A bit of a follow-up to last week’s post about the Perne Road roundabout, looking at the potential issues, and what could have been done instead.
This roundabout has now hit the headlines because a child has been injured while cycling on the roundabout, on Wednesday evening. I don’t think it’s massively helpful to leap to conclusions on the basis of one incident, but it’s certainly worth looking at the general design flaws with this roundabout, and the alternative ways in which it could have been designed.
For me, the central problem is that cycling has not being designed for explicitly. Instead, it has been bodged into pedestrian-specific design, and into motor vehicle-specific design, simultaneously. Almost all the potential issues flow from this failure. The roundabout design expects people on bikes to behave like pedestrians, or like cars; something genuine Dutch design would never do.
For a start, the ‘shared use’ paths around the edge are quite obviously footways, on which it is permissible to cycle. They are not cycle tracks, with clearly defined routes. The result is cycling in a pedestrian-specific environment, and this, coupled with a lack of clarity, presents a number of problems.
With ‘shared footways’, drivers will have less certainty over where a cyclist might be heading. Take the scenario below, with the path of a cyclist represented by the blue arrow.
The driver doesn’t know if the cyclist is, or isn’t, going to use the crossing. The cyclist is travelling across an expanse of tarmac, and their intentions aren’t clear. The driver may assume wrongly.
Contrast this with a Dutch roundabout (in Assen) -
And the same is true from the perspective of people cycling. They have more time to assess which direction a driver is taking – staying on the roundabout, or leaving it – and therefore will have more opportunities to cross, more safely. Again, this is without cycle priority -
The Cambridge roundabout does not have this cycle-friendly feature. Because the crossing points are not set back any distance from the roundabout, there’s little time in which to assess which way drivers might be heading. In many instances, it may be too ambiguous to take a chance.
Placing the (pedestrian) crossings at these locations close to the roundabout also means they are blocked by drivers queueing to enter the roundabout, rather than left clear, as on a Dutch roundabout, by setting the crossing points back from the perimeter.
Funnily enough, although I’ve criticised the Poynton scheme, this ‘setting back’ of the crossings has been done correctly there, approximately one car length back from the ’roundabouts’.
This means people can cross behind stationary vehicles, rather than trying to cross in front of a vehicle that might be about to jump into the roundabout.
To compound these issues of uncertainly about where people are going, drivers have to contend with people cycling on the road, and on the footway, simultaneously, as they enter and exit the roundabout, rather than dealing with cyclists at one clear crossing point, on defined paths. This is a point John Stevenson makes here -
Drivers don’t know where cyclists are going to be. Because cyclists can either use the main carriageway or the shared-use, off-carriageway paths, drivers are expected to look for cyclists in a number of places at each arm of the roundabout, instead of just one.
Unnecessary complication has been added by putting people cycling on two different forms of route across the roundabout.
Another issue John identifies – having visited the site – is that a shared-use footway, by definition, involves mixing up pedestrians and cyclists together, rather than separating them, and that can be an uncomfortable experience for pedestrians, particularly in areas with high levels of footway cycling. Again, this problem is not one that should have been created.
What effect might the narrowed carriageway might have on people who continue to cycle on it? John thinks it might make collisions more likely, as people cycling will be closer to motor vehicles (and there also might be a temptation to squeeze through). That said, the geometry has been tightened, which should lead to lower vehicle speeds – so the collisions would probably on balance be less serious. Swings and roundabouts, although it is obviously far too early to make definitive judgements. In any case, a roundabout with this volume of motor traffic shouldn’t – in principle – be designed with the expectation people will be cycling on the carriageway.
Finally, there has been an awful lot of discussion about whether or not a genuine Dutch-inspired roundabout design would offer cyclists priority over motor traffic, or not. To me, that’s not a particularly pressing issue, compared to the overall design problems set out here. A Dutch roundabout with priority would look very similar to a Dutch roundabout without priority. Cyclists would have clear routes, separated from pedestrians – routes which would make it obvious to drivers what they are doing. Likewise the paths that drivers are taking would be clear, and the roundabout would be designed to maximise crossing opportunity. This roundabout achieves none of those outcomes.
My personal inclination – and I’ve been persuaded on this point – is not to offer cyclists priority, for the main reason that it is safer (remember, this is an entirely new kind of treatment for British drivers), and also because the loss of convenience is marginal, if the roundabout is designed properly. We should remember that no Dutch roundabout offered Dutch cyclists priority, at all, until the 1990s, by law. It was only for reasons of convenience – not safety – that his law was changed, and priority was switched in urban areas.
Priorities can be changed easily – bad design can’t.
The Perne Road/Radegund Road roundabout in Cambridge reopened recently – it’s been redesigned with ‘continental’ geometry, and wide shared use paths around the perimeter. This picture from Chris Rand gives you an impression of how it looks (and some of the potential issues).
This redesign was at a cost of £413,000 – £240,000 from the DfT’s ‘Cycle Safety Fund’, £70,000 from the European Bike Friendy Cities Project, and the remainder from Cambridgeshire/Cambridge City Council’s cycling budget.
I’ve been struck by some of the comments from the designer – Alasdair Massie – which can be found here. I’m going to analyse these, in turn.
The geometry is taken from Dutch guidance, although you will see some differences from the classic “Dutch” roundabout. Most significantly there is no segregated cycle track around the perimeter. This was a deliberate decision. We could have provided one, there is sufficient space if other elements were adjusted, but there is no off-carriageway infrastructure to link into and no prospect of providing any in the foreseeable future. [my emphasis]
Here it is stated that the decision not to provide cycle specific provision, away from the carriageway, around this roundabout is deliberate - it could have been provided, but because there isn’t any infrastructure to link to it, there apparently isn’t any point.
I find this slightly boggling. It implies that segregated infrastructure can only ever join up with existing bits of segregated infrastructure, which has slightly disturbing implications for a country that has next to no existing segregated infrastructure.
It’s also, well, complete rubbish. Segregated infrastructure can, and does. join up smoothly with other bits of cycle provision that doesn’t involve separation. Cycle provision in the Netherlands is not made up entirely of segregated provision - it’s made up of a variety of treatments, all of which smoothly transition from one to another, as you cycle along.
So a moment’s reflection shows this kind of assertion to be baseless.
In addition, these kinds of transitions in the Netherlands frequently occur at these kinds of situations. There might be a cycle lane – or even no provision at all – on a link approaching a roundabout, or junction, which then transitions to segregated provision, at the conflict points.
In fact, this kind of arrangement is very, very common, because designing proper separation at junctions is a priority. I’ve frequently been struck by how fairly crap Dutch roads still manage to prioritise physical separation at junctions, because that’s where it is most important. You’ll see it in rural areas too.
So this explanation doesn’t really stack up. Next -
There is a significant amount of pavement cycling at certain times of day, principally by school children. One of our aims was to make it safer for people to cross the roundabout using thefootways, without actively encouraging footway cycling. We also wanted to make it easier to cross on foot, as the previous arrangement involved a 60m detour via a Pelican Crossing, with guardrails to prevent jay walking.
‘A significant amount of pavement’ cycling suggests that on-carriageway traffic levels are too high for people to happily share the carriageway. A proper response would surely involve designing explicitly for these people, creating the segregated provision that it is acknowledged would fit here. Indeed, this has been demonstrated visually.
There are issues with motor vehicle access to the properties to the north east of the roundabout (not insurmountable – it would be relatively easy to provide motor access along, or across, the cycle tracks) and whether the Dutch would provide this kind of design with or without cycle priority across the arms. In either case – no priority, or priority – there would be separation from pedestrians, and clear routes through the junction. The motor traffic levels of around 20,000 vehicles/day (as discussed below) would, under Dutch guidance, still allow priority to be provided (the threshold is 25,000 PCU/day – p.246 Diagram 43).
But instead of creating this high-quality provision, the intention is apparently to make it easier for people to cycle on footways, ‘without actively encouraging’ it. Something of a contradiction.
I designed the work and I cycle across it every day on my way to work. I have to say that I am very pleased with the outcome. The traffic flows more smoothly and calmly; it is much easier to break in and out of the flow on a bike, and having watched Coleridge College empty out on Wednesday afternoon, the off-road provision works fine.
Translation – I’m happy cycling on the roundabout; it works for me. And there’s a footway people can cycle on, for those people who don’t want to mix it with traffic.
There are then some follow-up comments from the designer. Among these is a repeat of the earlier argument that segregation won’t work, because there is no segregation on the approaches.
There are no segregated cycle tracks on the streets leading to the junction, no prospect of any being provided in the foreseeable future. Where roadside cycle tracks exist elsewhere in urban Cambridge they are problematic and unpopular with many people. We used to call the abuse suffered by on-road cyclists the “Milton Rd effect” after a particular roadside cycle track. Where isolated cycle tracks exist at junctions they give drivers an excuse to harass and abuse those people who choose not to suffer the danger, delays and inconvenience of using them –I speak with personal experience.
Creating an isolated, segregated cycle track here would have been detrimental to the design in many ways. I would not have recommended it at THIS junction even if the funds were available.
I’ve already examined why this ‘lack of continuity of segregation’ argument is bogus. Another argument appears here, however – that ‘isolated cycle tracks’ at junctions create harassment from drivers for those people ‘closing not to suffer the danger, delays and inconvenience of using them’.
Note – this argument is coming from someone who has just designed in off-carriageway provision on this very roundabout, that he himself chooses not to use! It’s extraordinary hypocrisy. Surely you should build off-carriageway provision that you yourself would choose to use, before you start complaining about its effect?
However, this follow-up comment is more revealing, in that it shows what I think is the actual motivation for the design.
I have to say that I have been a little taken aback by the venom with which some in the twittersphere have attacked this design. As far as I can understand the anger is ideologically based – we did not provide a segregated peripheral cycle track and so some people hate it on principle.
I am not sure at what stage we abandoned the Hierarchy of Measures in LTN 02/08, but this is NOT a junction where I believe that a segregated cycle track around the outside is either necessary or appropriate. Ours is a TOP of hierarchy solution – it reduces traffic speed, it addresses junction danger, it does so by changing the geometry from the wide, flared, tangential British roundabout geometry to a tight, radial arrangement typically used in the Netherlands.
The absence of a separate cycle track is not due to an oversight, a misunderstanding or due to a lack of funds – although funding would have stopped this project in its tracks, if people had insisted on all or nothing. It was a deliberate design decision, because this was the most appropriate solution for the junction. [my emphasis, again]
Now, I think the Hierarchy of Provision (or Hierarchy of Measures) is a woeful piece of guidance, precisely because it can lead to bodged outcomes like this. To see it being used to justify this kind of design says it all. It’s so open to (mis)interpretation it needs to be jettisoned, and I’m glad to see a growing consensus on this.
Indeed, this is a textbook example of how the Hierarchy of Provision can be misused. For a start – the top measure in the Hierarchy of Provision in LTN 2/08 is actually to reduce motor traffic volume, not ‘speed’. This hasn’t been addressed at this roundabout.
In fact, a roundabout with this kind of layout would actually be appropriate, if the Hierarchy of Provision was properly applied, and motor traffic levels were actually reduced to 6000 or so motor vehicles per day, which is what the CROW manual recommends as the maximum volume for ‘mixed traffic’ (cyclists and motor vehicles sharing the carriageway) on a continental geometry roundabout. With that level of motor traffic, a roundabout designed like this could properly accommodate cycling on the carriageway, for everyone.
But the designer hasn’t done this – he’s employed the Hierarchy of Provision ‘pick and mix’, picking out elements from it like speed reduction, junction layout changes, and off-carriageway provision, blending them all up, and then claiming that the outcome is a ‘top of the hierarchy solution.’ Which is just meaningless guff, because
How on earth does that amount to a ‘top of the hierarchy solution’?
There is then the belligerent insistence that not providing a cycle track is actually ‘the most appropriate solution for the junction’ – apparently in defiance of the fact that significant volumes of motor traffic will still be flowing across it.
There are DfT counts for Perne Road (which runs N-S across the roundabout) – these figures show around 13,000 motor vehicles per day flow along this road. I can’t find figures for an E-W direction, which looks quieter, but this figure of 13,000 vehicles per day corresponds with a quoted figure from Martin Lucas-Smith of 20,000 vehicles using the roundabout, every day (in the comments here).
So this is a busy roundabout, one that – if we really care about making cycling an attractive transport option for anyone – certainly shouldn’t involve people cycling on the carriageway. As already mentioned, it far exceeds the Dutch threshold for ‘mixed traffic’ (i.e. integrating cyclists and motor vehicles) on roundabouts, of 6000 PCU/day (Diagram 42 of the CROW manual, page 246).
I cannot understand how – in this context of continuing high levels of motor traffic – expecting people to share is ‘the most appropriate solution’, especially when the design itself acknowledges that many people don’t want to do this.
Great historical speeches on matters of ambition, put through the Department for Transport Cycle Funding Filter™.
“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation, Mr. Gorbachev, aspire to explore ways of working together with other parties to develop a strategy for tearing down this wall!”
“Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. And that’s why my aspiration is to explore ways of potentially getting the funding together by the end of this decade, working with other countries.”
(More suggestions gratefully welcomed)
The Cyclists in the City blog has cast its eye over the City of London’s latest response to the Superhighway proposals [pdf], interpreting it as suggesting that the City are supporting their proposals, and actually demanding even more radical change.
I’d really like to be that charitable – after all, the City are demanding better pedestrian crossings, more pedestrian space, and better waiting times, as outcomes from this scheme. However, it’s quite hard to take these demands at face value when their response to the current proposals is so strangely negative. I can’t make sense of it. It seems there is some politics going on being the scenes, but the City’s interpretation of what is currently on the table is so oddly skewed it bears examination.
For a start, the City explicitly state that the proposals will make the roads in question worse for pedestrians.
The overall impact of the current proposals on pedestrians, local access and the environment are not in keeping with the Mayor of London‟s Vision to “create better places for everyone”.
Apparently, the current proposals have such an impact on pedestrians, they can’t be said to create a ‘better place’ for them. Elsewhere -
Officers believe that TfL’s proposals will have a significant adverse impact on the City. In particular to pedestrians, traffic flow, access and network resilience. It also fails to sufficiently address other challenges such as casualty reduction, air quality and the built environment.
‘Significant adverse impact’, in particular on pedestrians. Justified? Here are the new crossings that will be provided, listed by the City in a table, which I’ve annotated. Of the 14 listed, 12 are an (often substantial) improvement. The two that are worse are negligibly worse – the ‘2-stage’ crossing listed is a crossing of the road, then a crossing of the cycle track. This also applies to other ‘2-stage’ crossings listed above – they are not conventional two stage crossings – they are a crossing of the road in one go, followed by another (signalised) crossing of the cycle track, much better than crossing two large carriageways in two stages.
Three of the junctions mentioned currently have no pedestrian signals on one , two, or all of their arms.
The Tower Hill/Minories junction would be a huge improvement, as you can see below.
The City have this to say -
Whilst most of these new crossings are welcomed and long overdue, a number of them are proposed to be the “stagger” type crossings. These are crossings where pedestrian will need to cross in two attempts (two stages) and are therefore less than ideal.
Given that these “stagger” crossings are being put in place where there are currently no signals at all for pedestrians, this strikes me as being a little uncharitable. But if the City – in good faith – are calling for more direct crossings as part of these proposals, then that is very welcome. There is no reason at all why direct crossings can’t work with segregated cycle tracks – in reality, a number of these crossings remain two-stage to preserve motor traffic capacity, not for anything specifically related to cycling.
It’s also worth pointing out that – as mentioned above – there are two very different kinds of ‘stagger’ crossings. There are the current, horrible ones on the Embankment, which leave you stranded on a narrow island in four lanes of thunderous motor traffic.
Then there are the ‘stagger’ crossings that will replace every single one of these unpleasant crossings, which are of this form -
These are very different beasts, and the latter has to be acknowledged as a massive improvement, even if it remains a ‘two stage’ crossing.
So the crossings – while plainly not ideal – are almost in every case a large improvement on what is currently in place. The City are right to call for more – and one should welcome the chance to make things even better for pedestrians. But do the current proposals really justify comments about ‘significant adverse impacts’ on pedestrians? I’m not seeing it. Even the space gains for pedestrians (several thousand square metres) are accepted slightly churlishly by the City -
Although the proposals provide more pedestrian space, they are not necessarily at the locations where they are most needed such as the large islands north of Ludgate Circus or the islands forming the cycle lane segregation. In fact, the proposal looks to reduce footway space, particularly outside areas where high pedestrian flows exist such as at the Tower of London, Trinity Square Gardens, Queen Street and Ludgate Circus.
Footway space is, in truth, being marginally trimmed at these locations. Ludgate Circus is both gaining and losing some footway space -
… while the losses at Trinity Square and Queen Street are really quite marginal, especially in the context of the public space behind the carriageway in both these locations. To focus on these minor changes, as against the major gains elsewhere, again seems churlish. This is without even touching upon the large overall benefit to pedestrians from the way these schemes move motor traffic further away from footways – making for quieter, more comfortable and attractive experience – and the benefits from the banned turns for motor traffic, making it substantially easier to cross many of the minor side roads covered in these schemes. None of this mentioned by the City, at all.
The remaining pedestrian-specific issue the City raises are the longer waiting times at some of the pedestrian crossings, particularly at Ludgate Circus, where waits could be up to 24 seconds longer. But, as with ‘staggered’ crossings, this issue of timings is entirely related to maintaining motor traffic capacity. There is no incompatibility between cycling infrastructure and short waits to cross the road – the problem is the motor traffic.
The City’s position here is – rightly – that crossing times have to be shorter, but something has to give, and that ‘something’ should be motor traffic, not safe and attractive cycling conditions. Unfortunately it’s not clear where the City stand on this issue, particularly as they are making noises about delay to motor traffic elsewhere in their response, and also because of their strange comments about the Superhighway schemes being ‘biased’ towards cycling.
[The Superhighways] will run mostly on TfL roads, be direct and largely segregated. At junctions, conflicts between motor vehicles and cyclists will be removed. In order to achieve these design objectives, the reallocation of road space, amended signal times and restricted access is proposed. The City considers that the proposals are too heavily biased towards cyclists with insufficient consideration given to the needs of other users.
Funnily enough, ‘removing conflicts’ at junctions, and physically separating between them, is exactly what TfL should be doing on these busy roads – these designs, despite the ‘bikelash’ hype, are really the bare minimum.
So, from this passage, it seems the City believe that the mere act of designing properly is enough to render these proposals ‘too heavily biased towards cyclists’. (To look at this another way, how might the proposals becomes less ‘biased’? Maintaining conflicts at lethal junctions like Ludgate Circus, or Blackfriars? Continuing to mix people cycling with HGVs and coaches on Lower Thames Street, rather than separating them?) My concern, from this kind of comment about ‘bias’, and from comments elsewhere that
the segregation design would significantly compromise network resilience
is that the City want to iron out these niggles, in some areas, over the quality of the pedestrian experience by watering down the quality of the Superhighway proposals, and even eroding them completely, rather than taking more time, and space, away from motor traffic. I hope that’s not the case.
One of the presentations at last month’s London Cycling Campaign Seminar Series was from Ian Garrard of Brunel University. Ian was one of the authors – along with Ian Walker and Felicity Jowitt – of a paper examining the influence of a cyclist’s appearance on overtaking distance. The paper is freely available here, and well worth a read.
One of the standout findings is that 1-2% of the thousands of overtakes measured came within 50cm of the ‘trial subject’ (Ian himself) – and this on roads that included 60mph limits – and that this was consistently the case, regardless of the clothes he was wearing. It seems that a minority of drivers just don’t care, and will continue not to care, regardless of who they are overtaking, what they look like, and what they are wearing.
But I was most interested by this slide from Ian’s presentation.
Compared to 1979, British drivers – on average – now get 34% closer to people cycling while overtaking. (This is in just one region – the region in which the study was carried out – but likely to be reflected across Britain).
What’s the explanation? Are British drivers of today that much worse than those of 1979? That seems unlikely – there’s no standout reason why British drivers of the 1970s would have been trained any better, or behaved any better.
Ian Garrard’s (speculative) hypothesis is that motor traffic volume has substantially increased since 1979, which raises the risk of being on the receiving end of a close overtake. With lower traffic levels, it’s much easier to overtake correctly, as there’s less chance you will encounter a cyclist while there is oncoming traffic. With higher traffic levels, the ‘windows’ of an empty oncoming lane are more scarce, and the option of just ‘squeezing through’, instead of waiting patiently, becomes increasingly tempting.
The hypothesis is plausible, and worth examining in more detail – doubtless the closer overtakes would correspond to the busier roads, with the wider overtakes occurring on the quieter ones. I’ve observed – anecdotally – how easy it is form a misleading impression of continental drivers, based on the fact that British people cycling in Europe will generally be doing so in low traffic areas, at off-peak times – on holiday.
This issue of overtaking distance cropped up again, around about the same time as that LCC seminar, in a musing from Carlton Reid that Dutch drivers might give more overtaking distance – suggesting that Ian Walker use (or lend someone!) his proximity test in that country to find out whether that is true.
My immediate instinct is that such a test would be fairly meaningless.
For a start, on roads that carry significant volumes of motor traffic – above about 3-4000 PCU/day – it is almost always impossible for Dutch drivers to overtake closely to people cycling.
Roads that carry high volumes of motor traffic, or where motor traffic is travelling at higher speeds, form part of a system where cyclists are catered for separately. They don’t have to share these roads, as a matter of design principle. And they won’t be overtaken closely, because it’s just impossible.
Of course, the remaining parts of the Dutch road network are places where Dutch cyclists will share with drivers, but these parts of the network are places where there is very little motor traffic; almost always below that 3-4000 PCU/day threshold. These roads and streets will, for the most part, serve access purposes only; to residential areas in towns and cities…
or to link up properties in rural areas.
These rural roads will only be used by local motor traffic, because faster roads have been provided for drivers, and/or they are restricted as through routes. Consequently, there will be very little oncoming motor traffic, and very little opportunity to do crappy overtakes.
Indeed, a basic rationale of Dutch sustainable safety is to remove the opportunity to perform a crappy overtake entirely. The consequences of river error, and driver stupidity, are slowly being designed out of Dutch roads and streets. So, really, measuring driver overtaking distance under this kind of system – sadly so very different to the prevailing conditions on British roads – would tell you very little about Dutch driver behaviour. It would be almost equivalent to measuring the distance with which British drivers overtake pedestrians.
Note – the one way in which a legitimate comparison might be made is to examine overtakes on two equivalent segments of road, in Britain and the Netherlands, of the same approximate width, carrying the same approximate volume of motor traffic.
No, not the latest Matt Damon film. The ‘Badgertown Exception’ is a debating technique which employs the following logic.*
This kind of logic is actually employed by Hackney Councillor Vincent Stops – calling it the ‘Hackney Cycling Test’.
You should take the @hackney_cycling test. How would you put segregation through Dalston Kingsland?
The implication being that because cycle tracks ‘won’t fit’ on Kingsland Road, by Dalston Kingsland station, the strategy of cycle tracks on main roads is entirely flawed, anywhere in Hackney.
This section of the A10 is undoubtedly a busy area, with competing demands for the space between the buildings. It’s a through route for motor traffic, there are bus stops, the footways are busy with pedestrians, and loading needs to take place.
Creating cycle tracks here would not be straightforward (although certainly not impossible). But even if it were impossible to do so, that doesn’t tell us anything about anywhere else in Hackney, nor should it. Failing a ‘test’ on one particular road shouldn’t rule out that design intervention everywhere else, any more than a failure to fit bus lanes on Dalston Kingsland means that bus lanes should be ruled out everywhere in Hackney.
It might be that case that Dalston Kingsland remains a ‘gap’ for the foreseeable future; one of those bits that are just difficult to get right. Dutch cities have these kinds of roads and streets too, places they haven’t really got around to sorting out yet, because of similar competing demands. Mixed use streets where children have to cycle outside parking and loading bays, on a route shared with buses, for instance.
Importantly, however, these are the gaps, not the model itself. These gaps are only really tolerable because the rest of the network is so good – good enough to keep large numbers of people flowing through these low quality areas. The city of Utrecht did not look at the street above and think – ‘well, it’s quite hard to fit in decent cycling infrastructure here, so that rules out the principle entirely – let’s give up.’
Utrecht got on with creating good conditions everywhere else, and at some point in the future will presumably revisit this street and come up with a decent solution.
By the same token, Dalston Kingsland tells us nothing about the kind of treatments that are available, and could be employed, on other main roads in Hackney. Difficulty on one section of road should not rule out attempts to improve other parts of that road, or indeed other major roads.
Equally, it would be silly to suggest that the current arrangement on Dalston Kingsland is ideal, or even ‘perfect’. It really isn’t. It’s unpleasant, and hostile, even for someone used to cycling on London’s roads.
Yet Stops is presenting this road as a perfect cycling scheme.
It’s true that putting cycle tracks here would require compromises; delaying motor traffic while making buses stop in the carriageway, for instance, or trimming some of that (wasted) footway space you can see in the picture above. But in acknowledging these compromises, we shouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the current scheme – which does very little to take cycling into consideration – is ‘perfect’ – or indeed that it should teach us anything about any other road or street.
Credit for the Badger Street, Badger Town formulation goes to Jim Davis
Today marks the third anniversary of the last time I was hit by a motor vehicle.
It wasn’t the worst collision I’ve suffered, but it sticks in the memory, partly because it is the most recent, but also because – for whatever reason – when you are young you seem to have the ability to quickly slough off and dismiss incidents that would probably linger when you are older and wiser.
This particular crash occurred in the evening, at around a quarter to seven. I’d just been visiting a friend. I was exiting a cul-de-sac, approaching the T-junction at the end of the road, at which I was going to turn right. I was correctly positioned, as per Bikeability training, in the middle of my lane (ironically enough, I might not have been hit had I been hugging the kerb to my left, but that introduces other dangers).
About twenty metres from the junction, I realised a car approaching on the major road, from my left, was turning into the side road I was on, and it was doing so in a way that meant it was going to crash into me. It was turning in on my side of the road, straight at me.
Time slowed down, enough for me to process a number of thoughts.
This all took, almost certainly, less than second. Suddenly I was on the bonnet of the vehicle.
This is a curious and memorable experience, and I think it’s worth attempting to convey what it’s like.
Imagine the strongest human being you know. Then make them twenty times stronger. More. And made out of metal. Then imagine them running at you, at fifteen miles an hour.
When they hit you, there is no trading of momentum. The car doesn’t bounce off you like a human would, it just keeps coming at you, and I was suddenly travelling with it, in the opposite direction to which I made been travelling, a fraction of a second earlier.
Then – presumably once the driver had realised there was a person on her bonnet – the brakes were suddenly applied. The car quickly came to a halt, but I didn’t, flying back off the bonnet, suspended in mid air, before landing in the ground, in a tangle with my bike, my right hip and right elbow taking the impact.
I bruised up a fair bit over the next day, but fortunately my injuries were minor. I still have a bit of a scar on my elbow. My front wheel was ruined, but apart from that, my bike survived. Pleasingly (from my perspective) the car was not unscathed – a shattered numberplate -
A few days later, when I rang her up asking her for forty pounds to repair my front wheel (this was for a new rim – I was even going to the trouble of re-lacing the existing wheel, rather than demanding an entirely new one) she had a change of heart and accused me of riding without lights, before hanging up.
I texted her to point out that this was unlikely, especially as we had used my bike light to illuminate the exchanging of details. She backed down, and a cheque for forty pounds arrived a few days later.
I did go back and check how visible I would have been, from her perspective.
I was on my touring bike, which (then) had a Mk2 Strada Exposure fitted – a bright light, as good enough, approximately, as a car headlamp. The bike would have been in the middle of the lane, not propped up against the kerb, but the photograph gives a reasonable indication of the situation.
Even if I didn’t have a bike light, she should still have seen me. I could have been a pedestrian crossing the road, and she would have run me down in just the same way.
She just didn’t see me.
I don’t know why. She was pulling in to the parking bays in this cul-de-sac, so, at the end of her journey, at the end of the day, she must have switched off, assumed her journey was over and not realised that, driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting the corner, there might have been something, or someone, in the way.
What sticks with me about this incident is the impact, and how powerless I felt as it was occurring, and how powerful the motor vehicle beneath me was, how it just kept going, and how it stopped so abruptly.
And yet this was, in truth, a minor collision. (Because I went to the police station to report it the next day, it’s logged as such on Crashmap). At a rough guess I was hit by a car travelling at around 10-15mph, that was probably already slowing. I bounced off, landed on the road, and recovered from my bruises and scrapes.
I was already a careful rider, but the incident has made me even more cautious. Worst case scenarios run through my mind. If I see a driver approaching a Give Way line, waiting to join the road I am cycling on, I really, really make sure they are going to stop, and think about what evasive action I might take, should they fail to yield. When I approach a main road, I am really, really wary of drivers who might be turning in on my side of the road. Understandably.
I know what a minor collision feels like, so I really don’t want to suffer a serious one. A minor one is bad enough, and I shudder to think about harder impacts, impacts at greater speed, impacts I can’t limp away from.
Every time I hear the expression ‘mutual respect’, I’m transported back to that moment when I’m on the bonnet of a black car, a car that has just driven through me, scooping me up, before unceremoniously dumping me on the tarmac, and my helplessness to avoid the collision, or do anything about it while it was occurring. The difference in power was total.
What kind of ‘mutuality’ are we really talking about, when this is the reality of interaction between motor vehicles, and human beings, when collisions occur? Presumably only ‘do your best not to be hit’. A pretty shallow form of respect.
A short piece on the Evening Standard’s reporting of the Superhighway proposals.
The first article in the Standard came on the 11th September, entitled Business leaders in revolt over Boris Johnson’s cycle superhighway plans, quoting an (unnamed) business leader describing the plan as ‘an absolute mess’ that ‘will cause gridlock’, without providing any evidence to back up these claims. This ‘gridlock’ theme is one the paper returned to later, as we shall see.
The next article appeared nearly a week later, on the 18th September. This was an ‘exclusive’ which revealed, in a large headline, that
Really? In the article, an unnamed ‘source’ (another one) had this to say -
“The idea is that they do the cycle superhighway in 2015 and then in 2016 take it out all again for Thames Water. The concern is you are going to have to pay tens of millions of pounds and you are going to have to take it all out.”
The implication of this comment (and the article in general) is that tens of millions of pounds will be going to waste; once the Superhighway is built, TfL will ‘have to take it all out’. But the ‘tens of millions of pounds’ cost of the Superhighways is for the whole project, both E-W and N-S routes, from end-to-end. How much of the Superhighways might have to be taken out for the ‘supersewer’?
The Thames Tideway Tunnel website confirms that between Horse Guards Avenue and Northumberland Avenue along the Victoria Embankment a section of “roadway and pavement” will be required on the westbound carriageway.
How long is this section?
… Just 200 metres.
A tiny, tiny percentage of the whole Superhighways scheme. And in any case -
Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL said: “We are working closely with Thames Water to ensure that there is no impact on the superhighway. It is planned that in the event of any closures, a safe, segregated and clearly signed cycle lane will be installed to get cyclists past the works.”
This silly article was followed on the 23rd September by an article that contained this bizarre passage -
… transport chiefs have pledged that all major sports will be able to take place as usual along the Victoria Embankment despite the [Superhighway] changes.
It follows concerns that there would be insufficient space to stage the BUPA 10k, British 10k, Royal Parks 10k and half marathon, London triathlon, and cycling’s Tour of Britain.
Again, unnamed, unreferenced ‘concerns’, this time about sporting events being unable to take place – ‘concerns’ that are completely unjustified. Here’s Leon Daniels again -
Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL said: “Major sporting events in the capital will not be affected by the east-west Superhighway.”
Sporting events – just like supersewers – will happily coexist with the Superhighways. But plainly they are extremely ‘concerning’ for the anonymous people being quoted in the Standard. Where next for this paper, in its trawl for negative things to write about this project?
Yesterday Transport for London published the (projected) effects of the Superhighways on journey times for motor vehicles, and the effects on pedestrian crossing times. The Standard splashed with the headline
Which was subsequently changed to include the crucial detail ‘up to 16 minutes longer’ (the original wording is contained in this tweet from the author, Matthew Beard).
As the article reveals, this ’16 minute’ figure is the very worst case scenario, the maximum possible delay for people driving from the Limehouse Link to Hyde Park, at peak times.
The TfL summary of effects of the E-W route is here, and the table of modelling impacts is here. The effects on motoring journey times is shown below. The right hand columns show the difference, either positive or negative, if the scheme were to be implemented, against current journey times. The ‘headline’ figure is in the top row.
From the same table, here’s the potential delay to pedestrians at a variety of crossings (in seconds). The right hand columns show the difference in maximum waiting time, in the AM and PM peak, if the Superhighways were to be built.
At worst – 9 seconds, and mostly no change. This should be set in the context of a 4000 square metre gain of pedestrian space, 25 crossings being shortened, and 4 staggered crossings changed to direct crossings. The figures released by TfL confirm that the project as a whole will offer significant benefits to pedestrians.
Much the same is true of the north-south route. Again, the net gain for pedestrians will be 3000 square metres, there will be six shortened crossings, and three staggered crossings will become direct crossings.
Amazingly TfL don’t even mention new crossings, like the one on the north side of the Blackfriars Bridge junction.
The modelling suggests that maximum waits for a green signal for pedestrians will increase by up to 24 seconds at some crossings, but as Cycalogical points out, this extra delay (indeed, any delay at pedestrian crossings) is purely a function of an attempt to accommodate motor traffic, rather than cycle tracks, in and of themselves. More people cycling means less motor traffic, and less delay for pedestrians, in the long term.
One final point here is that the TfL modelling (as is increasingly becoming clear) is extremely conservative, not least because these figures are based on static motor traffic. The modelling assumes no continuing decline in motor traffic in central London, and no modal shift to cycling.
The Evening Standard has chosen to focus on the very worst headline figures from the TfL modelling release, without setting them in context, or even mentioning the positive effects of the Superhighways, either for drivers, or pedestrians, or for the functioning of London as a modern multi-modal city. Getting more people cycling – rather than causing causing gridlock – is in reality a way of avoiding it.
The Standard’s latest report fits into a pattern of negativity about the Superhighways, with worst case scenarios, and unjustified ‘concerns’ from unnamed sources, forming the basis for articles. What’s going on?
The local cycling forum in Horsham are banging their heads against something of a brick wall, attempting to get contraflow cycling on a short (residential) street that has one-way flow. This is Barrington Road.
There’s a bit of background here, but essentially allowing two-way cycling on this street would mean that it would form part of a useful route, from north to south, connecting up with a a reasonable shared cycling and walking path. At present, without two-way cycling, the route effectively hits a dead end.
Local councillors appear adamant that allowing two-way cycling would be ‘dangerous’, because of the parked cars on each side of the street, and the narrowness, and continue to oppose opening up this street to cycling in both directions.
We find these arguments quite unconvincing. The street is not at all busy, even at peak times, the sight lines are good, it is short, and it is surrounded by equally narrow (and busier) streets that have two-way driving on them; for instance, New Street -
I encounter people driving towards me while cycling on both these streets, and we manage to work it out amongst ourselves. Barrington Road would, of course, involve changing the status quo, meaning drivers would now be encountering people cycling towards them when they hadn’t previously, but
Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before. But simply refusing to allow cycling in a contraflow direction – while a neat and tidy way of dealing with that safety issue – is not a particularly productive one.
There’s a wider point to be made here. This particular case illustrates a phenomenon I would like to call selective attention to danger. What this involves -
A notable example of this phenomenon is the Holborn gyratory in Camden, which was the scene of death in July last year. This justifiably angry blog from Andy Waterman – written on the day of Alan Neve’s death – tells this story better than I can. But this image, from his blog, sums up the issue.
The direct east-west route – formed of a contraflow bus lane – could not be used by people cycling, and indeed the police consistently ticketed people for doing so. The only alternative was therefore the fast, wide Holborn gyratory, four lanes wide. Where Alan Neve died. Subsequent to his death, east-west cycling is now allowed in the bus lane. It probably wasn’t that dangerous in the first place; certainly compared to the alternative.
There’s similar selective attention to danger in Horsham. Contraflow cycling on this quiet residential street is seemingly beyond the pale, but across the rest of the town, we have unremittingly hostile roads that pose far, far greater risks, about which nothing has been done, and about which nothing is being done. To take just one example, barely half a mile, as the crow flies, from Barrington Road, we have this junction on our inner ring road, Albion Way.
To make a right turn here by bike (at the lights in the distance) involves crossing into the third lane, moving across two lanes of heavy traffic, often travelling at or above 30mph, heading straight on. There is no alternative here, except giving up entirely. The only reason this junction might appear ‘safe’ is that very, very few people are actually prepared to do this.
The risks posed cycling down a quiet residential street, facing intermittent oncoming traffic, pale into insignificance compared with the hostility of this junction, and many others, in Horsham. Yet nothing is being done about these latter environments, while the comparatively minuscule risk of the former is enough to torpedo any changes. It’s objectively absurd.
If a council is genuinely concerned enough about my safety to stop me from cycling on a short, narrow street in such a way that I might occasionally encounter an oncoming vehicle, where is that concern on all those other roads where I, and many other people, cycle every day? Roads where I have to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic; where I have to negotiate out around parked cars into streams of traffic; where I have to position myself to prevent drivers from turning across my path; where I have to ‘take the lane’ to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. Why is your concern so selective?
The Birmingham Post has published an excellent response to the claims from Councillor Deirdre Alden that cycling is in some way discriminatory. It’s worth reading in full, despite the headline about ‘sport’, which presumably has been added by a sub-editor.
At the start of this article we discover that Alden was not the only councillor making these kinds of comments. Councillor James Hutchings apparently argued that ‘hordes’ of cyclists would have ‘a severe impact on pedestrians and motorists’, before stating
It might be great for cyclists but it won’t be great for the rest of the population, particularly elderly people, a lot of women who don’t cycle, a lot of disabled people who can’t cycle, a lot of the ethnic minority people – do you see them cycling all over the city in their hijabs? It isn’t sensible policy.
It’s highly discriminatory for relatively few people who don’t pay any money, who don’t insure, and I do think we do need to get away from the pretence that cycling is wonderful for everybody. Loads of pedestrians will be put at greater risk.
If there genuinely were ‘hordes’ of people cycling on Birmingham’s enormous roads, that would not have a negative impact on motorists (let alone a ‘severe’ impact) – it would be a positive one, because it would reduce the lengths of queues, and congestion more generally. Cyclists don’t come out of nowhere – they’re just people who would have been making trips by other modes.
Hutchings then argues that attempting to improve conditions for cycling would be ‘highly discriminatory’, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t see elderly people cycling, or ethnic minorities cycling (with or without hijabs) or disabled people cycling. (Note that his argument is anecdotal, not based on any evidence.)
His comments mirror those of Cllr Alden, who argued
The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men… most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now.
Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to cycle. It is a discriminatory form of transport
Alden stood by these comments in a later interview -
In asking for the assessment, I made the factual observation that most, not all, but most, of the cyclists I see in my area are young white men. Of course I know some elderly, disabled, women and people from all ethnic groups cycle. But clearly many in Birmingham – for lots of reasons – don’t feel they can. Surely it would be better to spend some of the cycling money in ways which would help those groups who don’t currently choose to cycle?
And also clarified her position in Cycling Weekly -
None of the £24 million is being spent on lighting the canal tow path which would enable safer cycling. It is all being spent on the road and this can put cyclists off. It is only helping current, confident cyclists – not new cyclists and all sections of society.
There is a scheme in a local Edgbaston park that is encouraging Asian women to cycle which is great but we’re talking about roads here.
Now I have to say here that Alden is actually making a sound argument. If the improvements being made to the roads are only marginal, then I think she is right to say that the money is being spent in a way that could be discriminatory. If the funding, for instance, is being spent making cycle lanes a bit wider, or painting ASLs, or other measures that are not at all attractive to children, or the elderly, or those with disabilities, then yes, the only people benefiting will be those who are cycling already, who are disproportionately male and middle-aged.
I’ve only managed to have a cursory look at the proposals for Birmingham, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but certainly it seems as if some of the schemes might fall into this trap. For instance -
This is on the A41 Soho Road. Does this look like an environment in which some painted symbols in the carriageway will make cycling attractive to all?
Elsewhere we have a cycle lane alongside a dual carriageway, with loading allowed in the cycle lane.
So, while there are better parts to these proposals, some of the money Birmingham has won from the Department for Transport would seem to be being spent on schemes that are not inclusive – ‘only helping current, confident cyclists’, as Alden puts it.
Whether these arguments are being made in good faith or not is hard to say; the picture is muddied by her comments about cycling being something that certain groups of society simply won’t engage in, regardless of the quality of the environment. Cllr Hutchings’ comments fall more overtly into this category; that ‘cyclists’ are a small subset of the population – compared to ‘the rest of the population’ – who don’t deserve any money.
What can be said is that cycling is only as discriminatory as we make it.
The reason why cycling is limited to certain groups, in certain places and along certain roads, is because the environment excludes others. Riding a bike – or using pedal power more generally – is something that nearly everyone can engage in, if the environment is right. Even those who don’t cycle, and use mobility scooters and wheelchairs to get about, would benefit from a quality cycling environment.
So while it is true to say that cycling is a mode of transport that many people are excluded from using in cities like Birmingham, that in itself is plainly not an argument for maintaining the status quo. If children and the elderly do not feel comfortable cycling on dangerous roads, then rather than shrugging our shoulders and doing nothing, while wailing about how cycling is ‘discriminatory’, that state of affairs should be remedied.
BUT we need changes to roads and streets that open them up to all potential bicycle users, not marginal adjustments that make things slightly better for the few currently willing to cycle on them. Buried in the rhetoric from those councillors in Birmingham is a substantive argument.
By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about reducing the need to stop at traffic lights while cycling, I thought I’d take a look at exemptions to signals – how they work in the Netherlands, and how they could be transferred to the UK.
This is a bit of a hot topic (as far as hot topics go) in cycle infrastructure design, and also something that could offer benefits for pedestrians – pertinent, as we’ll see, to aspects of the Superhighway plans. just announced by Transport for London.
The basic Dutch principle is that if someone is making a right turn by bike (our left turn, obviously) at a signalised junction, they shouldn’t have to stop. Not only is this convenient, it’s also safer – people cycling, turning right, don’t need to go anywhere near the junction itself.
Amazingly the Dutch have been doing this for a very long time. Mark Wagenbuur (BicycleDutch) showed me this example dating from the 1960s, in the Overvecht area of Utrecht -
This signalised junction is completely bypassed if you wish to turn right by bike (much as it is if you were walking). Good design, even if it is clearly in need of renovation, being about fifty years old!
Here’s a more modern example of the same design, in Amsterdam -
In fact, we actually do this already in Britain – but badly. We simply allow cycling on the footway. Either this is a simple footway conversion – ‘you can now cycle here, off you go’ – or it’s deliberate design, like (for instance) on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton, where you are allowed to cycle onto the pavement to make left turns.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s far from ideal, not just because it creates conflict and uncertainly between people walking and cycling, but also because there’s no continuity through the junction.
Happily it seems that moves are afoot to try and bring Dutch-style design to the UK, with cycle tracks, clearly separated from both footways and the carriageway, extending around the corners of signalised junctions, and remaining outside of signal control.
Here’s a detail from a presentation made at the latest LCC policy forum, by Transport for London’s Brian Deegan -
It’s not quite perfect, but the principle are exactly right. Turning left is possible at any time, regardless of what the signals are doing. Likewise, the interactions with pedestrians are managed correctly, with pedestrians having priority across the track on zebras, on both arms of the junction – reaching a waiting island, and then crossing the carriageway with signals.
So this is how someone walking might move across this junction -
They can, of course, cross the ‘signalised’ bit whenever they want to, if the road is clear, because UK pedestrians don’t have to obey the red man.
Flipping a picture of a junction in Amsterdam, we can see how this might look in Britain.
The woman with the dog has crossed the ‘zebra’ bit over the cycle track, and is waiting for a green signal at the carriageway. Slightly confusingly, the Dutch use zebra markings across signalised pedestrian crossings too. (This is so that they can function with pedestrian priority at night, when traffic signals are turned off). But Brian’s example is how it might look in the UK.
Brian himself is pushing hard for an implementation of this kind of junction somewhere in London. His actual intention is for it to operate as a form of ‘simultaneous green’, with people able to cycle across the junction in any direction, at the same time, while all motor traffic is held – and pedestrians also able to cross at the same time, because the ‘signalled’ bit of the crossing doesn’t involve anyone cycling.
But it seems that some people in TfL are quite sniffy and sceptical about how this would actually work – Brian related how he had been told that the ‘zebra’ and the ‘signalised’ parts of the pedestrian crossing should be staggered, or offset, so that pedestrians don’t get confused into thinking that the whole crossing is a zebra. (Yes, seriously).
Funnily enough, I was in Bristol the other weekend, and, well, they are actually building something like this already.
This is the new cycle track along Baldwin Street, still under construction -
It will be bi-directional, which is less than ideal, but I think Bristol have actually pretty much nailed how this design approach should work. The cycle track passes behind the traffic signals, meaning there’s no need to stop. There’s even a hint at a Dutch protecting island on the corner, and the pedestrian and cyclist parts of the crossing (heading to the left) are clearly separated. Pedestrians cross the track on a hinted ‘zebra’, and then wait on an island, if they have to, for the signalled part of the crossing.
The ‘zebra’ has to be unofficial like this, because doing it officially would currently require Belisha beacons, and zig-zag markings – rendering something that should be quite simple very messy. So I think Bristol have taken the right approach – it’s quite obvious that it’s a crossing, even if it isn’t done by the letter.
Are people confused by this design? It would seem not.
I stood here for a while, and nobody appeared to feel the urge to march across the road, convinced that they had priority on a zebra, all the way across it. It’s really quite obvious what’s going on.
The rest of the track will, it seems, have this same kind of treatment at straightforward signalised pedestrian crossings.
A little hard to see, because it’s obviously still under construction, but pedestrians can cross the cycle track on this ‘zebra’, before waiting on an island at a signalised pedestrian crossing. Simple, and it means that people cycling along the road don’t have to worry about stopping for the signals; they just have to yield to pedestrians at the ‘zebra’.
The original plans marked this arrangement much like a ‘give way a footway’ -
This would not have been a bit messy, I think, and I’m pleased to see Bristol using the best approximation of a Dutch approach that they can manage.
So, can this be copied in London, and elsewhere in the UK? Definitely. Here’s a pedestrian crossing, from the new Superhighway proposals on Lower Thames Street.
The whole crossing is signalised. But why not do what Bristol are doing, and only signalise the bit across the road, with a zebra (or ‘zebra’) across the cycle track, at the top? (Note – this would have the added benefit of shorter pedestrian stages).
Likewise, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge -
Do we really need to make people walking go out of their way, on a two-stage staggered crossing, just to get across a cycle track? Surely a simple ‘zebra’ marking would suffice. Why make our lives more difficult with all this staggering, when the cycle track could be crossed directly on zebras?
So I’d love to see all this unnecessary signalisation removed from these (very promising) plans, and replaced with zebra markings. It would make everyone’s lives much better. These plans would make a substantial improvement to the pedestrian environment as they stand, but i think they be even better.
It would also provide firm support for Brian Deegan’s attempts to implement his simultaneous green junction plans elsewhere in London, – as well as support for the sound principle of exempting people cycling left at junctions from signalisation.
Bristol are showing us how it can be done. Why over-complicate things?
I wouldn’t mind so much if the arguments being presented against the new Superhighway proposals in London were actually considered, and credible. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re ridiculous. Let’s examine the recent City of London response, which sadly is pretty much nonsense, from start to finish.
Michael Welbank, the City of London’s Planning Chairman, states that the City
support[s] the two routes in principle
Which sounds promising, until you consider that – from bitter UK experience – a ‘cycle route’ can mean absolutely anything. A bit of shared pavement, a useless stripe on the road – take your pick.
Simply supporting the principle of a ‘route’, therefore, is meaningless, without any detail on the quality and nature of that route. And it is the nature of these Superhighways that the City of London are specifically objecting to. As Mark Boleas, City Policy Chairman, states in the same press release -
We support the concept of cycling superhighways but have considerable reservations about the current proposals
So not really ‘support’, at all – ‘considerable reservations’. Indeed, what ‘support’ the City are offering is merely for a ‘route’ of some description – the vague, undefined ‘concept of cycling superhighways’.
What form of ‘Superhighway’ do the City think TfL should be employing, instead of the current proposals? They don’t go into detail, but a clue is here -
Mr Welbank said the Square Mile’s dense street pattern meant pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all needed to share the space.
‘We’re trying to get all street-users to adapt constantly to each other and avoid a ‘It’s-my-space!’ mentality.’
Let’s pick this apart. The City of London – as far as I am aware – isn’t proposing to remove footways, and make pedestrians ‘share space’ with drivers. Indeed, pavements have been widened in many places in the City of London. More pedestrian-specific space has been created. How do the City’s public realm schemes fit with their own arguments about pedestrians and drivers ‘all needing to share space’? Are the City actually worried about pedestrians (and drivers travelling alongside the footways they are on) having an ‘it’s-my-space!’ mentality? I doubt it.
So the impression created by these comments from Welbank is that what the City of London is really objecting to is, specifically, the principle of protected space for cycling on the roads in question. Pedestrians and drivers are not ‘sharing’ anywhere in the city of London, nor will they be any time soon. The only ‘sharing’ the City is talking about is of a particular kind – mixing people cycling, with motor traffic. These two modes ‘adapting constantly to each other’.
Now, the charitable interpretation of these comments is that Welbank and the City of London haven’t actually worked out which roads are involved in this Superhighway scheme. That is – they’ve responded without examining where the Superhighway will run.
That sounds unbelievable, but note that Welbank is talking about a ‘dense street pattern’, which bears absolutely no relation to the roads on which the Superhighway will actually be built. Namely – very, very wide roads, carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day.
The less charitable interpretation is that they do know which roads are involved, but haven’t got the first clue about how attractive this ‘sharing’ approach might be on them, or are simply advocating ‘sharing’ because they want to maintain the status quo.
Let’s take a look at the amount of motor traffic on the roads involved – the route in the pictures above. Lower Thames Street, which will form a large part of the East-West Superhighway through the City of London, carries 49,000 motor vehicles a day, including over 4000 HGVs, 8000 LGVs, and nearly 2000 buses and coaches.
The Embankment is scarcely any better, with 61,000 motor vehicles a day, including around 3000 HGVs, and 9000 LGVs. Upper Thames Street by Blackfriars station carries 40,000 motor vehicles a day, with around 10,000 HGVs and LGVs, in total. You can see these figures for yourself on the Department for Transport site.
So these are plainly very busy roads, that are wide, and fast. There might be some people cycling here already, ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’ to the motor traffic flowing around them, but to present ‘sharing’ as a realistic design approach for cycling on these roads is extremely fanciful.
These roads are dangerous and hostile to the few people fit and brave enough to cycle on them. They include some of the most deadliest junctions in London, places where experienced cyclists are killed or seriously injured with horrible regularity, one of the most recent being Bart Chan, hit by an HGV on Upper Thames Street in May this year. These awful collisions will continue to happen if, instead of well-designed Superhighways that separate people cycling from HGVs, buses and motor traffic, we get the City’s apparently desired approach of ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’.
In addition, we have a vivid annual demonstration of how actual demand for cycling along the Thames is massively suppressed.
For just one day of the year, thousands of people fight their way into central London – carrying bikes on cars, or walking or cycling on footways – to experience the joy of cycling on these roads.
Is ‘sharing’ with the tens of thousands of vehicles using these roads, per, day a realistic prospect for these kinds of people? And if it is, where are they for the rest of the year, when the roads in the last two pictures look like this?
I don’t think the City of London are really thinking about these kinds of people, to be honest. They cannot seriously be advocating those young children ‘sharing’ with the HGVs you can see here.
So my impression is that they simply don’t like the idea of space being taken away, because they are worried about delays to motor traffic, and are proposing ‘sharing’ the City’s road network, not because they think it’s realistic or attractive for ordinary people, but because they want to maintain the status quo.
They can’t come out and say that, of course, so they instead have to employ these arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny. And there are other poor, weak or self-defeating arguments in that City of London press release. For instance -
more thought needs to be given to the knock-on effects on noise and air-pollution.
Really? We can’t make cycling – a mode of transport that doesn’t pollute, and is (virtually) silent – more attractive, because that might affect noise and air-pollution? Are the City of London seriously making this argument?
Likewise, the City have taken the deeply unhelpful approach of spinning these proposals as being hostile to pedestrians. The release starts -
Square Mile planners are urging pedestrians to have their say on plans for new east-west and north-south cycle ‘superhighways’
Pedestrians tend not to lobby for their interests but this is a chance and I would encourage them to have their say before central section consultation closes on 19 Oct. Crossing times might a lot longer in places.
Is this true? Where has the City got this impression from?
The TfL summary of the proposals states that there would be
longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.
Which the City has presented as ‘a lot longer’ (I’m not sure how they’ve established this).
But it’s quite clear that, overall, these Superhighways would be hugely beneficial to pedestrians. Why?
For a start, as TfL state, they will involve
Increased distance between the footway and the road, creating a more pleasant pedestrian environment
Instead of walking a few feet from HGVs and buses travelling at 30mph, people will instead be walking a few feet from people cycling, at much lower speeds. Far more pleasant, as TfL argue (and, indeed, much safer).
Not just that. Because the vast majority of the space for these Superhighways is coming from what is currently motor traffic space, the distance across the road itself will be much shorter. That means shorter crossing times, not longer ones.
All the elements in these Superhighway proposals that will make life better for pedestrians probably merit a post in their own right, but here are just some examples.
Because Blackfriars Road is being narrowed by the cycle tracks – guess what, TfL can put in a ‘straight across’ pedestrian crossing, rather than a staggered one.
Better for pedestrians.
Pedestrians coming across Blackfriars Bridge currently have to negotiate two signalled crossings across two slip roads. Well, one of those crossings will now be bikes-only. Much easier to cross.
Many other streets and roads involved in this scheme are being closed to motor traffic, or involve banned turns. Constitution Hill is being upgraded, separating people walking from people cycling. Parts of the Tower Hill gyratory are having private motor traffic completely removed. Horse Guards Road is being closed to all motor traffic, except official vehicles. I could go on (and will, in another post!).
Of course, there are some problems with these routes that I think could be ironed out, from a cycling and walking perspective. But the essential truth about these routes is that they will have a positive impact on the quality of the walking experience.
So, yes, like the City of London, I would urge pedestrians to ‘have their say’. But, unlike the City of London, who don’t seem to have looked at these plans in detail, and appear to have assumed them to be hostile to walking, I do so because they will make life for anyone walking in the centre of London much better, not worse.
Finally, let’s briefly return to those DfT figures for motor traffic levels on these roads. They’re quite interesting, if looked at over the last decade. Here’s the pattern on Upper Thames Street.
There’s a bit of noise here, because the counts are only carried out on one day. But clearly, motor traffic here has fallen, quite substantially. Over the last 3-4 years, its about two-thirds of the level it was in the early part of the 21st century.
Or, to look at this another way, motor traffic on Upper Thames Street – on the same road layout – was about fifty percent greater a decade ago. That same road layout could cope with those higher motor traffic levels, so why on earth will it not be able to cope, today, with the proposed reduction in capacity for these Superhighways, when the motor traffic flowing on it is much lower?
And it’s even simpler than that. In broader terms, these Superhighways are really about making the most efficient use of the available space on London’s roads. Cycling, as a mode of transport, is extremely efficient, compared to motor traffic, so that means we should be making it as easy, safe and attractive as we can, for ordinary people, to free up space on the road network. More people cycling means that those essential uses of the road network – deliveries and so on – will be made easier. And – heaven forbid – in a modern, 21st century city, we really should be prioritising a mode of transport that will make a difference, in so many ways. Even if that does mean taking a lane away from four- or five-lane roads.
For all these reasons, the City of London need to reflect on what the Superhighways will offer London, get to grips with these proposals, and change their position.
I wrote a piece last month about the appropriate long-term response to people breaking the law while cycling – in short, it’s to fix the street they’re cycling on, so they’re not breaking the law anymore.
For instance – if people are cycling ‘the wrong way’ on a one-way street, well, the correct response is to make sure that two-way cycling is appropriately designed for on that street. If traffic is low enough, then that might amount to nothing more than just allowing it with a simple exemption. If there’s more traffic, then the solution will probably involve some engineering – or removal, or displacement, of that traffic – to make two-way cycling safe.
I also mentioned that – if there’s a problem with red light jumping – a proper long-term response is to look at how these signals are designed, and to assess whether they are even necessary.
Let me give a concrete example. In April this year, I made a short trip in the city of Utrecht.
This was a distance of just over a mile, right through the centre of the city. On a heavy Dutch bike, it took me about five and a half minutes, in total – including any stops. That’s a very respectable overall average speed of 11 mph, given that I was stationary for 40 seconds at one signal.
The reason I was able to make such good progress is because, as we’ll see in the video, I only had to make that one stop. There was just one traffic light I had to deal with on this journey. The rest of it didn’t involve any stopping or waiting at all, mainly because there aren’t any other traffic signals on this trip.
With so few traffic lights – guess what! – there isn’t very much red light jumping by people cycling. Misbehaviour just evaporates when the street conditions are adapted to favour walking and cycling.
By complete contrast, the very next day, I arrived back in London, getting a train into Liverpool Street from the ferry terminal. Here’s the journey I made by bike, to Victoria -
This trip was just three and a half miles – only about three times as long as my Utrecht trip – but it included 32 traffic signals. That’s a signal roughly every 175 metres, and I estimate that I had to stop at roughly half of them.
It was hugely frustrating, coming, as I did, straight off the ferry from a country where traffic signals are much, much rarer in urban areas. Even where they do exist in the Netherlands, they will almost always exempt cycling from right turns (the equivalent of our left turn).
So it is possible to deal with red light jumping, not by clamping down on it, but by creating conditions where people cycling simply don’t have to deal with lights at all.
So the big story this week is obviously the launch of the consultations on two new ‘Superhighway’ routes in London. One running from Elephant & Castle towards Kings Cross; the other from the Westway to Tower Hill.
Undeniably, there are problems with these plans.
The whole scheme is composed almost entirely of two-way tracks on one side of the road, which aren’t really appropriate, except in some locations – for instance, along the Embankment, and Constitution Hill. Two-way tracks present more danger with turning conflicts, and they are more inconvenient, as often the road will have to be crossed to make a simple left turn onto the tracks.
What Transport for London call ‘early start’ signals (but in reality are ‘always stop’ signals), as employed at Bow roundabout, feature in many places on these Superhighways, particularly around Parliament Square. This design still isn’t good enough, mainly because it’s inconvenient, and can be confusing.
Turns on and off the Superhighways appear to be being achieved through a formalisation of the ‘Copenhagen turn’, with turns being made in two steps. Again, this isn’t really good enough.
And in many places the designs have been overcomplicated, with an excess of signals and markings that shouldn’t really be necessary. Parliament Square in particular looks very messy.
BUT (and it’s a big but) these plans are undeniably bold, and I think they should be strongly supported.
This is for a number of reasons.
As Rachel Aldred has argued in her excellent blog on these Superhighways -
the hard stuff is not digging up and remaking roads, not in a transport rich city like London. And even elsewhere resources appear if something’s a priority. The hard stuff’s the politics – getting support for change.
And this is change – big change. Although these routes are far from perfect, to me they represent a real attempt to actually prioritise cycling as a mode of transport, and on main roads too, something that we haven’t ever really seen anywhere in Britain. There are direct routes across junctions that are currently truly, truly horrible to cycle across, even for someone who is experienced, and familiar with cycling in London. Tower Gateway has a straight, segregated route across it, connecting with Superhighway 3, achieved by completely removing motor traffic from Shorter Street.
Likewise, the sliproad from Blackfriars Bridge to the Victoria Embankment is being turned into a bicycle-only route, which is fairly extraordinary, given the protests and arguments about this location, which fell on deaf ears for so long. The roads involved are the ones that I have been suggesting could easily accommodate cycling infrastructure, if the political will was there. And now that is happening.
In addition, as far as I can tell, every single bus stop in the these plans is bypassed, with the cycle track passing behind them. That means no interactions with buses, whatsoever – no fudged ‘wide bus lanes’ that are alleged to be suitable for sharing. This is hugely significant.
Indeed, overall, the impression given from the plans is that TfL been thinking hard about who they are designing for.
One of my pet moans, for a long time, has been the ‘dual network’ approach, that involves minimal change on the carriageway for those people already confident to cycle on busy roads, coupled with inadequate and inconvenient pavement cycling for those who aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that these Superhighway designs, whatever their flaws, are very different from that approach. There is clear intent to create something that is suitable for everyone, infrastructure that anyone on a bike would be happy to use, be they someone in lycra on a racing bike, or a very young and wobbly child.
And there are major benefits for pedestrians, too. Motor traffic will be further away from the footways, which means walking will be safer, quieter and more pleasant. The carriageways are being narrowed, too, which means shorter distances at crossings. And I strongly suspect that cycling on the footway will be a thing of the past along these routes – no more people cycling along the pavement on the Embankment, for instance, because they will have a much better alternative.
The problems with these designs can, and should be, ironed out. The ‘always stop’/’early start’ signalised junctions should be upgraded to full separate signalisation of bicycle and motor traffic movements, and I think this could be easily achieved at a later date, even if the designs go ahead as they stand. Likewise, most of these roads are so enormous that the two-way track approach could be adapted, with another track on the other side of the road, and the two-way track reverting to one-way.
And there are minor details that could be got right now. The tracks should be built properly, with shallow, forgiving angled kerbing to maximise effective width. Some of the signalisation simply doesn’t need to be there.
These are comments that should be made in responses to the consultation.
But the overall scheme has to be supported. If these Superhighways are built, they will undoubtedly be tremendously popular. The kind of people you see cycling on the Embankment during Skyrides – absent for the rest of the year – will be able to do so, whenever they want.
These tracks would be just the start, of course. They will only cover a tiny, tiny fraction of the routes that people will actually want to use in central London. But they will drive change elsewhere. Roads that connect up to these Superhighways will be the next obvious targets. Even in this consultation TfL themselves state that their ‘wish is for segregation’ on Westminster Bridge – not part of this scheme, but an obvious connector to it.
And more broadly, the Superhighways will make the case for cycling elsewhere in London, and indeed across the rest of the country. They will show that it can be done, and that when you make conditions right, cycling is an obvious mode of ordinary people, and that it will make a tremendous difference to the quality of our roads and streets. That has to happen.
So the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have published their findings into the safety of cycle track design at junctions – or, more specifically, Trials of segregation set-back at side roads [pdf], to give the report (PPR703) its full title. This report was commissioned by TfL.
I’m going to go into some detail about it, but in short -
It’s worryingly bad.
From the report summary -
This report provides an overview and interpretation of the key findings from four trials carried out by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to investigate the effects of ‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track at different distances from a side-road junction.
What do TRL mean by “‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track”? There is an explanation in one of the photographs in the report -
Clearly, ‘set-back distance’ is being used to refer to the distance from the junction at which the cycle track becomes a cycle lane. So, this TRL report investigates the different consequences of different ‘set-back distances’ – i.e., how far from the junction the kerb separation ends.
And nothing else.
No other forms of junction design incorporating cycle tracks (designs we’ll come to in a moment) are investigated.
Why was this study so narrowly focused? The explanation comes in the summary -
A review of existing international guidance and research on approaches for taking cycle lanes across side-roads identified two distinct design strategies. Either:
• Cyclists are returned to the carriageway level at least 20m before the junction, so as to establish their presence in the traffic, or
• Segregation is brought right up to the junction (typically <=5m) and very tight geometry (and often raised crossings) used to keep turning speeds down and encourage vehicles to cross the cycle lane at close to 90 degrees. [my emphasis]
Amazingly, these two strategies – ending the segregation more than 20m from the junction, or ending it 5m or less from the junction – are the only two distinct design approaches TRL identify, and consequently the only ones they investigated.
Both these strategies involve turning a cycle track into a cycle lane at the junction. The only difference is the point at which that change occurs. Other design approaches – those commonly employed in the Netherlands at side roads – have been completely ignored. These include -
Continuing a cycle track through a junction, at the same raised level, alongside a continuous footway. Not investigated by TRL.
Setting back the cycle track from the carriageway, providing an area in which motorists can wait, both to enter the main road (without obstructing the cycle track) and also to pause, yielding to people cycling. Not investigated by TRL.
This technique can also be employed with two-way tracks; again, set back from the carriageway, with a waiting area, and good visibility as cyclists and motorists cross perpendicularly. Not investigated by TRL.
To repeat (I can’t labour this enough) – these kinds of techniques are completely ignored by the authors of this TRL report. The only two ‘distinct design strategies’ investigated amount to nothing more than on-carriageway cycle lanes across junction mouths, with no investigation of designs that continue a cycle track through the junction at a raised level, with continuity, with or without ‘set back’ from the carriageway.
This despite the fact that Britain itself already has a few isolated examples of reasonably well-designed cycle tracks across junctions, that correspond approximately to Dutch design. One of them – this one – is only two miles from the Transport Research Laboratory!
I can’t begin to understand this oversight.
So the results of this trial are really very narrow in scope, and essentially amount to nothing more than discussion of where it is best to revert to an on-carriageway treatment on the approach to a junction.
The trial examined ending the physical segregation 30 metres from the junction, up to 5 metres from the junction, in 5 metres increments. The ‘tightest’ geometry still involved the cycle track ending 5 metres before the side road.
The study found that with the kerb divider continuing closer to the junction (but still 5 metres from it), drivers turned into the side road more slowly, and crossed the cycle lane (for this is what it is, and how it is described in the report) at an angle closer to perpendicular.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it seems that drivers in the trial actually preferred segregation that continued closer to the junction. This was even the case for drivers of goods vehicles who – you would think – would prefer a less tight geometry, to manoeuvre their larger vehicles.
The preferred set-back distance for 62% of the [goods vehicle] drivers (who expressed an opinion) was one that maximises segregation from cyclists on the approach to the junction
cyclists were divided in preferences for short or long set-back distances. The differences reflect different views on the benefits of segregation, including cyclists’ concerns about being able to position themselves for passing the junction and that drivers wouldn’t give way when turning across their path.
‘Position themselves for passing the junction’ – i.e., compensate for poor design. These findings are reflected in this table -
While a clear majority of drivers preferred separation continuing as much as possible, a large number (nearly half) of the cyclists in this trial preferred to ‘join traffic’. The report comments
this suggests that cyclists may feel safer if the segregation ends before the junction so they can merge with the traffic before the turn.
So a large proportion of cyclists in this trial clearly like the idea of ‘merging’ with motor traffic before a junction. (At this point it is worth asking whether these cyclists are representative of the general population, or instead representative of a small subset of the population, namely the ‘traffic-tolerant’.)
However, on the other hand, the motorists in the trial didn’t really understand what on earth was going on with the concept of ‘merging’.
The purpose of the segregation set-back was not well understood [by motorists] – most believing it to be to make it easier for vehicles to turn [!], only a few referred to it providing space for cyclists and drivers to adjust to each other before the junction.
Could it be that the idea of ‘merging’ people cycling and driving isn’t all that intuitive?
This suggests that there is a lack of understanding amongst drivers of how cyclists will behave at the junction.
Amazingly, however, this ‘merging’ technique is actually recommended by this TRL report on roads with higher speeds.
The findings from the off-street trials suggest that two different strategies can then be considered:
Before then stating
These two situations are consistent with the two distinct design approaches adopted in the design practice sin countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands
Well, I’m sorry, I have never seen anything like this in the Netherlands, especially not on roads with higher speeds. It’s just terrible design.
And we know that this is bad design, because Transport for London have built the junctions on Stratford High Street like this, with predictable consequences.
The final boggling issue are those markings! - which make no sense whatsoever. Here’s how the report describes them -
The surface of the cycle lane was coloured green throughout… additionally using triangular give-way markings to highlight the cycle lane for turning vehicles. These markings are not an approved road marking in the UK, however somewhat similar versions are used in the Netherlands as a ‘give way’ marking.
‘Somewhat similar’ – except completely the wrong way round.
The Dutch use ‘sharks teeth’ as a give way marking, but crucially with the ‘sharp’ bit of the teeth pointing at the people who should be giving way. This trial, however, has managed to get this completely wrong, with the ‘teeth’ pointing at the people on the cycle track. Is it any wonder people driving didn’t understand this marking?
This failure to get even the basics right is symptomatic of the general failure of this trial to assess proven Dutch junction design in a British context. How is it possible for the Transport Research Laboratory to have what seems to be absolutely no clue about how the Dutch design well at junctions?
What on earth is going on?
Last year I wrote a long piece about (British) ideological opposition to cycle tracks alongside roads; opposition flowing from the notion that such provision represents a ‘surrender’ of the road network.
People making this argument claim a variety of things. They claim such an ‘abandonment’ of the road network would be bad policy. Motor vehicles would have won; driving will be easier, and we will have failed in our overall goal of attempting to reduce driving and increase cycling.
Or, they claim that drivers – once people cycling have separate provision – will behave with a greater sense of entitlement, seeing the road network as ‘theirs’. Or, they claim that drivers won’t be used to driving around people cycling, with similar negative consequences for the latter group.
These arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, yet, as I wrote in that previous post,
opposition to cycle tracks in the UK, of this ideological form, persists. This opposition is not new; it has a long history, dating right back to the 1930s, a time when cycle tracks were, intermittently, being proposed alongside some arterial roads in Britain. Most strikingly, the arguments advanced at the time have hardly changed in the intervening eighty years.
One of the oddities of these kinds of arguments is an acceptance that the motorway network is unsuitable, and unusable, by people cycling, yet the rest of the road network should be retained as being ‘for cycling’. That will often includes dual carriageways and busy inter-urban A-roads which present, to all intents and purposes, just as much danger to people cycling along them as the motorway network. Building cycle tracks alongside these roads would constitute a ‘surrender’.
The explanation for this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the motorway network was built explicitly for motorists, while the rest of the road network predates (for the most part) the motor age, even if it has been changed and upgraded out of all recognition, often closely resembling motorways. These are the roads that cannot be ‘surrendered’, especially as the motorway network (in the eyes of cycle campaigners of the era in which motorways started being built) was constructed to ‘take’ the motor traffic away from it.
Unfortunately these attitudes about the road network are fossils; they are relics of an earlier era, an era when the motor vehicle was only just starting to explode as a popular mode of transport. And yet they persist.
My petition calling for the introduction of Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – which will involve separate provision for cycling on main roads carrying traffic at 50mph, or higher – has attracted comments of this ilk.
Your proposal accepts the motor centric status quo and asks to remove active travelers from our road network which may not be feasible in many circumstances
I think volunteering to lose rights is a disastrous thing to do from a position of weakness. I absolutely don’t think that offering to get off roads will lead to the powers that be supplying a radical provision of adequate alternatives.
I also think that pushing the idea that cyclists don’t belong on (our) roads near motorists is asking for trouble when we will have to be near motors on most roads. Going along with getting cyclists out of what drivers may think is “their way” is a very dodgy thing to aim for.
The philosophy that lies behind these kinds of comments is that, one day, some day soon, the road network could become suitable for people cycling, if only we could get drivers to behave, or if only we could slow them down, or if only we would enforce the law properly, or if only we could reduce motor traffic.
In short – if only we got tough enough on driving.
Typifying these attitudes, in a comment referring to this picture
How much pollution and noise are the man and boy being exposed to cycling next to that busy main road? Progress would mean people in variety of human powered vehicles moving a varying speeds to a maximum of 20mph, perhaps a tram or other public transport vehicle parallel with the occasional less able-bodied person allowed in a car sharing the space as a ‘guest’
This kind of approach is plainly utopian. It imagines that a motor-centric society can somehow revert to being one in which motor vehicles barely exist; that we can restore the character of our roads, as they were in the early part of the 20th century.
Theoretically, it could be possible to achieve this. Maybe we could remove HGVs from our road network, displacing goods onto rail. Maybe we could persuade people to abandon their cars for long-distance trips, forcing them to travel at 20mph when they do.
But the chances of this happening are so remote it’s not even worth considering. We need to deal with reality. It is not 1934; it is 2014, and we need to start thinking about cycling and motoring as distinct modes of transport, with separate networks, sharing only in very limited circumstances, and under specific conditions.
That, of course, means town and city centres where motor traffic is largely removed, but it must also mean a different kind of separation on main roads, the roads that will inevitably continue to carry motor traffic. This needs to happen not just because mixing motor traffic and cycle traffic presents unnecessary danger, but also because doing so makes cycling far more attractive to ordinary people.
I find it perverse to justify opposition to cycle tracks alongside main roads, carrying significant volumes of motor traffic, in terms of ‘rights’. This ‘right’ is only being exercised by a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of people who regularly ride bikes in Britain, and more importantly such a position denies other people their right to use the road network; those people who would like to cycle, but are currently prevented from doing so because of conditions. People like my partner, who will happily cycle along main roads and dual carriageways in the Netherlands, but would never dream of doing so in Britain – not in a million years – because there is no alternative, except cycling in the carriageway with motor traffic.
So I’m tired, really, of having these kinds of arguments. People have already been pushed off the road network, to all intents and purposes. We need sane policies that make that network attractive, for all potential users.
It’s time to get real.
As I’m sure most of you already know, the Department for Transport recently made a decision to increase the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads in Britain to 50mph.
One of the arguments made for this policy was that of safety. The intention is to reduce the speed differential between HGVs and other motor traffic from 20 mph (the difference between 60 mph, and 40 mph – the previous limit for HGVs) to 10 mph. It is asserted that this will reduce the temptation to overtake HGVs in dangerous situations.
The Department for Transport states that
The change to the national speed limit on single carriageway roads will modernise an antiquated restriction, which is not matched in most other European countries, including some of the other leaders alongside the UK for road safety (eg the Netherlands and Norway)
It is true that this change will bring the UK more into line with the Netherlands, which has a higher speed limit for HGVs of 80km/h (~50mph) on single carriageway roads.
However, I would like to argue that this change – this reduction in speed differentials between HGVs and other motor traffic – should form just the start of a comprehensive approach to road safety that reduces danger for all road users, based on the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veilig. Rather than just one isolated measure, the UK should bring its entire road network, and the way it is designed, into line with the Netherlands.
Sustainable Safety is all about prevention - preventing crashing from occurring, and, secondarily, reducing the risk of serious injuries when collisions do occur.
One of the core principles of this approach is homogeneity – equalising, as much as possible, the mass, speed and direction of vehicles, to reduce collision risk. In particular, fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and vehicles travelling at speed should not be travelling in opposing directions, without separation. Likewise measures should be taken to separate bodies of unequal mass; for instance, heavy vehicles like buses and lorries should be not be sharing the same space as pedestrians and cyclists. The basis for this approach – and other Sustainable Safety measures – is that human beings are fallible, and that the environment we travel in should respond to that fallibility, rather than expecting us to not make mistakes, ever.
Although this approach is only a few decades old – launched in the early 1990s in the Netherlands – the Dutch have made great progress in applying Sustainable Safety to their road network. They have removed speed differentials, reclassified road types, and improved the forgivingness of their roads and streets. SWOV estimate that, from 1998 to 2007, Sustainable Safety measures had reduced the number of deaths on Dutch roads by 30%, compared to a situation in which these measures had not been implemented.
Meanwhile Britain languishes far behind, with a road network totally unsuitable for the few vulnerable users who are brave enough to venture onto it.
The contrast with the Dutch road network – open to all users, of all ages and abilities, regardless of their mode of transport – could not be more stark.
As it happens, in raising the HGV speed limit on single carriageway roads to 50mph, the DfT has, accidentally or otherwise, made a tiny, tentative step towards applying Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – the speed limit differential between HGVs and other motor traffic has been reduced.
But this is, plainly, nowhere near enough. Sustainable Safety principles should instead be applied comprehensively and consistently across Britain’s road networks, ensuring that all road users are travelling at similar speeds, and that if they are not, that they are provided for separately.
What would this mean in policy terms?
Naturally enough, I am coming at this issue from a cycling perspective, but I hope it is clear from the above proposals that these measures would benefit everyone who uses the road network, either on foot, on horseback, on bike, or at the wheel of any kind of motor vehicle.
It would make journeys by foot or by bike considerably safer, and far more pleasant, but just as importantly the same would apply for journeys being made by motor vehicle. The stress of having to deal with overtaking slow-moving agricultural traffic, or people cycling, would be removed. Journeys would be smoother, safer and more predictable. It would also genuinely reduce any (legal) incentive to overtake HGVs in situations where specific overtaking opportunities have not been provided – all motor traffic would be travelling at approximately the same speed on these roads. Only on roads designed with safe overtaking opportunities would different categories of motor vehicle have different speed limits.
We would have a humane road network, that is safe for all, rather than the current one that effectively excludes the vast majority of users who aren’t travelling in motor vehicles. In addition, it would make the journeys of people in motor vehicles safer, and more straightforward.
This needs to happen. That’s why I have started a petition calling on the Department for Transport to develop and implement these policies for Britain’s roads.
*In some limited circumstances, a 60mph limit for all motor traffic could be retained on single-carriageway roads (for instance, long distance routes where higher speeds might be justified), provided design measures have been put in place to eliminate the danger of head-on or crossing conflicts.
Yesterday Transport for London announced their plans for Elephant & Castle, which had been out to consultation earlier in the year. There are some good elements here, but there’s a worrying amount of inconsistency. Attractive conditions for cycling aren’t continuous through the scheme.
This is most obvious on the Link Road, the bit of road that connects the main roundabout with the junction to the south – the junction where Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed in May.
A cycle track runs northbound on this stretch of road, at bottom (the TfL plan is oriented with north to the left). This bypasses a large bus stop. There is no reason why this won’t work, providing it is designed properly.
But curiously, in the opposite direction – southbound – there is no cycle track at all. Instead we have a cycle lane running outside of a long bus lane/stop, sandwiched between stopped, or moving, buses, and general traffic lanes.*
At both ends of this cycle lane there are problems. At the northern end, buses and cycles will be moving across each other’s paths, at the point where the protected cycle track ends.
And at the southern end, we have similar problems -
People cycling straight on (south) will have to deal with motor traffic (including HGVs) wishing to turn left cutting across them, and buses moving out in the opposite direction. And this at a junction where someone has recently been killed by a left-turning HGV.
It’s a mess. And, more importantly, a needless mess, when there is sound design on the other side of the road that could just be copied across. There should be a cycle track here, running behind the bus stop. There is little to no point attempting to do something properly in one direction, and giving up in the other.
There is plenty of space to play with here. You can see on the diagram above that a median (in yellow) is being retained between the two carriageways, which is 1.5m wide. It has a fence on it, in an attempt to stop people crossing the road; presumably this is why it is being retained.
In addition, it seems that space is going to waste, due to some familiar (pervasive) ‘dual network’ thinking. TfL write that they will be implementing
additional improvements for cyclists who wish to remain on the carriageway such as, widening the carriageway northbound on the Elephant and Castle Link Road to allow for 4.5m bus lane to offer space for cyclists to overtake buses, and introducing a new cycle feeder lane on the approach to St George’s Road to offer better protection to cyclists approaching the junction [my emphasis]
So rather than doing things properly, and providing cycle tracks away from the carriageway that anyone – fast or slow – would naturally want to use, a 4.5m wide bus lane is being implemented in parallel to the northbound cycle track.
This is a waste of everyone’s time. As David Arditti argues -
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”.
But this is what TfL (and doubtless most other councils in Britain) are still doing. Indeed, quite explicitly, in this specific instance. In response to requests in the consultation for wider cycle tracks in the scheme, TfL respond [pdf] -
The proposed cycle lane will be two metres wide, which is the same width as the segregated cycling facilities that are being introduced elsewhere. This is wider than many cycle lanes in London, and because cyclists will also have access to the 4.5m wide bus lane there is in effect greater capacity.
In effect – we don’t need to do things properly, because we are fully expecting a large number of people to continue cycling with motor traffic on the carriageway.
The logic is circular – the low quality of the cycle tracks will hold up people who want to cycle faster, and these people will opt for the main carriageway; those people opting for the carriageway are then used to justify the low quality of the cycle tracks. It’s insane.
No country that does things well designs for cycling like this. Instead, they employ high quality, inclusive networks that anyone is happy to use, because they are fast, direct, safe and continuous, for everyone.
Can we really not achieve this here? Can we not build two wide cycle tracks, in each direction? Or are we going to waste space continuing to attempt to cater for two different kinds of cyclists simultaneously?
*It’s not entirely clear from their response whether TfL will be employing this ‘cycle lane outside bus lane’ design – which appears on their updated design drawing, showing the new changes – or a a wide bus lane, with no cycle lane at all, which is mentioned in their changes. Either way these conflicting movements will still exist.
In Horsham, there’s a street where people cycling consistently break the law. South Street is a one-way street in the centre of town; stand here for any period of time, particularly in the morning or the evening, and you will see people cycling ‘the wrong way’ – either on the footways, or in the carriageway itself.
Why is this? Well, South Street has to be seen in context.
South Street forms part of the one-way route through the centre of the town; you can only drive through the town from the roundabout to the south-west, to the junction at the north-east – not in the opposite direction.
There were good intentions here – the centre of Horsham has very little motor traffic, and it travels at low speeds, thanks to a (self-reinforcing) 20mph zone with humps, sharp corners, and a cobbled surface. The idea is (and was) to make through traffic take the inner ring road, that loops around the town centre, and this generally works. (I’ve covered the background in this previous post).
However this policy has made it very difficult to negotiate the town centre by bike, because the one-way route through the centre has no exemptions for cycling. It makes it difficult – indeed next to impossible – to cycle across the town from east to west, and (for our purposes) from north to south.
Looking again at South Street, it’s quite easy to see why people are cycling through here; it forms part of a direct link between the Park to the north (where it is legal to cycle), to the routes through to the southern parts of Horsham.
There isn’t any other alternative if you want to head from the north of the town, to the south, except for the inner ring road itself, which is a dual carriageway carrying around 20,000 motor vehicles a day, at 30+ mph.
The additional detail – as well as the outright hostility of this road to cycling – is that it would be a lengthy detour to use this road, rather than taking the direct route. Fine if you are driving, which doesn’t require any physical exertion, not much fun if you are cycling.
So the ‘problem’ of cycling the wrong way on one-way streets is really a problem of failing to design safe, attractive routes for people who wish to cycle – indeed, ignoring cycling completely in the design process.
The obvious solution here is to make South Street two-way for cycling – that is, simply legalising the illegal behaviour. I think this could be achieved quite safely without any physical alteration to the street, beyond changing the no-entry signs to include an exemption. There’s not much traffic travelling through here, and people are already cycling the wrong way, without the world ending!
Long-term, it would be more appropriate to emphasise two-way cycling with this kind of design -
But in the meantime a simple exemption would work.
I think it’s worth considering these kinds of problems with two important principles in mind -
It seems that these kinds of ideas are, sadly, completely alien to most people. The associate editor of the Irish Sunday Times, John Burns, had this to say in response to a comment of mine about ‘fixing’ the problem of cycling the wrong way on streets -
— john burns (@JohnBurnsST) August 16, 2014
Presumably this was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, but it falls flat, because yes, this is precisely what we should do doing. If people are cycling on footways, there’s a problem with the street. If people are cycling through red lights, then there’s a problem with the junction. The problem lies not with the behaviour; it lies with the street itself.
I’ve already described how pavement cycling does not exist in the Netherlands, as a phenomenon. There simply isn’t any reason to cycle on footways, because the alternative is better.
And the same logic applies to jumping red lights. In the vast majority of cases, there’s either too much unnecessary delay, or there is no need to hold people cycling at a red light, when they could safely proceed. More generally, urban areas in Britain are bloated with traffic signals, a result of a failure to restrain motor traffic, or to redirect it to more appropriate routes. Dutch town centres have vastly fewer traffic signals, and hence vastly fewer lights for people to jump.
Earlier this year, a video of ‘bad cyclist behaviour’ in York went viral, featuring in the Daily Mail and a number of other national newspapers. The original YouTube video now appears to have been withdrawn – but you can view it here, in BT’s ‘motoring’ section.
Nearly every single example of ‘bad behaviour’ in this video would not exist in the Netherlands, because roads and streets there are designed to make cycling easy and painless, rather than throwing up pointless obstacles in their way.
The video opens with people bypassing a red traffic light to turn left, on a well-used cowpath.
Junctions in the Netherlands are designed to accommodate this behaviour. There is no reason to hold people cycling at red traffic signals unnecessarily – people in York have worked this out for themselves.
This is followed by a sequence of people cycling the wrong way on one way streets (being admonished by the dayglo finger of shame) -
This is behaviour that should simply be legalised, and made safe. Towns and cities should not have these kinds of restrictions on movement in these directions by people cycling.
Next up, someone cycling straight on through a red signal at a T-junction -
Again, streets should be designed to allow this kind of behaviour; there’s no need for people cycling to come into conflict with motor traffic while performing this manoeuvre.
Then a sequence of people jumping traffic lights that – judging by the locations – shouldn’t exist at all -
The video is rounded off with some people trundling on footways alongside some pretty dreadful-looking roads.
Rather than shaming and blaming, a more constructive (and more importantly permanent) solution to illegal cycling would be to design the problem out of existence. In doing so would we make our towns and cities vastly more attractive places.
Short version – it’s as preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’ as it would be to attribute them to ‘trainists’, ‘busists’, ‘planeists’, ‘tubists’ or ‘pedestrians’. A ‘cyclist’ is just a human being who happens to be travelling by bike, just as a ‘pedestrian’ is a human being who happens to be travelling on foot, and a ‘trainist’ one who happens to be travelling by train.
About halfway through the programme, a number of tweets from the audience were read out, presumably in the interests of ‘balance’. That ‘balance’ being that on a programme arguing we need to do more to keep ‘cyclists’ safe, we need other people arguing that ‘cyclists’ need to do more for themselves.
Among these tweets, read out to an audience of millions, were the following statements -
cyclists have no spatial awareness
bike riders are irresponsible
There are, I think, only two ways these comments – and countless others like them – can conceivably make sense.
1) It’s possible that a ‘cyclist’ isn’t a normal human being, but rather some variant of the species that lacks spatial awareness, or that is more irresponsible than a standard human being.
2) Alternatively, a ‘cyclist’ is a normal human being – but there is something about a bicycle that immediately removes their spatial awareness, and makes them more irresponsible; or, that a bicycle appeals uniquely to that subset of humanity that is lacking spatial awareness, or is irresponsible.
The first is obviously absurd; the second bears slightly more serious consideration, but not much.
But I think that the first (absurd) explanation does actually correspond to the way plenty of people think, reflexively. Perhaps it is what the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up in the popular imagination – a skinny young male, dressed in lycra, wearing funny shoes and a funny helmet. This person isn’t ‘one of us’. They’re a bit alien.
A clear example of this phenomenon came on a Radio 4 comedy programme last night – The Show What You Wrote, on which the ‘ensemble’ perform ‘the best’ listener submissions, chosen from thousands of entries. The very first sketch of this programme – indeed the first of the entire series – was remarkable, for what it says about these kinds of attitudes.
It starts with the sound of a car being driven, followed by a loud crashing sound, and a squeal of tires.
Man: I think I’ve hit something! Oh, I can’t believe this. A nice, country drive, and this happens. I feel awful.
Woman: Poor little thing. Do you think his little family are wondering where he is?
Man: Oh my God it moved! It’s still alive!
Woman: Well we’re going to have to put it out of it’s misery. Here – use this stick.
[Sound of a beating]
Man: Oh, that wasn’t nice.
Woman: Okay, now you get rid of his body, and I’ll stick his bicycle in the boot.
The ‘humour’ here – such that it is – relies upon the audience believing that the man and the woman are discussing hitting and dispatching something not-human, when it turns out they hit and dispatched a human, or a sort-of-human. Presumably the image the audience have in their mind is of a kind of skinny, lycra-clad, helmeted ‘species’, like in the picture above.
The ‘joke’, however, would be preposterous if the word ‘cyclist’ conjured up these images in the popular imagination.
So – as ridiculous as it is to think of ‘cyclists’ as a different kind of human, or not-human, this is unfortunately the instinctive reaction of plenty of people. Radio 4 comedy programmes would not run segments like this if it were otherwise.
The other explanation – that a bicycle itself somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary human being into an irresponsible one, or that bicycles uniquely appeal to those that lack spatial awareness, or variants thereof – is almost as ridiculous.
People who ride bikes use plenty of other modes of transport; they all walk, they almost all drive motor vehicles (except, of course, children), they take the train, the tube, and the bus. For it to be true that ‘cyclists’ have particular characteristics of lawlessness, or of irresponsibility or cluelessness, that other transport users don’t have, these characteristics must suddenly appear when they sit astride a bicycle, and then just as suddenly disappear when they dismount.
Is this likely? Can ‘spatial awareness’ suddenly come and go, according to the mode of transport someone is using? Obviously not; someone’s spatial awareness is a constant. Likewise ‘irresponsibility’ is a constant; an irresponsible person will be irresponsible regardless of their mode of transport.
A man who pushes you out of the way while cycling will undoubtedly be the same kind of person who pushes you out of the way while walking, or while trying to get onto a train, or who will use his horn while driving. But this kind of behaviour – equally likely across all modes of transport – is never used as an attribute of ‘pedestrians’, or ‘trainists’, or ‘motorists’.
A moment’s reflection will show that it makes absolutely no sense to attribute characteristics to people who happen to be using a particular mode of transport.
‘Motorists have poor hearing.’
‘Trainists are sweaty’.
‘Busists lack a sense of direction.’
All utterly, utterly preposterous; yet BBC presenters are quite happy to read out precisely these kinds of statements on air, to millions of people.
Think about what you’re saying.