A View from the Drawing Board - Cycle Track Priority Across Side Roads

We're very pleased to present another guest blog from a traffic engineer, in our series A View from the Drawing Board. Like the first post on Traffic Orders, we think this will be invaluable to anyone who's ever been told that 'we can't do that in Britain!' So here it is - Cycle track priority across side roads...1

 

Hello there!

Today I'm going to blog about how cycle tracks can be given priority over side roads in the UK, as is common practice in the Netherlands. Ensuring that a cycle track has the same priority as a parallel carriageway is an important means of ensuring safety, and of ensuring cyclists receive a good level of service. For these reasons, modern Dutch practice requires that a cycle track crossing a side road shares the same priority as the major road. This is something often messed up in the UK, where the layout of the cycle track explicitly or implicitly usually requires cyclists to yield. This blog should show how achieving priority for cycle tracks over side roads is perfectly do-able within the existing UK framework.

To begin, let us start with a situation where a highway authority has chosen to build a cycle track alongside a main road. The cycle track (perhaps unusually) is to comply with the opening paragraph of Chapter 5, Guidance on the Use of Tactile Paving Surfaces2, in that it is separated from the footway by level difference. The aforementioned guidance deals with some of the accessibility issues relating to the design of cycle tracks; disregarding the document in which that guidance is included has been found to be unlawful3.

Our cycle track would look something like what is shown below:

Figure 1 – A cycle track meeting a side road

It looks a little bit Dutch, doesn't it?

There is an important point here – the professionals who cite 'the Regulations' as reason not to do something will often be very selective as to which regulations and guidance they choose to follow. 'Shared use' schemes, including those where separation is by white line, depart from the guidance offered by the Tactile Paving Guidelines, and consequently may be unlawful unless the Council can demonstrate that failing to provide separation by level difference is genuinely required by special circumstances.

This cycle track will meet a minor side road, which is to give way to traffic on the major road. We'll talk about how a design can be arrived at that allows cyclists on the cycle track to enjoy the same priority as vehicles on the carriageway.

Requiring emerging vehicles to give way

The power for highway authorities to require vehicles to give way to others is given through their powers to provide road markings – the road marking in question here being diagram 1003 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (TSR&GD)4.

Figure 2 – Diagram 1003 (extract from TSR&GD 2002)

Regulation 255 defines what is expected of drivers at give way markings. The relevant sections are reproduced below:

25.—(1) The requirements conveyed to vehicular traffic on roads by the ro

ad marking consisting of the transverse lines shown in diagram 1003 shall be as follows.

 

(2) Except as provided by paragraphs (3) to (6), the requirement conveyed by the transverse lines shown in diagram 1003, whether or not they are placed in conjunction with the sign shown in diagram 602 or 1023, shall be that no vehicle shall proceed past such one of those lines as is nearer the major road into that road in a manner or at a time likely to endanger the driver of or any passenger in a vehicle on the major road or to cause the driver of such a vehicle to change its speed or course in order to avoid an accident.

[...]

(6) Where the transverse lines are placed in advance of a length of the carriageway of the road where a cycle track crosses the road along a route parallel to the transverse lines, then the requirement shall be that no vehicle shall proceed past such one of those lines as is nearer the cycle track, in a manner or at a time likely to endanger any cyclist proceeding along the cycle track or to cause such a cyclist to change speed or course in order to avoid an accident.

Section 25(2) is important in its wording – the requirement imposed is that drivers give way to vehicles on the major road, not the carriageway of the major road. The road is usually defined in statute as including the full width of a highway (cycle tracks and all)6, therefore, a cycle travelling along a cycle track (within a highway) is as much a vehicle travelling along the major road as a car travelling along the carriageway. Whether or not an emerging driver would have to give way to traffic on the major road part of the carriageway depends only upon the location of the give way lines – pull these in advance of the cycle track, and the cycle track gains priority.

Figure 3 – Markings to require traffic emerging from side road to give way, including to the cycle track

I have reproduced Regulation 25(6) (relating to cycle tracks) for completeness. For the purposes of the TSRGD, the definition of a cycle track includes both cycle tracks within a highway (i.e. such as alongside a road in our example), and those that are completely separate. It appears to me that 25(6) is provided to allow that latter type of cycle track to have priority where crossing a road such that there is no major road, and that it is Regulation 25(2) that is significant where a cycle track forming part of a major road meets another road at a junction.

Requiring vehicles entering the side road to give way

So what about the circumstance where traffic leaving the major road needs to be required to give way to the cycle track? Can traffic turning off of the major road be required to give way?

The Department for Transport's own guidance offers an answer. Chapter 5 of the Traffic Signs Manual7 is the DfT's guidance on the use of road markings; Figure 7-8 shows a layout with diagram 1003 give way marking, used to require traffic turning (right) off of the major road to give way to other traffic streams on the major road.

Figure 4 – Use of give way markings to require traffic turning off of the major road to give way (extract from Chapter 5, Traffic Signs Manual, DfT 2003)

Noting the previous observation that a cycle proceeding along a cycle track is as much a vehicle proceeding along the major road as a car proceeding along the carriageway, this would appear to set precedent that we can use diagram 1003 markings to require traffic turning off of the major road to give way to other traffic on it, including cyclists on a cycle track, as shown thus:

Figure 5 – Markings to require traffic emerging from and entering side road to give way, including to the cycle track

Restrictions on the use of diagram 1003

TSR&GD Direction 348 imposes some restrictions on the use of diagram 1003 give way markings – I have reproduced the relevant ones below:

34.—(1) The ma

rking shown in diagram 1003 may be placed on or near a road only in the following cases—

 

(a) at a junction with another road on which no marking has been placed to control traffic passing through the junction on that other road;

[...]

(2) The marking shown in diagram 1003 may only be placed on the carriageway of a road in circumstances such that regulation 25(6) (transverse lines placed in advance of a cycle track crossing a road) applies, if the length of the road which is crossed by a cycle track consists of a road hump extending across the full width of the carriageway and constructed pursuant to [road hump regulations]

Neither of these is an obstacle to giving the cycle track priority over the major road in our example. Direction 34(1)(a) is intended to prevent the provision of four-way stops and similar (as is common in North America). As long as there is a major road, along which traffic can travel free of requirement to give way, then the layout is fine (this does raise the question as to the legality of the practice of marking cyclists give way at side roads where the adjacent carriageway gets priority...)

The requirement for a road hump under Direction 34(2) is not relevant, as we are not controlling the junction of a cycle track and a road, but the junction of a major road and a minor road (the former happening to have a cycle track in it).

Blokmarkering / Elephant's footprints

As I'm sure most people here will be aware, in the Netherlands (and much of the rest of Europe), the route of a cycle track is marked with a distinctive series of square markings along each side of the cycle track crossing9. In the Netherlands, these do not indicate a requirement to give way ('haaientanden' / 'shark teeth' markings, equivalent in meaning to our diagram 1003 but differing in design, do that), but do give emphasis to the presence of a cycle track crossing where it does have priority. It seems a proven technique – can we use it in the UK?

The easiest answer would be no – it's not a prescribed road marking, and thus (unless specifially authorised by the DfT – this possibility shouldn't be ruled out!) it can't be used. However, in its quest to plaster as much thermoplastic on public streets as possible, the traffic management industry has come up with an, erm, 'innovative' way around this regulation, and we can use this in our favour.

Road markings are considered to be a type of traffic sign, which are themselves defined as an 'object or device (whether fixed or portable) for conveying, to traffic on roads or any specified class of traffic, warnings, information, requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions of any description', and the traffic authorities' power to provide these is regulated by the Secretary of State (through the TSRGD, for example)10. But if (we argue) we are not conveying information, but simply varying the colour of the highway surface, we aren't providing a traffic sign, and are thus free of regulation. We can argue that we are simply 'emphasising the cycle track', and that the requirement to give way is, as mentioned earlier, conveyed by the prescribed diagram 1003 markings. Similarly, if we've coloured the cycle track, we can use this approach to continue that colour across the mouth of the side road.

This is the loophole used to provide all manner of road marking schemes, including all the blue in the London 'superhighways' scheme, for example. Another example is 'dragon's teeth' markings sometimes used by Councils on the approach to villages. The latter example, not prescribed by the TSRGD, has been accepted by the DfT as 'not considered to be road markings'11.

This is, frankly, pretty ridiculous, and I write this section with gritted teeth. Arguing that these marks on the road are not road markings seems up there with claims of certain businesses not managing to make any profit from selling milions of cups of coffee, and it reeks of the same problem of people in power seemingly being able to opt out of the law. It does, however, help us here. I'd much rather see the use of coloured surfacing properly regulated to close this loophole; this would happily provide the opportunity to prescribe the use of Blokmarkering.

That done, our side road junction now looks like this:

Figure 6 – Markings to require traffic emerging from and entering side road to give way, including to the cycle track, with coloured surfacing (including blokmarkering for emphasis)

An alternative approach

In the Netherlands, another approach commonly used to afford cyclists on a cycle track the same priority as the adjacent carriageway in an urban area is the uitritconstructie, or access construction. This involves constructing the road junction such that the cycle track and footway continue across the carriageway of the minor road at the junction – it is then the carriageway of the minor road which is 'broken' by the foot- and cycle paths, rather than vice versa, as is typical in the UK12. Short ramps are used to raise the minor road up to footway and cycle track level, so non-motorised users are not impeded by the junction priority. This treatment is typically used in urban areas, and where the minor road is primarily used for local access (i.e. not through traffic), and flows of motorised traffic on the minor road are relatively low.

The advantages of this are:

  •  Priority for the major road (and adjacent foot- and cycle paths) is implied through design;
  • Minimised sign clutter, as 'give way' and 'priority route'13 signing and road markings are rendered redundant;
  • Drivers can see the street leads to a residential area, and know from sight that it is not intended as a route for through traffic. This also implies the required behaviour within the residential area, minimising sign clutter associated with the 30 km/h (20mph) zone that will almost certainly apply within that area and acting as a traffic calming measure to ensure that speed limit is effective; and
  • The design slows turning traffic, minimising the impact of any conflict between turning traffic and foot or cycle traffic.

A UK example may look like this:

Figure 7 – Uitritconstructie

Note the following that would be particular to a UK situation:

  • There are no road markings across the uitritconstructie which might serve to undermine the implicit priority for the foot- and cycle paths (UK attempts at similar layouts often continue edge, centre or waiting restriction lines across the footway, undermining the effect);
  • As this treatment would be of use on minor residential streets, which would likely (certainly if Dutch Sustainable Safety practice were adopted) to form part of a 20mph zone, road markings or warning signs to indicate the hump are not shown, as these are expressly not required for humps in a 20mph zone14 (but see important footnote15);
  • The uitritconstructie can be constructed in accordance with the requirements of the Highways (Road Humps) Regulations 199916, and is thus lawful in the UK; and,
  • Tactile paving is provided for pedestrians in accordance with the aforementioned tactile paving guidelines17.This gives warning to visually impaired people an essential warning that they are about to enter an area used by vehicles where the normal cue (the kerb) is absent.

A key UK advantage of this is that it would avoid most of the legal arguments about the use of 'give way' markings (not that we haven't addressed those above, of course) – we achieve desired behaviour through design, rather than regulation. The layout, in avoiding road markings, also ties in well to the streetscape agenda.

Geometric design

There are two approaches that can be taken to the geometric design of major/minor road junctions where there are cycle tracks on the major road:

  1. Align the cycle track to be adjacent to the carriageway, such that emerging traffic gives way to the cycle track and the carriageway in one stage; or,
  2. Provide a verge between the cycle track and carriageway such that emerging traffic gives way to the cycle track, and then to the carriageway in a second stage.

1. Cycle track adjacent to the carriageway

In this instance, the cycle track and carriageway are aligned relative to each other such that the cycle track runs parallel to the carriageway, separated by a verge of not more than 2 metres width, for a distance of at least 10 metres in advance of the side road. Parking is not acceptable within this length, and so 24 hour waiting restrictions would be required anywhere parking might otherwise occur. This ensures good intervisibility between cyclists and motorists.

(It should be noted that under the Sustainable Safety initative, waiting on main urban roads is confined to lay-bys. In the Netherlands therefore, it is the termination of the lay-by [where provided] in advance of the junction with denotes where parking is prohibited)

Visibility splays are then measured back from the 'give way' in advance of the cycle track crossing. Splays would be provided along the carriageway as for any priority junction, at an 'x' distance (typically 2.4m) back from give way line in advance of the cycle track18. An additional splay is provided to the cycle track to the right of the junction – the 'y' distance depends on the design speed of the cycle track (which would be 20km/h [12 mph] or 30km/h [19mph]). In practice, as the cycle track will run alongside a carriageway having a design speed that will probably have a design speed of 30mph, and certainly at least 20mph, it would appear advisable to provide visibility splays for 30km/h on the cycle track unless there is something (such as a bend) to restrain cyclists speed (which won't be conducive to providing comfortable conditions of course!). The required 'y' distances are given in the table below.

Table 1 – 'y' distances at cycle track

These figures are based on the riding sight distances given in Dutch guidance19. These distances are greater than than those required for motor vehicles – this is in part to reflect inferior braking performance of cycles (-0.45g is used for motor vehicles by Manual for Streets, compared against -0.15g for pedal cycles using in Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic). However, it is also important for cyclists' comfort, in that it gives plenty of time for them to react to any vehicle approaching the junction, giving greater subjective safety and allowing cyclists to avoid any emerging vehicle with minor slowing, rather than coming to a halt.

Figure 8 – Side road junction where cycle track runs adjacent to the carriageway

This layout can introduce a risk of rear-end shunts on the major road, where left-turning drivers slow or stop to allow cyclists to pass. Consequently, this layout is unsuitable where speeds exceed 60 km/h (37mph). This approach is not suitable for a two-way cycle track, having regard to the needs of right turning motorists (who would effectively need eyes in the back of their head to see cyclists in the contra-flow direction)20.

2. Cycle track set back from carriageway

Alternatively, the cycle track can be set back from the carriageway such that emerging motorists give way to cyclists prior to and separately from the carriageway, and turning traffic gives way having left the major road. The cycle track is separated by a wide verge at the junction – the exact width required would vary depending on the speed of the main road, and the nature of traffic using the minor road. For example, in urban areas with a main road speed of 30mph at a minor road used almost exclusively by cars, the verge might be a minimum of 4 metres wide, increasing to 6-7 metres at 50mph; this width might increase to as much as 15 metres if heavy goods vehicles regularly use the minor road.

Because the motor vehicles give way to the cycle track separately to the carriageway, visibility splays are provided on both approaches to the cycle track crossing – an 'x' distance of 2.4m would normally suffice, but for vehicles approaching the junction could be increased to 4.5m if required18. To assist drivers' visibility, the cycle track should run parallel to the major road for at least 5 metres to either side of the junction.

Visibility splays at the carriageway give way line would be provided as normal.

Figure 9 – Side road junction where cycle track set back from the carriageway

This layout represents the preferred approach where speeds are high (> 60km/h / 37mph), or where a two-way cycle track crosses the minor road21.

Limitations

Priority junctions with cycle track priority are unlikely to provide a satisfactory situation where flows into the minor road are high, due to the increased potential for conflict. Dutch guidance suggests a maximum minor road flow of 450-500 PCUs/hr22. At minor road flows in excess of this, a roundabout, the provision of traffic signals, or even a grade-separated crossing would be appropriate to protect cyclists from turning traffic.

It is also worth noting that the Sustainable Safety régime rules out priority junctions where the major road carries more than one lane in each direction (excluding any localised lanes for turning traffic), or where vehicle speeds exceed 80 km/h (50mph). This is regardless of cycle track provision.

Safety

Practioners may raise the issue of safety with layouts such as this, citing that they are not common, and that drivers may not expect to, or may choose not to, give way to proceeding cyclists. This point may well be raised as part of a Road Safety Audit.

Risk, safety and road safety audit could easily be a blog post in itself. The key thing is that it is vital that safety concerns are considered in the context of the scheme objectives, and of the relative risks associated with the scheme and with the existing situation, or with the more 'conventional' alternatives. For example:

  • Shying away from cycle priority at side roads on safety grounds will seriously (fatally?) compromise the objective of improving conditions for cyclists. There is no point in a 'safe' cycle route if it is fails to meet cyclists' needs;
  • Cyclists exposure to motor vehicles and thus risk of collision is limited to junctions where a Dutch-style cycle track exists, whereas this exposure is continuous for on-road or absent facilities. Even where particular risk exists at a junction, the overall risk is likely to be less than the alternatives; and,
  • The risk of collision between turning traffic and cyclists exists in the absence of cycle infrastructure, and where (inadequate but accepted) cycle lanes in installed.

The importance of considering road safety risks in a balanced, pragmatic way that does not adversely effect scheme objectives or the needs of users. Manual for Streets gives outline guidance emphasising the importance of this23; the Institute of Highways and Transportaion's s Road Safety Audit Guidelines gives some guidance of note, in response to changes attitudes to road safety and streetscape, including those advocated by Manual for Streets24. Perhaps an update is due to this guidance, recognising in particular that Road Safety Audit has, in the UK, completely failed to protect the safety of cyclists.

Of course, any risk can be mitigated for. This is a benefit of the uitritconstructie outlined above; this forces low speeds and thus ensures that in the event of a collision, the consequences are controlled and minimised.

Many of the risks would relate to designs being new (initially). Ultimately, there is an awkward reality here. The simple fact is that UK drivers (or anyone else for that matter) are not used to cycle-friendly infrastructure, nor to significant numbers of people cycling around. The dangers are not a consequence of new, properly laid out cycling infrastructure, but of the marginalisation of cycling that has resulted as a consequence of increased motor traffic, and (particularly) a failure of the authorities to provide proper protection for cyclists from that traffic.

To change that marginalisation, we simply have to introduce designs that are new, (currently) unusual, and potentially initially confusing. But the alternative is to keep doing what drivers are used too, which is useless or absent provision for cyclists. In short, if we are to reap the reward of improving peoples health, wealth and access to jobs and services by enabling them to cycle, we have to take the risks that come with that.