It goes without saying that the crash of a plane onto the A27 on Saturday was a terrible tragedy, an incident in which at least 11 people died, and many more were seriously injured. Rightly, the crash is being investigated thoroughly, and undoubtedly measures will be taken to greatly lessen the chances of any similar kind of incident ever occurring again.
But what has happened following that crash on Saturday afternoon? On the same day – the 22nd August, shortly afterwards, a motorcyclist died in Manchester, a pedestrian was killed in Solihull, and a driver died on the M1.
On Sunday 23rd August, 3 people died in a car crash in County Down, a motorcyclist died on the A82 near Loch Lomond, a cyclist died in Essex, a motorcyclist died in the Peak District, a driver died in Lincolnshire, a motorcyclist died on the A40 in Cheltenham, and a driver died in the New Forest.
On Monday 24th August, a teenager died in a motorcycle crash in London (with another teenager seriously injured), and a motorcyclist died on Anglesey,
On Tuesday 25th August – two people died in a car crash in Doncaster – with one (and maybe two more) seriously injured, a driver died in Camarthenshire, and a driver died (with another driver seriously injured) on the diversion route from the A27, closed following the Shoreham crash.
This means that in the three and a half days following that dreadful air crash, 18 people have died on Britain’s roads, in crashes that, because they occurred in isolation, and because they are so appallingly ordinary, won’t make any headlines, or any lasting impact, beyond a fleeting mention in a local newspaper.
No lessons will be learned; nothing will change. All part of everyday life in Britain.
The “85th percentile” speed is a speed at which 85% of traffic will be travelling at, or below, along a street or road (under free flow conditions). It’s typically associated with the setting of speed limits, and (more controversially) often used as an argument against lowering them, or enforcing limits.
In particular, some police forces have been reluctant to enforce 20mph limits that have been introduced on roads that previously had a higher speed limit, without any changes to the design of the road, on the basis that enforcing this lower speed limit will prove to be too much of a drain on their resources – too high a proportion of drivers will be exceeding the new (lower) limit.
I have to admit I have changed my position on this issue over the last few years. Previously, I had been of the opinion that a speed limit is a speed limit, and that it should be enforced, regardless of how many people are breaking it. That any refusal to do so was effectively a ‘cop out’ (excuse the pun) on the part of the police.
But I think the police (or ACPO) are exactly right when they say
Successful 20 mph zones and 20 mph speed limits are generally self‐enforcing, i.e. the existing conditions of the road together with measures such as traffic calming or signing, publicity and information as part of the scheme, lead to a mean traffic speed compliant with the speed limit.
To achieve compliance there should be no expectation on the police to provide additional enforcement beyond their routine activity, unless this has been explicitly agreed.
In other words, the 85th percentile speed (the speed at which 85% of drivers are travelling at, along a road) should correspond much more closely with the posted speed limit through the kinds of measures the police list here – in particular, the design of the road. Research carried out for Manual for Streets shows that the speed at which drivers travel along a road is influenced by its design – principally its width, and forward visibility. If plenty of people are breaking a limit, that probably tells you either the limit is wrong, or the design of the street is wrong. Something has to give.
And this is the reason I am suggesting that the ’85th percentile’ could actually be a force for good – it cuts both ways. While it can be used to reinforce the status quo, it can also tell us that the design of a road is inappropriate for the posted speed limit.
Take, for instance, a situation in which a residential street with a 30mph limit has that limit lowered to a 20mph limit, without any changes to the design of the street, or to the motor traffic network. Let’s then say that the 85th percentile speed of motor traffic on this street, after the introduction of the lower limit, is much more than 20mph – close to 30mph, for instance.
What does this tell us? It tells us that the design of the street isn’t doing its job. While it might be a good idea in the short term to get the police out with speed cameras, a long-term solution should be to change the nature, character (and usage) of the road so that the 85th percentile speed on it is much closer to 20mph.
So the 85th percentile is an effective way of demonstrating when speed limits and road design are out of kilter. Take, for instance, this 20mph limit on Midland Road in London, running between St Pancras and the British Library – just one of many main roads in London that have, in recent years, had their limits lowered from 30 to 20mph without any change to the design of the road.
I don’t know what the (free flow) 85th percentile speed of motor traffic is here, but I’d be willing to bet good money it is way, way over 20 mph – this is a wide road, with three lanes of motor traffic bearing down on Euston Road, in one direction.
Again, we could get the police out here with speed cameras, but really, the discrepancy between the posted limit and the way people are actually behaving on the road tells us that something more serious is wrong here – the messages the road is sending out to drivers don’t correspond to the limit that has been painted on it. Something has to give.
By contrast, in this early-1990s 20mph zone in Horsham – designed to be self-enforcing – it’s pretty much impossible to drive at 20mph (despite it being one-way!).
A combination of speed humps, tight corners, limited forward visibility and surfacing means that the 85th percentile speed is likely to be at (or even below) 20mph, which tells us that the speed limit and the design of the road are in agreement, and there’s little or no need for enforcement.
The same logic can be applied to 30mph roads too. This road in Wageningen, NL, has a 50km/h speed limit – and it’s reasonable to assume that the 85th percentile speed will be at or below that speed, due to the design of the road.
The carriageway is very narrow, with motor vehicles barely passing each other, and has no centre line.
And there are other ways of bringing the 85th percentile speed into line with a 50km/h (or 30mph) limit on these kinds of distributor roads – for instance, pinch points for motor traffic (that don’t affect cycling).
So if the 85th percentile speed on a 30mph road near you is (under free flow conditions) closer to 40mph, that should tell us that action is needed to bring driver behaviour more closely into line with the posted limit, through these kinds of measures. Principally, perhaps, by reclaiming a good deal of the carriageway for cycling, consequently narrowing it down for motor traffic.
I hope this explains why I’ve changed my mind, and why the 85th percentile can be a constructive tool for improving streets for walking and cycling!
A few months ago I commented on the new Waitrose/John Lewis retail site in Horsham, principally in relation to the way the visualisations of the (then yet to be opened) new development ducked the problematic issue of a very busy road severing the site from the town centre, but also on the potential difficulties of getting to the site by bike and on foot.
Now that the site is open, it is quite obvious that, yes, walking and cycling have been completely failed by the planning process. As I hope to explain here, cycling to Waitrose and John Lewis is effectively impossible, except for those who want to cycle (illegally) on footways, or for the tiny minority of people who are prepared to ‘negotiate’ with motor traffic on a dual carriageway carrying 20-25,000 vehicles per day.
To set the scene, here’s a video I’ve made showing the ‘legal’ cycling route to Waitrose.
To repeat some of the points made in the video – this isn’t an ‘out of town’ site, it is just outside the town centre, separated from it by the road I am cycling on. The route shown in the video is the one that will have to be taken by the vast majority of people who live in Horsham if they want to ‘legally’ cycle to Waitrose – only a small proportion of the town’s population live in the ‘opposing’ direction, and they too will have to cycle on this dual carriageway, as this is the only access for the supermarket.
There is heavy traffic in the video which actually makes the experience of cycling to the store slightly less hostile, principally because of reduced vehicle speeds. At less busy times, moving out into the outside lane (as I do in the video) is much less easy because motor traffic will be travelling at or above 30mph.
The video also shows someone cycling on the footway, from the supermarket. This isn’t legal (and I don’t think it should be – the footways, as currently designed, are too narrow). But it is exceptionally common. People want to cycle to Waitrose, but faced with the choice between a four lane, high speed, high traffic road, and trundling on the pavement, people are unsurprisingly opting for the latter.
Cycling has been squeezed out on these kinds of roads for decades, and this new development has done nothing to address this root problem. The only silver lining on the cloud here is that, in undoubtedly attracting more ‘ordinary’ people on bikes to find their way along this road to the supermarket, the problem is now increasingly visible and less easy to ignore.
My video also shows the stupidity of planning entirely around motor traffic – from start to end of the video, my trip is only around 300m as the crow flies, but it takes me three minutes to cover this distance, in large part because to even get to the front door by bike (which is where people cycling should be going) I have to go out of my way to a roundabout, and then negotiate my way through two levels of a car park. There is no direct access to the front door by bike.
Some amazing open goals have also been missed here – whether by Waitrose themselves, or by council officers, or both. Mainly, there are no access points into the site from the surrounding area, only the road I cycle on in the video. This is incredibly frustrating.
Standing in front of the main entrance, it is quite easy to see the main road to the north. The silver car is travelling along this road, and the white building is on the far side. It is a distance of only 80 metres or so from where I am standing.
But there is no walking (or cycling access from here – instead, you have to go take the long way round, the motor traffic route. I’ve marked this obvious (missing) connection on the visualisation of the site – the red line.
This is looking north, across the site, to the road running east-west (left-right). But there is no connection through to the west, either – a housing estate clearly visible, and a passage there to the side of the supermarket, but… fenced off.
This missing connection would run here – again, marked in red.
Again, the absence of this connection means a walk of a few metres is converted into one of several hundred.
Nor is there access at the south-west of the site. The development looms behind the housing here (circled) but again, no direct access, no connection with an existing path running along the river.
The overall impression is of a development that has been plonked down, with no thought or consideration, no attempt to connect it up sympathetically with the surrounding area, by foot or by bike.
Anyone living to the south, west, or north of this site has to go some distance out of there way to get to it. Combined with the hostility of the road you are forced to walk along, or cycle on, this development has entrenched, indeed worsened, car dependence within the town, which is pretty appalling given that this was a blank slate, in 2014.
Some thoughts about ‘danger’ and ‘dangerising’ cycling had been floating around in my head, following recent local discussion about whether talking about ‘danger’ puts people off cycling, and whether we should refrain from talking about it all.
Speaking as she prepared to race today in a pop-up street velodrome in Broadgate, Glowinski told the Standard: “I think it can be quite damaging to talk about how ‘dangerous’ cycling is. I really don’t think it is that dangerous. The reason I think women are getting hit by lorries is because it’s an assertiveness thing. […]
“I think it’s good that cycle safety is taken seriously and highlighted so it’s high on the political agenda, and people care about road safety and think about how to make certain junctions safer,” Glowinski said. “But constant highlighting of cyclist accidents can be a bit misleading. I get told all the time: ‘You are taking your life in your own hands, you are crazy.’ It’s misleading. It’s putting people off.”
I’ve emphasised in bold the passages that I think exemplify the kinds of objections made by people who think we shouldn’t talk about ‘danger’. We’ve been here before, of course, and others have eloquently covered the same ground.
At face value Glowinski’s comments appear confused – on the one hand she thinks it’s good that safety is on the agenda, and that we are talking about how to make roads safer. But at the same time a ‘constant’ highlighting of these issues is a problem. Is it even possible or sensible to draw a line here? This leads me to believe she may have been selectively quoted, or was pushed for a quote on something she didn’t really consider.
But, more generally, I think an important distinction often gets missed here. It’s vital to stress that when people like me, who are interested in increasing cycling levels substantially in Britain, talk about danger – both in objective terms, and in the way perception of danger is a major barrier to cycling uptake – are not arguing that cycling is an intrinsically dangerous mode of transport. We aren’t say that cycling itself is dangerous.
Instead, quite specifically, we are arguing that the design of certain roads and streets, and the nature of the motor traffic using them, presents an unacceptably high risk to people cycling on them. Cycling on a quiet residential street, with very low levels of motor traffic, is acceptably safe to anyone, but obviously very different from cycling around the Elephant and Castle, or Hyde Park Corner, or through Kings Cross, places where you have to make your way across multiple lanes of motor traffic travelling at higher speeds than you.
Exposure to this kind of motor traffic is unacceptable. It continues to baffle me why, in a country that (quite rightly) takes Health and Safety very seriously, these risks continue to be tolerated. Certain kinds of step ladders have to be used in the workplace, yet it is apparently fine and dandy for local authorities to build new roads where people cycling are expected to mix with heavy traffic, travelling at speeds of 50 or 60mph, ‘negotiating’ their way into the middle of the road to get around roundabouts.
The only way these roads even appear to be ‘safe’ is because next to no-one is using them on a bike. (Despite this, cycle KSIs on these kinds of roads form a considerable percentage of the total, even if the number of trips being made on them by bike is 1-2% of the total.)
The reasons so much of the British road network is dangerous for cycling are established reasons –
In short, all the attributes that are being designed out of Dutch roads and streets, thanks to Sustainable Safety.
Meanwhile Britain squeezes cycling onto roads that are simply not designed to accommodate it safely – with predictably tragic outcomes.
Does pointing this out really ‘put people off’ cycling? I think that’s a pretty far-fetched assertion. For one thing, we’ve been talking about road safety in general for decades in often quite vivid detail – in particular, car safety – without putting anyone off driving. And we have succeeded in greatly reduced the exposure drivers face while travelling around on roads and streets, by designing more forgiving environments for motoring, that tolerate minor mistakes, and reduce the seriousness of consequences when mistakes occur. (The problem is that cycling has largely been ignored in this process).
The implication of the ‘putting off’ claim, therefore, is that cycling is an especially fragile mode of transport, one that can collapse when people talk about the downsides of it; that exposure to risk and danger, and the perception of it, genuinely is a problem for cycling, compared to other modes of transport.
But even for the ‘putting off’ claim to stand up to scrutiny, there must exist some large cohort of the population that is willing to cycle on roads that have all the kinds of problems described here, yet will choose not do so simply because these problems are being talked about.
Is this really at all probable? Are they somehow blind to the hostility of these roads and the hazards they present, yet simultaneously so danger-sensitive that mere words will stop them cycling on them?1
The general public might not be particularly au fait with the principles of safe road and street design for cycling, but those principles will correspond closely with what we as human beings can instinctively judge to be unsafe. Faster motor traffic whizzing past us at close proximity feels unsafe. Being surrounded by HGVs feels unsafe. Junctions which present multiple potential conflicts and uncertainty about what other parties might be doing feel unsafe. And so on. These are the reasons most people don’t want to cycle on Britain’s roads.
I think most human beings are pretty good at assessing risk for themselves; they might not get it right all the time, but they can judge that it is safe enough for their children to pedal around in a park, or on a small section of pedestrianised street that rarely carries any motor traffic…
… while at the same time judging that allowing their children to cycle on the road with HGVs at the junction just yards away, in the background of the same photograph, presents an unacceptable level of risk.
This is exactly the point that David Arditti makes in the post I have already linked to –
I think the advocates of cycling need to stop treating the public like idiots who cannot correctly judge what is or is not an unacceptably dangerous activity for them to engage in. I think they can judge.
The public knows that cycling itself isn’t dangerous. That’s why families will wobble around parks, and up and down trails, and in those places they feel comfortable. But they do know that cycling on certain types of road presents a kind of risk – even a feeling of risk – that they simply aren’t prepared to tolerate.
Talking about addressing those risks isn’t going to stop anyone from venturing onto those roads on a bike, who wasn’t already prepared to do so.
1. [I am vaguely aware that statistics suggest there may have been a ‘dip’ in London cycling levels following the six fatalities in quick succession in late 2013; but this is surely attributable to the deaths themselves, rather than the people making the case for changing they way roads are designed to prevent these kinds of deaths from occurring in the future.]↩
I’m currently working my way through a DVD set of films from the BFI on cycling in Britain. One of these films is called ‘Free Wheeling’, which you can watch yourself on the BFI site (although it will cost you £1).
The film was produced for the Department for Transport in 1979, and appears to be aimed at councils and local authorities, showing them what can be currently be designed for cycling, based around Local Transport Note 1/78, Ways of Helping Cyclists in Built Up Areas, which we see, and is referred to, several times in the film.
It’s quite eye-opening – there are some things in there that were obviously radical at the time, like contraflow cycling on one way streets (something that, ridiculously, we still struggle to implement with any consistency 36 years later!).
What really caught my eye, however, was this short section on signalised junctions.
To my (untrained) eye, at least, this looks remarkably like, well, a simultaneous green junction – two of them.
In the first section of the clip, we see a man on a bike setting off from a bicycle-specific signal, heading diagonally across a junction, while other people cycling emerge from the road he is heading towards.
And indeed this is precisely what happens – the man and the woman emerging from the junction opposite do head off in different directions, the woman ‘yielding’ to the man in the blue jumper.
There are many variations [of this type of junction] possible, depending on local circumstances
which funnily enough is exactly what David Hembrow has been saying about ‘simultaneous green’ arrangements for cycling – that they can work at junctions of different sizes and shapes.
The second junction in the clip is even clearer. We see two people arriving at the junction, waiting at the corner on cycle-specific infrastructure, for a green signal to progress across the junction.
Note that this ‘corner’ arrangement is precisely the same as that at ‘simultaneous green’ junctions in the Netherlands.
As the two cyclists get a green signal, all motor traffic at the junction is held.
As in the previous example, people cycling emerge from the opposite side of the junction – not directly opposite, but from a cycle track at 135° to their own entrance to the junction.
Note, again, that there is nothing to stop people choosing whichever exit they please. All these (conflicting) options are possible.
I’d love to know where these two junctions are – my guess, from the rest of the video, is somewhere in Peterborough – and indeed what happened to them, Do they still exist today?
TfL’s response to the consultation on the route of the Superhighway through Hyde Park was released last week. It reveals, yet again, a curious hostility to cycling from the Royal Parks, the (government) agency that manages the eight Royal Parks in London.
This is the same body that is effectively blocking the most sensible routing of the Superhighway past Buckingham Palace for ‘safety, operational and aesthetic reasons’; that bans cycling along the eastern side of Green Park (yet allows driving, for access); that is apparently reluctant to close parts of Regents Park as through-routes to motor traffic; that organises regular ‘crackdowns’ on cycling, including (notoriously) one last year which saw BBC presenter Jeremy Vine stopped by the Met Police for ‘speeding’ (at 16mph).
The curiousness of the Royal Parks’ position was neatly summed up by City Cyclists back in January –
it seems to me that the [Royal Parks] authority is terribly concerned that building a safe cycle route through this area might lead to conflict with pedestrians. Fair enough. But I don’t see any evidence that The Royal Parks understand that much of that potential ‘conflict’ is because they are trying to squeeze people on foot and bikes into small spaces at junctions that are absolutely mobbed by motor vehicle traffic. The elephant in the room is that there is an awful lot of motor vehicle traffic in the Parks. Why isn’t The Royal Parks worrying about removing some of that, I wonder?
And indeed this latest response from TfL to the consultation reveals that the Royal Parks are still thinking this way. For instance –
3 respondents (<1%), including The Royal Parks, expressed concern about provision for cyclists on North Carriage Drive
The Royal Parks stated that the proposals are not safe enough for pedestrians. Most of these cited potential clashes with cycles due to increased cycle congestion in certain areas of the park
The Royal Parks stated that impact on pedestrians needs to measured and a risk assessment undertaken
Nobody wants to see more conflict between walking and cycling, but it seems to me that the Royal Parks are coming at this issue from a perspective that is bound to see problems where they don’t exist, and fails to diagnose solutions where they can be found.
First of all, from the tone of their comments on this consultation, and other public responses, they appear to have a fairly fixed idea of ‘cycling’ being the preserve of fast, speedy types, posing grave danger to other users, rather than as a potentially universal mode of transport that could be used by all visitors to the Parks. Indeed, these people exist in the Parks already, and they are hardly a great danger to other users.
Ordinary people need safe routes through (and obviously to) the Parks by bike, not just ‘cyclists’, and those routes shouldn’t be compromised because of assumptions about speeding, or bad behaviour, or lycra, or whatever. If there is a genuine issue with bad behaviour, that should be tackled directly, rather than punishing everyone else by not even providing proper routes in the first place.
Secondly, all the (potential) problems with conflict between different users in the parks are almost certainly design problems, rather than any intrinsic problem with cycling itself. Where there are currently issues with ‘speeding’ in Hyde Park, for instance, it’s notable that it is on a desperately narrow shared path, along Rotten Row.
With two-way cycling on the right hand side of that white line, it’s hardly surprising that conflict with walking on the other side of the line is going to occur, with ‘fast’ cyclists seeming to come out of nowhere.
Parks across Europe handle much larger numbers of people cycling, with much less conflict, because their paths are designed to safely accommodate it. In Utrecht –
In Lyon –
And of course in Amsterdam.There isn’t conflict in these parks, precisely because there is enough space allocated to walking and cycling for everyone to get along quite happily. The problems that result from pushing people together into a tiny space isn’t a problem with cycling; it’s a problem with bad design.
This fixation on the ‘problems’ cycling might cause is even more curious in the light of the Royal Parks’ ambivalence about motor traffic levels in the areas it controls. We are told that
It is The Royal Parks’ aspiration to reduce the number of motor vehicles in the Royal Parks. It does not feel an immediate ban on cars in Hyde Park is considered feasible given the impact that this would have on those who currently visit by car and taxi.
Reductions in motor traffic would obviously be welcome, but it’s not clear how this is going to be achieved without restrictions on the routes motor traffic can take through the parks. A ‘ban’ on motor traffic needn’t even be a priority in the short term; the main problem with motor traffic in the Parks is how the roads in them are used as through routes. These roads could be converted to access roads, still allowing people to visit by car, but removing the motor traffic using the Parks as a cut-through to somewhere else.
The Royal Parks seem innately conservative; wedded to preserving the status quo, even if that is deeply sub-optimal in terms of safety and convenience, especially for people walking and cycling.
An essential component of whether a road or a street is a pleasant place is the amount of motor traffic travelling down it. It isn’t the only component, of course, but it’s going to be a struggle to make somewhere that has tens of thousands of motor vehicles travelling through it into an attractive destination. Conversely, streets that have very low levels of motor traffic – or indeed no motor traffic at all – are very much easier to ‘convert’ into destinations, places where people would like to hang around, rather than rushing off somewhere else.
This will often have very little to do with the way the street itself is designed. Waltham Forest managed to transform Orford Road into a pleasant place, simply by closing it to motor traffic.
People were happy to mingle in the street, and to let their children play in it, despite the ‘conventional’ road layout remaining, with tarmac, kerbs, and street markings.
The same is true of Earlham Street in Camden; again, a ‘conventional’ street became a place people were happy to wander around in, simply by the addition of a closure to motor traffic – without any changes to the street layout.
This is surely all fairly obvious stuff; yet there is a curious blindspot on the inescapable influence of motor traffic levels on the quality and attractiveness of our street environments, particularly (and most troublingly) amongst many of the people who have responsibility for what happens to them, or who are engaged in the design and function of them.
It is a little unfair to single any particular individuals out, especially people who are thoughtful and reflective on how streets work, and how how they could be improved. But an analysis of Exhibition Road by John Massengale and Victor Dover in their book, Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns is such a good example of this phenomenon it’s hard not to point to it.
In a two-page section on this ‘shared space’ design – perhaps one of the most famous examples of this kind of design in Britain – the authors reflect on why this street is both a success and a failure, and arrive at some reasonable conclusions. The treatment on Exhibition Road is described as a ‘mixed success’, the authors finding that the very southern half of the street, south of Thurloe Place, is a success, while the section north of it (and north of the A4 Cromwell Road) is something of a failure. Here is the relevant passage, quoted in full –
The innovations at the southern end of Exhibition Road have been more successful than the primary stretch between the museums and other institutions. Thurloe Street and the adjacent plaza are small-scale, comfortable spaces that are well used by the public. Both are lined with attractive storefronts that have been revived by the popularity of the new design, now filled with several cafés with outdoor dining, a bookstore for the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other shops. Cars can enter the Exhibition Road space here, but it feels more like a piazza than shared space. Low ventilating stacks for the tube station and a tunnel leading to it poke up in the middle of the space, helping the spatial definition. Built-in benches attached to the stacks are frequently occupied by those who don’t have to spend money to spend time people-watching, and the few cars and vans that park in the square tend to cluster around them, giving some visual order to the parking. On the street itself, bold striping in light and dark grays clearly sets the space off from the through traffic on Thurloe Place.
The effect of these paving techniques on the long, wide piece of Exhibition Road to the north is less pleasing, because here the street feels vast and poorly shaped. The bold diagonal striping is visible for many blocks, and since there are no sidewalks, the supergraphic bumps into the institutions lining the road in an almost random and uncomfortable way. On the small piazza to the south, on the other hand, the paving pattern seems less repetitive and is broken up by the ventilation shafts and the benches around them, the parked vehicles, and the number of people in the space. The outdoor tables on the southern block of Exhibition Road also cover the supergraphics at the edges, softening their effect.
A smaller pattern north of Cromwell Road would bring a more human scale to the vast space, and breaking it into smaller parts would help, too. A more traditional design would make borders along the edge and break the long space into smaller parts. cars park in the center of the road, which has traffic on one side and pedestrians on the other. “Only the parked cars look comfortable,” says Hank Dittmar, the Chief Executive of the Prince’s Foundation.
This is all clever, intelligent analysis, but amazingly (to my eyes, at least) there is absolutely no mention here of the difference in the levels of motor traffic on the distinct sections of the street that are considered to be a success, and to be a failure. The section that they feel is a success has a relatively tiny amount of motor traffic, only accessing the shops and premises on the street itself, and the handful of properties on Thurloe Street, while the section they deem to be a failure has a considerable amount of motor traffic – around 15,000 vehicles a day.
Yet this difference is not mentioned, at all.
Instead, the authors attribute the differences in quality to what are, in reality, very minor design details. Indeed, the differences in design have to be minor, because the layout of the street is essentially identical in the two sections that are deemed to be a failure, and a success.
This continuity of design is even more obvious in aerial shots of the whole length of the road.
The main reason for the difference in quality is obvious – the north section is a busy road and car park, while the south section isn’t, carrying only a negligible amount of traffic on what is actually a minor access road.
So while the authors observe that ‘the rebuilt road changes character as it goes north’, they fail to remark upon the principal reason why this is so – very different levels of motor traffic.
The reason the southern section – which has the same street layout as the northern section – feels like ‘a piazza’, and ‘a small-scale, comfortable space’, and where people will actually want to sit out on the street and eat a meal, or watch people walking by, is because it is not full of motor traffic. Nothing more, nothing less.
Is this failure to recognise the importance of motor traffic levels important? I think it is. I think it explains why towns and cities have been so ready to embrace ‘shared space’ as an apparent solution to the problems with their roads and streets. Current levels of motor traffic on a given route are taken almost as innate, an essential characteristic that cannot be changed. It’s background; the ‘problem’ to be solved then becomes one of how to arrange that motor traffic on the street, how to manage its interactions, how to make it ‘behave’, rather than one of determining the function and purpose of a road or street, and determining the level of motor traffic it should be carrying accordingly.
Dutch access roads work well because they are designed to eliminate through traffic, often in very subtle ways – an arrangement of one-ways, for instance, or simply a fast, obvious parallel road. The success of these layouts actually has very little to do with the design of the streets themselves.
Streets like the one in the picture above are designed the way they are because motor traffic has largely been removed from them; they are not designed that way in an attempt to mitigate the effects of motor traffic. They are able to function as ‘shared’ because of low motor traffic levels; their design is essentially a bit of icing on the cake.
Of course at the other end of the scale, by ignoring the reality of motor traffic we risk designing inappropriate ‘sharing’ into roads that are far too busy for anyone too actually consider sharing, creating (at some expense) what amount to fairly conventional roads, but ones that have serious downsides for groups like those who are not included on the carriageway or the footway, or those with disabilities like visual impairment. Roads that will continue to function as distributor routes for motor traffic should be designed with the needs of all users in mind, even if in practise that means a dilution of the ‘placemaking’ value of any redesign.
We ignore the importance of motor traffic at our peril.
I shared some pictures the other day, in an attempt to convey a fairly simple message – that the safety record of the Netherlands for cycling is almost entirely attributable to the physical environment people cycle in, and that it isn’t down to exemplary behaviour (either of people cycling, or of people driving), or down to clothing, or safety equipment, or special lighting, or any other kind of gimmick.
Admittedly it isn’t particularly obvious from the photographs, but these pictures were taken at two large, busy junctions in Utrecht – the first is at the Westplein, a major junction just to the west of the train station, the second is the junction of Vleutensweg and Thomas a Kempisweg. The people in the pictures are able to negotiate these junctions in total safety, despite doing what they are doing, and wearing what they are wearing, and riding battered bikes, because they are completely separated from motor traffic, either physically, or in time, with dedicated green crossing stages for cycles.
I am not necessarily condoning this behaviour – my point was that the superior Dutch safety record is achieved in spite of it.
It’s hard to generalise, but you rarely see people carrying exceptional loads, or texting, or cycling with dogs, or giving backies, in British cities, but all these things are extraordinarily common in Dutch cities, while hi-visibility clothing and helmets are almost entirely absent. Indeed, I would even estimate that people with functioning lights are definitely in the minority in the centre of larger Dutch cities.
It is blindingly obvious, therefore, that safety – true safety – for people cycling does not lie with behaviour, or with clothing or equipment, but with a safe environment, one that allows what in British eyes might be ‘stupid’ behaviour, but that is in reality just natural, flawed, human behaviour in an environment that feels safe.
The Dutch safety record is actually even more remarkable because of the broad demography of the people cycling, particularly those that are most vulnerable – young children, and the elderly. 23% of all trips Dutch people over the age of 65 make are cycled.
Likewise 40% of all trips Dutch children under the age of 17 make are cycled. This group is vulnerable in a different way. Firstly they are inexperienced, and still learning how to use the road network…
… and secondly, kids (and especially teenagers) will prat about. It’s just what they do.
Nor does safety in the Netherlands lie with exemplary (or even slightly better) driver behaviour. You will see the same kind of impatience, driver error, speeding, tailgating, and silly behaviour as on British roads. Stand at a busy junction for motor traffic, and you will see drivers fiddling with their phones, or speaking on them. Dutch drivers will SMIDSY too, when they encounter junctions where they have to process a lot of movements and interactions.
Why would it be otherwise? The Dutch are human beings, just like the British, and are just as fallible and flawed as we are, when they are behind the wheel of a car.
The essential difference with Britain, however, is that, while cycling in the Netherlands, you are almost entirely insulated from this bad behaviour. On main roads you are not in the same space as drivers. Often they will be some distance away, even invisible.
In urban areas, particularly in new developments, routes for bikes and motor traffic will often be completely unravelled, with entirely separate ‘main roads’ for cycling and motor traffic between destinations.
And on residential and access streets, motor traffic is only there for, well, access reasons, meaning your chances of encountering drivers speeding somewhere else are negligible.
This policy also means that side roads are infrequently used by drivers, again meaning potential conflict with motor traffic is greatly reduced.
Where interaction does (infrequently) have to occur, like at the side street shown above, design helps to ensure that it is clear who has priority, and that there is little to be gained from driving badly.
It is this whole raft of design measures that means interaction with motor traffic is negligible by comparison with Britain, and usually benign when it does occur. Although idiot drivers undoubtedly exist, your chances of meeting one are greatly, greatly reduced. By contrast, in Britain, you are almost always continually exposed to that idiocy, sharing the same road space as motor traffic on main roads, and indeed on side streets which will often form through routes for drivers, trying to get somewhere else.
True safety lies with design; design that accounts for human fallibility, rather than design that relies on perfect human behaviour, or on attempts to create better human beings.
There’s been a fair bit of discussion of ‘shared space’ recently, prompted mainly by the Holmes Report into Shared Space, which was released at the start of the month.
‘Shared space’ is of course a catch-all term that covers a wide range of street and road treatments, but in essence it involves reducing distinction (either visually or physically, or both) between the carriageway and footway – between places where users are ‘expected’ to be, in general.
I don’t think there is any genuine, or ‘ultimate’, shared space out there – one that has no distinction whatsoever across the whole building-to-building width. You will always find some kind of distinction, be it in the form of tactile paving, or colour difference, or a minimal kerb upstand, or bollards, between where different modes should be going.
New Road in Brighton perhaps comes closest, with only a drain breaking up the uniform surface – but here sheer weight of pedestrians numbers, and a tiny amount of motor traffic, make this resemble a genuinely pedestrianised street with limited motor traffic access.
And this points toward something a little bit back-to-front about how these treatments are often applied in Britain. New Road is a bit of an exception; it is effectively an access road, one that makes little or no sense to drive down if you want to go anywhere, because a one-way system sends you back to where you’ve come from.
By contrast, ‘shared space’ treatments are instead frequently applied on roads that are through-routes for motor traffic, carrying it from somewhere, to somewhere else. Poynton is composed of a junction of major A-roads; Exhibition Road carries around 15,000 vehicles a day; Byng Place in Camden is a through-route; major schemes in Coventry and Ashford have both applied ‘shared space’ treatments to main roads. Preston, too, appears to have jumped on the bandwagon in the last year.
Indeed, all the examples of ‘shared space’ shown in the Sea of Change film – areas where partially-sighted and blind users have difficulty crossing roads – involve through routes for motor traffic.
Meanwhile, all the small access roads near these big main road schemes – residential streets, or streets that (should) serve no through function for motor traffic – are left with ‘conventional’ highway engineering, footways with high kerbs, clearly distinct from what look like roads, rather than streets.
For instance, it is the through-route Exhibition Road that has the ‘shared space’ treatment (and a 20mph limit), while, bizarrely, the minor residential side-street joining on to it, Princess Gardens, has a conventional tarmac road appearance, and a 30mph limit.
This is, really, the wrong way round, and entirely opposite to the way the Dutch conventionally design roads and streets, and distinguish between them.
In the Netherlands, the ‘shared space’ style treatments are applied on streets that have been quite deliberately designed to remove through traffic, leaving only a very small number of motor vehicles using them – the access roads. Meanwhile the main roads, carrying through traffic, usually have very clear distinction between the carriageway and the footway (in large part because the Dutch clearly separate cycling from motor traffic on these kinds of roads).
So what looks like the kind of treatment we might see on a fashionable main road in Britain is almost always applied on a very low motor traffic access road in the Netherlands. Examples from Wageningen, Gouda, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Veenedaal, Utrecht, and Assen below – all very low (motor) traffic streets.
Although these treatments looks like ‘shared space’, these are all autoluwe, or very low car traffic areas.
These are appropriate locations for a lack of definition between footway and carriageway because the reason for that distinction – motor traffic – is no longer present.
By contrast, the main roads near these access roads will have clear definition, because… well, these roads are still carrying a significant quantity of motor traffic – distinction is required.
I don’t quite know how, or why, Britain appears to have grasped the wrong end of shared space stick, applying treatments designed for streets that are intrinsically suited to sharing – access roads – onto main roads instead, in an attempt to fix them.
Perhaps it is because of an innate reluctance to accept we have a motor traffic problem. Perhaps we are attempting to convince ourselves that we can turn traffic-blighted roads into ‘places’ simply by changing the way they look, rather than honestly accepting that they are through-routes, or accepting that genuine places require an access-only function for motor traffic. (I’ve written about the need for honesty – and placefaking – before).
There is a role for shared space design (or whatever you want to call it!) in Britain, but it is vitally important that it gets applied in the right places, and in the right contexts. Making our streets and roads safe, comfortable and attractive for all their potential users – particularly those with physical disability or impairment, but also everyone walking or cycling about on them – depends on it.
There are a good number of encouraging cycling schemes appearing in London now, either physically on the street, or in the form of consultations.
One of the latter is Camden’s plan for the Tavistock Place, or ‘Seven Stations’, route, running east-west across Bloomsbury. There’s an excellent, detailed history of the origins of this cycling infrastructure from David Arditti here, which is well worth reading if you haven’t already done so (and probably worth reading again, even if you have).
Given the present-day consensus on cycling infrastructure, I think it’s hard to imagine just how radical this rather narrow two-way track was at the time it was built, and David’s piece gives a good account of the struggles and difficulties that were faced in implementing it.
But fifteen years on, it is a victim of its own success – it is too popular. Around 6000 cycles pass along it on a weekday, and that’s an awful lot for a 2.5m bi-directional track with high kerbs.
I’ve heard some silly suggestions that this volume of cycle traffic means that the cycling infrastructure should be completely dismantled, mixing cycles back in again with the motor traffic that still uses this street. That would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg – destroying the attractive cycling conditions, free from interaction with motor traffic, that bring so many people to this street on a bike in the first place. 10,000 motor vehicles per day is far too high a level for comfortable sharing on a bike.
But something obviously has to give, and to its credit, the borough of Camden have come up with what is a really quite radical improvement, which is going to be trialled before being implemented permanently.
The trial will involve turning the existing, pictured, two-way track into a one-way track, conventionally at the side of the road, for east-bound cycle flows. If you’re cycling west, the entire existing westbound motor traffic lane will become a cycle lane.
The purple arrows show flow for cycling; the blue arrow, motor traffic flow. Restricting motor traffic to just one-way means only lane for motor traffic, and consequently much more space for cycle traffic.
In a neat twist, that means the street is finally going to catch up with Paul Gannon‘s original proposals from over fifteen years ago – which involved restricting motor traffic to one direction (albeit to create a genuinely wide two-way track, rather than one-way provision on each side of the street).
Of course this bold vision was watered down in the way David Arditti describes – two-way flow for motor traffic was maintained, resulting in the compromised narrow two-way facility that is on the street today. (It is nevertheless interesting that this compromised facility has attracted enough people cycling to make the case for present-day expansion unarguable).
The really clever part of this new trial scheme is how this same one-way arrangement is being used to actually reduce motor traffic levels, by pointing the one-way flow in opposing directions, on either side of Gower Street.
That means it’s no longer going to be possible to drive along the length of this street – you can’t drive (for example) into the West End from the east along it, and vice-versa, you can’t drive from the West End into Clerkenwell along it. Motor traffic levels should consequently therefore greatly reduce, on top of the reduction that will come from reducing from two-way flow in two lanes to one-way flow in one lane.
The arrangement will also prevent taxi drivers coming from the east and turning right (northbound) towards the stations on Euston road – this will remove a great deal of the collision risk at the junctions that was a problem on this route, coupled with conventional one-way flow for cycling.
Taxi drivers weren’t to blame for taking this route. Right turns are prevented on Euston Road by Transport for London in order to ‘smooth traffic flow’ along it (providing a signal for right turning motor traffic means stopping oncoming motor traffic). That has inevitably meant pushing motor traffic that should be using Euston Road onto these roads in Camden, effectively creating a gyratory system at the expense of borough roads, in order to push as much motor traffic along Euston Road as is possible. A sane solution to London’s traffic flow (all types of traffic, not just motor traffic) should involve allowing motor traffic to make right turns from main roads, instead of these kinds of arrangements, which create extra motor traffic (and extra risk) on streets that should not be carrying it.
Camden’s trial for Tavistock Place is planned to start in August, and will run for 12 months, after which it is hoped to convert the scheme into a more permanent arrangement, with stepped tracks on each side of the road, and improved crossings. With lower traffic levels, I suspect many of the existing traffic lights could be removed, replaced with priority junctions and zebra crossings, so there’s much to gain for pedestrians too. All in all it should make for a much more attractive, calmer street that is better to walk and cycle along.
The trial plans are available to view here.
Imagine a street that carries 14,000 cyclists a day, on the street itself. That equates to around 1,500 people cycling along the street per hour, or 25 every minute.
Imagine driving down that street. Surely a nightmare for any self-respecting driver who wants to make progress. A miserable experience. You’d never be able to overtake, what with all the cyclists trundling in front of you, often two or three abreast, taking up the whole road.
Well… no. Actually overtaking in a car on this street is pretty easy.
How on earth can it be easy to overtake when there are so many bloody cyclists in the middle of the road?
The answer is quite simple – the reason drivers can overtake easily is because there aren’t many other drivers using this street.
Take a look at the photographs again. There isn’t oncoming motor traffic to prevent an overtake. There’s also limited on-street parking (just one set of bays, on one side of the road, in designed bays) meaning the road itself is not obstructed by parked vehicles.
Quite clearly it is other motor vehicles – both moving and stationary – that makes overtaking difficult, because a vast amount of cyclists ‘clogging’ a road doesn’t necessarily represent an impediment to motoring progress.
To compare with a British example – struggling to overtake a cyclist heading away from the camera here?
That’ll be because of the large amount of oncoming motor traffic, preventing you from moving out into the opposing lane, and the amount of parking on both sides of the street, greatly reducing the available width of what is, in reality, a very wide road.
Really, how could it be otherwise? How can a human being two feet wide, on a road that is 35 feet wide, …
In reality, hell is other drivers – not other people people cycling.
Last year I wrote about the stalled attempts to improve Bank junction in the City of London. The problem appears to be the time it is taking the City to model the effects of potential changes to the junction – in fact, the City are developing a new model from scratch, which is taking eighteen months, meaning results won’t even be in until Spring 2016.
Our next task will be to build a computer traffic model to assess what is likely to happen if traffic is prevented from crossing the junction for example in certain directions or times of day. Information from pedestrian and cycling movements will also help to develop solutions. This is likely to be a big piece of work and will take some time to complete but it is very important to have credible options for alterations to the junction. We hope to have this work completed by early 2016.
As I wrote then, this is a very time-consuming and expensive way of finding out something that could be established by trial arrangements, on the street itself; this could involve closing or restricting some of the streets in the area to motor traffic. Such a trial could be temporary, meaning that if genuine chaos did ensue, then the layout could be reverted back to normal very quickly, with alternative arrangements tried at a later date. The results of such a trial – given that they correspond to the real world – would also be much more accurate than those provided a model, even a very expensive one.
Of course tragedy struck at this junction last month, with the death of Ying Tao. If action had been taken more quickly to try out arrangements to improve Bank, rather than waiting years to develop and test a model, then improvements could already have been in place by now.
In a similar vein, in their response to the consultation on Quietway 2 in London, Transport for London rejected closing parts of the Quietway as a through-route to motor traffic, for the following reason –
Some respondents to the consultation felt that closing Calthorpe Street and/or Margery Street to general traffic would be a more appropriate intervention. The changes proposed at this junction are due to be delivered this year, in line with the opening of the new Quietway route. These suggestions would have a wider impact of LB Camden and LB Islington’s road network and would require much further investigation. It is considered this would not be deliverable within the timescale, as investigation would be needed of the impact on adjacent streets.
Such a measure would apparently require ‘much further investigation’, because of the impacts on the surrounding road network.
As it happens, I was passing along this very road – Calthorpe Street – earlier this week, and was amazed to discover that it was actually filtered, in the way respondents to the consultation had been calling for.
Well, not in exactly the same way – people cycling were bumping up onto the footway to get around the closure. But the effect is the same. What look like some water main repairs have seen the total closure of this street to motor traffic.
Was there carnage on the surrounding streets? Total gridlock? I didn’t come across any, at least nothing out of the ordinary for London. At the very least a simple trial closure like this could be implemented for, say, six weeks to genuinely investigate whether such a closure would cause gridlock elsewhere. It would also give residents (who, by the way, are in favour of such a closure on this street) a chance to experience the benefits in terms of quieter and safer streets for a short period, buying-in support for a permanent closure.
What seems to be at play here, both at Bank and with TfL’s response to closure requests, is what Rachel Aldred has recently called
The terrifying spectre of delays to motor traffic
Fear of holding up drivers, even for a few more minutes, seems to be crippling, to such an extent that rather than just trying out closures we will spend years developing models, or carrying out ‘much further investigation’, to establish what we could find out quickly and easily by on-the-ground trials.
To be fair, some local authorities are much bolder, and are keen and willing to experiment with reducing routes and capacity for motor traffic. Last year Camden coned off a lane on the entry to Royal College Street, just to see what happened.
That means there’s a whole lane’s worth of space that can be (and is now) being re-allocated to cycle provision on St Pancras road, in the form of a stepped cycle track.
And this week Camden announced plans to trial reallocating an entire vehicle lane along the Tavistock Place route to a westbound cycle lane, restricting this road to one-way for motor traffic, in opposing directions (which should mean a large reduction in through motor traffic too). The existing two-way track, grossly over-capacity, will become a one-way track. More about this in a future post.
Waltham Forest are also keen to experiment; their bold mini-Holland scheme of closures to through traffic is now becoming permanent.
And in Leicester – were the Cycling Embassy spent last weekend for their AGM – the council is apparently keen to trial lane closures in advance of building cycling infrastructure. This cycle track on Newarke Street, built on a vehicle lane, was preceded by a coning off of the lane in question, to examine the effects on motor traffic.
And a similar ‘coning off’ was recently performed by Leicester City Council on the nearby Welford Road – a lane was deliberately taken away to see what happened.
Finally, CycleGaz spotted another recent temporary trial arrangement on Norbury Avenue – this one for three months.
Road closed to cars on Norbury Avenue to prevent it being used as a rat run. pic.twitter.com/yVDis5knli
— CycleGaz™ (@cyclegaz) July 1, 2015
These kind of trials don’t really require that much boldness; they’re cheap, quick to install, and can be reversed at the end of the trial if they prove to be unpopular, or if genuine gridlock does actually result.
Why can’t other councils and transport authorities break out of their paralysing fear of effects on motor traffic, and emulate what Camden, Leicester, Waltham Forest, Croydon and other councils are willing to try out?
A Crawley woman has been sentenced for driving dangerously outside a school.
Leanne Andre, 43, of Friars Rookery, Crawley, pleaded not guilty to driving dangerously in October 2014 when she appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on 11 June, but was found guilty.
Andre received a 12-month Community Order of 90 hours unpaid work, was ordered to pay total court costs of £810 and has been disqualified from driving for 12 months as well as then having to take an extended driving test.
The incident happened in Gales Drive, Three Bridges, on the afternoon of 23 October last year.
Andre had parked her vehicle illegally in the bus stop directly outside Three Bridges primary school whilst picking up her children from the school. The local Three Bridges community policing team was patrolling the area at the time in response to numerous reports of dangerous parking near the school at opening and closing times.
They put a notice on the windscreen of Andre’s car pointing out that it was parked illegally.
Upon Andre’s return to her car a PCSO approached her explaining why the notice had been issued. She responded by directing verbal abuse at him, and drove off. A Police Constable asked her to stop but instead she accelerated towards the officer, swerving just to avoid contact, and continued gaining speed as she drove away, giving no consideration to the parents and children who were waiting, as she claimed she was in a rush.
Officers had the registration number and description of the car and subsequently went to Andre’s home nearby to arrange to inteview her under caution.
PC Jo Millard said; “Andre’s actions on that day were irresponsible and dangerous. We will take action against offenders driving in such an anti-social and dangerous manner.”
No doubt this would have been a full-page spread in the Daily Mail, coupled with earnest coverage on Radio 4, if Andre had abused and threatened police officers while on a bike. ‘Do cyclists have entitlement issues?’ ‘Is it time for cyclists to wear number plates to curb their bad behaviour?’ ‘Do they need to wear hi-viz identification vests?’
But as it is, it will pass completely under the radar, just another example of everyday traffic violence that passes without comment.
But this isn’t even why this story caught my attention – I spotted where Andre lives. Friars Rookery. Which is…
… 300 metres from Three Bridges Primary School.
It is, literally, just down the road – so close the police officers could presumably see her turning back into her own street.
Crawley is a New Town, meaning most of the main roads in it are lovely and wide. Cycling infrastructure (sometimes of reasonable quality, mostly of dubious quality) did arrive on the major roads, but unfortunately residential distributors like Gales Drive didn’t get any.
No continuous footways across the side roads either, meaning young children walking to school have to ‘take responsibility’ for crossing side roads while dangerous and aggressive drivers like Andre emerge out of them to take their own children to school.
Slow clap, Britain.
Sad as it is to say, I suppose there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about another sequence of deaths and serious injuries of people riding bikes – the most troubling and unsettling being yet another woman being crushed by a left-turning tipper truck at a notoriously dangerous London junction – running in parallel with a series of poorly-timed articles and programmes , apparently driven by a media industry that seems determined to pour petrol on the flames of what should be a deeply serious issue, for the sake of ratings.
A feature of these articles in newspapers, or appearances on TV is the reference to people cycling as ‘them’, or ‘they’. All from the last few days.
Glenda Slagg nonsense there, from Sarah Vine, Fiona Phillips, and Angela Epstein, respectively.
Of course the trick with this kind of ‘journalism’ is to play to what you think is your audience, parroting their prejudice back to them. And sure enough the response was predictable –
Pictured below are just some of the 51 people who have been killed riding a bike in Britain so far this year.
Keep the word ‘them’ in mind.
‘Them’? What do these people have in common, beyond the tragedy of their deaths, and their mode of transport at that time?
They’re just ordinary people. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. Not ‘them’. Ordinary people who just happened to be riding a bike.
You may or may not have seen this fascinating graph from the Economist in 1981, shared with me by Graham Smith.
It’s an amazing insight into the way cycling had effectively disappeared as a serious mode of transport for short trips, in the minds of the establishment.
The ‘gap’ between walking and driving for trips of up to 3 miles apparently had to be filled by something – Minitram? with a suggestive question mark – without the apparent realisation that a perfect mode of transport already existed, and had thrived in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.
We’re stuck with this legacy today, reinforced by a further three decades of failure to establish cycling as that mode of transport for the ‘gap’ between walking and driving. This ‘cycling oversight’ also has implications for the way we expect people to travel around without a car.
Local authorities expect people to walk to bus stops, rather than cycle, and that often means bus routes have to meander to where people live, rather than taking direct routes. Apparently many local authorities have a requirement that bus stops should be within 300m of anyone’s doorstep – that means the competitiveness and directness of the bus itself is sacrificed to accommodate short walking trips to bus stops.
There are two examples of this in Horsham, one in a large new development to the west of the town that is nearing completion, and another large development to the north of the town that is awaiting planning permission, but looks set to go ahead. The development to the west looks like this –
The new development lies in the shaded area. The red and orange lines are the (direct) driving routes for private motor traffic (a massive new junction, and extra lanes, have been added to the bypass, running north-south, that bisects the development). The wibbly-wobbly blue line is, sadly, the bus route, through the development, to the town centre.
Clearly the directness of the bus route has been sacrificed, to bring the bus stops close to all the properties within the new development.
The proposed development to the north of Horsham has a very similar bus route.
Of course this indirectness (and delay in getting to where you actually want to get to on a bus) isn’t the only problem with this kind of ‘doorstep bus route planning’. It also means that buses will often have to fight their way through residential streets that (quite properly) are not designed for through traffic, according to Manual for Streets. We saw an example of this in a new development on the outskirts of Newcastle, on a Cycling Embassy Infrastructure Safari.
This isn’t really the kind of road a bus route should be running down – it’s narrow, has on-street parking, and pinch points and features designed to slow motor traffic. None of these are intrinsically bad things – indeed, they may be desirable on residential streets – but I don’t think they’re compatible with a bus route.
Having to take buses through residential areas, to pass close to doorsteps, effectively means pushing buses – which should be using through-roads to get from A to B – onto access roads. And this is something that Oxfordshire County Council (among others) are now complaining about.
Street design in new housing estates ‘too restrictive for buses’
Oxfordshire County Council has criticised the street design in some of the county’s recently-built housing estates, saying the main streets are too narrow and low-speed for efficient bus operations.
“The recent design orthodoxy for large residential developments in Oxfordshire has been far too restrictive for bus operation and this restricts the eventual range of bus services that can be operated,” says Oxfordshire.
The council’s comments reflect a concern of bus operators across the country that their needs are not being taken into account in the design of new developments, with designers promoting narrow streets and traffic calming features to reduce the dominance of traffic.
I think this is only half the story – clearly the solution to this problem isn’t to widen residential streets to accommodate bus flow, but instead to ensure that bus routes are run on (properly designed) through-roads, away from residential areas. Bus routes simply shouldn’t be running through access roads.
The story is very different in new Dutch developments – the buses run on the main roads that skirt the development, designed to take buses and through-traffic – with people cycling to the stops from within that development.
This means that residential areas only need to accommodate access traffic, and can be designed to slow it, without having to worry about how easy it is for buses to pass through efficiently. Because buses don’t pass along these streets.
Of course, this does involve the use of a mode of transport that fills ‘the gap’ between walking and taking the bus – one that allows people to travel distances of around 1-2 miles with ease, and allows bus stops to be retained on the direct routes for the bus.
Taking cycling seriously as a mode of transport would mean that buses would work much more effectively, and be much more competitive with driving – and would also keep buses out of residential streets that are (correctly) not designed to accommodate them.
Horsham’s going up in the world, because we’re getting a John Lewis, which opens next week.
That means the town’s existing Waitrose supermarket – located pretty centrally in the town centre – is now moving out beyond the town’s four/five lane inner ring road, to join John Lewis on a joint site.
It could be worse, of course – the site is at least still within the town, unlike Tesco’s current location, the supermarket having decided to bugger off beyond the town’s bypass in the late 1980s, some two miles from the town centre, and pretty difficult to access if you don’t have a car – so difficult you might as well not bother.
But of course the town’s inner ring road still presents a significant obstacle. While it’s going to be pretty easy to drive to John Lewis and Waitrose, anyone who wants to access the site on foot or on bike from the town centre – and indeed from most of the town, to the north and east of the new location – is going to have get across those four lanes of motor traffic.
The visualisations I have seen are not inspiring. In fact, they are pretty much the epitome of screwing over people walking and cycling in the interests of preserving motor traffic capacity.
In more detail. The main pedestrian movement will be from the top right of this picture – that’s the pedestrianised centre of Horsham. The obvious desire line from this point to the new superstore is marked in red. The routes people will have to take instead are marked in blue.
The crossing at the top of the picture is an existing, staggered, crossing; the one at the bottom will be new, but it’s not entirely clear whether it will even be signalised.
As for riding a bike to the new superstore? Hahahaha. Oh, seriously. No, no idea. Presumably you just have to cycle on that road. The footways will remain too narrow for acceptable ‘shared use’, but that’s probably what we’re going to get.
Back in 2013 – when these plans were being announced – Horsham District Council were claiming that
The creation of a new vehicular route or the major redesign of Albion Way [the four lane inner ring road] in this area will be encouraged to make the environment more inviting to cycles, buses and pedestrians. A new vehicular route would enable the reduction of traffic on the old section of Albion Way and allow for better connections between this area and the town centre, in particular across Albion Way to West Street.
But that seems to have all been pie in the sky – no substantial changes are being made, and all four lanes of motor traffic are being kept. This road will remain very hostile to cycling. Bear in mind that it currently carries 20-25,000 vehicles a day. The severance here is considerable, and will remain so.
Other visualisations plastered in the vicinity of the development are completely crazy. They show hordes of people ambling across this four lane road, with absolutely no motor traffic on it.
Reality check, courtesy of Google Streetview. Note also the width of the footways here.
Presumably the intention is to create the impression that the town centre is ‘connected’ in some way to this new site on the other side of the road; that it will be easy to amble from one side to the other. There was talk at some stage of a ‘shared space’-style area across these four lanes of traffic – that this idea was even seriously considered just goes to show how much councils are willing to stretch credulity to maintain motor traffic flow while pretending to address severance.
The planning application documents described the use of ‘materials’ to create some kind of continuity for pedestrians across this road, visually connecting the new development to the town centre.
But you can’t polish a turd. A four lane road carrying a great deal of motor traffic isn’t going to melt into insignificance simply because some of the surfacing materials have been changed.
A long-term plan for Horsham must involve addressing this inner ring road – it is, frankly, a big mistake to accommodate so much motor traffic right in the town centre when the town itself already has a bypass, that actually predates the construction of most of it. The signs aren’t promising, however – new development outside the bypass will involve a lower speed limit (down to 40 mph from 70 mph), and multiple new junctions with signals, on the bypass itself, which I suspect will make the bypass less attractive, and push more motor traffic through the town centre, as I argued here –
With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.
And there doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan for motor traffic in Horsham – the function of roads is being eroded or blurred, perhaps in the vague hope that it will all sort itself out.
There needs to be some kind of vision for Albion Way, that involves motor traffic reduction, and better provision for walking and cycling. As it happens, the construction works taking place right now for this development involve reducing this four lane road to just two lanes.
That space on the right – on the town centre side of the road – could quite happily be repurposed for a bi-directional cycleway, something like this.
Such a design would reduce the dominance of motor traffic on this road in the town centre, create more breathing space between pedestrians and the road, as well as opening up cycling as a transport choice for ordinary people, the people currently struggling their way around it on the margins, like the woman in the picture at the header of this blog, or this family –
… and indeed those people who aren’t even bothering to cycle in the first place, even though they might want to.
Motor traffic levels have fallen by around 20% since the millennium on Albion Way.
The Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Richard Wellings, had this to say recently –
— Richard Wellings (@RichardWellings) May 20, 2015
Wellings completed a PhD in transport and environmental policy at the LSE.
I am absolutely no fan of the Advanced Stop Line, or ASL, but the argument that they should be removed to make for ‘more efficient use of road space’ – i.e. space for one more car in a length-wise direction – disintegrates rapidly under inspection.
One of the reasons why ASLs at junctions are so ubiquitous in Britain is that they have a negligible effect on motor traffic capacity, or indeed even a beneficial effect, assuming that the number of cyclists remains the same in scenarios with and without an ASL.
A TRL study on this topic (Wall et al 2003) found that in practice, sites reduciniven an ASL plus nearside feeder lane tended to see a slight increase in motor traffic throughput, as long as no motor vehicle lanes were removed. For those seeking to ‘balance all modes’, this is a free gift – extra space for cyclists without taking away space for motor vehicles.
The result is perhaps not surprising. If cyclists are more easily able to reach the ASL during red phases, they can quickly move out of the way of motor traffic, whereas if – as without an ASL – they’re distributed more randomly in the traffic queue, as they are less able to reach the front, the resulting delays to cars may in fact be slightly greater.
So Wellings’ argument is wrong even in its own terms – removing ASLs would actually likely worsen the efficiency of junctions with status quo mode share. Those ten people sitting on bikes in the ASL – apparently ‘inefficiently’ – would instead be dispersed at random amongst the queue of motor traffic, effectively taking up more space, and being more like, well, motor vehicles, rather than being released in one quick burst at the head of the queue.
But much more importantly, Wellings’ argument is also wrong from the perspective of a simple analysis of efficient use of road space. In this now widely-shared picture of the junction on Theobalds Road in London, there are 27 people on bikes taking up space that could be occupied by three cars, at most.
3 cars, or 27 bikes – what’s more efficient at shifting people, bearing in mind that average car occupancy in England is 1.5 people?
To take another way of looking at this (moving away from the dreaded ASL) – at this Dutch junction, there are ten people using the cycle infrastructure on the left.
I suspect part of Wellings’ problem here – and it is a broader problem with transport planning across Britain – is an inability to see cycling as a viable, serious mode of transport, that can function as an alternative to the car.
This perspective – perhaps we can call it the Wellings Perspective – sees cycling as some kind of minor annoyance on the existing road system, an annoyance it would probably be good to get rid of altogether. From the Wellings Perspective, ‘Cyclists’ are seen either as people who can’t afford cars (and who should be walking or getting the bus instead), or as leisure users, clogging up the network while engaging in their hobby. Of course, children cycle too, but we can tolerate them bimbling about on the pavement while their parents walk behind them.
Back in the real world, making changes to the road network that will enable many people to cycle instead of using cars for short trips, therefore freeing up space on the road network for all users, is simple good policy, that is now being grasped by Transport for London as well as by government ministers (and by implication the DfT itself) –
I know one of the common complaint is that there simply isn’t enough space available on our roads for cycling infrastructure.
But from the Wellings Perspective, these kinds of changes make no sense, because they involve impeding serious, actual transport – i.e. cars – for the sake of a few weirdos and hobbyists.
Motorists face even more delays as Dutch roundabouts, which give cyclists priority, set to be introduced in London: http://t.co/z3qsMhau6K
— Richard Wellings (@RichardWellings) April 30, 2013
The Wellings Perspective is apparently unable to grasp that ‘a cyclist’ isn’t some ‘extra’ problem on the road network, that has to somehow be fitted in around drivers (or better yet eradicated altogether). Instead ‘a cyclist’ is someone who could have been driving instead.
To take just one concrete example.
All these children cycling and walking home from primary schools across a main road in the Dutch city of Assen – literally, hundreds of them – could be framed as ‘a delay to motorists’, because they’re holding them up as they cross the road. But in reality, due to the fact that they are walking and cycling home, rather than being ferried by car and therefore adding more motorists onto the road network, they are reducing delay to motorists.
This is so simple I can’t quite believe I’ve had to type it – but there you go. Sometimes things have to be explained to ‘Heads of Transport’ at economic think tanks.
This brings me to something Rachel Aldred has also written, in this case, about cars on the road network as ‘positional goods’ –
There are many items that are what economists call ‘positional goods’ – a key benefit of the object is derived from having something that others don’t, something that is either physically or socially scarce. Fashion largely works on this basis. The opposite is the Internet. If I have the Internet, and virtually no one else does, it’s rubbish – the benefit of the Internet comes from everyone using – and often, contributing to – it. But if I buy a new and expensive pair of shoes, and see many other people wearing them, I’m not going to be happy. Part of what I’m paying for is the hope that you don’t have the shoes.
But motor vehicles take positional goods to a new level. Having a new pair of shoes doesn’t entitle me to kick others off the street. Cars, on the other hand, marginalise non-users not just socially but also physically.
As Rachel goes on to explain, it was the car as a positional good that essentially caused a collapse in cycling levels in Britain. Previously quiet lanes, streets and roads on which most people could happily cycle became increasingly hostile as the use of cars spread, too hostile for these ordinary people, leaving the tiny hardened minority willing to continue cycling on the motor traffic-dominated road network.
But there is another obvious aspect to the car as a positional good. Car driving is attractive in relation to the number of other people who are not engaging in it. Here’s a definition lifted from, err, the Institute of Economic Affairs –
Positional goods… have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.
Naturally, if everybody drove, for every trip, then the value of driving would diminish rapidly, particularly in urban areas. (Indeed, the value of urban areas themselves would diminish rapidly).
By contrast, the early days of motoring must have been glorious by comparison – roads relatively free from other motorists, in the most part.
What I am driving at here (excuse the pun) is that the quality of the driving experience actually depends on large numbers of people not driving. One might even go so far as to say that the urban motorist is to some extent a freeloader; his or her driving convenience is actually purchased thanks to other people’s willingness to walk, to cycle, or to take public transport – often in less than ideal, or hostile, British conditions.
Drivers don’t even have to be moving – precisely the same logic applies to high-street parking. Setting aside the fact that this will involve the use of street space that could be allocated to walking, seating, dining, (or bus lanes or cycling infrastructure), the ready availability of on-street parking again depends upon other people not using it to access high street shops and services. That empty space is only there because of those people walking or cycling past it.
Noisy, dangerous, unpleasant, and hostile streets and roads that are confusing and awkward to navigate – even for motorists – are a natural consequence of futile attempts to accommodate more and more driving and parking, and a failure to realise that sensible transport policy relies upon enabling and prioritising the most space-efficient modes, for the benefit of all, including those using the least space-efficent.
We arrived in this position, I suspect, largely through ‘boiling a frog‘ – streets that had always been open to all became increasingly colonised by motor traffic, but at such a gradual pace few thought to stop and question what the actual end point was going to be, and at a time when the answer to streets becoming clogged was to devote more and more urban space to the mode of transport that was causing the problem.
Is this use of road space (indeed, of urban space in our town centres) a sensible way of moving people around for trips of under 2-3 miles?
The outcomes could be so much better for everyone, drivers included, if we stopped focusing on ‘cyclists’ as some kind of impediment to motoring, and instead realised that cycling should be a serious mode of transport like any other, and should be developed as a safe and attractive alternative for those people driving.
Prioritising such an efficient mode of transport would free up time and space on the road network for those travelling around in cars.
Perversely it might even restore some of motoring’s positional value.
Last spring Sustrans released their Handbook for Cycle-Friendly Design, a relatively short 35-page document which got a bit of a kicking from many people, including David Hembrow and the Cycling Embassy.
This year they’ve released a much longer document in 16 separate chapters, the Cycle- Friendly Design Manual (not Handbook!). This Manual is a whopper – well over 400 pages long, which makes it rather longer than the Dutch CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic.
Given that the examples contained in this Sustrans Manual are almost entirely from the UK, you would be forgiven for leaping to the assumption that there’s probably a good amount of sub-standard stuff in it, to flesh it out to something that outweighs the CROW manual.
And you would be justified in jumping to that conclusion. Some good stuff is being built in the UK, but unfortunately there’s not a great deal of it, and basing your best practice examples entirely on what is found in Britain almost inevitably means you are going to fall short of actual ‘Cycle-Friendly’ Design.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a great deal of genuinely good advice and guidance contained within these 400+ pages. Probably the majority of it is sound, and in the hands of an enlightened engineer or planner, who wants to do a good job, it could produce some quality cycling infrastructure. The problem is that the good stuff is often accompanied by advice and guidance that really isn’t very good; usually advice that less keen engineers or planners will automatically reach for when things get a bit tricky, or when compromises have to be made – which is, frankly, pretty much all the time, when you are attempting to build cycling infrastructure into a highway environment that has never accommodated cycling properly, ever before.
It’s also not clear what the actual purpose of this Manual will be, particularly at a time that we have a large amount of new stuff from TfL including the new London Cycling Design Standards that will (hopefully) be adopted by the Department for Transport as an England-wide replaced for the pretty dire LTN 2/08, as well as the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance, and good guides being produced by campaigners.
Who is this Sustrans Manual for? How does it sit alongside the aforementioned guidance? This isn’t obvious.
Anyway, I thought I’d post some comments here on the opening chapters – it’s too big to take on all in one go.
Bear in mind that the stuff I’m picking out here is the bad stuff that has caught my eye. This isn’t comprehensive, by any means, nor is it an impartial review. I’m deliberately singling out things that should be changed, to make this a better manual, principally because (as I’ve already described) it’s the crap stuff that people who don’t care, or who have been forced to ‘compromise, will seize upon.
So Chapter 1, which is an overview – ‘Principles and processes for cycle friendly design’.
This is a pretty reasonable chapter, but it gets off to bad start – the opening lines, and Paragraph 2.13, tell us to
Design in line with cycle training – on-highway design should reinforce how people are taught to cycle in National Standards / Bikeability Level 2, in particular primary and secondary road positioning.
This is simply the wrong approach – in fact it’s completely back-to-front. Much contemporary cycle training, while worthy, involves coping mechanisms to deal with inadequate or flawed road and street design. For instance, the primary position is used to control driver behaviour at hazardous areas of the road – pinch points, for example. It also involves cycling well away from parked cars. So Rather than explicitly designing for a way of cycling developed to cope with hazardous road design, the hazardous design itself should be addressed. Don’t build pinch points. Don’t put cycling infrastructure outside car doors. And so on. (There is no ‘Primary Position’ in the Netherlands, because cycling infrastructure is designed in such a way as to make it unnecessary to unnaturally position yourself in the middle of the road).
This is followed up by some suggestions on the dreaded ‘different categories of cyclist’, where it is alleged that ‘experienced cyclists… place particular importance on directness’ because they cycle on the road. Of course, this group really only appears to place a greater importance on directness because other users are not willing to deal with the stresses involved in cycling on the most direct routes, hence opting for a circuitous route that purchases a little comfort at the expense of convenience. It’s not credible to assume that some people don’t mind being sent around the houses – Every user values comfort, safety, directness – choices between these options are only made in the current British cycling environment because it is so inadequate.
Closely related, we also have the advice
Where more confident cyclists choose not to use any facilities provided their needs should also be addressed with separate provision where appropriate; they should not be compromised by the design
Design should of course be good enough such that ‘more confident cyclists’ do not feel the need to avoid it. It is a mistake to provide two inadequate forms of provision for two different categories of user; if you find someone avoiding your design, you should be asking yourself why, not tinkering with another parallel approach somewhere else.
In this regard, Paragraph 4.9 in Chapter 3 of the Manual is more acceptable, in that it highlights how this kind of parallel provision should only be an ‘interim arrangement’ – ‘the longer term aim should be to design all routes as suitable for the full range of target users’, which is right, but leaves me wondering why the door is left open in this manual to councils opting for the easy option of dual provision, in the first place.
Chapter 3 is entitled ‘Placemaking’.
This is a troubling chapter for a ‘Cycle-Friendly’ manual because in many places it recommends sacrificing the comfort and safety of cycling in order to create ‘place’.
We are told that
Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’
and also that
In some streets there is no room to provide standard cycle facilities. Placemaking helps define a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrian and motorised traffic can safely integrate.’
If streets and roads are genuinely not wide enough, or there is not enough room, then measures should be taken to reduce motor traffic volumes to an acceptable level at which it is comfortable to cycle on the carriageway – around 2000 PCU/day.
High traffic levels do not allow cycling to ‘safely integrate’ with motor traffic, particularly if there is a relatively high proportion of HGVs/buses. Many of the examples featured in this chapter – Kensington High Street, Exhibition Road, Ashford, Poynton – have uncomfortably high levels of motor traffic for cycling to be combined with it.
If there is not sufficient width to separate cycling from these traffic levels, then rather than attempting to integrate cycling into it with ‘placemaking’ features, the genuinely cycle-friendly approach is to reduce that motor traffic volume to a comfortable level.
It’s this kind of analysis that is missing from the Sustrans manual – although there are helpful speed/volume diagrams at the start of the manual, describing what kind of provision is appropriate, that approach appears to get jettisoned when the practicalities of designing for cycling on actual streets and roads comes to be discussed.
Indeed, this ‘placemaking’ chapter is essentially all about attempting to accommodate cycling on the carriageway on roads that are still carrying far too much through traffic for acceptable ‘sharing’ – what I have called placefaking, a fudging of the function of roads that are busy with motor traffic. A more helpful approach would be to employ the Dutch Sustainable Safety principle of Monofunctionality, which would involve moving every road and street into a particular category, either one for access (with low motor traffic levels, through design) or a distributor road that serves a through-function, and with appropriately-designed separate cycle provision.
Chapter 4 – Streets and roads
This chapter sadly follows on from the previous one, with much of the same cycle-unfriendly advice.
In streets with high place function (e.g. high streets or town squares), segregated cycle tracks will generally not be a suitable provision because of the complex pedestrian movements and competition for space with other social activities and parking and loading requirements.
Again, we see – weirdly for a ‘cycle-friendly manual – that ‘place function’ trumps adequate cycle design, regardless of the amount of motor traffic a particular road or street is carrying.
Of course cycle tracks can and do work well on high street locations, and places with parking and loading requirements.
The elephant in the room here, however, is volume of motor traffic, just as with the previous ‘placemaking’ chapter. If motor traffic on particular street is above 2000 PCU/day, then separate provision for cycling should be provided, immaterial of the street context. If it is not practicable to achieve this – either due to the width of the street, or genuine complexity with other social activity, then motor traffic levels should be reduced below 2000 PCU/day, to create a genuine place. It is pretty ridiculous to suggest that high streets carrying large amounts of motor traffic can’t accommodate cycling infrastructure because that would interfere with ‘place’, but that appears to be exactly what this Sustrans manual is doing.
As it happens, paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 in this chapter provide sensible limits for motor traffic levels for acceptable sharing with cycling (1500 vehicles/day, or 3000 vehicles/day, in slightly different contexts). However paragraph 3.4 suggests that sharing at up to 6000 vehicles/day ‘should be considered’ in locations with a high place functions. Such a level of motor traffic (600-700 vehicles per hour, or 10-12 a minute, in peak) pretty much renders any ‘place function’ moot.
— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) June 4, 2015
Again, at this level, some form of separation should be provided, and if it can’t, motor traffic levels should be reduced.
This strange fudging is repeated later in this chapter, under a section on Mixed Priority Routes –
Mixed Priority Routes (MPR) are streets with a mix of land uses (commonly commercial and residential frontages) that also carry high levels of traffic. MPRs have important movement and place functions and need to accommodate a diverse mix of road users – pedestrians, cyclists, passenger service vehicles and passengers, motorists – and parking and deliveries.
Again, streets that have a ‘movement and place function’ should be moved into one category or the other, as per Sustainable Safety. It really isn’t acceptable to mix in cycling with through traffic on streets that are alleged to have a place function; either the street should have motor traffic levels reduced below 2000 PCU/day, or cycling should be separated from that motor traffic.
Shared space naturally makes an appearance too in this chapter, but there’s far too much emphasis on this design technique as ‘cycle friendly’ without any reference to maximum traffic levels for ‘sharing’.
Shared space design principles can be applied to links and junctions, including junctions with significant traffic flows and HGVs.
I’m sure they can be applied, but is sharing space with significant traffic flow ‘cycle-friendly’? Almost certainly not.
Shared space environments can be convenient and attractive to cycle users. Although many schemes include narrow lane widths, cyclists can mix comfortably with traffic because of the very low speeds.
Poynton is famously invoked as one of these ‘low speed’ shared space environments, but I challenge anyone to argue that this kind of environment – slow or otherwise – is ‘friendly’ for cycling.
It’s really disappointing, especially when other stuff in this chapter – like cycle streets – are explained and described well, with clear limits (2000 vehicles per day) on motor traffic levels.
Another intervention – homezones – is described in a peculiar way –
The layout [of homezones] discourages through traffic and reduces vehicle speeds to less than 20mph
Homezones should be designed to prevent through traffic – ‘prevent’ should obviously be substituted for ‘discourage’.
There’s also a lengthy section on ‘Community street design’. While worthy, experience with these kinds of projects is starting to demonstrate that asking the community to make changes they want to see to a street won’t necessarily result in changes that are ‘cycle friendly’.
It’s pretty naive to expect outcomes from these kind of projects to be ‘cycle-friendly’ – so why include this approach at all in a manual that should be about high-quality cycling design?
There is, unfortunately other rubbish in here too. Pinch points –
Cycle lanes arranged outside car parking, which should be a complete no-no on through routes for motor traffic –
… As well as a suggestion that ‘wide general traffic lanes’ are an acceptable way of passing stopped buses. (Again, it would be helpful here for some kind of motor traffic volume indication of when it is acceptable to direct cycling around the outside of stopped buses – presumably <2000 PCU/day).
And finally there are also poor examples of cycle (‘partial’, whatever that means) priority across side roads –
To repeat, this manual is mostly composed of good advice – you might not get that impression from what I’ve focused on here. But there shouldn’t be any place for this kind of inferior design, or substandard recommendations, in such a lengthy manual, because that is what will get picked out by councils who are not committed to doing a good job.
If a council is faced with a choice between reducing motor traffic levels to a genuinely acceptable level for sharing the carriageway, or a Sustrans recommendation that sharing is acceptable on ‘Mixed Priority Routes’, or that cycling can be ‘safely integrated’ on roads with heavy traffic – which will they pick?
If a council is faced with a choice between designing proper protected cycling infrastructure on the inside of parked cars, or painting a crap cycle on the outside of them, as per Sustrans guidance – which will they will pick?
If a council is faced with a choice between removing a pinch point and providing a safe convenient design for people walking and cycling, or painting a bicycle symbol in the middle of a 3.1m pinch – which will they pick?
And so on. The crap needs to go, because that’s the stuff that will be chosen.
More to come on the remaining chapters next week…
The media storm after that incident now appears to be moving into its final stages as the driver involved has apologised.
Without wishing to comment on the individual behaviour on display, it’s fairly obvious that the layout on the road in question is almost a recipe for conflict. A through-route for motor traffic is combined with a busy route for people cycling, into and out of Richmond Park. Add in a truly terrible piece of cycling provision that very few people are going to be prepared to use, and it’s almost inevitable that this kind of confrontation would occur.Above is the end/start of the ‘cycle provision’ towards the southern end of Priory Road. It may not be entirely obvious but this is a two-way path. There is no similar ‘infrastructure’ to speak of further south along Priory Road.
This footway – I won’t even credit it as a cycle path, because it is just paint on a footway – is plainly totally unsuitable for even minimal volumes of cycle traffic. It’s barely wide enough for two people to stand next to each other on two bikes, let alone to pass each other in opposite directions with a combined passing speed of 20-30mph.
Not just that, but it gives up at side roads, notably at the mini roundabout where the confrontation occurred.
This ‘path’ incorporates the dangerously ambiguous ‘everyone gives way to everyone else’ gibberish that results in deaths, and has been so justifiably criticised recently in a new design in Bradford.
This tokenistic crap really has to go, not just because it inflames drivers, but also (and far more importantly) because it is dangerous, and also allows councils to get away with pretending that they’ve ‘provided’ something for cycling on a particular road or street when in reality it will often make a bad situation worse.
So what’s the answer?
Straightforwardly, something has to give. Either the carriageway itself should be made attractive for cycling, for everyone – and by for everyone, I mean reducing motor traffic levels down to around 2-3000 PCU per day, something like 200 vehicles per hour in peak, or a 3-4 a minute.
Alternatively, some high-quality parallel cycling infrastructure, again suitable for everyone (that means young children as well as people in lycra, riding fast to or from Richmond Park) should be provided alongside the carriageway.
Given the width constraints here, it’s hard to see how this latter option could be achieved. The best option might be to convert the whole footway into genuine cycle provision, on which people can walk.
This would be a 3-4m bi-directional path of road standard. The downside of course is that pedestrian comfort would be sacrificed, and it may well be that there are two many pedestrians using this road for this to be a viable option. The width may still not be sufficient, and I suspect this option is unworkable.
Alternatively more space could be gained by converting this road to one-way for motor traffic, allowing a much wider bi-directional path to be constructed, with a separate footway alongside it. Indeed, looking at this view again –
… the entire right-hand lane here (which has few turning conflicts) could become the bi-directional path, separated from the carriageway, with the footway restored to pedestrian use only. This example in Haarlem – perhaps a slightly different urban context – shows what could be achieved. The bi-directional path on the left here was constructed from a vehicle lane.
Restricting the road to one-way would obviously entirely cut-out through (motor) traffic in one-direction, lowering traffic levels, while still allowing access to properties and dwellings on Priory Lane.
If this isn’t workable, for whatever reason, then the only remaining option, as previously described, is to lower motor traffic levels on Priory Lane to around 2-3000 PCU/day. This would have to be achieved with point closures at intervals or with opposing one-way sections that still allowed two-way cycling. Access for residents would be retained, and through motor traffic would have to use slightly longer parallel routes. It could even become a genuine cycle street, still open to motor traffic for access, but with very low motor traffic levels, such that cycle traffic dominates.
More generally this might be tied to the issue of Richmond Park itself being used as a through-route for motor traffic – Priory Lane is an extension of that through-route, and perhaps the two issues could be considered together, with motor traffic diverted onto the A3 and the A306 (and other main roads skirting the park).
These options will require planning and investment, but will have many benefits. They would reduce conflict between motor traffic and cycle traffic – not just the extreme example that has made the headlines – but the more numerous and mundane day-to-day kinds of conflict that makes cycling unattractive, like being followed by motor traffic (even driven well) for several hundred metres. Reducing motor traffic on Priory Lane (and indeed through Richmond Park) would have added multiple benefits for residents, particularly in the form of a calmer, safer, quieter and less-polluted road on their doorstep.
Just as with the recent example of conflict involving a young child and someone cycling on the pavement, this is the kind of discussion the media should now move on to. A reasoned, sensible analysis of how to reduce conflict between cycling and other modes, while making our streets safer and more attractive in the process (we can but hope).
Alternatively our media can just keep sensationalising these incidents every time they occur, as they inevitably will given the built-in conflict engendered by our road and street system. Their choice, I guess.
A transcript of a BBC Radio 4 programme, today.
Continuity announcer: Now it’s time for Call You and Yours, with Winifred Robinson.
Robinson: Hello, and welcome to the programme. Today, we’re asking a very important question –
is it time to change the rules for people who wear shoes with little wheels?
Should they have to take a road test, and get insurance, like everyone else? Call us now please, on 0800 A-N-E-C-D-O-T-E. You can also email and text us.
We’re talking about this after those video pictures were published showing a little girl being hit on the pavement by someone wheeling along on little wheels in their shoes, prompting headlines like THE MOST CALLOUS HEELYIST IN BRITAIN, and a report on road safety yesterday revealed that the number of heelyists hurt on the roads has risen sharply in recent years.
Nick Unctuous – one of the founders of the London Heely Challenge back in the seventies – rang us earlier. He thinks the behaviour of wheeled shoeists has deteriorated over the years.
Unctuous: Most heelyists haven’t got a clue. They don’t know how to roll efficiently. They can’t even change their little heely wheels. They don’t look where they’re going. An erratic heelyist is a bad heelyist, a heelyist who is heading for trouble. You get lycra-clad lunatic heelyists whizzing down pavements because they think they’re gods, because they think they can get away with it.
Robinson: Conclusive evidence. Now let’s hear from Chris Sensible, who won Olympic Wheel Shoe gold back in 1992, and is a policy adviser for British Heelying. Chris, do you think we should make heelyists pass tests and have insurance before they venture out on heelies?
Sensible: Firstly let’s put things in context. 34 pedestrians are killed every year when motor vehicles mount the pavement. Only one person has been killed by someone wearing wheeled shoes in the last decade.
Robinson: Yes, but you can prove anything with statistics. Statistics are often at odds. I’ve got statistics here that say that it’s actually two people who have been killed in accidents involving wheeled shoes.
Sensible: People will be daft, whether they’re travelling around by car, by wheeled shoes, or on foot. Let’s look at the risk posed by each of those modes of transport. You might as well ask whether pedestrians should have to pass a test, or have insurance.
Robinson: In Switzerland heelyists have to have insurance. And wheeled shoes have to be registered.
Sensible: Most European countries don’t require any kind of insurance to use wheeled shoes. And let’s keep this in context.
Robinson: What about the rising casualty rate of heelyists? Do you think part of the problem here is that some people can just step into wheeled shoes, without knowing enough about road safety?
Sensible: It’s much more holistic than that. Countries just across the North Sea have a much better heely safety record. Heelying is prioritised, and made safe.
Robinson: But they have big heely lanes. You would have to tear London up to do that here, which is obviously impossible.
Sensible: Do we want more people heelying, or not? The big picture is, we do, and measures like insurance and testing will put people off.
Robinson: Let’s hear from our callers now. Greg Taximan is in Hampshire. Greg, do you think there should be new rules for wheeled shoe wearers?
Taximan: Yes, there should be new rules for heelyists. I hear what our esteemed heely Olympian has to say, but when drivers break rules, there’s a punitive system to punish them. If heelyists could be punished for their bad behaviour, then that would modify their behaviour.
Robinson: Greg, it sounds to me like you’re speaking from very bitter experience about heelyists! You must have had an incident with one. Please, fill our airtime with a precious anecdote about them. What do you do for a living?
Taximan: I’m a taxi driver. There was incident in a local village near me. There was traffic jam the other way. A heelyist was coming down my left, where there was no traffic jam, and I was passing him, the lane was well wide enough for me to pass him, no problem. But a heelyist came the other way, and he made contact with my taxi. And there’s no way to hold him accountable! There was no identification on him, or his heelies. There needs to be some kind of number plates on wheeled shoes, to stop the kind of bad behaviour you never, ever, see from drivers who have number plates.
And another thing – maybe only one heelyist has killed a pedestrian. But plenty of heelyists are killing themselves by getting themselves run over by motor vehicles.
Robinson: Thank you for that Greg. Here is an email, read out loud by Caroline Atkinson.
Atkinson: Yes, someone has just emailed to say ‘I was knocked over yesterday by a someone wearing wheeled shoes on the South Bank in London.’
Robinson: Thank you Caroline. Now Barry Chutney has called us from London. Barry, what do you think? Is it time for a wheeled shoe test, and insurance?
Chutney: [Emphatically] Yes. Certainly. It should be brought back as compulsory.
Robinson: The National Wheeled Shoe Proficiency Test?
Chutney: AND they should also have a roadworthiness certificate for their shoes. And they should pay insurance. And wear a reflective tabard saying I AM A WHEELED SHOEIST – WATCH OUT. Or something like that.
Robinson: What makes you say that Barry?
Chutney: Because of the amount of wheeled shoes you see out there. I see it constantly. There are some good heelyists out there, I haven’t got any hatred towards the wearers of wheeled shoes. But it’s not a minority. I see it every day, on a daily basis, especially young kids. They’re riding around on these little wheels, and basically their shoes consist of two shoes, usually with laces, or velcro straps, a sole, and wheels in the sole. No lights in the shoes, no bell, no horn, no nothing. And they can’t wheel steadily, they’re all over the place, in gangs, and just, like, jump out on you! It’s crazy!
Robinson: Barry, what about the argument that clamping down on heelyists is out of proportion to the problem?
Chutney: Rule One of health and safety is to take care of yourself. I drive a big lorry; I take care of myself. Shouldn’t wheeled shoe wearers be made to care of themselves around my big lorry? At all times? It’s common courtesy! Manners!
Robinson: Barry Chutney, thank you. Turning to Chris Sensible again, you’ve just come back from the continent, where you say it is much safer to wear wheeled shoes. But surely we just haven’t got the room here in Britain?
Sensible: There is a finite amount of roadspace. And we have to choose who we give priority to.
Robinson: Let’s return to the callers. Jessica Backintheday from Suffolk – do you think it’s time for everyone to have compulsory education before they put on shoes with little wheels in them, and also some insurance?
Backintheday: I do, yes. I took the National Wheeled Shoe Proficiency Test back in the seventies. We learnt how to keep a lookout behind us, how to signal, all sorts of things related to using wheeled shoes.
Sensible: Well actually fifty percent of schools currently run Heelability, the modern form of the Wheeled Shoes Proficiency Test.
Robinson: Jessica, what do you think about heelyists having wheeled shoe identification, and insurance? I’m trying to get some uninformed consensus on this issue.
Backintheday: I’m actually not sure about that. For poor people, wheeled shoes could be their only mode of transport. Also children could be priced out of the legal use of wheeled shoes. So… I’m not sure. Although maybe some identification on the shoes could help get them back if they were stolen…
Robinson: More emails now from Caroline Atkinson.
Atkinson: A lot of people are very very agitated about people heelying two abreast, which local people are saying causes hold ups. Tony also says that he feels very strongly that when people wearing wheeled shoes go the wrong way down a one-way street, and they have a driving licence, they should get points on their licence. Also Geoff has written that a drunk man in wheeled shoes bumped into his car, and simply wheeled away. Finally Gillian says, ‘If I were Mayor of London I would make all heelyists take a proficiency test, they would wear hi-viz vests bearing a registered number, and they would be insured!’
Robinson: That’s it for today. We’ll have another informative phone in soon. Do join us.