When I arrived in St Albans on a Saturday morning earlier this month, I encountered a long, completely static queue of motor vehicles. It turned out they were all waiting to enter the Christopher Place car park in the city centre, which has 180 spaces, but was already full.
The queue snaked around the corner, winding for several hundred metres around the city centre streets.
As far as I could tell, this was completely normal for the drivers and passengers inside – nobody was getting angry, they were just patiently waiting for other people to leave the car park so they could move up one slot in the queue. The sort of thing that probably happens every Saturday. And of course they are paying for the privilege.
I rarely drive, but when I do what immediately hits me is the frustration of being ‘caught’ in this kind of situation – having to queue, having to wait, often so far back in the queue you have no idea what’s causing the hold up, and with no way of finding out. Driving in urban areas is frequently a dispiriting, painful experience, made so because everyone else is doing it.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these kinds of problems are going to get worse. More and more of us are going to be living in towns and cities, a function of increasing population, and a continuing trend away from rural dwelling to urban dwelling. 53 million of us already live in urban areas. That is going to increase pressure on the existing road network, if we continue to travel around as we do now.
There are two long-term solutions to this pressure – the first is to ‘spread out’, to redesign our towns and cities to accommodate even more motoring. What could be called the ‘Milton Keynes’ solution, or perhaps the Lord Wolfson ‘flyover’ solution.
If you don’t like the look of that, the only other solution is to change the way we move about in urban areas, to reduce pressure, by maximising the efficient use of road space. That means prioritising walking, cycling and public transport, policy that will require sustained investment in redesigning the way our existing roads are laid out, to make them safe and attractive enough for people to switch away from car travel for short urban trips.
The reason I say our problems are going to get worse is that we aren’t prioritising these kinds of sensible solutions. The vast majority of the ‘investment’ announced by government continues to be spent on major road schemes that will worsen congestion in urban areas, by pumping more and more motor vehicles into them, instead of focusing that investment on solutions within them. Towns and cities will not cope, and congestion will be worsened, as a direct consequence of these policies.
Amazingly these kinds of announcements are presented as ‘benefiting’ ‘towns and cities across the country’, when quite the opposite is true. Building a massive road scheme between Oxford and Cambridge is not going to be helpful for congestion in either city, because it really isn’t very easy to drive around within these cities already – funnelling more cars into them is completely counterproductive.
Energy and investment should instead be focused on enabling space-efficient alternatives within both of these cities, and on prioritising rail links between them, which can deliver large numbers of people right into the city centres in an efficient way. And these solutions are far more cost-effective than massive road building schemes.
We seem locked into repeating the mistakes of the past fifty years, assuming that people want to drive in vast numbers because so many of them are doing so already, when in fact these individual decisions are largely a function of the poor quality of the alternatives, and of the way that motoring has been prioritised by the way we have designed, built (and rebuilt) road space in urban areas. But worse than that, there is a curious failure to recognise that these ‘solutions’ will no longer work, not without urban rebuilding on a massive scale.
The people queueing to enter that car park in St Albans certainly do not need major road schemes pumping more cars into their city centre. They need sane alternatives within the towns they are travelling, alternatives that will allow them to make the same short trips they are making, but in a way that is more efficient, and that actually frees up road space for the people who will still need (or want) to drive.
We need the kind of engagement on the actual issues shown by Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard –
When looking at the economy… we continue to talk in the House and on the public airwaves about moving cars. We need to talk about moving people. Moving people in and out of Belfast city is good for business; moving cars is not.
What are we to do after York Street? Are we to bulldoze half of Great Victoria Street because we need two extra lanes in Great Victoria Street? Are we to demolish Belfast City Hall because we need a bigger roundabout at Belfast City Hall? We need to talk about moving people, not cars, in and out of Belfast.”
Exactly right – we aren’t going to solve our problems any other way.
As a general rule, cycleways in urban areas in the Netherlands are marked distinctively. If they are two-way, they will have a dashed centre line. If they are one-way, that centre line will obviously be absent.
I think this is actually tremendously important – it lets you know exactly what to expect when you are cycling along a piece of infrastructure. You will know, from looking at it, whether to expect ‘traffic’ coming in an opposing direction. It also tells other people navigating these environments exactly what to expect – a dashed centre line will tell people walking that they should expect cycles from two directions. And the same is true for drivers, when they cross this infrastructure.
Unfortunately (and it is early days) we don’t seem to have the same level of consistency in Britain, as yet. While plenty of new two-way cycleways do have clear centre line markings –
Others don’t – even the on the same ‘route’.
I think this can cause problems for pedestrians in particular. The photograph above just looks like a one-way stretch of path, heading away from the camera. There isn’t anything to tell someone wanting to cross to expect cycling in an ‘unconventional’ direction, on the right hand side of the road. I suspect this lies behind the small number of minor collisions between people walking and cycling on this stretch of road – people are crossing without looking in the ‘wrong’ direction. This has nearly happened to me on a few occasions – I can clearly see pedestrians not looking for me as I approach.
A centre line marking would make it clear that this is two-way ‘road’, for cycles, and make it more likely that people will look in both directions. It won’t eliminate this inherent problem with two-way cycleways, but it will at least mitigate it.
I think the lack of centre line marking is also a problem for people cycling. There are no centre line markings in Blackfriars underpass, despite this being one of the narrower sections of new two-way cycling infrastructure in London, narrow enough to resemble a one-way cycleway.
This lack of marking may have been a contributory factor in the largest (and most serious) pile-up seen so far on new cycling infrastructure, captured on video by 4ChordsNoNet.
Just before the collision occurs we can see people overtaking well over onto the ‘wrong’ side of the cycleway. Because there is no centre line, there is no clear, constant visual reminder that, if you are overtaking, you may well be in a section of ‘cycle road’ where you should expect oncoming cycle traffic, which will result in complacency and the kind of incident seen in the video above; especially when people are cycling in the ‘conventional’ direction, on the left hand side of the road.
I suspect consistent centre line marking will also mitigate the problems experienced by people cycling against heavy tidal flow, where (without a centre line) people tend to spill well across the cycleway in the dominant direction. This can be intimidating for people heading in the opposite direction. A centre line would reduce this problem – people can still cross it to overtake, of course, but they would be reminded more clearly that they are going against the flow, rather than simply claiming more space for their direction of flow.
It’s not clear to me why centre lines are absent on so much of London’s new cycle infrastructure, but I think it’s an obvious mistake that is resulting in problems of understanding and (at the moment) minor collisions. The good news is that it would be very cheap and easy to remedy!
At the weekend I went along to the Cyclenation/Cycling UK Campaigners Conference in St Albans, where I was one of many people making presentations to a large audience. My one was on Sustainable Safety, and afterwards I chatted briefly to TfL’s Brian Deegan about the Dutch approach to road and street design. He mentioned in passing how he gets complaints about people cycling jumping lights, at certain junctions – the implication being that these ‘bad’ users need to start behaving, and need to be punished more, to make them behave.
But Brian’s response to the problem was, and is, completely different – he told me that he replies
‘If so many are jumping lights, what is wrong with the junction?’
This is a core element of Sustainable Safety – it seeks to tackle ‘bad behaviour’ not at a personal or individual level, but by seeking to understand what actually lies behind so many people breaking the rules, and then examining how the environment can be changed to reduce rule-breaking, or to eliminate it altogether. To take a ‘red light jumping’ example, it might be that people are having to wait two minutes to cross a simple junction. A sensible way to solve that problem would be to reduce wait times. It might also be the case that people are jumping lights to turn left, because they know they can do so safely. Again, a sensible solution to that ‘problem’ is to formalise and legalise this behaviour through design.
This doesn’t just apply to people cycling; it applies to all modes of transport. For instance, if lots of people are breaking a 20mph speed limit, then the long-term answer isn’t enforcement and punishment, but, instead, addressing the design of the road so that 20mph becomes the natural speed for the vast majority of drivers to travel at.
I don’t think this kind of approach has really taken hold in Britain, at all. We remain focused on individual actions and behaviour, and on ‘personal responsibility’, rather than taking a more systematic approach, one that is centred on the role of authorities in designing environments that keep us safe in the first place, even when some of us continue to behave badly. Just last week, the Secretary of State for Transport responded to a question about the rising toll of road deaths in Britain as follows –
A trend in the wrong direction is an unwelcome one. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who is in his place alongside me, has responsibility for road safety. He is actively engaged, and will continue to be actively engaged, in looking at measures we could take that will improve things. We will look at different investment measures and different ways of educating motorists and those using the roads
And, more explicitly from the junior Minister –
“Road safety is about people taking responsibility for themselves” says @AJonesMP
— APPCG (@allpartycycling) November 2, 2016
This is what a primary focus on ‘education’ is really about – a shifting of responsibility for safety onto the people negotiating unsafe environments, by those responsible for the design and functioning of those environments. Simply looking at ‘different ways of educating’ all the people using the roads (which seems to carry with it an admission that current ‘education’ isn’t really working) avoids this fundamental responsibility to build safety into our road and street environment, by making them forgiving, predictable, and without exposing human beings to large differences in mass, speed and direction. ‘Education’ is not, and cannot ever be, a substitute for safe environments.
This failure to ask the right questions, and come up with the right solutions, is epitomised not just by a focus on ‘education’ but also on what I would call ‘trinkets’ – things like helmets, lights, reflectives, clothing, and so on. In much the same way as with ‘education’, the process involves shifting responsibility onto the user, and ignoring basic environmental problems. Instead of examining why Road X is unsafe to walk along in dark clothing, we urge people to wear reflectives. Instead of examining why pedestrians wearing ordinary clothes can’t negotiate the streets in your urban area safely, we hand out lights to them.
We're handing out winter lights for walkers at 5.30pm outside Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria St. Pick up a free one for Road Safety Week
— Westminster Council (@CityWestminster) November 21, 2016
Perhaps the most powerful example of trinket-based logic is the paper helmet which has recently hit the headlines, because it has won an award.
The man who awarded the award – James Dyson – says that this helmet
If the problem is ‘how do we make something that looks a bit like a cycling helmet, but is really cheap, folds down completely flat so it goes in your bag, and can then be thrown away’, then yes, this is a solution to that ‘obvious problem’.
But it clearly isn’t a solution to the actual problem of prevent people riding bikes from coming to harm or being seriously injured. How can it be? It’s some folded paper, loosely attached to the top third of the head.
If we really care about keeping people riding hire bikes safe ‘anywhere they go’, we need environmental solutions, infrastructure that keeps those people separated from fast and/or heavy moving motor traffic, wherever they choose to cycle. Not paper hats. And the same goes for handing out tiny reflective bits of plastic to children.
These are not structural solutions; they are not even actual solutions. They are a distraction. The wrong questions are being asked, and the wrong answers are being given.
Imagine if your town or city had just one suitable driving route across it, or just one suitable walking route – a line drawn on a map from A to B.
How many trips would be driven, or walked, in your town if this was the extent of the driving or walking network?
The answer is clearly ‘not very many’ – only those trips that happen to start or finish at some point along the line of the route, or reasonably close to it. A very small proportion of the overall number of existing or potential trips.
So we shouldn’t be at all surprised that that cycling levels remain low when the full extent of a ‘cycle network’ in a town or a city is this kind of line, drawn on a map. Even if the quality of the route is high (and very often it isn’t) the use of cycles will be limited because the vast majority of people simply can’t get anywhere near that route in safety, or in comfortable conditions.
So as impressive as the initial amount of use of the new cycling superhighways in London might appear, especially at peak times, the use of this cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly suppressed because there is so little of it. The people using it will mostly be the small minority of people already willing to cycle on the hostile roads and streets across the rest of the city, that need to be cycled on to access the superhighways.
This partly explains why use is relatively low outside of peak times. Non-commuting trips like, amongst others,
will all rely to a much greater extent on a dense network that takes people from A to B in comfort and safety, and not on a specific commuter-focused route. In addition, these kinds of users – particularly, children and the elderly – are of course much more sensitive to hostile road conditions, the kind of conditions that will have to be tolerated to get onto ‘the superhighway’.
This explains the marked contrast in cycle use during the daytime on a typical cycleway in a Dutch city centre, compared to the superhighways in London.
Unlike London, Dutch cycleways will still see heavy use during the day. However, that use is dominated not by commuters, but instead (unsurprisingly) by all the people who aren’t at work. The reason for this is not some difference in Dutch character or behaviour; it’s because a typical Dutch city has a high quality network that connects up all the start and finish points of the journeys these people are making, not just one ‘route’ that goes from A to B.
This is why it is so important not get bogged down on drawing ‘a cycle route’ and agonising in great detail over where that ‘route’ should go, because the long-term goal has to be a dense network of routes that go everywhere.
I was reminded of this by some of the reaction to the news yesterday of the cancellation by Mayor Khan of the proposed route for the ‘East-West Superhighway’ extension, along the Westway, into west London. Much of the discussion focused on whether the Westway was actually the appropriate location for such a ‘route’; whether there might be better alternatives at ground level nearby; whether Kensington and Chelsea might be persuaded to allow protected cycleways to be built on parallel main roads within their borough.
My own view is that, if we are indeed focused on building ‘a route’, the Westway is (or was) the best option, given Kensington and Chelsea’s intransigence in refusing to allow cycling infrastructure on its roads, and the generally poor quality of back-street ‘Quietway’ routes that have been delivered in London so far.
But this kind of discussion is really missing the bigger picture. There should be a ‘cycle route’ on the Westway and cycle routes everywhere else. Not one or the other.
Westway is 2km from High St Ken. TFL knows we need cycle tracks every 400m so deliver both routes. No excuse for cancelling pic.twitter.com/H5qjxSGKnL
— Tom Harrison (@TomBHarrison) November 15, 2016
Why should there just be one route into west London from central London? To take just one example, how many people will cycle from Hammersmith (in the bottom left of the map above) into central London if there are no cycle routes in Kensington and Chelsea apart from one on the Westway, some 2km or more north of the direct route? Quite plainly, there needs to be a cycle route on the Westway, and on Kensington High Street, and on Holland Park Avenue; and on all the roads that people will use to get from A to B.
This is why the logic of cancelling the Westway scheme, and coming up with an alternative somewhere else, is flawed. Not just because the Westway scheme had been consulted on, and was ready to go, and because devising an alternative route will inevitably result in years of delay. It’s because the Westway scheme is needed alongside many other east-west routes in Kensington and Chelsea, and alongside north-south routes. Everywhere.
So, regrettably, it appears that the Westway decision betrays a failure to understand how cycling should be planned for. Cycling doesn’t just require ‘a route’; it requires a network, of which the Westway should have been just one component.
The N470 is a main road that runs east from the Dutch city of Delft, connecting it with the city of Zoetermeer. It is 12 kilometres long between the junctions with the A13 motorway (bypassing Delft) and the A12 motorway (which runs between The Hague and Utrecht).
As can be seen from the map above, it is, effectively, a bypass of the town of Pijnacker, bending south around it. Before this road was opened in 2007, a large proportion of the motor traffic running between Delft and Zoetermeer would have passed through the town. Now all that motor traffic is far away from human beings. This applies both at the large large scale – the way the road is built away from urban areas – and also at the scale of the road itself, where, as well shall see in this post, human beings are kept completely separated from it.
This modern road has been built according to the principles of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veiling – the Dutch approach to road safety. This programme was only developed in the mid 1990s, so it is relatively recent, but it completely underpins the way roads and streets in the Netherlands, both old and new, are designed and built to maximise the safety of human beings. The N470 is an excellent example of these principles in action, and this post will look at them in turn.
Perhaps one of the most important principles of Sustainable Safety, ‘Functionality’ means that every road and street in the Netherlands should have a single function – mono-functionality – and that every region should classify their roads and streets accordingly, either as a
Quite clearly the N470 falls into the ‘through road’ category. It is a road for transporting people from A to B; it is most definitely not a road that people will be exposed to in any form. There is only one junction on the 12km length of the road between the two motorways, and that is a turbo roundabout which human beings cannot go anywhere near. There are absolutely no access points anywhere else along this road. It is effectively hermetically sealed away from the environment it is travelling through – walking and cycling are entirely separated, via underpasses, and even other roads are again grade-separated.
This principle applies to the mass, speed and direction of road users. Heavy objects should not share space with light ones; fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and objects should be travelling in the same direction. Differences in mass, speed and direction should be minimised as much as possible.
We can see these principles clearly in operation in the design of the N470 road. Perhaps the most obvious application of homogeneity is that light objects – human beings – are completely designed out of this road. They go nowhere near it. In fact the photograph below is about the closest you can get.
The three junctions on this stretch of road – two at the end, and one in the middle – are all turbo roundabouts, and all have total separation between human beings and motor traffic.
The roundabout at the Delft end of the N470 has signs explicitly banning walking and cycling from the roundabout – but really nobody would choose to negotiate the roundabout at surface level on foot, because of a fast, convenient cycle road to the side, that bypasses it completely.
The roundabout in the middle is another turbo roundabout, again negotiated by an underpass – or, perhaps more specifically, where the road has been built up on an embankment with a bridge.
And the final roundabout at the Zoetermeer end is exactly the same, with two underpasses allowing people to negotiate the arms of the the roundabout, complete with noise barriers. As with the previous example the roads and roundabout have been built up high so that cycling remains at ground level, at the same level as buildings in the neighbourhood. These are bridges, more than underpasses.
I did manage to scramble up the bank here to take a photo of the roundabout – narrow lanes with hard physical dividers, combined with heavy, fast traffic, means that this is not somewhere you would want to be on a bike.
Especially when you can bypass it, completely oblivious to the traffic overhead.
But of course Sustainable Safety applies to all users of the road network, not just people cycling. The road is designed in a way to keep motorists safe too.
Perhaps most notable is the median between the two lanes, that prevents any attempts at overtaking. The speed limit on this road is 80kph (about 50mph) and that applies uniformly to all vehicles, from HGVs right down to small cars. Quite sensibly, if everyone is travelling at the same speed, there can be no justification for overtaking, and the design prevents people from even attempting to do so.
A couple of years ago the DfT raised the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads from 40mph to 50mph, partially on the grounds that it would (allegedly) reduce the temptation on the part of some drivers to indulge in dangerous overtakes. But the Netherlands has solved this problem at a stroke by equalising the limit for all users at 80kph, and by simply banning overtaking altogether on this category of road (and physically preventing overtaking in new road design).
Overtaking presents an unacceptably high level of danger – it involves vehicles occupying the same space but travelling in completely the opposite direction, at great speed. The opposite of homogeneity! It is much safer to ban it, and to simply design it out of these roads altogether. On the N470 all vehicles are travelling in the same direction at all times, and at approximately the same speed. Overtaking conflicts have been removed, as have any turning conflicts, with no motor vehicles crossing the paths of other motor vehicles – because there are no junctions.
Another implication of the principle of homogeneity is that mopeds (which aren’t capable of travelling at 80kph in any case) are banned from these roads, and instead placed on the cycle path, alongside people walking, cycling and jogging. This makes sense according to the principle of homogeneity – their mass and speed is much closer to that of pedestrians and cyclists than it is to the vehicles on the road.
Another principle of Sustainable Safety is ‘forgivingness’, which implies pretty much what you would expect from the title. Essentially, mistakes by road users should not result in death or serious injury. Road and street design should account for the fact that human beings are fallible, and will inevitably make mistakes.
We see this principle reflected in a number of aspects of the design of the N470 road. The road lanes themselves are narrow, to help ensure that people do not exceed the 80kph limit, but there are large overrun areas on either side of the road, composed of a concrete mesh.
Probably not very enjoyable to drive over, but if you do drift off the road, you won’t die.
Naturally, forgivingness also applies to people cycling. It lies behind the systematic removal of bollards from Dutch cycle paths, where at all possible. Bollards are not good things to crash into, and can cause serious injury and death. It is definitely preferable to have the occasional driver venturing (either mistakenly or deliberately) onto a cycle path than it is to have a permanent hazard on it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also means that kerbs and other elements of cycling infrastructure should allow mistakes to happen, without serious consequences.
And, of course, at a higher level, the fact that there aren’t any human beings outside of motor vehicles on the N470 road, or even near it, means that cycling is very safe. The fact that Britain persists with accommodating cycling on busy 60 or even 70mph roads is extraordinary by objective comparison – the consequences of errors and mistakes when you have such enormous differences in mass and speed in the same space will be deadly.
A better way of expressing ‘predictability’ would be ‘instantly recognisable road design’. The users of a road or a street should understand how they are expected to behave, from the appearance of that road or street. The design should be unambiguous. For instance, if you want motor vehicle users to travel at 20mph, the road or street should look like that, and it should make the majority of users travel at no more than that speed.
From the photographs in this post you won’t need me to tell you that the appearance of the N470 will obviously inform its users that it is a through road! There are no junctions; no interactions with non-motorised users; a median; and a design that suggests a speed of 50mph or so. As already mentioned, the design of the N470 should make users travel at or around this speed – the speed limit should be self-enforcing. Design should lead behaviour – we should not expect people to do unnatural things.
In a nutshell, Sustainable Safety is really about a strategic separation of fast, heavy objects from slower moving, lighter ones, across an entire country, both along roads like the N470, passing through rural areas, but also in urban areas. It is universal.
It is noteworthy that there are multiple cycle routes between Delft and Zoetermeer, all of them completely separate from the road network. Some parts of these are shown below. These cycle routes pass through the places where people actually live and work, while the motor traffic is shielded away from human beings. All these routes are more direct than the N470, or alternative driving routes on the motorways.
So despite the name, Sustainable Safety is not just about safety, but also about creating more attractive and more pleasant places for people to live, work, shop, and relax. People can still drive, of course, and with great ease, but their journeys will be separated to the greatest possible extent from human beings. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that, despite only being a few decades old, has had dramatic and impressive consequences. We should be paying close attention.
You can read more about Sustainable Safety in a number of places –
Pedalling into the Dutch city of Delft last Tuesday I went past a branch of Albert Heijn, which is (approximately) the Dutch version of Waitrose – or at least, a supermarket at the slightly higher end of the Dutch price scale.
Naturally enough I stopped to have a look at was occurring, an easy thing to do given that the cycleway along this road runs right the supermarket entrance.
At about 10:30 in the morning, the front entrance was heaving with bikes – people shopping in ways that they would do in the UK, but loading their goods onto those bikes.
There was a mum loading a trolley full of goods (and her children) into her cargo bike.
And other people loading the contents of trolleys and baskets into their panniers.
What was fascinating to me was how all the space in front of the supermarket was completely dedicated to people arriving on foot, and by cycle. There was no parking for motor vehicles anywhere in sight.
But that, of course, isn’t quite the whole story! There is car parking at this supermarket. It’s just that it is hidden from view, on top of it, with an entrance around the back.
And it’s free, all day long.
This is despite this supermarket being in a city-centre location. There isn’t anything to stop you driving to it and parking above it, at no cost (save for your fuel).
So in many ways this supermarket is actually a microcosm of the Netherlands in general. You can still drive to the supermarket, with ease. There probably won’t be a queue to get in and out of the car park, because so many other people will be cycling to it. The parking itself will be free, even at peak times. In these respects driving in the Netherlands is actually easier and more ‘available’ than in Britain. If you wish to drive your car, your journey will be more attractive, and cheaper, simply because so many other people aren’t driving.
What does make the difference is the way that cycling to the supermarket is extremely painless. The people arriving here by bike will have started their journey on quiet, access-only streets, and then pedalled along the main road in comfort, safely separated from motor traffic.
Planning is also a factor here, in that the Dutch does not really have out of town supermarket shopping, which would clearly make cycling more inconvenient, adding distance to ordinary shopping trips, and making the car relatively more attractive. It also makes smaller (more cycle-friendly) shopping loads an easier prospect, if your supermarket is close at hand. Daily shopping, for instance, is much easier when your supermarket is not out of town. Dutch supermarkets have to be within urban areas – but at the same time that doesn’t stop them from offering free car parking to their customers.
Mainly, however, people choose to cycle in the Netherlands not because driving has been made inordinately difficult – it certainly hasn’t in the case of this supermarket – but because cycling has been designed for, has been made a safe and easy mode of transport, so much so that it naturally becomes an obvious choice. It’s simply easier and more convenient than driving, right down to the way you can arrive at the front door and park, rather than having to take your car around the back, and upstairs. It’s very much carrot, rather than stick.
In the wake of the Daily Mail publishing a series of photographs of cycleways with nobody using them at the moment the photograph was taken, and asserting that those cycleways are therefore ‘lunacy’ (apparently in the belief that doing so is any more meaningful than publishing a photograph of an empty road or footway and making conclusions about lunacy) the Guardian’s Dave Hill has evidently decided to join in the fun, publishing his own photograph of an empty cycle lane above an article that applies a thin veneer of earnest, chin-stroking consideration to precisely the same tabloid arguments.
This is at the same level of intellectual endeavour as publishing a photograph of an empty bus lane on the same road, before making questioning noises about how much bus lanes are being used, and whether the new mayor ought to consider using all that valuable road space for other modes of transport.
Newsflash – a photograph of an empty bit of infrastructure is absolutely meaningless, and it remains meaningless if you attempt to garnish it – as Dave Hill does – with some anecdotes about how you hardly ever see anyone using that bit of infrastructure.
You might wonder at this point why any journalist who takes himself seriously is so eager to recycle the arguments of the Daily Mail.
Of course what actually matters is numbers and efficiency, and unfortunately for Dave Hill, all the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. In his article he is happy to quote Transport for London’s Director of Road Space Management, Alan Bristow, when he commented that the speed of implementation of the latest superhighways was ‘suboptimal’, during the latest London Assembly Transport Committee session on congestion. But if Hill had listened to the session from the start, he would have heard Bristow saying this –
‘we are committed to sustainable transport, and walking and cycling are one of the key parts of the mix that any city must have, for moving people around. And it’s actually a very efficient way of moving people. We’re seeing a lot of activity on the cycle superhighways, and we’re getting about 3,000 people an hour in the peaks, moving along the Embankment. We’re moving five percent more people.’
Get that? Bristow is quite explicitly stating that, even at current usage levels, the superhighways have made roads like the Embankment more efficient than they were before at moving people. This is hardly surprising – 3,000 people per hour in the equivalent of a single motor vehicle lane far exceeds the ability of such a lane to carry people in private motor vehicles.
So when it comes to ‘the matter of how much they are being used’, as Hill phrases it – well, let’s put it like this. If you think cycling infrastructure is a bad idea because the numbers of users fall away, outside of peak times, you are effectively arguing that roads should be made less efficient at times when that efficiency is most needed. No amount of anecdotes about how few people cycling you see outside peak times will change that blunt reality.
None of this should be surprising given Hill’s eagerness to distribute a discredited statistic about how much road space has been reallocated to cycling in London. Nor should it be surprising that Hill’s article also covers, again, other familiar territory, claiming that the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross believes ‘cycling policy should not only be about servicing the existing (and rather narrow) commuter and otherwise committed cyclist demographic but properly recognising others’ interests too’ – interpreting this to mean a
pointer to a broad, consensual approach, seeking to harmonise and give equal weight to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and to introducing new infrastructure with the greatest possible consent.
But unfortunately this is a misreading of what Shawcross actually said.
“I’m really keen the cycling work we do isn’t just about the commuter cyclists, it’s about the little short journeys, not necessarily for work. It might be mums, it might be the retired, so the local communities get the benefits of this.”
In other words, designing for cycling shouldn’t just be about commuting, it should be about designing for all other kinds of cycling trips – cycling trips by mothers, and by elderly people, for instance. When Shawcross refers to policy ‘not just being about commuter cyclists’ she is explicitly talking about making cycling itself more inclusive, and not about watering down cycling policy to create ‘equal weight with pedestrians’, a spin Hill has added himself. (Note – ‘equal weight’ with pedestrians would actually mean cycling infrastructure on every main road, lowering the level of danger people cycling have to safe to an equivalent level to those who choose to walk).
Hill has evidently leapt on the ‘commuting cyclist’ term without pausing to look at what Shawcross actually said, which is unsuprising given his evident obsession with a desire to paint cycling in London as dominated by white middle class, middle-aged men, speeding to work, a conclusion not borne out by actual statistics.
The problem for Hill is that the very best way to enable cycling beyond the allegedly narrow demographic he repeatedly refers to – to enable cycling by women, by kids, by the elderly – is to build precisely the kind of infrastructure his own articles keep denigrating. This is the conclusion of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine report he keeps tediously linking to –
In cities where cycling uptake is low, the challenge for healthy public policy is perhaps to de-couple cycling from the rather narrow range of healthy associations it currently has, and provide an infrastructure in which anyone can cycle, rather than just those whose social identities are commensurate with being ‘a cyclist’.
Building cycleways is the very best way of achieving inclusivity. Not building them limits cycling to the people who are only prepared to cycle in hostile conditions on the road network.
You might argue Hill’s position on cycling infrastructure is disingenuous. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Queuing might be a word with a French origin, but the British have a reputation for it, particularly for doing it in an orderly fashion. But our passion for queuing is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively recent development, arising out of industrialisation and poverty in the 19th century, and especially, rationing during World War II.
I have noticed that this ‘British’ approach to queuing is, sometimes, affecting behaviour on the new cycling infrastructure in London.
The most efficient behaviour while waiting at lights is, actually, to double up, even if this appears to involve ‘queue jumping’. It’s standard practice that you will see at any Dutch junction with separate cycling infrastructure.
Two neat rows of people, making the most efficient use of the space, and ensuring the maximum number of people get through the lights on green.
Generally, I do find exactly the same kind of behaviour at the lights on similar infrastructure in London – although maybe not quite as compact.
But there are exceptions. Very occasionally I will find a queue that isn’t ‘doubled’.
There’s a particularly good example in the @sw19cam video below, at the 5:05 mark, as he emerges out the other side from Blackfriars underpass, waiting at the lights to cross onto the Embankment.
Sensibly, he decides to go right to the front, in what might be seen by some as ‘skipping the queue’. I don’t think he is, at least not in this context. Everyone should be doing this, especially at this particular location, where there is a notably short green phase.
The question, then, is why do people queue in single file, when it hampers your (and others’) ability to get through a junction? My guess is it might be partly out of politeness; partly out of a belief that, by moving over the right, you might be making a bold statement that you are ‘faster’ than riders on your left; or even that you are ‘queue jumping’.
But ‘doubling up’ really is the best way of ensuring everyone makes it through the lights in one go. Sitting at the back of a single-file queue, and adding to it, just means that you and the people behind you have got less change of making it through the lights.
So don’t be afraid to double up! You’re not being rude, you’re not pretending you’re faster, and you’re not queue jumping. You’re just helping everyone. If you don’t feel you are fast enough, you can just merge back to the left, and let everyone past as the queue disperses through the junction.
Last week a group of tireless cycling campaigners in West Sussex organised a Cycling Summit, attended by councillors, officers and influential people within the county, to hear presentations on the importance of cycling and cycling infrastructure from Rachel Aldred, Phil Jones, Mark Strong and Ranty Highwayman – names that will almost certainly be familiar to you. (You can see their presentations on the website).
It seemed the message did sink in, as much as it could. Everyone stayed to the end of the summit, and the questions from the floor were, generally, informed, and showed interest. Whether it will lead to substantive change is another matter.
And the need for change in West Sussex is urgent. In a county with a population of close to a million people, living mostly in large towns that are rapidly expanding, there is essentially almost no urban cycling infrastructure to speak of – certainly nothing of high quality along main roads. Continuing to build for mass car use is simply storing up trouble for the future, given the limited capacity of our existing urban road network to accommodate increasing motor traffic.
In this context, one unfortunate tendency on the part of councillors and officers is to assume that we are a ‘rural’ county and that therefore priorities for cycling infrastructure should be in rural areas, connecting up villages and small towns. These kinds of routes are of course important in their own right, but focusing on them at the expense of the county’s many large urban areas betrays a failure to look at the most pressing problems, and where there is most potential for cycling gains.
It is also perhaps natural to focus on these kinds of ‘rural’ routes because they present the least political difficulty and are also (should be) the easiest to get right – there are fewer decisions to make about reallocation of space, and fewer junctions to negotiate.
But going by a video released by West Sussex, it seems that even these kinds of routes, ones that present the least difficulty, can’t be got right. Next year it plans to build a ‘missing section’ of National Cycle Network 2, between the towns of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – a distance of about 3 miles – along the A259. This is an important path because at present there isn’t anything any cycling infrastructure at all on this stretch of NCN2– you have to cycle on a busy A road. And it’s an opportunity to get things right, because there are only a small number of problems to deal with on that 3 mile length of road.
Unfortunately, going by the video, it seems those problems haven’t been dealt with at all well. Here’s one of them, the crossing of Climping roundabout.
A shared use path, crossing multiple lanes of motor traffic, without any assistance, close to the perimeter of the roundabout. It’s obviously hard to tell from a visualisation, but the refuge in the middle doesn’t appear to be long enough to safely accommodate a cycle either. This is pretty dreadful design – the lack of priority isn’t necessarily the issue, but the hazards involved in crossing at this kind of design certainly are.
The only other crossing of a road along this new section of route is also a big fail.
People walking and cycling are expected to go some distance out of their way to use a crossing set some 50 metres back from the junction. Why? There’s already a very long slip road for drivers to come almost to a complete stop, separate from the flow of traffic on the major road; it would be very, very easy to put the crossing close to the junction itself, with tighter geometry to keep drivers’ speeds low. Note also that pedestrians who want to cross this road have to dash across four lanes of fast motor traffic.
As for the path itself, it will be ‘shared use’, which isn’t necessarily a problem on this kind of route between urban areas. Numbers will, I expect, be low enough that separation between the two modes isn’t required, provided that this path is designed like a cycleway which people can walk on, rather than a footway people are allowed to cycle one. It’s going to be the latter, of course – see how it gives up at a minor entrance –
But I worry that the path isn’t wide enough, and won’t have a good enough surface. The visualisation appears to imply it will be composed of what looks like a bonded gravel. A path like this really needs a smooth asphalt surface, just like the road it runs next to.
And the width will be a problem, especially at this (cough) bus stop bypass.
Apparently the path will be three metres wide, but it doesn’t look like that at the location above, and in other places the usable width will be reduced by the path running alongside walls and fencing.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s good that this path is being built, and that the council is (starting) to engage with design for cycling. The problem is that, going by the design of this path where it actually has to deal with difficulties – like crossing side roads, dealing with roundabouts, bus stops, and so on – there is a serious lack of knowledge and experience about best practice. This is largely the fault of central government, which continues to fail to lead on infrastructure, providing clear guidance to local authorities to West Sussex on how to design properly. It shouldn’t cost any more to do things properly, yet we continue to see the same mistakes.
This tweet from Thames Valley Police in Windsor has attracted a fair amount of derision.
— TVP Windsor (@TVP_Windsor) September 28, 2016
Principally because what the police are ‘enforcing’ is, well, unenforceable – it’s simply an advisory dismount sign, rather than an actual restriction – but also because it’s not a particularly sensible use of resources. Lots of people complaining about something will obviously not necessarily equate to something that is an objectively high priority in terms of keeping people safe.
But the context of this ‘dismount’ sign is revealing (and thanks to @ChrisC_CFC for spotting the location). It’s Maidenhead Road in Windsor. What is immediately apparent is that all the footways along this road are shared use. The footway on the approach to the barrier where the policeman is standing is shared use –
The footway on the other approach to the other side of this section of footway is also shared use –
And the fairly narrow footway on the other side of the road is also shared use (although this appears to have recently been widened, perhaps in an attempt to ‘encourage’ people to cycle on the footway on this side of the road) –
… And, as far as I can tell, the footway between the barriers is also shared use, despite the signs advising people to dismount.
So, as usual, the picture is one of inconsistency. Councils are happy to lump cycling onto the pavement with pedestrians where they can get away with it – it’s a nice easy option that doesn’t involve making difficult choices about allocation of urban space. But of course that decision will also bring people walking and cycling into conflict with one another, particularly in busier locations.
The ‘solution’ here in Windsor seems to have been to put up some barriers and an advisory sign in the hope that people will get off and walk for two hundred metres. Obviously people won’t do that – why would they, when they have been legally cycling on footways either side – so naturally the police have been called out to ‘enforce’ dismounting ‘advise’ people to dismount.
All in all, it’s pretty dismal. If you push people walking and cycling into the same relatively small portion of urban space, you shouldn’t be surprised when conflict arises; nor should you be surprised that people are unwilling to choose to dismount on one section of footway when you have legalised it on other sections.
The responsibility for all these problems lies with the council. Looking at the photos of the road above, there really is an enormous amount of roadspace here that could be repurposed, if we were actually serious about prioritising walking and cycling, and reducing conflict between the two modes on a permanent basis.
It wouldn’t even have to be particularly expensive. The central hatching could be removed, the parking bays moved out by an equivalent distance, and – hey presto – a parking-protected cycle lane, separate from the footway, would spring into existence.
No more pavement cycling; no more dismount signs required; no more wasted police resources; no more embarrassing photo opportunities.
How about it?
On Monday the Department for Transport’s Think! campaign launched an HGV ‘safety’ campaign that has been universally panned by cycling organisations and campaigners. There’s a very good summary of the reasons why here.
The intention of the video is apparently to show the risks of ‘undertaking’ HGVs when they are about turn. But the video itself is, frankly, a mess. It initially shows an implausible situation – a lorry travelling on the wrong side of the road on a 20mph street, with a cyclist somehow managing to travel even faster on their inside.
Why is the lorry right over on the wrong side of the road, so far from the junction? I can’t think of any reasonable explanation. Most likely the driver has started to overtake the person cycling, who has then implausibly managed to accelerate and move ahead of the HGV.
This is followed by a shot, accompanied by tasteless clips of meat being chopped, of the HGV swerving across that cyclist’s path, with the cyclist still behind the HGV – which is implausible in the context of the speed difference in the (very odd) first clip.
So why is this video so implausible?
An instinctive explanation is that it is simply a cock-up, filmed by people who don’t really know how left hook incidents actually occur. The brief might have been
‘Go and make us a video of an idiot cyclist shooting up the inside of a turning HGV at speed.’
The result being this dog’s breakfast. But I think there’s more to it than that. A video that showed how left hooks actually occur would be embarrassing to the DfT.
They don’t involve lorries travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road with someone apparently attempting to ‘undertake’ them.
Instead, they occur when a previously stationary HGV has just started to move off at a junction. When someone cycling is either positioned in front of, or to the side, of that HGV, typically on state-sanctioned paint, either in the form of a crap cycle-lane, or an advanced stop line (ASL). That cyclist is either stationary in that ASL, or is arriving at the junction on the cycle lane on the inside of that HGV.
Conveniently, the DfT video doesn’t look anything like this. It doesn’t show someone who has been lulled into a making a minor misjudgement with potentially fatal consequences, thanks to negligent road design. Instead it attempts to present a scenario in which blame lies with a cyclist being an idiot, ‘racing’ an HGV and trying to shoot up the inside of it as it turns.
I commented yesterday that this Cemex video – shot from a camera on the left hand side of the lorry cab – is far more instructive about how left hooks actually occur than the DfT’s video. It’s a real-life illustration of how a combination of dreadful road design, lethal vehicles and momentary inattention can lead to death and serious injury.
At the start of the video, we see the HGV is stationary as the man cycles past it, towards the junction.
Going by the position of the cab, adjacent to a metal post, the front of the lorry is approximately 50m or so from the junction, suggesting that there are at least five cars (or equivalent) ahead of it, waiting at a red light.
The lorry driver isn’t indicating left at this point.
It might be foolish to start filtering up the inside of an HGV here, but a combination of the the fact that the traffic is stationary, that the HGV is some distance back from the lights, and the inviting cycle lane (combined with a lack of indication) all make it completely understandable.
However, as the cyclist draws level with the cab, the HGV moves off.
And then, about a second after moving off, the driver starts to indicate left.
It seems the cyclist, perhaps without even seeing the indicators, realises that he is suddenly in a precarious situation – you can see him accelerating to try and clear the HGV, to get to safety ahead of it. This is clearly not a wise decision; the best one would have been to a complete halt, to simply let the HGV go. But it’s an understandable human mistake.
The HGV driver is accelerating hard too, and soon the cyclist is back down the side of the HGV. From this point, given the speed of both parties and their intended directions, disaster is nearly inevitable.
Abruptly, the enormous lorry forms a curved barrier around the cyclist, leaving him with nowhere to go.
It is only thanks to both parties performing an emergency stop that the cyclist doesn’t end up under the wheels.
I hope it is clear that this real-life situation is rather more ambiguous than the one in the DfT video. Mistakes are made, but they are understandable ones. Particularly, can we expect people not to cycle up the inside of HGVs when there is a cycle lane there, and the HGV is stationary, some five or six cars back from the junction itself?
And much the same is true of incidents that are actually in the news at the moment, in the wake of the DfT’s campaign. Take the case of Louise Wright, killed in Nottingham in July 2014. She appears to have filtered up the inside of an HGV, and then waited at a red light, next to it. The driver failed to check his mirrors, and was convicted this week of causing death by careless driving – the same day that the DfT campaign launched.
Or, also in the courts this week, the case of Esther Hartsilver, again killed as a stationary HGV set off from traffic lights and turned across her.
Or the case of Ying Tao, again, killed a stationary HGV set off from traffic lights and turned across her.
These cases simply do not resemble the DfT’s video. They take place almost in slow motion, the inevitable consequences of human beings making understandable mistakes in an environment why are exposed to unacceptable danger; an environment where those mistakes can, in a split second, lead to death and serious injury. Environments that even actually encourage them into danger.
We should be building environments that greatly reduce or even remove that danger. Environments that keep people cycling and HGVs separated from each other, and allow people to make mistakes without those mistakes resulting in death.
Thankfully, we are starting to see this kind of approach in a small number of locations in London; new junctions where the risk of collision between HGVs and people has been greatly reduced by signal separation of movements.
But this is only a start, and in just one city.
I see little or no indication that the same Department for Transport that is producing these videos and adverts is taking any kind of lead on safe design. Where are the national standards, guidance and advice for local authorities, so that they can replicate good examples and best practice at a local level? Where is the investment required, to reshape our roads to protect people using the modes of transport we apparently want to encourage? Frankly, where is the leadership? It’s completely absent.
The simple message of the cases mentioned here, and countless others, is – do not mix very heavy, large vehicles with limited visibility with people on bikes. Keep them separated at all costs. But, again, I see no indication that the Department for Transport is taking that message on board. The issue of cycling death as a result of collisions with HGVs continues to be framed by those with responsibility for tackling it – as with this latest campaign – as one of human failing, one of mistakes that can be remedied through ‘education’ and ‘awareness’. A totally flawed approach given that human beings will always continue to make mistakes. It’s what we do.
Beyond adverts and tokenistic measures like extra mirrors, there is no noticeable action being taken at an institutional level within the DfT to deal with these predictable deaths, that keep occurring in the same way, over and over again. That’s why these adverts are so deeply insulting.
I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece about how attitudes to residential streets being access-only for motor traffic are essentially conditioned by history. That is to say, whether people are in favour of a particular residential street being ‘access-only’ largely depends on the current nature of that street. If it’s currently a through-route, attempts to convert it into an access road will probably be controversial. But, conversely, if it’s already an access road, that status will be deeply uncontroversial.
We can take this further, and point out that attempts to reintroduce through traffic onto access roads that are currently peaceful, safe and quiet would be just as unpopular as ‘filtering’, if not more so. It’s most likely that, in the cold light of day, people are not really ‘for’ or ‘against’ filtering – they are just against change.
We’ll come to this subject in more detail next week, but in the meantime, and as a teaser to that blogpost, I thought I’d look at a specific example of ‘historical’ filtering, one that happened some time ago, and that would be controversial if it were reversed – just as controversial as if attempts were made to implement it today.
Cull Lane is a small lane in southern Hampshire, on the outskirts of New Milton. I’m familiar with it because I use it to cycle to and from my grandmother’s house, from New Milton station.
Back in the 1950s, it was just a straightforward road, running across fields.
Over time, New Milton has expanded, filling out to the orange road running east-west near the top of the map, with housing development built on other side of Cull Lane. But the way this housing has been built – and the changes that have been made to Cull Lane – are very interesting.
Cull Lane has essentially been converted into two separate sections of cul-de-sac, through a series of three closures. The first, and most obvious one, is in the middle. The other two are at the (former) junctions with the boundary roads.
The only ‘through route’ across this area is now a very twisty road, looping up and and down as it runs east-west – Holland’s Wood Drive. While it is technically possible to drive along the length of this road, its twisty nature doesn’t make that an obvious thing to do, and indeed Google Streetview tells us that is much quicker (and shorter) to use the pre-existing boundary roads.
What has happened to Cull Lane itself? Well, it is, still, a rather lovely quiet country lane, even though it is now technically part of the town of New Milton. It is rare to encounter drivers on it, and those that I do are simply going to and from their properties.
At the northern end, there is a turning area for residents. The previous connection to the main road running east-west has been ‘lost’, although pedestrian access has been retained (in the foreground).
Below, some of the new housing that was built along Cull Lane at the same time as these changes to the road network were made (note the ‘dead end’ sign on what was formerly a through route) –
The ‘severed’ middle section, where what was once Cull Lane has become a pedestrian path, with bollards to stop drivers –
The crossing of the new, bendy road in the middle of the development (again, note that the southern section of Cull Lane, visible across the road, has a ‘Dead End’ sign) –
… And the southern end of Cull Lane. This would at one time have been a straightforward junction, but now it is a turning area, with only cycling and walking access to the main road where the silver car is being driven.
These pictures were actually taken at rush hour, around 5:30pm, yet I was able to stand in the middle of the road and take them, quite happily. But without the filtering that took place here, this small little lane would actually be a busy road. It would form an obvious route from the main road to the north of New Milton (connecting with the trunk road A35) into the east of the town.
As it is, that route is not available, and this residential area is something of an oasis of calm, ‘converted’ into two cul-de-sacs.
Because all this happened at the time the development was taking place, I suspect the changes to the road were a minor detail. New residents moving into the housing would not have concerned themselves with it, because it was already like that when they arrived. But had these changes been proposed after all the development took place, it is a reasonable guess those changes would have been opposed by locals who had got used to the existing driving routes. ‘Keep Cull Lane open’! ‘No to increasing pollution and congestion on surrounding roads! And so on, with the kinds of arguments that are undoubtedly familiar to present-day campaigners.
As it is, Cull Lane is an attractive place to live, with properties for sale making a virtue of the fact that it is ‘a quiet no through road’, which may have not been the case had enlightened planners not severed it at the time of the development. The slightly longer distance locals might have to travel to exit onto main roads by car is a very small price to pay for living in a desirable, quiet and attractive area.
The only small complaint I have with these changes is that they seem to have happened at a time in British planning history when cycling was invisible. The connection in the middle, and the two cut throughs at either end, are quite explicitly signed as pedestrian routes, and I suspect I may be breaking the law by cycling along a footpath every time I visit my grandmother, travelling along the length of Cull Lane.
Nevertheless, I think this is a very interesting example of how ‘closures’ of roads can be invisible and uncontroversial if they happen under particular circumstances, and if they have been in place long enough for anyone to even remember the road being configured in any other way.
The death of a woman in Reading earlier this year – and the inquest into her death – has prompted me to write something about Puffin crossings, which to me at least seem to have been a factor in that collision.
Lauren Heath was killed on a Puffin crossing as an HGV driver advanced through the crossing. It still isn’t clear whether he moved while the signals were still red, or whether the green signal had appeared while Lauren Heath was still on the crossing. She was in the driver’s ‘blind spot’ – allegedly, because the driver had failed to properly adjust his mirror.
But one of the factors in her death appears to have been the lack of far side signal at the Puffin crossing. As she walked up the road to cross, she saw motor traffic waiting at a red signal, and started to cross in front of it, without the far side indication of whether or not it is safe to do so, as is the case with more traditional, and familiar, Pelican crossings.
Here is a similar example of a Puffin crossing in Horsham. Walking in this direction, towards the lights, as Lauren Heath would have done, I can see that they are red. But there is no far side signal – the only indication of whether or not it is safe to cross is the small yellow box on the signal post itself.
To look at this box involves rotating through 180°, looking back the way I’ve come. The signal for whether or not it is safe to cross is not in line with my direction of travel.
This is what Lauren Heath would have had to have done, but failed to do – she just assumed that the lights would stay red, and without the far side signal, she had no indication that motor traffic might be about to set off as she walked across the crossing.
We know that humans will make mistakes like this, and I don’t think Puffin crossings are designed to mitigate human fallibility. The lack of the far side signal is a big problem; it means people have to look at a small box in an unnatural position, rather than relying on line of sight in the direction they are travelling.
To be clear, Puffin crossings do have some advantages over Pelicans. For one thing, I like the way that, thanks to detectors, the signals will stay red for motor traffic while people are still on the crossing – it means people who are slower do not have to hurry, warned by a flashing red man. Puffins, again thanks to detectors, also ‘reset’ if people push the button, and then cross before they get a green man – it means motor traffic isn’t held unnecessarily at a crossing when nobody is waiting to cross.
But there are other problems with them, not just the lack of far side signal. They can be deeply ambiguous. Walking up to this crossing, it is easy to assume that the green man applies to the crossing ahead, in the background. Right?
Well, no. That would be wrong. This green man applies to the crossing 90° to the left of my field of view. This crossing, with the same box in the foreground –
Walking across the crossing in the first photo on the assumption you have a green man would actually bring you into conflict with motor traffic.
Here’s a similar (and much worse) example from Sheffield.
— The Ranty Highwayman (@RantyHighwayman) March 15, 2015
The counter argument is, of course, that far side signals can themselves be ambiguous if there are multiple crossings in the line of sight, signalled differently. For instance, people might interpret a green for the section of carriageway on the far side of the road as an indication that it is safe cross the near side section of carriageway, which may have a red. I nearly got caught out in precisely the same way at this dreadful crossing outside the Gare du Lyon in Paris, which had a green on the station side, but a red to prevent people crossing the other half of the carriageway.
But the answer to this is really don’t build ambiguous, staggered crossings! Mitigating them with Puffins – which might still be open to ambiguous interpretation – isn’t really the long-term answer. Pedestrian and cycle crossings should be straightforward, without stopping and starting halfway – design them so people can cross the road, in one go. Puffins are really just polishing a turd.
Another problem with Puffins is that the signal box is easily obscured, because (with good reason) people stand right next to it.
This is often mitigated by adding another signal box on to the same pole – but again this problem wouldn’t arise at all with high, far side signals.
And one final annoyance with Puffins is that if you are approaching them on a bike (at a Toucan crossing with Puffin signalling) the lack of far side signal means you have to stop, and look at the box, in a way you wouldn’t have to with conventional signals. They interrupt progress.
So I’m really not a fan of Puffins, at all. One silver lining is that Transport for London don’t like them either, because they prevent the use of pedestrian countdown. While Puffins do have some good features, I would really like to see them integrated into the more traditional, conventional and intuitive far-side signal design.
September 14th is Cycle to Work Day, an event which reminds me that a large proportion of the focus on cycling in Britain – and of the attempts to persuade or enable people to cycle – is on travelling to work.
This focus is, perhaps, unsurprising. For transport planners and engineers, ‘the commute’ presents the most difficult problems, given that is when peak demand for use of transport networks occurs. Fixation on commuting is understandable given that pressure on networks is much lower at other times of day, when other kinds of trips tend to be made.
Although cycling obviously doesn’t place as much pressure on the road network as motoring at peak times, it forms such a small proportion of trips in this country it only really becomes ‘visible’ at peak times, even in places like central London. Again, this makes it more likely that we will fixate on commuting – flows of cycling are concentrated at the periods when people are travelling to and from work, and that therefore seems to be the only kind of cycling that is occurring, or could occur. During the middle of the day, away from places where infrastructure has started to be built, cycling is essentially non-existent. That absence of ‘everyday’ cycling makes a focus on commuting more likely.
The ‘visibility’ of cycle commuting also derives from the fact that its levels are generally substantially higher than overall cycling mode share. The London Borough of Hackney’s much-quoted census figure of 15.4% of trips to work being cycled stands alongside an overall cycling mode share of just 6-7% for all trips in the borough.
So it is likely that cycling to work figures will be around 2-3 times higher than the general cycling mode share across Britain.
As Rachel Aldred argues, this disparity is mostly likely due to ‘route sensitivity’ –
It seems like people are fussier about cycling environments when they’re not commuting. This makes intuitive sense if you think about it. When I’m riding to work, I know my route extremely well as I ride it most working days. I’m travelling on my own, so I only have to worry about my own safety, not that of any companions. I know where the dodgy bits are, where I need to concentrate super hard. I know the timing of the traffic lights – whether I have lots of time to get through or not. I know the hidden cut-throughs I can take to make the journey nicer. As I’m travelling with the peak commuting flows there’s often plenty of other cyclists around, creating a greater sense of subjective safety.
But it’s also down to the fact that groups of people who don’t work – children and the elderly – are themselves much less likely to tolerate more hostile cycling environments than people of working age. This also applies to the fact that women – who we know are, similarly, less traffic-tolerant than men – are less represented in the working population. That working population is preferentially composed of people who are more willing to cycle.
For all these reasons, commuting is the lowest-hanging fruit of cycling trips – the easiest of all the kinds of trips to enable. But focusing on commuting is really not good enough for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the biggest one is that commuting – while high profile – only forms a very small proportion of all the trips we make. In London, it’s just the bits in blue in the chart below.
The chart clearly demonstrate that commuting or work-related trips (in dark and light blue) are a small proportion of all the trips Londoners make. For under-16s and over-65s, commuting is essentially negligible, and even for 25-44 year olds, work-related trips are only around 30% of all trips made.
The picture is much the same at a national level – I’m grateful to Katja Leyendecker for crunching the numbers in the National Travel Survey and producing the results –
Just 16% of all trips are commuting, with a further 3% ‘business trips’. So again over 80% of all trips we make are not travelling to work – they are trips to school, or for shopping, or to visit friends, or for entertainment. The kinds of trips that make up daily life. Focusing on commuting – the routes commuters take – will necessarily miss out all these other kinds of trips.
I have heard it said that designing cycleways in London will only see them becoming increasingly clogged with lycra commuters. But I don’t think that is what will happen at all. A dense, high-quality network of cycle routes will see cycling increasingly dominated by those 80% of trips that aren’t commuting.
The kind of trips that are not being cycled at the moment. Children going to school. Parents going shopping. Teenagers going to visit friends. Cycling to the pub. And so on.
Building cycling infrastructure will not mean more of the same kinds of trips by the same people we see now. It will broaden out cycling beyond the narrow commuter-centric demographic that currently exists.
I strongly suspect it will also change the way cycling looks. To take just one example, people taking their children to school, then going off to meet friends, or to go shopping, are much less likely to faff around with cycle-specific clothing and equipment than your typical commuter. While it might make sense for a commuter making a specific trip with somewhere to change and to store cycle-specific equipment, that choice of cycle equipment, and changing in and out of it, is just too much effort for a linked series of short trips interspersed with other activities.
It also means that commuting periods themselves will be more diverse – composed not just of people going to and from work, but also people going to and from school and college, going to after-school activities, going out for an evening, and so on.
Building cycleways along, say, Euston Road in London will not lead to more of the same types of cycling we see now. It will lead to these kinds of cycling demographic shifts – trips by the children who live in the area, by parents, by elderly people, by people cycling to visit friends, and so on. Genuine mass cycling.
Only a small proportion of trips are commutes. We need to examine why all the other trips aren’t appearing, and plan and design to enable them.
I started snapping these photographs about a year ago, mainly inspired by hostility from councillors to the notion of cycling in the town centre. Department for Transport funds, won by West Sussex – which could have made a small difference to the quality of the cycling environment in Horsham – were not put to any good use, and indeed were actually used in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of the town centre.
So the idea of the photo blog is to show that people getting around by bike are, essentially, just ordinary people – citizens of the town like everyone else.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149174641772
While there are what I hesitate to call ‘hardened’ cyclists in the town – the people who (somewhat understandably) dress up in protective equipment, and cycle on main roads without thinking too much about it – I have, for the moment, focused on a broader range of users, essentially to counteract the stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are an odd outgroup, whizzing around, and putting people at risk.
Cycling levels are very low here – cycling to work in the 2011 census was below 3%, and at a guess the overall cycling share will be a fair bit lower than that. But what I see is, essentially, suppressed demand. There is no group of people who are not cycling in Horsham; all groups are represented, particularly the old and the young.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149218118162
‘Cyclists’ here clearly don’t fit any neat stereotype – they are just ‘us’.
But the problem is that they are only present in very small numbers. And the reasons for this are also clear from the photographs. A large proportion of the people on the blog are breaking the law in some form. They are cycling on pavements, or in pedestrianised areas, or the wrong way down one way streets.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149694713292
These are people who are cycling despite the conditions. They aren’t criminals – they’re just people trying to get from A to B in the safest way possible. Their lawbreaking would disappear if the environment was designed to reward their choice of mode of transport, rather than ignoring it altogether.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149672037732
These are also people who aren’t really ‘cyclists’. They are wearing ordinary clothes; they are just using their bike as a tool; they are cycling for transport. Their cycling is just an extension of walking.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149669982702
In that sense, they are remarkably similar to the kinds of people you see cycling in Dutch towns and cities. They just look like pedestrians. The major difference from Dutch cities is instead the types of bike being used. Mountain bikes – really ill-adapted to urban utility cycling – dominate in Horsham, and that means people are carrying their items on handlebars, or in bulky rucksacks.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149125347422
Helmet-wearing – and hi-visibility clothing – is also notably low amongst this form of utility cycling. It’s clearly just too much of a faff for people who are meeting up with friends, or going shopping, or cycling in to town. This is a difference from commuters, who have a fixed routine and are more likely to add clothing and equipment to it.
Unaccompanied teenagers don’t wear helmets, nor do most adults.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/148876089907
The exceptions are young children, especially when accompanied by adults (young children have to do what they are told), and adults when cycling with their children, presumably because they feel they have to set a good example.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149671902222
But in general cycling looks remarkably normal. There are even small clues that the people cycling around town aren’t just cycling around for the fun of it. Cycling is a helpful tool for them, one that makes their daily life a little bit easier.http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/post/149125271872
Horsham is a relatively compact town, with around 60,000 people within two to three miles of the town centre. It’s flat and temperate, and has a high proportion of children (who of course can’t drive). My personal view is that cycling levels could, and should, be enormously high in the town. The photographs here demonstrate that potential. I see young children, teenagers, women and men of all ages using cycles to get about, despite the obstacles in their way. The environment should be designed to support them, and to reward their behaviour. Doing so would open up cycling to everyone, not confine it to the current minority willing to put up with inconvenience and hostile conditions.
The photograph below is one of a number I took on my last visit to the city of Utrecht. It’s a fairly ordinary Dutch scene – just some everyday cycling in an urban area. But in the foreground we can see quite a telling detail – two children, cycling side by side, chatting to one another. They look utterly relaxed; not worried about anything, talking without a care in the world, despite cycling on one of the busiest streets in Utrecht city centre. They don’t have to worry about motor traffic here; the only concern is really allowing other people to pass them, which is easy on a cycleway of this width.
Side-by-side cycling is, of course, a completely normal activity across the Netherlands.
It happens everywhere – not just on cycleways and cyclepaths, but also on roads.
Every time I have cycled with someone else in the Netherlands, I have been able to spend the entirety of the journey beside them, talking to them.
Side-by-side cycling isn’t a specifically Dutch trait – it’s a natural human instinct to want to be beside someone, looking at them, rather than stuck behind or in front of them, only able to talk by yelling, craning your head around. We don’t walk along, line astern – we walk side-by-side, and of course cycling should be no different. We want to be sociable, and to engage with the people we are travelling with.
The reason side-by-side cycling is so common in the Netherlands, therefore, isn’t the people. It’s that the environment allows it. Either cycleways that are separated from motor traffic, and that allow other people cycling to pass easily, or genuinely low motor traffic streets that are shared, but easily allow drivers to pass people cycling side-by-side, without inconvenience. It’s not hard to understand why people will cycle socially on a street here –
… But not on these streets.
Of course, on genuinely quiet streets, British people will cycle side by side, and we will also start to see side by side cycling on busy streets where good quality cycling infrastructure has been built. All the examples below are on the new Superhighways in London – CS6, CS3, and CS5.
Again, all these people just look relaxed, and happy. The environment allows this kind of cycling.
So perhaps the most important thing about side-by-side cycling, from a campaigning perspective, is that it is a good indicator of a quality cycling environment, be it a cycleway, or a street. If it isn’t happening, on either a main road, or on an allegedly ‘quiet’ street, then there’s almost certainly something wrong with the cycling environment.
A few months ago I attended the Hackney Cycling Conference, and heard a presentation by Robin Lovelace, entitled Cycling and transport policy: embedding active travel in every stage of the planning process.
Unsurprisingly – given the title – there was an interesting section of the talk on how weakly embedded walking and cycling is within the Department for Transport. In particular, Robin focused on the board structure of the Department, showing precisely how small a priority these important modes of transport are within it. He used the equivalent of the chart below, which has of course changed following the cabinet reshuffle.
Out of all the people shown on this chart, just one civil servant – highlighted right at the bottom – has explicit responsibility for walking and cycling.
We can see this more clearly by zooming in on this bottom left section.
Tellingly, ‘Local Transport’ is itself embedded within the ‘Roads, Devolution and Motoring Group’, and even within ‘Local Transport’ walking and cycling comes right at the bottom – not even mentioned explicitly by name, instead bundled up as ‘sustainable accessible travel’. It really is the lowest of the low.
Given this structure, is it any surprise that walking and cycling garner so little attention and such low levels of investment, despite their fundamental importance?
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) June 10, 2016
The priorities of the Department for Transport also emerge from the imagery they use. This stock photo – spotted by @AlternativeDfT – appears frequently on their website.
— The Alternative DfT (@AlternativeDfT) December 14, 2012
Amongst other things, it has been used for road safety announcements –
… and, amazingly, even for an announcement of Local Sustainable Transport Funding.
The junction shown in the photograph is Tower Gateway, right by the Tower of London. It is a particularly revealing choice, because while the photograph shows motor traffic smoothly flowing across the junction, it is a truly dreadful environment for walking and cycling.
To take just one example, let’s imagine we wanted to walk from the left of the photograph, to the right – from the north side of Mansell Street, to the Tower of London. You might imagine you could just cross the road in one go – the green arrow. But as it turns out travelling this short distance actually involves eight separate pedestrian crossings.
This is how pedestrians are expected to cross the road at a junction the Department for Transport has chosen to illustrate its role. Needless to say the cycling environment is, if anything, even worse – a vast expanse of tarmac, shared with HGVs and heavy traffic, somewhere only a small minority of people would even consider cycling in the first place. The east-west superhighway does now run across the top of this junction – with improved pedestrian crossings to the west – but that’s about it. Anyone cycling here has essentially been abandoned.
This isn’t just any junction; it’s a junction in the heart of our capital city, a place teeming with people. It’s somewhere that walking and cycling should be explicitly prioritised. But instead people walking and cycling here are treated with contempt – marginalised, and ignored. And this is the image of transport that the DfT is using.
The priorities that this junction embodies are an exact parallel of the board structure of the organisation. Cycling and walking as an afterthought, if that, the very bottom of the heap when it comes to consideration. And this is how the Department of Transport will continue to function, without institutional change. Still stuck in the past, still focused on prioritising motoring at the expense of sensible, space-efficient ways of making short trips, the kinds of trips that form the bulk of all the trips we make.