I wrote a piece last month about the appropriate long-term response to people breaking the law while cycling – in short, it’s to fix the street they’re cycling on, so they’re not breaking the law anymore.
For instance – if people are cycling ‘the wrong way’ on a one-way street, well, the correct response is to make sure that two-way cycling is appropriately designed for on that street. If traffic is low enough, then that might amount to nothing more than just allowing it with a simple exemption. If there’s more traffic, then the solution will probably involve some engineering – or removal, or displacement, of that traffic – to make two-way cycling safe.
I also mentioned that – if there’s a problem with red light jumping – a proper long-term response is to look at how these signals are designed, and to assess whether they are even necessary.
Let me give a concrete example. In April this year, I made a short trip in the city of Utrecht.
This was a distance of just over a mile, right through the centre of the city. On a heavy Dutch bike, it took me about five and a half minutes, in total – including any stops. That’s a very respectable overall average speed of 11 mph, given that I was stationary for 40 seconds at one signal.
The reason I was able to make such good progress is because, as we’ll see in the video, I only had to make that one stop. There was just one traffic light I had to deal with on this journey. The rest of it didn’t involve any stopping or waiting at all, mainly because there aren’t any other traffic signals on this trip.
With so few traffic lights – guess what! – there isn’t very much red light jumping by people cycling. Misbehaviour just evaporates when the street conditions are adapted to favour walking and cycling.
By complete contrast, the very next day, I arrived back in London, getting a train into Liverpool Street from the ferry terminal. Here’s the journey I made by bike, to Victoria -
This trip was just three and a half miles – only about three times as long as my Utrecht trip – but it included 32 traffic signals. That’s a signal roughly every 175 metres, and I estimate that I had to stop at roughly half of them.
It was hugely frustrating, coming, as I did, straight off the ferry from a country where traffic signals are much, much rarer in urban areas. Even where they do exist in the Netherlands, they will almost always exempt cycling from right turns (the equivalent of our left turn).
So it is possible to deal with red light jumping, not by clamping down on it, but by creating conditions where people cycling simply don’t have to deal with lights at all.
Here’s how to do a bit of reporting which is not just sloppy, but (no doubt unwittingly) contains important prejudices about cycling.
Here we go:“SOARING”
“A City worker who helped save the life of a seriously injured cyclist has called on people to sign up for “invaluable” first aid training as the number of similar accidents soars. “
Now, what is this “soaring”?
“More than 4,600 people were injured last year — an increase of more than 20 per cent on the year before.”
Firstly, this includes the category known as “Slight Injuries” – which is a highly dubious category to use because of the high rate of non-reporting. Trying to assess a trend (what you need to do if “soaring has – or has not – occurred) involves using the category known as “Serious Injuries”. (Sometimes this “SI” category is called “KSI” to include the 5% or so of Killed and Seriously Injured that result in death before 30 days.)
And has this number “soared” when looked at over a period of years? And looked at in terms of the rise in cycling in London since 2000, has the RATE of Serious Injuries per distance, time or journey travelled “soared”? Actually, it has gone down.
The rate for the job?
“Department of Transport figures reveal a huge increase in cycling injuries in London, which has the highest cycling casualty rate in Britain. “
Er, no. Looked in terms of a rate which involves exposure (per journey, time travelled or distance covered) the cycling casualty rate has declined significantly since 2000 and is probably the LOWEST cycling casualty rate in Britain. So you have got it the wrong way round.
Is this important? Yes, it is – because this way of thinking is inherently biased against having more people cycling. As far as these characters are concerned, the Netherlands – with a cycling casualty rate about half as high as the UK, but with far more cycling casualties because they have 15 – 25 times more cycling, has a WORSE casualty “rate” (per head of the population) than the Uk does!
“Gemma Tinson had done a St John Ambulance course months before coming to the rescue of the woman who fell off her bike in Richmond Park. ..: “It should be essential for cyclists in London to learn first aid” (my emphasis)
Now, no doubt obtaining First Aid knowledge can be a very socially responsible thing to do. For everybody. But why cyclists? Why not pedestrians (many of us have seen people collapsing in the street and requiring medical help when walking). Or motorists, who are involved in collisions where people get hurt in rather greater numbers than cyclists falling off their bikes, as in the case in this story?
I’m not nit picking here. It just seems that this story is redolent of the “cycling is dangerous” mythology. Remember:
Getting danger reduced for cyclists – and others – should be the objective. This means understanding what is going on and not relying on common mythology.“The community”
Another bit of mythology
“Ashley Sweetland MBE, of the St John Ambulance cycle response unit, said: “We know the London cycling community looks out for each other, which is why we want to equip as many cyclists as possible with the first aid skills to help when the unexpected happens.
What is this “cycling community”? I’m proud to have been a member of cycling clubs and organisations for 35 years. It’s great. But it is largely a sporting or cycle touring community. If we want cycling to be normalised as a form of everyday transport, it will not be a “community” and more than there is a “walking community”.
I haven’t actually given an analysis of the latest figures because I happen to be in a hurry today. But why don’t you have a look at the figures as gathered by transport for London? As the journalist should have done
So the big story this week is obviously the launch of the consultations on two new ‘Superhighway’ routes in London. One running from Elephant & Castle towards Kings Cross; the other from the Westway to Tower Hill.
Undeniably, there are problems with these plans.
The whole scheme is composed almost entirely of two-way tracks on one side of the road, which aren’t really appropriate, except in some locations – for instance, along the Embankment, and Constitution Hill. Two-way tracks present more danger with turning conflicts, and they are more inconvenient, as often the road will have to be crossed to make a simple left turn onto the tracks.
What Transport for London call ‘early start’ signals (but in reality are ‘always stop’ signals), as employed at Bow roundabout, feature in many places on these Superhighways, particularly around Parliament Square. This design still isn’t good enough, mainly because it’s inconvenient, and can be confusing.
Turns on and off the Superhighways appear to be being achieved through a formalisation of the ‘Copenhagen turn’, with turns being made in two steps. Again, this isn’t really good enough.
And in many places the designs have been overcomplicated, with an excess of signals and markings that shouldn’t really be necessary. Parliament Square in particular looks very messy.
BUT (and it’s a big but) these plans are undeniably bold, and I think they should be strongly supported.
This is for a number of reasons.
As Rachel Aldred has argued in her excellent blog on these Superhighways -
the hard stuff is not digging up and remaking roads, not in a transport rich city like London. And even elsewhere resources appear if something’s a priority. The hard stuff’s the politics – getting support for change.
And this is change – big change. Although these routes are far from perfect, to me they represent a real attempt to actually prioritise cycling as a mode of transport, and on main roads too, something that we haven’t ever really seen anywhere in Britain. There are direct routes across junctions that are currently truly, truly horrible to cycle across, even for someone who is experienced, and familiar with cycling in London. Tower Gateway has a straight, segregated route across it, connecting with Superhighway 3, achieved by completely removing motor traffic from Shorter Street.
Likewise, the sliproad from Blackfriars Bridge to the Victoria Embankment is being turned into a bicycle-only route, which is fairly extraordinary, given the protests and arguments about this location, which fell on deaf ears for so long. The roads involved are the ones that I have been suggesting could easily accommodate cycling infrastructure, if the political will was there. And now that is happening.
In addition, as far as I can tell, every single bus stop in the these plans is bypassed, with the cycle track passing behind them. That means no interactions with buses, whatsoever – no fudged ‘wide bus lanes’ that are alleged to be suitable for sharing. This is hugely significant.
Indeed, overall, the impression given from the plans is that TfL been thinking hard about who they are designing for.
One of my pet moans, for a long time, has been the ‘dual network’ approach, that involves minimal change on the carriageway for those people already confident to cycle on busy roads, coupled with inadequate and inconvenient pavement cycling for those who aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that these Superhighway designs, whatever their flaws, are very different from that approach. There is clear intent to create something that is suitable for everyone, infrastructure that anyone on a bike would be happy to use, be they someone in lycra on a racing bike, or a very young and wobbly child.
And there are major benefits for pedestrians, too. Motor traffic will be further away from the footways, which means walking will be safer, quieter and more pleasant. The carriageways are being narrowed, too, which means shorter distances at crossings. And I strongly suspect that cycling on the footway will be a thing of the past along these routes – no more people cycling along the pavement on the Embankment, for instance, because they will have a much better alternative.
The problems with these designs can, and should be, ironed out. The ‘always stop’/’early start’ signalised junctions should be upgraded to full separate signalisation of bicycle and motor traffic movements, and I think this could be easily achieved at a later date, even if the designs go ahead as they stand. Likewise, most of these roads are so enormous that the two-way track approach could be adapted, with another track on the other side of the road, and the two-way track reverting to one-way.
And there are minor details that could be got right now. The tracks should be built properly, with shallow, forgiving angled kerbing to maximise effective width. Some of the signalisation simply doesn’t need to be there.
These are comments that should be made in responses to the consultation.
But the overall scheme has to be supported. If these Superhighways are built, they will undoubtedly be tremendously popular. The kind of people you see cycling on the Embankment during Skyrides – absent for the rest of the year – will be able to do so, whenever they want.
These tracks would be just the start, of course. They will only cover a tiny, tiny fraction of the routes that people will actually want to use in central London. But they will drive change elsewhere. Roads that connect up to these Superhighways will be the next obvious targets. Even in this consultation TfL themselves state that their ‘wish is for segregation’ on Westminster Bridge – not part of this scheme, but an obvious connector to it.
And more broadly, the Superhighways will make the case for cycling elsewhere in London, and indeed across the rest of the country. They will show that it can be done, and that when you make conditions right, cycling is an obvious mode of ordinary people, and that it will make a tremendous difference to the quality of our roads and streets. That has to happen.
So the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have published their findings into the safety of cycle track design at junctions – or, more specifically, Trials of segregation set-back at side roads [pdf], to give the report (PPR703) its full title. This report was commissioned by TfL.
I’m going to go into some detail about it, but in short -
It’s worryingly bad.
From the report summary -
This report provides an overview and interpretation of the key findings from four trials carried out by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to investigate the effects of ‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track at different distances from a side-road junction.
What do TRL mean by “‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track”? There is an explanation in one of the photographs in the report -
Clearly, ‘set-back distance’ is being used to refer to the distance from the junction at which the cycle track becomes a cycle lane. So, this TRL report investigates the different consequences of different ‘set-back distances’ – i.e., how far from the junction the kerb separation ends.
And nothing else.
No other forms of junction design incorporating cycle tracks (designs we’ll come to in a moment) are investigated.
Why was this study so narrowly focused? The explanation comes in the summary -
A review of existing international guidance and research on approaches for taking cycle lanes across side-roads identified two distinct design strategies. Either:
• Cyclists are returned to the carriageway level at least 20m before the junction, so as to establish their presence in the traffic, or
• Segregation is brought right up to the junction (typically <=5m) and very tight geometry (and often raised crossings) used to keep turning speeds down and encourage vehicles to cross the cycle lane at close to 90 degrees. [my emphasis]
Amazingly, these two strategies – ending the segregation more than 20m from the junction, or ending it 5m or less from the junction – are the only two distinct design approaches TRL identify, and consequently the only ones they investigated.
Both these strategies involve turning a cycle track into a cycle lane at the junction. The only difference is the point at which that change occurs. Other design approaches – those commonly employed in the Netherlands at side roads – have been completely ignored. These include -
Continuing a cycle track through a junction, at the same raised level, alongside a continuous footway. Not investigated by TRL.
Setting back the cycle track from the carriageway, providing an area in which motorists can wait, both to enter the main road (without obstructing the cycle track) and also to pause, yielding to people cycling. Not investigated by TRL.
This technique can also be employed with two-way tracks; again, set back from the carriageway, with a waiting area, and good visibility as cyclists and motorists cross perpendicularly. Not investigated by TRL.
To repeat (I can’t labour this enough) – these kinds of techniques are completely ignored by the authors of this TRL report. The only two ‘distinct design strategies’ investigated amount to nothing more than on-carriageway cycle lanes across junction mouths, with no investigation of designs that continue a cycle track through the junction at a raised level, with continuity, with or without ‘set back’ from the carriageway.
This despite the fact that Britain itself already has a few isolated examples of reasonably well-designed cycle tracks across junctions, that correspond approximately to Dutch design. One of them – this one – is only two miles from the Transport Research Laboratory!
I can’t begin to understand this oversight.
So the results of this trial are really very narrow in scope, and essentially amount to nothing more than discussion of where it is best to revert to an on-carriageway treatment on the approach to a junction.
The trial examined ending the physical segregation 30 metres from the junction, up to 5 metres from the junction, in 5 metres increments. The ‘tightest’ geometry still involved the cycle track ending 5 metres before the side road.
The study found that with the kerb divider continuing closer to the junction (but still 5 metres from it), drivers turned into the side road more slowly, and crossed the cycle lane (for this is what it is, and how it is described in the report) at an angle closer to perpendicular.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it seems that drivers in the trial actually preferred segregation that continued closer to the junction. This was even the case for drivers of goods vehicles who – you would think – would prefer a less tight geometry, to manoeuvre their larger vehicles.
The preferred set-back distance for 62% of the [goods vehicle] drivers (who expressed an opinion) was one that maximises segregation from cyclists on the approach to the junction
cyclists were divided in preferences for short or long set-back distances. The differences reflect different views on the benefits of segregation, including cyclists’ concerns about being able to position themselves for passing the junction and that drivers wouldn’t give way when turning across their path.
‘Position themselves for passing the junction’ – i.e., compensate for poor design. These findings are reflected in this table -
While a clear majority of drivers preferred separation continuing as much as possible, a large number (nearly half) of the cyclists in this trial preferred to ‘join traffic’. The report comments
this suggests that cyclists may feel safer if the segregation ends before the junction so they can merge with the traffic before the turn.
So a large proportion of cyclists in this trial clearly like the idea of ‘merging’ with motor traffic before a junction. (At this point it is worth asking whether these cyclists are representative of the general population, or instead representative of a small subset of the population, namely the ‘traffic-tolerant’.)
However, on the other hand, the motorists in the trial didn’t really understand what on earth was going on with the concept of ‘merging’.
The purpose of the segregation set-back was not well understood [by motorists] – most believing it to be to make it easier for vehicles to turn [!], only a few referred to it providing space for cyclists and drivers to adjust to each other before the junction.
Could it be that the idea of ‘merging’ people cycling and driving isn’t all that intuitive?
This suggests that there is a lack of understanding amongst drivers of how cyclists will behave at the junction.
Amazingly, however, this ‘merging’ technique is actually recommended by this TRL report on roads with higher speeds.
The findings from the off-street trials suggest that two different strategies can then be considered:
Before then stating
These two situations are consistent with the two distinct design approaches adopted in the design practice sin countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands
Well, I’m sorry, I have never seen anything like this in the Netherlands, especially not on roads with higher speeds. It’s just terrible design.
And we know that this is bad design, because Transport for London have built the junctions on Stratford High Street like this, with predictable consequences.
The final boggling issue are those markings! - which make no sense whatsoever. Here’s how the report describes them -
The surface of the cycle lane was coloured green throughout… additionally using triangular give-way markings to highlight the cycle lane for turning vehicles. These markings are not an approved road marking in the UK, however somewhat similar versions are used in the Netherlands as a ‘give way’ marking.
‘Somewhat similar’ – except completely the wrong way round.
The Dutch use ‘sharks teeth’ as a give way marking, but crucially with the ‘sharp’ bit of the teeth pointing at the people who should be giving way. This trial, however, has managed to get this completely wrong, with the ‘teeth’ pointing at the people on the cycle track. Is it any wonder people driving didn’t understand this marking?
This failure to get even the basics right is symptomatic of the general failure of this trial to assess proven Dutch junction design in a British context. How is it possible for the Transport Research Laboratory to have what seems to be absolutely no clue about how the Dutch design well at junctions?
What on earth is going on?
Last year I wrote a long piece about (British) ideological opposition to cycle tracks alongside roads; opposition flowing from the notion that such provision represents a ‘surrender’ of the road network.
People making this argument claim a variety of things. They claim such an ‘abandonment’ of the road network would be bad policy. Motor vehicles would have won; driving will be easier, and we will have failed in our overall goal of attempting to reduce driving and increase cycling.
Or, they claim that drivers – once people cycling have separate provision – will behave with a greater sense of entitlement, seeing the road network as ‘theirs’. Or, they claim that drivers won’t be used to driving around people cycling, with similar negative consequences for the latter group.
These arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, yet, as I wrote in that previous post,
opposition to cycle tracks in the UK, of this ideological form, persists. This opposition is not new; it has a long history, dating right back to the 1930s, a time when cycle tracks were, intermittently, being proposed alongside some arterial roads in Britain. Most strikingly, the arguments advanced at the time have hardly changed in the intervening eighty years.
One of the oddities of these kinds of arguments is an acceptance that the motorway network is unsuitable, and unusable, by people cycling, yet the rest of the road network should be retained as being ‘for cycling’. That will often includes dual carriageways and busy inter-urban A-roads which present, to all intents and purposes, just as much danger to people cycling along them as the motorway network. Building cycle tracks alongside these roads would constitute a ‘surrender’.
The explanation for this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the motorway network was built explicitly for motorists, while the rest of the road network predates (for the most part) the motor age, even if it has been changed and upgraded out of all recognition, often closely resembling motorways. These are the roads that cannot be ‘surrendered’, especially as the motorway network (in the eyes of cycle campaigners of the era in which motorways started being built) was constructed to ‘take’ the motor traffic away from it.
Unfortunately these attitudes about the road network are fossils; they are relics of an earlier era, an era when the motor vehicle was only just starting to explode as a popular mode of transport. And yet they persist.
My petition calling for the introduction of Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – which will involve separate provision for cycling on main roads carrying traffic at 50mph, or higher – has attracted comments of this ilk.
Your proposal accepts the motor centric status quo and asks to remove active travelers from our road network which may not be feasible in many circumstances
I think volunteering to lose rights is a disastrous thing to do from a position of weakness. I absolutely don’t think that offering to get off roads will lead to the powers that be supplying a radical provision of adequate alternatives.
I also think that pushing the idea that cyclists don’t belong on (our) roads near motorists is asking for trouble when we will have to be near motors on most roads. Going along with getting cyclists out of what drivers may think is “their way” is a very dodgy thing to aim for.
The philosophy that lies behind these kinds of comments is that, one day, some day soon, the road network could become suitable for people cycling, if only we could get drivers to behave, or if only we could slow them down, or if only we would enforce the law properly, or if only we could reduce motor traffic.
In short – if only we got tough enough on driving.
Typifying these attitudes, in a comment referring to this picture
How much pollution and noise are the man and boy being exposed to cycling next to that busy main road? Progress would mean people in variety of human powered vehicles moving a varying speeds to a maximum of 20mph, perhaps a tram or other public transport vehicle parallel with the occasional less able-bodied person allowed in a car sharing the space as a ‘guest’
This kind of approach is plainly utopian. It imagines that a motor-centric society can somehow revert to being one in which motor vehicles barely exist; that we can restore the character of our roads, as they were in the early part of the 20th century.
Theoretically, it could be possible to achieve this. Maybe we could remove HGVs from our road network, displacing goods onto rail. Maybe we could persuade people to abandon their cars for long-distance trips, forcing them to travel at 20mph when they do.
But the chances of this happening are so remote it’s not even worth considering. We need to deal with reality. It is not 1934; it is 2014, and we need to start thinking about cycling and motoring as distinct modes of transport, with separate networks, sharing only in very limited circumstances, and under specific conditions.
That, of course, means town and city centres where motor traffic is largely removed, but it must also mean a different kind of separation on main roads, the roads that will inevitably continue to carry motor traffic. This needs to happen not just because mixing motor traffic and cycle traffic presents unnecessary danger, but also because doing so makes cycling far more attractive to ordinary people.
I find it perverse to justify opposition to cycle tracks alongside main roads, carrying significant volumes of motor traffic, in terms of ‘rights’. This ‘right’ is only being exercised by a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of people who regularly ride bikes in Britain, and more importantly such a position denies other people their right to use the road network; those people who would like to cycle, but are currently prevented from doing so because of conditions. People like my partner, who will happily cycle along main roads and dual carriageways in the Netherlands, but would never dream of doing so in Britain – not in a million years – because there is no alternative, except cycling in the carriageway with motor traffic.
So I’m tired, really, of having these kinds of arguments. People have already been pushed off the road network, to all intents and purposes. We need sane policies that make that network attractive, for all potential users.
It’s time to get real.