycle track on Newarke Street, built on a vehicle lane, was preceded by a coning off of the lane in question, to examine the effects on motor traffic.
And a similar ‘coning off’ was recently performed by Leicester City Council on the nearby Welford Road – a lane was deliberately taken away to see what happened.
Finally, CycleGaz spotted another recent temporary trial arrangement on Norbury Avenue – this one for three months.
Road closed to cars on Norbury Avenue to prevent it being used as a rat run. pic.twitter.com/yVDis5knli
— CycleGaz™ (@cyclegaz) July 1, 2015
These kind of trials don’t really require that much boldness; they’re cheap, quick to install, and can be reversed at the end of the trial if they prove to be unpopular, or if genuine gridlock does actually result.
Why can’t other councils and transport authorities break out of their paralysing fear of effects on motor traffic, and emulate what Camden, Leicester, Waltham Forest, Croydon and other councils are willing to try out?
A Crawley woman has been sentenced for driving dangerously outside a school.
Leanne Andre, 43, of Friars Rookery, Crawley, pleaded not guilty to driving dangerously in October 2014 when she appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on 11 June, but was found guilty.
Andre received a 12-month Community Order of 90 hours unpaid work, was ordered to pay total court costs of £810 and has been disqualified from driving for 12 months as well as then having to take an extended driving test.
The incident happened in Gales Drive, Three Bridges, on the afternoon of 23 October last year.
Andre had parked her vehicle illegally in the bus stop directly outside Three Bridges primary school whilst picking up her children from the school. The local Three Bridges community policing team was patrolling the area at the time in response to numerous reports of dangerous parking near the school at opening and closing times.
They put a notice on the windscreen of Andre’s car pointing out that it was parked illegally.
Upon Andre’s return to her car a PCSO approached her explaining why the notice had been issued. She responded by directing verbal abuse at him, and drove off. A Police Constable asked her to stop but instead she accelerated towards the officer, swerving just to avoid contact, and continued gaining speed as she drove away, giving no consideration to the parents and children who were waiting, as she claimed she was in a rush.
Officers had the registration number and description of the car and subsequently went to Andre’s home nearby to arrange to inteview her under caution.
PC Jo Millard said; “Andre’s actions on that day were irresponsible and dangerous. We will take action against offenders driving in such an anti-social and dangerous manner.”
No doubt this would have been a full-page spread in the Daily Mail, coupled with earnest coverage on Radio 4, if Andre had abused and threatened police officers while on a bike. ‘Do cyclists have entitlement issues?’ ‘Is it time for cyclists to wear number plates to curb their bad behaviour?’ ‘Do they need to wear hi-viz identification vests?’
But as it is, it will pass completely under the radar, just another example of everyday traffic violence that passes without comment.
But this isn’t even why this story caught my attention – I spotted where Andre lives. Friars Rookery. Which is…
… 300 metres from Three Bridges Primary School.
It is, literally, just down the road – so close the police officers could presumably see her turning back into her own street.
Crawley is a New Town, meaning most of the main roads in it are lovely and wide. Cycling infrastructure (sometimes of reasonable quality, mostly of dubious quality) did arrive on the major roads, but unfortunately residential distributors like Gales Drive didn’t get any.
No continuous footways across the side roads either, meaning young children walking to school have to ‘take responsibility’ for crossing side roads while dangerous and aggressive drivers like Andre emerge out of them to take their own children to school.
Slow clap, Britain.
Sad as it is to say, I suppose there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about another sequence of deaths and serious injuries of people riding bikes – the most troubling and unsettling being yet another woman being crushed by a left-turning tipper truck at a notoriously dangerous London junction – running in parallel with a series of poorly-timed articles and programmes , apparently driven by a media industry that seems determined to pour petrol on the flames of what should be a deeply serious issue, for the sake of ratings.
A feature of these articles in newspapers, or appearances on TV is the reference to people cycling as ‘them’, or ‘they’. All from the last few days.
Glenda Slagg nonsense there, from Sarah Vine, Fiona Phillips, and Angela Epstein, respectively.
Of course the trick with this kind of ‘journalism’ is to play to what you think is your audience, parroting their prejudice back to them. And sure enough the response was predictable –
Pictured below are just some of the 51 people who have been killed riding a bike in Britain so far this year.
Keep the word ‘them’ in mind.
‘Them’? What do these people have in common, beyond the tragedy of their deaths, and their mode of transport at that time?
They’re just ordinary people. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. Not ‘them’. Ordinary people who just happened to be riding a bike.
You may or may not have seen this fascinating graph from the Economist in 1981, shared with me by Graham Smith.
It’s an amazing insight into the way cycling had effectively disappeared as a serious mode of transport for short trips, in the minds of the establishment.
The ‘gap’ between walking and driving for trips of up to 3 miles apparently had to be filled by something – Minitram? with a suggestive question mark – without the apparent realisation that a perfect mode of transport already existed, and had thrived in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.
We’re stuck with this legacy today, reinforced by a further three decades of failure to establish cycling as that mode of transport for the ‘gap’ between walking and driving. This ‘cycling oversight’ also has implications for the way we expect people to travel around without a car.
Local authorities expect people to walk to bus stops, rather than cycle, and that often means bus routes have to meander to where people live, rather than taking direct routes. Apparently many local authorities have a requirement that bus stops should be within 300m of anyone’s doorstep – that means the competitiveness and directness of the bus itself is sacrificed to accommodate short walking trips to bus stops.
There are two examples of this in Horsham, one in a large new development to the west of the town that is nearing completion, and another large development to the north of the town that is awaiting planning permission, but looks set to go ahead. The development to the west looks like this –
The new development lies in the shaded area. The red and orange lines are the (direct) driving routes for private motor traffic (a massive new junction, and extra lanes, have been added to the bypass, running north-south, that bisects the development). The wibbly-wobbly blue line is, sadly, the bus route, through the development, to the town centre.
Clearly the directness of the bus route has been sacrificed, to bring the bus stops close to all the properties within the new development.
The proposed development to the north of Horsham has a very similar bus route.
Of course this indirectness (and delay in getting to where you actually want to get to on a bus) isn’t the only problem with this kind of ‘doorstep bus route planning’. It also means that buses will often have to fight their way through residential streets that (quite properly) are not designed for through traffic, according to Manual for Streets. We saw an example of this in a new development on the outskirts of Newcastle, on a Cycling Embassy Infrastructure Safari.
This isn’t really the kind of road a bus route should be running down – it’s narrow, has on-street parking, and pinch points and features designed to slow motor traffic. None of these are intrinsically bad things – indeed, they may be desirable on residential streets – but I don’t think they’re compatible with a bus route.
Having to take buses through residential areas, to pass close to doorsteps, effectively means pushing buses – which should be using through-roads to get from A to B – onto access roads. And this is something that Oxfordshire County Council (among others) are now complaining about.
Street design in new housing estates ‘too restrictive for buses’
Oxfordshire County Council has criticised the street design in some of the county’s recently-built housing estates, saying the main streets are too narrow and low-speed for efficient bus operations.
“The recent design orthodoxy for large residential developments in Oxfordshire has been far too restrictive for bus operation and this restricts the eventual range of bus services that can be operated,” says Oxfordshire.
The council’s comments reflect a concern of bus operators across the country that their needs are not being taken into account in the design of new developments, with designers promoting narrow streets and traffic calming features to reduce the dominance of traffic.
I think this is only half the story – clearly the solution to this problem isn’t to widen residential streets to accommodate bus flow, but instead to ensure that bus routes are run on (properly designed) through-roads, away from residential areas. Bus routes simply shouldn’t be running through access roads.
The story is very different in new Dutch developments – the buses run on the main roads that skirt the development, designed to take buses and through-traffic – with people cycling to the stops from within that development.
This means that residential areas only need to accommodate access traffic, and can be designed to slow it, without having to worry about how easy it is for buses to pass through efficiently. Because buses don’t pass along these streets.
Of course, this does involve the use of a mode of transport that fills ‘the gap’ between walking and taking the bus – one that allows people to travel distances of around 1-2 miles with ease, and allows bus stops to be retained on the direct routes for the bus.
Taking cycling seriously as a mode of transport would mean that buses would work much more effectively, and be much more competitive with driving – and would also keep buses out of residential streets that are (correctly) not designed to accommodate them.
As someone who has tried to demythologise beliefs held not just by the general public, but transport professionals and not a few campaigners, I welcome Steve Melia’s addition to the debunking literature.
Let’s take a look at some of the common – and seriously obfuscating – myths tackled in this book:
Melia points out what has actually happened to the cost of motoring. This has been a key theme for RDRF – it still fascinates us how little is said about how it has become cheaper duringa time of austerity with items like housing becoming more expensive. Naturally we would have liked a discussion about the idea/myth/prejudice that motorists are constantly harried by the police – a key element in the wannabe victimhood of too many drivers, and which is restricted here to a brief discussion about speed cameras .
This was one of John Prescott’s favourite themes, supposedly based on the German experience. The author takes a look at the evidence from Germany – and comes to the opposite conclusion.
Melia whips through induced demand (and a little on the other side of the coin, traffic evaporation), movement of economic activity from one area to another caused by road building rather than increased overall economic activity, and the sins of cost-benefit analysis.
A necessary chapter on land use planning, often missed out in public debate. But professionals too can get things wrong. Melia avoids the simplistic: he shows how “The relationship between employment, housing and travel to work is complex: putting jobs next to housing doesn’t necessarily reduce travel distances”. Oh yes, and flats are only 20% of British housing stock, and only 19% of households are a couple with one or more children.
How many times do you hear this from people – including transport professionals? If you think that, you need to read Chapter 5.
It’s seeing how a simplistic “solution” can fail that is a key strength of this book. To extend the critique of “just spend money on public transport” further, a key section is the author’s research on three European cities that have tried to reduce car use through support for public transport ,and also cycling and walking. The work on Freiburg, Lyon and Groningen shows – and this is my favourite quote of many from the book – that:
“A combination of measures was key to the success of all three cities. If just one measure is taken, public transport, cycling or walking may substitute for each other instead of reducing car driving. Or people may simply choose to travel more. This can be avoided if all three are supported at the same time and car driving is restrained in some way.”(Page 147)A question of adaptation
Melia has a sensitive scepticism to claims of certainty, no doubt based on his studies which show how people adapt their behaviours to changes in circumstances. I’d have liked more of this to come through in the discussion of shared space by discussing risk compensation, as I think the debate has moved on somewhat since the kind of arguments aired here (and also on cycling and the Netherlands).
Part of the problem is that brevity in this book doesn’t allow for the kind of depth I would have liked to see: my view is that we need to have more extensive discussion of issues like cost-benefit analysis, such as in the work of John Adams . The virtue of this book is its brevity and concision – giving an ability to swiftly demolish a common myth. But that concision is also its failing: for some of us there is the need for more in depth work. Still, that can come from other sources.
But he doesn’t let anybody get away from the truths of modern transport. Look again at how Dutch people have adapted – and here I’m not talking about cycling with its massive modal share. I’m talking about what has happened where motoring has been provided for with the Dutch motorway network. This is shown in Figure 11.9 and pages 120 -122. Yes, you’ll have to see for yourself! But don’t worry, that graph and its explanation are worth the price of the book alone.
There are inevitably some weak areas of the book. I think the chapter on London is overly optimistic and praiseworthy of its transport administration since 2000. Also, Melia’s s chief concern is climate change and he has an awareness of non-urban transport, so it would have been nice to have a look at rural and suburban solutions.
But this highly readable book demonstrates again and again how the problems caused by the rise and continuing extension of motorisation cannot be solved by piecemeal “solutions”. They need to be properly described and addressed with a coherent approach – one which is going to inevitably challenge myths and prejudices held by many professionals and much of the public alike. For those committed to a sustainable transport policy and its implementation, this book is a good start on the journey.
Horsham’s going up in the world, because we’re getting a John Lewis, which opens next week.
That means the town’s existing Waitrose supermarket – located pretty centrally in the town centre – is now moving out beyond the town’s four/five lane inner ring road, to join John Lewis on a joint site.
It could be worse, of course – the site is at least still within the town, unlike Tesco’s current location, the supermarket having decided to bugger off beyond the town’s bypass in the late 1980s, some two miles from the town centre, and pretty difficult to access if you don’t have a car – so difficult you might as well not bother.
But of course the town’s inner ring road still presents a significant obstacle. While it’s going to be pretty easy to drive to John Lewis and Waitrose, anyone who wants to access the site on foot or on bike from the town centre – and indeed from most of the town, to the north and east of the new location – is going to have get across those four lanes of motor traffic.
The visualisations I have seen are not inspiring. In fact, they are pretty much the epitome of screwing over people walking and cycling in the interests of preserving motor traffic capacity.
In more detail. The main pedestrian movement will be from the top right of this picture – that’s the pedestrianised centre of Horsham. The obvious desire line from this point to the new superstore is marked in red. The routes people will have to take instead are marked in blue.
The crossing at the top of the picture is an existing, staggered, crossing; the one at the bottom will be new, but it’s not entirely clear whether it will even be signalised.
As for riding a bike to the new superstore? Hahahaha. Oh, seriously. No, no idea. Presumably you just have to cycle on that road. The footways will remain too narrow for acceptable ‘shared use’, but that’s probably what we’re going to get.
Back in 2013 – when these plans were being announced – Horsham District Council were claiming that
The creation of a new vehicular route or the major redesign of Albion Way [the four lane inner ring road] in this area will be encouraged to make the environment more inviting to cycles, buses and pedestrians. A new vehicular route would enable the reduction of traffic on the old section of Albion Way and allow for better connections between this area and the town centre, in particular across Albion Way to West Street.
But that seems to have all been pie in the sky – no substantial changes are being made, and all four lanes of motor traffic are being kept. This road will remain very hostile to cycling. Bear in mind that it currently carries 20-25,000 vehicles a day. The severance here is considerable, and will remain so.
Other visualisations plastered in the vicinity of the development are completely crazy. They show hordes of people ambling across this four lane road, with absolutely no motor traffic on it.
Reality check, courtesy of Google Streetview. Note also the width of the footways here.
Presumably the intention is to create the impression that the town centre is ‘connected’ in some way to this new site on the other side of the road; that it will be easy to amble from one side to the other. There was talk at some stage of a ‘shared space’-style area across these four lanes of traffic – that this idea was even seriously considered just goes to show how much councils are willing to stretch credulity to maintain motor traffic flow while pretending to address severance.
The planning application documents described the use of ‘materials’ to create some kind of continuity for pedestrians across this road, visually connecting the new development to the town centre.
But you can’t polish a turd. A four lane road carrying a great deal of motor traffic isn’t going to melt into insignificance simply because some of the surfacing materials have been changed.
A long-term plan for Horsham must involve addressing this inner ring road – it is, frankly, a big mistake to accommodate so much motor traffic right in the town centre when the town itself already has a bypass, that actually predates the construction of most of it. The signs aren’t promising, however – new development outside the bypass will involve a lower speed limit (down to 40 mph from 70 mph), and multiple new junctions with signals, on the bypass itself, which I suspect will make the bypass less attractive, and push more motor traffic through the town centre, as I argued here –
With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.
And there doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan for motor traffic in Horsham – the function of roads is being eroded or blurred, perhaps in the vague hope that it will all sort itself out.
There needs to be some kind of vision for Albion Way, that involves motor traffic reduction, and better provision for walking and cycling. As it happens, the construction works taking place right now for this development involve reducing this four lane road to just two lanes.
That space on the right – on the town centre side of the road – could quite happily be repurposed for a bi-directional cycleway, something like this.
Such a design would reduce the dominance of motor traffic on this road in the town centre, create more breathing space between pedestrians and the road, as well as opening up cycling as a transport choice for ordinary people, the people currently struggling their way around it on the margins, like the woman in the picture at the header of this blog, or this family –
… and indeed those people who aren’t even bothering to cycle in the first place, even though they might want to.
Motor traffic levels have fallen by around 20% since the millennium on Albion Way.
The Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Richard Wellings, had this to say recently –
— Richard Wellings (@RichardWellings) May 20, 2015
Wellings completed a PhD in transport and environmental policy at the LSE.
I am absolutely no fan of the Advanced Stop Line, or ASL, but the argument that they should be removed to make for ‘more efficient use of road space’ – i.e. space for one more car in a length-wise direction – disintegrates rapidly under inspection.
One of the reasons why ASLs at junctions are so ubiquitous in Britain is that they have a negligible effect on motor traffic capacity, or indeed even a beneficial effect, assuming that the number of cyclists remains the same in scenarios with and without an ASL.
A TRL study on this topic (Wall et al 2003) found that in practice, sites reduciniven an ASL plus nearside feeder lane tended to see a slight increase in motor traffic throughput, as long as no motor vehicle lanes were removed. For those seeking to ‘balance all modes’, this is a free gift – extra space for cyclists without taking away space for motor vehicles.
The result is perhaps not surprising. If cyclists are more easily able to reach the ASL during red phases, they can quickly move out of the way of motor traffic, whereas if – as without an ASL – they’re distributed more randomly in the traffic queue, as they are less able to reach the front, the resulting delays to cars may in fact be slightly greater.
So Wellings’ argument is wrong even in its own terms – removing ASLs would actually likely worsen the efficiency of junctions with status quo mode share. Those ten people sitting on bikes in the ASL – apparently ‘inefficiently’ – would instead be dispersed at random amongst the queue of motor traffic, effectively taking up more space, and being more like, well, motor vehicles, rather than being released in one quick burst at the head of the queue.
But much more importantly, Wellings’ argument is also wrong from the perspective of a simple analysis of efficient use of road space. In this now widely-shared picture of the junction on Theobalds Road in London, there are 27 people on bikes taking up space that could be occupied by three cars, at most.
3 cars, or 27 bikes – what’s more efficient at shifting people, bearing in mind that average car occupancy in England is 1.5 people?
To take another way of looking at this (moving away from the dreaded ASL) – at this Dutch junction, there are ten people using the cycle infrastructure on the left.
I suspect part of Wellings’ problem here – and it is a broader problem with transport planning across Britain – is an inability to see cycling as a viable, serious mode of transport, that can function as an alternative to the car.
This perspective – perhaps we can call it the Wellings Perspective – sees cycling as some kind of minor annoyance on the existing road system, an annoyance it would probably be good to get rid of altogether. From the Wellings Perspective, ‘Cyclists’ are seen either as people who can’t afford cars (and who should be walking or getting the bus instead), or as leisure users, clogging up the network while engaging in their hobby. Of course, children cycle too, but we can tolerate them bimbling about on the pavement while their parents walk behind them.
Back in the real world, making changes to the road network that will enable many people to cycle instead of using cars for short trips, therefore freeing up space on the road network for all users, is simple good policy, that is now being grasped by Transport for London as well as by government ministers (and by implication the DfT itself) –
I know one of the common complaint is that there simply isn’t enough space available on our roads for cycling infrastructure.
But from the Wellings Perspective, these kinds of changes make no sense, because they involve impeding serious, actual transport – i.e. cars – for the sake of a few weirdos and hobbyists.
Motorists face even more delays as Dutch roundabouts, which give cyclists priority, set to be introduced in London: http://t.co/z3qsMhau6K
— Richard Wellings (@RichardWellings) April 30, 2013
The Wellings Perspective is apparently unable to grasp that ‘a cyclist’ isn’t some ‘extra’ problem on the road network, that has to somehow be fitted in around drivers (or better yet eradicated altogether). Instead ‘a cyclist’ is someone who could have been driving instead.
To take just one concrete example.
All these children cycling and walking home from primary schools across a main road in the Dutch city of Assen – literally, hundreds of them – could be framed as ‘a delay to motorists’, because they’re holding them up as they cross the road. But in reality, due to the fact that they are walking and cycling home, rather than being ferried by car and therefore adding more motorists onto the road network, they are reducing delay to motorists.
This is so simple I can’t quite believe I’ve had to type it – but there you go. Sometimes things have to be explained to ‘Heads of Transport’ at economic think tanks.
This brings me to something Rachel Aldred has also written, in this case, about cars on the road network as ‘positional goods’ –
There are many items that are what economists call ‘positional goods’ – a key benefit of the object is derived from having something that others don’t, something that is either physically or socially scarce. Fashion largely works on this basis. The opposite is the Internet. If I have the Internet, and virtually no one else does, it’s rubbish – the benefit of the Internet comes from everyone using – and often, contributing to – it. But if I buy a new and expensive pair of shoes, and see many other people wearing them, I’m not going to be happy. Part of what I’m paying for is the hope that you don’t have the shoes.
But motor vehicles take positional goods to a new level. Having a new pair of shoes doesn’t entitle me to kick others off the street. Cars, on the other hand, marginalise non-users not just socially but also physically.
As Rachel goes on to explain, it was the car as a positional good that essentially caused a collapse in cycling levels in Britain. Previously quiet lanes, streets and roads on which most people could happily cycle became increasingly hostile as the use of cars spread, too hostile for these ordinary people, leaving the tiny hardened minority willing to continue cycling on the motor traffic-dominated road network.
But there is another obvious aspect to the car as a positional good. Car driving is attractive in relation to the number of other people who are not engaging in it. Here’s a definition lifted from, err, the Institute of Economic Affairs –
Positional goods… have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.
Naturally, if everybody drove, for every trip, then the value of driving would diminish rapidly, particularly in urban areas. (Indeed, the value of urban areas themselves would diminish rapidly).
By contrast, the early days of motoring must have been glorious by comparison – roads relatively free from other motorists, in the most part.
What I am driving at here (excuse the pun) is that the quality of the driving experience actually depends on large numbers of people not driving. One might even go so far as to say that the urban motorist is to some extent a freeloader; his or her driving convenience is actually purchased thanks to other people’s willingness to walk, to cycle, or to take public transport – often in less than ideal, or hostile, British conditions.
Drivers don’t even have to be moving – precisely the same logic applies to high-street parking. Setting aside the fact that this will involve the use of street space that could be allocated to walking, seating, dining, (or bus lanes or cycling infrastructure), the ready availability of on-street parking again depends upon other people not using it to access high street shops and services. That empty space is only there because of those people walking or cycling past it.
Noisy, dangerous, unpleasant, and hostile streets and roads that are confusing and awkward to navigate – even for motorists – are a natural consequence of futile attempts to accommodate more and more driving and parking, and a failure to realise that sensible transport policy relies upon enabling and prioritising the most space-efficient modes, for the benefit of all, including those using the least space-efficent.
We arrived in this position, I suspect, largely through ‘boiling a frog‘ – streets that had always been open to all became increasingly colonised by motor traffic, but at such a gradual pace few thought to stop and question what the actual end point was going to be, and at a time when the answer to streets becoming clogged was to devote more and more urban space to the mode of transport that was causing the problem.
Is this use of road space (indeed, of urban space in our town centres) a sensible way of moving people around for trips of under 2-3 miles?
The outcomes could be so much better for everyone, drivers included, if we stopped focusing on ‘cyclists’ as some kind of impediment to motoring, and instead realised that cycling should be a serious mode of transport like any other, and should be developed as a safe and attractive alternative for those people driving.
Prioritising such an efficient mode of transport would free up time and space on the road network for those travelling around in cars.
Perversely it might even restore some of motoring’s positional value.
Last spring Sustrans released their Handbook for Cycle-Friendly Design, a relatively short 35-page document which got a bit of a kicking from many people, including David Hembrow and the Cycling Embassy.
This year they’ve released a much longer document in 16 separate chapters, the Cycle- Friendly Design Manual (not Handbook!). This Manual is a whopper – well over 400 pages long, which makes it rather longer than the Dutch CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic.
Given that the examples contained in this Sustrans Manual are almost entirely from the UK, you would be forgiven for leaping to the assumption that there’s probably a good amount of sub-standard stuff in it, to flesh it out to something that outweighs the CROW manual.
And you would be justified in jumping to that conclusion. Some good stuff is being built in the UK, but unfortunately there’s not a great deal of it, and basing your best practice examples entirely on what is found in Britain almost inevitably means you are going to fall short of actual ‘Cycle-Friendly’ Design.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a great deal of genuinely good advice and guidance contained within these 400+ pages. Probably the majority of it is sound, and in the hands of an enlightened engineer or planner, who wants to do a good job, it could produce some quality cycling infrastructure. The problem is that the good stuff is often accompanied by advice and guidance that really isn’t very good; usually advice that less keen engineers or planners will automatically reach for when things get a bit tricky, or when compromises have to be made – which is, frankly, pretty much all the time, when you are attempting to build cycling infrastructure into a highway environment that has never accommodated cycling properly, ever before.
It’s also not clear what the actual purpose of this Manual will be, particularly at a time that we have a large amount of new stuff from TfL including the new London Cycling Design Standards that will (hopefully) be adopted by the Department for Transport as an England-wide replaced for the pretty dire LTN 2/08, as well as the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance, and good guides being produced by campaigners.
Who is this Sustrans Manual for? How does it sit alongside the aforementioned guidance? This isn’t obvious.
Anyway, I thought I’d post some comments here on the opening chapters – it’s too big to take on all in one go.
Bear in mind that the stuff I’m picking out here is the bad stuff that has caught my eye. This isn’t comprehensive, by any means, nor is it an impartial review. I’m deliberately singling out things that should be changed, to make this a better manual, principally because (as I’ve already described) it’s the crap stuff that people who don’t care, or who have been forced to ‘compromise, will seize upon.
So Chapter 1, which is an overview – ‘Principles and processes for cycle friendly design’.
This is a pretty reasonable chapter, but it gets off to bad start – the opening lines, and Paragraph 2.13, tell us to
Design in line with cycle training – on-highway design should reinforce how people are taught to cycle in National Standards / Bikeability Level 2, in particular primary and secondary road positioning.
This is simply the wrong approach – in fact it’s completely back-to-front. Much contemporary cycle training, while worthy, involves coping mechanisms to deal with inadequate or flawed road and street design. For instance, the primary position is used to control driver behaviour at hazardous areas of the road – pinch points, for example. It also involves cycling well away from parked cars. So Rather than explicitly designing for a way of cycling developed to cope with hazardous road design, the hazardous design itself should be addressed. Don’t build pinch points. Don’t put cycling infrastructure outside car doors. And so on. (There is no ‘Primary Position’ in the Netherlands, because cycling infrastructure is designed in such a way as to make it unnecessary to unnaturally position yourself in the middle of the road).
This is followed up by some suggestions on the dreaded ‘different categories of cyclist’, where it is alleged that ‘experienced cyclists… place particular importance on directness’ because they cycle on the road. Of course, this group really only appears to place a greater importance on directness because other users are not willing to deal with the stresses involved in cycling on the most direct routes, hence opting for a circuitous route that purchases a little comfort at the expense of convenience. It’s not credible to assume that some people don’t mind being sent around the houses – Every user values comfort, safety, directness – choices between these options are only made in the current British cycling environment because it is so inadequate.
Closely related, we also have the advice
Where more confident cyclists choose not to use any facilities provided their needs should also be addressed with separate provision where appropriate; they should not be compromised by the design
Design should of course be good enough such that ‘more confident cyclists’ do not feel the need to avoid it. It is a mistake to provide two inadequate forms of provision for two different categories of user; if you find someone avoiding your design, you should be asking yourself why, not tinkering with another parallel approach somewhere else.
In this regard, Paragraph 4.9 in Chapter 3 of the Manual is more acceptable, in that it highlights how this kind of parallel provision should only be an ‘interim arrangement’ – ‘the longer term aim should be to design all routes as suitable for the full range of target users’, which is right, but leaves me wondering why the door is left open in this manual to councils opting for the easy option of dual provision, in the first place.
Chapter 3 is entitled ‘Placemaking’.
This is a troubling chapter for a ‘Cycle-Friendly’ manual because in many places it recommends sacrificing the comfort and safety of cycling in order to create ‘place’.
We are told that
Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’
and also that
In some streets there is no room to provide standard cycle facilities. Placemaking helps define a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrian and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’
If streets and roads are genuinely not wide enough, or there is not enough room, then measures should be taken to reduce motor traffic volumes to an acceptable level at which it is comfortable to cycle on the carriageway – around 2000 PCU/day.
High traffic levels do not allow cycling to ‘safely integrate’ with motor traffic, particularly if there is a relatively high proportion of HGVs/buses. Many of the examples featured in this chapter – Kensington High Street, Exhibition Road, Ashford, Poynton – have uncomfortably high levels of motor traffic for cycling to be combined with it.
If there is not sufficient width to separate cycling from these traffic levels, then rather than attempting to integrate cycling into it with ‘placemaking’ features, the genuinely cycle-friendly approach is to reduce that motor traffic volume to a comfortable level.
It’s this kind of analysis that is missing from the Sustrans manual – although there are helpful speed/volume diagrams at the start of the manual, describing what kind of provision is appropriate, that approach appears to get jettisoned when the practicalities of designing for cycling on actual streets and roads comes to be discussed.
Indeed, this ‘placemaking’ chapter is essentially all about attempting to accommodate cycling on the carriageway on roads that are still carrying far too much through traffic for acceptable ‘sharing’ – what I have called placefaking, a fudging of the function of roads that are busy with motor traffic. A more helpful approach would be to employ the Dutch Sustainable Safety principle of Monofunctionality, which would involve moving every road and street into a particular category, either one for access (with low motor traffic levels, through design) or a distributor road that serves a through-function, and with appropriately-designed separate cycle provision.
Chapter 4 – Streets and roads
This chapter sadly follows on from the previous one, with much of the same cycle-unfriendly advice.
In streets with high place function (e.g. high streets or town squares), segregated cycle tracks will generally not be a suitable provision because of the complex pedestrian movements and competition for space with other social activities and parking and loading requirements.
Again, we see – weirdly for a ‘cycle-friendly manual – that ‘place function’ trumps adequate cycle design, regardless of the amount of motor traffic a particular road or street is carrying.
Of course cycle tracks can and do work well on high street locations, and places with parking and loading requirements.
The elephant in the room here, however, is volume of motor traffic, just as with the previous ‘placemaking’ chapter. If motor traffic on particular street is above 2000 PCU/day, then separate provision for cycling should be provided, immaterial of the street context. If it is not practicable to achieve this – either due to the width of the street, or genuine complexity with other social activity, then motor traffic levels should be reduced below 2000 PCU/day, to create a genuine place. It is pretty ridiculous to suggest that high streets carrying large amounts of motor traffic can’t accommodate cycling infrastructure because that would interfere with ‘place’, but that appears to be exactly what this Sustrans manual is doing.
As it happens, paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 in this chapter provide sensible limits for motor traffic levels for acceptable sharing with cycling (1500 vehicles/day, or 3000 vehicles/day, in slightly different contexts). However paragraph 3.4 suggests that sharing at up to 6000 vehicles/day ‘should be considered’ in locations with a high place functions. Such a level of motor traffic (600-700 vehicles per hour, or 10-12 a minute, in peak) pretty much renders any ‘place function’ moot.
— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) June 4, 2015
Again, at this level, some form of separation should be provided, and if it can’t, motor traffic levels should be reduced.
This strange fudging is repeated later in this chapter, under a section on Mixed Priority Routes –
Mixed Priority Routes (MPR) are streets with a mix of land uses (commonly commercial and residential frontages) that also carry high levels of traffic. MPRs have important movement and place functions and need to accommodate a diverse mix of road users – pedestrians, cyclists, passenger service vehicles and passengers, motorists – and parking and deliveries.
Again, streets that have a ‘movement and place function’ should be moved into one category or the other, as per Sustainable Safety. It really isn’t acceptable to mix in cycling with through traffic on streets that are alleged to have a place function; either the street should have motor traffic levels reduced below 2000 PCU/day, or cycling should be separated from that motor traffic.
Shared space naturally makes an appearance too in this chapter, but there’s far too much emphasis on this design technique as ‘cycle friendly’ without any reference to maximum traffic levels for ‘sharing’.
Shared space design principles can be applied to links and junctions, including junctions with significant traffic flows and HGVs.
I’m sure they can be applied, but is sharing space with significant traffic flow ‘cycle-friendly’? Almost certainly not.
Shared space environments can be convenient and attractive to cycle users. Although many schemes include narrow lane widths, cyclists can mix comfortably with traffic because of the very low speeds.
Poynton is famously invoked as one of these ‘low speed’ shared space environments, but I challenge anyone to argue that this kind of environment – slow or otherwise – is ‘friendly’ for cycling.
It’s really disappointing, especially when other stuff in this chapter – like cycle streets – are explained and described well, with clear limits (2000 vehicles per day) on motor traffic levels.
Another intervention – homezones – is described in a peculiar way –
The layout [of homezones] discourages through traffic and reduces vehicle speeds to less than 20mph
Homezones should be designed to prevent through traffic – ‘prevent’ should obviously be substituted for ‘discourage’.
There’s also a lengthy section on ‘Community street design’. While worthy, experience with these kinds of projects is starting to demonstrate that asking the community to make changes they want to see to a street won’t necessarily result in changes that are ‘cycle friendly’.
It’s pretty naive to expect outcomes from these kind of projects to be ‘cycle-friendly’ – so why include this approach at all in a manual that should be about high-quality cycling design?
There is, unfortunately other rubbish in here too. Pinch points –
Cycle lanes arranged outside car parking, which should be a complete no-no on through routes for motor traffic –
… As well as a suggestion that ‘wide general traffic lanes’ are an acceptable way of passing stopped buses. (Again, it would be helpful here for some kind of motor traffic volume indication of when it is acceptable to direct cycling around the outside of stopped buses – presumably <2000 PCU/day).
And finally there are also poor examples of cycle (‘partial’, whatever that means) priority across side roads –
To repeat, this manual is mostly composed of good advice – you might not get that impression from what I’ve focused on here. But there shouldn’t be any place for this kind of inferior design, or substandard recommendations, in such a lengthy manual, because that is what will get picked out by councils who are not committed to doing a good job.
If a council is faced with a choice between reducing motor traffic levels to a genuinely acceptable level for sharing the carriageway, or a Sustrans recommendation that sharing is acceptable on ‘Mixed Priority Routes’, or that cycling can be ‘safely integrated’ on roads with heavy traffic – which will they pick?
If a council is faced with a choice between designing proper protected cycling infrastructure on the inside of parked cars, or painting a crap cycle on the outside of them, as per Sustrans guidance – which will they will pick?
If a council is faced with a choice between removing a pinch point and providing a safe convenient design for people walking and cycling, or painting a bicycle symbol in the middle of a 3.1m pinch – which will they pick?
And so on. The crap needs to go, because that’s the stuff that will be chosen.
More to come on the remaining chapters next week…