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Well it should be, shouldn't it?
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Infrastructure for all

19 May, 2015 - 07:55

Inclusive cycling infrastructure is often described as being suitable for ‘8-80′ – for the young as well as the old. It’s a good philosophy. However, it is not quite adequate, in and of itself, to capture what’s required for infrastructure to be of a suitably high standard.

For instance, a good deal of substandard infrastructure could reasonably be described as 8-80. Wibbly-wobbly crap on pavements, for instance, can be negotiated by eight year olds, as well as eighty year olds.

This isn’t, however, this kind of infrastructure that many people would actually choose to use. Nonsense like this gets avoided by people who are able (although not necessarily willing) to cycle with motor traffic.

So ‘8-80′ isn’t quite sufficient, in and of itself. What’s required is infrastructure that is suitable for the young and the old, as well as the fast, the confident and the experienced. Infrastructure, for instance, that’s suitable for 8-80, as well as for a team time trial.

The opening stage of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, on a cycle path by San Remo. Picture by Alec James

The cycle path in the picture above is one that can obviously accommodate high speed cycling, but at the same time it is also suitable for a full range of other cycling types, the slow; the young; the old.

A similar version of this test was proposed by Joe Dunckley – a ‘Boris test’.

Need an addition to the 8yo kid test of cycling schemes. The Boris test: would Boris just keep his wits about him + continue using the road?

— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) July 9, 2014

That is, infrastructure has to be good enough for someone like Boris Johnson – who habitually disparages substandard off-carriageway infrastructure, while voicing his preference for mixing it with motor traffic on busy roads – to choose to use it, rather than opting for the motor traffic alternative.

Cycling infrastructure should accommodate all these people, on the same singular design. It should offer comfort, safety and attractiveness, as well as being direct and convenient. This is uniformity of provision, well explained by David Arditti

We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.

There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.

Uniformity of provision is tremendously important, because its alternative – dual provision – essentially involves designing for failure. Dual provision means building something that, at the design stage, it is already accepted that people will not use. It involves building, for instance, shared use pavements that the designer knows will be avoided by people who prefer to cycle on the carriageway, because the shared use pavement is too inconvenient, awkward, or slow. Equally, it involves catering for people on the carriageway while acknowledging that many people simply won’t want to use that same carriageway because it is too intimidating, or hostile. We still continue to build infrastructure according to this failed philosophy, at tremendous cost.

Accommodating fast cycling doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of the slow, or the less confident, or the nervous. In fact, quite the opposite – cycling infrastructure designed for speed means more convenience for everyone. It means an absence of sharp corners, of barriers, of ‘shared use’ in appropriate circumstances, of pedestrian-specific design in general. If it’s good enough to ride a bicycle fast on it, then it will undoubtedly carry benefits for slower users, even those who are not on bicycles.

Fast infrastructure brings just as many benefits for slower users

That’s why aiming for 8-80, although admirable, isn’t good enough by itself. It needs to be good enough for everyone to want to use it.


Categories: Views

Coasting

12 May, 2015 - 08:24

I don’t know what percentage of bikes in the Netherlands operate with coaster brakes, but it must certainly be a sizeable proportion, perhaps even a majority. The tell-tale sign is handlebars free from brake levers (or those with just one brake lever, for the front wheel), and in Dutch towns and cities, these kinds of bikes are ubiquitous.

By contrast, the number of bikes in the UK with coaster brakes must be a tiny, tiny minority of the overall total. My omafiets is one of those bikes.

I’d never ridden a bicycle with a coaster before, so I was quite nervous about how it would work out for me, and hesitated about whether I should opt for a more familiar lever-operated brake. But having lived with it for a few years, there’s absolutely no way I would have a different kind of brake for my rear wheel. It’s brilliant.

The front (drum) brake is lever operated, so I am UK-legal, in that I have two independent braking systems, one for each wheel. But in all honesty it’s not really necessary – the vast majority of the stopping power comes from the coaster at the rear. It’s an effective brake, particularly because on this kind of bike, your body weight is almost entirely over the rear wheel. The front brake is merely a nice extra.

The coaster brake is a back pedal brake – to slow down, you merely apply downward pressure on the pedals, in precisely the same way you apply downward pressure on a brake pedal in a car. In fact, that’s the closest analogy to the action of a coaster brake – slight downward pressure, slight braking; more downward pressure, stronger braking; stamping down on the pedal, well, your wheel is going to lock up.

I think it’s that association with braking in a car that makes a coaster brake actually quite intuitive. Braking with your feet quickly becomes natural – it took only a week or so for a complete novice like me to become accustomed to it. I now often find myself absentmindedly pushing down on the pedals to brake on my other (coaster-free) bikes, simply because that’s now a natural movement for me. (Meeting no resistance whatsoever, my brain instantly transfers the message to my hands instead!)

That ‘naturalness’ is just one advantage of the coaster brake. An important other advantage is that it leaves your hands free for other things, particularly signalling. As signalling with your hands is often needed when you are simultaneously slowing down, to turn off of, or onto, a road at junction, it’s so much more convenient and easy to have your feet doing the braking, rather than having to transfer your hands from the brake levers to a ‘signal’ position, and then back again, or compromising by braking with just one brake, while signalling with the other hand.

Another major advantage is maintenance. Because a coaster brake is effectively operated by the chain, which is already part of the bike, that means there’s no need for ‘extra’ cabling or levers. The bike is neater, and tidier, with no braking system to maintain in addition to the transmission (which in any case is protected from the elements).

On the downside (for me at least), with a coaster brake your pedals can’t be rotated backwards – at least only for a little bit, before the brake fully applies. That means when you stop, it’s helpful to ensure that your pedals are in a position ready for you to go again. You can’t ‘kick’ them backwards to get them back into position.

In practice, this quickly becomes very natural; my technique is shown in the video below.

The most powerful braking position is with the pedals at 3 o’clock/9 o’clock; and that’s pretty much an easy position for you to start off again.

Ready to go again

If, by chance, your pedals aren’t in a great position to set off again, the best thing to do is to roll your bike back a foot or so, returning the pedal to a position where force can be applied. Or (as I sometimes do) just push off and use your momentum to start pedalling again. It’s no big deal.

It also helps to have your saddle low enough so your feet (or at least your standing foot) can reach the ground with you sat on it, as in the picture above. That means you are not forced to apply weight to the pedals when you come to a stop, which is tricky when that’s your braking system.

With this kind of bike, a low saddle just feels comfortable and natural in any case – just look at the relaxed chap in the first picture in this post – so any notion of raising it to an allegedly ‘optimal’ height for power transfer doesn’t really fit. Bikes like these are for comfortable cruising, not hard acceleration, or performance.

The only other downside to a coaster that I’m aware of is that – in the event of an emergency – your pedals may not be instantaneously in the right position to apply the best available braking power (unlike brake levers on your handlebars). They may be at the top, or the bottom, of the pedal stroke, where not much backwards force can be applied.

Whether this is a major factor or not, I don’t know – I have always been able to stop fairly sharply on the few occasions I’ve had to. Perhaps this is because (by risk compensation) I ride more slowly, and more carefully, more aware of what idiots might do, simply because I have to react in a slightly different way. Typically if I pick up speed, or I approach a situation where I may have stop, my pedals ‘rest’ in the best position for stopping, parallel to the ground. I rarely find myself pedalling hard into a situation where there is uncertainty. Maybe I’m just older and wiser!

But overall I find that the braking system just fits with this type of bike – it’s easy, painless, instinctive, and it works effectively. If I had to get another omafiets I would choose a coaster brake without hesitation.


Categories: Views

Held up

8 May, 2015 - 10:18

You don’t have look too hard on social media to find the ravings of drivers muttering about being delayed, impeded or obstructed by someone cycling ahead of them. Usually it’s a rant about someone being ‘in the middle of the road’, or people riding two abreast, or not using a ‘perfectly good cycle path’ – often accompanied by a photograph uploaded to the internet by the driver.

The general background impression of all this noise is that delay and inconvenience on the road network is exclusively bike on motor vehicle; that it’s the slower, two-wheeled vehicles that cause the hold ups. That’s intuitively understandable – cars are fast, bikes are slow, slow things hold fast things up.

But there is, of course, a different perspective – one from behind the handlebars. This week – in a poor attempt at a parody of social media moaning – I tweeted a picture of terrible congestion on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Why is it motorists think they can drive three abreast, holding up hardworking cyclists? STAY TO THE LEFT! pic.twitter.com/kBixG9pJzr

— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) May 6, 2015

I was being held up; this very wide road was completely clogged by a large number of drivers, travelling three abreast. If they weren’t there, or if they were to stay over to the left, I would have been able to make stately progress.

A little further on, and I was still unable to cycle at the speed I wanted to. In fact I was stationary.

Bloody motorists.

And again, later that same day, in the evening, streets in Westminster were completely clogged. I gave up, and walked on the pavement.

This is all so commonplace it’s background – I suspect even many people cycling will not reflect on the fact they are being held up and impeded by motor traffic. It’s so normal it’s not worth commenting on. Queues of traffic that are often difficult to filter past are everywhere in urban areas.

And it’s not just the traffic that is moving – or attempting to move. The car on the right of the picture above is parked. Without that parking occupying valuable road space, again, I would have been able to have made progress. Parking is often tremendously obstructive, yet this passes without comment. It’s a subtle way in which other modes of transport are impeded, yet unnoticed. And of course having parking on both sides of narrower streets means that roads have to be made one-way, causing needless delay (in the form of diversions) for people on bikes who would otherwise be able to take direct routes.

If all that parking wasn’t there, this road wouldn’t be one way, and I wouldn’t have to cycle around three streets, instead of just taking the direct route down this one. I’m directly, or indirectly, impeded up by motoring.

I’m also held up by traffic lights, pretty much everywhere I go by bike, in urban areas.

Traffic lights are so ubiquitous it is very easy to forget that they essentially only exist to facilitate the passage of motor traffic – and to allow people to cross roads dominated by motor traffic. Where motor traffic levels are low, or non-existent, there is of course no need for traffic signals, even where human beings are moving about in tremendous numbers.

And of course the width of motor vehicles means I am unnecessarily held up, where otherwise I would be able to pass by oncoming traffic without difficulty.

People coming the other way on bikes on narrow streets, however, do not hold me up.

There are probably countless other ways in which motoring is obstructive and causes delays – feel free to point them out in the comments. The problem is that this delay is a result of street design and layouts that seem to be ‘natural’. Nobody questions parking on both sides of the street, and how that might affect flow or capacity. Nobody questions the existence of traffic lights, or one-way systems – both subtle ways in which motoring is privileged at the expense of delay and inconvenience to non-motorised users. Nobody questions the effects of motor traffic congestion itself on the free movement of non-motorised users.

This isn’t to say that people cycling won’t ever hold up people driving; just to say that there is a very large flip side to that coin. The solution to these difficulties, for both people cycling, and for people driving, is to place these two modes onto different systems – to separate the two modes of transport as much as possible, creating parallel routes for cycling on main roads, and removing through motor traffic from access roads, in line with the principles of sustainable safety.

If you’re a motorist complaining about being held up – firstly, the person who is cycling in front of you will almost certainly be held up by motoring just as much, if not more, than you, and secondly… there’s an answer out there.


Categories: Views

What do we actually mean by ‘representing all transport users’?

5 May, 2015 - 11:24

This post is about London TravelWatch, but it could really be about transport in Britain more generally, and about how ‘transport users’ are conceptualised – in particular, those who use bicycles, or might want to use them.

London TravelWatch describe themselves as follows

London TravelWatch is the official watchdog organisation representing the interests of transport users in and around the capital. Officially known as London Transport Users Committee, we were established in July 2000.

They also state

Funded by the London Assembly, we speak for all London transport users on all modes of transport.

But what does this actually amount to? Who are the ‘transport users’, using all modes, that they claim to represent?

As we’ll see, the interests of ‘transport users’ in London are not particularly well represented by London Travelwatch if the mode of transport they happen to be using is a bike. They’re even less well represented if these transport users might want to use a bike, but are discouraged from doing so because of hostile conditions for cycling.

Children getting to school are ‘transport users’. If they are using the bus, their interests are well represented by London Travelwatch, If, however, these same children are attempting to get to school by bike, their interests are essentially ignored.

To take one example, London Travelwatch responded to Camden’s consultation on their West End Project, last year. This is a major scheme, costing tens of millions of pounds, and involves major changes to the roads in the Tottenham Court Road area. There was a significant opportunity to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Yet from the summary of responses collected by Camden Council, London Travelwatch essentially had nothing to say about the comfort, convenience and attractiveness of cycling in the scheme. Indeed, their only mention of cycling appears to be

Concerns about the use of light segregation and the potential for this to be a hazard to pedestrians crossing the street.

Namely, concern that the only (inadequate) separation from motor traffic initially proposed by Camden could be a hazard to pedestrians. London Travelwatch had nothing to say about the safety or comfort of cycling on either of the main roads in the scheme, particularly cycling mixed with motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road, which will be a busy two-way road open to all motor traffic after 7pm, and all day on Sunday.

Similarly, in their response to Transport for London’s proposals for Superhighway 5, between Oval and Victoria, which involves (for the most part) a bi-directional cycle track physically separated from motor traffic, London Travelwatch opposed these proposals, arguing instead for cycling to be accommodated within ‘4.5 metre wide bus lanes to facilitate buses overtaking cyclists’.

This is in accordance with London Travelwatch’s latest policy update on cycling, from September last year, which states that 

The best practicable solution for cycles on many of London‟s roads would be to accommodate them in wide bus lanes (4.5m) or wide (4.5m) inside lanes in order that cycle can pass wide vehicles and wide vehicles can pass cycle

So a group which professes to represent the interests of ‘transport users’ suggests that the best way to accommodate cycling is… mixed in with motor traffic on main roads, in lanes that will often be busy with taxis and large, intimidating vehicles.

Some ‘interests’ may be being represented here, but it’s doubtful that it includes those of people who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses. 

This failure of representation flows, I think, from a failure to reflect on whether existing patterns of transport use in Britain are natural. By ‘natural’ I mean that those patterns arise out of a genuinely free choice between modes of transport. It is more than likely that bus use (and indeed driving and walking) is much more popular than cycling in London (and other towns and cities across Britain) because cycling is quite a scary and intimidating mode of transport for most ordinary people. Many ‘transport users’ who might opt for the bicycle if it were a safe and attractive choice are consequently not doing so, even if that mode of transport would make a great deal of sense for them, not least in terms of time and money saved. Their interests are not being represented because of a lazy assumption that the interests of ‘cyclists’ correspond to the behaviour and habits of the minority of existing users.

The interests of the young girl in the picture above – a genuine ‘transport user’ like anyone else – are being represented by the road layout she is riding a bike on. She can navigate otherwise hostile road environments, like the large junction shown in the picture, because that environment has been designed with her interests in mind when she is riding a bike, just as the footways here are designed for young girls to walk on, or buses that pass through this junction are designed for young girls to use.

By contrast it is extremely unlikely that her interests would be represented by shared bus lanes, even if they are slightly wider than normal.

We know this because young children are not seen riding bikes in these kinds of environments. They, and their parents, haven’t made a free choice between cycling in this kind of environment and walking, driving, or getting the bus through it. Instead, riding a bike in this kind of environment with young children is genuinely unthinkable to most people, just as it would be to walk with young children along a busy road that doesn’t have a pavement.

Indeed, more broadly, framing the debate in terms of specific ‘transport users’ is an unhelpful way of defending interests, because people are, essentially, multi-modal. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to present the interests of ‘bus users’ in opposition to ‘cyclists’ (as London Travelwatch appear to do) because with a sensibly designed transport network everybody would be a potential bus user or bike user, every single day. Indeed, this is typical in the Netherlands, where cycling and getting the bus are extremely well integrated.

Hundreds of bikes at a bus station in Assen

Dutch people use bikes to cycle to bus stops, and then catch the bus for the longer stages of their journeys that would be less convenient to cycle.

Nobody is born a ‘bus user’ or a ‘pedestrian’ or a ‘cyclist’ – they are all human beings who happen to be choosing a particular mode of transport at a particular time. On that basis a proper defence of ‘transport users’ interests’ should examine whether people have a genuine choice the modes of transport that would make most sense for them, for the trips they make on a daily basis. To take just one example, if it turns out that cycling (for instance) would make a great deal of sense for children to make their way to school, and yet few children do actually cycle for these trips, then quite plainly the interests of these transport users are not being represented, even if they are not ‘cyclists’ at the present time.

To ignore this and other ways in which choice of transport mode is constrained when examining the kinds of improvements that could be made to our transport environment would be a fundamental failure.

 


Categories: Views

Two junctions on Tower Bridge Road

28 April, 2015 - 10:00

This hit and run incident at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Abbey Street has been featuring in the new recently.

Andrea McVeigh posted on the SE1 forum last week to describe what happened when she and her husband crossed Tower Bridge Road near the Abbey Street junction at about 6pm on Tuesday 14 April.

As they stepped onto the pavement on the western side of the road, a cyclist who was on the pavement collided with Ms McVeigh causing her to fall.

This is as ongoing case; the person cycling still doesn’t appear to have presented themselves to the police so it can be resolved.

But from the version of events we have, it’s plainly not a great idea to have people cycling whizzing about on pavements, especially when it’s not obvious to pedestrians that they might encounter someone cycling on a footway. (In this case – because cycling on this particular stretch of footway is not legal.)

How this incident unfolded; pedestrian crossing the road (red arrow) meets someone cycling on the footway (green arrow)

However, just 200 metres from this junction, a little further south down Tower Bridge Road, Transport for London have designed a junction on a new Quietway between Greenwich and Waterloo that involves… people cycling on the footway.

People crossing the eastern side of junction on foot, in a north-south direction, will encounter people cycling along the footway, in an east-west direction – a perpendicular conflict on a footway, very similar to the kind of conflict in this hit-and-run incident.

Yet in this junction with Rothsay Street/Webb Street, just down the road from where the collision involving Andrea McVeigh and the unknown man took place, cycling here will be entirely legal, planned for by this new design.

Quietways like this will (or should) be attracting lots of potential users on bikes. But there’s going to be very little to indicate to anyone crossing the road on foot that the footway on the other side is, effectively, a busy cycle route. It will look like a large area of pavement.

Hit and run collisions involving people cycling on pavements are shocking, but isn’t it just as shocking that we’re designing precisely that kind of conflict into new junctions just yards away?


Categories: Views

West Sussex and LSTF money – Horsham cycle parking

24 April, 2015 - 09:27

This post is part of an ongoing series examining how West Sussex County Council are managing to spend £2.4m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash (won from the DfT back in 2012) on schemes of negligible ‘sustainable’ benefit, with a particular focus on cycling.

The aim is to show how the money that councils receive for cycling from central government is being dribbled away, thanks to a combination of tight timescales, limited or insecure funding streams, no continuity of local expertise, poor or non-existent guidance, and local prejudice.

Two previous posts have described how

In other words – two schemes that do next to nothing to make cycling a more viable and attractive mode of transport, at a total cost of £310,000.

The focus in this post is on a further £30,000 of that LSTF cash, which has been spent, badly, on cycle parking in Horsham town centre.

This sum is as large as it is because of an underspend in a proposed LSTF funded cycle route across the town. The original budget for this route was £320,000; this was scaled down to £180,000 once it became apparent that very few interventions were actually planned. That underspend has consequently been redistributed to projects like the parking described here.

£30,000 would buy you an awful lot of sheffield stands – the kind of parking that is appropriate in a town centre location. However, most of this £30,000 appears to have been spent on three two-tier cycle parking stands, of this type –

This kind of cycle parking is unsuitable for a town centre location, where people will generally be locking their bikes up for short periods of time – to visit shops, restaurants, friends, and so on.

Two-tier parking only really makes sense at locations where people will be leaving their bikes for longer periods of time, and where demand is particularly high. At transport interchanges like railway stations, two-tier parking like this is an obvious choice, because people won’t mind so much the effort of lifting their bikes into these racks if they are leaving the bike for an entire day.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, however, if you are just popping into a supermarket. Yet this is the kind of parking that has been chosen.

Worse still, the locations for these stands have been selected by Horsham District councillors, quite deliberately, with the intention of discouraging cycling in the town centre.

Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North, HDC’s cabinet member for Horsham town, said: “I am delighted that the provision of town centre cycle parking is being improved in this way, making the centre more accessible by a more sustainable form of transport.

“There are currently no covered cycle shelters in the centre of Horsham and cyclists are often seen penetrating areas which should only be used by pedestrians. These new shelters will help clear the pedestrian zones and motivate more people to cycle into town. It will also contribute towards less traffic congestion in the centre so it’s a win win all round.”

The idea, presumably, is that people will lock their bikes up at the edge of the town centre, then walk to the location they want to visit, then walk back to the cycle parking on the edge of town, and then cycle off again, instead of just cycling directly to the location they want to visit and locking their bike as close to that location as possible.

Cycling in Horsham town centre is unfortunately viewed as a problem, and sustainable transport funding has been used to place inconvenient cycling parking in inconvenient locations in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of it.

I say ‘futile’ because most of the town centre is already legally accessible by bike, and where people are cycling in genuinely pedestrianised areas, they are usually doing so either because a contraflow has not been provided on the sensible alternative, or because the parallel road is deeply hostile. Placing cycle parking at the extremities of the town centre will do nothing to change this behaviour, and it’s unsettling that tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash is effectively at the whim of councillors who can make stupid decisions like this.

Here’s where the parking has been placed. One of the racks has been located behind one of the town’s car parks, tucked away in a corner.

This couldn’t really be much more inconvenient for the shopping areas nearby.

Parking indicated by red dot; shopping areas outlined in blue.

These racks remain empty, while the pre-existing sheffield stand parking nearer the shops (on the sensible side of the car park) continues to be busy.

The second of these two-tier stands is an even more ridiculous location, plonked right next to a busy shared use path, meaning getting bikes in and out of the rack blocks it –

… and also sited well away from the two obvious nearby destinations, the library, and a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Again, this rack remains empty, while the parking at Sainsbury’s and the library is in use – because that parking is near where people want to visit.

The final two-tier stand is actually in a reasonably good location, closer to town centre shops, and next to an existing informal parking area.

But again, it’s being almost entirely ignored, with people opting for the existing (easier to use) railings –

… or sheffield stands nearby –

… or even lampposts closer to the shops.

None of this should be surprising. The Horsham District Cycle Forum consistently argued against these types of two-tier racks, and the principle of locating them in out-of-the-way areas. Yet these stands, in these locations, were implemented regardless.

They’re not even very good stands. In fact they’re dire. My (fairly standard) Dutch bike won’t even fit in them.

There’s also nothing to actually lock your bike to, which needless to say is a problem if you want to leave your bike for any length of time and expect to come back and still find it where you left it.

It’s difficult to roll your bike into their upper tier (thanks to those metal bars that mean my bike doesn’t fit) – the manufacturer’s own video shows that bikes have to be lifted some height off the ground, and deposited in the rack. Not easy for most people, especially those with utility bikes.

And without any hydraulic or spring assistance, you need to be pretty strong to lift your bike back up to a horizontal position. I can barely manage it, like this commenter on the local paper website

I’ve just come back from looking at the new rack installed in Medwin Walk. I’m an active, fit, burly, six-foot-two-er, and my bikes are light. I’d struggle to load one onto the top deck of the new rack. Unlike the racks at the front of Horsham Station this new one has no spring or strut assistance on the top deck and is missing a dedicated locking point on each rack. So how someone smaller, less strong, and with a heavier bike than me is supposed to cope with using the rack is beyond me.

The final nail in the coffin is that they’re actually quite dangerous.

Which means that they are now taped off, out of use, awaiting some kind of solution. (Entirely different cycle parking, perhaps?)

Sadly, this looks like yet another waste of tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash, to add to the money squandered on the projects already documented.

What is frustrating is that some of the LSTF cash has actually gone on good new sheffield stands, in sensible locations, which I have noticed are already well-used, despite only being in place for a matter of days. These ones were being used even before the cones had been taken away.

£30,000 could have bought a lot of this kind of parking, in the right kind of places. But instead it’s been spent almost entirely on impractical parking in inconvenient locations, of such a poor quality I can’t see a solution without the stands being entirely replaced. It’s depressing that something as simple as cycle parking can’t even be get right. The waste continues.


Categories: Views

Planning disaster in the making

21 April, 2015 - 09:47

A large development is set to go ahead to the north of Horsham, on the other side of the town’s northern bypass. It will cover (approximately) the area shown in red.

There’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong with new development. Indeed, it can solve existing problems with previous poor design, and can ‘build in’ sensible patterns of land use and transport. Kloosterveen – a new town in a similar location outside the city of Assen’s ring road – has achieved this, with cycling and walking made the obvious mode of transport for short trips in Kloosterveen, and in and out of Assen. Some pictures of connections with Kloosterveen will feature later in this post.

The signs are not at all hopeful, however, that this new development is going to be beneficial in those terms. Existing patterns of travel, dominated by private motor traffic, will continue to be accommodated, while walking and cycling are almost entirely being ignored, with tokenistic attempts at provision.

Thanks to a previous planning disaster when the northern bypass was built in the late 1980s, there are currently no grade-separated crossings for people walking and cycling (and indeed for motor traffic) along the entire stretch of this 70mph dual carriageway – the A264 – that skirts the current northern edge of the town. Country lanes were severed, with no safe crossings.

The mind boggles at how this was pushed through so recently, with absolutely no thought for how people would cross this road on foot, or on bike.

Crossing from one side of the bypass to the other on the route of these two lanes shown above involves dashing across four lanes of 70mph+ traffic.

The other two crossing points are fast roundabouts – no help for pedestrians here either, and if you are cycling, you have to cycle on the roundabouts themselves. Again, the limit across both of these roundabouts is 70mph.

In effect, the land to the north of the bypass is a complete no-go area if you are on foot or bicycle, unless you want to make lengthy detours (and the same goes for accessing the town from this area). It is next to impossible to cross safely or comfortably.

This new development to the north of the town – in precisely the area that is currently severed from the town – should represent a golden opportunity to deal with these severance issues. However the plans released so far are desperately poor.

The developers boast of a ‘Sustainable Masterplan’ – but, tellingly, there is no mention of short-trip transport on the developers own page here. ‘Sustainability’ is framed entirely in terms of ‘natural space’, ‘green buffer zones’, ‘woodland’, ‘ponds’ and ‘allotments’, and not in terms of how people are actually travelling about – a typically British oversight.

Depressingly, the details of the plans reveal that the developers are almost entirely concerned with accommodating existing and projected motor traffic associated with the new development, while very little consideration has been given to how easy, safe and convenient it should be to cross the bypass that separates the town from the development, or indeed to travel around in the development on foot or by bike.

Let’s look at the proposed crossing points for people walking and cycling, one by one, starting with the one to the west.

This is one of the country lanes severed back in the 1980s, that is now going to be expanded into a very large (signalised) roundabout. (You can see the former country lane on the left of the plan below.)

The road to the south of the roundabout, connecting with an existing residential area in Horsham, will be a cycle- and bus-only road. It’s not clear, however, how many people will be willing to cycle on the road to get this connection – it will involve cycling in the middle of three lanes of motor traffic, accelerating to join the bypass, on the entry to the roundabout from the north, as shown in blue, below.

Given the scale and design speed of this roundabout, and the projected amounts of motor traffic using it, it seems far more likely that people will use the combined toucan crossings that are proposed, along with pedestrians. That, however, will involve FOUR separate toucan crossings.

The picture is much the same at the next crossing point. Here an existing at-grade roundabout is going to be enlarged considerably. Again, you can see the current roundabout, underneath the proposed new design.

This roundabout is going to be even busier, as it represents the main direct crossing point for motor traffic going into and out of the town (more on the potential problems this will represent later). Again, no grade-separation for walking and cycling is proposed; only a series of toucan crossings. In this case, FIVE of them.

It should be noted here that the developers and their associated transport planners are insistent that people would ‘prefer’ this kind of arrangement to a simple underpass, or bridge. The Tr​ansport, Infrastructure and Flood Risk Report carried out for the developers by Peter Brett claims

‘At grade’ crossings are generally more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists due to reduced distances and the avoidance of ramps or stairs, so are the preferred solution.

But this assertion that at grade crossings are ‘generally more attractive’ is not supported by any evidence. What it seems to trade on instead is the legacy of poor underpasses and bridges that have been constructed for pedestrians and cyclists in Britain. Underpasses that are dark and gloomy, with corners, multiple flights of steps, and poor drainage. Underpasses that are (rightly) avoided by most people because of their unattractiveness, which in turn makes them even more socially unsafe. Underpasses that are used in unsuitable locations, within dense urban areas, to allow inappropriate volumes of motor traffic to flow uninhibited.

Believe it or not, this is the crossing to Dorking railway station

But this area isn’t a town centre location – it’s a crossing of an existing major road, a bypass that also serves a through-route function, connecting major settlements like Guildford, Crawley and Worthing. Grade separation is exactly the kind of treatment that should be employed on this kind of road, and it can and should be done well. The first picture below shows the direct cycle route between Kloosterveen and the city of Assen, passing under the city’s ring road.

Would people honestly ‘prefer’ five toucan crossings to this kind of arrangement?

Here are some other examples of underpasses, in Assen and Utrecht. Convenient, easy to use, and safe – both in terms of actual and perceived danger.

Underpasses like the ones pictured above do not involve any delay, or any interaction with motor traffic whatsoever. They would make walking and cycling into and out of the new development an absolute breeze, compared to a series of 4 or 5 separate crossings in the middle of a large,  busy and noisy roundabout.

By contrast, the current plans would make cycling and walking less attractive than driving, which is truly disastrous for an allegedly ‘sustainable’ development. Underpasses would redress that balance, making walking and cycling a more obvious option.

Now the developers are proposing a grade-separated crossing for walking and cycling between this large new roundabout and the eastern end of the development. However, they have chosen a bridge, which is a poor choice, because this section of the bypass is built on an embankment, high enough to take it over the railway line connecting Horsham to London (incidentally, this picture also shows another desperately unsafe at-grade crossing of the 70mph dual carriageway bypass).

That means that any bridge will have to gain not only sufficient height to clear the road itself, but also the height of this embankment. It turns out that this will amount to eleven metres of height gain.

… And that means a 240m long plod up a steep 5% slope.

By contrast, an underpass could slip easily under the bypass here on the flat, given that the bypass is already 3-5m higher than the surrounding land. It could look like this.

There are surely very few people who would choose to climb and descend for 250m on each side of an exposed bridge, instead of walking or cycling through a straightforward underpass like this. Or indeed, very few people who would prefer a series of 4-5 separate crossings on busy roundabouts to the other good underpasses pictured in this post.

Getting this right is vitally important, not just for people walking and cycling, but also for those people who want to drive. The more trips that can be made to and from this new development, with the town itself, on foot and by bike, the less congestion there will be on the existing (and new) road network.

The road that has been chosen to form the sole direct connection between the new development and the town centre is already desperately congested at peak times, even before several thousand extra houses are built, with planning that accommodates car trips by those new residents and funnel them onto existing, congested roads. The red arrow, below, marks the only crossing point for motor traffic along this stretch of road – the largest roundabout, already described.

Unfortunately the road into town south of this crossing is really not suitable for accommodating more motor traffic.

This is not the makings of a distributor road.

I hope the picture above gives a bit of a flavour of Rusper Road – it’s pretty narrow, narrowed even more by residents parking. To top it all off, in the background of the above picture (looking north towards the new development) is Littlehaven railway station, which not only has a large amount of on-street commuter parking associated with it…

… but also has a level crossing, across this road, which closes for eight trains every hour, for one to two minutes. Remember – this road is already congested at peak times. This bottleneck is going to be made even worse.

So it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to funnel more motor traffic down this road, adding more danger, congestion and pollution to a route that already has too much motor traffic. Alternatives to travel by car are desperately needed.

The Transport Assessment for the development notes that

Horsham town centre is accessible within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of the centre of the site.

A short distance, in other words. The centre of the development is just two miles from Horsham town centre. But unfortunately very little is being done with these plans to make cycling a genuinely attractive mode of transport. I don’t want to sit and wait at five separate toucan crossings just to get across one road; nor will anyone else. That means people will plump for the car, clogging up local roads even more.

And that’s not all. The plans will erode the primary function of the bypass, to carry through traffic on a quick route, away from the town centre. If they go ahead, along with the plans for roundabouts on the bypass to the west of Horsham, there will be five separate sets of traffic lights for drivers to negotiate on the bypass.

With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.

So there is a strong case for grade separation at these junctions, not just for walking and cycling, but also for motor traffic – to ensure that through traffic is kept out of the town. This will cost more, but the cost in the long run will inevitably be higher if these junctions are not designed properly now.

The final connection under the bypass already exists – it’s a 2m wide footpath running alongside the aforementioned train line.

Unfortunately this path doesn’t actually connect up with anything on the northern side of the bypass, and the path to it from the town is in a disgraceful condition.

This is the only safe crossing of the northern bypass, and the condition of paths to and from this underpass (or, rather, the lack of paths) is a decades-old issue, unresolved by West Sussex County Council. Local campaigners are putting pressure on the council and the developers to sort this issue out.

This is an absolute no-brainer – it just requires surfacing of the existing boggy path, and a tarmac link running alongside the existing railway line. But the developers publicity material only states, weakly, that

There is currently an underpass which we could improve to provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists and we are also assessing the feasibility of providing a foot / cycle bridge across the A264. [my emphasis]

‘Could’ improve. By contrast, the large new junctions for motor traffic – without ambiguity – ‘will be provided’.

This difference in language is symptomatic of the lack of consideration of walking and cycling in this new development, and the failure of West Sussex County Council to force the developers into providing safe, attractive and obvious connections for these genuinely sustainable modes, along the length of the northern bypass.

A planning disaster in the making.


Categories: Views

On diversion

16 April, 2015 - 23:15

Out on my bike earlier in the week I came across a road closure on a country lane just south of Ashington in West Sussex – Hole Street.

As you can see, a diversion has been put in place. Not a problem, you might think, except that this diversion sends you directly onto the A24, which is a national speed limit dual carriageway, with no cycling infrastructure.

Not an enticing prospect, even at this relatively quiet time of day, even for someone relatively hardened like me. I just do not want to cycle on a road with vehicles like this bearing down on me at 60mph. (For the record, the road at this point carries about 35,000 vehicles per day, and – amazingly – about twenty very brave people cycling).

Essentially the authority (or individual) responsible for putting the ‘diversion’ signs out was only thinking about drivers. It’s simply not acceptable to divert people cycling onto a road of this character, even if – thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s – the A24 is legal to cycle on, with no parallel provision.

I took my chances and ignored the ‘road closed’ warning, reasoning that even if resurfacing was taking place I could, at a push, walk past it. (As it happens, I didn’t encounter the closure before I turned off this lane, about a mile further on down the road.)

But as I pedalled along the deliciously quiet lane (with no through motor traffic) I dwelt on whether those ‘diversion’ signs should actually be permanent. After all, why should motor traffic be using this country lane as a through route, when there is a fairly expensive dual carriageway trunk road running in parallel? Indeed, would there even be that much difference in time if you asked drivers to take the longer (but faster) route?

When I got home, I took a look at Google maps. Here’s the section of country lane that was closed, with point A being where I encountered the ‘closure’ sign, and point B where that lane meets another ‘A’ road – the A283.

The ‘closed’ length of country lane here is 1.5 miles. What would be the alternative? Well, this is the ‘diversion’ that drivers are being asked to take while this lane is closed – the A24 (which I chickened out of cycling on) and the A283 – two sides of a triangle.

The distance has gone up to 3.3 miles – over double the distance.

But what about in terms of time? The country lane, Hole Street, has a mixture of 40mph and 60mph limits, but really, it should be 40mph for its entire length, at most. At 40mph, travelling from A to B would take around 3 minutes.

Using the ‘main road’ route involves 1.5 miles on the 70mph A24, and then 1.8 miles on the 50mph A283, for a total time of around 4 minutes.

So – despite the extra distance – really not that much more time. And these are the roads that are designed for the through traffic – built and engineered to take heavy traffic. The country lane would be quieter and safer, not just for people using it on foot, horse, or bike, but also for the residents. Really – the kind of diversion that is currently in place should be permanent. Hole Street should be access-only, at all times.

This might sound radical, but it’s a  common intervention in the Netherlands. While cycle paths alongside roads (main roads) are a visible and obvious intervention, the approach is quite different on country lanes, which are stopped-up, or simply signed as ‘residents only’, with drivers who are travelling through expected to take the long way round.

One of these examples featured as a Cycling Embassy ‘Good Facility of the Week’ – a country lane closed to motor traffic, except for residents, on the outskirts of the city of Utrecht.

The sign effectively says – no motor traffic, except for residents

It’s worth placing this example in context.

People cycling are obviously exempted from the closure – that means they can cycle from point A (where the photograph was taken) to point B, in a fairly straight line.

This route isn’t available as a through route for drivers, however. They have to go the long way round.

This isn’t really much of a hardship, however – the motoring route is a fast road (equivalent to a British A-road), with the added benefit for drivers of not having any slow vehicles on the road. Agricultural and bicycle traffic shares a separate path along this road (again, this featured in a Good Facility of the Week).

Cycling three abreast on the service road, parallel to the fast main road.

The system employed by the Dutch in this context isn’t about ‘punishing’ driving, but more about putting cycling and driving on separate systems, for safety reasons. On the main road, cycling has its own parallel provision, but on the narrow country lanes, motor traffic is cut out, and forced to use the longer route. Very often, that ‘longer route’ will in any case be more attractive than the direct route that has been closed, because it is wider and faster, and designed specifically take through traffic.

For instance, if you want to drive between the city of Delft and the new town of Zoetermeer, you are forced (or ‘forced’) to take the A12 motorway. An ‘as the crow files route’ is simply not available to you.

Naturally enough, the country lanes between the two urban areas, joined up with cycle-specific paths, form a direct cycling route.

But you wouldn’t really want to use these country lanes in your car, even if you were allowed to, because you have a very fast motorway to connect you – it doesn’t really matter that the route is less direct.

Diversions of this kind are an excellent – good for safety, good for drivers (who don’t have to worry about pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders on their faster routes), good for residents of the country lanes, and good for the people using those lanes to get about, or simply for recreation.

Perhaps we ought to look more closely at whether we can convert our temporary diversions of through motor traffic away from country lanes into permanent diversions – and indeed more broadly about what our country lanes should be for.


Categories: Views

Dutch attitudes

14 April, 2015 - 12:26

There was a revealing detail in Bicycle Dutch’s post last week on a (failed) attempt to create a cycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s.

One of the main cycle routes to the Utrecht University, Burgemeester Reigerstraat, was completely transformed and re-opened as a bicycle street in November 1996. The street got a median barrier to prevent motor vehicles from overtaking people cycling.

Here’s a picture of that arrangement, from Mark’s blog.

Note here Mark’s description of driver behaviour on this street –

Emergency services also complained and they warned about dangerous situations because they were held up. Impatient car drivers were seen overtaking cyclists with two wheels on the barrier. [my emphasis]. This scared people cycling onto the narrow side-walk and that in turn frightened pedestrians. A good two years later (in January 1999) a new Utrecht council terminated the experiment. The centre barriers were removed and so were the signs that forbade to overtake people cycling.

In fact you can clearly see a driver doing this in the photograph above – squeezing past, driving up on the central median.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Dutch drivers really are just as bad as British ones when confronted with design that puts them into conflict with people cycling. The reason why we have a skewed impression of the quality of Dutch driving is that – by and large – Dutch road design separates cycling from driving, and insulates people cycling from the consequences of driver misbehaviour. In trips across towns and cities you will encounter a tiny fraction of the number of drivers you would on an equivalent trip in Britain. On main roads you will be physically separated from drivers, and on side streets you will encounter few drivers because these streets are not sensible routes for through traffic.

And in these few places where you do come into contact with drivers, design ensures that priorities are clear and unambiguous, and that drivers behave in a slow and careful manner – for instance, by placing side road crossings on steep raised tables that drivers have to drive over.

However, just as on that failed design in Utrecht in the 1990s, when Dutch drivers are confronted by design that doesn’t make sense, they will behave badly.

On busy through roads that have little or no cycle infrastructure, they will squeeze past you, into oncoming traffic, in precisely the same way that some British drivers will do, confronted by the same situation.

On country lanes (that are access-only roads) they will drive very close to you at high speed, just like some British drivers will.

On busier rural roads – without cycle tracks – they will squeeze through at speed, into oncoming traffic –

They will even squeeze through at the same time oncoming traffic is overtaking someone cycling the other way.

On the narrow streets of central Amsterdam, drivers will follow very close behind you,  and squeeze past with inches to spare.

Many of these streets allow contraflow cycling (like the example above). It is often quite an unnerving experience attempting to hold your ground as a driver rushes past you in the opposite direction.

This also happens on a narrow street in the centre of Utrecht, which is a through-route for taxis, buses and delivery drivers.

I’ve experienced close overtakes like this one almost every time I’ve used this street.

And of course Dutch drivers will happily park on footways, on cycle lanes, and on cycle tracks when a suitable parking space isn’t available, or nearby. Even obstructing junctions to do so.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s nothing particular special about Dutch drivers. They will behave in anti-social ways like British drivers, and drive just as badly as them, when confronted with the same types of design.

All the familiar problems that people cycling in Britain encounter – close passes, squeezing through at pinch points, left hooks, and so on – would undoubtedly occur in the Netherlands too, on a large scale, if their roads were not designed to eliminate those kinds of problems from occurring in the first place.

Attempting to change the ‘driving culture’ of Britain without changing the way roads are designed would be a futile experiment – we can see this in the way Dutch drivers behave on roads that put them into conflict with cycling, like the failed bicycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s, and countless examples of poor driver behaviour on ‘British-style’ Dutch roads.

 

 

 

 

 


Categories: Views

Systemic failure

9 April, 2015 - 23:21

Back in November 2010, a cement mixer crashed through the parapet of a bridge over the (branch) railway line between Guildford and Waterloo, close to Oxshott station in Surrey. The mixer fell onto a passing train. Miraculously, no-one was killed, although several people were injured, including the driver of the mixer, and a person sitting on the train directly under the point of impact, who was seriously injured.

The driver of the cement mixer, Petru Achim, played a large role in this incident. He crashed his lorry into the end of the parapet of the bridge, losing control, and then (in an attempt to avoid oncoming traffic) swerved it through the parapet itself and onto the railway, with serious consequences.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that Achim escaped relatively lightly in court. Charged with driving without due care and attention, he was fined £100, and given five points on his licence.

More significantly, because this crash happened on the railway, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) produced a full report on the incident. The background; how the collision occurred; how it unfolded; how it could be prevented. It’s 36 pages long, and you can read it here.

I stumbled across this incident a few days ago after re-reading Joe Dunckley’s brilliant post, 7 years, 4 months and 18 days, about the safety record of British railways, how that has been achieved, and the extraordinary difference with the safety record of Britain’s roads. As Joe writes,

The last time anybody died on a train that crashed in Britain was on the evening of 23 February 2007 when a Virgin Trains express to Glasgow derailed on mistakenly unmaintained track at Grayrigg in Cumbria

Perhaps the 2010 Oxshott incident was the closest someone has come to dying on a train since 2007.

It’s well worth reading the RAIB report, which produced five recommendations – two for Surrey County Council, two for the Department for Transport, and one for Network Rail – all with the intention of preventing such an incident ever occurring again.

The recommendations for Surrey County Council were that they should ensure the parapet ends of bridges in the county are visible and well-marked, and that they should review ways of protecting the ends of the parapet of this particular bridge in conjunction with Network Rail, and implement the best method for doing so.

The recommendations for the DfT were to issue guidance to highway authorities on how best to highlight the unprotected ends of bridge parapets, and also

to prepare guidance for highway authorities on identifying local safety hazards at bridges over railways which could be mitigated by measures such as signage, hazard marking, white lining or safety barriers, and include consideration of previous accident history and the causes of those accidents.

Finally, the recommendation for Network Rail was that it should

include, within its annual examination of rail overbridges, the requirement for the structures examiner to identify and record any highway features which may increase the risk to the railway such as absence, obscuration or poor condition of parapet end markers.

… and to improve its ways of reporting these issues to highway authorities.

The tone is neutral, without setting out blame. Essentially the approach is to recognise that human beings are fallible, and will fuck up, and sets out the ways to prevent that fucking up from causing injury or death.

I’m not at all familiar with how the Dutch investigate deaths on their roads, or whether they go into this amount of detail after collisions in an attempt to ensure that type of collision never occurs again, but there is a strong parallel here with the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety.

In typically Dutch language

Since humans make errors and since there is an even higher risk of fatal error being made if traffic rules set for road safety reasons are intentionally violated, it is of great importance that safety nets absorb these errors. Behold the Sustainable Safety approach in a nutshell! A type of approach that, incidentally, has been commonplace in other transport modes for a much longer time under the name of ‘inherently safe’. [my emphasis]

As this passage points out, Sustainable Safety is relatively new – it only started being applied in the Netherlands in 1997, much, much later than the air and rail industry began developing techniques to ensure that failures (either mechanical or human) did not snowball into death or injury – the techniques employed in the RAIB report described here.

It’s so new, in fact, that it obviously has not been applied everywhere in the Netherlands. Their crap, unforgiving road designs are still being removed and updated; their country lanes that carry too much motor traffic are still awaiting a systematic downgrading (or upgrading); bypasses to take through traffic away for the places that people live are still being built;  the process is ongoing.

A crap junction in central Amsterdam

There are five strands to Sustainable Safety, but perhaps the two most important in this context are homogeneity and forgiving environments.

Homogeneity in essence boils down to not putting slow and fast things in the same space; and not putting light and heavy things in the same space. If you want motor traffic to go faster than bicycle traffic, then you should not put bicycle traffic in the same space. You should provide for it separately.

A textbook example – the main road into Utrecht from the east. Here it is acceptable for bicycle traffic to mix with small volumes of motor traffic on the 30kph access road (which is not a through-route for motor traffic). But obviously not acceptable to mix on the main road itself.

 

Likewise if your road or street is going to carry heavy traffic as well as bicycle traffic, then something has to give – either that bicycle traffic should be separated, or heavy traffic simply shouldn’t be allowed on that road or street.

This hasn’t been achieved everywhere in the Netherlands yet, but it is being aimed at, everywhere. And this principle, even in isolation, ensures that Dutch roads and streets are considerably safer than British roads and streets, where we think nothing of mixing bicycle traffic with heavy motor traffic, or fast motor traffic (and usually both).

It is – appallingly – pervasive and normal.

A typical British urban cycling environment in Epsom, Surrey.

 

The principle of forgiving environments corresponds to the approach to rail safety. It recognises that human beings are fallible, incompetent, or inattentive, and attempts to ensure that the environment people are travelling can cushion those mistakes.

A typical British example of unforgivingness is the failure of a lorry driver to look in his mirror, at a particular moment, as he sets off from some traffic signals, just at the same time as someone cycling travels down a cycle lane on their inside.

 

A failure to spot someone travelling down the inside of a vehicle at a particular moment, in a mirror, coupled with a failure to appreciate the danger of using a cycle lane, should not result in death or serious injury. This is an unforgiving environment.

 

By contrast a forgiving environment separates movements, and/or ensures good intervisibility, and time to appreciate what the other party might be doing. It also allows rules to be broken (willingly, or unwittingly) without serious consequences. Because that’s what humans do – we break rules.

 

We don’t appear to have anything like Sustainable Safety in Britain. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that collisions happen, again and again, in the same way, to the same types of people, involving the same kinds of vehicles, even at the same junctions, over and over again, and nothing appears to be learnt.

Over and over again.

 

We blame individuals for their failures – their failure to look in a mirror; their failure to appreciate that some types of cycle provision should be treated with extreme caution; their failure to not react quickly enough – without apparently ever stopping to realise that it’s the broken system that should be fixed, not the fallible human beings who are using it.

Maybe it’s because life is cheap in Britain – but that’s too simplistic. Life is selectively cheap in Britain. As the investigation that features at the start of this post shows, we take life very seriously when it is at risk on the railways, or in the air, and develop rational policies to structurally eliminate deaths and injuries from occurring in the future.

Yet on the roads, that concern for life apparently evaporates. Death and injury almost seems to be taken as an inevitable characteristic of our roads themselves; that they are innately dangerous.

The most telling manifestation of this assumption is the continual grumbling about the lack of personal protective equipment on the part of (a particular) vulnerable road user.

A fairly typical example – with equally typical responses

 

This kind of grumbling goes hand-in-hand with a blinkered view of Britain’s road environment as almost naturally hazardous – that our roads present spontaneous danger, to which the proper response is to don protective equipment before venturing into it, without even questioning the effectiveness of that equipment, or more pertinently whether our public space should even present such danger in the first place.

Other transport systems are designed in such a way that protective equipment is not needed, and make allowances for stupidity, incompetence, or inattention. Yet the British road network remains an inhospitable jungle, where mistakes mean death or serious injury for vulnerable users (and indeed even for those protected within motor vehicles).

The Dutch have appreciated this difference, and moved to put road design and road safety on the same footing as other modes of transport. Why haven’t we?

 


Categories: Views

West Sussex and LSTF money – Albion Way

7 April, 2015 - 11:15

This is the second post in a series examining the ways in which West Sussex County Council are spending the £2.46m of cash they received from the Department for Transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), for schemes to be implemented between 2012 and 2015.

The first post looked at the Northgate gyratory in Chichester, where £210,000 (£140k from the DfT, £70k from West Sussex’s road safety budget) will be spent repainting an existing dangerous and substandard cycle lane around the gyratory, and adding flashing warning signs.

That scheme – like most of the other schemes being funded in Chichester and Horsham by the DfT’s £2.46m – is being implemented right at the last minute, before the April 2015 deadline. This delay is symptomatic of West Sussex’s problems with knowing how to spend money properly, and developing schemes that will actually make any significant difference to how people travel in the county.

However, when it comes to spending that same LSTF cash on conventional motor traffc-centric schemes, West Sussex are quickly able to deploy it – and all of it.

In Horsham, well over a hundred thousand pounds of that DfT funding – remember, for allegedly ‘sustainable’ transport – was used rapidly and efficiently for new traffic lights at three junctions on the town’s inner ring road, as Horsham District Cycle Forum point out.

New efficient signals for motor traffic, Horsham, 2014

These new lights appeared in spring 2014, well before the 2015 deadline, and involve ‘signal optimisation’ – a fancy word for increasing the capacity of the junctions on the ring road,  for motor traffic. So in essence –

Sustainable transport funding has been used to reduce delay for motor traffic in Horsham town centre.

The money has been spent on new MOVA traffic signals, which unlike the pre-existing standard traffic signals, will respond to queue length. For instance, if there’s a very long queue of motor traffic on one arm of a junction, the system will respond, and allocate more signal time to that arm of the junction, to disperse the queue. The system serves to increase the ability of these junctions to handle motor traffic, by ensuring more efficient flow of motor traffic. Driving in the town centre just got a bit easier.

Astonishingly this is against the background of falling motor traffic levels on the road in question, Albion Way.

It’s not as if congestion has been getting worse – the money has simply been hoovered up for a project to reduce queues for drivers.

So how has this use of ‘sustainable’ funding been justified? Here’s the paragraph describing the scheme, in West Sussex’s DfT bid document

Access improvements around the town centre

Improving access to the town centre (HR4), that will reduce delays and improving safety at junctions with A281 Albion Way/Park Way. These will include Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation. This will help improve and create an efficient transport network to support access for businesses by reducing congestion, and encourage investment in Horsham.

In what amounts to an unintentionally ironic nod to the way this scheme has been delivered on the ground, this paragraph positions the the real purpose of the funding (smoothing the flow of motor traffic, a.k.a. ‘reducing congestion’) behind some ASLs.

Of course, describing the improvements as

including Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation

is a bit like describing a shopping trip as ‘including some Monster Munch, as well as a new car’, because the cost (and indeed usefulness) of the ASLs is absolutely negligible. They are just paint, as we shall see. The near entirety of the £127,000 West Sussex received from the DfT for this scheme has in reality gone on the MOVA system – new traffic signals, new induction loops, and assorted computer software.

The painted ASLs are simply window-dressing, a convenient fig leaf for a scheme centred on improving journey times for motorists. They will do little or nothing to make the three junctions they’ve been painted at any more more attractive, or safer.

They have been thoughtlessly applied, as the following examples will show.

Money well spent.

Here is a typical example; a box three lanes wide, with no safe way to access it. Indeed, no legal way to access it, with a solid white line stretching from kerb to kerb, which can’t be crossed under a red signal.

Within a matter of weeks, it had evidently been decided that the green of these ASL were too lurid, and they were all repainted a darker shade of green. This same ASL now gained a hatched entry point.

It’s under the car.

There was some vague talk of giving this new traffic signal system the ability to prioritise buses, by fitting them with sensors that would give allocate green signal time to buses stuck waiting. This hasn’t happened, and even if it did, without the presence of any bus lanes it’s not at all clear how buses will really benefit, given that – as in the photograph above – they will remain stuck in the flow of general traffic.

This ASL technically allows you to position yourself in front of motor traffic to make a right turn, from lane 3, but this is a deeply unappealing prospect under free-flow conditions, with motor traffic flowing in lanes one and two, and stopped in lane three.

Just manoeuvre across to lane three, and stop in front of that car, before the lorry arrives.

This same junction has other dreadful examples.

It is arguable that these designs actually increase danger, by encouraging people to cycle to the front of the queue up the side of large vehicles, which may then set off.

Any existing cycle lanes have simply been repainted, with no thought or consideration about they could have been widened, or improved.

We couldn’t paint this lane any wider – we need the space for hatching on the far side.

Likewise this crap – a short stub of contraflow that ends in an absurd fashion – has again been given a fresh coat of green paint.

This short bit of quiet one-way road is crying out for a properly-designed contraflow, to allow people to access the town centre. But West Sussex have failed to use the money they’ve received to design one; they’ve lazily repainted the existing crap, which people continue to ignore.

Technically you are supposed to turn through 90°, cross the road, then use the pavement on the other side. Which makes no sense at all to anyone cycling. 

The ASLs on the other junctions are just as bad. Another three lane-wide strip, with no safe access –

And these beauties –

 

Spot the ASL.

The final junction, again, has ASLs that have the potential to encourage people to put themselves in danger –

The design of this junction was also altered, making it worse for pedestrians. A direct, single-stage crossing on the northern arm (captured on Streetview, below)…

… has been replaced by a two-stage, staggered crossing.

To repeat, Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash has paid for this – less convenient pedestrian crossings, in order to increase capacity for motor traffic.

The pedestrian crossings at the other junctions remain dire. Merely crossing the road into the town at the first junction described can involve up to five separate crossings, because there are no crossings on the eastern side of the junction.

Despite West Sussex’s bid for the LSTF cash having the stated aim of ‘improving access to the town centre’, no new crossings have been added here. People continue to dash across five lanes of motor traffic, rather than hanging around waiting, pushing buttons on four separate crossings.

The LSTF cash that West Sussex won could have been used to make this unpleasant road genuinely attractive for walking and cycling, with direct pedestrian crossings, and a bi-directional track on the ‘town’ side of the road, replacing a traffic lane. Something like this.

But instead it’s been wasted on traffic signals to ease the passage of motor vehicles through the town, and (as at Chichester) on some paint that does very little to make the road safe or attractive for cycling.

How many people will be tempted to start cycling on Albion Way now it has got some green stripes on it, at the junctions? Very, very few. These ASLs might make life slightly easier for the people already cycling here – those who know how and when to safely use them – but in my experience, huge numbers of ordinary people continue to ignore the road, cycling on the pavement, like pedestrians.

Bluntly, we need infrastructure that works for these people, not tokenistic bits of green paint for the handful of people willing to cycle on hostile roads like this one.

To remind ourselves, West Sussex received nearly two and a half million pounds from the DfT to spend on sustainable travel in Horsham and Chichester – over a million pounds, for each urban area. That money could have made a tremendous difference, had it been spent on meaningful, high-quality routes for cycling.

But instead it is entirely going to waste, hoovered up to ease the passage of motor traffic, or dribbled away in the form of ineffective projects like the Northgate gyratory, or hopeless ASLs like here on Albion Way.


Categories: Views

It’s motor traffic, not immigration, that prevents children playing in the street

1 April, 2015 - 11:40

So Nigel Farage gave a speech at the White Cliffs of Dover yesterday, in which he suggested that children are not playing football in the street any more because of ‘discomfort’ and ‘unease’ due to high levels of immigration.

I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself. And I sense over the last decade or more we are not at ease.

If we went to virtually every town up eastern England and spoke to people about how they felt their town or city had changed for the last 10 to 15 years, there is a deep level of discomfort. Because if you have immigration at these sort of levels, integration doesn’t happen.

Further clarification of Farage’s and UKIP’s opinion on this topic was provided by the party’s economic spokesman (and candidate for Cambridge in the 2015 election) Patrick O’Flynn, as reported by the Press Association’s political correspondent –

Parents worry about safety of streets because of immigration, so children less likely to play football in them, Ukip's Patrick O'Flynn says

— Arj Singh (@singharj) April 1, 2015

Even at face value, this smells like total codswallop. If kids want to play football, they really won’t care what country the other kids’ parents might have come from. They just want to kick a ball around – the culture, nationality or language of other children they might want to play with is completely irrelevant.

Now it’s possible parents won’t let their children out on the streets because they have fears about safety due to ‘immigration’, but it’s pretty miserable politics to play up to these fears, and indeed to give them some legitimacy by presenting them as a genuine reason why children are absent from our streets.

If there’s a genuine problem with community cohesion, that can surely only be helped by letting children in the neighbourhood – from all backgrounds – play with each other, on the streets. The answer certainly isn’t to pretend that stopping further immigration into Britain can solve these kinds of problems, where they might exist.

Of course, the real reason why children don’t play on our streets is actual danger in the form of motor traffic. Where streets are closed (even on a temporary basis) to motor traffic, children from diverse backgrounds will happily play with one another – for instance, in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse areas, Hackney.

And in the Netherlands, where residential streets are usually categorised as ‘access roads’ – not useful routes for motor traffic, and consequently with very low motor traffic levels – spontaneous street play by children is extremely common.

These are safe environments, where the only motor vehicles present will be those accessing properties on the street – residents, visitors, or delivery drivers. That’s it. There’s no real need to speed, as these aren’t through routes, but in any case, most of these locations will have traffic calming in the form of speed tables and tight geometry. The language of the street tells you that it is a residential area, and that, coupled with the low traffic levels, means that they are safe areas for children to play. That’s why parents let them play there – nothing to do with ‘immigration’.

Most residential streets in Britain, by contrast, will often function as through routes – convenient options for people who want to drive the shortest route, or who wish to avoid congestion on parallel main roads.

 

That’s why children don’t play on them.

If UKIP genuinely want to see children playing on the streets, they need to adopt Sustainable Safety as a policy.


Categories: Views

West Sussex and LSTF money – the Northgate gyratory

25 March, 2015 - 23:38

Last week I wrote a long post about how West Sussex County Council are proposing to use millions of pounds of ‘sustainable’ transport funding (distributed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership) on schemes that have negligible (or even non-existent) sustainable transport benefit.

Even those parts of the schemes that, by West Sussex’s own admission, have no sustainable transport benefit whatsoever, could obviously be designed to accommodate walking and cycling routes. But West Sussex have chosen not to do this. They want to build very large roundabouts on the edge of a major town that have absolutely no walking and cycling provision.

In that post I described how this is symptomatic of a wider problem with cycling outside of cities in Britain – West Sussex in particular is just one many local authorities that have no consistent stream of funding for genuinely sustainable transport, no real enthusiasm for engaging seriously with cycling as a mode of transport, and little or no expertise on how to design properly for it.

What cash that is available for cycling from central government – either through these LEP channels, or through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – appears to dribble away, used on schemes and projects of negligible benefit.

This post is the first in a series that will examine what West Sussex has done with the £2.46 million of cash the county was awarded by the DfT for sustainable travel projects, to be spent between 2012 and 2015.

West Sussex’s initial bid was for £5m, for four towns and cities – Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Horsham. The DfT rejected that bid, and only chose to fund the schemes for Chichester and Horsham – about half the total bid (hence £2.46m). So these posts will cover where those millions of pounds have gone, in Chichester and Horsham. It should also be borne in mind that the total spend will be significantly higher, with matched funding from the local authority in many cases.

A case in point is the subject here. £140,000 of that DfT cash is being spent on the Northgate Gyratory in Chichester (with a further £70,000 coming from West Sussex’s own road safety budget). This is a very busy road system – dubbed ‘The Fire Station Roundabout’ (because it has a Fire Station in the middle of it) - just to the north of Chichester city centre. It is where the city’s inner ring road meets roads heading off to the north, out of Chichester.

What is that £210,000 buying?

  • A repainting of the existing cycle lane markings.
  • Some solar-powered flashing signs telling drivers to ‘Think Bike’.
  • A video.
  • That’s it.

It should be borne in mind that the Northgate Gyratory is a significant barrier to cycling in Chichester – to get in and out of the city centre from the north, this roundabout has to be used. And it also has a safety problem – despite its innate hostility obviously suppressing cycling, there have been six serious cycling injuries in the last nine years.

So, really, this is a bit of a shambles. The money has, frankly, been wasted.

Here’s the video West Sussex have produced to publicise the repainting of the cycle lanes, and the new flashing signs.

The basic problem here is that the existing design for cycling is dire, and it isn’t being changed. The crap cycle lanes are being repainted, and the flashing signs smack of desperation, an attempt to mitigate for inherent flaws in the road layout. As a Chichester local told me –

By definition if you need to have such signs, surely this means you haven’t designed your roads properly for cyclists.

And it’s hard to disagree.

It should be noted that there are already signs at Northgate gyratory – signs that aren’t electronic.

 

 

 

I doubt flashing signs will do much to address the risks for people cycling at this gyratory, any more than the existing metal ones do anything.

The problems are the result of poor design, on both entry and exit to the roundabout.

On entry, drivers will not be looking in the direction cyclists are coming from, which is almost from their side. Their attention will be focused instead on the roundabout, and gaps in motor traffic.

The problems are compounded by ‘masking’ – even if they are looking in two different directions, drivers in the nearside lane will often have their visibility of the cycle lane obscured by motor vehicles in the outer lane.

This design is not being changed. Just repainted.

Likewise on exit, collisions occur because drivers are unsure about where people cycling will be going (or make assumptions about their direction), while similarly people cycling will be unsure about whether drivers will be entering or existing the roundabout. For example.

 

The blue arrows represent a driver and a cyclist. At the positions pictured, neither has a clue what the other is going to do – stay on the roundabout, or exit it. That uncertainty is a recipe for collisions.

Safely navigating this cycle lane involves looking back over your shoulder, through  180°, in an attempt to observe what motor traffic behind you is doing.

Conveniently this is even demonstrated in West Sussex’s video.

It’s dreadful design, a recipe for collisions.

These are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved. People cycling are not in visible positions, and when they are, there’s uncertainty about who is going in which direction.

Another local, Paul Wreyford, has this to say in the road.cc article on the gyratory plans

The cycle lane design remains very similar to the existing layout. There still remains the danger and conflict that I and many of my neighbours have experienced on this system.

This is; the high speed of exiting traffic at each junction, the lack of visibility for the kerbside driver when two vehicles are at a two lane entry, the failure of drivers to signal when exiting, and the lack of lane discipline/lane markings on the gyratory system.

I’d also add that even relying on drivers signalling their intentions to exit (or stay on) the roundabout, is simply not good enough, because if someone doesn’t signal, or signals in error, and their intentions are (mistakenly) assumed, the consequences would be catastrophic.

The black car isn’t signalling an intention to exit. Staying on the roundabout?

So there are a series of clear, identifiable safety problems, that are a direct consequence of the existing design, which is merely being repainted. The issue is not a general lack of ‘awareness’ of cyclists – awareness that needs to be ‘raised’ by a number of flashing signs -as the video implies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video I’ve taken showing one of the exit points of the gyratory, in the south-west corner.

The video essentially speaks for itself, but a few things can be observed.

  • Traffic on the gyratory is pretty much continuous, even at this relatively quiet time of the day (the middle of the afternoon). Without knowing with certainly where drivers are going, you will almost always have to come to a complete stop to cross the exits if you are using the cycle lane.
  • Notice that many drivers do not signal their intention to exit – 0:28, 0:32 0:50, in just this short clip. Indication plainly cannot be relieve upon, despite the implications of the West Sussex video. Assuming drivers are staying on the roundabout because they’re not indicating would be a very bad idea.
  • Notice how the man cycling has to look directly behind him (1:03), even when not crossing the exit.
  • The pedestrian environment is also terrible; notice the struggles/uncertainty about how and where to cross at 0:35.

An extra insult is how the poor existing road markings – needless ‘Give Ways’ for people simply leaving the roundabout by bike, like these –

Are just being repainted, without any apparent thought about whether they are even necessary.

A good use of £210,000

Sensible advice would be to avoid these cycle lanes entirely, if you feel confident enough to do so, and to cycle in the traffic flow on the roundabout, to minimise the problems of intervisibility described here. That’s a pretty dire state of affairs.

But it could have been even worse. The initial plans from West Sussex for this gyratory proposed giving cycling priority on both entry and exit.

This was really a dreadful idea, given all the aforementioned problems of uncertainty.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving cycling priority over motor traffic, but not with this kind of geometry, and with these kinds of speeds on exit. The flashing warning ‘Think Bike!’ signs were included as part of this scheme, again presumably in an attempt to make it slightly less lethal.

 

 

 

That design appears to have been abandoned following a road safety audit, leaving us with the status quo. Plus the signs.

So £210,000 is going to be spent doing essentially nothing.

Unfortunately that simply wasn’t enough money in the first place to come up with a serious, design-led solution to the issues with this roundabout, drawing on best international practice in designing cycling infrastructure that is safe and attractive to use.

There’s plenty of space at Northgate for a major redesign, accommodating cycling infrastructure of the type seen in David Hembrow’s video above, and described in his blog post here. But the aimless result we’ve ended up with has probably flowed from that initial problem of insufficient cash. Northgate needs a major physical redesign, and £210,000 was never going to be enough.

Maybe West Sussex weren’t ever that interested in examining serious alternative designs, or in devoting a large chunk of the money they won from the DfT on implementing one scheme, preferring instead to spread it thinly on a large number of schemes that look good, presented as a nice long list, but are ineffective in practice.

Meanwhile the old paint is being scraped off, ready for new paint.

Next week I’ll be looking at another way in which West Sussex have used six figure sums of LSTF cash. Stay tuned.

 


Categories: Views

Conflicting greens – the implications of a new Oxford junction for ‘simultaneous green’

24 March, 2015 - 09:36

The Dutch ‘simultaneous green’ junction arrangements allow people walking and cycling to progress through signal controlled junctions in any direction they choose, at the same time as people from all the other arms of the junction.

‘Simultaneous green’ works well on very large junctions, as this David Hembrow video shows –

As well as on smaller ones. My video this time –

In Britain, however, there is some confusion about whether these kinds of arrangements would be legal, particularly as they involve ‘conflicting greens’ – green signals running at the same time on arms of a junction that are an angle to each other. (See this thread on the Cycling Embassy forum, for example).

Now of course we already have examples of ‘conflicting greens’ in the UK – greens for traffic from opposite arms of a junction, which allow people to turn right across the opposing traffic stream. For instance, if I’m turning right in my car, or on my bike, I have a green signal to go, while someone heading straight through the junction from the opposite direction also has a green. We both have a green, yet our paths will cross! The answer is – the turning party yields, rather than assuming green means a manoeuvre can be performed without conflict.

So this seems to be a straightforward objection to the ‘we don’t do conflicting greens in the UK’ claim.

But what about greens from junction arms that are not directly facing each other? What about you having a green to go straight ahead, while the junction to your left – at 90° to your junction – also has a green?

I was told last year by a highway engineer, whose opinion I value, that there isn’t actually anything in UK traffic regulations that specifically rules out doing this. He explained that this option is technically available. You could give motor traffic green signals simultaneously on two arms of a junction at 90° to each other. This just doesn’t happen because, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and would probably be quite unsafe – for motor traffic, at least.

There is now a new junction in Oxford that seems to substantiate this – that you can allow ‘conflicting greens’ on a junction, at 90° to each other (or indeed at other angles). The Hythe Bridge Street junction lies between the city’s station, and the city centre. It used to be composed of two separate roads, with a cut-though in the middle diagonal for walking and cycling –

But it has now been converted into a straightforward crossroads. Or, actually, a slightly less than straightforward crossroads.

The odd arrangement is on the western arm of the junction.

Looking east, across the junction

The signals tells us that all motor traffic must turn left, heading north. Meanwhile, however, people cycling are exempted from that instruction – they are able to cycle off in any direction they please, north, east, or south.

So far so good, but allowing people cycling to do this actually involves a ‘conflicting green’. While this arm of the junction is green, it turns out that traffic flowing south out of the northern arm also has a green signal.

Here’s another photograph, this one from Graham Smith, showing the same location, but from the south-western corner of the junction.

Picture by Graham Smith

The man on the bike and the van driver both have a green signal. Note that at the time Graham’s picture was taken – January this year – there aren’t any road markings in the junction. Indeed, this was the initial plan, as below.

Click to enlarge. I’ve highlighted, in red,  the paragraph that makes clear people cycling can progress in any direction through the junction from the western arm.

Some markings were then hastily added at the end of January, presumably in response to local complaints and actual collisions.

A painted waiting area, right in the middle of the junction.

This is, of course, still far from brilliant – if you are not familiar with the junction, it’s not entirely clear how it will work, and even if you are, you are still exposed to collision risk from motor traffic turning around you, without any protection.

But the main point of this post is that – regardless of the safety implications – it is apparently entirely legal to give green signals, simultaneously, from junctions at 90° to each other, as shown below – even if the ‘traffic’ coming from the western arm is cycle-only.

 

The safety implications of this odd arrangement in Oxford – which involves interactions between bikes and motor traffic – are surely much greater than a clearly-explained simultaneous green layout, which will involve interactions only between people cycling.

So – what’s stopping us?

 


Categories: Views

Compare and contrast

21 March, 2015 - 16:45

In 2011 Ghulam Murtza was stopped by the police, and issued a fixed penalty notice. He was prosecuted for committing an offence under section 24 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, and fined £115. He was carry his child on his bike, on a seat that may or may not have been strictly legal.

This is section 24 –

Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

As it happens, this is a fine I am at risk of receiving pretty much every single day, because I give my partner a ‘backie’ on my omafiets, like this –

My oma isn’t ‘constructed or adapted’ for carrying more than one person – she just sits on the rack – so by the letter of the law we are both risking fines every time we do this.

This is the law Murtza fell foul off.

Compare this £115 fine with the cases of Michael Mason and Daniel Squire, who were both mown down from behind and killed by drivers.

In the case of Michael Mason, the driver faced no criminal proceedings whatsoever, despite the fact she ‘could not explain why she did not see Michael when many other witnesses had.’

In the case of Daniel Squire, the driver walked free from court, despite admitting texting while driving in the period immediately prior to the fatal collision, and (from the new reports available) a deeply unconvincing account of what transpired.

Two fatal collisions.

But no fines, not even any penalty points, in either case. Killing people apparently merits less punishment than carrying someone on a bike.


Categories: Views

Cycling in middle England – going nowhere fast

17 March, 2015 - 12:46

At the Big Cycling Debate on the 2nd March, one of the most astute questions from the audience came from Ralph Smyth of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He wanted to know what the three political parties who had been invited to the debate would do to improve cycling levels in ‘middle Britain’ – those areas of the country that are not covered by ‘Cycle City Ambition’ money, the latest tranche of which had (conveniently) been announced that very morning.

Unfortunately the current cycling minister Robert Goodwill chose not to engage with the question that had actually been asked, instead deciding to talk about cycling in rural areas, waffling on about potholes, cycle routes along roads in rural areas that nobody is using because it’s too remote (apparently), the Tour de France in Yorkshire, and ‘cyclists’ preferring to use roads in rural areas.

This wasn’t what Ralph Smyth’s question was about. It was about what political parties should be doing to drive cycling across the country as a whole, not just in the city pockets that are fortunate enough to be granted funding. By focusing entirely on ‘rural’ cycling in remote areas the question was ducked by Goodwill.

And this is a serious issue – tens of millions of British people do not live in cities (let alone in those few cities that are getting DfT funding). They live in large towns, across the country, as well as in more rural locations.

Yet the story in most of these areas is one of rock-bottom cycling levels, and no sign on the horizon that things are going to change any time soon.

These areas will typically be the responsibility of local authorities that have –

  • little or no willingness to engage with cycling as a serious mode of transport, choosing instead to accommodate existing built-in patterns of travel, including a high percentage of short car trips, and further (predicted) growth in car travel;
  • little or no money to spend on cycling infrastructure, beyond the intermittent handouts they might get from central government through a bidding process;
  • little or no expertise in building cycling infrastructure, which means that – without any decent cycle infrastructure standards – what little money that is being spent is frittered away on poor schemes of questionable merit.

Although many areas – places like Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Leicester, Cambridge, and other cities getting to grips with designing for cycling – are showing ambition and a willingness to do things differently, the story is frankly pretty bleak across the rest of Britain.

From West Sussex County Council’s ‘Local Transport Plan’.

One of these places is West Sussex. Although the County Council likes to imagine that the county is ‘largely rural’ (see right), the vast majority of West Sussex’s 800,000 residents actually live in urban areas, places like Crawley (population 107,000), Worthing (104,000), Horsham (55,000), Burgess Hill (28,000), Littlehampton (28,000), Chichester (27,000), East Grinstead (24,000), Bognor Regis (24,000), Haywards Heath (23,000), Shoreham (19,000), and other towns and large villages.

Yet cycling levels across this temperate, largely flat county are dismal. Cycling to work levels in the large towns to the south of Gatwick airport scrape to a 1-2% mode share –

And things aren’t much better in the towns along the south coast, with only pockets of Chichester and Worthing bucking the 1-2% cycling to work trend, reaching as high as 5%.

These cycling to work levels – which we should remember are likely to far outstrip general cycling mode share – have actually fallen in many West Sussex towns since 2001.

I’m told that West Sussex’s cycling capital expenditure – from the council’s own budget – amounts to only a few tens of thousands of pounds a year. The council’s sole cycling officer has been made redundant; there is no cycling plan (the West Sussex Cycle Forum were asked to draft one themselves) and what money the County Council does receive from central government for sustainable transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), has, and will, go to waste on poor schemes of questionable value. (To take just one example, over £100,000 of the £2.4m worth of LSTF ‘sustainable’ funding West Sussex won from the government has been spent in Horsham on… brand new traffic lights, specifically for motor traffic,  to reduce queues for vehicles and hence lower pollution.)

That waste of LSTF cash will be examined in a series of forthcoming posts. The subject here, however, is the latest source of transport funding from central government, one distributed through LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships). This new funding stream is, again, going to fail walking and cycling in West Sussex, unless there is radical change.

What follows will be long and probably a little boring, but I hope it will be valuable as an insight into the disastrous direction transport is heading in places where there is little or no engagement with modes of transport beyond the car, and indeed no apparent willingness to even think differently. I may not get all the details exactly right, but in my defence I am trying to make sense of quite a complex process.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were set up by the current government in 2011.

Local enterprise partnerships are partnerships between local authorities and businesses. They decide what the priorities should be for investment in roads, buildings and facilities in the area.

From a transport perspective, they are therefore obviously hugely influential, given that they are essentially determining what money should be spent on.

There are 39 of these LEPs in England and Wales. The pertinent one in this post is the Coast to Capital (C2C) LEP, which covers all of West Sussex, Brighton and Hove, a large part of Surrey, and Croydon.

The Coast to Capital LEP region

As can be seen from the map, this a large and strategically significant area, covering the southern outskirts of London, as well as Gatwick Airport, several south coast towns and cities, and many major towns in Sussex and Surrey.

LEPs have no requirement for public involvement or democratic accountability. Here’s a select committee chairman, back in 2011 –

LEPs have a significant impact on their local community; they would be failing if they did not. Despite this, the ability for the local community to scrutinise their performance is patchy. If LEPs are to be held accountable for their performance, measureable indicators of that performance are needed. And they are needed in a format easily understood by local communities.

Four years later, in February this year, TransportXtra commented on ‘the lamentable efforts that most LEPs have made in opening themselves up to scrutiny’, pointing out that

the Campaign for Better Transport rightly criticised the LEPs last month, saying that decisions on the latest award of £1bn from the fund had been taken “behind closed doors”.

Funding is available from Coast to Capital for what they term ‘Sustainability and Resilience Schemes’ – a pot of £62.6 million, which was granted to C2C from central government, to be spent between 2015 and 2021. A list of current bids for portions of that funding is available here. Decisions will be made on who gets what on the 25th of March (i.e., next week) by the Local Transport Body – made up of these individuals. (The Local Transport Body’s role is to advise LEPs like Coast to Capital on what they think transport priorities should be).

I am going to look here at just one of those bids, put in by West Sussex – this is the West of Horsham Transport Package. This involves a substantial sum of money – well over £3m, to fund a £4m project. In essence it amounst to changes – major and minor – to four roundabouts on main roads to the west of Horsham.

These roundabouts –

The four roundabouts which this funding would be used to change. Horsham is to the east, only partly shown.

 

Three of these roundabouts – the larger ones – lie in a line on the town’s existing dual carriageway bypass, built in the late 1960s to divert the A24 (which runs from the south coast to London) away from the town centre.The other, smaller, roundabout – Five Oaks, to the west- lies on the main road towards Guildford, from the bypass.

The 14-page application form from West Sussex for this funding doesn’t provide a great deal of detail (not even any plans of these schemes!) so I’m going to run through the 62-page Supporting Document for this application for funding, prepared for West Sussex County Council by CH2MHill. Strangely, it does not appear to be available anywhere online (I’ve only seen a copy because a colleague emailed a West Sussex transport planner to specifically ask for detailed plans of the schemes), so I’ve uploaded it here.

Very early in the document, we are told the rationale for these ‘upgrades’ –

The Farthings Hill Interchange and Five Oaks schemes are linked to the wider delivery of the 2,000 home West of Horsham development

And…

The Great Daux Roundabout and Robin Hood Roundabout schemes are linked to the delivery of the 2,500 home North of Horsham development

That is, the two roundabouts to the south are linked to a large new housing development (currently under construction); the two roundabouts to the north are linked to another large (proposed) housing development, to the north of the town.

It is not clear why West Sussex are bidding for what amounts to funding from central government – through the Coast2Capital LEP – to mitigate the effects of increased motor traffic from these new developments. The developers are building (or are proposing to build) housing that is believed will generate more motor traffic, and yet it is the taxpayer that is being asked to cover the bulk of the costs of accommodating it. Indeed, 75% of the costs – the remaining 25% coming from Section 106 (developer) contributions.

In each case, 75% of the funding will come from the LEP. The remaining 25% from S106. (I’ve highlighted that the person preparing this bid for millions of pounds of funding can’t even use right word.)

In an ideal world, the costs of any necessary changes to these roundabouts should surely be covered by the developer themselves. But perhaps that’s too idealistic in 21st century Britain.

This also raises the question of what happens if this funding bid is rejected by the Coast2Capital LEP – West Sussex will have a £3m funding shortfall for these projects that are (apparently) necessary to accommodate motor traffic.

The supporting document then moves on to a presentation of the cost:benefit analysis for the four roundabouts. This is where things get very silly indeed.

Notice here that two of these roundabouts (the two that happen to be exclusively focused on easing congestion for motor traffic) have extraordinary cost-benefit ratios (BCR). These are the two ‘capacity’ schemes, listed at the bottom. The Robin Hood roundabout will cost £465,000, yet will apparently net £322 million in Present Value Benefits, meaning the benefit:cost ratio for this roundabout scheme is 693:1. The Great Daux roundabout is nearly as ludicrous at 506:1. This really is fantasy economics.

The other two roundabouts are termed ‘connectivity’ schemes, which purport to make walking and cycling more attractive (more on that later) and have negative cost benefit ratios.

The roundabout plans with the extraordinary alleged benefits do absolutely nothing at all for walking and cycling. The Robin Hood roundabout currently looks like this.

It’s a fairly straightforward crossing of a 70mph dual carriageway (running N-S), with the road to the west connecting with the village of Warnham, and the one on the right connecting to Horsham. There are (mostly) two lanes on entry and exit. Not much fun on a bike, or on foot, but the funding proposal aims to turn it into this monster.

Four lanes on entry, signalisation, and hint at a ‘turbo’ format.

A similar arrangement is proposed for the Great Daux roundabout, a kilometre to the north. Here the bypass meets the A24 at a T-junction roundabout.

This is to be replaced, again, by a signalised, turbo-ish roundabout with 3-4 lanes on entry. Again, no consideration of walking or cycling whatsoever.

Both these schemes could address existing severance issues for walking and cycling between Horsham and the villages to the west, and north-west. They don’t, however.

The justification for the massive expansion of both of these junctions is as follows –

The Horsham District Transport Study which assessed the impact of forecast strategic development and background traffic growth up to 2031 concluded that both junctions would require mitigation.

That is,

The truth is that motor traffic flows in and around Horsham are either steady or declining, over the last decade. Motor traffic in the town appears to be falling, at least on the three main roads with DfT count points.

And on the bypass itself – between these roundabouts – there has been very little change (perhaps even a slight decline) in motor traffic levels over the last decade.

That’s not to say that there might be a case for expanding these roundabouts. What’s scandalous, however, is that absolutely no account has been taken of walking and cycling connections in the plans that are on the table. It’s like these modes don’t even exist. And it is acknowledge in black and white -

The proposed scheme is on the strategic road network and is primarily aimed at providing journey time benefits to motorised vehicles, there are no sustainable transport benefits.

But of course there could, and should be. Roundabouts like this should have connections for walking and cycling built into them at the design stage. Grade separation, or at-grade crossings with minimal delay, should be an absolute necessity. But it seems you can get away with completely ignoring walking and cycling.

On to the extraordinary benefit:cost ratios presented in this bid. They are derived simply by adding up the value of time savings accruing to motorists over a 60 year period, using the DfT’s WebTAG. Also bear in mind that the DfT’s aforementioned traffic growth forecasts are lying behind this modelling. The comparison in time savings for motorists (between the scheme being built, and the existing layout) is built around the assumption of large increases in motor traffic –

Using the opening year 2023 and forecast year 2029 traffic flows, the difference in highway network performance between the base model and the ‘with scheme’ models forms the basis of the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA).

The assumption being that these roundabouts will become completely ‘saturated’ (that is, clogged) without widening.

But here’s what the authors of the bid have to say –

It should be noted that using outputs from a junction model, as opposed to a strategic model, will overestimate journey time impacts because it is unable to account for traffic reassignment. In reality, a change to a junction is likely to either induce extra traffic to use it or divert traffic away depending on the nature of the scheme, thus diluting the predicted journey time impact. [my emphasis]

The dilution effect, however, will be offset by the economic, social, and environmental benefits that have not been included in the transport appraisal. On this basis, the proposed methodology is considered to be robust.

A methodology that produces Benefit:Cost Ratios of 700:1 for schemes that completely ignore walking and cycling is considered ‘robust.’

Yet, later in the document, it is again acknowledged that this ‘time saving’ comparison is fundamentally flawed –

In reality, the delay predicted by the junction models [without the schemes going ahead] would not occur due to traffic reassignment and peak spreading (people choosing to start their journeys earlier of later, outside of the peak hours). This, in addition to the manually assigned 2029 traffic flows means the journey time benefits of implementing the scheme would not be as high as predicted. It should also be noted that the junction modelling software will not be providing reliable analysis of journey delays once significantly over capacity.

These two roundabout schemes are being considered only in terms of motoring. This is made plain by the ‘Journey Quality’ assessments, shown below.

It’s all about motoring.

 

The ‘traveller stress’ of cycling across a four lane roundabout isn’t considered. ‘Traveller stress’ is framed only in terms of reducing drivers’ ‘frustration’ at delays and ‘fear of potential accidents’. Likewise ‘care’ for travellers is ‘explicitly for the motorised transport users’. If you’re not in a car – we don’t care.

The neglect of walking and cycling is completely unacceptable. These are not roundabouts in the middle of nowhere. I’ve set them into context, below.

The two roundabouts (framed in blue) lie between the Horsham and surrounding settlements, including a railway station on the line to London. These settlements are not any great distance from the town; Warnham to Horsham is 2 miles, as the crow flies. Likewise the railway station is just above the northern bypass, but essentially inaccessible if you are not in a car.

Moving on to the other two roundabout schemes, which purport to actually focus on sustainable travel. The Farthings Hill interchange is a grade-separated roundabout, sitting over the dual carriageway bypass.

It’s huge, scary, and fast, with slip roads onto and off the dual carriageway, and multiple junctions to the west, including another dual carriageway, a petrol station, and the entrance to Broadbridge Heath village itself. There is a path across the roundabout, skirting around the inside of the northern bridge, but you have to dash across two lanes of fast traffic on either side.

The proposals are to signalise this roundabout, entirely.

… providing toucan crossings and, erm, shared use footways.

 

While this will make the roundabout less lethal to cross on foot, or by bike, it’s hardly going to make it particularly convenient to cross. Whichever route you choose to take, you will have to wait at four separate toucan crossings.

With a bit of thought (and a willingness to actually prioritise walking and cycling) the number of crossings should really only be two - for instance, a bi-directional path on the northern edge of the roundabout, crossing only the two slip roads.

 

It’s worth adding that an extra third lane for motor traffic is being added to the slip lane entries onto the roundabout as part of this scheme, and also that the ‘shared use’ footpath will remain at a substandard width, below 3m in most locations. Furthermore there are no plans to connect these poor routes up with Horsham – the shared use footway simply ends on the main road into Horsham a few metres south of the roundabout, with (nonsensically) people expected to stop using the pavement, and join a busy main road, at an arbitrary point.

‘use carriageway beyond this point’

So really the alleged ‘sustainable’ benefits of this scheme are negligible indeed, only a by-product of a pre-existing decision to signalise the roundabout to increase capacity. The claim

For pedestrians and cyclists, the scheme will significantly improve connectivity and reduce severance between Broadbridge Heath and Horsham

is highly dubious.

Yet the reason this roundabout performs poorly on the Benefit:Cost Analysis (minus 15:1, compared to 500:1 and 700:1) is blamed on these toucan crossings.

The significant journey time dis-benefit is a result of traffic reassignment following the completion of the West of Horsham infrastructure and the introduction of the Toucan crossings.

There’s also this extraordinary admission –

A safer junction would encourage more trips using sustainable modes for commuting purposes (via the train stations) or for leisure trips.

It has not, however, been possible to quantify these benefits. Accordingly, they have not been considered as part of the BCR appraisal.

In other words, we don’t know how to quantify the benefits of people walking and cycling; so those benefits are not part of our analysis. Precisely the same admission is made for the final part of the scheme, the Five Oaks roundabout.

This roundabout is being downgraded, because a new dual carriageway road has been built further to the south, bypassing it.

As far as I am aware, the ‘old road’ is being closed to through-traffic.

The plan at the roundabout is principally to rearrange road arriving at the roundabout from the village. The existing junction, onto the roundabout, is being closed entirely, with the road being bent away to the east to a junction on the ‘old road.’ The intention is to increase the length of car trips through the village and hence to discourage ratrunning, which is a serious problem given that the village is (and remains) the most direct east-west route towards Guildford.

The new road in the darker grey, built to take the junction away from the roundabout.

Whether this will work or not, I don’t know, but again the arrangements for cycling are pitiful. There is a shared use pavement coming out of the village (which is ridiculous, given that through-traffic is supposed to be being removed) which then extends around the roundabout like a conventional footway, with the opportunity to dash across two lanes of motor traffic. Just as at Farthings Hill, there is no attempt to connect this alleged ‘cycle provision’ up with places people might actually want to go. Despite plentiful space in the area the diverted road is being built, there are no plans to build either a cycleway or footway along this road.

The current (and soon to be ‘old’) road. No plans to provide any walking or cycling infrastructure in this verge; only the diverted road

This failure is even more acute because the new road has been built without any cycling or walking provision.

No footpath, or cycle path. This is not the middle of nowhere – this road (as can be seen) runs through new housing.

These roads are the existing, and new, direct routes towards Horsham. Again, in context –

Both of these roads will be surrounded by existing and new housing, and both run directly towards the centre of Horsham. Yet nothing is being done for walking and cycling on either of them, either as part of the planned development, or indeed as part of bid for funding from the Coast 2 Capital LEP. It’s another wasted opportunity to reap the benefits of a blank slate on the part of West Sussex.

Now a new bridge has been provided over the bypass. But the old bridge simply had to be go, because the bypass is being widened to eight lanes as it runs through the new development. And the new bridge is a design failure.

With sets of barriers built into it, and wiggly ramps to access it in remote corners of car parks, far from natural desire lines, it’s hard to see how it could have been made less direct and attractive.

On top of these failures to build high quality cycling infrastructure into brand new development (or indeed any kind of cycling infrastructure), West Sussex are compounding their problems by hoovering up millions of pounds of LEP funding on road expansion projects that – again – take either absolutely no account of walking and cycling, or provide for it shabbily in piecemeal, tokenistic ways, around the fringes of existing road projects.

This is the state of cycling where I live. It’s getting worse, not better.


Categories: Views

Danger from behind

10 March, 2015 - 10:37

There was an intriguing (and revealing) detail in the thinking behind Lord Scott of Foscote’s strange intervention during a question about cycling safety in the House of Lords last week.

Lord Jordan asked the Minister of State for transport, Baroness Kramer, about the Government’s assessment of a recent YouGov poll, carried out for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Lord Scott saw this as the perfect opportunity to chip in, not with a helpful contribution to the debate, but instead with an evident personal bugbear – people cycling with headphones.

Does the Minister agree that a cyclist’s main protection should be his or her own eyes and ears? The eyes are there to warn against impending danger from the front and the ears ought to assist in identifying impending danger from behind. I cycle regularly from my flat in Camden to Westminster—it used to be Lincoln’s Inn, then it was the Royal Courts of Justice and now it is Westminster—and I am appalled by the number of cyclists who bicycle with earplugs in their ears listening to music. If they listen to music, they cannot possibly hear any danger approaching from behind. There are regulations to ensure the use of lights on bicycles in dark or dingy weather. Should there not also be a regulation to prevent the highly dangerous practice to which I have referred?

I say this is intriguing and revealing because of the form of the response to ‘danger from behind.’

Lord Scott of Foscote’s preferred approach to dealing with ‘danger from behind’ is to bring in legislation banning people from using headphones, so they will have a better chance of… hearing it coming. Great.

Worse still, the mere act of listening to music itself is described – apparently in all seriousness – as ‘highly dangerous’. By the same logic, someone who is deaf daring to cycle on London’s roads would be ‘highly dangerous’.

The misdirection is extraordinary. Listening to music while riding a bike is in no way dangerous, in and of itself. Indeed, I’ve compiled a picture post of all the things Dutch people do while riding bikes that aren’t the least bit dangerous.

But these are activities that, in the UK, are framed as somehow ‘dangerous’, thanks to our lovely way of loading blame onto the vulnerable road user.

What is actually dangerous isn’t a pair of headphones – it is, literally, the thing that’s coming ‘from behind’, be it an HGV, bus, van or car.

What’s dangerous here? Music, or thunderous motor traffic?

The proper response to that danger should either be to provide people cycling with their own parallel route, separate from those vehicles, or to limit the speed, volume and mass of that motor traffic on routes that are shared. This is called ‘Sustainable Safety’, and it explains why Dutch users of bicycles are far, far less likely to be killed or injured than their British counterparts, despite engaging in all kinds of allegedly ‘dangerous’ activity.

Rather than loading yet more responsibility onto the person most at risk, we need roads and streets that are designed to keep people safe, even when they’re engaging in harmless activities.


Categories: Views

Quietways are meaningless if they don’t deal with difficult junctions

5 March, 2015 - 19:32

Westminster Council recently announced plans for improvements to Cambridge Circus, at the heart of the West End. Unfortunately these proposals – which do amount to some benefits for people walking in the area – make cycling through this already hostile junction even worse.

The plans primarily involve the addition of a diagonal Oxford Circus-style crossing, across the middle of the junction. Presumably this will run at the same time as the four crossings on the four arms of the junction.

However, they also involve the complete closure of the junction with Moor Street, just to the north of the main junction, which at present is a very convenient (and safe) exit point in and out of Soho. It’s currently cycle-only, on exit.

The cycle-only exit of Moor Street, looking towards Cambridge Circus

This is all the more strange given that Westminster are marking the route of Quietway 19 on these plans. 

Red markings added by me. The proposed route of the Quietway is the red arrow; the Moor Street closure in the red rectangle

Westminster are proposing that the Quietway should take the route indicated in red, before going straight across Cambridge Circus, rather than using the logical cut-through of Moor Street, which will be entirely closed. In fact the diagonal markings represent bike stands, presumably a (futile) attempt to stop people cycling across this area. Rather than closing this road completely, it could of course be turned into an appropriately designed cycle-only cut through, with little detriment to the public space. It’s an easy road to cross, even now.

The current Moor Street crossing. I’m standing in the road to take this picture.

The road could be narrowed down to a cycle-only route, with a raised table, and even an informal zebra, to give pedestrians priority.

A complete closure, however, would mean people will have to cycle some distance up Charing Cross Road, which is hardly an attractive prospect.

Looking north up Charing Cross Road. You will have to cycle in this, on the ‘Quietway’.

Indeed, I cannot see this Quietway route being the least bit attractive for anyone, given that no substantive changes are proposed to the actual junction at Cambridge Circus. Coming from the south, the Quietway (again, indicated by the blue marking) involves crossing from Litchfield Street, onto Charing Cross Road.

Here you are simply dumped into two lanes of motor traffic. There is an ASL there, but good luck reaching it (and I would probably advise you not even attempting to do so).

Charing Cross Road, from Litchfield Street. Again, ‘Quietway’ users will have to cycle out into this traffic, and sit in it, to get through Cambridge Circus.

This is a really horrible junction, a place I can’t imagine the target market of Quietways – alleged novice/nervous cyclists – feeling the least bit comfortable cycling through. Even hardened users like me – used to cycling on these kinds of roads – find it unpleasant and intimidating. Yet the Quietway simply gives up here. It makes the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling description of Quietways sound rather hollow –

a network of direct back-street Quietways, with segregation and junction improvements over the hard parts [my emphasis]

And

Where directness demands the Quietway briefly join a main road, full segregation and direct crossing points will be provided, wherever possible, on that stretch[my emphasis]

Yet instead of ‘segregation and junction improvements over the hard parts’, Westminster don’t appear to be bothering to do anything at all here, simply dumping people cycling into the existing hostile junction, and indeed making their journeys more inconvenient and dangerous than even the current situation, by removing the Moor Street cycle-only route.

What hope is there for the Quietways programme if significant barriers on their routes – junctions like Cambridge Circus – are not being dealt with?


Categories: Views

Picture post – Veenendaal

3 March, 2015 - 13:28

By British standards, the Dutch town of Veenendaal has some exceptional infrastructure, but this is really a rather quite unexceptional Dutch town, in many ways. When I mentioned to Dutch people that I intended to visit Veenendaal while I was in the country last year, they couldn’t understand why.

From a distance – through the haze of a Dutch spring morning – it looks rather Soviet.

Veenendaal is the equivalent of a British new town, expanding rapidly from a very small post-war settlement into the large town it is today, which accounts for the rather featureless architecture. It was, however, winner of the Fietsstad (best cycling city/town) award in 2000 – more detail (in Dutch) here.

As it happened, I couldn’t book accommodation in Veenendaal, so I stayed in the nearby town of Wageningen, and only briefly passed through Veenendaal on my way to Utrecht. Nevertheless I hope the pictures and video I managed to take convey a flavour of the town.

The approach from the countryside to the south east is typical. A quiet rural road merges into cycling infrastructure. Here the cycle track passes over a canal, then under the ring road, in one smooth transition.

This is how cycling through and around the town felt – seamless. The path alongside the ring road is of a similar standard.

As are the paths through and around the town.

The road pictured below is access-only for motor traffic – it ends at this point for drivers. Only cycles can progress further, either through the underpass on the right, or the cycle path on the left.

Paths through neighbourhoods are straight and direct, and without interruptions, with priority over roads, and with bridges and underpasses where they are are needed.

The railway station lies (literally) on one of these paths, which connects with it, and passes straight underneath the station platforms.

The town centre itself is a combination of bicycle-only streets (with rising bollards to allow deliveries) -

… and cycle streets, on which motor traffic is allowed to drive, but only for short stretches (and in one direction only) meaning those routes are only used for access by drivers, while forming straight, useful routes for cycling. (Notice the block, however, which has obviously been added because Dutch drivers were not obeying the ‘turn right’ sign).

Here’s a video flavour of this environment. It’s totally safe and inviting.

This really is a network that anyone can use, and would choose to use. When I passed through, at mid-morning, the people cycling in the town were all in normal clothes, going about their business as if they were casually walking. At this time of day, cycling was dominated by the elderly –

and by females, in particular.

It’s not uniformly excellent – some of the roads I cycle on in the town had no infrastructure at all, and felt distinctly British.

It may not be much to look at, but the town felt extraordinarily safe, friendly and peaceful. It’s a model of how the cycling infrastructure in our own new towns could have been constructed, with safe, direct and attractive routes everywhere you need to go, rather than discontinuous bits and bobs that abandon you unexpectedly.

Here’s a final video, showing the continuity of the infrastructure, from the railway station, right out into the countryside.

I’d like to go back to Veenendaal – I just need to persuade my partner it’s a suitable holiday destination…

 


Categories: Views

Using a flexible mode of transport to break rules designed for an inflexible mode of transport

25 February, 2015 - 12:11

The other week I spotted a driver attempting to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Horsham.

It’s tempting to do this, because it represents a big shortcut.

The one-way section marked in red.

Starting from point A, driving illegally (south) down the road marked in red means that getting to point B is only a distance of 0.3 miles. Driving the legal route is over twice as long, and also involves waiting at several sets of traffic lights, which don’t exist on the ‘illegal’ route.

Here he is, setting off the wrong way down this one-way street…

… only to meet a bus coming the other way.

With – literally – nowhere to go, the presumably chastened driver had to reverse back, all the way he had come.

This incident got me thinking about why ‘cyclists’ have a bad reputation for going the wrong way up one-way streets, and drivers don’t.

Often this is explained in terms of ‘cyclists’ being able to ‘get away with it’, because they’re apparently not identifiable, with number plates, or fluorescent jackets with their names printed on, or some other nonsense.

Of course, this ‘explanation’ fails to account for how drivers consistently break laws in vast numbers, despite having number plates.

But there is actually something to this explanation. It is hard to get away with driving a car up a one-way street – much harder than riding a bicycle up a one-way street. However, this isn’t because you’ve got a number plate on your car. It’s because it’s physically hard to drive a car up a one-way street. There’s a strong chance you’re going to meet a vehicle coming the other way, and if that happens, you’re pretty much screwed, as in the case of the driver in the example described above. It’s a big risk.

By contrast, when you cycle the wrong way up a one-way street, it’s relatively easy to negotiate your way out of difficulty. For a start, you’re only the width of a human being, so you can simply stop against the kerb. Or you can become a pedestrian.

I’d estimate that, every day, around 50-100 people cycle the wrong way down the street this driver got caught out on. However, none of them will have encountered the kind of problem he did. There are some examples (and more background explanation) at the start of this post here.

And here’s a chap on a Dutch bike, cycling the wrong way, at precisely the position the driver met the bus.

Yes, I am also cycling ‘the wrong way’ here.

Here’s another.

And here’s someone cycling the wrong way, and actually meeting a bus, at this same location. No problem; he just waits out of the way, for the bus to go past.

We’re all cycling the wrong way precisely because we can get away with it. We can stop, walk on the pavement, get out of the way, and so on. Drivers can’t do this, because they’re cocooned in a much bulkier vehicle that is much, much harder to manoeuvre out of the way.

So the apparent ‘lawlessness’ of cyclists isn’t related to a lack of a number plate, or identification, but instead to the fact they’re much more like pedestrians, than drivers are. On a bike, we’re nimble and flexible; in a car, we aren’t.

I will often take short cuts in Tube stations, down passages that are ‘one way’ for pedestrians. I would think twice about this, however, if I was carrying a very large six-foot-cubed cardboard box. Because there’s a strong chance I’m going to get into difficulty if people come the other way.

This basic human psychology also explains why ‘red light jumping’ is associated with cycling (even if drivers actually jump red lights in roughly similar proportions). Drivers tend to jump lights by ‘gambling’ – nipping through the junction after the signals have turned red, on the (often mistaken) assumption that they’ve got just enough time to do so before traffic emerges from other arms of the junction. Here’s a gamble from a lorry driver.

People cycling, however, engage in a form of jumping that you rarely see drivers engaging in; creeping into the junction, looking around, seeing if it is clear, and progressing carefully across in stages.

It’s quite obvious why drivers don’t engage in this kind of behaviour, and again, it’s not because of number plates (because, again, that fails to explain why they’re jumping lights in vast numbers already). It’s because it’s risky to get yourself into the middle of a junction in a big bulky object, leaving yourself nowhere to retreat to, if things go wrong. You’re going to end up causing an obstruction.

On a bike, however, you can move onto the pavement, or you can position yourself against an island, or simply dismount, if things start going wrong. You’re small, nimble, and flexible.

One-way streets and traffic lights only exist in our towns and cities to accommodate the flow of big, bulky objects that can’t easily negotiate past each other. By contrast, present-day streets that carry tens of thousands of people a day on bikes (with very few, or even none, in motor vehicles) do not require traffic signals, or one-way systems, to accommodate flow. They are far, far more efficient.

So should we really be surprised that people using a flexible and nimble mode of transport will often ignore rules put into place to ease the passage of bulky and inflexible modes of transport? It’s their very flexibility that allows them to bypass those rules, without getting into difficulty – rules that came about because the drivers of motor vehicles were getting into difficulty.

 


Categories: Views

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