What is ‘natural’?
The word, formally, means something that is not made, or caused, by humans. But this strict definition is very rarely employed. We use the word ‘natural’ to describe all kinds of things that are not ‘natural’ at all. Indeed, Britain has a very confused sense of what is actually genuine ‘nature'; very little of the landscape of this country is ‘natural’ at all.
Places like the Lake District – perhaps the archetype of ‘natural beauty’ – really aren’t very natural, in the conventional sense of the word. The Newlands Valley, pictured below, was extensively mined from Elizabethan times until the 19th century, and the current landscape is essentially the product of sheep grazing; human intervention writ large.
And our impressions of the value of ‘natural’ have changed over time. Genuine wilderness was seen as something terrible; scary and forbidding. Upland areas like the Lake District were not valued at all by societies that relied upon productive land. It was only with the advent of the romantic movement, arising in response to growing industrialisation, that the British public began to value landscapes that had little apparent sign of human intervention, although in truth these were landscapes largely created by humans. The romantic movement attached value to the pre-industrial, in the context of their concerns about the spread of industry and urbanisation across Britain, and we are still living with this attitude to ‘nature’ today.
So we have a confused, and evolving, sense of what is ‘natural’. What this word really means, in practice, is a landscape that has been formed by human activity, but human activity of a certain kind. Implicitly, this is human activity that is ‘rural’, not involving features associated with the urban environment, or industry.
This has particular pertinence for cycling infrastructure, and the forms of it we are seemingly prepared to tolerate in ‘rural’ areas. Muddy paths, or tracks formed of rough or loose stone, are acceptable. They look ‘natural’, despite the fact they are clearly a human intervention on the landscape.
But providing tarmac paths, properly surfaced with good drainage, is something that is still anathema in many parts of Britain, almost certainly because it falls under the description of something that is not ‘natural’. This is the legacy of the early 19th century Romantic movement, and its revolt against industrialisation – that only certain forms of human activity are acceptable in an ill-defined ‘countryside’. Muddy paths – while as obviously anthropogenic as tarmac ones – fit into our ‘natural’ template, while tarmac paths don’t.
For whatever reason, these attitudes do not seem to bedevil the Netherlands. To speculate, this might be because so much of their country is engineered, and reclaimed – a selfmade land, built by humans, for humans. But even in areas that look, to British eyes, ‘natural’, smooth tarmac paths are always provided. If it is a route that serves a useful transport function, then the surfacing reflects that, rather than preconceived ideas about fitting it in with a hypothetical ‘natural’ character.
Earlier this year, I cycled from west to east across the country, predominantly through rural areas, and not once was I ever cycling on anything other than tarmac or concrete.
Yet in most parts of Britain I suspect this kind of provision would be met with resistance. This is especially true in West Sussex, which I think has a particular problem, probably worse than other parts of the country.
To glimpse why, we need only look at the Downs Link. This is the former railway line, that used to run between Guildford and the English channel, at Shoreham, until the railways running on it – the Cranleigh Line between Guildford and Horsham, and the Steyning Line, between Horsham and Steyning – were closed in the late 1960s following ‘the Beeching Axe’. In hindsight, this was obviously a huge mistake, as a railway link between Horsham and Guildford in particular would be tremendously valuable today.
But even without the railway returning, the Downs Link has great potential as a transport link between the villages and towns it connects. With shallow gradients and direct routes into the centres of these places, it’san open goal to open up mobility in these rural areas, blighted by dwindling public transport. Even as it stands today, it’s tremendously popular as a leisure route, mainly because it’s one of the few areas where families can easily cycle long distances in West Sussex without being menaced by motor traffic.
But there is – of course – a problem here, namely that the Downs Link does not have a suitable surface. It is mostly composed of mud, interspersed with large chunks of gravel (at best!); just about acceptable in summer, but come the autumn, it becomes very muddy, and unsuitable for use by anyone who does not have a mountain bike, or who is not willing to get covered in mud.
That means that it does not form part of the National Cycle Network, despite being a direct, traffic-free link between some pretty major towns and villages. On the Sustrans’ website, it even comes with a health warning.
This is because West Sussex County Council refuse to provide a tarmac surface on the Downs Link. Which – let’s remember – was a railway line until 1966, so hardly ‘rural’ in origin. It passes through cuttings and tunnels, and along embankments, and in form is plainly a human intervention in the landscape, albeit one that West Sussex County Council continue to insist should have a mud and gravel surface, rather than one of tarmac.
Below is an excerpt from an email sent by a West Sussex County Council Transport Planner, in response to requests to provide tarmac surfacing on this route.
tarmac creates an urbanising effect for recreational walkers and creates more surface water run-off and drainage issues. Many off-road leisure cyclists with mountain bikes (myself included) also prefer non-tarmac surfaces. Cyclists with road bikes do, of course , have alternatives to the Downslink… It is therefore, unlikely that WSCC will be seeking a tarmac surface for the Downslink, except where it crosses any new roads [my emphasis]
New roads (of which there are many now being built around Horsham) will, of course, have tarmac surfaces, so where the Downslink crosses these new roads – hey, you’ll get some tarmac! For free! Because that’s a new road! Enjoy that tarmac as you momentarily cross it!
Elsewhere, you’ll just have to carry on with the mud and gravel, because laying tarmac ‘creates an urbanising effect’. Which is fine if we’re building lots of new roads through the countryside, but plainly not for cycling, which West Sussex County Council persist in seeing as some kind of leisure pursuit, a ‘keep fit’ activity for mountain bikers, rather than as a viable mode of transport. Witness the implication that the preferences of ‘off-road leisure cyclists’ should be considered ahead of people who don’t want to get covered in mud, or people with pushchairs, or people using wheelchairs, or mobility scooters.
Indeed, this isn’t really just about ‘cycling’, at all. The refusal to provide high quality surfaces on these kinds of paths means that they are a no-go area for many people with mobility problems. This was an issue picked up (believe it or not) by Prince Charles when he guest-edited the BBC CountryFile programme last year. Muddy paths and tracks, in combination with poorly-designed gates, mean that these routes are not usable by these groups, as well as by anyone who wants to use a bike for practical, utility purposes, not just for leisure, or mucking around. This is to say nothing of the relative attractiveness of these routes as an alternative to the car if they are surfaced in mud and gravel, compared to the tarmac you will obviously find on the equivalent route for motor traffic.
By contrast a properly surfaced route is something anyone can enjoy.
This refusal to upgrade bridleways and footpaths in allegedly ‘rural’ areas on the grounds of having an ‘urbanising effect’ is sometimes ridiculously myopic, and counterproductive in policy terms.
To take an example. The large village to the west of Horsham, Broadbridge Heath, is currently being greatly expanded by a new housing and shopping development, adding many thousands of people to the area. You can see the scale of this development in the satellite view on Google.
A new dual carriageway is being built through this development (you can just about see the route on the view above), running east west and connecting with the existing bypass of Horsham (running north-south) at a gigantic new grade-separated junction, near the bottom of the image above.
This is what it looked like during construction in October.
And then being surfaced (with tarmac, naturally) in November.
Plainly, this is a large, ‘urban’ (if you like) intervention in the landscape.
The Horsham Cycling Forum had spotted – in the context of all this development – that there was some potential for this new area (and indeed the village of Broadbridge Heath as a whole) to be connected up to Christs Hospital railway station, which sits on a main line into London Victoria, which also carries trains to the south coast, including Portsmouth and Southampton. From Christs Hospital you can be at Victoria in around an hour.
Such a route would have significant distance advantage over the driving route, which is circuitous, and involves country lanes as well as A-roads.
There is an existing path that runs approximately along the line of the red arrow; but (unsurprisingly) it is not suitable for anyone who doesn’t have a mountain bike, or a pair of wellies. The picture below was taken in June.
At Christs’ Hospital station itself, this path uses a pre-existing bridge under the railway line, which hints at a slightly more functional route, at some point in the past, than the current muddy bog would suggest.
Closer to the new development, to the north, the path skirts around the edge of these fields.
This could quite easily be a beautiful, safe and attractive walking and cycling route to a mainline railway station, reducing the current amount of driving to the station, and future demand created by the development. In the context of the amount of money being spent on the development here, it would cost peanuts, and in the context of the intrusion into the landscape of the whole development, a 2-3m tarmac path running through this landscape would pale into insignificance.
But this is West Sussex, and of course our suggestions have been rejected, due to – guess what – such a surface having an ‘urbanising effect.’
So sadly many more people will be driving this short distance to Christ’s Hospital station, needlessly clogging up local roads, and exacerbating the existing parking problems at the station itself.
More motor traffic on the roads; more pollution, more noise, more queues, and (probably) a much bigger car park required here. Ironically, all because tarmac is ‘urban’ rather than ‘rural’.
The final example also involves Horsham and a different satellite village, this one a couple of miles to the south – Southwater. Below is the current state of Horsham District Council’s official designated ‘Cycling Route’ – grandly entitled ‘Pedlars Way’ – between these two large settlements, of around 55,000 and 10,000 people, respectively.
As you can see, it is effectively unusable for anyone who does not want to get muddy between September and April, and pretty uncomfortable for the remaining part of the year. Once again, this official ‘route’ is nothing more than a muddy track, composed of mostly of slippery clay and leaves, as well as bog.
Yet with a little bit of willingness and imagination, it could be transformed into a really attractive link between the two settlements, suitable for use all year round, by anyone. With some clearing of foliage and minor excavation at points, the path is easily wide enough to accommodate both a 2m wide tarmac strip and a muddy track alongside, for use by horse riders or mountain bikes.
Perhaps something like this.
The issue of a safe and attractive route between Horsham and Southwater was brought into sharp focus by the death last week of a man cycling on the road (which naturally has a tarmac surface) which runs parallel to the official muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route – killed in what appears to be a head-on collision with a motor vehicle.
Kerves Lane – where the collision occurred – lies only a few hundred metres to the east of this track, but if you have not got a bike capable of handling mud, or you simply don’t fancy getting muddy yourself, it is (currently) the best available option for cycling between Horsham and Southwater. (The most direct route – the main road south out of Horsham – carries tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, and also involves negotiating an insanely dangerous 70mph roundabout on a bike).
Despite being a rural road, Kerves Lane carries a significant volume of motor traffic, principally because it is a much more direct route to Southwater for drivers travelling from the east side of Horsham than the main A24, and also because it avoids the need to negotiate the aforementioned large roundabout on the bypass that passes between Horsham and Southwater. It is unattractive, so much so that I have stopped using it myself, opting instead for a lane even further east (just visible on the map above).
How many people are cycling on Kerves Lane (which is clearly less direct), because of the conditions on the muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route? In principle, it should be much more attractive, because it is more direct, and also traffic-free, but I suspect many are opting for the road because of the poor conditions on the official route.
I think these examples (doubtless there are many, many more, across Britain) point to the desperately poor outcomes that result from a refusal to consider high quality surfaces in an allegedly rural context. Our strange ideas about what is apparently ‘natural’, and therefore valuable – informed by a centuries-old romantic movement – are actually inhibiting good policy outcomes, in terms of transport, health and environment. It is more than likely that the refusal to tarmac the kinds of routes outlined in the post here is, at a national level, creating huge environmental problems in terms of car dependence, and needless car use for short trips. Ironically, it is this, if anything, that is doing most to erode what we perceive as ‘natural’ – not good surfaces for walking and cycling in rural areas.
To summarise, this obsession with ‘natural character’
For all these reasons, isn’t it time we jumped forward two hundred years to 2014, and engaged seriously with the benefits of properly designed infrastructure for walking and cycling, wherever it happens to be, and wherever it needs to go?
If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to read Martin Porter’s cool and neutral summary of a case he was involved in – the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, hit by a car on Regent Street in London in February this year, dying a few weeks later.
The facts speak for themselves. Mr Mason was cycling north on Regent Street, and was hit from behind by a Nissan whose driver, by her own admission, completely failed to spot him ahead of her, despite him having a bright rear light, rear reflectors, and travelling on a road well lit by street lights (the collision occurred at 6:20pm). She did not brake before the impact, and was travelling at between 20 and 30 mph.
Regent Street is – as anyone who has walked or travelled along it will know – a busy shopping environment, with pedestrians thronging the pavements, and (frequently) crossing the road, informally. The point at which the collision occurred is maybe slightly less busy than the areas further south, but still a place that is dominated by pedestrians, especially at rush hour. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the driver made this remark at the inquest, about what she did after the collision occurred -
I stopped and ran back, it could have been a pedestrian.
Unaware of what, or who, she had hit – having failed to see it, or him, or her – quite rightly, she reasoned that it could have been a pedestrian. Someone innocently crossing the road. As it turns out, it was someone on a bike.
Why should that matter? What difference does it make, when you are hit by a motor vehicle whose driver has completely failed to see you in the road, whether you were on foot, or astride a bicycle?
Well, apparently it does – if you are on a bike, then you should come to expect comments about the kind of ‘safety equipment’ you should probably have been wearing. A hi-visibilty jacket, and a helmet.
The Court News UK report of the inquest is entitled (rather crassly, given the circumstances of the case)
MASON: BIKE SAFETY CAMPAIGNER WAS NOT WEARING A HELMET WHEN HE WAS KILLED
If Michael Mason – a safety campaigner – had been crossing the road on foot when he was killed, would such a headline have been employed?
Mr Mason, who was not wearing a helmet, was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, immediately after the accident at about 6.25pm on 25 February, but slipped into a coma caused by catastrophic head trauma.
Again, would a pedestrian killed in an identical fashion on Regent Street be subject to this editorialising?
Martin Porter does point out that the Coroner – while commenting on the lack of hi-visibility clothing and helmet – did not go so far as to suggest that the wearing of a helmet, or a hi-viz jacket, would have made any difference whatsoever. However, he did have this to say -
Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Dr William Dolman said: ‘Mr Mason was clearly a very fit 70-year-old man who had been cycling for many years, cycling was his preferred mode of transport… Mr Mason was not wearing a helmet, and while this may not be a legal requirement his most severe injuries were head injuries both inside and outside the skull.’
Which does carry an implication that his injuries may have been lessened, or indeed that he may have survived, had he been wearing a helmet.
Again, it is worth observing here that comments of this ilk would not have been made had Mr Mason simply been crossing Regent Street on foot, rather than travelling along it by bike, when he was fatally struck.
There is a good reason for this.
We simply don’t expect the millions of people who use Regent Street and Oxford Street, on foot, to look like builders. We do not expect them to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing; we do not expect them to don personal protective equipment to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants in this area, or to get to work. That would – rightly – be seen as a very silly proposition indeed.
By contrast, there is a subtle and insidious expectation that people using Regent Street and Oxford Street on a bike should be wearing this kind of equipment. This despite the fact that someone like Mr Mason was killed in a way that a pedestrian could very easily have been killed, by an inattentive driver. Indeed, it was nothing more than chance that meant that it was him in the way of that driver, at that moment, and not someone else, probably wearing darkish clothing, crossing the road on foot.
If we were to be more consistent, as a society, we would acknowledge this similarity, and appreciate that people in the act of crossing urban roads and streets on foot are just as at risk (perhaps even at more risk, given that they are not accompanied by bikes with reflectors and lights) as people navigating those same roads and streets by bike. It seems to me that it is nothing more than prejudice about a minority mode of transport that is stopping us from doing so.
Last year I wrote about how Ben Hamilton-Baillie – one of the foremost proponents of the ‘shared space’ philosophy – does not appear to be all that concerned about addressing motor traffic in urban areas. His designs are mere rearrangements of the way motor traffic moves down a street. In his talks and presentations, his vision of ‘urban realm improvement’ tends to involve removal of the physical manifestations of our attempts to control motor traffic, without reducing or removing that motor traffic itself.
Yesterday Matt Turner spotted an interview with Hamilton-Baillie that provides a remarkable insight into the mindset of ‘leading international expert on the development of “Shared Space”’, as he is described.
It’s a relatively old interview – dating from 2010. However, it appears to confirm not only that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t really care about motor traffic reduction in urban areas or (more specifically) prioritising more efficient and safer mode of transport within them, but, more than that, he actually seems to think existing levels of motor traffic in British towns and cities should be maintained.
It starts with some odd explanations from Hamilton-Baillie for the apparently rising popularity of ‘shared space’, and its philosophy of ‘integrating’ human beings and motor traffic in urban areas.
The Genome Project, understanding our DNA, and the remarkable intricacies of our interconnections, has allowed us to question many of the assumptions that gave rise to conventional traffic engineering and the principle of segregating traffic from other civic and social aspects of cities.
Because we’ve sequenced the base pairs in the human genome, we’ve understood that motor traffic shouldn’t be separated from civic life in cities? If you are not convinced by this ‘DNA’ explanation, maybe a change in the nature of political philosophy over the twentieth century could tempt you.
During the last century, governments of both the left and right tended to assume that the state should assume responsibility for resolving all potential conflicts and interaction through increasingly complex regulation and control. The evolution of the traffic signal illustrates this tendency perfectly, removing the need to think and respond from the driver, and attempting to control behaviour through technology and legislation. We now understand more about the downside of states over-regulating and over-planning.
Or maybe it’s just that traffic control is expensive, and shared space is cheap.
In addition, the fiscal realities of the European Union are having an effect. Even if they wished to, governments can now no longer afford the huge costs of regulating, controlling and enforcing every aspect of traffic behaviour. Traffic lights, signs, markings, barriers and bollards cost a fortune, and the recent public spending crises have highlighted the need to question the role of the state in many areas. The idea of streets and spaces being left to informal negotiation and local social protocols chimes with initiatives such as the new “Localism Agenda” in Britain, or what David Cameron refers to as “The Big Society”.
It’s worth reminding ourselves here that one of the most widely-known and prominent ‘shared space’ schemes in Britain, Exhibition Road (which is lauded in this interview) weighs in at a cost of around £35,000 per metre - £29m for 820m of road. But clearly it’s ‘conventional’ street engineering – tarmac, kerbs and so on – that is expensive. Or so we are led to believe.
We then move on to Hamilton-Baillie’s philosophy, which is quite explicitly argued.
I think shared space represents a fundamental rethink of the principles of segregation espoused by Colin Buchanan and his team when he wrote the influential “Traffic in Towns” in 1963. In contrast to Buchanan, I see no need to separate or segregate urban traffic from other aspects of civic space. [my emphasis]
Well, on the contrary, I see plenty of reasons to keep urban traffic (in this context, clearly motor traffic) away from civic space. Noise, pollution, danger, amenity, to name just a few. If you continue to allow motor traffic to flow, unrestrained, through urban areas, and the civic space within them, you will end up with a low quality environment.
This is what Colin Buchanan, and the ‘Traffic in Towns’ report, appreciated, even if the solution it prescribed was misguided. Streets full of motor traffic are fundamentally pretty awful. We don’t need to ‘rethink’ the principles of segregation – we just need to apply them in a more humane way, a way that puts people walking, cycling and using public transport first, and segregates the car away from them, rather than segregating human beings away from motor traffic. This is something I’ve argued at length before.
Curiously, however, Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t appear to believe in putting efficient, safe, urban-scale modes of transport like walking and cycling first, and prioritising those modes of motor traffic.
… Shared space is all about integration, and that means avoiding over-attention on any one factor or group… We are asked to support groups campaigning for motorists, and groups campaigning against the car – all sorts. But shared space is not about promoting the interests of one particular group or user over another, but merely about setting the stage for different activities to interact.
Shared space is ‘all about integration’, and when different modes are ‘integrated’, it is of course impossible to prioritise one over another, because such prioritisation requires separation.
All we are left with is some cod nonsense about a blank slate – a ‘stage’ on which ‘different activities’ can ‘interact’.
Having already stated that
Traffic and movement is the life-blood of cities
(again, a reference to motor traffic), the interview concludes with a curious pean to the virtues of motor traffic in urban areas, juxtaposed against Jan Gehl’s philosophy of creating people-centred urban areas -
I am a great admirer of Jan Gehl and his colleagues, and they’ve done absolutely wonderful work. Copenhagen is a phenomenal success story. But I feel that that generation has run its course in the sense of that there’s only so far you can go with exclusion [of the car]. For them the removal of the car is an overriding theme. At times, of course, it’s appropriate. But reality is that the car is with us, for better or worse, for at least a couple of generations. It’s a wonderful liberating technology. For all its downside it has transformed most of our economic and social lives. And shared space offers the opportunity to welcome and exploit the good side of motor traffic, as it were. It needn’t be a destructive force for streets, for cities. [my emphasis]
It would be interesting to know what the ‘good side of motor traffic’ in urban areas actually involves. My personal opinion is that we should be doing everything we can to make the alternatives to travel by car in urban areas as attractive and as easy as possible, because doing so would make our towns and cities vastly safer and more pleasant. This isn’t about engaging in a ‘war’ on the car, but more about opening up choice, and prioritising the alternatives.
But it seems that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t share this approach. The status quo – with a huge percentage of short urban trips made inefficiently, inconveniently and expensively by motor car – is something he apparently wants to preserve, albeit with that motor traffic travelling around on fancy paving, rather than conventional tarmac. No mode of transport should be prioritised; we should all be ‘equal’ on the stage of ‘shared space’.
It’s not a hugely enticing vision.
This week saw the launch of ‘Street Design for All’ [pdf], spotted by KatsDekker. It’s been produced by PRIAN (the Public Realm Information and Advice Network), with advice from the Charted Institute of Highways and Transportation, and carries the official DfT stamp of approval.
The title is a curious one as far as cycling is concerned, because while the advice inside includes footways and carriageways that are undoubtedly suitable for all kinds of pedestrians and drivers (although with perhaps some question marks over the suitability for partially-sighted or blind pedestrians) it certainly does not include designs suitable for all potential users of bicycles. Quite the opposite – this guidance only appears to include designs that are suitable for existing cyclists, those people currently using the road network by bike. This isn’t ‘Design for All’, by any means, when it comes to this particular mode of transport.
The cover itself is startling.
As Kat herself said in relation to this picture, this is not an environment that many people would be happy to cycle in; nor is it even that attractive for people currently cycling.
Roundabouts can, of course, be genuinely inclusive when it comes to cycling.
The background issue here appears to be the now familiar confusion over ‘place’ and ‘movement’ function, whereby street designers, councils and highway engineers want to emphasise more of the ‘placiness’ (if that’s a word) of their roads and streets, while downplaying the movement function. Unfortunately this is accompanied by an unwillingness to do anything about the actual movement of motor vehicles through these environments.
The end result is the kind of placefaking I’ve talked about before; streets and roads that have been prettified, yet still have similar volumes of motor traffic flowing through them. And cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed in these arrangements. As I wrote in that piece -
cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed out by placefaking. For instance, I am not aware of any new ‘placemaking’ scheme on a road in Britain that incorporates cycle tracks where they should reasonably be provided…
Presumably this is because they reinforce the impression of a ‘movement’ function, interrupting the ‘placeishness’ of the new design. But there’s a degree of sticking heads in the sand here; cycle tracks are required because of the volume of motor traffic, and if that volume is high enough to demand cycle tracks, then it is fanciful to imagine you are creating a place – there is still too much motor traffic thundering through.
And this new guidance – ‘Street Design for All’ – continues in this trend. Streets look nice and pretty, and the intention is to get drivers to play more nicely, but there is very little, or no, attention being paid to
This is a huge oversight, not just in terms of opening up cycling as a potential mode of transport, but also on a broader level, about the actual purpose and function of our roads and streets in urban areas. Unlike the Netherlands, where there is clarity over what the role of a particular street or road is, with regard to access, or as a through-route, in Britain we seem to be converging on a muddled mess of place and movement simultaneously, accommodating motor traffic movement on all our streets, and attempting to make them places at the same time. (This dichotomy between place and movement also fails to take into account that some kinds of movement – walking and cycling – are considerably more benign than motor traffic movement, and actually contribute to place, as Rachel Aldred argues).
Typifying this approach are the opening paragraphs of ‘Street Design for All’ -
Most streets have been designed, or adapted, over the last fifty years or so primarily for the movement of motor traffic. This function continues to be important but it should no longer dominate in the way it used to – it needs to be balanced with the street’s place function.
Enhancing the sense of the place and maintaining efficient and safe movement of traffic can be achieved by careful design. [my emphasis]
Note here how it is assumed that streets will continue carry the movement of motor traffic; any ‘placemaking’ that will occur is in the context of that continuing motor traffic movement, attempting to reduce its dominance through design, rather than actually addressing the problem at source. This is the template, or the foundation, on which improvements must be made – accommodating motor traffic.
This same junction – complete with traffic signals – is, with the buildings added, and the motor traffic removed, labelled as ‘a place to meet friends’.
It’s noteworthy here that the ‘movement’ elements of the street in the previous diagram include motor vehicles and people cycling – yet the ‘place’ elements just include people walking. Cycling is – unconsciously perhaps – lumped in with motor traffic, as associated with movement. Is this fair? As Rachel argues in the post I’ve just linked to -
Separating ‘movement’ from ‘place’ is inherently problematic. Different types of movement have different impacts on ‘place’. It depends on speed and mass. In city streets mass is critical: London’s slow-moving HGVs regularly cause catastrophic injury.
Non-motorised movement has relatively benign mass-speed combinations. Although cycling and walking can have negative impacts on others, they often instead enhance place. When I walk to the high street I chat to neighbours en route; cycling, I smile at strangers while letting them pass.
So active modes can positively contribute and form part of a place. The same can’t be said for rat-running through motor traffic. So again – in casting movement and place as opposed, or at least separate – the movement/place dichotomy implicitly casts movement as motorised.
A failure to address the real problem of movement on our town and city streets, and lumping in cycling together with that motor traffic movement, unfortunately means that the attitude to cycling – or ‘encouraging cycling’ – in this guidance is really very weak.
If we really want to encourage cycling (or more properly, enable cycling) then we really need to stop pretending that narrow cycle lanes on roads shared with buses are going to cut it. The only people ‘encouraged’ onto roads like this are the people who are already cycling; making a genuine difference requires genuinely different design, not preaching about the cardiovascular benefits of cycling.
And yet the only tangible piece of advice this guidance has on cycling is the following -
STREETS FOR CYCLISTS
There are advantages for cyclists in areas where traffic speeds are 20 mph or lower. Low speed roads are more comfortable for cyclists and allow them more freedom to use the full width of the street.
This does not necessarily require a formal 20mph speed limit. Lower vehicle speed can be achieved by subtle traffic calming, see page 11.
Permitting cyclists to use streets and other places where motor vehicles are prohibited, allows them to take convenient short cuts. Providing convenient and secure cycle parking is also important.
Lower motor vehicle speeds, and cycling in pedestrianised areas. That’s it. No serious engagement with the actual policies we now know are required to get people cycling in serious numbers; principally, separating people from motor traffic through a variety of interventions.
The Cut in Lambeth is cited here as an example of good practice, yet as far as I know it is detested by people who are currently cycling on it, because it combines an intimidatingly narrow carriageway with relatively high volumes of motor traffic. Likewise Poynton is also referenced, which whatever the benefits in terms of public realm and safety specifically excludes cycling as a mode of transport. This isn’t ‘Design for All'; it’s only ‘Design for All’ with reference to particular modes of transport.
Unfortunately Sustrans – who really should know better – also appear to fall into this trap. The entire third chapter of their brand new (currently out to consultation!) Cycle-Friendly Design Manual is devoted to… Placemaking.
It begins -
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.
There is no reference here to whether motor traffic should properly continue to be accommodated in these volumes on these kinds of narrow streets. If they are genuinely too narrow, then rather than attempting to ‘safely integrate’ cycling with motor traffic, measures should surely be taken to reduce or remove that motor traffic, as a first priority, rather than delving straight into the ‘Placemaking’ toolbox.
This approach means that this chapter – which, remember, is from a cycling manual! - is littered with examples of roads and streets where cycling is ‘integrated’, falling far short of the conditions required to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. Poynton, Kensington High Street, Oxford High Street, Ashford, and so on.
Pretty schemes, I’m sure, but how many of these are genuinely suitable for cycling, for all, rather than just placemaking bodges that attempt to ameliorate motor traffic-dominated environments?
Nice paving, removal of markings and attractive street features simply aren’t good enough; physical separation is required for motor traffic volumes above 2000 PCU. If that can’t be achieved then steps should be taken to remove that motor trafficc.
What’s required in these design manuals is some honesty about the attractiveness of ‘integrating’ cycling on roads and streets that retain a significant through-motor traffic function. It’s no longer acceptable to pretend that we are ‘Designing for All’ without addressing this fundamental issue.
It looks like Westminster Council will today follow Lambeth Council in approving planning permission for the Garden Bridge.
I’ve been wondering what constitutes the most offensive thing about this project. Is it the way £30m of transport funding (and an additional £30m from the Treasury) is being used fund a scheme that quite explicitly has no transport function at all?
This isn’t just to do with cycling not being included – or even considered – as a mode of transport. Everything about this bridge suggests that it is a place to visit – a garden – and not something to move through. It’s not even a park. Westminster – tellingly – refer to it as ‘a popular visitor attraction’.
This huge amount of public funding comes despite claims last year that Transport for London’s contribution would be limited to £4m, with the Garden Bridge Trust itself raising the funding for construction.
And to be clear this is a ‘bridge’ in name only. It will be closed to the public between 12am-6am every day, and closed once a month for ‘fundraising events’. Parties of eight people or more are ‘required to contact the Garden Bridge Trust to request a formal visit to the bridge’, in advance, apparently because groups of eight people or more constitute a ‘protest risk’.
You are, of course, free to use other London bridges 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and indeed to protest on them – because they are public space. This Garden Bridge is not really public space at all, but a privately-managed garden, a ‘visitor attraction’, to be built at vast expense, in the middle of a river.
And yet, ironically, it seems Westminster Council would refuse planning permission outright for this development if it was entirely private, due to the harm to views up and down the Thames.
It is also clear that if this proposal was for a private commercial development of this height and size, the harm to these views would be considered unacceptable and the application refused
The Garden Bridge manages to skip around these objections by teasingly positioning itself on the line between public and private space.
All this is bad enough, but I think the most offensive thing about the Garden Bridge is something else entirely. It lies in one of the main justifications for its construction; namely, that it will create a much-needed area of peace and calm in the centre of London.
Take this, for instance, from Transport for London -
Inspired by the actress Joanna Lumley, the proposed bridge would be covered with trees and plants, offering an oasis of calm in the heart of the capital.
Or in this video, where Joanna Lumley claims she ‘longs for a haven, away from the noise and rush’.
Now of course there is nothing wrong with peace and tranquility. But what is offensive about the Garden Bridge is the unspoken assumption that peace, calm and tranquility can only be created in London by building it at vast expense in the middle of the river.
This isn’t true at all. We could create peace, calm and tranquility on the existing roads and streets of London, if we wanted to – and at a cost considerably lower than £180 million. For instance, we could pedestrianise and ‘green’ Soho, very easily. This is an area where people on foot vastly outnumber the numbers of people getting around by car, and yet for some perverse reason motor traffic continues to dominate.
Want some peace, calm and tranquility here? Limit motor traffic to deliveries only, in the morning. We don’t need to look too hard for how to do this. Waltham Forest managed to create ‘an oasis of calm’ in October, through the simple expedient of… using a plastic barrier to close a road.
A huge number of streets in the boroughs surrounding the Garden Bridge – I’m thinking here particularly of Westminster and the City – could become calm and pleasant places, at very little cost, if a concerted effort was made to remove through-traffic from them. Westminster seems to have a damaging policy of accommodating through-traffic on every single one of its roads and streets.
I think our streets, especially ones with a predominantly residential function, can and should function as calm and pleasant places, in their own right. We don’t need to build green space at huge expense in the river; we just need to reclaim it from the existing road network.
To me, the Garden Bridge project appears to completely overlook the enormous potential of our streets and roads to be different; to be safer, calmer and more pleasant places. It buys into the stale assumption that London is, by default, a noisy, dangerous and fume-filled place that can’t possibly be changed, and that can only be escaped by retreating onto an expensive vanity project in the middle of the river.
That’s what’s most offensive about it.
This graph, from the Department for Transport’s 2013 Road Transport Forecasts (which summarises the results from their National Transport Model) has been doing the rounds on social media this week.
It shows that the amount of distance we are travelling by car, per capita, in Britain has fallen consistently since the early-2000s; and yet their model predicts that this decline will reverse, and car miles per person will increase by 15% by 2040.
What is just as remarkable, however, is the Department for Transport’s own analysis of this graph -
Figure 16 below shows that, according to our forecast, miles per person will increase by 15% percent by 2040 (9% above pre-recession levels) despite an increase in GDP per capita of 66% and fuel cost decreasing by 24%. [my emphasis]
The key word here being ‘despite’.
The DfT believe that increases in GDP per capita, and falling fuel costs, should really push car miles per person even higher than the projected 15% increase. Coupled with a projected 20% increase in English population by 2040, the DfT are forecasting that overall road traffic will be 46% higher in 2040 than 2010.
They acknowledge that the effect of their ‘key drivers’ on road traffic levels (GDP per capita, population, and fuel prices) is becoming less elastic, as the market becomes saturated -
As explained in section 2, the elasticity of miles per person to key drivers is falling over time, and will keep falling into the future as the market moves further towards saturation.
However, they still think that this 15% rise in car miles per person will happen, principally because of falling costs per mile, meaning people will be incentivised to travel further.
This increase in miles per person [15% on 2010], however smaller than it would have been in the past, reflects the fact that people will be able to travel longer distances with their cars, as the cost per mile will decline sharply compared to ability to pay.
Whether people will actually want to do this – to spend more time stuck in cars – appears to simply be assumed.
The other interesting detail from this report is… London. This document essentially acknowledges that the National Transport Model has failed to predict that the amount of car traffic in London would fall as much as it has -
… analysis of our forecast from 2003-2010 shows that although the NTM predicts a fall in London car traffic of 1.5%, this was not as great as the actual 7.8% fall in traffic count statistics.
What’s the explanation?
We believe that the reason for this short-term model error and long-run discrepancy with other forecasts is due to:
Car Ownership – the number of cars per person in London has been relatively flat over the last decade. While we have different car ownership saturation levels for different area types, including London, these may need to be re-estimated.
Public Transport – London has seen high levels of investment in public transport, capacity and quality improvement on buses and rail based public transport. London will continue to see high levels of investment in public transport with increase in capacity into the future, e.g. Cross Rail. We will need to revisit our modelling on the impact this may have on car travel.
Road capacity, car parking space cost and availability – There is evidence to suggest that In recent years London road capacity has been significantly reduced due to bus lanes, congestion charge and other road works. There is also a significant constraint and cost to parking in London which would reduce the demand to travel by car. We will need to revisit our modelling on the impact this may have on car travel.
On each of these three factors, the DfT are admitting that their model needs to be ‘revisited’ – their model simply hasn’t correctly taken into account the effect of public transport, and reallocation of road space, on the amount of car traffic that might be on the roads.
It’s also worth noting this ‘London’ example appears to show that levels of car ownership – which the DfT tie closely with GDP per capita – might be much more strongly affected by these other two factors assessed here, public transport and use of road space. Again, a challenge for the DfT modellers.
It seems that the DfT are admitting that their model doesn’t accurately take into account factors beyond income, population and fuel costs, their ‘key drivers’ – which is hugely significant if, as is likely to be the case, urban areas (in particular) in England continue to reallocate road space to other modes of transport, and prioritise these other modes, ahead of car travel.
Certainly, planning for future growth in car travel using a model that the DfT itself admits isn’t properly reflecting other factors on car demand looks increasingly silly.
It’s noteworthy that the North-South and East-West Superhighway schemes, which (while not perfect by any means) are the most ambitious and inclusive designs for cycling currently on the table in Britain, barely use any Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) on the length of their route. The Superhighways are good because they do not use ASLs, among other reasons.
Indeed, more generally, good cycling schemes don’t involve ASLs.
That’s because ASLs are lipstick on a pig. They are a tokenistic attempt to provide something a bit ‘cycle-friendly’, a veneer of legitimacy, while doing next to nothing to address objective problems of safety (and, as we shall see, often creating problems of safety), or to create an environment that feels safe and comfortable to cycle in.
Good cycling schemes separate cycling, temporally and/or spatially, at major junctions, or they involve lowering motor traffic levels to a point at which ASLs are redundant. The reason why ASLs are disappearing from the Netherlands is that the maximum motor traffic threshold for their use is roughly equivalent to the point at which traffic signals can, and should, be removed. That is – Dutch guidance only recommends using ASLs at a level at which traffic signals shouldn’t even be being used.
Earlier this year, I cycled for about 300 miles across the Netherlands, and I only encountered three sets of ASLs. Two sets were at objectively bad junctions -
The other set was at either end of a new Fietsstraat in Utrecht. It’s questionable whether they are even needed.
Everywhere else, I was moving through junctions that had so little motor traffic, they didn’t need traffic signals at all -
Or through junctions where signals were required, and cycling was separated from motor traffic.
Advanced Stop Lines are almost entirely absent in the Netherlands because they are a deeply mediocre approach; an attempt to accommodate cycling in an existing motor-centric template.
Why are they so dire?
Even if Advanced Stop Lines do work, they only do so on a part-time basis. When traffic signals are green, they offer absolutely no benefit at all – they’re just a large painted area on the ground. There’s no point them even being there.
When traffic signals are red, anyone who doesn’t want to find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation has to run through a complex assessment process, adjudicating the risk of attempting to reach the ASL. This flowchart from Magnatom summarises this process brilliantly.
The problem is that human beings are fallible, and they will make poor decisions and mistakes about whether to attempt to reach the ASL, or to wait safely. Impatience can’t be designed out of us; we will always want to make progress. ASLs represent a very poor way of attempting to deal with that human fallibility, especially as they may encourage poor decision-making, and do nothing to prevent dangerous outcomes.
The thunderous main roads in Horsham have recently received some tokenistic green paint at three major junctions. Many of these ASLs are often difficult (or even impossible) to access.
Even when these ASLs are apparently accessible, considerable danger is presented, as in this instance, from just the other day.
Note here that I have highlighted a young child on a bike, completely ignoring this new ‘infrastructure’, and cycling on the pavement – entirely sensibly. These ASLs have done nothing to ameliorate the hostility of these roads; even for those people who evidently want to cycle, like this young boy.
An HGV is waiting at a red light, and a nice tempting ASL is within easy reach. But (because I am reasonably clued up about these matters) I know of the lethal danger posed by this kind of situation; I don’t know where the truck is going (it isn’t signalling, at this point, and even that shouldn’t be relied upon) and I also don’t know how long the lights have been red, and thus how long that truck is going to remain stationary. So I hang back.
As it happens, only a matter of seconds later – barely enough time for me to get on the footway and photograph what happens – the truck sets off, turning left, the driver signalling now, as he turns.
This is precisely the kind of situation in which people can and do get seriously injured; attempting to reach an ASL, they find themselves on the inside of an HGV that starts to move, and get caught up under it. Indeed, UCL academics who undertook a rigorous study of the causes of cycling deaths in London came to the following conclusions -
That is – if you want to stay alive, or avoid serious injury, do not do what the paint is telling you to do.
What kind of ‘cycle provision’ is that?
Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal else, beyond ASLs, in the toolkit for designing for cycling at junctions. Our current guidance is woefully short on genuinely safe infrastructure at major junctions, and steps are only just being made to address this serious oversight. So it’s partly understandable why ASLs are still being painted out.
But their continued presence in manuals, and in new schemes, affords highway engineers, planners and (in particular) politicians a degree of complacency; it allows them to to avoid thinking about the ways in which cycling should be designed for at junctions, and to continue ignoring the serious safety problems, both objective and subjective, that these junctions present.
This is just the latest egregious example -
Not the least bit ‘cycle-friendly’, despite the copious amounts of green paint. ASLs are an easy and obvious option, when you want to pretend you’re doing something tangible.
So stripping out the ASL from the toolkit – halting the march of the Advanced Stop Line – might just force us to think a bit more carefully about how to design properly at the kinds of junction pictured above, rather than adding in those green boxes and hoping for the best. We need to be forced to think about alternatives.
‘Road safety week’ concluded last week; appropriately, I thought I’d share a small story of how boggling backward Britain is when it comes to prioritising walking and cycling in urban areas, and how we deal in such a peculiar way with issues of safety.
Arunside is a small cul-de-sac, close to the centre of Horsham.
There are only 62 separate properties in this cul-de-sac; that means the number of movements in and out of this close is minimal (or at least should be).
Only a matter of a few yards from Arunside are two primary schools. St John’s Catholic Primary is on the east side of Blackbridge Lane, and Arunside Primary School on the west, adjoining Arunside itself.
In the 2011 census, there were 165 pupils attending Arunside, and 190 at St John’s. Around three-quarters of Arunside pupils walk to school, with the remaining quarter driven. The picture is less rosy at St John’s, where 60% are driven to school, and the remaining 40% walk. (You can find the census data for these schools here; but see the ‘health warning’ here).
Taking these two schools together, it’s reasonable to assume that there are around 150 motor vehicles arriving in this area and leaving again, every school day, both in the morning, and again in the afternoon, to drop off and pick up children.
In Summer 2012 – after much lobbying – the schools gained a zebra across Blackbridge Lane, the road dividing them. (You can see this crossing on the aerial view, above). This crossing has been accompanied by a School Safety Zone (SSZ) which attempts to stop parents parking on the road right outside the schools, with gigantic zig-zag markings -
… And a 20mph limit that only comes in to force at school opening and closing times.
These (minor) interventions are welcome, and probably go some way towards explaining why Arunside, at least, has a reasonably good walking to school rate. However, virtually no children are cycling to these schools; Blackbridge Lane remains a hostile road, with a 30mph limit outside of this tiny (temporary) 20mph zone, and with plenty of motor traffic using it as a rat-run to bypass the traffic signals and queues in the centre of the town.
That still leaves around 150 motor vehicles arriving and departing twice a day; this presents a problem for the surrounding streets and cul-de-sacs – in particular, Arunside, as we shall see.
I was recently told that a lollipop lady actually volunteers here to allow school children, and their families, to cross this cul-de-sac. Not the main road between the schools; only the entrance to this dead-end road.
I couldn’t quite believe this, until I passed by and saw it happening for myself.
Reminder – this a very minor side street, containing only around 60 properties. Why is a lollipop lady needed to help children cross it?
The simple answer is – because of the large number of cars being driven in and out it, at school time, by parents using it as a car park to drop their children off. The two cars in the photograph above – one entering Arunside, one leaving – are, of course, parents on the school run.
So a problem is evidently being created by the amount of cars being driven into and out of Arunside, during the school run. But the solution isn’t to ban parking here, or to redesign the junction so that the children walking across this side street have priority.
No, the solution is to get a volunteer to stand here in a hi-viz jacket, twice a day, in an attempt to alleviate a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place.
That’s how we do things in Britain!
Back in 2012, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain received a letter from Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport. It contained the following passages.
With reference to the Netherlands and Denmark, McLoughlin wrote
We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Alongside high speed roads we encourage it but in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these roads cross routes regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.
Many of you may have seen the letter Stuart Helmer received from Robert Goodwill MP, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, circulating today on Twitter. It is eerily familiar, not least because the passages quoted above, are repeated, word for word, in Goodwill’s letter, sent over two years later - with a handful of very minor changes, as highlighted below. Goodwill -
We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they think they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see the increases in cycling [in the UK] that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.
A few questions present themselves, perhaps the most important of which is – where is this text coming from?
The other question is – for how long can this text keep on being recycled, used again and again to justify inaction on the basis of low cycling levels? Will Ministers in 2025 be writing
If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.
Or will they, by then, have begun to acknowledge that low cycling levels are their responsibility, flowing directly from their failure to champion safe, attractive and convenient cycling conditions in Britain?
This week Transport for London have been tweeting pictures of proposed station improvements, connected to Crossrail upgrades.
I’ve been struck – as have many others - by the way these designs appear to involve polishing a turd, and also by the way they completely ignore cycling as a mode of transport.
The West Drayton station visualisation includes a bridge that doesn’t include cycling.
The Ilford station visualisation has an expanse of fancy paving, combined with a fashionable narrow carriageway, with someone cycling right by the kerb.
This is the A123, by the way – the traffic levels in this visualisation are a tad unrealistic.
Southall station gets fancy paving, and a nice coloured carriageway, with unrealistic traffic levels. No cycle provision.
Goodmayes gets a ridiculous ‘shared space’ treatment, miraculously free of motor traffic in this visualisation. No cycle provision.
Again, it’s fair to say this is a ‘charitable’ representation of motor traffic levels here.
Seven Kings actually looks like the best improvement out of a bad bunch; the road in front of the station is going to be closed off, and the existing ASL is going to be painted green.
Not pictured – buses.
Another ‘fancy’ surface, serving no apparent purpose, outside Manor Park. Again, this is an A-road – the A117.
Forest Gate. Another A-road; another smear of expensive granite.
Maryland station - three wide lanes of motor traffic replaced by… three narrow lanes of motor traffic.
Acton station gets some lovely cycling-hostile carriageway-narrowing.
Fancy colouring for the car parking spaces outside Hanwell station (this is a dead-end, so they can’t really get this wrong).
And finally Chadwell Heath. It’s not really clear if there are any changes here at all.Crossrail’s own page on the ‘Urban Realm’ changes involved across London is here (thanks to Alex Ingram for spotting it).
A continuing difficulty in Britain appears to be an assumption that ‘cycling infrastructure’ is antithetical to ‘urban realm’. It’s seen as ugly, and associated with traffic engineering, and facilitating movement, which stands in contrast to what ‘urban realm’ designers think they are trying to create, a sense of place. White lines don’t fit in with the aesthetics of places like Poynton, or of Frideswide Square.
Of course, there’s no reason why cycling infrastructure can’t be blended into attractive urban realm – cycle tracks can be constructed from sympathetic materials for instance. The opposition seems to be based on what cycling infrastructure looks like now, rather than what it could look like, with a little thought and effort.
And the other problem here is a fundamental dishonesty about the function of the roads and streets that are being ‘prettified’ – this is the placefaking I’ve talked about before, or, more bluntly, polishing a turd. Rachel Aldred has also written about this issue at length. The assumption seems to be that cycling doesn’t fit in with these placemaking schemes, despite the fact that they still function as major traffic arteries. The paving might have been changed, trees might have been planted, the carriageway might be a different colour, but fundamentally it’s still a road with thousands of vehicles thundering along it every day.
Maybe having to include cycling infrastructure represents a tacit admission that the problem still remains. But it’s not particularly sensible to bury our heads in the sand, and to pretend that the barriers to cycling can be resolved with some planting and some surface treatments.
The reduction of motor traffic in British towns and villages is not a particularly alien concept. Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, the bypass became an increasingly familiar, and often contested, way of reducing the effects motor vehicles were having on the centres of these settlements – namely, the problems of congestion and pollution resulting from an excess of motor traffic.
There is a rather fantastic ‘Look At Life’ film from 1962, showing how bypasses were built to deal with these problems.
Indeed, just as with the towns featured in that film, many of the towns and villages in my county, West Sussex, are now ringed by recently-constructed dual- or single-carriageway roads, designed to divert through-traffic away from the towns and villages themselves.
The villages of Ashington and Billingshurst both had bypasses constructed in the 1990s, taking the A24 and A29 trunk roads, respectively, away from the village centres.
These were villages that were blighted by through-traffic, particularly Ashington, a small village that had a thunderous A-road running through the middle of it. The old route of the A24 is now considerably more peaceful.
DfT traffic counts show that the A24 bypassing Ashington carries around 30-35,000 vehicles per day; it’s obviously completely inappropriate for that amount of traffic to be passing through the centre of a village. Bypasses are often necessary.
The town where I live, Horsham, also has a bypass. The original northern section (built in the late 1960s) was extended in the 1980s to incorporate a western diversion, keeping the main trunk roads, the A24 (running north-south) and the A264 (running approximately SW-NE) away from the town centre. In theory, this should mean that the town itself should have very little motor traffic passing through it; what motor traffic there is should only be accessing the town.
Bypasses are just as common in the Netherlands, and serve much the same purpose. A big difference, however, is that the Dutch are far more assiduous about ensuring that bypasses serve their original purpose – taking out the through-traffic from urban areas.
By contrast, in Britain, bypasses are often presented as ‘relief roads’, aimed at easing the congestion that through traffic might otherwise cause. You will still find little impediment to direct journeys by car through Horsham, Billingshurst or Ashington – the roads have remained largely unchanged subsequent to the construction of their bypasses, which are in effect an ‘additional’ measure to accommodate motor traffic. The roads are much quieter than they would be without bypasses, but they are still unpleasantly busy, and needlessly so.
In the Netherlands, by contrast, bypasses form part of a package of measures aimed at reducing motor vehicle use within town centres; they are, explicitly, a way of keeping the traffic out.
The Dutch city of Assen does, of course, have a ring road, the single-carriageway Europaweg. It is also flanked by a motorway, the A28.
But what makes Assen different from a typical British town with a bypass, however, is a centre that is difficult to drive through (although it is still easy to access by car).
Some of the town centre streets are access-only, or allow only pedestrians and cyclists to use them.
Others form part of a network of one-way streets, arranged in such a way that their use, by car, makes no sense as a through-route, although they remain useful and convenient two-way routes for bicycles.
Routes for motor vehicles into and out of the city centre still exist, of course – they haven’t been excluded from the city completely. To take just one example, deliveries to shops, restaurants and offices remain essential, and these will have to be made by lorries and vans.
It’s not just the city centre that has been carefully planned to favour bicycle use; residential streets in the suburbs are typically designed in such a way that the only people driving on them will be those seeking to gain access to a house or property on it, achieved through a combination of selective road closures, and/or one-way arrangements. Likewise, driving from a place of residence in a suburban street will often involve a circuitous route out onto a distributor road, while making that journey by bicycle will be continuous and direct. The street below, which heads into the city under the ring road from the new settlement of Kloosterveen, is a direct route for bicycles only, along the canal.
Radial routes that still exist for motor vehicles will have bicycle paths running alongside them, making cycling into the city a safe and pleasant option for people of all ages.
Busy junctions are also easy to use by bike; there is no mixing with motor vehicles, achieved by means of a separated network of paths, or, more commonly in Assen, a dedicated green stage for bicycles –
It wouldn’t make sense to make the use of cars difficult in the city centre without providing a feasible alternative. A pleasant and attractive city centre has been achieved through facilitating, and prioritising, bicycle use both in that city centre and across the city as a whole.
The equivalent UK town or city has very little (and often none) of these advantageous measures put in place to enable sustainable modes of transport. Journeys by car are often just as short and direct as they would be on foot or by bicycle. Similarly, the major routes which a UK cyclist will have to use to get into and of town centres are typically unpleasant and hostile for cycling, being shared with high volumes of motor vehicles.
While Horsham has a bypass, it also has an inner ring road, constructed after the bypass was completed.
This means it’s still very easy to drive through the town. There is, undoubtedly, a large amount of motor traffic here that should be using the bypass instead. And without any attractive conditions to cycle in, many short trips within the town – to work, to school, to leisure facilities, to shops – will continue to be driven.
The safe, high-quality segregated cycle facilities common in Assen, which protect cycling on arterial routes, are non-existent in the UK. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the car continues to be used for such a high proportion of short journeys in this country when the alternatives are not being prioritised, or made attractive. 56% of all British journeys under 2 miles are made by car. If we are really going to make a dent in that figure, the sound policy of bypasses needs to be accompanied by the measures the Dutch have put in place.
The Frideswide Square redevelopment in Oxford has got me thinking (again) about the ways in which current road design – even in places with relatively high levels of cycling use – continue to treat cycling as a mode of transport that doesn’t exist, and why.
To recap, although this is a ‘Square’, it’s a busy junction, with around 35,000 vehicle movements, per day.
This is, clearly, a vast area, but the plan is to create what amounts to a carbon copy of Poynton.
A ‘shared space’ scheme, with narrow carriageways and ‘informal’ roundabouts.
Where does cycling fit into this design? Answer – it doesn’t.
As with Poynton, people cycling will either have to share the carriageway with those tens of thousands of motor vehicles, combined with buses moving in and out of the bus stops, taking an ‘assertive’ position along the road, and through the roundabouts, or if they don’t fancy that, they are going to be ‘tolerated’ on the footways.
Council spokesman Paul Smith said: “We’ve had numerous discussions with cycle groups throughout the planning of this scheme and listened carefully to concerns.
“One of the most important things we’re trying to achieve is to keep vehicle speeds down to enable the whole place to feel more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists as well as helping to keep traffic flowing more smoothly than now.
“If we provided cycle lanes on the road, the width of the road overall would increase to the point where we feel that vehicles will start to travel at higher speeds. This would make things less pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road in Frideswide Square even if speeds are low and that is why we are proposing that some space in the paved pedestrian area of the square is shared between cyclists and pedestrians.”
Unfortunately nobody was asking for ‘cycle lanes on the road'; both the CTC and the Embassy were asking for cycle tracks, physically separated from motor traffic. The point about the ‘width of the road’ is therefore completely irrelevant. The road could be whatever width Oxford choose to make it, because cycling would be physically separate from it. (This basic misunderstanding isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).
The final paragraph pretty much encapsulates the dead-end philosophy of catering for two different groups of ‘cyclist’. There are plainly many, many people who don’t want to cycle on busy roads; this is the main reason why cycling levels are so suppressed in Britain. Why this is apparently some kind of revelation to the council – ‘we have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road’ – is beyond me. These people are not being considered in these designs. They are being treated like pedestrians.
These kinds of proposals are a failure because they do not explicitly consider cycling as a mode of transport in its own right, designing for it in a way that responds to the needs of people actually using bicycles. What cycling that is taking place (and in this location, even with the existing poor conditions, quite a lot, several thousand movements a day) will continue to be bodged into a walking/driving model – that is, being treated as a motor vehicle, or as a pedestrian, neither of which is particularly attractive, to anyone. Cycling gets nothing, even in a location where it is reasonably dominant in an existing hostile environment.
I think this is why it is really important that a two-tier approach of catering for cycling – allegedly slow, less confident people on the footway, while the confident continue to use the road – is explicitly ruled out as a design strategy. It provides a mechanism for ignoring cycling completely, even in schemes that are being funded with cycling money.
The Perne Road roundabout in Cambridge, and the ‘Turbo’ Roundabout in Bedford, have both been funded with several hundreds of thousands of pounds of cycling money, yet what has been produced are roundabouts that do not design for cycling. At these roundabouts, you either continue to cycle on the roundabout itself, with motor traffic, like a motor vehicle, or you use the footway, like a pedestrian. This is fairly extraordinary, given the source of funding, but it remains possible because we allow cycling to be divided up this way, offering up a bit of what’s needed to different kinds of user, simultaneously watering down cycling to the point that it can safely be ignored, as it is in a multi-million pound scheme in Oxford. The two-tier approach is a complete disaster, and it has to be killed off.
In yesterday’s BBC Sunday Politics piece on the Superhighways, presenter Tim Donovan repeated, in the form of a question, the City of London’s statement that the proposals are ‘heavily biased’ towards cycling and cyclists (that comment appears three times in this City response). Donovan included Canary Wharf in his comment that the plans are
heavily biased towards the cyclists
and he then followed this up with the statement that
They [the City] are saying that when you’re looking at changes, you are being biased towards the cyclist in the changes you’re putting in.
You can see these exchanges in this video of the whole section of the programme, from the six minute mark.
Gilligan makes the obvious point that this is (predominantly) a cycling scheme. If it wasn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling, something would be seriously wrong.
Cycling in towns is here to stay, and is going to grow, and we don’t resist that, we try to accommodate it… but normally… major infrastructure, you really want years to get everybody on-side… not just one group, you want everybody on side.
In the context of 50+ years of road and street design that has utterly failed to consider cycling as a mode of transport this is, frankly, a laughable comment. To suggest that when, for pretty much the very first time, cycling is being considered in a serious way on a few major roads in London, that such a scheme amounts to a sudden departure from the normal procedure of getting ‘everybody on side’ is deeply ahistorical.
Likewise, in an interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker, Welbank makes a similar point, this time about cycling apparently being ‘prioritised’ -
All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.
This isn’t what’s happening, at all. Cycling is, for the very first time, being treated as a mode of transport suitable for anyone who might want to ride a bike, rather than the usual process of making token (and often completely ineffectual) changes. The only way in which this scheme could amount to cycling being ‘prioritised’ is if you are blinkered enough to believe that the existing road network has been designed and built to equally prioritise cycling and driving – that they are impartial, and mode-neutral.
Let us, hypothetically, imagine that there is no footway along the Embankment, as shown in the picture below. Understandably, very few people are prepared to walk along here. Transport for London then propose to install a footway, to make walking attractive enough for everyone, along this road.
Would that amount to ‘bias’ in favour of pedestrians? Would it mean that Transport for London are only considering the needs of pedestrians, failing to get everybody else on side’?
Let’s get one thing straight here. Roads and streets in London, and everywhere else in Britain, are almost without exception heavily biased – but heavily biased against cycling.
The changes that are being proposed to the roads like the one in the picture above aren’t some kind of ‘icing on the cake’ for the people already cycling there; a bit of extra ‘niceness’ for the existing cyclists.
These roads are extremely unsuitable for cycling, such that only a tiny percentage of the population would be willing to cycle there. The changes that will (hopefully) be implemented are really the bare minimum we should be expecting; they begin to put cycling on something approaching an equal level of consideration as motor traffic, and walking.
The only conceivable way in which these proposals could be seen as ‘biased’ is if the existing road network is taken to be equally attractive to people cycling, driving and walking. But that’s plainly a nonsense. Walking along the Superhighway route is not always pleasant, but it’s something that families can do, reasonably happily. By contrast, I have never, ever seen children cycling on these roads, except for the one day a year when they are closed to motor traffic.
So these comments about ‘bias’ and ‘too much prioritisation’ really amount to ignorance about cycling as a mode of transport, manifested as reluctance to move away from the existing state of affairs in which cycling remains the preserve of a small minority of the population. It’s perhaps forgivable that the general population continues to see ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclists’ as a minority pursuit, but the people in charge of transport – people who should be knowledgeable and informed – should really know better.
Hackney’s Cycling Plan has the (admirable) stated aim -
To make Hackney’s roads the most attractive and safest roads for cycling in the UK, and a place where it is second nature for everyone, no matter what their age, background or ethnicity.
However, for a borough that prides itself on its levels of cycling, the Plan’s target of a 15% modal share for cycling by 2024 is unambitious.
Even more unambitious is a target of just 5% cycling share for trips made by children to school, by the same year (and not even for all trips children make). This compares very poorly with Dutch levels of child cycling, which are above 40% for the entire country, as a percentage of all trips. This is a target a genuinely ambitious cycling borough should be aspiring to. Correspondingly, Hackney should look and learn from the best of Dutch practice.
Hackney already does many things very well, better than nearly every London borough. In particular it has made many residential streets, and roads away from the main road network, safe, comfortable and attractive for cycling, by filtering out motor traffic (or removing it completely).
However, the strategy in this Plan for making cycling an attractive prospect on the borough’s main roads remains vague – talking only of creating ‘clear space’, which is ambiguous.
The Council will look to pursue a policy of ‘clear space for cyclists’ when designing public realm and traffic schemes on busy routes or where there is high traffic flows.
This is despite the Plan itself acknowledging several problems on Hackney’s main roads. For instance, the problems caused by a lack of clear routes on congested roads -
Where there is regular congestion and queuing vehicles there will be limited room for cyclists to advance and as a result cyclists will often squeeze between vehicles or even undertake on the left hand side despite the known dangers
The problems caused by having to negotiate around the outside of parked vehicles -
Parking and unloading arrangements at the kerbside on these busier roads can also represent a danger to cyclists when moving around them especially when vehicles try to overtake and cyclists are also at risk from being hit by vehicle doors being opened in their path
The problem of where actual, serious collisions are occurring -
the majority of serious [cycling] accidents occur on our busier roads with high traffic flows and often multiple bus routes
And perhaps most importantly of all, the problem of subjective safety -
Chapter 5 established that fear of injury and the perception of cycling as a dangerous activity is a primary reason why many residents do not currently cycle
All of these problems clearly need to be addressed, if Hackney is to get anywhere near its own targets, let alone start progressing towards the considerably higher levels of cycling achieved in cities in the Netherlands and Denmark. Not least because – as the Plan itself acknowledges -
It is inevitable that cyclists will continue to use our busy high streets and strategic roads that carry high volumes of vehicular traffic because often they are the most direct and quickest routes.
There are – tentative – noises about starting to do things properly on main roads, rather than relying on a strategy of mixing people cycling in with high volumes of motor traffic.
the borough is unsure as to how [full/light segregation] will impact on the borough’s highway network (both TfL‐controlled and otherwise) but will work with the Mayor and TfL to assess the appropriateness or otherwise of this approach on a case‐by‐case basis.
Not ruling it out, but hardly a ringing endorsement. And later -
The Council is open and willing to examine proposals for segregated and semi‐ segregated cycle lanes on principal roads but it will be considered on a case‐by‐case basis ‐ taking into account concerns about: high collision rates at intersecting junctions where segregated lanes end; visual impact on the streetscape; interaction between bus users and cyclists at bus stops; and other competing demands for road space on Hackney’s busiest routes.
There are plainly many roads in Hackney that could happily accommodate cycling infrastructure, with physical buffering from motor traffic, and separated from pedestrians. This space could either come from footways that are sufficiently wide that reduction in width would not affect pedestrian comfort -
Or from private motor traffic lanes on the carriageway -
Hard choices will have to be made in some locations about which modes of transport – and which uses of public space – get prioritised, but that’s no reason to ignore those places where comfortable cycling conditions, separated from motor traffic, could be provided with little difficulty.
Of course, in other locations, the borough will have to make those choices; about how many lanes of private motor traffic to keep; about whether bus lanes should be a higher priority than cycling infrastructure; and about whether simply returning gyratories to two-way running represents the best available way of making cycling an attractive and viable mode of transport – retaining one-way flow for motor traffic could, for instance, allow the creation of separated two-way flow for cycling.
In short, Hackney needs to decide how much cycling it wants to have – whether it wants a small amount of growth on top of what it already has, or whether it wants to reap the benefits of genuine mass cycling. If it wants the latter, this Plan needs to reflect a serious commitment to prioritising the comfort, safety and convenience of cycling in the borough, especially on main roads, rather than the uncertain-sounding noises it currently contains.
I really, really wish I didn’t have to write another ‘helmet’ post ever again, but the Headway brain injury association have made me. Thanks very much.
Here’s what they’ve done. They’ve responded to Chris Boardman’s appearance on BBC Breakfast with a sanctimonious, error-strewn press release, that only serves to highlight their total inconsistency on the issue of head protection.
This is their release. I won’t link to it; you can find it easily by Googling, if you so wish.Former Olympic cyclist ‘setting poor example’
03 November 2014
Headway has expressed its anger and disappointment over a BBC Breakfast feature on cycling in which Chris Boardman was seen cycling through Manchester city centre wearing dark clothing and without wearing a helmet.
Mr Boardman, a former Olympic cyclist and currently a policy advisor for British Cycling, was cycling with BBC reporter Louise Minchin, who was appropriately dressed and was wearing a helmet in compliance with the Highway Code and BBC editorial policy.
Mr Boardman attempted to justify his reasoning in a subsequent piece to camera which was later posted on the BBC Breakfast Facebook page.
In this one-sided interview, Mr Boardman states that ‘it (wearing a helmet) discourages people from riding a bike’ and that while ‘there is absolutely nothing wrong with helmets, they are not in the top ten things you can do to keep safe’.
In July 1998 Mr Boardman featured in a full-page article in The Sun in an article entitled I was saved by my helmet. Following a crash at 30mph that left Mr Boardman unconscious, the cyclist said: “If I was left unconscious with a helmet, then I don’t like to think what would have happened if I had not been wearing one.”
He continued: “I will continue to wear one. It was a real lesson for me. Things could have been so much worse. At the moment you are not forced to wear a helmet but I choose to.”
Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, has labelled Mr Boardman’s appearance on BBC Breakfast and his recent comments as ‘dangerous and lacking in common sense’.
“It is worrying that a leading figure in the world of cycling should be allowed to put across such a dangerous and irresponsible view of helmets in this manner,” said Peter.
“The UK’s leading independent transport research institution, the Transport Research Laboratory, has recently demonstrated that cycle helmets are effective in reducing the risk of head and brain injury. The TRL has also dismissed the myth that helmets put people off from cycling, stating in a report to the States Assembly in Jersey that there is no evidence to suggest this is accurate. In fact, cycling in Australian states where helmets are compulsory has never been more popular.
“Questions have to be asked about why a representative of British Cycling, which receives public funding, is actively encouraging cyclists to disregard the Highway Code, putting their lives at risk in the process. Mr Boardman is on record saying he is lucky he was wearing a helmet when he had an accident, which can happen to any cyclist at any time. His recent actions and comments are dangerous and irresponsible.
“The reality is that had Mr Boardman not been wearing a helmet when he had his accident he might not have been able to cycle around Manchester this morning. He needs to explain why he said one thing then and the complete opposite now, and why he promotes a brand of helmets in his own name if he feels they are not effective.
“It is vital that cyclists are given education and encouragement to ensure they comply with the Highway Code and increase their safety by wearing helmets.”
This is the video of Boardman cycling around Manchester that has provoked this outrage; accompanied by Minchin, who as a BBC employee is of course wearing an eye-meltingly bright yellow top (‘appropriately dressed’, according to Headway) and a helmet. The subsequent piece to camera, in which Boardman explains why he chooses not to wear a helmet for ordinary, everyday cycling, is here.
Note, firstly, that Headway are arguing that Boardman is ‘actively encouraging’ people not to wear helmets. Such is the perspective of the blinkered zealot. Suggesting that people should have a free choice whether they wear helmets, or not, simply isn’t ‘actively encouraging’ one of these options, any more than me offering you a choice between fish and chips and a curry amounts to me ‘actively encouraging’ you to have a curry.
Note also that the Headway press release talks about ‘complying’ with the Highway Code, by wearing a helmet (and apparently ‘disregarding’ it, by not wearing one).
But there is no requirement to wear a helmet in the Highway Code. It’s merely a recommendation; a ‘should’, not a ‘must’. To take just one example from elsewhere in the Highway Code, Rule 102 suggests that
children should get into the vehicle through the door nearest the kerb
Which is a recommendation. Entering vehicles through other doors is not a ‘failure to comply’ with the Highway Code. Clearly, talk of ‘compliance’ with regard to helmet-wearing is gibberish.
The central ‘argument’ in the Headway press release is just as bizarre. It appears to be that Boardman once crashed his bike while wearing a helmet, acknowledging, at the time, that his helmet might have reduced the injuries he suffered, and that this somehow makes him a hypocrite.
But as the press release itself mentions, that crash occurred at 30mph+, in a sporting event, with considerably higher levels of risk. A video of that crash is below.
Riding at these speeds, competing with other riders in close proximity, bears absolutely no relation with the kind of cycling Boardman was doing in the BBC video – slow cycling, in ordinary clothes, around a city.
Indeed, it bears as much relation to cycling in the Tour de France as driving to a supermarket does to rallying; yet I’m sure Headway don’t berate rally drivers for setting ‘a poor example’ by driving to the shops without their safety equipment.
Either Headway can’t tell the difference between these wholly contrasting kinds of cycling, with their entirely different levels of risk, or they do know the difference, and have chosen to belligerently ignore it to ram home their dogmatic point. What’s worse?
But when it comes to head injuries suffered by people employing different modes of transport, this ‘broad brush’ approach from Headway – the approach that apparently can’t tell the difference between the Tour de France, and cycling around town – suddenly vanishes. Headway become deeply selective about which kinds of activity require protective headgear.
Take a look at the case studies on their website. Any head injury that was sustained away from a bicycle passes without comment about the presence or absence of a helmet. Any head injury that happened to involve a bicycle – lo and behold, a helmet is preached about.
Here’s Ben Quick, who was hit by a car while walking, and suffered severe head injuries. No comment on whether he should or shouldn’t have been wearing protective head equipment.
By contrast, Gareth Green, who hit his head on the ground while cycling, having swerved to avoid a bus, thinks that “the Government should make wearing cycle helmets the law. If all cyclists wore helmets, fewer lives would be lost or forever changed by brain injury.”
No comment on whether this logic applies to the pedestrians and drivers featured on Headway’s website; drivers like Luke Flavell, who crashed his car into a lamppost, suffering serious head injuries. His lack of protective headgear again passes unmentioned. Or Michael Darracott, who severely injured his head when he flew through his car windscreen. It’s almost as if Headway don’t care if drivers injure their heads – why aren’t they advocating full-face crash helmets for car occupants?
Like Ben Quick, Nicola Scott was knocked down by a car while walking, suffering serious head injuries. Should she have been wearing a helmet? Or Paul Calderbank, who was hit by a taxi while walking? Headway don’t say.
By contrast, Kirsty Offord, who happened to be on a bike when she was struck by a car, is ‘determined to promote the use of cycle helmets’. Likewise, Carolyn Molloy, who suffered a brain injury when she crashed her bike, ‘strongly believes that cycle helmets should be made compulsory.’ And unsurprisingly, Sinead King, who fell off her bike in her back garden at the age of six, also manages to preach about helmets.
This is Headway’s Brick Wall.
Risk, taken across the population, does not stop when you get off a bicycle. The figures make that quite clear. In fact they make it clear that it may not even subside.
And this is The Brick Wall against which one has to beat one’s head when trying to discuss helmets: the fact that the evangelists believe cycling to warrant a helmet when real figures show that there’s no demonstrable risk above other activities for which even the evangelists argue that a helmet is not necessary.
Why is that Headway seemingly don’t care about serious head injures suffered by people walking and driving, even though the rates at which these serious head injuries are suffered are comparable to the rate at which people cycling suffer serious head injuries?This selectiveness is all the more remarkable in the light of their failure to distinguish between 1998 Chris Boardman, and 2014 Chris Boardman; it’s a selectiveness that comes and goes.
Headway really need to take their single-issue campaign away, have a think about what it is they’re trying to achieve, and attempt to reach a measure of consistency. At the moment, they are embarrassing themselves.
A new style ‘zebra’ crossing with a cycle crossing bolted onto it is in place in Bexley.
This is a trial version of this new type of crossing, which is proposed in the Department for Transport’s consultation on TSRGD 2015 [pdf] -
Some people (including me!) have been a wee bit sceptical about this crossing, and so I think it’s worth setting out why, in long form.
Before I get started, it’s obviously worth stating that priority crossings for bikes are plainly a very good idea in principle, and it’s great that the DfT are open to new ideas, and that this kind of crossing (which could work well, in the right circumstances) is being trialled, on street. I am an optimist, and this does represent progress.
However, there are grounds for concern. Mainly, it’s that this design remains a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure, that has had some cycle provision bolted onto it.
Walking and cycling are different modes of transport, with different design requirements, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to lump them in together, on the same crossing.
This is why I made comments voicing concern about this crossing actually being given a name, because doing so legitimises treating walking and cycling the same way. As we shall see, the Dutch don’t name walking and cycling crossings that happen to be next to each other, for the obvious reason that they are entirely separate things.
There is, of course, an existing British crossing that lumps pedestrians and cyclists in together, that has a name – the Toucan.
I think it’s fair to say that Toucans are a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure that have had cycling bodged into them. They are pedestrian crossings that simply allow cycling, and for that reason they are sub-optimal.
They tend to treat people who are cycling as pedestrians, rather than giving them their own clear distinct routes across junctions. It makes cycling slower and more inconvenient. It’s bad for people cycling, and it’s also bad for people walking, as it creates confusion and unnecessary hazards.
Toucans are obviously not worse than having no cycle crossing at all, but they are worse than crossings that treat pedestrians and cyclists separately. Finally, toucan crossings can provide an incentive to create ‘sharing’ areas away from the crossings – shared used pavements, and so on – because the crossings themselves are shared.
Flexibility, and designing separately
Now it is possible to delineate Toucan crossings, providing separate walking and cycling routes across a junction, as in this example from Jitensha Oni -
But we don’t have to do this – it’s perfectly possible to provide a cycle crossing that is entirely separate from a pedestrian one, with their own respective signals, rather than one set of ‘Toucan’ signals.
And this is, unsurprisingly, how the Dutch design. They treat walking and cycling as different modes, and provide separate signals, and crossing paths, rather than lumping the modes in together, like a Toucan would.
Besides the crossing routes keeping the two modes separate, there are good reasons for doing this. Pedestrians and cyclists will take different amounts of time to cross a road, and the signals can be adjusted accordingly, with pedestrians given more time. If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, the ‘green time’ can be shorter.
Of course, the kind of crossing pictured above doesn’t have a name – it’s, well, a bike crossing that happens to be near to a crossing for pedestrians.
And much the same is true of the way the Dutch treat unsignalised crossings. The pedestrian crossing (zebra or otherwise) is a separate element from the cycling crossing, which may or may not have priority. Sometimes the two ‘bits’ are close to each other, sometimes they are not – but at no point are they the same ‘thing’.
This means the Dutch have a great deal of flexibility in how they design crossings. They can, for instance, put a (two-stage) bicycle crossing, without priority, next to a zebra, if that makes sense. Pedestrians have priority on the zebra, but cyclists don’t have priority.
Of course, you could have the same arrangement, but with cycling priority. The key point is flexibility, and treating the two modes separately, at all times.
However, this flexibility is not available with the DfT’s proposed new ‘combined’ zebra crossing, which, to repeat, is a cycle crossing tacked onto a pedestrian crossing. It’s worth quoting here what the Cycling Embassy had to say about this ‘cycle zebra’ -
We are concerned that the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ is simply repeating the mistakes of shared use paths and toucan crossings – namely, that cyclists are simply ‘botched in’ to an existing design, without concern for the needs of cyclists.
We are particularly concerned that there is insufficient difference between the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ and an ordinary zebra crossing, and that drivers may not appreciate the need to yield to (faster) approaching cyclists…
We also note that there is potential for great ambiguity (and hence danger) in the existing rules for zebra crossings, whereby drivers must give way only once pedestrians are on the crossing itself. The dangers of this ambiguity are intensified with faster moving cyclists.
We also feel that the regulations with respect to crossings do not give sufficient flexibility to allow for appropriate crossings to be designed in many circumstances, particularly in the vicinity of road junctions. (For instance, the use of elephants’ footprint markings, with give markings, to indicate cycle track crossings across junctions).
Consequently we suggest that controlled area ‘zig-zag’ markings, zebra crossing markings, and elephants’ footprints cycle crossing markings should be prescribed separately as ‘building blocks’, and that it should be the responsibility of the designer to identify how or if these should be combined in each particular instance, including allowing for combinations with stop and give way lines at junctions.
There are practical problems with cyclists using zebra crossings in this way, because of priority rules that only give priority to pedestrians once they are actually on the crossing. This is really quite unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) for cyclists, who will obviously usually be arriving at crossings at a greater speed than pedestrians.
People cycling would really benefit, instead, from a much more straightforward cycle-specific priority crossing, that can simply be placed adjacent to a pedestrian-specific zebra.
Once this new ‘cycle zebra’ crossing has a name, I fear it will encourage – just as the Toucan crossing has – the employment of shared use footways, and general ambiguity in the areas surrounding crossings, because that’s the easiest way out for designers who don’t have a great deal of interest in doing things properly.
As the Embassy response argues, it would be far better if we could employ priority cycling crossings (something we can already provide!) in the vicinity of zebras, while continuing to treat the two crossings as distinct, separate elements, rather than putting an ambiguous cycle crossing onto the zebra itself.
This ‘building block’ technique, as employed by the Dutch, gives much greater flexibility to designers and engineers – they can decide where to place crossings, how to mark them up, and whether or not to give priority to pedestrians and/or cyclists.
It’s laudable that the DfT are (finally!) open to new ideas, but I worry that this minor ‘cycle zebra’ concession may lead us down an unhelpful path, already trodden by the Toucan, and actually inhibit the development of the more useful and practical ‘building block’ approach – which would also require some stripping away of the (often needless) requirements for zebra crossings.
Time will tell.
The visualisations Transport for London have been producing recently for the Superhighways – and for the Oval junction redesign – have attracted some comment from naysayers, about how little motor traffic is shown.
But I don’t think there’s any grand conspiracy here – any visualisation of a new road or street scheme will tend to show very little motor traffic, Exhibition Road being a fairly typical example.
However, the reason for this is probably much more mundane than any attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, regarding potential congestion. It’s that filling a visualisation with cars doesn’t make the space you are presenting very attractive. Who wants to look at hundreds of fairly anonymous metal boxes, when you could instead show human beings, smiling, walking, interacting with each other?
Indeed, more generally, cars are very dull things to fill public space with.
Don’t get me wrong - some cars are attractive, and nice to look at. But plonking large numbers of average-looking cars on roads and streets makes those spaces much, much less interesting than if they were filled with people.
Who wants to look at this?
Pretty uninteresting. By contrast, public space filled with human beings…
That’s why visualisations tend not to include large numbers of motor vehicles – even if that’s unrealistic.
The issue of ‘kerbside activity’ and cycling infrastructure comes up intermittently.
In plain language, this is loading, and dropping off/setting down, and how it works with cycle tracks between the loading/drop-off point, and the footway. Just last month, the Freight Transport Association responded to Transport for London’s detailed proposals for the N-S and E-W Superhighways in London, with a particular focus on this point.
FTA’s message to Boris Johnson is that whilst it supports the development of infrastructure which improves safety for cyclists, the association is also asking him to remember that the people of London depend on goods being delivered and collected.
Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Policy for London said:
“FTA supports the development of new cyclist infrastructure which is targeted on improving safety for cyclists, and believes it can provide real benefits. But cyclists are only one user of the road and the needs of all must be considered – Londoners depend on the goods our members supply every hour of every day. It is important that these schemes are carried out in such a way that they do not unduly disrupt traffic flow or prevent kerbside access for deliveries to businesses and homes.”
FTA added that it must be recognised that delivery and servicing activity does not only take place in high street locations but on many different street types including residential streets, therefore full segregation in these locations may hinder access for deliveries. In such areas, FTA favours the use of other measures such as ‘armadillos’ or giant cat’s eyes, which provide partial segregation stronger than painted white lines, but at the same time enable vehicles to access the kerbside. [my emphasis]
My understanding of this passage is that the Freight Transport Association favours the kind of cycling infrastructure that HGVs and vans can park on, obstructing it, so they can park right next to the kerb. In other words – cycling infrastructure that, while nice in theory, is functionally useless, if it’s going to be used as a parking bay.
Similar reasoning appeared recently from Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, who argues that cycle tracks are not appropriate where there is kerbside activity.
Likewise the British Beer and Pub Association had this to say in response to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Cycling Safety -
Segregated cycle lanes already cause particular issues for pub deliveries. Manual handling of bulk beer containers such as kegs and casks (as specified in current Health & Safety Regulations) ideally requires the delivery vehicle to be sited at the kerb-side outside the premises. Physically segregated lanes prevent this access
Given that loading and parking has to occur pretty much everywhere on main roads – where cycle tracks will almost always be necessary – then if we take these objections at face value, continuous cycling infrastructure, separated physically form motor traffic, is an impossibility.
But is this really true? How does the Netherlands manage to cope? Deliveries and loading still take place on their main roads, as well as people parking, and dropping off passengers – and these are roads that will often have cycle tracks.
Well, it’s not really that hard. HGVs and vans park in marked bays outside the cycle track, and then load across it, and the footway.
The delivery driver has put a home made ‘watch out’ sign on the cycle track as an extra (albeit slightly obstructive) precaution. But it’s clear that loading across a cycle track is hardly an insurmountable problem – it’s not really any more difficult than loading across a footway, provided that the cycle track is well-designed, with low level, mountable kerbing between it and the footway, as in both these Dutch examples.
I suspect the objections from these groups are based partly on assumptions about existing patterns of cycling behaviour in places like London – cyclists are perceived as fast and silent car-like objects, whizzing around like vehicles, rather than as the more sedate mode of transport it is in places where cycle tracks are commonplace in the urban realm. It’s easier to imagine loading across a cycle track with these kinds of people moving along it -
… than one with people clad in lycra, riding on racing bikes, in cycle-specific clothing. That’s not to criticise this latter group – it’s just that perceptions can be skewed, because the existing environment tends to exclude other types of cycling.
Their objections are probably also based on their understanding of existing UK segregated infrastructure, which will often present loading issues, due to the use of unforgiving, high kerbing, which is an additional obstacle for drivers to load objects across.
But this is poor design – cycle tracks shouldn’t be constructed like this, not least because it’s bad for cycling, as well as for people loading. Cycle tracks can and should fit seamlessly into the urban realm, allowing easy loading across them. It can be done – just look at best practice, across the North Sea.
I blogged for the Cycling Embassy last week about the value of new audit tools, from TfL, and in the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance.
These tools allow professionals and cycle campaigners to objectively assess the quality of cycling provision, scoring routes out of 100, and 50, respectively. If a route scores less than 35 out of 50 under the Welsh Guidance, it should not be classified as a ‘route’, or be included as part of a cycle network.
I was reminded of the potential uses of these tools by some discussion on Sunday about the National Cycle Network, and how, while some bits of it are genuinely excellent, the Network as a whole is diminished by the inclusion of sections that simply aren’t up to scratch.
Take the National Cycle Network around Bath. Some of it is genuinely high quality, like the traffic-free Two Tunnels Route 244.
But some bits of it aren’t, like this section of NCN 4, which runs into the centre of Bath on a very busy road, with a significant proportion of the motor traffic composed of HGVs.
This is actually Bath’s inner ring road, the A36. This stretch would almost certainly fail to meet the minimum standards set out in the Audit Tool. There’s just too much motor traffic, it’s too fast, and there are too many additional hazards, like car parking and junctions where there are turning conflicts.
Yet looking at the map, this section (circled) is included in the network, as part of NCN 4.
I would assume that this is for reasons of continuity – it makes no sense to have a route that has breaks in it. But there are downsides to this approach.
First of all, it means people can have little confidence in the quality of the network. If parts of it are this bad, how are they to know how much of it is equally bad? What are the criteria for including bits of roads as parts of a ‘Cycle Network’? Having low-quality, or even hostile, sections included downgrades the ‘brand’ of the National Cycle Network, as Joe Dunckley argued.
Secondly, it suggests that a ‘network’ actually exists, when, in reality, there isn’t much of a network, at all, if parts of it are difficult to negotiate, or actively hostile. It suggests that the job has been completed, that journeys can easily be made from A to B on the ‘National Cycle Network’ – politicians can even boast about it.
Sadly even Sustrans themselves fall into this trap, claiming that ‘The National Cycle Network passes within a mile of almost 60% of the population’ – by implication, we have a functioning network already, rather than a bits-and-pieces affair of highly variable quality, that quite often doesn’t really go anywhere near where people live and work.
By contrast, if only the parts of the network that actually met minimum standards were included, we would have a truer picture of state of the network, and of inclusive conditions for cycling more generally. Marking up ‘networks’ that simply don’t work for most people gets us nowhere, and in fact lets politicians and councils off the hook.
The council where I live drew up what can only be described as a farcical ‘network’ map, composed of sections that sometimes link up (but sometimes don’t), and even sections that are ‘proposed’ (we’re still waiting!).
This map has, however, quietly been withdrawn, once the council discovered that cycling in some areas of the town centre (as marked on the map) wasn’t technically allowed. Rather than changing TROs to make cycling legal… it was easier to make the map disappear.
I recently assessed the best part of this ‘network’ with the Welsh Active Travel Guidance tool – it scored 24.5 out of 50, well below the minimum threshold of 35. So in truth Horsham doesn’t have a cycle network, at all, when even the best parts of it are so far below a minimum standard. It’s for the best the map has vanished.
This kind of objective quality control would also mean that councils could no longer get away with boasting about how many miles of cycle lane they’ve put in, if the ‘network’ they produce doesn’t meet minimum standards. If a route composed of painted lanes doesn’t score over 35 out of 50, it’s not fit for purpose.
For all these reasons, I think a ‘downgrading’ across the country to a much smaller cycle network, composed of the bits that are actually of a suitably high standard, would be beneficial. It would be an accurate reflection of where Britain’s cycling provision actually stands, and would act as a spur for genuine improvement.
A bit of a follow-up to last week’s post about the Perne Road roundabout, looking at the potential issues, and what could have been done instead.
This roundabout has now hit the headlines because a child has been injured while cycling on the roundabout, on Wednesday evening. I don’t think it’s massively helpful to leap to conclusions on the basis of one incident, but it’s certainly worth looking at the general design flaws with this roundabout, and the alternative ways in which it could have been designed.
For me, the central problem is that cycling has not being designed for explicitly. Instead, it has been bodged into pedestrian-specific design, and into motor vehicle-specific design, simultaneously. Almost all the potential issues flow from this failure. The roundabout design expects people on bikes to behave like pedestrians, or like cars; something genuine Dutch design would never do.
For a start, the ‘shared use’ paths around the edge are quite obviously footways, on which it is permissible to cycle. They are not cycle tracks, with clearly defined routes. The result is cycling in a pedestrian-specific environment, and this, coupled with a lack of clarity, presents a number of problems.
With ‘shared footways’, drivers will have less certainty over where a cyclist might be heading. Take the scenario below, with the path of a cyclist represented by the blue arrow.
The driver doesn’t know if the cyclist is, or isn’t, going to use the crossing. The cyclist is travelling across an expanse of tarmac, and their intentions aren’t clear. The driver may assume wrongly.
Contrast this with a Dutch roundabout (in Assen) -
And the same is true from the perspective of people cycling. They have more time to assess which direction a driver is taking – staying on the roundabout, or leaving it – and therefore will have more opportunities to cross, more safely. Again, this is without cycle priority -
The Cambridge roundabout does not have this cycle-friendly feature. Because the crossing points are not set back any distance from the roundabout, there’s little time in which to assess which way drivers might be heading. In many instances, it may be too ambiguous to take a chance.
Placing the (pedestrian) crossings at these locations close to the roundabout also means they are blocked by drivers queueing to enter the roundabout, rather than left clear, as on a Dutch roundabout, by setting the crossing points back from the perimeter.
Funnily enough, although I’ve criticised the Poynton scheme, this ‘setting back’ of the crossings has been done correctly there, approximately one car length back from the ’roundabouts’.
This means people can cross behind stationary vehicles, rather than trying to cross in front of a vehicle that might be about to jump into the roundabout.
To compound these issues of uncertainly about where people are going, drivers have to contend with people cycling on the road, and on the footway, simultaneously, as they enter and exit the roundabout, rather than dealing with cyclists at one clear crossing point, on defined paths. This is a point John Stevenson makes here -
Drivers don’t know where cyclists are going to be. Because cyclists can either use the main carriageway or the shared-use, off-carriageway paths, drivers are expected to look for cyclists in a number of places at each arm of the roundabout, instead of just one.
Unnecessary complication has been added by putting people cycling on two different forms of route across the roundabout.
Another issue John identifies – having visited the site – is that a shared-use footway, by definition, involves mixing up pedestrians and cyclists together, rather than separating them, and that can be an uncomfortable experience for pedestrians, particularly in areas with high levels of footway cycling. Again, this problem is not one that should have been created.
What effect might the narrowed carriageway might have on people who continue to cycle on it? John thinks it might make collisions more likely, as people cycling will be closer to motor vehicles (and there also might be a temptation to squeeze through). That said, the geometry has been tightened, which should lead to lower vehicle speeds – so the collisions would probably on balance be less serious. Swings and roundabouts, although it is obviously far too early to make definitive judgements. In any case, a roundabout with this volume of motor traffic shouldn’t – in principle – be designed with the expectation people will be cycling on the carriageway.
Finally, there has been an awful lot of discussion about whether or not a genuine Dutch-inspired roundabout design would offer cyclists priority over motor traffic, or not. To me, that’s not a particularly pressing issue, compared to the overall design problems set out here. A Dutch roundabout with priority would look very similar to a Dutch roundabout without priority. Cyclists would have clear routes, separated from pedestrians – routes which would make it obvious to drivers what they are doing. Likewise the paths that drivers are taking would be clear, and the roundabout would be designed to maximise crossing opportunity. This roundabout achieves none of those outcomes.
My personal inclination – and I’ve been persuaded on this point – is not to offer cyclists priority, for the main reason that it is safer (remember, this is an entirely new kind of treatment for British drivers), and also because the loss of convenience is marginal, if the roundabout is designed properly. We should remember that no Dutch roundabout offered Dutch cyclists priority, at all, until the 1990s, by law. It was only for reasons of convenience – not safety – that his law was changed, and priority was switched in urban areas.
Priorities can be changed easily – bad design can’t.