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.
This is a follow up to a recent post on being diverted while cycling, during road repairs.
Last week I encountered a similar diversion to the one described in that post – a country lane has been closed for repairs, with users of that lane being sent on a diversion, again on a busy A-road. Instead of the dual-carriageway A24, the diversion this time was on to the A272, which is no more attractive a prospect.
A little less busy than the A24, but probably more dangerous to cycle on, given the restricted width, an absence of a shoulder, and fairly heavy traffic levels. In fact, at this point – 18,000 vehicles a day, including 800 HGVs.
The (closed) country lane in question is Maplehurst/Nuthurst Lane, which connects these two small villages to the A272 to the south, and the A281 to the north.
I ignored these signs, because I didn’t want to cycle for around 5 miles on single-carriageway A-roads.
Sure enough, as I came around the corner, I found that, while this road is not usable by motor traffic during the repairs, there was no real justification for closing this road for people walking and cycling.
So this is partly a plea to West Sussex County Council to think a little more about their diversion signs – if people on foot and on bike can easily get through a road closure, then that should made explicit on the temporary signs. Otherwise you will be sending a good number of people cycling onto dangerous roads, needlessly exposing them to heavy traffic.
And, of course, just as in the previous ‘diversion’ post, closures like this show how we should be thinking more clearly about the function of these country lanes, which should be closed to through traffic permanently, and not just for the period of roadworks. Residents should still be able to access their properties, but in this case there are, again, parallel A-roads which should be carrying any through traffic.
Inclusive cycling infrastructure is often described as being suitable for ‘8-80′ – for the young as well as the old. It’s a good philosophy. However, it is not quite adequate, in and of itself, to capture what’s required for infrastructure to be of a suitably high standard.
For instance, a good deal of substandard infrastructure could reasonably be described as 8-80. Wibbly-wobbly crap on pavements, for instance, can be negotiated by eight year olds, as well as eighty year olds.
This isn’t, however, this kind of infrastructure that many people would actually choose to use. Nonsense like this gets avoided by people who are able (although not necessarily willing) to cycle with motor traffic.
So ‘8-80′ isn’t quite sufficient, in and of itself. What’s required is infrastructure that is suitable for the young and the old, as well as the fast, the confident and the experienced. Infrastructure, for instance, that’s suitable for 8-80, as well as for a team time trial.
The cycle path in the picture above is one that can obviously accommodate high speed cycling, but at the same time it is also suitable for a full range of other cycling types, the slow; the young; the old.
A similar version of this test was proposed by Joe Dunckley – a ‘Boris test’.
Need an addition to the 8yo kid test of cycling schemes. The Boris test: would Boris just keep his wits about him + continue using the road?
— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) July 9, 2014
That is, infrastructure has to be good enough for someone like Boris Johnson – who habitually disparages substandard off-carriageway infrastructure, while voicing his preference for mixing it with motor traffic on busy roads – to choose to use it, rather than opting for the motor traffic alternative.
Cycling infrastructure should accommodate all these people, on the same singular design. It should offer comfort, safety and attractiveness, as well as being direct and convenient. This is uniformity of provision, well explained by David Arditti –
We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.
There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.
Uniformity of provision is tremendously important, because its alternative – dual provision – essentially involves designing for failure. Dual provision means building something that, at the design stage, it is already accepted that people will not use. It involves building, for instance, shared use pavements that the designer knows will be avoided by people who prefer to cycle on the carriageway, because the shared use pavement is too inconvenient, awkward, or slow. Equally, it involves catering for people on the carriageway while acknowledging that many people simply won’t want to use that same carriageway because it is too intimidating, or hostile. We still continue to build infrastructure according to this failed philosophy, at tremendous cost.
Accommodating fast cycling doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of the slow, or the less confident, or the nervous. In fact, quite the opposite – cycling infrastructure designed for speed means more convenience for everyone. It means an absence of sharp corners, of barriers, of ‘shared use’ in appropriate circumstances, of pedestrian-specific design in general. If it’s good enough to ride a bicycle fast on it, then it will undoubtedly carry benefits for slower users, even those who are not on bicycles.
That’s why aiming for 8-80, although admirable, isn’t good enough by itself. It needs to be good enough for everyone to want to use it.
I don’t know what percentage of bikes in the Netherlands operate with coaster brakes, but it must certainly be a sizeable proportion, perhaps even a majority. The tell-tale sign is handlebars free from brake levers (or those with just one brake lever, for the front wheel), and in Dutch towns and cities, these kinds of bikes are ubiquitous.
I’d never ridden a bicycle with a coaster before, so I was quite nervous about how it would work out for me, and hesitated about whether I should opt for a more familiar lever-operated brake. But having lived with it for a few years, there’s absolutely no way I would have a different kind of brake for my rear wheel. It’s brilliant.
The front (drum) brake is lever operated, so I am UK-legal, in that I have two independent braking systems, one for each wheel. But in all honesty it’s not really necessary – the vast majority of the stopping power comes from the coaster at the rear. It’s an effective brake, particularly because on this kind of bike, your body weight is almost entirely over the rear wheel. The front brake is merely a nice extra.
The coaster brake is a back pedal brake – to slow down, you merely apply downward pressure on the pedals, in precisely the same way you apply downward pressure on a brake pedal in a car. In fact, that’s the closest analogy to the action of a coaster brake – slight downward pressure, slight braking; more downward pressure, stronger braking; stamping down on the pedal, well, your wheel is going to lock up.
I think it’s that association with braking in a car that makes a coaster brake actually quite intuitive. Braking with your feet quickly becomes natural – it took only a week or so for a complete novice like me to become accustomed to it. I now often find myself absentmindedly pushing down on the pedals to brake on my other (coaster-free) bikes, simply because that’s now a natural movement for me. (Meeting no resistance whatsoever, my brain instantly transfers the message to my hands instead!)
That ‘naturalness’ is just one advantage of the coaster brake. An important other advantage is that it leaves your hands free for other things, particularly signalling. As signalling with your hands is often needed when you are simultaneously slowing down, to turn off of, or onto, a road at junction, it’s so much more convenient and easy to have your feet doing the braking, rather than having to transfer your hands from the brake levers to a ‘signal’ position, and then back again, or compromising by braking with just one brake, while signalling with the other hand.
Another major advantage is maintenance. Because a coaster brake is effectively operated by the chain, which is already part of the bike, that means there’s no need for ‘extra’ cabling or levers. The bike is neater, and tidier, with no braking system to maintain in addition to the transmission (which in any case is protected from the elements).
On the downside (for me at least), with a coaster brake your pedals can’t be rotated backwards – at least only for a little bit, before the brake fully applies. That means when you stop, it’s helpful to ensure that your pedals are in a position ready for you to go again. You can’t ‘kick’ them backwards to get them back into position.
In practice, this quickly becomes very natural; my technique is shown in the video below.
The most powerful braking position is with the pedals at 3 o’clock/9 o’clock; and that’s pretty much an easy position for you to start off again.
If, by chance, your pedals aren’t in a great position to set off again, the best thing to do is to roll your bike back a foot or so, returning the pedal to a position where force can be applied. Or (as I sometimes do) just push off and use your momentum to start pedalling again. It’s no big deal.
It also helps to have your saddle low enough so your feet (or at least your standing foot) can reach the ground with you sat on it, as in the picture above. That means you are not forced to apply weight to the pedals when you come to a stop, which is tricky when that’s your braking system.
With this kind of bike, a low saddle just feels comfortable and natural in any case – just look at the relaxed chap in the first picture in this post – so any notion of raising it to an allegedly ‘optimal’ height for power transfer doesn’t really fit. Bikes like these are for comfortable cruising, not hard acceleration, or performance.
The only other downside to a coaster that I’m aware of is that – in the event of an emergency – your pedals may not be instantaneously in the right position to apply the best available braking power (unlike brake levers on your handlebars). They may be at the top, or the bottom, of the pedal stroke, where not much backwards force can be applied.
Whether this is a major factor or not, I don’t know – I have always been able to stop fairly sharply on the few occasions I’ve had to. Perhaps this is because (by risk compensation) I ride more slowly, and more carefully, more aware of what idiots might do, simply because I have to react in a slightly different way. Typically if I pick up speed, or I approach a situation where I may have stop, my pedals ‘rest’ in the best position for stopping, parallel to the ground. I rarely find myself pedalling hard into a situation where there is uncertainty. Maybe I’m just older and wiser!
But overall I find that the braking system just fits with this type of bike – it’s easy, painless, instinctive, and it works effectively. If I had to get another omafiets I would choose a coaster brake without hesitation.
You don’t have look too hard on social media to find the ravings of drivers muttering about being delayed, impeded or obstructed by someone cycling ahead of them. Usually it’s a rant about someone being ‘in the middle of the road’, or people riding two abreast, or not using a ‘perfectly good cycle path’ – often accompanied by a photograph uploaded to the internet by the driver.
The general background impression of all this noise is that delay and inconvenience on the road network is exclusively bike on motor vehicle; that it’s the slower, two-wheeled vehicles that cause the hold ups. That’s intuitively understandable – cars are fast, bikes are slow, slow things hold fast things up.
But there is, of course, a different perspective – one from behind the handlebars. This week – in a poor attempt at a parody of social media moaning – I tweeted a picture of terrible congestion on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Why is it motorists think they can drive three abreast, holding up hardworking cyclists? STAY TO THE LEFT! pic.twitter.com/kBixG9pJzr
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) May 6, 2015
I was being held up; this very wide road was completely clogged by a large number of drivers, travelling three abreast. If they weren’t there, or if they were to stay over to the left, I would have been able to make stately progress.
A little further on, and I was still unable to cycle at the speed I wanted to. In fact I was stationary.
And again, later that same day, in the evening, streets in Westminster were completely clogged. I gave up, and walked on the pavement.
This is all so commonplace it’s background – I suspect even many people cycling will not reflect on the fact they are being held up and impeded by motor traffic. It’s so normal it’s not worth commenting on. Queues of traffic that are often difficult to filter past are everywhere in urban areas.
And it’s not just the traffic that is moving – or attempting to move. The car on the right of the picture above is parked. Without that parking occupying valuable road space, again, I would have been able to have made progress. Parking is often tremendously obstructive, yet this passes without comment. It’s a subtle way in which other modes of transport are impeded, yet unnoticed. And of course having parking on both sides of narrower streets means that roads have to be made one-way, causing needless delay (in the form of diversions) for people on bikes who would otherwise be able to take direct routes.
If all that parking wasn’t there, this road wouldn’t be one way, and I wouldn’t have to cycle around three streets, instead of just taking the direct route down this one. I’m directly, or indirectly, impeded up by motoring.
I’m also held up by traffic lights, pretty much everywhere I go by bike, in urban areas.
Traffic lights are so ubiquitous it is very easy to forget that they essentially only exist to facilitate the passage of motor traffic – and to allow people to cross roads dominated by motor traffic. Where motor traffic levels are low, or non-existent, there is of course no need for traffic signals, even where human beings are moving about in tremendous numbers.
And of course the width of motor vehicles means I am unnecessarily held up, where otherwise I would be able to pass by oncoming traffic without difficulty.
There are probably countless other ways in which motoring is obstructive and causes delays – feel free to point them out in the comments. The problem is that this delay is a result of street design and layouts that seem to be ‘natural’. Nobody questions parking on both sides of the street, and how that might affect flow or capacity. Nobody questions the existence of traffic lights, or one-way systems – both subtle ways in which motoring is privileged at the expense of delay and inconvenience to non-motorised users. Nobody questions the effects of motor traffic congestion itself on the free movement of non-motorised users.
This isn’t to say that people cycling won’t ever hold up people driving; just to say that there is a very large flip side to that coin. The solution to these difficulties, for both people cycling, and for people driving, is to place these two modes onto different systems – to separate the two modes of transport as much as possible, creating parallel routes for cycling on main roads, and removing through motor traffic from access roads, in line with the principles of sustainable safety.
If you’re a motorist complaining about being held up – firstly, the person who is cycling in front of you will almost certainly be held up by motoring just as much, if not more, than you, and secondly… there’s an answer out there.
This post is about London TravelWatch, but it could really be about transport in Britain more generally, and about how ‘transport users’ are conceptualised – in particular, those who use bicycles, or might want to use them.
London TravelWatch describe themselves as follows –
London TravelWatch is the official watchdog organisation representing the interests of transport users in and around the capital. Officially known as London Transport Users Committee, we were established in July 2000.
They also state
Funded by the London Assembly, we speak for all London transport users on all modes of transport.
But what does this actually amount to? Who are the ‘transport users’, using all modes, that they claim to represent?
As we’ll see, the interests of ‘transport users’ in London are not particularly well represented by London Travelwatch if the mode of transport they happen to be using is a bike. They’re even less well represented if these transport users might want to use a bike, but are discouraged from doing so because of hostile conditions for cycling.
Children getting to school are ‘transport users’. If they are using the bus, their interests are well represented by London Travelwatch, If, however, these same children are attempting to get to school by bike, their interests are essentially ignored.
To take one example, London Travelwatch responded to Camden’s consultation on their West End Project, last year. This is a major scheme, costing tens of millions of pounds, and involves major changes to the roads in the Tottenham Court Road area. There was a significant opportunity to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Yet from the summary of responses collected by Camden Council, London Travelwatch essentially had nothing to say about the comfort, convenience and attractiveness of cycling in the scheme. Indeed, their only mention of cycling appears to be
Concerns about the use of light segregation and the potential for this to be a hazard to pedestrians crossing the street.
Namely, concern that the only (inadequate) separation from motor traffic initially proposed by Camden could be a hazard to pedestrians. London Travelwatch had nothing to say about the safety or comfort of cycling on either of the main roads in the scheme, particularly cycling mixed with motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road, which will be a busy two-way road open to all motor traffic after 7pm, and all day on Sunday.
Similarly, in their response to Transport for London’s proposals for Superhighway 5, between Oval and Victoria, which involves (for the most part) a bi-directional cycle track physically separated from motor traffic, London Travelwatch opposed these proposals, arguing instead for cycling to be accommodated within ‘4.5 metre wide bus lanes to facilitate buses overtaking cyclists’.
This is in accordance with London Travelwatch’s latest policy update on cycling, from September last year, which states that
The best practicable solution for cycles on many of London‟s roads would be to accommodate them in wide bus lanes (4.5m) or wide (4.5m) inside lanes in order that cycle can pass wide vehicles and wide vehicles can pass cycle
So a group which professes to represent the interests of ‘transport users’ suggests that the best way to accommodate cycling is… mixed in with motor traffic on main roads, in lanes that will often be busy with taxis and large, intimidating vehicles.
Some ‘interests’ may be being represented here, but it’s doubtful that it includes those of people who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses.
This failure of representation flows, I think, from a failure to reflect on whether existing patterns of transport use in Britain are natural. By ‘natural’ I mean that those patterns arise out of a genuinely free choice between modes of transport. It is more than likely that bus use (and indeed driving and walking) is much more popular than cycling in London (and other towns and cities across Britain) because cycling is quite a scary and intimidating mode of transport for most ordinary people. Many ‘transport users’ who might opt for the bicycle if it were a safe and attractive choice are consequently not doing so, even if that mode of transport would make a great deal of sense for them, not least in terms of time and money saved. Their interests are not being represented because of a lazy assumption that the interests of ‘cyclists’ correspond to the behaviour and habits of the minority of existing users.
The interests of the young girl in the picture above – a genuine ‘transport user’ like anyone else – are being represented by the road layout she is riding a bike on. She can navigate otherwise hostile road environments, like the large junction shown in the picture, because that environment has been designed with her interests in mind when she is riding a bike, just as the footways here are designed for young girls to walk on, or buses that pass through this junction are designed for young girls to use.
By contrast it is extremely unlikely that her interests would be represented by shared bus lanes, even if they are slightly wider than normal.
We know this because young children are not seen riding bikes in these kinds of environments. They, and their parents, haven’t made a free choice between cycling in this kind of environment and walking, driving, or getting the bus through it. Instead, riding a bike in this kind of environment with young children is genuinely unthinkable to most people, just as it would be to walk with young children along a busy road that doesn’t have a pavement.
Indeed, more broadly, framing the debate in terms of specific ‘transport users’ is an unhelpful way of defending interests, because people are, essentially, multi-modal. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to present the interests of ‘bus users’ in opposition to ‘cyclists’ (as London Travelwatch appear to do) because with a sensibly designed transport network everybody would be a potential bus user or bike user, every single day. Indeed, this is typical in the Netherlands, where cycling and getting the bus are extremely well integrated.
Dutch people use bikes to cycle to bus stops, and then catch the bus for the longer stages of their journeys that would be less convenient to cycle.
Nobody is born a ‘bus user’ or a ‘pedestrian’ or a ‘cyclist’ – they are all human beings who happen to be choosing a particular mode of transport at a particular time. On that basis a proper defence of ‘transport users’ interests’ should examine whether people have a genuine choice the modes of transport that would make most sense for them, for the trips they make on a daily basis. To take just one example, if it turns out that cycling (for instance) would make a great deal of sense for children to make their way to school, and yet few children do actually cycle for these trips, then quite plainly the interests of these transport users are not being represented, even if they are not ‘cyclists’ at the present time.
To ignore this and other ways in which choice of transport mode is constrained when examining the kinds of improvements that could be made to our transport environment would be a fundamental failure.
This hit and run incident at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Abbey Street has been featuring in the new recently.
Andrea McVeigh posted on the SE1 forum last week to describe what happened when she and her husband crossed Tower Bridge Road near the Abbey Street junction at about 6pm on Tuesday 14 April.
As they stepped onto the pavement on the western side of the road, a cyclist who was on the pavement collided with Ms McVeigh causing her to fall.
This is as ongoing case; the person cycling still doesn’t appear to have presented themselves to the police so it can be resolved.
But from the version of events we have, it’s plainly not a great idea to have people cycling whizzing about on pavements, especially when it’s not obvious to pedestrians that they might encounter someone cycling on a footway. (In this case – because cycling on this particular stretch of footway is not legal.)
However, just 200 metres from this junction, a little further south down Tower Bridge Road, Transport for London have designed a junction on a new Quietway between Greenwich and Waterloo that involves… people cycling on the footway.
People crossing the eastern side of junction on foot, in a north-south direction, will encounter people cycling along the footway, in an east-west direction – a perpendicular conflict on a footway, very similar to the kind of conflict in this hit-and-run incident.
Yet in this junction with Rothsay Street/Webb Street, just down the road from where the collision involving Andrea McVeigh and the unknown man took place, cycling here will be entirely legal, planned for by this new design.
Quietways like this will (or should) be attracting lots of potential users on bikes. But there’s going to be very little to indicate to anyone crossing the road on foot that the footway on the other side is, effectively, a busy cycle route. It will look like a large area of pavement.
Hit and run collisions involving people cycling on pavements are shocking, but isn’t it just as shocking that we’re designing precisely that kind of conflict into new junctions just yards away?
This post is part of an ongoing series examining how West Sussex County Council are managing to spend £2.4m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash (won from the DfT back in 2012) on schemes of negligible ‘sustainable’ benefit, with a particular focus on cycling.
The aim is to show how the money that councils receive for cycling from central government is being dribbled away, thanks to a combination of tight timescales, limited or insecure funding streams, no continuity of local expertise, poor or non-existent guidance, and local prejudice.
Two previous posts have described how
In other words – two schemes that do next to nothing to make cycling a more viable and attractive mode of transport, at a total cost of £310,000.
The focus in this post is on a further £30,000 of that LSTF cash, which has been spent, badly, on cycle parking in Horsham town centre.
This sum is as large as it is because of an underspend in a proposed LSTF funded cycle route across the town. The original budget for this route was £320,000; this was scaled down to £180,000 once it became apparent that very few interventions were actually planned. That underspend has consequently been redistributed to projects like the parking described here.
£30,000 would buy you an awful lot of sheffield stands – the kind of parking that is appropriate in a town centre location. However, most of this £30,000 appears to have been spent on three two-tier cycle parking stands, of this type –
This kind of cycle parking is unsuitable for a town centre location, where people will generally be locking their bikes up for short periods of time – to visit shops, restaurants, friends, and so on.
Two-tier parking only really makes sense at locations where people will be leaving their bikes for longer periods of time, and where demand is particularly high. At transport interchanges like railway stations, two-tier parking like this is an obvious choice, because people won’t mind so much the effort of lifting their bikes into these racks if they are leaving the bike for an entire day.
It doesn’t make any sense at all, however, if you are just popping into a supermarket. Yet this is the kind of parking that has been chosen.
Worse still, the locations for these stands have been selected by Horsham District councillors, quite deliberately, with the intention of discouraging cycling in the town centre.
Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North, HDC’s cabinet member for Horsham town, said: “I am delighted that the provision of town centre cycle parking is being improved in this way, making the centre more accessible by a more sustainable form of transport.
“There are currently no covered cycle shelters in the centre of Horsham and cyclists are often seen penetrating areas which should only be used by pedestrians. These new shelters will help clear the pedestrian zones and motivate more people to cycle into town. It will also contribute towards less traffic congestion in the centre so it’s a win win all round.”
The idea, presumably, is that people will lock their bikes up at the edge of the town centre, then walk to the location they want to visit, then walk back to the cycle parking on the edge of town, and then cycle off again, instead of just cycling directly to the location they want to visit and locking their bike as close to that location as possible.
Cycling in Horsham town centre is unfortunately viewed as a problem, and sustainable transport funding has been used to place inconvenient cycling parking in inconvenient locations in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of it.
I say ‘futile’ because most of the town centre is already legally accessible by bike, and where people are cycling in genuinely pedestrianised areas, they are usually doing so either because a contraflow has not been provided on the sensible alternative, or because the parallel road is deeply hostile. Placing cycle parking at the extremities of the town centre will do nothing to change this behaviour, and it’s unsettling that tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash is effectively at the whim of councillors who can make stupid decisions like this.
Here’s where the parking has been placed. One of the racks has been located behind one of the town’s car parks, tucked away in a corner.
These racks remain empty, while the pre-existing sheffield stand parking nearer the shops (on the sensible side of the car park) continues to be busy.
The second of these two-tier stands is an even more ridiculous location, plonked right next to a busy shared use path, meaning getting bikes in and out of the rack blocks it –
… and also sited well away from the two obvious nearby destinations, the library, and a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Again, this rack remains empty, while the parking at Sainsbury’s and the library is in use – because that parking is near where people want to visit.
But again, it’s being almost entirely ignored, with people opting for the existing (easier to use) railings –
None of this should be surprising. The Horsham District Cycle Forum consistently argued against these types of two-tier racks, and the principle of locating them in out-of-the-way areas. Yet these stands, in these locations, were implemented regardless.
They’re not even very good stands. In fact they’re dire. My (fairly standard) Dutch bike won’t even fit in them.
There’s also nothing to actually lock your bike to, which needless to say is a problem if you want to leave your bike for any length of time and expect to come back and still find it where you left it.
It’s difficult to roll your bike into their upper tier (thanks to those metal bars that mean my bike doesn’t fit) – the manufacturer’s own video shows that bikes have to be lifted some height off the ground, and deposited in the rack. Not easy for most people, especially those with utility bikes.
And without any hydraulic or spring assistance, you need to be pretty strong to lift your bike back up to a horizontal position. I can barely manage it, like this commenter on the local paper website –
I’ve just come back from looking at the new rack installed in Medwin Walk. I’m an active, fit, burly, six-foot-two-er, and my bikes are light. I’d struggle to load one onto the top deck of the new rack. Unlike the racks at the front of Horsham Station this new one has no spring or strut assistance on the top deck and is missing a dedicated locking point on each rack. So how someone smaller, less strong, and with a heavier bike than me is supposed to cope with using the rack is beyond me.
The final nail in the coffin is that they’re actually quite dangerous.
Which means that they are now taped off, out of use, awaiting some kind of solution. (Entirely different cycle parking, perhaps?)
What is frustrating is that some of the LSTF cash has actually gone on good new sheffield stands, in sensible locations, which I have noticed are already well-used, despite only being in place for a matter of days. These ones were being used even before the cones had been taken away.
£30,000 could have bought a lot of this kind of parking, in the right kind of places. But instead it’s been spent almost entirely on impractical parking in inconvenient locations, of such a poor quality I can’t see a solution without the stands being entirely replaced. It’s depressing that something as simple as cycle parking can’t even be get right. The waste continues.
A large development is set to go ahead to the north of Horsham, on the other side of the town’s northern bypass. It will cover (approximately) the area shown in red.
There’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong with new development. Indeed, it can solve existing problems with previous poor design, and can ‘build in’ sensible patterns of land use and transport. Kloosterveen – a new town in a similar location outside the city of Assen’s ring road – has achieved this, with cycling and walking made the obvious mode of transport for short trips in Kloosterveen, and in and out of Assen. Some pictures of connections with Kloosterveen will feature later in this post.
The signs are not at all hopeful, however, that this new development is going to be beneficial in those terms. Existing patterns of travel, dominated by private motor traffic, will continue to be accommodated, while walking and cycling are almost entirely being ignored, with tokenistic attempts at provision.
Thanks to a previous planning disaster when the northern bypass was built in the late 1980s, there are currently no grade-separated crossings for people walking and cycling (and indeed for motor traffic) along the entire stretch of this 70mph dual carriageway – the A264 – that skirts the current northern edge of the town. Country lanes were severed, with no safe crossings.
The mind boggles at how this was pushed through so recently, with absolutely no thought for how people would cross this road on foot, or on bike.
Crossing from one side of the bypass to the other on the route of these two lanes shown above involves dashing across four lanes of 70mph+ traffic.
The other two crossing points are fast roundabouts – no help for pedestrians here either, and if you are cycling, you have to cycle on the roundabouts themselves. Again, the limit across both of these roundabouts is 70mph.
In effect, the land to the north of the bypass is a complete no-go area if you are on foot or bicycle, unless you want to make lengthy detours (and the same goes for accessing the town from this area). It is next to impossible to cross safely or comfortably.
This new development to the north of the town – in precisely the area that is currently severed from the town – should represent a golden opportunity to deal with these severance issues. However the plans released so far are desperately poor.
The developers boast of a ‘Sustainable Masterplan’ – but, tellingly, there is no mention of short-trip transport on the developers own page here. ‘Sustainability’ is framed entirely in terms of ‘natural space’, ‘green buffer zones’, ‘woodland’, ‘ponds’ and ‘allotments’, and not in terms of how people are actually travelling about – a typically British oversight.
Depressingly, the details of the plans reveal that the developers are almost entirely concerned with accommodating existing and projected motor traffic associated with the new development, while very little consideration has been given to how easy, safe and convenient it should be to cross the bypass that separates the town from the development, or indeed to travel around in the development on foot or by bike.
Let’s look at the proposed crossing points for people walking and cycling, one by one, starting with the one to the west.
This is one of the country lanes severed back in the 1980s, that is now going to be expanded into a very large (signalised) roundabout. (You can see the former country lane on the left of the plan below.)
The road to the south of the roundabout, connecting with an existing residential area in Horsham, will be a cycle- and bus-only road. It’s not clear, however, how many people will be willing to cycle on the road to get this connection – it will involve cycling in the middle of three lanes of motor traffic, accelerating to join the bypass, on the entry to the roundabout from the north, as shown in blue, below.
Given the scale and design speed of this roundabout, and the projected amounts of motor traffic using it, it seems far more likely that people will use the combined toucan crossings that are proposed, along with pedestrians. That, however, will involve FOUR separate toucan crossings.
The picture is much the same at the next crossing point. Here an existing at-grade roundabout is going to be enlarged considerably. Again, you can see the current roundabout, underneath the proposed new design.
This roundabout is going to be even busier, as it represents the main direct crossing point for motor traffic going into and out of the town (more on the potential problems this will represent later). Again, no grade-separation for walking and cycling is proposed; only a series of toucan crossings. In this case, FIVE of them.
It should be noted here that the developers and their associated transport planners are insistent that people would ‘prefer’ this kind of arrangement to a simple underpass, or bridge. The Transport, Infrastructure and Flood Risk Report carried out for the developers by Peter Brett claims
‘At grade’ crossings are generally more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists due to reduced distances and the avoidance of ramps or stairs, so are the preferred solution.
But this assertion that at grade crossings are ‘generally more attractive’ is not supported by any evidence. What it seems to trade on instead is the legacy of poor underpasses and bridges that have been constructed for pedestrians and cyclists in Britain. Underpasses that are dark and gloomy, with corners, multiple flights of steps, and poor drainage. Underpasses that are (rightly) avoided by most people because of their unattractiveness, which in turn makes them even more socially unsafe. Underpasses that are used in unsuitable locations, within dense urban areas, to allow inappropriate volumes of motor traffic to flow uninhibited.
But this area isn’t a town centre location – it’s a crossing of an existing major road, a bypass that also serves a through-route function, connecting major settlements like Guildford, Crawley and Worthing. Grade separation is exactly the kind of treatment that should be employed on this kind of road, and it can and should be done well. The first picture below shows the direct cycle route between Kloosterveen and the city of Assen, passing under the city’s ring road.
Would people honestly ‘prefer’ five toucan crossings to this kind of arrangement?
Underpasses like the ones pictured above do not involve any delay, or any interaction with motor traffic whatsoever. They would make walking and cycling into and out of the new development an absolute breeze, compared to a series of 4 or 5 separate crossings in the middle of a large, busy and noisy roundabout.
By contrast, the current plans would make cycling and walking less attractive than driving, which is truly disastrous for an allegedly ‘sustainable’ development. Underpasses would redress that balance, making walking and cycling a more obvious option.
Now the developers are proposing a grade-separated crossing for walking and cycling between this large new roundabout and the eastern end of the development. However, they have chosen a bridge, which is a poor choice, because this section of the bypass is built on an embankment, high enough to take it over the railway line connecting Horsham to London (incidentally, this picture also shows another desperately unsafe at-grade crossing of the 70mph dual carriageway bypass).
That means that any bridge will have to gain not only sufficient height to clear the road itself, but also the height of this embankment. It turns out that this will amount to eleven metres of height gain.
… And that means a 240m long plod up a steep 5% slope.
By contrast, an underpass could slip easily under the bypass here on the flat, given that the bypass is already 3-5m higher than the surrounding land. It could look like this.
There are surely very few people who would choose to climb and descend for 250m on each side of an exposed bridge, instead of walking or cycling through a straightforward underpass like this. Or indeed, very few people who would prefer a series of 4-5 separate crossings on busy roundabouts to the other good underpasses pictured in this post.
Getting this right is vitally important, not just for people walking and cycling, but also for those people who want to drive. The more trips that can be made to and from this new development, with the town itself, on foot and by bike, the less congestion there will be on the existing (and new) road network.
The road that has been chosen to form the sole direct connection between the new development and the town centre is already desperately congested at peak times, even before several thousand extra houses are built, with planning that accommodates car trips by those new residents and funnel them onto existing, congested roads. The red arrow, below, marks the only crossing point for motor traffic along this stretch of road – the largest roundabout, already described.
Unfortunately the road into town south of this crossing is really not suitable for accommodating more motor traffic.
I hope the picture above gives a bit of a flavour of Rusper Road – it’s pretty narrow, narrowed even more by residents parking. To top it all off, in the background of the above picture (looking north towards the new development) is Littlehaven railway station, which not only has a large amount of on-street commuter parking associated with it…
… but also has a level crossing, across this road, which closes for eight trains every hour, for one to two minutes. Remember – this road is already congested at peak times. This bottleneck is going to be made even worse.
So it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to funnel more motor traffic down this road, adding more danger, congestion and pollution to a route that already has too much motor traffic. Alternatives to travel by car are desperately needed.
The Transport Assessment for the development notes that
Horsham town centre is accessible within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of the centre of the site.
A short distance, in other words. The centre of the development is just two miles from Horsham town centre. But unfortunately very little is being done with these plans to make cycling a genuinely attractive mode of transport. I don’t want to sit and wait at five separate toucan crossings just to get across one road; nor will anyone else. That means people will plump for the car, clogging up local roads even more.
And that’s not all. The plans will erode the primary function of the bypass, to carry through traffic on a quick route, away from the town centre. If they go ahead, along with the plans for roundabouts on the bypass to the west of Horsham, there will be five separate sets of traffic lights for drivers to negotiate on the bypass.
With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.
So there is a strong case for grade separation at these junctions, not just for walking and cycling, but also for motor traffic – to ensure that through traffic is kept out of the town. This will cost more, but the cost in the long run will inevitably be higher if these junctions are not designed properly now.
The final connection under the bypass already exists – it’s a 2m wide footpath running alongside the aforementioned train line.
Unfortunately this path doesn’t actually connect up with anything on the northern side of the bypass, and the path to it from the town is in a disgraceful condition.
This is the only safe crossing of the northern bypass, and the condition of paths to and from this underpass (or, rather, the lack of paths) is a decades-old issue, unresolved by West Sussex County Council. Local campaigners are putting pressure on the council and the developers to sort this issue out.
This is an absolute no-brainer – it just requires surfacing of the existing boggy path, and a tarmac link running alongside the existing railway line. But the developers publicity material only states, weakly, that
There is currently an underpass which we could improve to provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists and we are also assessing the feasibility of providing a foot / cycle bridge across the A264. [my emphasis]
‘Could’ improve. By contrast, the large new junctions for motor traffic – without ambiguity – ‘will be provided’.
This difference in language is symptomatic of the lack of consideration of walking and cycling in this new development, and the failure of West Sussex County Council to force the developers into providing safe, attractive and obvious connections for these genuinely sustainable modes, along the length of the northern bypass.
A planning disaster in the making.