Embassy Chair Mark Treasure takes a look at new cycling schemes that involve shared use footways
A few weeks ago I was invited to Chichester to take a look at West Sussex County Council's proposals for cycling on the large gyratory system that cuts through the centre of the city. This will involve spending a considerable amount of Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) money, with the intention of making it possible for people who are not minded to cycle on a fast, multi-lane road system to cycle through the area.
The Southgate gyratory will have a 'Shared Use Cycle Path' around it, which sounds nice, but in practice will involve little more than making cycling on the existing footway legal, with the introduction of toucan crossings. You can see from the plans above that the 'shared use' path will run north, into Chichester, from the station.
At peak times the footway is, not surprisingly, busy with people walking to and from the station. It is not appropriate to introduce cycling onto pavements that are already busy with pedestrians, but this is precisely what is going to happen, because the carriageway itself is not going to be altered. Anyone who does not wish to cycle there is assumed to be 'nervous' or 'slow', and therefore an appropriate user of a pavement, on a bike. An unwillingness to create safe and attractive cycling space within the carriageway has resulted in this bodged compromise, which will only push people walking and cycling into conflict.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. Up and down the country, cycling on footways is being explicitly designed for in new schemes that continue to use the logic of two-tier provision. The Commonwealth Games will take place in Glasgow next year, and a cycle route is being planned to the mountain biking centre. Magnatom has taken a detailed look at the proposals, and it's enough to say that they come up short. Extremely short.
Imagine a facility that was designed in the 1980's. We are not talking 1980's Dutch style, as that would actually be pretty good. Imagine 1980's Glasgow style. What would you get? Yes you would probably have cyclists wearing infeasibly short shorts, and funky sweatbands, but what would the cycle facilities be like? Yes, you've guessed it..... shared use. Pedestrians and cyclists sharing space that previously was pedestrian only. Yes, that's the answer. Oh and where there isn't anywhere near enough space, take some grass away. to create.....still not enough space.
The location. Space is not exactly at a premium here.
Another example - a new scheme being planned in Wigan, this time with a £685,000 Cycle Safety Grant from the Department for Transport. Wigan Council have produced a leaflet that gives more detail; the pertinent excerpt is below.
So the new cycle route will be a wider footway. Over two-thirds of a million pounds of 'cycling safety' money is going to be spent on this footway route, the rationale for which is explained by the Council themselves -
By having the wider footway (instead of on road cycle lanes), we are able to protect areas for residential parking along this busy road.
Part of the route in question - a one way road. With streets this wide, it is surely a terrible indictment that the best we can for cycling here is to merely allow it on the footway. Currently anti-social behaviour. Soon to be allowed.
To be fair, there are some good elements in the proposals, in that some of the side roads (but by no means all) of the side roads on the 'shared use' side will be closed to motor traffic (detailed plans can be found here). But it seems extraordinary that in an area where just 50% have access to a motor vehicle so little is being done to anticipate future growth in cycling, and that people walking will have to mix with those cycling. This is - to repeat - another brand new scheme.
These designs seem to flow out of a recognition that, while cycling is something that needs to be 'encouraged', the existing road network is too hostile and intimidating for many people to cycle on. However - and this is the problem - it is assumed that these unwilling people are consequently happy to cycle as if they were pedestrians; that they are happy to trade off directness and convenience for their safety.
I am sorry to say that Sustrans seem to fall into this trap. During the summer I was shown a scheme they are planning for Transport for London in north London, running from Highbury Corner to Tottenham. There are a couple of parts of the route that struck me as problematic, in that Sustrans either have (or intend to) put cycling and walking into the same shared use footway, rather than creating dedicated space for cycling.
One of these locations is at Finsbury Park, where on the approach from the south, on St Thomas's Road, three queuing lanes for motor vehicles have been reduced to two. But the space that has been gained has been used to create a shared use pavement, rather than a cycle track. The result is a curious bodge.
Three lanes have gone down to two, but no dedicated space for cycling. There is an ASL here for 'confident' cyclists, who will be able to progress directly through the junction. But if you are less confident (or simply don't want to cycle on the road with heavy traffic) then you have a shared use pavement and several toucan crossings to negotiate, mingling with pedestrians through this busy area. It's the worst of both worlds, really, because the 'confident' on-road cyclist will still struggle to get to the ASL, as the expanse of pavement has taken up any space that might have been provided to allow you to get to it.
Further north, the route will travel along the thunderous A105 Green Lanes for several hundred metres, to get from Finsbury Park itself into Hermitage Road. The solution here is, again, to widen the footway on one side of the road, and to allow two-way cycling on it.
I can understand why Sustrans are plumping for this easy option, but again it really suits nobody; not the pedestrians already using the footway, not the people who will have to cycle around them, and not the people like me, who want to make journeys by bike without cycling in heavy motor traffic, but also without having to use pavements. This is planning that is built around existing low demand for cycling, not planning for future growth. The inadequacy of these shared use footways will rapidly become apparent as soon as they start being used in significant numbers.
Sustrans also appear to be involved in a new shared use scheme in Walton-on-Thames, as described by Parimal Kumar -
the shared paths run through the shopping areas of Walton-on-Thames, pavements that are heavily used by pedestrians to go shopping. These plans deliberately put cyclists in conflict with pedestrians because they fail to recognise that shared paths only ever work when there are very few users of vastly different speeds. In these plans at each junction along the main road, cyclists do not have right of way posing a further danger to them and pedestrians. The plans appear to have been designed to get cyclists out of the way of motorists and put them into direct conflict with pedestrians in an area heavily used by pedestrians.
The consultation has now closed, but the plans are still available on Surrey County Council's website.
Cycle provision pick-and-mix - it's a mess. No clarity or continuity; narrow sections of the pavement painted off for bi-directional cycling, that appear and disappear; no priority across side roads; and worst of all, as Parimal says, a recipe for conflict with the large number of pedestrians in this area.
Even Cambridge - which is supposed to be the leading cycling city in Britain - is spending a large sum of money on a new scheme that, again, curiously decides to provide two tiers of cycling provision simultaneously. £413,000 of cycling money will be used to redesign the Perne Road roundabout, a design that involves... shared use pavements all around the edge, treating people cycling like pedestrians, with no priority at the crossing points.
Cycle across the roundabout if you're confident; shared use pavements if you're not.
It resembles TfL's aborted attempt to provide a two-tier solution at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout (although that design did at least incorporate pre-existing zebra crossings), in that the roundabout itself remains hostile, while a compromised 'solution' is fitted in around the edges, at the expense of pedestrians. In the words of Rachel Aldred, these kinds of schemes involve 'providing two sub-optimal options, rather than one better option'.
The final extraordinary splurge of cash on an inadequate design is a new cycling and walking bridge in Reading, which has now been approved. It will take £20.7m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash to build, and yet will be only 3.8m wide at its narrowest point. The design is not even adequate for existing demand, according to Reading Cycle Campaign, and yet it is going ahead anyway, at the proposed width. (An additional detail is that there are two existing road bridges in the area, both several vehicle lanes wide, where space for cycling could realistically be reallocated, with the money spent on this bridge going towards cycle infrastructure elsewhere in Reading).
These are just the schemes that have to come to my attention - doubtless there are many more like them. Yet the amount of cash involved in the few I've discussed here is staggering - surely a significant percentage of the amount of crumbs of funding that this government has announced. It's hard not to feel this money is being wasted, as a result of compromise and a failure to apply uniformity of design. As David Arditti argues,
We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.
To be clear, that means these kinds of shared use footway schemes are inappropriate, especially when footfall (and cycle traffic) is significant. Safe, dedicated space for cycling needs to created which is explicitly separate from footways, with vertical delineation. The consequences of planning decisions that put cycling and walking into the same space (space previously exclusive for pedestrians) are deleterious not just for people cycling - quite obviously they will have an impact on the quality of the pedestrian experience. Walking on footways becomes less pleasant if you have people cycling past you in unpredictable ways. This is a particular concern for those with visual impairment, or those who are hard of hearing, or deaf - it is essential that these groups know what to expect, and where people will be cycling.
Unfortunately, as Joe Dunckley has explained, converting footways into shared use remains quick and easy, a result of 1980s legislation. And there's nothing in current cycle infrastructure guidance to stop local authorities from doing it, or even advising them not to.
Local authorities need to be building cycle infrastructure that is simultaneously suitable for all potential groups of cyclists to use, not simply tinkering around the edges creating inadequate infrastructure for those who do not wish to cycle on the existing road network. This is the worst of all possible worlds.