By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about reducing the need to stop at traffic lights while cycling, I thought I’d take a look at exemptions to signals – how they work in the Netherlands, and how they could be transferred to the UK.
This is a bit of a hot topic (as far as hot topics go) in cycle infrastructure design, and also something that could offer benefits for pedestrians – pertinent, as we’ll see, to aspects of the Superhighway plans. just announced by Transport for London.
The basic Dutch principle is that if someone is making a right turn by bike (our left turn, obviously) at a signalised junction, they shouldn’t have to stop. Not only is this convenient, it’s also safer – people cycling, turning right, don’t need to go anywhere near the junction itself.
Amazingly the Dutch have been doing this for a very long time. Mark Wagenbuur (BicycleDutch) showed me this example dating from the 1960s, in the Overvecht area of Utrecht -
This signalised junction is completely bypassed if you wish to turn right by bike (much as it is if you were walking). Good design, even if it is clearly in need of renovation, being about fifty years old!
Here’s a more modern example of the same design, in Amsterdam -
In fact, we actually do this already in Britain – but badly. We simply allow cycling on the footway. Either this is a simple footway conversion – ‘you can now cycle here, off you go’ – or it’s deliberate design, like (for instance) on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton, where you are allowed to cycle onto the pavement to make left turns.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s far from ideal, not just because it creates conflict and uncertainly between people walking and cycling, but also because there’s no continuity through the junction.
Happily it seems that moves are afoot to try and bring Dutch-style design to the UK, with cycle tracks, clearly separated from both footways and the carriageway, extending around the corners of signalised junctions, and remaining outside of signal control.
Here’s a detail from a presentation made at the latest LCC policy forum, by Transport for London’s Brian Deegan -
It’s not quite perfect, but the principle are exactly right. Turning left is possible at any time, regardless of what the signals are doing. Likewise, the interactions with pedestrians are managed correctly, with pedestrians having priority across the track on zebras, on both arms of the junction – reaching a waiting island, and then crossing the carriageway with signals.
So this is how someone walking might move across this junction -
They can, of course, cross the ‘signalised’ bit whenever they want to, if the road is clear, because UK pedestrians don’t have to obey the red man.
Flipping a picture of a junction in Amsterdam, we can see how this might look in Britain.
The woman with the dog has crossed the ‘zebra’ bit over the cycle track, and is waiting for a green signal at the carriageway. Slightly confusingly, the Dutch use zebra markings across signalised pedestrian crossings too. (This is so that they can function with pedestrian priority at night, when traffic signals are turned off). But Brian’s example is how it might look in the UK.
Brian himself is pushing hard for an implementation of this kind of junction somewhere in London. His actual intention is for it to operate as a form of ‘simultaneous green’, with people able to cycle across the junction in any direction, at the same time, while all motor traffic is held – and pedestrians also able to cross at the same time, because the ‘signalled’ bit of the crossing doesn’t involve anyone cycling.
But it seems that some people in TfL are quite sniffy and sceptical about how this would actually work – Brian related how he had been told that the ‘zebra’ and the ‘signalised’ parts of the pedestrian crossing should be staggered, or offset, so that pedestrians don’t get confused into thinking that the whole crossing is a zebra. (Yes, seriously).
Funnily enough, I was in Bristol the other weekend, and, well, they are actually building something like this already.
This is the new cycle track along Baldwin Street, still under construction -
It will be bi-directional, which is less than ideal, but I think Bristol have actually pretty much nailed how this design approach should work. The cycle track passes behind the traffic signals, meaning there’s no need to stop. There’s even a hint at a Dutch protecting island on the corner, and the pedestrian and cyclist parts of the crossing (heading to the left) are clearly separated. Pedestrians cross the track on a hinted ‘zebra’, and then wait on an island, if they have to, for the signalled part of the crossing.
The ‘zebra’ has to be unofficial like this, because doing it officially would currently require Belisha beacons, and zig-zag markings – rendering something that should be quite simple very messy. So I think Bristol have taken the right approach – it’s quite obvious that it’s a crossing, even if it isn’t done by the letter.
Are people confused by this design? It would seem not.
I stood here for a while, and nobody appeared to feel the urge to march across the road, convinced that they had priority on a zebra, all the way across it. It’s really quite obvious what’s going on.
The rest of the track will, it seems, have this same kind of treatment at straightforward signalised pedestrian crossings.
A little hard to see, because it’s obviously still under construction, but pedestrians can cross the cycle track on this ‘zebra’, before waiting on an island at a signalised pedestrian crossing. Simple, and it means that people cycling along the road don’t have to worry about stopping for the signals; they just have to yield to pedestrians at the ‘zebra’.
The original plans marked this arrangement much like a ‘give way a footway’ -
This would not have been a bit messy, I think, and I’m pleased to see Bristol using the best approximation of a Dutch approach that they can manage.
So, can this be copied in London, and elsewhere in the UK? Definitely. Here’s a pedestrian crossing, from the new Superhighway proposals on Lower Thames Street.
The whole crossing is signalised. But why not do what Bristol are doing, and only signalise the bit across the road, with a zebra (or ‘zebra’) across the cycle track, at the top? (Note – this would have the added benefit of shorter pedestrian stages).
Likewise, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge -
Do we really need to make people walking go out of their way, on a two-stage staggered crossing, just to get across a cycle track? Surely a simple ‘zebra’ marking would suffice. Why make our lives more difficult with all this staggering, when the cycle track could be crossed directly on zebras?
So I’d love to see all this unnecessary signalisation removed from these (very promising) plans, and replaced with zebra markings. It would make everyone’s lives much better. These plans would make a substantial improvement to the pedestrian environment as they stand, but i think they be even better.
It would also provide firm support for Brian Deegan’s attempts to implement his simultaneous green junction plans elsewhere in London, – as well as support for the sound principle of exempting people cycling left at junctions from signalisation.
Bristol are showing us how it can be done. Why over-complicate things?
I wouldn’t mind so much if the arguments being presented against the new Superhighway proposals in London were actually considered, and credible. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re ridiculous. Let’s examine the recent City of London response, which sadly is pretty much nonsense, from start to finish.
Michael Welbank, the City of London’s Planning Chairman, states that the City
support[s] the two routes in principle
Which sounds promising, until you consider that – from bitter UK experience – a ‘cycle route’ can mean absolutely anything. A bit of shared pavement, a useless stripe on the road – take your pick.
Simply supporting the principle of a ‘route’, therefore, is meaningless, without any detail on the quality and nature of that route. And it is the nature of these Superhighways that the City of London are specifically objecting to. As Mark Boleas, City Policy Chairman, states in the same press release -
We support the concept of cycling superhighways but have considerable reservations about the current proposals
So not really ‘support’, at all – ‘considerable reservations’. Indeed, what ‘support’ the City are offering is merely for a ‘route’ of some description – the vague, undefined ‘concept of cycling superhighways’.
What form of ‘Superhighway’ do the City think TfL should be employing, instead of the current proposals? They don’t go into detail, but a clue is here -
Mr Welbank said the Square Mile’s dense street pattern meant pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all needed to share the space.
‘We’re trying to get all street-users to adapt constantly to each other and avoid a ‘It’s-my-space!’ mentality.’
Let’s pick this apart. The City of London – as far as I am aware – isn’t proposing to remove footways, and make pedestrians ‘share space’ with drivers. Indeed, pavements have been widened in many places in the City of London. More pedestrian-specific space has been created. How do the City’s public realm schemes fit with their own arguments about pedestrians and drivers ‘all needing to share space’? Are the City actually worried about pedestrians (and drivers travelling alongside the footways they are on) having an ‘it’s-my-space!’ mentality? I doubt it.
So the impression created by these comments from Welbank is that what the City of London is really objecting to is, specifically, the principle of protected space for cycling on the roads in question. Pedestrians and drivers are not ‘sharing’ anywhere in the city of London, nor will they be any time soon. The only ‘sharing’ the City is talking about is of a particular kind – mixing people cycling, with motor traffic. These two modes ‘adapting constantly to each other’.
Now, the charitable interpretation of these comments is that Welbank and the City of London haven’t actually worked out which roads are involved in this Superhighway scheme. That is – they’ve responded without examining where the Superhighway will run.
That sounds unbelievable, but note that Welbank is talking about a ‘dense street pattern’, which bears absolutely no relation to the roads on which the Superhighway will actually be built. Namely – very, very wide roads, carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day.
The less charitable interpretation is that they do know which roads are involved, but haven’t got the first clue about how attractive this ‘sharing’ approach might be on them, or are simply advocating ‘sharing’ because they want to maintain the status quo.
Let’s take a look at the amount of motor traffic on the roads involved – the route in the pictures above. Lower Thames Street, which will form a large part of the East-West Superhighway through the City of London, carries 49,000 motor vehicles a day, including over 4000 HGVs, 8000 LGVs, and nearly 2000 buses and coaches.
The Embankment is scarcely any better, with 61,000 motor vehicles a day, including around 3000 HGVs, and 9000 LGVs. Upper Thames Street by Blackfriars station carries 40,000 motor vehicles a day, with around 10,000 HGVs and LGVs, in total. You can see these figures for yourself on the Department for Transport site.
So these are plainly very busy roads, that are wide, and fast. There might be some people cycling here already, ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’ to the motor traffic flowing around them, but to present ‘sharing’ as a realistic design approach for cycling on these roads is extremely fanciful.
These roads are dangerous and hostile to the few people fit and brave enough to cycle on them. They include some of the most deadliest junctions in London, places where experienced cyclists are killed or seriously injured with horrible regularity, one of the most recent being Bart Chan, hit by an HGV on Upper Thames Street in May this year. These awful collisions will continue to happen if, instead of well-designed Superhighways that separate people cycling from HGVs, buses and motor traffic, we get the City’s apparently desired approach of ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’.
In addition, we have a vivid annual demonstration of how actual demand for cycling along the Thames is massively suppressed.
For just one day of the year, thousands of people fight their way into central London – carrying bikes on cars, or walking or cycling on footways – to experience the joy of cycling on these roads.
Is ‘sharing’ with the tens of thousands of vehicles using these roads, per, day a realistic prospect for these kinds of people? And if it is, where are they for the rest of the year, when the roads in the last two pictures look like this?
I don’t think the City of London are really thinking about these kinds of people, to be honest. They cannot seriously be advocating those young children ‘sharing’ with the HGVs you can see here.
So my impression is that they simply don’t like the idea of space being taken away, because they are worried about delays to motor traffic, and are proposing ‘sharing’ the City’s road network, not because they think it’s realistic or attractive for ordinary people, but because they want to maintain the status quo.
They can’t come out and say that, of course, so they instead have to employ these arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny. And there are other poor, weak or self-defeating arguments in that City of London press release. For instance -
more thought needs to be given to the knock-on effects on noise and air-pollution.
Really? We can’t make cycling – a mode of transport that doesn’t pollute, and is (virtually) silent – more attractive, because that might affect noise and air-pollution? Are the City of London seriously making this argument?
Likewise, the City have taken the deeply unhelpful approach of spinning these proposals as being hostile to pedestrians. The release starts -
Square Mile planners are urging pedestrians to have their say on plans for new east-west and north-south cycle ‘superhighways’
Pedestrians tend not to lobby for their interests but this is a chance and I would encourage them to have their say before central section consultation closes on 19 Oct. Crossing times might a lot longer in places.
Is this true? Where has the City got this impression from?
The TfL summary of the proposals states that there would be
longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.
Which the City has presented as ‘a lot longer’ (I’m not sure how they’ve established this).
But it’s quite clear that, overall, these Superhighways would be hugely beneficial to pedestrians. Why?
For a start, as TfL state, they will involve
Increased distance between the footway and the road, creating a more pleasant pedestrian environment
Instead of walking a few feet from HGVs and buses travelling at 30mph, people will instead be walking a few feet from people cycling, at much lower speeds. Far more pleasant, as TfL argue (and, indeed, much safer).
Not just that. Because the vast majority of the space for these Superhighways is coming from what is currently motor traffic space, the distance across the road itself will be much shorter. That means shorter crossing times, not longer ones.
All the elements in these Superhighway proposals that will make life better for pedestrians probably merit a post in their own right, but here are just some examples.
Because Blackfriars Road is being narrowed by the cycle tracks – guess what, TfL can put in a ‘straight across’ pedestrian crossing, rather than a staggered one.
Better for pedestrians.
Pedestrians coming across Blackfriars Bridge currently have to negotiate two signalled crossings across two slip roads. Well, one of those crossings will now be bikes-only. Much easier to cross.
Many other streets and roads involved in this scheme are being closed to motor traffic, or involve banned turns. Constitution Hill is being upgraded, separating people walking from people cycling. Parts of the Tower Hill gyratory are having private motor traffic completely removed. Horse Guards Road is being closed to all motor traffic, except official vehicles. I could go on (and will, in another post!).
Of course, there are some problems with these routes that I think could be ironed out, from a cycling and walking perspective. But the essential truth about these routes is that they will have a positive impact on the quality of the walking experience.
So, yes, like the City of London, I would urge pedestrians to ‘have their say’. But, unlike the City of London, who don’t seem to have looked at these plans in detail, and appear to have assumed them to be hostile to walking, I do so because they will make life for anyone walking in the centre of London much better, not worse.
Finally, let’s briefly return to those DfT figures for motor traffic levels on these roads. They’re quite interesting, if looked at over the last decade. Here’s the pattern on Upper Thames Street.
There’s a bit of noise here, because the counts are only carried out on one day. But clearly, motor traffic here has fallen, quite substantially. Over the last 3-4 years, its about two-thirds of the level it was in the early part of the 21st century.
Or, to look at this another way, motor traffic on Upper Thames Street – on the same road layout – was about fifty percent greater a decade ago. That same road layout could cope with those higher motor traffic levels, so why on earth will it not be able to cope, today, with the proposed reduction in capacity for these Superhighways, when the motor traffic flowing on it is much lower?
And it’s even simpler than that. In broader terms, these Superhighways are really about making the most efficient use of the available space on London’s roads. Cycling, as a mode of transport, is extremely efficient, compared to motor traffic, so that means we should be making it as easy, safe and attractive as we can, for ordinary people, to free up space on the road network. More people cycling means that those essential uses of the road network – deliveries and so on – will be made easier. And – heaven forbid – in a modern, 21st century city, we really should be prioritising a mode of transport that will make a difference, in so many ways. Even if that does mean taking a lane away from four- or five-lane roads.
For all these reasons, the City of London need to reflect on what the Superhighways will offer London, get to grips with these proposals, and change their position.
I wrote a piece last month about the appropriate long-term response to people breaking the law while cycling – in short, it’s to fix the street they’re cycling on, so they’re not breaking the law anymore.
For instance – if people are cycling ‘the wrong way’ on a one-way street, well, the correct response is to make sure that two-way cycling is appropriately designed for on that street. If traffic is low enough, then that might amount to nothing more than just allowing it with a simple exemption. If there’s more traffic, then the solution will probably involve some engineering – or removal, or displacement, of that traffic – to make two-way cycling safe.
I also mentioned that – if there’s a problem with red light jumping – a proper long-term response is to look at how these signals are designed, and to assess whether they are even necessary.
Let me give a concrete example. In April this year, I made a short trip in the city of Utrecht.
This was a distance of just over a mile, right through the centre of the city. On a heavy Dutch bike, it took me about five and a half minutes, in total – including any stops. That’s a very respectable overall average speed of 11 mph, given that I was stationary for 40 seconds at one signal.
The reason I was able to make such good progress is because, as we’ll see in the video, I only had to make that one stop. There was just one traffic light I had to deal with on this journey. The rest of it didn’t involve any stopping or waiting at all, mainly because there aren’t any other traffic signals on this trip.
With so few traffic lights – guess what! – there isn’t very much red light jumping by people cycling. Misbehaviour just evaporates when the street conditions are adapted to favour walking and cycling.
By complete contrast, the very next day, I arrived back in London, getting a train into Liverpool Street from the ferry terminal. Here’s the journey I made by bike, to Victoria -
This trip was just three and a half miles – only about three times as long as my Utrecht trip – but it included 32 traffic signals. That’s a signal roughly every 175 metres, and I estimate that I had to stop at roughly half of them.
It was hugely frustrating, coming, as I did, straight off the ferry from a country where traffic signals are much, much rarer in urban areas. Even where they do exist in the Netherlands, they will almost always exempt cycling from right turns (the equivalent of our left turn).
So it is possible to deal with red light jumping, not by clamping down on it, but by creating conditions where people cycling simply don’t have to deal with lights at all.
So the big story this week is obviously the launch of the consultations on two new ‘Superhighway’ routes in London. One running from Elephant & Castle towards Kings Cross; the other from the Westway to Tower Hill.
Undeniably, there are problems with these plans.
The whole scheme is composed almost entirely of two-way tracks on one side of the road, which aren’t really appropriate, except in some locations – for instance, along the Embankment, and Constitution Hill. Two-way tracks present more danger with turning conflicts, and they are more inconvenient, as often the road will have to be crossed to make a simple left turn onto the tracks.
What Transport for London call ‘early start’ signals (but in reality are ‘always stop’ signals), as employed at Bow roundabout, feature in many places on these Superhighways, particularly around Parliament Square. This design still isn’t good enough, mainly because it’s inconvenient, and can be confusing.
Turns on and off the Superhighways appear to be being achieved through a formalisation of the ‘Copenhagen turn’, with turns being made in two steps. Again, this isn’t really good enough.
And in many places the designs have been overcomplicated, with an excess of signals and markings that shouldn’t really be necessary. Parliament Square in particular looks very messy.
BUT (and it’s a big but) these plans are undeniably bold, and I think they should be strongly supported.
This is for a number of reasons.
As Rachel Aldred has argued in her excellent blog on these Superhighways -
the hard stuff is not digging up and remaking roads, not in a transport rich city like London. And even elsewhere resources appear if something’s a priority. The hard stuff’s the politics – getting support for change.
And this is change – big change. Although these routes are far from perfect, to me they represent a real attempt to actually prioritise cycling as a mode of transport, and on main roads too, something that we haven’t ever really seen anywhere in Britain. There are direct routes across junctions that are currently truly, truly horrible to cycle across, even for someone who is experienced, and familiar with cycling in London. Tower Gateway has a straight, segregated route across it, connecting with Superhighway 3, achieved by completely removing motor traffic from Shorter Street.
Likewise, the sliproad from Blackfriars Bridge to the Victoria Embankment is being turned into a bicycle-only route, which is fairly extraordinary, given the protests and arguments about this location, which fell on deaf ears for so long. The roads involved are the ones that I have been suggesting could easily accommodate cycling infrastructure, if the political will was there. And now that is happening.
In addition, as far as I can tell, every single bus stop in the these plans is bypassed, with the cycle track passing behind them. That means no interactions with buses, whatsoever – no fudged ‘wide bus lanes’ that are alleged to be suitable for sharing. This is hugely significant.
Indeed, overall, the impression given from the plans is that TfL been thinking hard about who they are designing for.
One of my pet moans, for a long time, has been the ‘dual network’ approach, that involves minimal change on the carriageway for those people already confident to cycle on busy roads, coupled with inadequate and inconvenient pavement cycling for those who aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that these Superhighway designs, whatever their flaws, are very different from that approach. There is clear intent to create something that is suitable for everyone, infrastructure that anyone on a bike would be happy to use, be they someone in lycra on a racing bike, or a very young and wobbly child.
And there are major benefits for pedestrians, too. Motor traffic will be further away from the footways, which means walking will be safer, quieter and more pleasant. The carriageways are being narrowed, too, which means shorter distances at crossings. And I strongly suspect that cycling on the footway will be a thing of the past along these routes – no more people cycling along the pavement on the Embankment, for instance, because they will have a much better alternative.
The problems with these designs can, and should be, ironed out. The ‘always stop’/’early start’ signalised junctions should be upgraded to full separate signalisation of bicycle and motor traffic movements, and I think this could be easily achieved at a later date, even if the designs go ahead as they stand. Likewise, most of these roads are so enormous that the two-way track approach could be adapted, with another track on the other side of the road, and the two-way track reverting to one-way.
And there are minor details that could be got right now. The tracks should be built properly, with shallow, forgiving angled kerbing to maximise effective width. Some of the signalisation simply doesn’t need to be there.
These are comments that should be made in responses to the consultation.
But the overall scheme has to be supported. If these Superhighways are built, they will undoubtedly be tremendously popular. The kind of people you see cycling on the Embankment during Skyrides – absent for the rest of the year – will be able to do so, whenever they want.
These tracks would be just the start, of course. They will only cover a tiny, tiny fraction of the routes that people will actually want to use in central London. But they will drive change elsewhere. Roads that connect up to these Superhighways will be the next obvious targets. Even in this consultation TfL themselves state that their ‘wish is for segregation’ on Westminster Bridge – not part of this scheme, but an obvious connector to it.
And more broadly, the Superhighways will make the case for cycling elsewhere in London, and indeed across the rest of the country. They will show that it can be done, and that when you make conditions right, cycling is an obvious mode of ordinary people, and that it will make a tremendous difference to the quality of our roads and streets. That has to happen.
So the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have published their findings into the safety of cycle track design at junctions – or, more specifically, Trials of segregation set-back at side roads [pdf], to give the report (PPR703) its full title. This report was commissioned by TfL.
I’m going to go into some detail about it, but in short -
It’s worryingly bad.
From the report summary -
This report provides an overview and interpretation of the key findings from four trials carried out by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to investigate the effects of ‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track at different distances from a side-road junction.
What do TRL mean by “‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track”? There is an explanation in one of the photographs in the report -
Clearly, ‘set-back distance’ is being used to refer to the distance from the junction at which the cycle track becomes a cycle lane. So, this TRL report investigates the different consequences of different ‘set-back distances’ – i.e., how far from the junction the kerb separation ends.
And nothing else.
No other forms of junction design incorporating cycle tracks (designs we’ll come to in a moment) are investigated.
Why was this study so narrowly focused? The explanation comes in the summary -
A review of existing international guidance and research on approaches for taking cycle lanes across side-roads identified two distinct design strategies. Either:
• Cyclists are returned to the carriageway level at least 20m before the junction, so as to establish their presence in the traffic, or
• Segregation is brought right up to the junction (typically <=5m) and very tight geometry (and often raised crossings) used to keep turning speeds down and encourage vehicles to cross the cycle lane at close to 90 degrees. [my emphasis]
Amazingly, these two strategies – ending the segregation more than 20m from the junction, or ending it 5m or less from the junction – are the only two distinct design approaches TRL identify, and consequently the only ones they investigated.
Both these strategies involve turning a cycle track into a cycle lane at the junction. The only difference is the point at which that change occurs. Other design approaches – those commonly employed in the Netherlands at side roads – have been completely ignored. These include -
Continuing a cycle track through a junction, at the same raised level, alongside a continuous footway. Not investigated by TRL.
Setting back the cycle track from the carriageway, providing an area in which motorists can wait, both to enter the main road (without obstructing the cycle track) and also to pause, yielding to people cycling. Not investigated by TRL.
This technique can also be employed with two-way tracks; again, set back from the carriageway, with a waiting area, and good visibility as cyclists and motorists cross perpendicularly. Not investigated by TRL.
To repeat (I can’t labour this enough) – these kinds of techniques are completely ignored by the authors of this TRL report. The only two ‘distinct design strategies’ investigated amount to nothing more than on-carriageway cycle lanes across junction mouths, with no investigation of designs that continue a cycle track through the junction at a raised level, with continuity, with or without ‘set back’ from the carriageway.
This despite the fact that Britain itself already has a few isolated examples of reasonably well-designed cycle tracks across junctions, that correspond approximately to Dutch design. One of them – this one – is only two miles from the Transport Research Laboratory!
I can’t begin to understand this oversight.
So the results of this trial are really very narrow in scope, and essentially amount to nothing more than discussion of where it is best to revert to an on-carriageway treatment on the approach to a junction.
The trial examined ending the physical segregation 30 metres from the junction, up to 5 metres from the junction, in 5 metres increments. The ‘tightest’ geometry still involved the cycle track ending 5 metres before the side road.
The study found that with the kerb divider continuing closer to the junction (but still 5 metres from it), drivers turned into the side road more slowly, and crossed the cycle lane (for this is what it is, and how it is described in the report) at an angle closer to perpendicular.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it seems that drivers in the trial actually preferred segregation that continued closer to the junction. This was even the case for drivers of goods vehicles who – you would think – would prefer a less tight geometry, to manoeuvre their larger vehicles.
The preferred set-back distance for 62% of the [goods vehicle] drivers (who expressed an opinion) was one that maximises segregation from cyclists on the approach to the junction
cyclists were divided in preferences for short or long set-back distances. The differences reflect different views on the benefits of segregation, including cyclists’ concerns about being able to position themselves for passing the junction and that drivers wouldn’t give way when turning across their path.
‘Position themselves for passing the junction’ – i.e., compensate for poor design. These findings are reflected in this table -
While a clear majority of drivers preferred separation continuing as much as possible, a large number (nearly half) of the cyclists in this trial preferred to ‘join traffic’. The report comments
this suggests that cyclists may feel safer if the segregation ends before the junction so they can merge with the traffic before the turn.
So a large proportion of cyclists in this trial clearly like the idea of ‘merging’ with motor traffic before a junction. (At this point it is worth asking whether these cyclists are representative of the general population, or instead representative of a small subset of the population, namely the ‘traffic-tolerant’.)
However, on the other hand, the motorists in the trial didn’t really understand what on earth was going on with the concept of ‘merging’.
The purpose of the segregation set-back was not well understood [by motorists] – most believing it to be to make it easier for vehicles to turn [!], only a few referred to it providing space for cyclists and drivers to adjust to each other before the junction.
Could it be that the idea of ‘merging’ people cycling and driving isn’t all that intuitive?
This suggests that there is a lack of understanding amongst drivers of how cyclists will behave at the junction.
Amazingly, however, this ‘merging’ technique is actually recommended by this TRL report on roads with higher speeds.
The findings from the off-street trials suggest that two different strategies can then be considered:
Before then stating
These two situations are consistent with the two distinct design approaches adopted in the design practice sin countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands
Well, I’m sorry, I have never seen anything like this in the Netherlands, especially not on roads with higher speeds. It’s just terrible design.
And we know that this is bad design, because Transport for London have built the junctions on Stratford High Street like this, with predictable consequences.
The final boggling issue are those markings! - which make no sense whatsoever. Here’s how the report describes them -
The surface of the cycle lane was coloured green throughout… additionally using triangular give-way markings to highlight the cycle lane for turning vehicles. These markings are not an approved road marking in the UK, however somewhat similar versions are used in the Netherlands as a ‘give way’ marking.
‘Somewhat similar’ – except completely the wrong way round.
The Dutch use ‘sharks teeth’ as a give way marking, but crucially with the ‘sharp’ bit of the teeth pointing at the people who should be giving way. This trial, however, has managed to get this completely wrong, with the ‘teeth’ pointing at the people on the cycle track. Is it any wonder people driving didn’t understand this marking?
This failure to get even the basics right is symptomatic of the general failure of this trial to assess proven Dutch junction design in a British context. How is it possible for the Transport Research Laboratory to have what seems to be absolutely no clue about how the Dutch design well at junctions?
What on earth is going on?
Last year I wrote a long piece about (British) ideological opposition to cycle tracks alongside roads; opposition flowing from the notion that such provision represents a ‘surrender’ of the road network.
People making this argument claim a variety of things. They claim such an ‘abandonment’ of the road network would be bad policy. Motor vehicles would have won; driving will be easier, and we will have failed in our overall goal of attempting to reduce driving and increase cycling.
Or, they claim that drivers – once people cycling have separate provision – will behave with a greater sense of entitlement, seeing the road network as ‘theirs’. Or, they claim that drivers won’t be used to driving around people cycling, with similar negative consequences for the latter group.
These arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, yet, as I wrote in that previous post,
opposition to cycle tracks in the UK, of this ideological form, persists. This opposition is not new; it has a long history, dating right back to the 1930s, a time when cycle tracks were, intermittently, being proposed alongside some arterial roads in Britain. Most strikingly, the arguments advanced at the time have hardly changed in the intervening eighty years.
One of the oddities of these kinds of arguments is an acceptance that the motorway network is unsuitable, and unusable, by people cycling, yet the rest of the road network should be retained as being ‘for cycling’. That will often includes dual carriageways and busy inter-urban A-roads which present, to all intents and purposes, just as much danger to people cycling along them as the motorway network. Building cycle tracks alongside these roads would constitute a ‘surrender’.
The explanation for this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the motorway network was built explicitly for motorists, while the rest of the road network predates (for the most part) the motor age, even if it has been changed and upgraded out of all recognition, often closely resembling motorways. These are the roads that cannot be ‘surrendered’, especially as the motorway network (in the eyes of cycle campaigners of the era in which motorways started being built) was constructed to ‘take’ the motor traffic away from it.
Unfortunately these attitudes about the road network are fossils; they are relics of an earlier era, an era when the motor vehicle was only just starting to explode as a popular mode of transport. And yet they persist.
My petition calling for the introduction of Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – which will involve separate provision for cycling on main roads carrying traffic at 50mph, or higher – has attracted comments of this ilk.
Your proposal accepts the motor centric status quo and asks to remove active travelers from our road network which may not be feasible in many circumstances
I think volunteering to lose rights is a disastrous thing to do from a position of weakness. I absolutely don’t think that offering to get off roads will lead to the powers that be supplying a radical provision of adequate alternatives.
I also think that pushing the idea that cyclists don’t belong on (our) roads near motorists is asking for trouble when we will have to be near motors on most roads. Going along with getting cyclists out of what drivers may think is “their way” is a very dodgy thing to aim for.
The philosophy that lies behind these kinds of comments is that, one day, some day soon, the road network could become suitable for people cycling, if only we could get drivers to behave, or if only we could slow them down, or if only we would enforce the law properly, or if only we could reduce motor traffic.
In short – if only we got tough enough on driving.
Typifying these attitudes, in a comment referring to this picture
How much pollution and noise are the man and boy being exposed to cycling next to that busy main road? Progress would mean people in variety of human powered vehicles moving a varying speeds to a maximum of 20mph, perhaps a tram or other public transport vehicle parallel with the occasional less able-bodied person allowed in a car sharing the space as a ‘guest’
This kind of approach is plainly utopian. It imagines that a motor-centric society can somehow revert to being one in which motor vehicles barely exist; that we can restore the character of our roads, as they were in the early part of the 20th century.
Theoretically, it could be possible to achieve this. Maybe we could remove HGVs from our road network, displacing goods onto rail. Maybe we could persuade people to abandon their cars for long-distance trips, forcing them to travel at 20mph when they do.
But the chances of this happening are so remote it’s not even worth considering. We need to deal with reality. It is not 1934; it is 2014, and we need to start thinking about cycling and motoring as distinct modes of transport, with separate networks, sharing only in very limited circumstances, and under specific conditions.
That, of course, means town and city centres where motor traffic is largely removed, but it must also mean a different kind of separation on main roads, the roads that will inevitably continue to carry motor traffic. This needs to happen not just because mixing motor traffic and cycle traffic presents unnecessary danger, but also because doing so makes cycling far more attractive to ordinary people.
I find it perverse to justify opposition to cycle tracks alongside main roads, carrying significant volumes of motor traffic, in terms of ‘rights’. This ‘right’ is only being exercised by a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of people who regularly ride bikes in Britain, and more importantly such a position denies other people their right to use the road network; those people who would like to cycle, but are currently prevented from doing so because of conditions. People like my partner, who will happily cycle along main roads and dual carriageways in the Netherlands, but would never dream of doing so in Britain – not in a million years – because there is no alternative, except cycling in the carriageway with motor traffic.
So I’m tired, really, of having these kinds of arguments. People have already been pushed off the road network, to all intents and purposes. We need sane policies that make that network attractive, for all potential users.
It’s time to get real.
As I’m sure most of you already know, the Department for Transport recently made a decision to increase the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads in Britain to 50mph.
One of the arguments made for this policy was that of safety. The intention is to reduce the speed differential between HGVs and other motor traffic from 20 mph (the difference between 60 mph, and 40 mph – the previous limit for HGVs) to 10 mph. It is asserted that this will reduce the temptation to overtake HGVs in dangerous situations.
The Department for Transport states that
The change to the national speed limit on single carriageway roads will modernise an antiquated restriction, which is not matched in most other European countries, including some of the other leaders alongside the UK for road safety (eg the Netherlands and Norway)
It is true that this change will bring the UK more into line with the Netherlands, which has a higher speed limit for HGVs of 80km/h (~50mph) on single carriageway roads.
However, I would like to argue that this change – this reduction in speed differentials between HGVs and other motor traffic – should form just the start of a comprehensive approach to road safety that reduces danger for all road users, based on the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veilig. Rather than just one isolated measure, the UK should bring its entire road network, and the way it is designed, into line with the Netherlands.
Sustainable Safety is all about prevention - preventing crashing from occurring, and, secondarily, reducing the risk of serious injuries when collisions do occur.
One of the core principles of this approach is homogeneity – equalising, as much as possible, the mass, speed and direction of vehicles, to reduce collision risk. In particular, fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and vehicles travelling at speed should not be travelling in opposing directions, without separation. Likewise measures should be taken to separate bodies of unequal mass; for instance, heavy vehicles like buses and lorries should be not be sharing the same space as pedestrians and cyclists. The basis for this approach – and other Sustainable Safety measures – is that human beings are fallible, and that the environment we travel in should respond to that fallibility, rather than expecting us to not make mistakes, ever.
Although this approach is only a few decades old – launched in the early 1990s in the Netherlands – the Dutch have made great progress in applying Sustainable Safety to their road network. They have removed speed differentials, reclassified road types, and improved the forgivingness of their roads and streets. SWOV estimate that, from 1998 to 2007, Sustainable Safety measures had reduced the number of deaths on Dutch roads by 30%, compared to a situation in which these measures had not been implemented.
Meanwhile Britain languishes far behind, with a road network totally unsuitable for the few vulnerable users who are brave enough to venture onto it.
The contrast with the Dutch road network – open to all users, of all ages and abilities, regardless of their mode of transport – could not be more stark.
As it happens, in raising the HGV speed limit on single carriageway roads to 50mph, the DfT has, accidentally or otherwise, made a tiny, tentative step towards applying Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – the speed limit differential between HGVs and other motor traffic has been reduced.
But this is, plainly, nowhere near enough. Sustainable Safety principles should instead be applied comprehensively and consistently across Britain’s road networks, ensuring that all road users are travelling at similar speeds, and that if they are not, that they are provided for separately.
What would this mean in policy terms?
Naturally enough, I am coming at this issue from a cycling perspective, but I hope it is clear from the above proposals that these measures would benefit everyone who uses the road network, either on foot, on horseback, on bike, or at the wheel of any kind of motor vehicle.
It would make journeys by foot or by bike considerably safer, and far more pleasant, but just as importantly the same would apply for journeys being made by motor vehicle. The stress of having to deal with overtaking slow-moving agricultural traffic, or people cycling, would be removed. Journeys would be smoother, safer and more predictable. It would also genuinely reduce any (legal) incentive to overtake HGVs in situations where specific overtaking opportunities have not been provided – all motor traffic would be travelling at approximately the same speed on these roads. Only on roads designed with safe overtaking opportunities would different categories of motor vehicle have different speed limits.
We would have a humane road network, that is safe for all, rather than the current one that effectively excludes the vast majority of users who aren’t travelling in motor vehicles. In addition, it would make the journeys of people in motor vehicles safer, and more straightforward.
This needs to happen. That’s why I have started a petition calling on the Department for Transport to develop and implement these policies for Britain’s roads.
*In some limited circumstances, a 60mph limit for all motor traffic could be retained on single-carriageway roads (for instance, long distance routes where higher speeds might be justified), provided design measures have been put in place to eliminate the danger of head-on or crossing conflicts.
Yesterday Transport for London announced their plans for Elephant & Castle, which had been out to consultation earlier in the year. There are some good elements here, but there’s a worrying amount of inconsistency. Attractive conditions for cycling aren’t continuous through the scheme.
This is most obvious on the Link Road, the bit of road that connects the main roundabout with the junction to the south – the junction where Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed in May.
A cycle track runs northbound on this stretch of road, at bottom (the TfL plan is oriented with north to the left). This bypasses a large bus stop. There is no reason why this won’t work, providing it is designed properly.
But curiously, in the opposite direction – southbound – there is no cycle track at all. Instead we have a cycle lane running outside of a long bus lane/stop, sandwiched between stopped, or moving, buses, and general traffic lanes.*
At both ends of this cycle lane there are problems. At the northern end, buses and cycles will be moving across each other’s paths, at the point where the protected cycle track ends.
And at the southern end, we have similar problems -
People cycling straight on (south) will have to deal with motor traffic (including HGVs) wishing to turn left cutting across them, and buses moving out in the opposite direction. And this at a junction where someone has recently been killed by a left-turning HGV.
It’s a mess. And, more importantly, a needless mess, when there is sound design on the other side of the road that could just be copied across. There should be a cycle track here, running behind the bus stop. There is little to no point attempting to do something properly in one direction, and giving up in the other.
There is plenty of space to play with here. You can see on the diagram above that a median (in yellow) is being retained between the two carriageways, which is 1.5m wide. It has a fence on it, in an attempt to stop people crossing the road; presumably this is why it is being retained.
In addition, it seems that space is going to waste, due to some familiar (pervasive) ‘dual network’ thinking. TfL write that they will be implementing
additional improvements for cyclists who wish to remain on the carriageway such as, widening the carriageway northbound on the Elephant and Castle Link Road to allow for 4.5m bus lane to offer space for cyclists to overtake buses, and introducing a new cycle feeder lane on the approach to St George’s Road to offer better protection to cyclists approaching the junction [my emphasis]
So rather than doing things properly, and providing cycle tracks away from the carriageway that anyone – fast or slow – would naturally want to use, a 4.5m wide bus lane is being implemented in parallel to the northbound cycle track.
This is a waste of everyone’s time. As David Arditti argues -
There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.
But this is what TfL (and doubtless most other councils in Britain) are still doing. Indeed, quite explicitly, in this specific instance. In response to requests in the consultation for wider cycle tracks in the scheme, TfL respond [pdf] -
The proposed cycle lane will be two metres wide, which is the same width as the segregated cycling facilities that are being introduced elsewhere. This is wider than many cycle lanes in London, and because cyclists will also have access to the 4.5m wide bus lane there is in effect greater capacity.
In effect – we don’t need to do things properly, because we are fully expecting a large number of people to continue cycling with motor traffic on the carriageway.
The logic is circular – the low quality of the cycle tracks will hold up people who want to cycle faster, and these people will opt for the main carriageway; those people opting for the carriageway are then used to justify the low quality of the cycle tracks. It’s insane.
No country that does things well designs for cycling like this. Instead, they employ high quality, inclusive networks that anyone is happy to use, because they are fast, direct, safe and continuous, for everyone.
Can we really not achieve this here? Can we not build two wide cycle tracks, in each direction? Or are we going to waste space continuing to attempt to cater for two different kinds of cyclists simultaneously?
*It’s not entirely clear from their response whether TfL will be employing this ‘cycle lane outside bus lane’ design – which appears on their updated design drawing, showing the new changes – or a a wide bus lane, with no cycle lane at all, which is mentioned in their changes. Either way these conflicting movements will still exist.
In Horsham, there’s a street where people cycling consistently break the law. South Street is a one-way street in the centre of town; stand here for any period of time, particularly in the morning or the evening, and you will see people cycling ‘the wrong way’ – either on the footways, or in the carriageway itself.
Why is this? Well, South Street has to be seen in context.
South Street forms part of the one-way route through the centre of the town; you can only drive through the town from the roundabout to the south-west, to the junction at the north-east – not in the opposite direction.
There were good intentions here – the centre of Horsham has very little motor traffic, and it travels at low speeds, thanks to a (self-reinforcing) 20mph zone with humps, sharp corners, and a cobbled surface. The idea is (and was) to make through traffic take the inner ring road, that loops around the town centre, and this generally works. (I’ve covered the background in this previous post).
However this policy has made it very difficult to negotiate the town centre by bike, because the one-way route through the centre has no exemptions for cycling. It makes it difficult – indeed next to impossible – to cycle across the town from east to west, and (for our purposes) from north to south.
Looking again at South Street, it’s quite easy to see why people are cycling through here; it forms part of a direct link between the Park to the north (where it is legal to cycle), to the routes through to the southern parts of Horsham.
There isn’t any other alternative if you want to head from the north of the town, to the south, except for the inner ring road itself, which is a dual carriageway carrying around 20,000 motor vehicles a day, at 30+ mph.
The additional detail – as well as the outright hostility of this road to cycling – is that it would be a lengthy detour to use this road, rather than taking the direct route. Fine if you are driving, which doesn’t require any physical exertion, not much fun if you are cycling.
So the ‘problem’ of cycling the wrong way on one-way streets is really a problem of failing to design safe, attractive routes for people who wish to cycle – indeed, ignoring cycling completely in the design process.
The obvious solution here is to make South Street two-way for cycling – that is, simply legalising the illegal behaviour. I think this could be achieved quite safely without any physical alteration to the street, beyond changing the no-entry signs to include an exemption. There’s not much traffic travelling through here, and people are already cycling the wrong way, without the world ending!
Long-term, it would be more appropriate to emphasise two-way cycling with this kind of design -
But in the meantime a simple exemption would work.
I think it’s worth considering these kinds of problems with two important principles in mind -
It seems that these kinds of ideas are, sadly, completely alien to most people. The associate editor of the Irish Sunday Times, John Burns, had this to say in response to a comment of mine about ‘fixing’ the problem of cycling the wrong way on streets -
— john burns (@JohnBurnsST) August 16, 2014
Presumably this was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, but it falls flat, because yes, this is precisely what we should do doing. If people are cycling on footways, there’s a problem with the street. If people are cycling through red lights, then there’s a problem with the junction. The problem lies not with the behaviour; it lies with the street itself.
I’ve already described how pavement cycling does not exist in the Netherlands, as a phenomenon. There simply isn’t any reason to cycle on footways, because the alternative is better.
And the same logic applies to jumping red lights. In the vast majority of cases, there’s either too much unnecessary delay, or there is no need to hold people cycling at a red light, when they could safely proceed. More generally, urban areas in Britain are bloated with traffic signals, a result of a failure to restrain motor traffic, or to redirect it to more appropriate routes. Dutch town centres have vastly fewer traffic signals, and hence vastly fewer lights for people to jump.
Earlier this year, a video of ‘bad cyclist behaviour’ in York went viral, featuring in the Daily Mail and a number of other national newspapers. The original YouTube video now appears to have been withdrawn – but you can view it here, in BT’s ‘motoring’ section.
Nearly every single example of ‘bad behaviour’ in this video would not exist in the Netherlands, because roads and streets there are designed to make cycling easy and painless, rather than throwing up pointless obstacles in their way.
The video opens with people bypassing a red traffic light to turn left, on a well-used cowpath.
Junctions in the Netherlands are designed to accommodate this behaviour. There is no reason to hold people cycling at red traffic signals unnecessarily – people in York have worked this out for themselves.
This is followed by a sequence of people cycling the wrong way on one way streets (being admonished by the dayglo finger of shame) -
This is behaviour that should simply be legalised, and made safe. Towns and cities should not have these kinds of restrictions on movement in these directions by people cycling.
Next up, someone cycling straight on through a red signal at a T-junction -
Again, streets should be designed to allow this kind of behaviour; there’s no need for people cycling to come into conflict with motor traffic while performing this manoeuvre.
Then a sequence of people jumping traffic lights that – judging by the locations – shouldn’t exist at all -
The video is rounded off with some people trundling on footways alongside some pretty dreadful-looking roads.
Rather than shaming and blaming, a more constructive (and more importantly permanent) solution to illegal cycling would be to design the problem out of existence. In doing so would we make our towns and cities vastly more attractive places.
Short version – it’s as preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’ as it would be to attribute them to ‘trainists’, ‘busists’, ‘planeists’, ‘tubists’ or ‘pedestrians’. A ‘cyclist’ is just a human being who happens to be travelling by bike, just as a ‘pedestrian’ is a human being who happens to be travelling on foot, and a ‘trainist’ one who happens to be travelling by train.
About halfway through the programme, a number of tweets from the audience were read out, presumably in the interests of ‘balance’. That ‘balance’ being that on a programme arguing we need to do more to keep ‘cyclists’ safe, we need other people arguing that ‘cyclists’ need to do more for themselves.
Among these tweets, read out to an audience of millions, were the following statements -
cyclists have no spatial awareness
bike riders are irresponsible
There are, I think, only two ways these comments – and countless others like them – can conceivably make sense.
1) It’s possible that a ‘cyclist’ isn’t a normal human being, but rather some variant of the species that lacks spatial awareness, or that is more irresponsible than a standard human being.
2) Alternatively, a ‘cyclist’ is a normal human being – but there is something about a bicycle that immediately removes their spatial awareness, and makes them more irresponsible; or, that a bicycle appeals uniquely to that subset of humanity that is lacking spatial awareness, or is irresponsible.
The first is obviously absurd; the second bears slightly more serious consideration, but not much.
But I think that the first (absurd) explanation does actually correspond to the way plenty of people think, reflexively. Perhaps it is what the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up in the popular imagination – a skinny young male, dressed in lycra, wearing funny shoes and a funny helmet. This person isn’t ‘one of us’. They’re a bit alien.
A clear example of this phenomenon came on a Radio 4 comedy programme last night – The Show What You Wrote, on which the ‘ensemble’ perform ‘the best’ listener submissions, chosen from thousands of entries. The very first sketch of this programme – indeed the first of the entire series – was remarkable, for what it says about these kinds of attitudes.
It starts with the sound of a car being driven, followed by a loud crashing sound, and a squeal of tires.
Man: I think I’ve hit something! Oh, I can’t believe this. A nice, country drive, and this happens. I feel awful.
Woman: Poor little thing. Do you think his little family are wondering where he is?
Man: Oh my God it moved! It’s still alive!
Woman: Well we’re going to have to put it out of it’s misery. Here – use this stick.
[Sound of a beating]
Man: Oh, that wasn’t nice.
Woman: Okay, now you get rid of his body, and I’ll stick his bicycle in the boot.
The ‘humour’ here – such that it is – relies upon the audience believing that the man and the woman are discussing hitting and dispatching something not-human, when it turns out they hit and dispatched a human, or a sort-of-human. Presumably the image the audience have in their mind is of a kind of skinny, lycra-clad, helmeted ‘species’, like in the picture above.
The ‘joke’, however, would be preposterous if the word ‘cyclist’ conjured up these images in the popular imagination.
So – as ridiculous as it is to think of ‘cyclists’ as a different kind of human, or not-human, this is unfortunately the instinctive reaction of plenty of people. Radio 4 comedy programmes would not run segments like this if it were otherwise.
The other explanation – that a bicycle itself somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary human being into an irresponsible one, or that bicycles uniquely appeal to those that lack spatial awareness, or variants thereof – is almost as ridiculous.
People who ride bikes use plenty of other modes of transport; they all walk, they almost all drive motor vehicles (except, of course, children), they take the train, the tube, and the bus. For it to be true that ‘cyclists’ have particular characteristics of lawlessness, or of irresponsibility or cluelessness, that other transport users don’t have, these characteristics must suddenly appear when they sit astride a bicycle, and then just as suddenly disappear when they dismount.
Is this likely? Can ‘spatial awareness’ suddenly come and go, according to the mode of transport someone is using? Obviously not; someone’s spatial awareness is a constant. Likewise ‘irresponsibility’ is a constant; an irresponsible person will be irresponsible regardless of their mode of transport.
A man who pushes you out of the way while cycling will undoubtedly be the same kind of person who pushes you out of the way while walking, or while trying to get onto a train, or who will use his horn while driving. But this kind of behaviour – equally likely across all modes of transport – is never used as an attribute of ‘pedestrians’, or ‘trainists’, or ‘motorists’.
A moment’s reflection will show that it makes absolutely no sense to attribute characteristics to people who happen to be using a particular mode of transport.
‘Motorists have poor hearing.’
‘Trainists are sweaty’.
‘Busists lack a sense of direction.’
All utterly, utterly preposterous; yet BBC presenters are quite happy to read out precisely these kinds of statements on air, to millions of people.
Think about what you’re saying.
A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?
The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) -
In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.
I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.
Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.
And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.
This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea -
Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit -
Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.
Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).
Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.
This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.
I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.
This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.
A hot topic at the moment is potential conflict between London’s bus network, and an expanding cycle network – one suitable for all potential users.
It’s becoming a prominent issue, I suspect, because in the places where cycle provision is being installed, or proposed, space is – in some instances – being taken from the bus network. The Superhighway 2 extension along Stratford High Street has taken a lane away, in each direction, from a six lane road. However, that road did, in the recent past, have (intermittent) bus lanes in each direction – bus lanes that aren’t there now.
Likewise the new proposals for Superhighway 5 show that the cycle tracks on Vauxhall Bridge will come at the expense of one of the two bus lanes, rather than at the expense of a general traffic lane.
The West End Project in Camden is also being presented by some as a ‘conflict’ between bus priority and cycle priority, although it is not clear to me that the parties who are demanding a much higher standard of cycle provision in the scheme are suggesting that bus priority should be watered down. Importantly, there is no reason – in principle – why a good bus network, equivalent or better to the bus provision currently running north-south through this area of Camden – cannot work alongside a cycle network of a high standard.
The problem, I think, is that Transport for London see the bus network as the easiest thing to erode, when it comes to installing cycle-specifc provision. Bus lanes are already the ‘domain’ of Transport for London; there isn’t a large, vocal group standing up for them, apart from the bus companies, who are themselves contracted by TfL. It’s probably much easier for Transport for London to put cycling provision in place of a bus lane than it is in place of a general traffic lane, and they are taking the path of least resistance.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Vauxhall Bridge could have excellent cycling provision, and two bus lanes in each direction. Those four lanes of private motor traffic could come down to three, with bus priority maintained. As I’ve said above, there is no necessary conflict between bus provision and cycle provision.
Space for cycling should come first from private motor traffic, then from the bus network, if necessary, and if that can be achieved without eroding the quality of the bus network as a whole. Indeed, this is how Dutch cities, in my experience, function. Space for walking and cycling comes first, then space for a bus or public transport network, and space for private motor traffic then has to fit in around that. This ordering means that many ‘main roads’ in Dutch cities aren’t open to private motor traffic at all, except for access. In Haarlem -
Or in Utrecht -
You can find numerous examples of where private motor traffic has been squeezed out, to make space for a good public transport network, alongside comfortable, attractive conditions for cycling and walking.
So to that extent, any ‘battle’ between public transport and cycling in London is most likely a reflection of a failure to take space away from private motor traffic, or to reduce it to the extent that buses are not impeded. This is, I think, the strategy for the ‘Clerkenwell Boulevard’ – to maintain bus and cycle priority along the length of the route, while allowing private motor traffic to use the bus lanes, but for access only.
And in Camden, there is again no reason why – in theory – priority bus routes cannot exist alongside high quality cycling infrastructure in the West End Project, although I appreciate that politically and strategically this is very difficult.
The biggest part of that political and strategic difficulty lies with the fact that cycling remains very much a minority mode of transport in London. It is a huge ask to demand space for it, in its own right, when it still forms a small percentage of trips in the city, compared to driving and public transport.
And yet… This is all very circular. People do not cycle in large numbers in London primarily because space has not been allocated for cycling. Cycling has not been prioritised, or given the space necessary to make it a comfortable, safe and attractive mode of transport, suitable for more people than the small minority who cycle now.
What is needed is a strategic vision about the future of London, and other British towns and cities, built around the way we would like people to be making trips, and certainly not one built around maintaining existing mode share. A central part of this strategy should involve opening up cycling as a genuine choice for all, alongside walking, driving, or taking public transport. That choice does not exist, at present. It is clear that people drive or take public transport for trips that would actually be more convenient by bike. They are forced into driving or taking the bus because conditions for cycling are sufficiently hostile to remove ‘choice’ altogether. The Alternative Department for Transport has written a very good blog about precisely this point.
The table below (courtesy of Transport for London) gives some indication of the problem.
66% of all bus stages in London are under 3km, and nearly 90% are under 5km – about 3 miles (with the caveat this data is ‘as the crow flies’, i.e. a direct line from bus stop to bus stop).
Now of course many of these trips are ones that are inconvenient, or impossible, to cycle – they might be connecting trips on public transport, or a bus genuinely is the best option for the trip in question. Likewise many people making these trips won’t be able to cycle – they might be too infirm, or carrying too heavy a load, or it might just be raining, or too cold. This is what transport choice is all about! But surely a considerable proportion of these trips could be cycled, and more importantly the people making them might prefer to cycle them if we had Dutch-equivalent conditions in London.
Going by these TfL figures, on average something like 4 million bus journeys are made by London residents every day (and I’ve heard figures of 6.5 million trips per day, in total), but we haven’t arrived at this position spontaneously. Such a large number of bus trips has arisen out of the bus network being developed and prioritised, and made an easy and obvious choice for ordinary people.
To argue that cycling is for fit young men, while (by implication) bus travel is for ‘everyone’, a universal mode of transport, is to spectacularly miss the point. Cycling isn’t for everyone precisely because it hasn’t received the care and attention that bus travel has received. Humane, civilised cities offer people a genuine choice between bus travel, cycling, and walking; they don’t pretend that the fact ‘everyone’ takes the bus while ‘cyclists’ (fit, young and male) continue to cycle is a natural state of affairs.
So the respective modal share for buses and cycling in London isn’t in any way ‘natural’, or spontaneous. We should think carefully about what London can and should look like if cycling was an available choice for everyone, and the benefits that would bring, rather than tying ourselves to defending existing levels of public transport use (and, even worse, existing levels of driving).
Indeed, there are many good reasons why we should be prioritising cycling ahead of public transport; reasons that no doubt explain why many London boroughs, including Hackney and Camden, continue to place cycling ahead of public transport in their road user hierarchies. (Although in practice this does not happen – presumably because of the weight of numbers of people using buses, compared to the numbers cycling).
Cycling offers public health benefits that are harder to achieve with public transport. Cycling involves being physically active; taking the bus does not, at least not to the same extent. If we are serious about public health, and reducing the burden on the NHS, then walking and cycling should obviously be prioritised ahead of public transport.
Buses present danger. They are much better for cities than private motor traffic, but the fact remains that they are large heavy objects that travel quite fast, carrying considerable momentum. They can, and do, kill and seriously injure people on a regular basis – 2000 people have been killed or seriously injured by TfL buses since 2008, nearly one a day.
Although emissions technology is improving, and much more progress can be made, buses pollute - here’s just one example. More people cycling means fewer buses are needed, and cleaner air.
While children and the elderly go free on London buses, most people have to pay to use a bus. £1.45 for a single trip, while a bicycle – once you have one, of course – remains free at the point of use.
Buses are slow. This might come as a surprise to most people, who would never dream of cycling on the roads in London, but a journey by bus is typically much, much slower than one by bike, especially when the fact you have wait for a bus is accounted for. (To take just one example, a trip I used to make from Kentish town to Old Street on the 214 typically took 30 minutes, to cover 3 miles. This is one of the reasons I started cycling in London; most people are not as confident or as happy as me cycling on roads busy with motor traffic, and not have the choice I did).
Buses are indirect. Quite obviously, buses don’t go from door-to-door. You will have to walk to the bus stop at the start of the journey, and away from it at the end, and very often this will involve travelling indirectly – away from the most direct route. Cycling, by contrast, offers a door-to-door journey. You go where you want to go (at least, this is something you should be able to do).
And finally buses are antisocial. They disconnect you from the street, and the people on it. If you see someone you know when you are cycling, you can stop and talk to them. If you see someone you know when you are on a bus, you’ve probably missed that opportunity.
It should be emphasised again that these are merely reasons why cycling should be prioritised ahead of public transport, and definitely not reasons against public transport per se. Public transport is vital, and important, and should be strongly defended ahead of private motor traffic, and taxis. We should have space for cycling, and space for public transport. But in recognising that importance, and acknowledging the huge part buses play in transporting Londoners, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for failing to make cycling a viable for mode of transport, for all.
Horsham and Farnham are ostensibly quite similar. Two prosperous towns in the south of England, about 25 miles apart, as the crow flies. Farnham has a population of about 40,000 people; Horsham is slightly larger with a population of 55,000.
Although, beyond these main similarities, there are presumably many differences, one noticeable difference one stands out. The number of pedestrians who are being seriously injured in their town centres.
Looking at Horsham first – just four pedestrians have been seriously injured in the town centre in the last ten years.
Noticeably, every single one of these casualties occurred on the inner ring road; a dual carriageway with a 30mph speed limit. All occurred at crossing points into the town centre. There were no serious casualties, at all, within the inner ring road.
The town centre of Farnham, at the same scale -
Rather different. 18 pedestrian KSIs over the same period, including one fatality. Four of these occurred on the A31 Farnham bypass, which has to be crossed to get into the town from the station. 13 pedestrians have been seriously injured in the centre of Farnham in ten years. News reports on two of these incidents are here and here. (The data doesn’t include last year, and so does not include this incident).
Why might this be? Why is nobody being seriously injured in the centre of Horsham, while a pedestrian is being seriously injured in the centre of Farnham at a rate greater than one a year?
Horsham is a far from brilliant place to walk and cycle around, but the town centre itself has largely been civilised. Much of it is pedestrianised, and there is very little motor traffic travelling through it. What traffic that is moving through is generally travelling at a low speed, thanks to a 20mph zone (zone, not limit) with tight corners, humps, and cobbled surfaces.
Farnham, by contrast, is not so much a ‘town centre’, more a funnel for motor traffic.
A one-way system dominates the shopping streets in the centre, motor traffic travelling at 30mph, with tiny pavements on either side (see for yourself).
The price of this arrangement – beyond how awful it is, as a place – is a pedestrian seriously injured, at least once a year. Somehow Horsham manages not to do this to people visiting its town centre.
Interestingly enough it appears that the problem has been recognised – proposals from Jeremy Hunt (yes, that Jeremy Hunt!) for pedestrianization of some of the problematic streets in Farnham has just been narrowly endorsed. Worth keeping an eye on.
Over the course of the last few years, an area of Horsham – East Street and Market Square – has seen the gradual removal of motor traffic. Five years ago East Street was a conventional ‘road’, with narrow pavements, and, with Market Square, was open to motor traffic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
East Street was given a ‘shared surface’ treatment back in 2010, and this was combined with the banning of the use of the street by motorists, except for loading and deliveries, and blue badge parking in a handful of bays. Subsequent to that change, the council went further, and removed motor traffic completely from the street, with temporary bollards, between 10:30am and 4:30pm. Deliveries take place before and after these times. Market Square – which can only be accessed legally from East Street – effectively became pedestrianised too, as a result of these changes.
There was some chuntering about these developments from many locals. The changes the council made were driven in large part by the numerous cafes and restaurants on East Street and Market Square, who wanted to put tables and chairs out on the street and on the square. This wouldn’t be possible without removing the motor traffic.
The grumbling – presumably from people who still wanted to drive down the street, during the day – focused on how Britain doesn’t really have a ‘cafe culture’, and that it would be silly to put table and chairs on the street. That’s just not for us Britons, the argument implied -we don’t really ‘do’ that sort of thing. People on the continent, maybe, but not us.
Well, of course, the tables and chairs did go out on the street, and, lo and behold, it turns out that we do have a cafe culture!
The truth is that ‘culture’ was a pretty empty causal explanation for why Britons – and people in Horsham in particular – didn’t eat and drink out and the street. Compare the above picture of Market Square with how it used to look in 2009 (from the opposite direction) -
Nobody was sitting outside here, because, frankly, it was a bit shit. Essentially a car park.
And precisely the same was true of East Street. Compare today -
with the previous arrangement -
It wasn’t our ‘culture’ that stopped us from sitting on the street. It was the physical environment. As soon as that was good enough, then our ‘cafe culture’ suddenly appeared.
I think there are important lessons here for anyone who mistakenly tries to attribute the differences in the amount of cycling between Britain and the Netherlands to ‘culture’. Yes, of course, the Dutch do have a ‘bicycle culture’, but that doesn’t explain why they cycle so much. Perhaps by a combination of historical accident, good fortune, strong campaigning and bold political leadership, they’ve ended up with an environment that allows cycling. What ‘cycling culture’ they have flows from that environment. Impose British-style conditions on the Netherlands and that ‘culture’ would rapidly evaporate.
Likewise it would be absurd to attribute Britain’s low cycling levels to any lack of ‘bicycle culture’. People don’t cycle here because – again through a combination of historical misfortune, poor planning, and poor political leadership – the environment for cycling is dreadful. Where conditions for cycling are – even temporarily – made good, then suddenly our ‘bicycle culture’ materialises.
That’s why this quote, from Charles Rubenacker -
The Dutch have created the safest and most complete bicycling network in the world, but we need to look beyond infrastructure and into their collective souls to better understand why riding a bike is so normal in the Netherlands.
is so baffling. The true explanation is grasped in the first half of the sentence, before being discarded for an explanation that is not so much genetic, as mystical.
Do we Britons need to ‘look into our collective souls’ to understand why we don’t ride bicycles? We could do, but I don’t think it would get us very far.
‘Culture’ is an empty explanation. It asserts that the way things are is due to things being that way. Arguing that the Dutch have high cycling levels because of ‘cycling culture’ is akin to arguing that Britons don’t eat out on the street because we don’t have a cafe culture – we don’t have a culture because we don’t have a culture. It’s circular and meaningless.
I’ve just spotted that Transport for London’s new Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan attempts to pull the same trick that Norman Baker and Mike Penning tried to pull back in 2012.
That is, it makes a comparison between cycle safety in London and Amsterdam (along with other cities) on the basis of deaths per head of population, rather than deaths per total distance travelled by bike (or by total time spent travelling by bike).
Here’s the graph in question, from page 10 of the Plan -
Followed by the helpful explanation -
Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York.
So, looking at this graph, you might think that London (in yellow) is fantastically safe! Just look how much lower the number of fatalities there are, compared to Amsterdam, per capita. London had just 1.7 cycling fatalities in 2012 per million population, where Amsterdam had 6.5 – nearly four times higher.
But of course this is an entirely misleading comparison. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, across London, cycling only accounts for around 2% of all trips made, whereas in Amsterdam cycling accounts for nearly 40% of all trips made. There is much, much more cycling in Amsterdam per capita, so comparing cycling fatalities purely on a per capita basis is absurd. It’s like concluding it’s much safer to cycle in London than in Amsterdam if you have a Dutch name, because many more people with Dutch names are killed cycling in Amsterdam than in London.
This is the same logic that led Mike Penning to argue
I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling
And (more recently) Denis McShane to suggest
— Denis MacShane (@DenisMacShane) July 7, 2014
How much of this is down to stupidity or dishonesty is hard to tell. You would certainly think Transport for London and a Transport Under-Secretary (as Penning was, at the time) should know better.
The other thing that’s worth mentioning here – beyond the failure to use an appropriate rate – is that, in Amsterdam, children and the elderly (both more vulnerable groups, for different reasons) ride bikes in large numbers.
24% of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled, while in London 95% of over-65s never cycle. If people that are, in general, more frail – and more likely to suffer death than a younger person in an equivalent incident – aren’t cycling at all, that will have a further skewing effect on casualty figures.
One of the principles of the Dutch approach to road safety – sustainable safety, or duurzaam veiling – is homogeneity. Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction.
Roads should be designed to eliminate, as much as possible, mixing road users with large differences in speed and mass in the same space. So, for example, relatively slow pedestrians should not have to mix with relatively fast bikes, and relatively light bicycles should not have to mix with relatively heavy buses or HGVs. Likewise road users who travel slowly should not be expected to share space with vehicles travelling considerably faster.
It appears this principle has been grasped by the Freight Transport Association, who argue
we believe there is evidence confirming that road safety will be improved if the differential between HGVs and other road users is reduced.
Except… the measure the GTA are welcoming involves reducing the speed differential by shifting lorries to a higher speed, so they are travelling at the same speed as smaller motor traffic.
Conveniently the FTA seem to have overlooked those ‘other road users’ who will still be travelling at around 15mph, or slower, for whom this move to higher speed limits for HGVs will distinctly worsen their safety, according to the logic that the FTA themselves accept. The speed differential between people walking, cycling and horse-riding, and HGVs, is being increased.
Sustainable safety – the British way!
From the press release, the ‘turbo’ roundabout in Bedford will now be under construction – building was scheduled to start yesterday, Monday the 21st of July.
Pretty much everything you need to know about this strange scheme and its convoluted history is here on the Alternative Department for Transport blog. (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain also hosted a guest blog critically examining some of the claims made for this design).
Presumably in anticipation of construction starting, the local cycling campaign for North Bedfordshire (CCNB) have put out a statement justifying the design. It’s as curious as the scheme itself. Principally it clings to the sad, failed strategy of attempting to design for two different categories of ‘cyclists’ separately, instead of the proven, successful approach of inclusively designing for everyone.
CCNB believes that the dual use scheme will improve the safety of all types of cyclists (and pedestrians). Experienced cyclists will use the on-road carriageway around the roundabout while the less confident, new and young cyclists will use an off-road shared use route using four zebras is a good compromise.
For ‘experienced cyclists’ -
The tighter geometry and enforced lane discipline should slow down traffic over what it is at present. An experienced cyclist adopting the primary position should thus avoid being overtaken or cut-up and as a consequence feel much safer. The lane discipline should also ensure that most motorists know what cyclists are doing and in the same way cyclists should also know what motorists are doing.
Well that sounds attractive, on a roundabout that will still be carrying around 25,000 PCUs per day! And for everyone else -
Current regulations stipulate that cyclists can cycle across zebras if there is a dual use path on either side but unlike pedestrians must give way to motor vehicles. The zebras will be wider than normal and the design will allow easy modification to a more traditional Dutch style junction when the DfT allows cyclists to use them in the same way as pedestrians, hopefully sometime next year.
The experience of cycling like a pedestrian.
I am deeply, deeply sceptical about claims this design can be ‘modified’ to a Dutch-style junction, not only because a Dutch-style junction would have perimeter tracks, clearly distinct from footways, rather than shared use areas, but also because the zebras in this scheme cross multiple lanes on the approaches, at sharp angles, a design that is simply not appropriate to ‘convert’ to a crossing. (To say nothing of the appropriateness of cycling on these zebras while waiting for this ‘conversion’).
The CCNB response also contains this strange factoid -
The roundabout is generally very busy mainly in the short morning and evening rush hours. The area concerned is fairly small and it is not possible to have Dutch style off-road cycle tracks along any of the four roads involved. [my emphasis].
Really? Looking at the four roads involved – the four arms of the roundabout – in turn -
Tavistock Street -
In the application, the designer submitted a mocked up version of what the roundabout could look like with a ‘proper’ Dutch design, including side road priority for cyclists on fully segregated cycle tracks and tight curve radii to slow vehicles.
That’s right – the designer of this scheme presented a possible version of this roundabout, with cycle tracks on entry and exit. Here it is!
As the CTC report, Bedford Borough Council vetoed this design on the grounds that it would affect motor traffic capacity; having one lane on each of the approaches wouldn’t be sufficient to cope with current volumes of motor traffic.
So – faced with the intransigence of the council, and the ludicrous constraints of the the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund – it would be understandable if the local cycle campaign admitted defeat, and grimly accepted this being forced on them, while grumbling about it. But to actually come out and support this dog’s dinner?
The junction outside the Bank of England is truly awful; a vast open space of tarmac, motor traffic thundering through in five directions, and pedestrians accommodated on tiny pavements. What should be a beautiful civic space is devoted to motor traffic flow.
To be fair to the City of London, they have recognised the problem, and are looking to make improvements. It seems they are examining the potential for closing off motor traffic from certain directions, or at certain times of day.
But here’s the method they are choosing to employ for examining the options -
At the moment we are establishing how wide the impact might be if we make big changes at the junction. This will give us the starting point of what we will need to look at in detail. We should complete this work by September 2014.
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.
They are building a computer traffic model to do so – in their own words, ‘a big piece of work’ that is going to take one and a half years to complete. Eighteen months. There is no word on how much this is going to cost.
I imagine the complexity here is due to the fact that we don’t really know how to model people cycling and walking, as described in this excellent post by smalltown2k. It’s really very difficult, and the City appear to be attempting to do so. Now obviously the ability to model these kinds of movements is going to be very important in the future, and it is valuable that we can start to assess what might happen to traffic flow if we acknowledge how people walk and cycle about, and how they might shift mode under different conditions.
But really, rather than just building a hugely complex model from scratch to find out what happens when a junction is closed to motor traffic, couldn’t the City just do it, on a trial basis? If the result is genuine chaos, then the trial can quickly be abandoned.
There are good reasons for thinking a trial of this kind – closing roads at Bank temporarily – would not result in chaos. The main one is that the area is ringed by major arterial roads, composed of London Wall to the north, Aldgate and Tower Gateway to the east, and Upper Thames Street to the south.
All are designed to carry large volumes of motor traffic, and all lie very close to Bank itself. These are the roads that should be carrying through traffic; the area around Bank should, realistically, only be carrying private motor traffic that is accessing the area. Certainly, the Bank junction should not be carrying through motor traffic in an east-west direction, as there are two major roads to the north and south – just a few hundred metres away – that were built for this purpose.
So – why not just try this? Try it now, rather than spending eighteen difficult months building a model from scratch. You’ll get results that correspond to the real world, and much more quickly!
The summer is the season when West Sussex County Council – and presumably many other British councils – decide to start spreading gravel on their country lanes, sticking it down with tar and hoping that motor vehicles will ‘bed it in’. This technique is apparently called ‘chip seal’.
It is simply awful to ride on, especially when it has just been laid – the gravel is still loose, and slippery to ride on. Stones get flung up, particularly by passing vehicles, which rarely stick to the 20mph suggested limit. And it’s a poor surface to ride on, even when it has been ‘bedded in’ – rough, and noisy, and far worse than a machine-laid tarmac surface.
Worse than that, chip seal appears – to me at least – to actually accelerate the deterioration of a road. Here’s an example, a mile away from where the new chip seal has been laid in the photograph above.
This road was ‘chip sealed’ in the last four to five years (I can’t remember precisely when). But as you can see, the layer of gravel has been intermittently blasted off, leaving a bumpy patchwork surface, partly composed of the remaining chipseal, and the underlying original road surface. Again, absolutely awful to ride on, but more problematically, the kind of road surface that is going to deteriorate very rapidly. Potholes are already starting to develop in the areas where the chipseal has been blasted off. The depressions are places where water is retained, perfect for the development of road damage.
I’ve cycled on country lanes in most of the countries of western Europe, including places where roads are subject to extremes of temperature – Switzerland and Sweden. Yet no other western European country appears to employ ‘chip seal’ – they seal roads properly, with machine laid surfaces. My guess is that these roads – while more expensive to lay in the short term – are much cheaper in the long term, because they last much longer than this strange ‘gravel’ approach.
Why does Britain do things differently? Is chip seal genuinely cost-effective? Answers please!
A post by Joe Dunckley yesterday – about how we keep expecting education and awareness to change driver behaviour, ahead of physical engineering – reminded me of something I’d been meaning to write about for a while. It was provoked by this sign I came across in the village of Rotherwick, in Hampshire.Beneath the standard ‘watch out for children’ warning triangle, some locals have evidently felt the need to ask drivers to ‘please’ slow down, attaching a do-it-yourself sign to the pole.
Needless to say, although the locals are asking drivers to slow down to 20mph, the speed limit through the village – and past the school – remains set at 30mph. The official limit is on the pole on the other side of the road.
But hey, drivers have been warned there’s a school here – they’ll all drive carefully, won’t they?
And there’s a similar example in the village of Partridge Green in West Sussex – again, by the village school.
A ‘kill speed not kids’ sign near the junction with the school is, of course, not accompanied by any corresponding low speed limit, or physical measures to enforce it.Although the DIY sign here has a picture of a zebra crossing, there isn’t any crossing, at all, outside the school itself – but there are some barriers to stop people crossing the road where they might actually want to.
Nice of West Sussex County Council to do absolutely nothing to make this dead straight road – just outside of a 60mph limit – safer for schoolchildren.
And it’s not just outside schools. The residents of Tower Hill – a rural road, but with plenty of housing along it, and no footpath – plainly feel that the 60mph limit through where they live is preposterous, and have made their own speed limit signs. There have been many crashes here.All this is sadly symptomatic of the British approach to dealing with traffic danger. At locations where there really shouldn’t be fast motor traffic, and where there is clear local demand for low vehicle speeds (people are making these signs and attaching them themselves) there isn’t anything to make drivers behave, or design that reduces the danger posed to vulnerable road users; only informal requests and home-made signs.
Perhaps the background assumption here is the one Joe describes in his post – that the British driver is innately well-mannered, and doesn’t really need to be told what to do; he’ll either be behaving sensibly already, and if not, polite requests will be sufficient.
the British tradition of soft measures goes far wider, deeper and further back… Motorists may moan about having been the victim of a “war” that restricts their freedom, polices their movements, or sends campaigns of severe punishment for accidental and unavoidable infringement of petty rules, but the reality is that right from the start, when the red flag acts were repealed, this country’s response (and that of much of the English-speaking world) to the problems that motorists create on the road has largely been light touch and libertarian, in which the children are simply asked again and again to play nice, even as they become ever greater bullies, and only if they’re really bad might they have their pocket money docked. We encourage and raise awareness, appeal to the legendary British sense of fair play, and still believe that the ideal road is within reach if only we can persuade everybody to get along through courtesy, good manners, and communicating our intentions clearly to one another.
But these homemade signs are symptomatic of a failure of that strategy. They wouldn’t exist if drivers responded properly to their environment; there wouldn’t be any need to exhort them to slow down to an appropriate speed if they were already doing it. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any need for barriers to stop children crossing the road where they want to, if we could rely on drivers approaching schools at a sensible speed.
What these signs demonstrate are that ‘soft’ measures – education, exhortation, awareness, and so on – don’t work. We need physical environments that make people behave, and that design in safety. If we want people to drive slowly, that needs to come from the design of the road or the street in question, not from home-made signs that plead desperately for sensible behaviour.