One of the presentations at last month’s London Cycling Campaign Seminar Series was from Ian Garrard of Brunel University. Ian was one of the authors – along with Ian Walker and Felicity Jowitt – of a paper examining the influence of a cyclist’s appearance on overtaking distance. The paper is freely available here, and well worth a read.
One of the standout findings is that 1-2% of the thousands of overtakes measured came within 50cm of the ‘trial subject’ (Ian himself) – and this on roads that included 60mph limits – and that this was consistently the case, regardless of the clothes he was wearing. It seems that a minority of drivers just don’t care, and will continue not to care, regardless of who they are overtaking, what they look like, and what they are wearing.
But I was most interested by this slide from Ian’s presentation.
Compared to 1979, British drivers – on average – now get 34% closer to people cycling while overtaking. (This is in just one region – the region in which the study was carried out – but likely to be reflected across Britain).
What’s the explanation? Are British drivers of today that much worse than those of 1979? That seems unlikely – there’s no standout reason why British drivers of the 1970s would have been trained any better, or behaved any better.
Ian Garrard’s (speculative) hypothesis is that motor traffic volume has substantially increased since 1979, which raises the risk of being on the receiving end of a close overtake. With lower traffic levels, it’s much easier to overtake correctly, as there’s less chance you will encounter a cyclist while there is oncoming traffic. With higher traffic levels, the ‘windows’ of an empty oncoming lane are more scarce, and the option of just ‘squeezing through’, instead of waiting patiently, becomes increasingly tempting.
The hypothesis is plausible, and worth examining in more detail – doubtless the closer overtakes would correspond to the busier roads, with the wider overtakes occurring on the quieter ones. I’ve observed – anecdotally – how easy it is form a misleading impression of continental drivers, based on the fact that British people cycling in Europe will generally be doing so in low traffic areas, at off-peak times – on holiday.
This issue of overtaking distance cropped up again, around about the same time as that LCC seminar, in a musing from Carlton Reid that Dutch drivers might give more overtaking distance – suggesting that Ian Walker use (or lend someone!) his proximity test in that country to find out whether that is true.
My immediate instinct is that such a test would be fairly meaningless.
For a start, on roads that carry significant volumes of motor traffic – above about 3-4000 PCU/day – it is almost always impossible for Dutch drivers to overtake closely to people cycling.
Roads that carry high volumes of motor traffic, or where motor traffic is travelling at higher speeds, form part of a system where cyclists are catered for separately. They don’t have to share these roads, as a matter of design principle. And they won’t be overtaken closely, because it’s just impossible.
Of course, the remaining parts of the Dutch road network are places where Dutch cyclists will share with drivers, but these parts of the network are places where there is very little motor traffic; almost always below that 3-4000 PCU/day threshold. These roads and streets will, for the most part, serve access purposes only; to residential areas in towns and cities…
or to link up properties in rural areas.
These rural roads will only be used by local motor traffic, because faster roads have been provided for drivers, and/or they are restricted as through routes. Consequently, there will be very little oncoming motor traffic, and very little opportunity to do crappy overtakes.
Indeed, a basic rationale of Dutch sustainable safety is to remove the opportunity to perform a crappy overtake entirely. The consequences of river error, and driver stupidity, are slowly being designed out of Dutch roads and streets. So, really, measuring driver overtaking distance under this kind of system – sadly so very different to the prevailing conditions on British roads – would tell you very little about Dutch driver behaviour. It would be almost equivalent to measuring the distance with which British drivers overtake pedestrians.
Note – the one way in which a legitimate comparison might be made is to examine overtakes on two equivalent segments of road, in Britain and the Netherlands, of the same approximate width, carrying the same approximate volume of motor traffic.
No, not the latest Matt Damon film. The ‘Badgertown Exception’ is a debating technique which employs the following logic.*
This kind of logic is actually employed by Hackney Councillor Vincent Stops – calling it the ‘Hackney Cycling Test’.
You should take the @hackney_cycling test. How would you put segregation through Dalston Kingsland?
The implication being that because cycle tracks ‘won’t fit’ on Kingsland Road, by Dalston Kingsland station, the strategy of cycle tracks on main roads is entirely flawed, anywhere in Hackney.
This section of the A10 is undoubtedly a busy area, with competing demands for the space between the buildings. It’s a through route for motor traffic, there are bus stops, the footways are busy with pedestrians, and loading needs to take place.
Creating cycle tracks here would not be straightforward (although certainly not impossible). But even if it were impossible to do so, that doesn’t tell us anything about anywhere else in Hackney, nor should it. Failing a ‘test’ on one particular road shouldn’t rule out that design intervention everywhere else, any more than a failure to fit bus lanes on Dalston Kingsland means that bus lanes should be ruled out everywhere in Hackney.
It might be that case that Dalston Kingsland remains a ‘gap’ for the foreseeable future; one of those bits that are just difficult to get right. Dutch cities have these kinds of roads and streets too, places they haven’t really got around to sorting out yet, because of similar competing demands. Mixed use streets where children have to cycle outside parking and loading bays, on a route shared with buses, for instance.
Importantly, however, these are the gaps, not the model itself. These gaps are only really tolerable because the rest of the network is so good – good enough to keep large numbers of people flowing through these low quality areas. The city of Utrecht did not look at the street above and think – ‘well, it’s quite hard to fit in decent cycling infrastructure here, so that rules out the principle entirely – let’s give up.’
Utrecht got on with creating good conditions everywhere else, and at some point in the future will presumably revisit this street and come up with a decent solution.
By the same token, Dalston Kingsland tells us nothing about the kind of treatments that are available, and could be employed, on other main roads in Hackney. Difficulty on one section of road should not rule out attempts to improve other parts of that road, or indeed other major roads.
Equally, it would be silly to suggest that the current arrangement on Dalston Kingsland is ideal, or even ‘perfect’. It really isn’t. It’s unpleasant, and hostile, even for someone used to cycling on London’s roads.
Yet Stops is presenting this road as a perfect cycling scheme.
It’s true that putting cycle tracks here would require compromises; delaying motor traffic while making buses stop in the carriageway, for instance, or trimming some of that (wasted) footway space you can see in the picture above. But in acknowledging these compromises, we shouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the current scheme – which does very little to take cycling into consideration – is ‘perfect’ – or indeed that it should teach us anything about any other road or street.
Credit for the Badger Street, Badger Town formulation goes to Jim Davis
Today marks the third anniversary of the last time I was hit by a motor vehicle.
It wasn’t the worst collision I’ve suffered, but it sticks in the memory, partly because it is the most recent, but also because – for whatever reason – when you are young you seem to have the ability to quickly slough off and dismiss incidents that would probably linger when you are older and wiser.
This particular crash occurred in the evening, at around a quarter to seven. I’d just been visiting a friend. I was exiting a cul-de-sac, approaching the T-junction at the end of the road, at which I was going to turn right. I was correctly positioned, as per Bikeability training, in the middle of my lane (ironically enough, I might not have been hit had I been hugging the kerb to my left, but that introduces other dangers).
About twenty metres from the junction, I realised a car approaching on the major road, from my left, was turning into the side road I was on, and it was doing so in a way that meant it was going to crash into me. It was turning in on my side of the road, straight at me.
Time slowed down, enough for me to process a number of thoughts.
This all took, almost certainly, less than second. Suddenly I was on the bonnet of the vehicle.
This is a curious and memorable experience, and I think it’s worth attempting to convey what it’s like.
Imagine the strongest human being you know. Then make them twenty times stronger. More. And made out of metal. Then imagine them running at you, at fifteen miles an hour.
When they hit you, there is no trading of momentum. The car doesn’t bounce off you like a human would, it just keeps coming at you, and I was suddenly travelling with it, in the opposite direction to which I made been travelling, a fraction of a second earlier.
Then – presumably once the driver had realised there was a person on her bonnet – the brakes were suddenly applied. The car quickly came to a halt, but I didn’t, flying back off the bonnet, suspended in mid air, before landing in the ground, in a tangle with my bike, my right hip and right elbow taking the impact.
I bruised up a fair bit over the next day, but fortunately my injuries were minor. I still have a bit of a scar on my elbow. My front wheel was ruined, but apart from that, my bike survived. Pleasingly (from my perspective) the car was not unscathed – a shattered numberplate -
A few days later, when I rang her up asking her for forty pounds to repair my front wheel (this was for a new rim – I was even going to the trouble of re-lacing the existing wheel, rather than demanding an entirely new one) she had a change of heart and accused me of riding without lights, before hanging up.
I texted her to point out that this was unlikely, especially as we had used my bike light to illuminate the exchanging of details. She backed down, and a cheque for forty pounds arrived a few days later.
I did go back and check how visible I would have been, from her perspective.
I was on my touring bike, which (then) had a Mk2 Strada Exposure fitted – a bright light, as good enough, approximately, as a car headlamp. The bike would have been in the middle of the lane, not propped up against the kerb, but the photograph gives a reasonable indication of the situation.
Even if I didn’t have a bike light, she should still have seen me. I could have been a pedestrian crossing the road, and she would have run me down in just the same way.
She just didn’t see me.
I don’t know why. She was pulling in to the parking bays in this cul-de-sac, so, at the end of her journey, at the end of the day, she must have switched off, assumed her journey was over and not realised that, driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting the corner, there might have been something, or someone, in the way.
What sticks with me about this incident is the impact, and how powerless I felt as it was occurring, and how powerful the motor vehicle beneath me was, how it just kept going, and how it stopped so abruptly.
And yet this was, in truth, a minor collision. (Because I went to the police station to report it the next day, it’s logged as such on Crashmap). At a rough guess I was hit by a car travelling at around 10-15mph, that was probably already slowing. I bounced off, landed on the road, and recovered from my bruises and scrapes.
I was already a careful rider, but the incident has made me even more cautious. Worst case scenarios run through my mind. If I see a driver approaching a Give Way line, waiting to join the road I am cycling on, I really, really make sure they are going to stop, and think about what evasive action I might take, should they fail to yield. When I approach a main road, I am really, really wary of drivers who might be turning in on my side of the road. Understandably.
I know what a minor collision feels like, so I really don’t want to suffer a serious one. A minor one is bad enough, and I shudder to think about harder impacts, impacts at greater speed, impacts I can’t limp away from.
Every time I hear the expression ‘mutual respect’, I’m transported back to that moment when I’m on the bonnet of a black car, a car that has just driven through me, scooping me up, before unceremoniously dumping me on the tarmac, and my helplessness to avoid the collision, or do anything about it while it was occurring. The difference in power was total.
What kind of ‘mutuality’ are we really talking about, when this is the reality of interaction between motor vehicles, and human beings, when collisions occur? Presumably only ‘do your best not to be hit’. A pretty shallow form of respect.
A short piece on the Evening Standard’s reporting of the Superhighway proposals.
The first article in the Standard came on the 11th September, entitled Business leaders in revolt over Boris Johnson’s cycle superhighway plans, quoting an (unnamed) business leader describing the plan as ‘an absolute mess’ that ‘will cause gridlock’, without providing any evidence to back up these claims. This ‘gridlock’ theme is one the paper returned to later, as we shall see.
The next article appeared nearly a week later, on the 18th September. This was an ‘exclusive’ which revealed, in a large headline, that
Really? In the article, an unnamed ‘source’ (another one) had this to say -
“The idea is that they do the cycle superhighway in 2015 and then in 2016 take it out all again for Thames Water. The concern is you are going to have to pay tens of millions of pounds and you are going to have to take it all out.”
The implication of this comment (and the article in general) is that tens of millions of pounds will be going to waste; once the Superhighway is built, TfL will ‘have to take it all out’. But the ‘tens of millions of pounds’ cost of the Superhighways is for the whole project, both E-W and N-S routes, from end-to-end. How much of the Superhighways might have to be taken out for the ‘supersewer’?
The Thames Tideway Tunnel website confirms that between Horse Guards Avenue and Northumberland Avenue along the Victoria Embankment a section of “roadway and pavement” will be required on the westbound carriageway.
How long is this section?
… Just 200 metres.
A tiny, tiny percentage of the whole Superhighways scheme. And in any case -
Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL said: “We are working closely with Thames Water to ensure that there is no impact on the superhighway. It is planned that in the event of any closures, a safe, segregated and clearly signed cycle lane will be installed to get cyclists past the works.”
This silly article was followed on the 23rd September by an article that contained this bizarre passage -
… transport chiefs have pledged that all major sports will be able to take place as usual along the Victoria Embankment despite the [Superhighway] changes.
It follows concerns that there would be insufficient space to stage the BUPA 10k, British 10k, Royal Parks 10k and half marathon, London triathlon, and cycling’s Tour of Britain.
Again, unnamed, unreferenced ‘concerns’, this time about sporting events being unable to take place – ‘concerns’ that are completely unjustified. Here’s Leon Daniels again -
Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL said: “Major sporting events in the capital will not be affected by the east-west Superhighway.”
Sporting events – just like supersewers – will happily coexist with the Superhighways. But plainly they are extremely ‘concerning’ for the anonymous people being quoted in the Standard. Where next for this paper, in its trawl for negative things to write about this project?
Yesterday Transport for London published the (projected) effects of the Superhighways on journey times for motor vehicles, and the effects on pedestrian crossing times. The Standard splashed with the headline
Which was subsequently changed to include the crucial detail ‘up to 16 minutes longer’ (the original wording is contained in this tweet from the author, Matthew Beard).
As the article reveals, this ’16 minute’ figure is the very worst case scenario, the maximum possible delay for people driving from the Limehouse Link to Hyde Park, at peak times.
The TfL summary of effects of the E-W route is here, and the table of modelling impacts is here. The effects on motoring journey times is shown below. The right hand columns show the difference, either positive or negative, if the scheme were to be implemented, against current journey times. The ‘headline’ figure is in the top row.
From the same table, here’s the potential delay to pedestrians at a variety of crossings (in seconds). The right hand columns show the difference in maximum waiting time, in the AM and PM peak, if the Superhighways were to be built.
At worst – 9 seconds, and mostly no change. This should be set in the context of a 4000 square metre gain of pedestrian space, 25 crossings being shortened, and 4 staggered crossings changed to direct crossings. The figures released by TfL confirm that the project as a whole will offer significant benefits to pedestrians.
Much the same is true of the north-south route. Again, the net gain for pedestrians will be 3000 square metres, there will be six shortened crossings, and three staggered crossings will become direct crossings.
Amazingly TfL don’t even mention new crossings, like the one on the north side of the Blackfriars Bridge junction.
The modelling suggests that maximum waits for a green signal for pedestrians will increase by up to 24 seconds at some crossings, but as Cycalogical points out, this extra delay (indeed, any delay at pedestrian crossings) is purely a function of an attempt to accommodate motor traffic, rather than cycle tracks, in and of themselves. More people cycling means less motor traffic, and less delay for pedestrians, in the long term.
One final point here is that the TfL modelling (as is increasingly becoming clear) is extremely conservative, not least because these figures are based on static motor traffic. The modelling assumes no continuing decline in motor traffic in central London, and no modal shift to cycling.
The Evening Standard has chosen to focus on the very worst headline figures from the TfL modelling release, without setting them in context, or even mentioning the positive effects of the Superhighways, either for drivers, or pedestrians, or for the functioning of London as a modern multi-modal city. Getting more people cycling – rather than causing causing gridlock – is in reality a way of avoiding it.
The Standard’s latest report fits into a pattern of negativity about the Superhighways, with worst case scenarios, and unjustified ‘concerns’ from unnamed sources, forming the basis for articles. What’s going on?
The local cycling forum in Horsham are banging their heads against something of a brick wall, attempting to get contraflow cycling on a short (residential) street that has one-way flow. This is Barrington Road.
There’s a bit of background here, but essentially allowing two-way cycling on this street would mean that it would form part of a useful route, from north to south, connecting up with a a reasonable shared cycling and walking path. At present, without two-way cycling, the route effectively hits a dead end.
Local councillors appear adamant that allowing two-way cycling would be ‘dangerous’, because of the parked cars on each side of the street, and the narrowness, and continue to oppose opening up this street to cycling in both directions.
We find these arguments quite unconvincing. The street is not at all busy, even at peak times, the sight lines are good, it is short, and it is surrounded by equally narrow (and busier) streets that have two-way driving on them; for instance, New Street -
I encounter people driving towards me while cycling on both these streets, and we manage to work it out amongst ourselves. Barrington Road would, of course, involve changing the status quo, meaning drivers would now be encountering people cycling towards them when they hadn’t previously, but
Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before. But simply refusing to allow cycling in a contraflow direction – while a neat and tidy way of dealing with that safety issue – is not a particularly productive one.
There’s a wider point to be made here. This particular case illustrates a phenomenon I would like to call selective attention to danger. What this involves -
A notable example of this phenomenon is the Holborn gyratory in Camden, which was the scene of death in July last year. This justifiably angry blog from Andy Waterman – written on the day of Alan Neve’s death – tells this story better than I can. But this image, from his blog, sums up the issue.
The direct east-west route – formed of a contraflow bus lane – could not be used by people cycling, and indeed the police consistently ticketed people for doing so. The only alternative was therefore the fast, wide Holborn gyratory, four lanes wide. Where Alan Neve died. Subsequent to his death, east-west cycling is now allowed in the bus lane. It probably wasn’t that dangerous in the first place; certainly compared to the alternative.
There’s similar selective attention to danger in Horsham. Contraflow cycling on this quiet residential street is seemingly beyond the pale, but across the rest of the town, we have unremittingly hostile roads that pose far, far greater risks, about which nothing has been done, and about which nothing is being done. To take just one example, barely half a mile, as the crow flies, from Barrington Road, we have this junction on our inner ring road, Albion Way.
To make a right turn here by bike (at the lights in the distance) involves crossing into the third lane, moving across two lanes of heavy traffic, often travelling at or above 30mph, heading straight on. There is no alternative here, except giving up entirely. The only reason this junction might appear ‘safe’ is that very, very few people are actually prepared to do this.
The risks posed cycling down a quiet residential street, facing intermittent oncoming traffic, pale into insignificance compared with the hostility of this junction, and many others, in Horsham. Yet nothing is being done about these latter environments, while the comparatively minuscule risk of the former is enough to torpedo any changes. It’s objectively absurd.
If a council is genuinely concerned enough about my safety to stop me from cycling on a short, narrow street in such a way that I might occasionally encounter an oncoming vehicle, where is that concern on all those other roads where I, and many other people, cycle every day? Roads where I have to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic; where I have to negotiate out around parked cars into streams of traffic; where I have to position myself to prevent drivers from turning across my path; where I have to ‘take the lane’ to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. Why is your concern so selective?
A one-day conference ‘Road Danger Reduction and Enforcement: How policing can support walking and cycling in London’
Organised by RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims; the Road Danger Reduction Forum; CTC, the national cycling charity; and the London Cycling Campaign, the conference will highlight what the Metropolitan Police Service and Transport for London are doing to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety, and what changes campaigners would like to see. The conference is aimed at non-professional road safety campaigners, Councillors, and transport, health and road safety professionals concerned with safety on the roads.
The conference will be chaired jointly by Lord Berkeley, President of the Road Danger Reduction Forum and Vice-President of CTC, and Baroness Jenny Jones MLA.
The conference, which is free of charge, will be hosted by LB Southwark at 160 Tooley Street (http://www.southwark.gov.uk/location) on:Saturday November 1st : 10.30am – 3.45pm.
To register for the conference send an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to TLELondon@lcc.org.uk
Lord Berkeley says: “Attention is rightly directed at how our streets are engineered for people walking and cycling. But we also need to have road traffic law properly enforced – for the safety of all road users – if we are to reduce danger to cyclists and pedestrians.”
The conference has been welcomed by the 20’s plenty campaign and the Transport and Health Study Group. Conference programme is below here:
Road Danger Reduction and Enforcement: How policing can support walking and cycling in London
Venue: 160 Tooley Street (http://www.southwark.gov.uk/location)
Schedule Speakers 10.15-10.45 Registration and coffee 10.45 Opening comments Lord Berkeley, President Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF) CHAIR MORNING SESSION 10.55-11.35 Road Danger Reduction and Enforcement Dr. Robert Davis, Chair RDRF 11.35-12.00 Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System Amy Aeron-Thomas, Executive Director, RoadPeace, National charity for road crash victims 12.00-12.15 Break 12.15-12.45 Enforcement: reducing danger to walkers Brenda Puech, Hackney Living Streets 12.45-13.15 Enforcement: reducing danger to cyclists Charlie Lloyd, London Cycling Campaign 13.15-14.00 Lunch. (A sandwich lunch will be provided) Baroness Jenny Jones, MLA. CHAIR AFTERNOON SESSION 14.00-14.10 Southwark Cycling Strategy and policing Cllr Mark Williams, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, Southwark Council 14.10-14.40 Roads Policing and Transport Command: new approaches MPS Roads Policing and Transport Command
Enforcement—a priority for Safer Streets for London
Siwan Hayward, Deputy Director, TfL Enforcement and On-Street Operations
Roundtable: LCC, CTC, RoadPeace, RDRF, CTC (The national cyclists’ charity) and close
The Birmingham Post has published an excellent response to the claims from Councillor Deirdre Alden that cycling is in some way discriminatory. It’s worth reading in full, despite the headline about ‘sport’, which presumably has been added by a sub-editor.
At the start of this article we discover that Alden was not the only councillor making these kinds of comments. Councillor James Hutchings apparently argued that ‘hordes’ of cyclists would have ‘a severe impact on pedestrians and motorists’, before stating
It might be great for cyclists but it won’t be great for the rest of the population, particularly elderly people, a lot of women who don’t cycle, a lot of disabled people who can’t cycle, a lot of the ethnic minority people – do you see them cycling all over the city in their hijabs? It isn’t sensible policy.
It’s highly discriminatory for relatively few people who don’t pay any money, who don’t insure, and I do think we do need to get away from the pretence that cycling is wonderful for everybody. Loads of pedestrians will be put at greater risk.
If there genuinely were ‘hordes’ of people cycling on Birmingham’s enormous roads, that would not have a negative impact on motorists (let alone a ‘severe’ impact) – it would be a positive one, because it would reduce the lengths of queues, and congestion more generally. Cyclists don’t come out of nowhere – they’re just people who would have been making trips by other modes.
Hutchings then argues that attempting to improve conditions for cycling would be ‘highly discriminatory’, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t see elderly people cycling, or ethnic minorities cycling (with or without hijabs) or disabled people cycling. (Note that his argument is anecdotal, not based on any evidence.)
His comments mirror those of Cllr Alden, who argued
The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men… most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now.
Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to cycle. It is a discriminatory form of transport
Alden stood by these comments in a later interview -
In asking for the assessment, I made the factual observation that most, not all, but most, of the cyclists I see in my area are young white men. Of course I know some elderly, disabled, women and people from all ethnic groups cycle. But clearly many in Birmingham – for lots of reasons – don’t feel they can. Surely it would be better to spend some of the cycling money in ways which would help those groups who don’t currently choose to cycle?
And also clarified her position in Cycling Weekly -
None of the £24 million is being spent on lighting the canal tow path which would enable safer cycling. It is all being spent on the road and this can put cyclists off. It is only helping current, confident cyclists – not new cyclists and all sections of society.
There is a scheme in a local Edgbaston park that is encouraging Asian women to cycle which is great but we’re talking about roads here.
Now I have to say here that Alden is actually making a sound argument. If the improvements being made to the roads are only marginal, then I think she is right to say that the money is being spent in a way that could be discriminatory. If the funding, for instance, is being spent making cycle lanes a bit wider, or painting ASLs, or other measures that are not at all attractive to children, or the elderly, or those with disabilities, then yes, the only people benefiting will be those who are cycling already, who are disproportionately male and middle-aged.
I’ve only managed to have a cursory look at the proposals for Birmingham, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but certainly it seems as if some of the schemes might fall into this trap. For instance -
This is on the A41 Soho Road. Does this look like an environment in which some painted symbols in the carriageway will make cycling attractive to all?
Elsewhere we have a cycle lane alongside a dual carriageway, with loading allowed in the cycle lane.
So, while there are better parts to these proposals, some of the money Birmingham has won from the Department for Transport would seem to be being spent on schemes that are not inclusive – ‘only helping current, confident cyclists’, as Alden puts it.
Whether these arguments are being made in good faith or not is hard to say; the picture is muddied by her comments about cycling being something that certain groups of society simply won’t engage in, regardless of the quality of the environment. Cllr Hutchings’ comments fall more overtly into this category; that ‘cyclists’ are a small subset of the population – compared to ‘the rest of the population’ – who don’t deserve any money.
What can be said is that cycling is only as discriminatory as we make it.
The reason why cycling is limited to certain groups, in certain places and along certain roads, is because the environment excludes others. Riding a bike – or using pedal power more generally – is something that nearly everyone can engage in, if the environment is right. Even those who don’t cycle, and use mobility scooters and wheelchairs to get about, would benefit from a quality cycling environment.
So while it is true to say that cycling is a mode of transport that many people are excluded from using in cities like Birmingham, that in itself is plainly not an argument for maintaining the status quo. If children and the elderly do not feel comfortable cycling on dangerous roads, then rather than shrugging our shoulders and doing nothing, while wailing about how cycling is ‘discriminatory’, that state of affairs should be remedied.
BUT we need changes to roads and streets that open them up to all potential bicycle users, not marginal adjustments that make things slightly better for the few currently willing to cycle on them. Buried in the rhetoric from those councillors in Birmingham is a substantive argument.
By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about reducing the need to stop at traffic lights while cycling, I thought I’d take a look at exemptions to signals – how they work in the Netherlands, and how they could be transferred to the UK.
This is a bit of a hot topic (as far as hot topics go) in cycle infrastructure design, and also something that could offer benefits for pedestrians – pertinent, as we’ll see, to aspects of the Superhighway plans. just announced by Transport for London.
The basic Dutch principle is that if someone is making a right turn by bike (our left turn, obviously) at a signalised junction, they shouldn’t have to stop. Not only is this convenient, it’s also safer – people cycling, turning right, don’t need to go anywhere near the junction itself.
Amazingly the Dutch have been doing this for a very long time. Mark Wagenbuur (BicycleDutch) showed me this example dating from the 1960s, in the Overvecht area of Utrecht -
This signalised junction is completely bypassed if you wish to turn right by bike (much as it is if you were walking). Good design, even if it is clearly in need of renovation, being about fifty years old!
Here’s a more modern example of the same design, in Amsterdam -
In fact, we actually do this already in Britain – but badly. We simply allow cycling on the footway. Either this is a simple footway conversion – ‘you can now cycle here, off you go’ – or it’s deliberate design, like (for instance) on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton, where you are allowed to cycle onto the pavement to make left turns.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s far from ideal, not just because it creates conflict and uncertainly between people walking and cycling, but also because there’s no continuity through the junction.
Happily it seems that moves are afoot to try and bring Dutch-style design to the UK, with cycle tracks, clearly separated from both footways and the carriageway, extending around the corners of signalised junctions, and remaining outside of signal control.
Here’s a detail from a presentation made at the latest LCC policy forum, by Transport for London’s Brian Deegan -
It’s not quite perfect, but the principle are exactly right. Turning left is possible at any time, regardless of what the signals are doing. Likewise, the interactions with pedestrians are managed correctly, with pedestrians having priority across the track on zebras, on both arms of the junction – reaching a waiting island, and then crossing the carriageway with signals.
So this is how someone walking might move across this junction -
They can, of course, cross the ‘signalised’ bit whenever they want to, if the road is clear, because UK pedestrians don’t have to obey the red man.
Flipping a picture of a junction in Amsterdam, we can see how this might look in Britain.
The woman with the dog has crossed the ‘zebra’ bit over the cycle track, and is waiting for a green signal at the carriageway. Slightly confusingly, the Dutch use zebra markings across signalised pedestrian crossings too. (This is so that they can function with pedestrian priority at night, when traffic signals are turned off). But Brian’s example is how it might look in the UK.
Brian himself is pushing hard for an implementation of this kind of junction somewhere in London. His actual intention is for it to operate as a form of ‘simultaneous green’, with people able to cycle across the junction in any direction, at the same time, while all motor traffic is held – and pedestrians also able to cross at the same time, because the ‘signalled’ bit of the crossing doesn’t involve anyone cycling.
But it seems that some people in TfL are quite sniffy and sceptical about how this would actually work – Brian related how he had been told that the ‘zebra’ and the ‘signalised’ parts of the pedestrian crossing should be staggered, or offset, so that pedestrians don’t get confused into thinking that the whole crossing is a zebra. (Yes, seriously).
Funnily enough, I was in Bristol the other weekend, and, well, they are actually building something like this already.
This is the new cycle track along Baldwin Street, still under construction -
It will be bi-directional, which is less than ideal, but I think Bristol have actually pretty much nailed how this design approach should work. The cycle track passes behind the traffic signals, meaning there’s no need to stop. There’s even a hint at a Dutch protecting island on the corner, and the pedestrian and cyclist parts of the crossing (heading to the left) are clearly separated. Pedestrians cross the track on a hinted ‘zebra’, and then wait on an island, if they have to, for the signalled part of the crossing.
The ‘zebra’ has to be unofficial like this, because doing it officially would currently require Belisha beacons, and zig-zag markings – rendering something that should be quite simple very messy. So I think Bristol have taken the right approach – it’s quite obvious that it’s a crossing, even if it isn’t done by the letter.
Are people confused by this design? It would seem not.
I stood here for a while, and nobody appeared to feel the urge to march across the road, convinced that they had priority on a zebra, all the way across it. It’s really quite obvious what’s going on.
The rest of the track will, it seems, have this same kind of treatment at straightforward signalised pedestrian crossings.
A little hard to see, because it’s obviously still under construction, but pedestrians can cross the cycle track on this ‘zebra’, before waiting on an island at a signalised pedestrian crossing. Simple, and it means that people cycling along the road don’t have to worry about stopping for the signals; they just have to yield to pedestrians at the ‘zebra’.
The original plans marked this arrangement much like a ‘give way a footway’ -
This would not have been a bit messy, I think, and I’m pleased to see Bristol using the best approximation of a Dutch approach that they can manage.
So, can this be copied in London, and elsewhere in the UK? Definitely. Here’s a pedestrian crossing, from the new Superhighway proposals on Lower Thames Street.
The whole crossing is signalised. But why not do what Bristol are doing, and only signalise the bit across the road, with a zebra (or ‘zebra’) across the cycle track, at the top? (Note – this would have the added benefit of shorter pedestrian stages).
Likewise, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge -
Do we really need to make people walking go out of their way, on a two-stage staggered crossing, just to get across a cycle track? Surely a simple ‘zebra’ marking would suffice. Why make our lives more difficult with all this staggering, when the cycle track could be crossed directly on zebras?
So I’d love to see all this unnecessary signalisation removed from these (very promising) plans, and replaced with zebra markings. It would make everyone’s lives much better. These plans would make a substantial improvement to the pedestrian environment as they stand, but i think they be even better.
It would also provide firm support for Brian Deegan’s attempts to implement his simultaneous green junction plans elsewhere in London, – as well as support for the sound principle of exempting people cycling left at junctions from signalisation.
Bristol are showing us how it can be done. Why over-complicate things?
I wouldn’t mind so much if the arguments being presented against the new Superhighway proposals in London were actually considered, and credible. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re ridiculous. Let’s examine the recent City of London response, which sadly is pretty much nonsense, from start to finish.
Michael Welbank, the City of London’s Planning Chairman, states that the City
support[s] the two routes in principle
Which sounds promising, until you consider that – from bitter UK experience – a ‘cycle route’ can mean absolutely anything. A bit of shared pavement, a useless stripe on the road – take your pick.
Simply supporting the principle of a ‘route’, therefore, is meaningless, without any detail on the quality and nature of that route. And it is the nature of these Superhighways that the City of London are specifically objecting to. As Mark Boleas, City Policy Chairman, states in the same press release -
We support the concept of cycling superhighways but have considerable reservations about the current proposals
So not really ‘support’, at all – ‘considerable reservations’. Indeed, what ‘support’ the City are offering is merely for a ‘route’ of some description – the vague, undefined ‘concept of cycling superhighways’.
What form of ‘Superhighway’ do the City think TfL should be employing, instead of the current proposals? They don’t go into detail, but a clue is here -
Mr Welbank said the Square Mile’s dense street pattern meant pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all needed to share the space.
‘We’re trying to get all street-users to adapt constantly to each other and avoid a ‘It’s-my-space!’ mentality.’
Let’s pick this apart. The City of London – as far as I am aware – isn’t proposing to remove footways, and make pedestrians ‘share space’ with drivers. Indeed, pavements have been widened in many places in the City of London. More pedestrian-specific space has been created. How do the City’s public realm schemes fit with their own arguments about pedestrians and drivers ‘all needing to share space’? Are the City actually worried about pedestrians (and drivers travelling alongside the footways they are on) having an ‘it’s-my-space!’ mentality? I doubt it.
So the impression created by these comments from Welbank is that what the City of London is really objecting to is, specifically, the principle of protected space for cycling on the roads in question. Pedestrians and drivers are not ‘sharing’ anywhere in the city of London, nor will they be any time soon. The only ‘sharing’ the City is talking about is of a particular kind – mixing people cycling, with motor traffic. These two modes ‘adapting constantly to each other’.
Now, the charitable interpretation of these comments is that Welbank and the City of London haven’t actually worked out which roads are involved in this Superhighway scheme. That is – they’ve responded without examining where the Superhighway will run.
That sounds unbelievable, but note that Welbank is talking about a ‘dense street pattern’, which bears absolutely no relation to the roads on which the Superhighway will actually be built. Namely – very, very wide roads, carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day.
The less charitable interpretation is that they do know which roads are involved, but haven’t got the first clue about how attractive this ‘sharing’ approach might be on them, or are simply advocating ‘sharing’ because they want to maintain the status quo.
Let’s take a look at the amount of motor traffic on the roads involved – the route in the pictures above. Lower Thames Street, which will form a large part of the East-West Superhighway through the City of London, carries 49,000 motor vehicles a day, including over 4000 HGVs, 8000 LGVs, and nearly 2000 buses and coaches.
The Embankment is scarcely any better, with 61,000 motor vehicles a day, including around 3000 HGVs, and 9000 LGVs. Upper Thames Street by Blackfriars station carries 40,000 motor vehicles a day, with around 10,000 HGVs and LGVs, in total. You can see these figures for yourself on the Department for Transport site.
So these are plainly very busy roads, that are wide, and fast. There might be some people cycling here already, ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’ to the motor traffic flowing around them, but to present ‘sharing’ as a realistic design approach for cycling on these roads is extremely fanciful.
These roads are dangerous and hostile to the few people fit and brave enough to cycle on them. They include some of the most deadliest junctions in London, places where experienced cyclists are killed or seriously injured with horrible regularity, one of the most recent being Bart Chan, hit by an HGV on Upper Thames Street in May this year. These awful collisions will continue to happen if, instead of well-designed Superhighways that separate people cycling from HGVs, buses and motor traffic, we get the City’s apparently desired approach of ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’.
In addition, we have a vivid annual demonstration of how actual demand for cycling along the Thames is massively suppressed.
For just one day of the year, thousands of people fight their way into central London – carrying bikes on cars, or walking or cycling on footways – to experience the joy of cycling on these roads.
Is ‘sharing’ with the tens of thousands of vehicles using these roads, per, day a realistic prospect for these kinds of people? And if it is, where are they for the rest of the year, when the roads in the last two pictures look like this?
I don’t think the City of London are really thinking about these kinds of people, to be honest. They cannot seriously be advocating those young children ‘sharing’ with the HGVs you can see here.
So my impression is that they simply don’t like the idea of space being taken away, because they are worried about delays to motor traffic, and are proposing ‘sharing’ the City’s road network, not because they think it’s realistic or attractive for ordinary people, but because they want to maintain the status quo.
They can’t come out and say that, of course, so they instead have to employ these arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny. And there are other poor, weak or self-defeating arguments in that City of London press release. For instance -
more thought needs to be given to the knock-on effects on noise and air-pollution.
Really? We can’t make cycling – a mode of transport that doesn’t pollute, and is (virtually) silent – more attractive, because that might affect noise and air-pollution? Are the City of London seriously making this argument?
Likewise, the City have taken the deeply unhelpful approach of spinning these proposals as being hostile to pedestrians. The release starts -
Square Mile planners are urging pedestrians to have their say on plans for new east-west and north-south cycle ‘superhighways’
Pedestrians tend not to lobby for their interests but this is a chance and I would encourage them to have their say before central section consultation closes on 19 Oct. Crossing times might a lot longer in places.
Is this true? Where has the City got this impression from?
The TfL summary of the proposals states that there would be
longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.
Which the City has presented as ‘a lot longer’ (I’m not sure how they’ve established this).
But it’s quite clear that, overall, these Superhighways would be hugely beneficial to pedestrians. Why?
For a start, as TfL state, they will involve
Increased distance between the footway and the road, creating a more pleasant pedestrian environment
Instead of walking a few feet from HGVs and buses travelling at 30mph, people will instead be walking a few feet from people cycling, at much lower speeds. Far more pleasant, as TfL argue (and, indeed, much safer).
Not just that. Because the vast majority of the space for these Superhighways is coming from what is currently motor traffic space, the distance across the road itself will be much shorter. That means shorter crossing times, not longer ones.
All the elements in these Superhighway proposals that will make life better for pedestrians probably merit a post in their own right, but here are just some examples.
Because Blackfriars Road is being narrowed by the cycle tracks – guess what, TfL can put in a ‘straight across’ pedestrian crossing, rather than a staggered one.
Better for pedestrians.
Pedestrians coming across Blackfriars Bridge currently have to negotiate two signalled crossings across two slip roads. Well, one of those crossings will now be bikes-only. Much easier to cross.
Many other streets and roads involved in this scheme are being closed to motor traffic, or involve banned turns. Constitution Hill is being upgraded, separating people walking from people cycling. Parts of the Tower Hill gyratory are having private motor traffic completely removed. Horse Guards Road is being closed to all motor traffic, except official vehicles. I could go on (and will, in another post!).
Of course, there are some problems with these routes that I think could be ironed out, from a cycling and walking perspective. But the essential truth about these routes is that they will have a positive impact on the quality of the walking experience.
So, yes, like the City of London, I would urge pedestrians to ‘have their say’. But, unlike the City of London, who don’t seem to have looked at these plans in detail, and appear to have assumed them to be hostile to walking, I do so because they will make life for anyone walking in the centre of London much better, not worse.
Finally, let’s briefly return to those DfT figures for motor traffic levels on these roads. They’re quite interesting, if looked at over the last decade. Here’s the pattern on Upper Thames Street.
There’s a bit of noise here, because the counts are only carried out on one day. But clearly, motor traffic here has fallen, quite substantially. Over the last 3-4 years, its about two-thirds of the level it was in the early part of the 21st century.
Or, to look at this another way, motor traffic on Upper Thames Street – on the same road layout – was about fifty percent greater a decade ago. That same road layout could cope with those higher motor traffic levels, so why on earth will it not be able to cope, today, with the proposed reduction in capacity for these Superhighways, when the motor traffic flowing on it is much lower?
And it’s even simpler than that. In broader terms, these Superhighways are really about making the most efficient use of the available space on London’s roads. Cycling, as a mode of transport, is extremely efficient, compared to motor traffic, so that means we should be making it as easy, safe and attractive as we can, for ordinary people, to free up space on the road network. More people cycling means that those essential uses of the road network – deliveries and so on – will be made easier. And – heaven forbid – in a modern, 21st century city, we really should be prioritising a mode of transport that will make a difference, in so many ways. Even if that does mean taking a lane away from four- or five-lane roads.
For all these reasons, the City of London need to reflect on what the Superhighways will offer London, get to grips with these proposals, and change their position.