Views

The Pathway to Driverless Cars and the Sacred Cow Problem

John Adams - 29 April, 2017 - 16:21

The Pathway to Driverless Cars and the Sacred Cow Problem

Last Thursday (April 27, 2017) I was one of two speakers invited to lead the discussion at a National Infrastructure Commission roundtable on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The first speaker discussed the “Readiness of the road network for connected and autonomous vehicles”. My presentation was subtitled “Some behavioural challenges to think about.” The PowerPoint notes version of my presentation can be found here. What follows is a brief synopsis of the presentation.

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In the Pathway to driverless cars the Government sets out its vision of what lies at the end of the pathway in rather deterministic terms:

     “Automated vehicle technology will profoundly change the way we travel … fully automated vehicles will transport people and goods to their destination without any need for a driver.”

The Government evinces no doubt that we will get there.   Further, the Government wants to get us there as soon as possible: “The Government wants to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this change for the development, construction, and use of automated vehicle technologies.”

Two (possibly insurmountable) obstacles lie in the path of this vision: driver distraction and sacred cows. The Pathway to the driverless future envisioned by the Government depends on the development of Advance Driver Assistance Systems. These systems will take over more and more of the driving task until, finally, it takes over all of it and we can all be transported to our destinations without any need for a driver. The closer we get to this end state the greater the problem of distracted driving becomes. Why pay attention when the car is doing everything for you? The difficulty (impossibility?) of overcoming this problem is why Google removed the steering wheel.

This recent piece in the Guardian (27 April, 2017) illustrates the point: “In a little more than two years, a fleet of driverless cars will make its way from Oxford to London, with the entire journey, on urban streets and motorways, conducted automatically.” It then adds “The Government backed project, announced yesterday, expects to have a human in the driving seat, ready to take over if necessary.” Why should one stay alert for the whole of a journey from Oxford to London to respond to an incident that you have been persuaded is highly unlikely to happen?

The best answer that the Pathway can provide is Rule 150 of the Highway Code, which both acknowledges the problem of distracted driving and provides the solution. The acknowledgement: “There is a danger of driver distraction being caused by in-vehicle systems such as satellite navigation systems, congestion warning systems, PCs, multi-media, etc. And the solution: You MUST (sic) exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Do not rely on driver assistance systems such as cruise control or lane departure warnings.”

Most of the 307 rules in the Highway Code are merely advisory, but when a rule uses capitalized MUST it has the force of law. If you disobey the rule “you are committing a criminal offence.” The best solution to the distracted driving problem offered thus far is to declare that distracted driving is against the law.

Assuming we get past the distracted driving problem and arrive at the Pathway’s destination we encounter the sacred cow problem.

One can find innumerable demonstrations by the promoters of driverless cars of their ability to programme their cars to respond with extreme deference to any pedestrians or cyclists who might wander into their path – and numerous acknowledgements of the necessity of this programming if driverless cars are to be permitted on public highways. Their cars, they boast, will respond with extreme deference to all vulnerable road users. One can find numerous illustrations of the ability of real sacred cows to cause traffic paralysis in Indian cities. Why would sacred humans, aware that the algorithms of the driverless cars that they encounter have been programmed to defer to them, not take advantage of their sacred status in ways that would lead to deferential paralysis in cities with lots of pedestrians and cyclists, and perhaps newly liberated free-range children?

One looks in vain for an answer to this question. One can find a few acknowledgements that it a real problem:

“Driving in cities would be unacceptably slow if autonomously-operating cars were required to assume that every pedestrian might jump into traffic as fast as humanly possible. But if pedestrians came to learn that cars would always avoid them then they would likely act in much less controlled ways on streets and pavements.”

But solutions have yet to be found:

“Studies are underway using driving simulators to determine the optimal ways to design the human-machine interactions, but there are no clear answers today regarding design principles or standards.”

More commonly one finds a complete lack of awareness of the existence of such a problem. Here from Autoexpress:

“the Highway Code will need to change to get the most out of them. The tech will allow more accurate driving so, for example, cars could overtake cyclists more closely… “

 

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I ended my presentation with a question. I noted that the Department of Transport, in addition to its driverless car initiative also had a well-funded project promoting walking and cycling. I asked the roundtable “Are these two initiatives talking to each other?” The answer was an implicit “NO”. Although I had been invited as one of two Round Table discussion leaders to talk about behavioural challenges confronting the driverless car project, neither of my two behavioral challenges to the feasibility of a driverless future was discussed. Not surprisingly perhaps for a National Infrastructure Commission Round Table, the discussion focused entirely on the infrastructure problems that needed to be overcome to make the driverless future a reality. There was no serious challenge to the assumption that the nation was on the Pathway to a driverless future. The guiding assumption of the discussion was that the nation was on The Pathway, and the job of those concerned with its infrastructure was to help “secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this change”.

 

The impending competition for road space between driverless cars and pedestrians and cyclists looks like being an unequal contest. In terms of money, political influence and friendly media coverage the driverless car project starts with an enormous advantage.

 

If I have wrongly characterized the discussion that took place at the Roundtable I hope those who took part will feel free to correct me in the comment section below.

 

PS   For a highly readable account of how the earlier battle for road space was won by the car in America see Fighting Traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city, by peter Norton.

And for a view from the financial sector of the problem of sacred cows click here – Sacred cows in the road

 

 

Categories: Views

A small section of the Central London Grid

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 27 April, 2017 - 15:29

Hackney Cyclist has just drawn attention to Whiston Road, a ‘Quietway’ the forms part of the Central London Grid. As it happens I cycled this morning on another ‘Quietway’ the forms part of the same network, this time in the City of London. It’s a short section that runs from Farringdon Road (where it meets, or will meet, the North-South Superhighway, CS6) and then runs east through the Barbican into the City of London.

I have to say, it is not very good, and as poor a use of money as the Whiston Road scheme, at least as far as enabling cycling (which is what cycling schemes should be doing). Here’s the section I cycled, with the red arrow indicating the obvious desire line.

The first problem is actually getting onto it, at the western end. At the moment there isn’t any help at all; you have to ‘negotiate’ out into a stream of heavy motor traffic as you pass under Holborn Viaduct.

Once the extension of CS6 is built here, there will be an ‘informal’ crossing here, with an island offering some (but not a lot of) protection in the middle of the road.

I was in a small ‘peloton’ of around 20-30 people, and the first thing I noticed is that not a single person opted for the ‘Quietway’ route – everyone else cycled straight ahead, through Smithfield Market, rather than turning right to join the Quietway.

Almost immediately we meet our first ‘Give Way’ – having to yield to traffic heading down the hill from the Market to Farringdon Road. The geometry of the road here means the traffic is travelling pretty fast.

We’re then onto Hosier Lane, across the road, which is actually a filtered street – usually with bollards at approximately the halfway point, but (currently) thanks to some construction work at the end of the lane, where cycle access has (just about) been retained. But again, we have to give way at the end.

And then give way again.

The markings here appear to be wrong – if you are following the Quietway, at least, you should turn left.

You then have to meander your way through this area – not too bad, but far from clear and obvious, and again, you have to give way to traffic which is crossing your path, and then give way again to rejoin the road on the far side.

Then another give way.

Before having to yield to oncoming traffic to turn right into Cloth Fair.

Which is very narrow, and not particularly brilliant if you meet motor traffic coming the other way.

It really doesn’t make sense to me to route an (allegedly) major cycle route in central London down these kinds of tiny streets. This isn’t going to work.

What’s that at the end? Another give way.

And another.

And then we’re finally back on the road that we were on initially.

This is a dead straight line from where the road meets Farringdon Road, in the first photograph, but instead of following that alignment, the Quietway has meandered all around the houses (literally!). This wouldn’t be so bad if you could make uninterrupted progress, but not when there are so many give ways, and turns, and points at which you get could lost.

What is doubly baffling is that the ‘Quietway’ then becomes a pretty hostile road, once you have passed through the Barbican.

This is the kind of environment that only a fairly hardened cyclist will be willing to tackle, so I can’t quite see the point of meandering around on tiny little lanes to avoid busy roads, when you end up having to cycle on those kinds of roads anyway.The faded painted symbols are telling – give it six months and there will be nothing to indicate this was ever a supposed ‘cycling route’. Which just about sums up the usefulness of this entire intervention. It’s a waste of money.


Categories: Views

Arnhem, the other host of Velo-city 2017

BicycleDutch - 24 April, 2017 - 23:01
Arnhem is one of the two host cities of Velo-City 2017. I have written quite a lot about Nijmegen, the other host city, on my blog in the past, but … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

The Fall Guy

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 20 April, 2017 - 15:35

The concept of the fall guy is a familiar one in television, film and literature, and indeed in real life. A person, entirely innocent or partially complicit, who is blamed in order to deflect blame or responsibility from another party, or to obscure wider failings.

In many respects your average person cycling around in Britain falls into this category. They are blamed for being in the way; blamed for being on the pavement; blamed for cycling through parks; blamed for not using cycle lanes; blamed for coming into conflict with other modes of transport. Yet these kinds of incidents – often when the person cycling isn’t breaking any rules at all – will result from a basic failure to design properly.

The person cycling, attracting the anger, is the fall guy. It is straightforward and easy to blame them for their behaviour, without examining how and why they are coming into conflict with other people in the first place. All too often they will simply be attempting to get from A to B as best as they can. Yet because their mode of transport has not been considered, or because they are forced to compromise, even adopting the path of least resistance will still bring them into conflict.

It’s highly unlikely that the person cycling in ‘the middle of the road’ in front of you actually wants to be in your way. I certainly don’t want drivers to be stuck behind me when I’m cycling around; I’d much rather have my own space that allowed me to go at my own pace, and removed these kinds of unpleasant interactions altogether. Or, alternatively, I’d like to see these busy roads ‘converted’ into low motor traffic environments where it is easy for drivers to overtake, even when there are many people cycling.

In low motor traffic environments, it is very easy for drivers to overtake, even when these streets are busy with people cycling.

Equally, when I am driving, I don’t particularly want people cycling in front me either. The failure to provide separate space, or to structurally separate walking and driving, is what is causing this conflict.

Likewise, if a person cycling isn’t using a ‘cycle lane’, there’s almost certainly a very good reason. It’s not because they want to be in your way – it’s because that ‘cycle lane’ is inadequate, one that imposes a large amount of inconvenience, or even danger, in exchange for very little benefit. Avoiding it – and attracting the ire of angry motorists – isn’t something someone cycling is actually seeking to do. I’d much rather have cycling infrastructure that worked, and made sense. I certainly don’t want to be in your way, but avoiding that lane, or painted stripe on a footway, is my least worst option.

I will be cycling on the road here. Because this is dire.

Likewise I don’t want to ‘share’ footways with pedestrians. It’s slow and inconvenient. People walking on footways don’t want the uncertainty of people cycling past them, and those people cycling don’t want the uncertainty of interactions with pedestrians.

Yet these kinds of arrangements are frequently legal; a compromise arrangement imposed by local authorities.

Legal footway cycling

The conflict being created by shared use footways is, in effect, the outcome of their policies, and their responsibility; yet it is the people cycling who get the blame, just as they get blamed for impeding drivers on the road. They are either in the way of faster drivers, or they are negotiating their way around slower pedestrians, yet neither of these situations is in any way desirable for the person cycling. 

It’s entirely possible to design environments where people cycling aren’t coming into conflict with either drivers or pedestrians

It’s also important to look at places where people are cycling on the footway illegally. In most cases these will be footways that are indistinguishable from footways in the same area where cycling has been legalised, but even so we continue to recognise that cycling on the footway – legally or illegally – is not attractive. It’s an option of last resort, the least worst alternative. Blaming the people doing it – especially when, as in my area, the vast majority doing so are children, families, and teenagers – really isn’t going to get us anywhere.

This isn’t legal.

And nor is this.

It’s so, so easy to blame these people, because most of us can’t identify with them. The great majority of Britons do not cycle in urban areas, and certainly not with any regularity.

But blaming these kinds of conflicts on our alleged personal failings – our alleged lack of courtesy, our alleged irresponsibility, our alleged aggression – gets us nowhere. We are all just people getting around as best we can, and lumping the blame onto ‘cyclists’ will not solve any of these problems. Tomorrow, the roads will be just as hostile, the pavements will be just as unsuitable, and exactly the same conflict-generating environments will still be there. It might be satisfying to moan and whinge about ‘cyclists’ but it certainly isn’t constructive. And this is especially true for many journalists and broadcasters, who seem to take particular delight in antagonistic phone-ins about ‘them’. Today being no exception.

The usual ‘them’/’they’ antagonism.

If there genuinely is widespread conflict between walking and cycling, or indeed between motorists and people cycling, that’s not a personal failing on the part of ‘them’ (whoever ‘they’ actually are) but instead a failure to design environments that prevent that kind of conflict from occurring in the first place. Cycling on the footway is not attractive; nor is cycling on motor-traffic dominated roads. These problems are a symptom. The person on the bike is just the fall guy.


Categories: Views

Riding on a bicycle overpass

BicycleDutch - 17 April, 2017 - 23:01
Watch some people cycling on the big cycle overpass between ʼs-Hertogenbosch and Rosmalen, which opened exactly two years ago in April 2015. These images were filmed on an ordinary Sunday … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

A question of perception: some thoughts on the Michael Mason case

Vole O'Speed - 14 April, 2017 - 22:56
(Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with this case, except that my partner was a Trustee of the Cyclists Defence Fund, the charity that took this case to court.)

I have covered the Michael Mason case before. I wrote two years ago of this case that:
If this is allowed to stand without further legal or political challenge, the position seems to be that any good and responsible cyclist cycling in every way within the law can just expect to be be killed by a driver running them over from behind, there need be no rational explanation of the incident, and the driver may just walk away from such a killing with no legal procedure following and a blameless record. The implications are quite horrific for all who cycle on our roads.As I anticipated then, a private prosecution did take place, funded by donations to the Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF). And, as I acknowledged might happen, the jury did take the same view as the police, who did not want to prosecute this case, and acquitted the driver of the charge of causing death by careless driving.

Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that this case should have been brought to court. The CDF doing this brought to light a mass of evidence that was not available when I wrote then. This eye-opening evidence would not have come to light otherwise. It is described in Duncan Dollimore's long blog post for Cycling UK, and this is essential reading as background to the rest of what I write here, or certainly the first nine sections (down to There to be seen).

I'm going to set aside here any deficiencies in the police investigation of the case, which may be regarded as serious, and just base what I write on that report of what happened in court, on the evidence that was gathered and presented. In doing this, I am assuming that the account referenced is a fair, accurate and complete one, as I was not present in court.

The key points, it seems to me, are that:

  • Michael Mason cycling in Regent Street pulled out into the right-hand lane to overtake a stopping bus (as cyclists have to do constantly in UK towns and cities)
  • After he did that he was hit squarely from behind by Gail Purcell's (the defendant's) car, so hard that he was thrown into the air, a large dent was made in the front right-hand bonnet of the car, and he subsequently died from head injuries.
  • Purcell claimed never to have seen him, though she said she heard an impact
  • Purcell did not stop until made to do so by a witness who ran after her and caught her at traffic lights.
These are my reflections:
'Seeing' is an internal fact of a person's consciousness, a product of eye, brain and mind (if these are considered separate entities). No-one other than Gail Purcell can really know whether she saw Michael Mason on his bike before or during the collision, or whether she saw anything that might indicate to her she had been involved in a collision. Whether she saw anything or not is fundamentally unprovable in a court case. I daresay the jury took this view, and acquitted her, choosing to believe her account that she did not see anything, or to give her the benefit of the doubt, given that it could never be proved whether or not she was telling the truth about what she saw. They may even have considered that the fact that she did not stop after the crash tended to corroborate the view that she was telling the truth in claiming not to have seen anything. (An alternative interpretation, of course, is that she was aware of what had happened, and was fleeing the scene.)
However, that a driver should remain on the road when their perception of what is going on around them has been, on one tragic occasion, and could be again, so appallingly inadequate as to allow them to kill a human being right in front of their car who should have been plainly visible, that they should remain on the road, driving, with no sanction, is deeply worrying. Can driving with such deficient awareness be regarded as, by definition, 'careless' driving in the meaning of the law? This jury, and juries in many other comparable cases, have answered this question: 'no'. But are they competent to make this judgement, and where does that leave the protection of vulnerable road users?
I'm no fan of jury trials in general, not just in road traffic cases, but in normal criminal cases. I've been on a few juries, and not been impressed with how the system works. I don't think the British 'trial by jury' system leads to an honest, dispassionate search for the truth. I think jury trials tend to be a kind of costumed masque, a theatrical put-on, where a selection of the general public somewhat selected for their lower than average educational or professional attainments are attempted to be cajoled, or tricked, by slick professional actors into believing stories that are not true, or into believing that true accounts are a pack of lies. The side with the better, more convincing actors has a good chance of winning, whether it is in the right or not.

Juries are not a cross-section of the population. Too many people are able to get out of serving on juries, one way and another, and they tend to be the more intelligent part of the population. Anyone connected with the justice system or the police is barred from being on a jury, as are teachers, doctors and members of the armed forces: together, a very significant slice of the higher-attaining segment of the population. Other professionals seem to be able to argue easily they have responsibilities that absolve them from the duty. Others just refuse to go, and nothing seems to happen to them. So juries tend to be composed mostly of lower-skilled employees, housewives and tradespeople.
In cases of cycling deaths caused by bad driving, this is a particularly problematic situation. It amounts to a motorist being tried by other motorists, by, most likely, rat-running school-run mothers and white van men, who probably do believe that cyclists should not really be on the road, and are responsible for the perilous position in which they put themselves. Such jurors likely put themselves in the position of the driver who, though an 'understandable' lapse of attention, has managed to do fatal damage. Drivers who never cycle just perceive the situation on the roads in a very different way to people who do cycle on the roads, those who do cycle on the roads are a small minority of the population, and it really looks like this affects justice in cases of cycle fatalities. As Mark Treasure has pointed out, of 276 drivers involved in fatal cycling collisions between 2007-14, only 80 received a disqualification. 71% were left free to carry on driving. Just imagine it if all cases of personal harm occurring in the course of robberies were tried by juries of thieves. They would obviously tend to let the defendants off, sympathising with them, feeling that 'Theft is just a thing that you do, a way of making a living, and sometimes thing go wrong, and people get hurt, but we can't help that'. This is the tendency in cases of cycling death.

Clearly mine is a deeply cynical view, but I am supported in the idea that in these cases jury trials are not the best way to get justice by Martin Porter QC, who writes with an inside-knowledge of the system (and a background of course as a cyclist, with involvement in many cases of death and injury to cyclists):Often these juries acquit after less than an hour of deliberation, even when the evidence against the driver seems very strong. Why? One reason appears to be that driving offences seem far more likely than other serious crimes to invoke empathy and compassion from a jury. “There but for the grace of God go I” is not a thought likely to cross many jurors’ minds with murder, rape, terrorism or knife crime. But surveys show that a majority of drivers admit to breaking speed limits, and almost all can probably remember a lapse in concentration or worse when in a car.
The jury in the Michel Mason case took only 17 minutes to reach their 'Not Guilty' verdict.
I can't know what the family of Michael Mason have gone through; I have no connection with them. Nothing will bring Michel Mason back, and nothing will bring back all the other cyclists, pedestrians  drivers and car passengers killed by bad, inattentive drivers. I have no great interest in seeing severe punishment of incompetent drivers like Gail Purcell: what I do have a great interest in is in moving to a situation, where, one way or another, they don't have such common opportunity to kill me when I am on my bike.
I'm not so naive as to believe any campaigning by cycling or road victims' organisations is likely to get the time-honoured British system of trial by jury changed. I also believe general social attitudes to these questions are very unlikely to change in the short-term (by which I mean in my lifetime). Democracy is never going to be on my side. I therefore tend to attack the problem from a different direction, as readers of this blog will by now know. I want cyclists out of harm's way. We shouldn't have to constantly do the manoeuvre on busy, dangerous streets that Michael Mason was doing when he was killed, pulling out into the path of drivers who may well be so deficient in their perception of their environment that they fail to see us, and they kill us. There are better systems.
A better system, under construction in Enfield (Photo: Brian Deegan)A bretter system, under construction in Brent (My photo)A better system, in use in Lambeth (My photo)The part of Regent Street on which Michael Mason was killed is but yards from the junction where the current design for Cycle Superhighway 11 would terminate its segregated cycling provision, like that shown above, were that scheme to be built. That scheme is currently one of the many cycling schemes put on hold by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, over the last year, where construction could already have started. If CS11 were to be built according to current plans, of course it would then be highly desirable, and eminently possible, for it to be extended from Portland Place all the way down Regent Street.
My jury is still out on Sadiq Khan and his Cycling and Walking Commissioner Will Norman. If their lengthy period of stasis on new cycle schemes is being used to gestate a grand new strategy of cycle infrastructure provision that will allow the Mayor to spend effectively the substantial sum he has promised to cycling, then the wait will have been worth it. If, however, their delay is due to political timidity, as Andrew Gilligan seems to suspect, then their honeymoon period will soon have run out, and campaigners will have to start shouting loud against them.
In one of my most popular (or notorious) posts in this blog, Cycling is dangerous, I wrote the following paragraph, which, six years on, and after quite a lot of positive developments for cycling in London, I still feel has much relevance:People who get on bikes in traffic quickly realise they have no protection other than their own physical capabilities and wits. They discover that they are totally on their own. Nobody and nothing will protect them, not the Highway Code, not the police, not the Crown Prosecution Service, not the courts. And the roads are often designed to make things as dangerous as possible for them. This utterly uncontrolled, socially anomalous danger of cycling is what makes it unique as a legal activity. Being a pedestrian can sometimes have a similar character, but not for so long, as pedestrians are mostly segregated from traffic. Cycling, for a normal activity, that we would hope would be an everyday one, as opposed to a special one like mountaineering or skydiving, is tolerated by our society as uniquely dangerous.As seeing is an internal, personal perception, which cannot be proved or disproved, by anyone else, so is the subjective feeling of safety or danger. I started this post by referencing Duncan Dollimore's article on the Cycling UK website. How did reading that yesterday make me feel when I went out on my bike today, on my regular journey on one of London's major roads, the A5, which has all the hazards a major UK urban road can have? It made me more worried about my safety, about cycling. I found myself checking my mirror even more than usual (and I usually do it a lot), wondering, as I pulled out into the outside lane to overtake parked cars or stopped buses, as I must, if that motorist behind me is that one in million who has my number (or that of another hapless person on a bike), that one whose perception of the what is on the road in front of them, in plain view, is so appallingly deficient that they might just continue on the same course and at the same speed to kill me.

That was just my perception, but perceptions matter.
Categories: Views

Polluted thinking

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 13 April, 2017 - 13:04

In the summer of last year, Professor Robert Winston made this claim –

He has a moustache. And is a professor. He must know what he is talking about.

Despite repeated requests, Professor Winston has consistently failed to provide any evidence that new cycling infrastructure in London – which amounts to only a small reallocation of road space on some 12 miles of roads in the entirety of London – has been been responsible for such a pollution increase, or to provide any kind of causal connection whatsoever. His comment has been retweeted 424 times, and doubtless has been linked to many more, including this endorsement from the Street Policy Officer of London Travelwatch.

If we look at streets where cycling infrastructure has been built, there is no distinguishable pattern of increase in pollutants following completion in May 2016.

PM10 monitoring on Upper Thames Street, for the last three years. Graph produced via the LondonAir website.

There are fluctuations, but nothing out of the ordinary – the spike in January 2017 corresponds approximately to a spike in January 2015, long before construction had even started, and matches a period of London-wide air pollution that (oddly enough) affected London boroughs where there is no cycling infrastructure at all, including Kensington and Chelsea.

I’m sure ‘the eminent professor’ wasn’t the first person to make these kinds of outlandish claims, but as the Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College, he may well have been the first one to give them some serious credibility. Claiming that ‘cycling infrastructure causes pollution’ – something that had once been met with derision – has now passed into mainstream debate, coinciding (entirely unsurprisingly) with the first genuinely significant reallocation of road space for cycling, anywhere in the UK.

On 14th December 2015, the Conservative peer Lord Higgins (in the same debate in which Lord Lawson described cycling infrastructure as doing more damage to London than ‘almost anything since the Blitz’) made this contribution –

My Lords, in view of the success of the conference on climate change over the weekend, will my noble friend have urgent discussions with Transport for London about the appalling increases in congestion and pollution caused by the introduction  ​of bicycle lanes, which are in use in large numbers only in the peak period? Will he at least ensure that other traffic can use those lanes during the course of the day? In the present situation on Lower Thames Street, for example, they are likely to die from carbon monoxide or other poisoning from pollution any moment now.

On the 21st February, Lord Tebbit – a man who had already claimed that the Parliamentary Bike Ride ‘increases pollution’ – argued that

a principal cause of the excess nitrogen dioxide in the air of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades that were put up by the former mayor.

On the 6th March, MP Sir Greg Knight chimed in, suggesting that pollution in London is going up because ‘road space is being turned over to cycle lanes’ –

Is there not a case—I say this with respect—for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes? Someone said to me the other day that there are fewer cars entering central London but that pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. The Mayor of London cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes.

On the 15th March, Michael Gove suggested that air quality targets could be met more easily if the provision of cycling infrastructure on main roads was ‘revisited’ –

I just wanted to ask briefly about air quality as well.  Over the last few years there has been more than a 200% increase in the number of roadworks on London’s roads.  At the same time, we have bike lanes on our principal highways, which are administered by TfL, rather than the subsidiary roads, which are the province of the individual boroughs.  Looking at these issues overall, do you think that we might more easily be able to meet the very welcome rules on air quality if we were to revisit exactly how the provision of bike lanes had been implemented and revisit the regime that allows so many roadworks to operate in London at the moment?

Disappointingly Sadiq Khan did not challenge this connection, and indeed reinforced it, emphasising that he is indeed looking into how cycling infrastructure is implemented, and how it operates.

And one of the foremost proponents of the ‘cycling infrastructure causes pollution’ theory is Labour MP Rob Flello, who sits on the House of Commons Transport Committee.

In the first session of that committee’s Urban Congestion inquiry on the 9th January, he argued that removing cycling infrastructure in London would ‘speed up the traffic’ and therefore reduce pollution.

surely one of the answers is to reinstate some of the tarmac that has been removed. It speeds up the traffic and perhaps does more for air pollution in places such as London than getting people on to pushbikes.

In the second session on the 30th January, his argument became less nuanced

Anything that slows traffic creates more pollution

 

When an argument is that reductive, it wasn’t surprising that, by the fourth session, it wasn’t just cycle lanes that were ‘causing’ pollution – it was bus lanes too.

Robert Flello: On the point about bus lanes—I nearly said cycle lanes for some reason—and other forms of restricted lane use, it always makes me smile that a lot of these were introduced, and indeed continue to be introduced, seemingly without any evidence. It just seems that they are a great idea and therefore we must do them. It was reassuring to hear from a couple of people on the panel that evidence is now being gained as to whether they are a good idea or not. It does not seem necessarily to have stopped the flow of restricted use lanes across the country or in central London. Is that correct?

Val Shawcross: I cannot answer for every decision that the previous Mayor took, except that we are totally in agreement that, as the population of London intensifies in the future, we need to transform the city. The most efficient way of moving people around, as well as the healthiest and lowest emission way, is walking, and then cycling and then public transport. We need to be pushing this.

Robert Flello: I hear what you say, but the reality is that if traffic is now moving more slowly as a result, that is surely creating more pollution and is therefore unhealthier.

And this argument was repeated in the fifth session, where the same points were made to the Under Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones.

Robert Flello: We have also had evidence that, even though, for example, bus and cycle lanes create congestion, Val Shawcross is still keen to go ahead and put more of those types of schemes in London under TfL. Do you not think there is a contradiction between gathering evidence that shows that something does or does not work and then perhaps funding schemes to just do more of the same that does not work, in terms of tackling congestion?

Andrew Jones: I am not sure that is right. I do not really agree with that, to be honest. We should be gathering information and sharing good practice. I see that as a developing role for the Department in lots of different ways, but that does not mean to say that we should cut across local decision making.

I am aware that the cycle lanes in London have caused a degree of controversy. TfL can come and speak for themselves, but I would suggest that they are thinking a long way ahead in relation to how they can encourage modal shift. They are trying to provide the infrastructure, looking way into the future.

Robert Flello: But if that is creating congestion, which it is seen to be doing, that is not controversial; it is evidence based. Traffic levels have fallen, yet congestion and pollution have got worse.

(There’s a good summary of this session on the LastNotLost blog).

To these claims of bus and cycle lanes (what Flello calls ‘restricted access lanes’) ‘causing’ pollution it is straightforward to add the argument that pedestrian infrastructure also ’causes’ pollution. The aforementioned Greg Knight claimed that

pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider.

To this can be added statements by the Environment Minister Therese Coffey to the effect that crossings prioritising the movement of pedestrians are ‘causing’ pollution –

Yeah, it's definitely the zebra crossings that are the problem causing all that air pollution… 🤔
(From latest Local Transport Today) pic.twitter.com/1BQBlwgPk4

— Alex Ingram (@nuttyxander) January 9, 2017

And of course we also have the claim – apparently being taken seriously by government – that speed humps should be removed to improve air quality.

What all these contributions have in common is an extraordinary belief that making walking, cycling and public transport less convenient, more dangerous and more unpleasant will reduce pollution. It is a belief that the only way to reduce pollution is to prioritise the flow of the vehicles that are actually causing the pollution, at the expense of those modes of transport that aren’t polluting at all.

Put like this, it is utterly absurd, yet it is now repeated constantly. Its logical conclusion is that if we massively expanded the amount of road space available to private motor traffic in UK towns and cities – removing bus lanes, reducing the width of pavements, ‘re-motorising’ pedestrianised streets and squares, even building roads across parks and demolishing buildings, or constructing gigantic flyovers right into the heart of our cities – air pollution would fall dramatically. But some of the most polluted cities on earth are the ones that have employed precisely this strategy. Building seven ring roads has not solved Beijing’s air pollution problems – it has caused them.

Increasing the amount of space for motor traffic – attempting to ease the flow of congested motor traffic – simply draws in more and more of that motor traffic, and more and more pollution. Expanding space for polluting private motor traffic, or attempting to smooth the flow of it, is the exact opposite of sensible policy. If we’re serious about tackling pollution (and congestion), we have to prioritise the modes of transport that solve the problem, not prioritise the ones that are responsible for it in the first place.

 


Categories: Views

The cycle path atop a school

BicycleDutch - 10 April, 2017 - 23:01
Enabling cycling is all about removing barriers. With the opening of a major cycle bridge last week, Utrecht did just that. You can now cycle from the city centre to … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Connect Bikes and Trains - Increase the Number of Cyclists and Train Passengers

Copenhagenize - 10 April, 2017 - 05:00
For the past three years, Copenhagenize Design Co., in team with 5 train and bike operators and 4 mobility consulting firms, have been working to develop intermodality between bikes and trains in Europe.

Why this mobility solution makes sense in our cities ?
Because all trips can't be made by bike, this combination is the best solution to compete with cars. Bike-Train-Bike or BiTiBi services combine energy efficient transport modes into one seamless transport service. Indeed, the bicycle is by far the most energy efficient transport for short distances. It allows to increase significantly the catchment areas around train station. The train, especially the low speed train, is the most efficient transport mode for longer distances. 




The Dutch approach: bike parking and OV-fiets
With 26% of all daily trips achieved by bike, cycling is an integral part of daily life for everyone in the Netherlands. The country leads the way when it comes to the bike-train-bike combination. This began in the late 1990’s when Dutch train officials noticed old bikes were being parked and left at destination stations by passengers who used them for semi-regular trips. In response, an investment plan to enlarge and renew all cycling facilities at railway stations was passed in 1999. Safe parkings for almost 500,000 bikes are available at train stations and typically has direct connection to the platforms or the station hall. All these facilities make cycling to train stations an easy and attractive option.
By 2002, railway operator NS had already observed a 20% increase in passengers. Today nearly half of all train passengers take a bike to reach their station.

























Key to the success of the BiTiBi combination in the Netherlands is OV-fiets. This public bike allows train passengers to reach their final destination by bike after disembarking. Launched in 2003, it is now available at 280 out of 410 stations across the country. These bicycles, in a classic Dutch design, are provided by the main railway operator NS. The same “OV-chipkaart” transit card that is used on trains, buses, metro and trams throughout the country is also used for renting an OV-fiets. 



European development in Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United-KingdomBased on the Dutch approach, pilot projects were implemented in the regions of Barcelona, Milan, Liverpool and in Belgium. In all countries, projects successfully substituted trips made by cars with bike-train-bike transport. Due to the opening of bike parkings and/or the availability of bikes at stations, more bicycle users have been registered cycling to the stations, and some of them are new train passengers. Some of these bicycle users shifted from cars to this efficient combination due to the improvement of the services.
Here is an summary of the impacts of these services on mobility in the 4 pilot projects:






Positive results in the four European countriesThese past years, following the implementation and the improvement of services, and the creation of an appealing communication, positive results have been witnessed in all countries.
In Belgium, the Blue-bike service is now available in 48 train stations over the country. It means that with a same member card, users can rent the same public bike, at the same price and conditions, each time they arrive in one of these 48 cities. In the pilot cities, we calculated than 22% of Blue-bike combined with train trips have replaced a trip formerly made by car.




In northern Italy, the train company Ferrovienord has launched a regional plan and will double the number of secure bike parkings at stations in the coming years. A couple of years ago, Como, a city of Milan area, built a well-designed bike parking for 90 bikes, with direct access on the platform, that should inspire many small and medium sized cities.



In the United-Kingdom, Merseyrail operates the urban railways in the Liverpool area and provides Bike & Go rentals and secured bike shelters. The company developed an attractive communication strategy to make its Bike & Go services visible as soon as train passengers disembark. Moreover, they developed a marketing strategy to facilitate companies to subscribe to the service for their employees and ease daily business trips.


















To finish, in Barcelona area, plenty of promotional efforts have been aimed at companies/ The bike operator organised “Try a Bike & Ride to the Station” events and invited several companies to participate.



Building bike parking: 400% rate of returnConsidering the basic expense of installing bike parking facilities and the different benefits they provide - mainly due to health benefit and air pollution reduction -, there is a 400% societal return on investment! In other words, society benefits four times as much as the cost of the bike parking facilities.

If this figure does not convince you to invest in bike parking and bike services, a booklet disseminating all the results is available here and the most important data gathered in the pilot projects are available here. For further information, you can also visit the BiTiBi.eu website.

Here is a poster designed by Copenhagenize Design Co to promote BiTiBi.
Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Copenhagen's Fantastic & Stupid Bicycle Bridge Inderhavnsbro

Copenhagenize - 6 April, 2017 - 13:12
Copenhagen's Inderhavnsbro - Inner Harbour Bridge - Photo: City of CopenhagenIt's no secret that Copenhagen continues to invest massively in bicycle infrastructure like no other city on the planet. The network is already comprehensive and effective but the City continues to add important links, especially over the harbour and the canals.

One of the more recent additions is the Inner Harbour Bridge - Inderhavnsbroen in Danish - that spans Copenhagen Harbour at a key, strategic and iconic point. It links the city center at the end of the postcard picture perfect Nyhavn with the Christianshavn neighbourhood and the southern neighbourhoods beyond.

It is one of a series of 17 new bridges or underpasses for bicycle traffic that have been added to the City's transport network in the past few years.

The Inner Harbour Bridge was riddled with problems and was extremely delayed, as you can read here. Now, however, it's been open since July 2016.

Let me be clear... I'm thrilled that we have a new, modern link over the harbour to accommodate bicycle traffic and pedestrians. I am over the moon that the number of cyclists crossing daily exceeds all projected numbers. The City estimated that between 3000-7000 cyclists would use the bridge but the latest numbers are 16,000.

It's a massive success. But sometimes you can see the forest for the trees. I'm sorry, but Inderhavnsbro is a stupid, stupid bridge.

It fulfills it's primary function of allowing people to cross a body of water. But it is a cumbersome, beastly thing that is completely and utterly out of place in the delicate urban, historical and architectural context of its location. A fantastic overcomplication of the simple, timeless art of bridges that open and close. Designed by an architect named Cezary Bednarski from an architecture bureau will roots in two countries where cycling is no longer mainstream transport, it has failed miserably in respecting the basic concepts of bicycle urbanism and the established standards for infrastructure and facilities. By the looks of it, Studio Bednarski didn't even bother to understand them.



The nickname for the monster is the "kissing bridge" and it is flawed in so many ways. After millenia with perfectly functional designs to cross water like drawbridges and swing bridges, this architect decided to overcomplicate the concept. The bridge meets in the middle, where the two sides "kiss". A nice, giggly idea on a distant architecture office desk but quite stupid in practice. It proved incredibly difficult to make the giggly idea work.

Crossing the bridge by bicycle involves two sharp turns - two chicanes. Chicanes designed by someone who doesn't ride a bicycle. Cyclists are shunted sharply and rudely towards the middle of the bridge and back out to the side again. Perhaps the idea of getting the two sides to "kiss" was too difficult with the length of the bridge or the width required to make the kiising part work. The quirky kissing idea is the primary objective, at the expense of common sense. The primary visual gimmick is that the glass panels change colour as the bridge opens. Oooh. Wow.

For a century, Best Practice standards for details like chicanes have been in place. We know what curvature works best for comfort and for safety. These chicanes pose serious problems and they are clearly visible for anyone to see. You can see from the bicycle tracks in rain that people just cut the corners of them.



A more serious concern is the many skidmarks you see on the bridge as you head downwards in either direction. I stop and study them every time I cross. Have a look when you cross. There are always fresh ones. They stop before the glass barriers, but I figured out why, as you can see in the photo, above.



People crown the bridge in the middle and then get speed up, but many people fail to realise that the architect wasn't capable of a straight line and they slam on the brakes and hit the glass. I don't know if anyone has gone over the edge into the water, but the physics provide a perfect storm.


Look at the glass barrier in the above photo. The City has realised there is an issue and have slapped up a large, red and white warning sign to try and help people realise that it's a dead-end.

If you need to put warning signs on a design, it is basically a crappy design. Period.

The grade to get up the bridge also ignores Best Practice standards for bicycle infrastructure. In this article you can read how most standards were established in the 1920s and 1930s. The architect probably thought "bike" and a spandexy dude on a race bike popped into his head. I have seen a few people get off and walk up the incline, but most just muscle their way up. The bridge is too steep. It is not designed for a mainstream bicycle city and the architect didn't bothering researching the fact that we have 40,000 cargo bikes filled with kids and goods in Copenhagen.

On all the other bicycle bridges in Copenhagen a simple boom will drop to the sound of a simple ringing bell to stop cyclists and pedestrians when the bridge is opening. Compare that simple design to the huge, groaning barriers that rise like creatures from the black lagoon on the Inderhavnsbro. Comical overcomplication.

Another detail is that there are no ramps on the stairs on the pedestrian side - unusual in Copenhagen - but necessary. That is easily fixed, compared the rest of the nightmare.

Is using municipal funding to experiment with giggly, freestyle designs really a good idea? The bridge was also funded by a philanthropic fund - but does that mean that we don't have to be rational when we get free stuff?


There are so many moving parts that breakdowns will be inevitable. It's already happened a number of times. Ships have been stuck on the wrong side because it couldn't open. The little tent, above, appeared suddenly and was in place for more than a week. That's hardly good for mobility. A fancy schmancy bridge in Kiel, Germany, ended up having so many problems that another bridge was built next to it, to be used when the fancy bridge breaks down. Is that where we are heading in Copenhagen?

The bridge is nothing more than "magpie architecture". A shiny object that attracted the favour of the people who selected it. Seduced by bling and fake innovation instead of being guided by timeless rationality and basic design principles. It follows in the sad tradition of Squiggletecture, where bridges and facilities are designed by architects who don't understand the users.

What's more, in an attempt to appease the wealthy sailboat crowd, the City of Copenhagen agreed to let the bridge open 30 times a month - far more than the six times a month that the other main links over the harbour - Knippelsbro and Langebro -open. This bridge will be unreliable as a transport option for people who are just trying to get to work or education once the sailing season starts.

The basic principles of Danish Design - practical, functional and elegant - were sadly forgotten in the choice of this bridge. The shine will wear off and, I fear, we'll be faced with more expensive problems.

Facepalm.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

The quick, the cheap and the temporary

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 6 April, 2017 - 12:40

I think it’s worth jotting down some thoughts on ‘temporary’ cycling infrastructure interventions, given that the new (or not so new) Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has expressed an interest in them.

In response to questioning from Michael Gove during an evidence session of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, Khan had this to say –

When these lanes [the new protected Superhighways] were constructed, they were constructed in a way that caused huge upheaval and chaos in some of our streets in London.  When you look at successful segregated cycle superhighways around the world, they are not permanent structures.  They start off as temporary structures which cause less chaos during the “construction phase”, but the beautiful thing is that if they are temporary then you can suck it and see.  You can move them with minimal disruption if they are causing, what experts call pinch points.

First things first, it is simply not true to say that ‘successful’ cycleways around the world ‘are not permanent structures’. High quality cycling infrastructure is permanent, be that in the Netherlands, or Denmark, or the United States, or right here in the UK. They are designed properly, built to accommodate existing and potential demand, and are an integral element of the streetscape.

Brand-new cycling infrastructure in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Very permanent.

Khan’s statement is also perplexing in that he seems to believe building temporary structures, and then converting them into permanent ones, ’causes less chaos’ than simply building permanent infrastructure. Of course, it’s quicker to put in ‘temporary’ infrastructure than building permanent infrastructure, but you can’t simply bypass the process of building permanent structures altogether by doing so. It still has to happen. So if anything, building something temporary and subsequently converting that temporary structure to a permanent one actually increases disruption, rather than reducing it.

That said, I do think ‘temporary’ interventions do have an important role to play. They can be used to build pretty effective infrastructure fairly quickly. A case in point is the ‘temporary’ arrangement at the Blackfriars slip road, where the junction of CS3 and CS6 has been moved while the Thames Tideway Tunnel is being constructed.

This will actually be in place for several years, but I think it does (and will do) a pretty good job, despite being composed almost entirely of rubber kerbs that are simply bolted to the road, combined with wands. It only took a few weeks to implement (although it has clearly been planned just as much as the permanent cycle infrastructure that surrounds it). I’m certainly a fan of this kind of quick and cheap intervention, which closely resembles the amount of protection offered by permanent kerbs, and definitely not a fan of the ‘light segregation’ interventions that can simply be driven over, like ‘armadillos’.

In addition, temporary infrastructure can – as Khan implies – be used to test how things work, and to prove to sceptics that chaos won’t ensue once changes take place. Or to show, quickly and easily, how our streets and roads can be made safe, and more attractive, at minimal cost. This is an approach emphasised by Janette Sadik-Khan, the former transportation commissioner of New York, in this recent interview with London’s own (new) walking and cycling commissioner –

Her thoughts on how to overcome London’s challenges are straightforward: set a vision, and move quickly; trial street closures so people can see that change is possible, and know it can be reversed if they don’t like it. In New York, the administration faced legal action and claims from some residents and businesses that the city would grind to a halt if you took space away from motor traffic. As she discovered, the opposite happened. People just needed to see it to believe it, she argues.

And this approach has been employed – to a limited extent – in London, with notable examples being the fairly rapid conversion of Tavistock Place to a one-way road with two wider cycleways on each side of the road –

… and the Walthamstow Village scheme, a three week trial that closed Orford Road to motor traffic.

However, in both these cases, the respective councils – Camden, and Waltham Forest – clearly saw these ‘temporary’ approaches as a mere stepping stone towards the permanent implementation of interventions they had already thoroughly planned. In Waltham Forest, that permanent intervention is now already in place, and in Camden, the permanent changes to Tavistock Place have only been delayed as a result of some legal wrangling.

In other words, the ‘temporary’ wasn’t an end in itself, or a way of implementing changes quickly to minimise disruption. It was just a small part of a planned process of moving towards permanent change, implemented by councils who have confidence in what they are doing, and the backbone to stand up to criticism.

It’s also hard to see what advantages would accrue from building large schemes like CS3 or CS6 – in combination, several miles long – in ‘temporary’ form, given that despite all the (often justified hype) they are really the bare minimum of cycle provision we should be expecting. We certainly should not be providing anything less than 3-4m wide bi-directional cycleways on main arterial roads in cities, so what is gained by temporary implementation? They might be quicker to build, but if they are going to be turned into permanent structures at some later date, disruption is only being deferred, not avoided (and indeed being duplicated). Joe Dunckley has also explained why ‘temporary’ interventions aren’t ever really going to be appropriate for major schemes. The job has to be done properly, or not at all.

And this is what is slightly concerning about Khan’s comments  (and this is not the only time he has made reference to the downsides of ‘permanent’ cycling infrastructure, versus temporary infrastructure). They don’t strike me as being made out of enthusiasm for getting cycling infrastructure in place quickly and cheaply, as part of a clear strategy to make the intervention permanent at a later date – the approach employed in New York, and in Camden and Waltham Forest. Instead they appear to reflect a nervousness – dare I say it, a cowardice – about implementation. When Khan says that ‘the beautiful thing is that if they are temporary… You can move them with minimal disruption if they are causing, what experts call pinch points’ – that appears to be an open door for watering down, or even removal altogether, if cycling infrastructure is ‘causing congestion’.

It’s entirely understandable that organisations with a vested interest in ‘maintaining motor traffic flow’ are very keen on cycling infrastructure that can quickly be done away with. So a Mayor who seems keen on ‘temporary interventions’ for much the same reasons isn’t particularly reassuring.


Categories: Views

REVIEW: “BIKE NATION: How Cycling Can Save the World” by Peter Walker

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 6 April, 2017 - 00:49

This book is “…above all, a story of hope”. Those of us with a cynical mindset might be put off by such optimism and the extravagant claim of the title. But don’t be: Peter Walker is more or less spot on in each chapter of a book which clearly argues for cycling as a key solution to urban transport, health, social and environmental problems. Indeed, it should be read by all professionals – as well as campaigners and the general public – with  an interest in transport policy, not just those who find themselves in a “cycling” niche.

So let’s see how Walker, who has been writing on cycling matters for the Guardian over the last decade, sets out his stall. First and foremost, cycling has to break out of its niche: there may well be sports and leisure enthusiasts, but if it is to fulfil its true potential it has to be done by ordinary people, wearing ordinary clothes, making ordinary everyday journeys.

He kicks off with the latest research on the health benefits of cycling.  This should be persuasive – why hasn’t the “miracle pill” been adopted here?  The answer is “political inertia, powerful vested interests, a lack of real ambition and leadership, and a set of curious but persistent and damaging myths about cycling and cyclists” (p.35). Indeed, and it is so good to see a willingness to tackle everyday prejudice – of which more later.

Next up is a review of danger: the problem is simply one of “normalisation”. We have “ …a complacent, entitled, careless driving culture, where millions of people who would describe themselves as moral, kind and careful people nonetheless get into a motor vehicle and routinely, unthinkingly, put others’ lives in peril.” (p.43)

Then we have a couple of chapters on the social justice/equity argument and the economic case for cycling. We get a brief reference to a review of what economists call the “external costs” of motoring, which I think could have done with some more exposition – after all, a key prejudice against cyclists is that they do not “pay their way”, when in fact that argument would be more appropriately directed against motorists. It’s a tricky one – should we embrace cost-benefit analysis, with a clear indictment of the unpaid costs of motoring, if it implies that paying more should entitle drivers to endanger, pollute, congest etc.? (Incidentally, the one detailed reference to calculation of costs – using the USA as its basis – has a typographical error in including “not” before showing that “car owners pay only 35% of the total costs incurred”(p.95).)

For me the best parts of this book are Walker’s willingness to tackle – indeed to make a forensically detailed analysis of – two key areas where polite society fears to tread: anti-cyclist prejudice and cycle helmets. My view is this: don’t think these areas are unimportant or will just fade away with changes in transport policy. They are central to the way cycling and cyclists are conceptualised in this society, and are related to and affect the way cyclists are treated on the roads. And even if changes in provision of highway infrastructure are all you’re interested in, the opposition to this will be linked in with the kind of prejudices study of these areas reveals.

Anti-Cyclist Bigotry

What makes cyclists such an easy target, not just for pub bores and the usual hate-mongers in the tabloid press, but for supposedly enlightened journalists in the “quality” media? The first point for me is that it isn’t cyclists. Walker gives an historical portrait of prejudice going back over a century.  I have found it in the media for as long as I can remember. I remember personally confronting it in the 1980s, well before one might see an adult pavement cyclist or someone riding through a red light.

In a splendid chapter, Walker discusses social psychology’s theory of “the out-group”, and where anti-cycling bigotry might be picking up its tropes, such as the notion that anybody who rides a bicycle is somehow responsible for the actual or alleged behaviour of other cyclists. In just one chapter on anti-cycling ideas he manages to link in the ludicrous notion held by a minister responsible for cycling that the Dutch have a worse record on cyclist casualties than the UK  with the disproportionate attention  to incidents where pedestrians are hurt by cyclists as opposed to motorists. This anti-cycling bigotry – and we don’t even have a word for it to use in discussion – is also implicated in the refusal of politicians to support cycling: “For them it is an add-on, a sop to enthusiasts, something to be squeezed onto a road if there’s a bit of spare space and spare cash left over from the main task of motor traffic” (p.139).

But where anti-cyclist bigotry – and I call it bigotry because that’s what it is – is really important is in how drivers behave to people on bicycles in everyday situations. Walker gives evidence to detail precisely how anti-cyclist attitudes can exacerbate bad driving. The bottom line is, as he concludes this chapter, referring to pieces of anti-cycling prejudice articulated in the media, ”Every one of these, I am convinced, places me, my loved ones and anyone else on a bike, marginally yet incrementally in more danger every time we get onto a saddle. And that can’t be right”. (p.150)

I think that the general prejudice against cycling and cyclists is important for that reason. Even driving instructors claim that driving is a task which can’t be put on automatic pilot, and requires constant care and attention and a positive commitment towards a driver’s obligations. Any negative attitude towards other road users – including simply because they are using a particular form of transport – exacerbates an already unsatisfactory potential to hurt or kill. At the very least, prejudice which I claim is present even in the police forces, impedes the kind of law enforcement we need .

The “H” word

In his chapter “If Bike Helmets are the Answer, you’re Asking the Wrong Question”, Walker correctly identifies helmet advocacy along with hi-viz clothing advocacy as a victim-blaming red herring without a firm evidence base. Or to be more precise, he wears a helmet and doesn’t object to them or hi-viz: “But when it comes to genuine efforts to make cycling safer, they’re a red herring, an irrelevance, a peripheral issue that has somehow come to dominate the argument”.

He gives a good discussion about risk compensation (adaptive behaviour) by both helmeted riders and other road users, referencing myself (thanks) and Ian Walker respectively. The latter’s work on how drivers decide how much space to give when passing is salutary in bringing us back to what Walker – and all of us – should actually be looking at. So too is his consideration of the politics of hi-viz in a section aptly titled “Seeing, but choosing not to see”.

He quotes Goldacre and Spiegelhalter at length: “…current uncertainty about any benefit from helmet wearing…is unlikely to be substantially reduced by further research”. Popularity of bike helmets as a road safety measure was based less on any direct benefits, but more on people’s often very skewed personal perceptions of risk (p.186).

But if anything, he seems to give (although this may just be my reading) the benefit of the doubt – albeit slightly – to helmets, with repeated reference to not objecting to helmets, despite:

“…whatever the benefits in each individual case, a population-wide increase in helmet use, for example after legislation, is not generally matched by similar reductions in overall head injury rates” (p.176)

The problem with his discussion is precisely that he attempts to derail ideological pre-judgement simply by rational discussion. His persistent – and correct – claim that helmets mustn’t be seen as a panacea and that the danger from motor vehicles needs to be tackled won’t, in my view, cut it as long as helmets are seen as basically a good thing. Yes, I too think that people should be allowed to wear helmets irrespective of the lack of evidence of benefits. Insofar as risk compensation/adaptive behaviour is central to why the lack of evidence of head injury rates declining persists, at least other road users – unlike those adversely affected by car and highway safety engineering – are not going to suffer significantly as a result.

But I have seen apparent acceptance of Walker’s incontrovertible argument that motor danger needs to be tackled by government and “road safety” professionals for the last 30 years. And what have we had? Precious little in the way of helpful infrastructure, a recent glimmer of light with regard to close passing policing – and that’s about it. Perhaps some of the cycle training programmes have been genuinely empowering – but that’s dubious. The benefits of safety in numbers – such as they exist – have happened largely without any officially inspired increase in cycling.

And during this time we have moved from total absence of helmets to widespread wearing (although substantial pockets of lidlessness exist in, for example, outer London suburbs outside commuting hours) with its attendant message of cycling as inherently hazardous. While motorisation and car dependence have massively increased, and motor danger has not been properly addressed, “road safety”, medical and other professionals have continually acknowledged that something must be done, and that helmets are not a panacea. Yet their efforts to reduce motor danger have been minimal or negative, and their advocacy of helmets substantial and absolute.

Walker is excellent in this chapter – but in the current context I would consider the benefits of a slightly more circumspect approach to helmets than his.

The hope question

No doubt reservations I have are formed by a longer period of seeing official support for cycling bear little fruit. One of the first cycling-related conferences I attended was “Ways to Safer Cycling”, where the then Minister, Lynda Chalker, claimed she was there to “encourage cycling”. That was in 1984 – if you have some moments to spare you may wish to look at the change in cycling’s modal share since then, along with the figures for the growth in motor transport. That experience makes me more worried about the effects of prejudice and wary of red herrings.

It may also make me more circumspect about prescriptions for success. Peter Walker is a firm advocate of the new orthodoxy: success will come from networks of segregated cycle lanes. That strategy is not only central, but it apparently claims to be more or less sufficient for victory.

The RDRF position is to support this strategy and to push with Cycling UK and others for proper funding for such infrastructure. It also, regrettably, looks as though it will be necessary to make a stand against backsliding by politicians in London and elsewhere who have nominally committed to this approach. Existing cyclists should realise that new infrastructure isn’t necessarily for us, but for a new generation of cyclists inhibited by a hostile environment.

Nevertheless, a number of issues should be raised, and not just because of a pessimistic frame of mind.

Firstly, it needs to be made absolutely clear to motorists that cyclists are not going to disappear from their vicinity on most roads. Separated cycle lanes may be on main roads, but not the rest, and drivers need to be aware of that – logic should make that obvious, but in a world of the kind of prejudice that Walker outlines, separation may back up the ideology that sees cyclists as not belonging on the road.

That also means that we have to think of how danger will be addressed on such roads: will 20 mph limits, even if complied with, be enough? What of rural roads where, even with sophisticated traffic management, mixing will occur? Arguably reducing car dependency is more necessary in suburban and rural areas than the urban ones Walker focuses on. The kind of societal shift where close passing policing comes to be seen as necessary and commonplace will have to happen. Luckily – and here I can be allowed some optimism, there are cases where increased cycling modal share can lead to reduced cyclist casualty rates, due to a form of risk compensation known as Safety in Numbers.

Secondly, will the design features of separated lanes be adequate? Will give ways at junctions happen properly? Will less direct bi-directional lanes predominate over better mono-directional ones? Will bus stop bypasses and all the other features of segregated lanes fit in to a society not used to them and/or mass cycling?

Thirdly, what about all the other features of a society where cycling is commonplace? Simple but necessary things like secure and convenient home parking. Or accessibility of basic equipment: the lack of accessibility of sufficiently cheap bicycles and accessories for those on low incomes could be part of the reason why they don’t cycle much. Perhaps, if we have the necessary feature of normal clothing use as a key signifier of mass cycling, in the UK we need to make breathable waterproof and winter garments available to counter the drop in cycling that happens every autumn.

My suggestion is that in a society where cycling as a basic form of transport has been largely forgotten, direct one-to-one support may be necessary for people who have never cycled. Infrastructure can only be part of the solution.

And even if it is that important, it isn’t going to happen without the kind of struggles and cultural shift that Walker alludes to. He rightly talks about how dissuasion of car use (pace Stevenage) is going to be necessary, and refers to some of the problems of car-centred thinking. My view is that if cycling is to progress, there is a whole host of problems emanating from car culture which will need to be grappled with.

 

Conclusion: Hope revisited

At the start of my career, congestion and energy use were the key problems with car-centredness and the motorisation agenda. Then we got worried about noxious emissions, and then in the late 1990s climate change and transport-generated greenhouse gases. There were some concerns about the loss of local community and children’s independent mobility, and the founding of the modern road danger reduction movement. This century we have elaborated the health (active travel) agenda, and re-discovered noxious emissions.

In short, there have always been reasons to support cycling as a solution to car and motor traffic generated problems. My (cynical and pessimistic) suggestion is that we will need more than the fine optimism of this book. But with its concern to expose prejudice and red herrings, its exhaustive work on health and the other benefits of simply making cycling a normal way to get about, it’s an excellent – and necessary – start.

And even if it is that important, it isn’t going to happen without the kind of struggles and cultural shift that Walker alludes to. He rightly talks about how dissuasion of car use (pace Stevenage) is going to be necessary, and refers to some of the problems of car-centred thinking. My view is that if cycling is to progress, there is a whole host of problems emanating from car culture which will need to be grappled with.

 

 


Categories: Views

Australia Trip (2)

BicycleDutch - 3 April, 2017 - 23:01
A week ago I returned from Australia and I’d like to update you on the events in Canberra and Perth, which I visited after Brisbane. The departments of Transport in … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

User experience

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 31 March, 2017 - 11:53

When designing road and street space, it should be quite obvious that the safety and comfort of the people using that space should be a prime concern. Indeed, the design itself should be informed by the preferences of the users. Yet far too often those wishes and preferences are simply ignored or discounted, because they conflict with some other design goal.

Perhaps the classic example of this is ‘shared space’, or at least specific elements of it. (I use the term in inverted commas because the use of it is now so widespread it has essentially lost meaning). In a number of high profile schemes, the comfort and convenience of users – particularly people walking and cycling – ranks second behind an apparently more important design aesthetic that involves reducing conventional highway engineering to the absolute minimum.

Frideswide Square in Oxford is one such ‘shared space’ scheme where user preferences have been ignored. Campaigners argued  – long before the scheme was built – that providing no cycle-specific space would be a recipe for conflict. Double conflict, in fact. Conflict on the road, where people cycling have to mix on a narrow carriageway with  heavy traffic –

… And conflict on the footway, where people walking and cycling will also have to share space, rather than each mode having its own clearly distinct provision.

In addition, pedestrians have to make do with ‘informal’ crossings, rather than crossings which would give them certainty, or priority. Bizarrely Oxfordshire County Council seem to think this would be ‘unbalanced’.

In both cases – the lack of cycling infrastructure, and the lack of pedestrian crossings – what people using the road would actually prefer has been completely ignored. People walking don’t want uncertainty; they want safe crossings. They don’t want to share footways with people cycling either. Likewise people cycling don’t want to mix with pedestrians on footways, and they don’t want to mix with heavy traffic. They want their own dedicated space. But as John Dales astutely put it – in this case, the ‘sharing’ language of the scheme has become a dogma that overrides basic consideration for users.

There’s a similar (although less serious) problem with the Tavistock Place scheme in London. At Byng Place, the ‘shared space’ paving provides some degree of clarity between the footway and the carriageway – a kerb line, and a small height difference. However, it provides absolutely no distinction between cycling and walking. This means that people walking on the natural desire line – as shown below – will often be completely unaware they are walking on one of the busiest cycling corridors in London.

Just as this gentleman was doing earlier this week.

So while this might look pretty – a nice sleek surface – it’s not very good for the people who are actually using the street. People walking have no idea they might be coming into conflict with people cycling – it just looks like an expanse of pavement – and people cycling have to slow, and negotiate their way around pedestrians. It would be far better to have some visual clarity about what kinds of modes are expected where – a space where pedestrians know they won’t encounter people cycling, clearly distinct from an area where cycling will be expected, and relatively unimpeded.

This expectation that lumping cycling and walking together is actually better than separating the two modes modes is particularly prevalent in parks. The underlying logic often seems to be that providing a defined cycling space will result in speeding (or ‘speeding’, given that what actually amounts to speeding is never clearly defined), or ‘territorial behaviour’ on the part of cycle users. People cycling are then expected to somehow behave like pedestrians.

But again, is this actually what people want? Do people walking in parks really want to have lots of unexpected encounters with faster-moving cycles, wherever they are walking? Or would they have the certainty of clearly-defined space where they know they will be free from these interactions?

A prime example of this is the route across Hyde Park Corner for both people walking and cycling. There is essentially only one way across this very large traffic island, given there are only two crossings, at opposite corners.

That means that everyone walking and cycling is following the same line, indicated by the blue arrow. As everyone is heading in the same direction, it would surely make sense to separate the two modes, to reduce (or even remove entirely) conflict between them, with a clearly distinct cycle path on the north side. There is plenty of space here so neither mode would have to be forced into a cramped area as a result of this design separation.

But instead we have a situation that isn’t good for either mode. Every time I cycle through here, I notice how people walking have to deal with cycles taking unexpected routes around them – either through the centre of the arch, or to either side of it. In turn people cycling have to negotiate the unexpected movements of people walking.

Hyde Park Corner – an unpredictable mix of people walking and cycling

All of this conflict could be removed by placing cycling in a clearly defined space, leaving the rest of this large area free for pedestrians to walk and wander in peace.

As with the ‘shared space’ examples, we have a design approach that doesn’t actually work  for the people walking and cycling through the space in question. If you stopped and asked people at Hyde Park Corner whether they like the existing unpredictable melee of walking and cycling – with people whizzing past them unexpectedly –  or whether they would prefer cycling to be placed somewhere they wouldn’t have to encounter it, I am 100% certain everyone would opt for the second option. Likewise I am 100% certain people cycling would like to be able to traverse this space without having to deal with pedestrians.

Yet in response to the recent ‘Superhighway’ consultation on this area, a combination of Transport for London and the Royal parks rejected such an approach, plumping instead for a widening of the existing shared area – which in my view simply increases the amount of space in which uncertain interactions can take place.

All these examples illustrate a reluctance to design for how people actually behave, and for what they actually want – these (allegedly) simpler designs actually create more conflict and uncertainty, and are poor for both walking and cycling. We aren’t asking people what they want – instead we are building schemes that look pretty but don’t reflect user preferences. The question is why we keep doing it!

 


Categories: Views

Berlin - A New Hope

Copenhagenize - 28 March, 2017 - 11:10

This article is written by Copenhagenize Design Company's former urban planner, Leon Legeland. Originally from the least bicycle friendly city in Germany, Wiesbaden, he has lived, studied and worked in Vienna, Malmö, Copenhagen and currently Berlin. He has a master in Sustainable Urban Management and is recently finished his second masters in Sustainable Cities here in Copenhagen. He now works in Berlin.

Last year we covered the state of cycling in Berlin. It's time for an update. Berlin has a quite ambitious bicycle strategy and the city administration, on some level, understands that urban cycling improves the quality of life and that it needs to be promoted and supported. However, the construction of adequate cycling infrastructure and the redesign of intersections has failed to follow the tremendous increase in cycling rates over the past couple of years. Progress is painfully slow and there is little Best Practice design.

The people of Berlin seem to understand the benefits of cycling, rates are sky rising and people demand more action from the political power through a referendum.

Our blog post from April landed right in the middle of the heated debate around cycling in the German capital. We flattered the group behind the cycling referendum and we annoyed the senate with provocations about their lack of action in making Berlin a more bicycle friendly city. So let us revisit the situation in Berlin.

Thanks to the political pressure and activism of the cycling referendum group Volksentscheid Fahrrad, cycling became a key issue during the election campaigns in past elections in September 2016. Consequently, the political powers had to incorporate the goals of the cycling referendum in their political agendas, due to the unique nature of the Berlin laws. We have to praise the cycling referendum group once again for their activism and dedication to the topic. Their way of communication and organisation can be an example for bicycle activism all over the world. Just remember who to thank when you're riding your bike safely and smoothly in a couple of years. It's this group of ordinary people who fought for their right to space in their city.

But one step at a time, we're not there yet. There is, however, hope! Berlin is moving. The newly-elected coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the Socialists (Die Linke) agreed in their coalition treaty on the implementation of a mobility law by Spring 2017. This mobility law is expected to be the most progressive mobility concept in all of Germany and it certainly has some promising goals and objectives. Even some of the most pessimistic cycling activists are rubbing their eyes in disbelief that this is actually happening. So what does it say?

First, the cycling law, which was developed by the activists around the cycling referendum Volksentscheid Fahrrad, forms the fundamental basis for the future of mobility planning in Berlin. Meaning a redistribution of road space in favour of cycling and provision of bicycle infrastructure are key issues of the new coalition plan. The following examples are all taken from the new coalition treaty and will be implemented in a mobility law. Take a deep breath and dream of a bright and shiny future.

  • The city will invest in bicycle infrastructure along all main roads with a cycle lane width of two metres. 
  • Additionally, a network of cycling streets where drivers have to yield and cyclists enjoy priority, will be developed on side-streets.
  • Dangerous intersections will be redesigned with improved safety for pedestrians and bicycle users. Bicycle highways with a total length of 100km will be constructed. 
  • The city is already testing green waves for cyclists and is willing to expand the system on more arterial roads. 
  • Bicycle parking will be improved with more bike racks throughout the city and large bicycle parking garages close to all main train stations. 
  • Berlin will test and implement green arrows on intersections allowing bicycle riders to turn right on a red light. Something being tested in Copenhagen and already in place in Belgium and France.
As if that weren't enough, the city agreed on another prestige project to show their change in traffic planning paradigm. From 2019 cars will be banned from Berlin's 60 metre wide boulevard Unter den Linden and it'll be transformed into a large space for flaneurs and cyclists. The only vehicles that will be allowed are buses, taxis and diplomatic cars. It is open for discussion whether this boulevard is the right one for a pedestrian friendly transformation and it remains to be seen how the space will be designed and used or what effects it'll have on the surrounding streets, but the symbolic significance is undeniable. Further, the extension of the Autobahn 100 will be stopped at Treptower Park and won't continue under the river Spree. The insanity of a ring road Autobahn is, for now, on ice.

This German cycling utopia will be financed with an annual investment of 51 million Euro, starting in 2018. Just remember the current annual budget per person on bicycle infrastructure is 3,5€. This will increase to approximately 15€ per year per person. Five times more. Thus, Berlin is finally getting to the same level as other European cities and their investments in bicycle infrastructure. The difference is that Berlin already has a mainstream bicycle culture and high modal share of 18% compared to cities like Paris, London or the black hole of urban cycling in Europe, Madrid. So if the infrastructure follows up to the rising cycling shares, even more people will start moving around by bike.

All this sounds fantastic and we're wondering if it's just a lot of hot air to please the voters in the beginning of the electoral period. Can the city realise all their proposed plans and actions? If you look at the bicycle strategy from 2012 it is full of ambitious plans and states similar goals as the new mobility law. However, the difference that the goals are implemented in a mobility law increase the likelihood of realisation since it is a binding law for the municipal administration.

Nevertheless, the bicycle activists from the cycling referendum are a little reserved with their enthusiasm about the new mobility law. They see it as a huge step forward, but they will continue fighting for even tighter commitment to cycling. We were lucky to meet the two activists Peter Feldkamp and Tim Birkholz for a brief interview. They explained that the group around the cycling referendum is missing a measurable quantification of the new mobility law. In contrast to their developed Cycling Law, the mobility law does not have a clear time plan and assigned obligations. Further the quality and design of the infrastructure is not defined, which is for us at Copenhagenize Design Co. the key to get people on bikes.



Berlin, and Germany in general, suffers from a strong lobby for vehicular cycling, meaning these people think that cyclist belong on the road in the flow of cars and in accordance with the principles of riding a car. The dominance of painted lanes in Berlin and all over Germany shows this. A clear separation with a curb, parked cars or some sort of other physical protection still faces criticisms and is rarely built. The cycling referendum group claims a design standard for the construction of bicycle infrastructure and they look, no surprise, to Denmark and the Netherlands. In comparison to their developed Cycling law, the mobility law by the senate does not have a design standard for the quality of the bicycle infrastructure.

From the leader of traffic department of Berlin, Burhard Horn, who we met for a brief interview, we heard that painted lanes are considered as bicycle infrastructure, also in the new mobility law. So, they will be implemented, even on main roads with heavy traffic. However, the city is currently planning a pilot project to test physically protected bicycle lanes on one of Berlin's main roads. Thanks to the political pressure of the group Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln it could be Karl-Marx-Straße which is currently a terrible and dangerous ride

In our last blog post we stated that most of the painted bike lanes in Berlin are 80cm wide. We have to correct this, they are wider, 1.5m to 2m. We're sorry for the mistake! But cycling in the dooring zone of parked cars to your right makes them feel like 80cm. You're always a little scared a door might open and the 1.5m width does not help you if a car uses the lane to park in a second row.

The city painted a lot of them over the past decade to give cyclists their much-needed space, but now it's time to move to the next level. Yes... best practice. We're happy that even the vehicular cycling driven ADFC now changed their mind-set and finally get it that protected bike lanes are a crucial and needed infrastructure. Let's hope Berlin is not doing more baby steps in making the city more bicycle friendly.

Another remaining issues is the lack of qualified personnel that can take over the task of transforming Berlin into a bicycle friendly city. The current institutions seem completely overstrained with missing and qualified planners that mediated between all relevant actors. An example for the catastrophic situation in the Berlin administration came up this fall. For 13 years a bicycle lane along Skalitzer Straße has beens planned, approved and more than needed, but the involved actors, the senate, the district, the public transit operator, construction companies and the crucial player who is supposed to steer the traffic planning can't get their shit together and start constructing. In this case it is even only a painted lane.

As a reaction to the chaotic planning status the city wants to start a city owned planning institution that has the overview about current bicycle planning and construction activities. Further, a cycling alliance between the ADFC, the cycling referendum group, the districts and the public transit organisation is formed. However, they still need planners, engineers and designing taking over the task and actually redesign the roads in Berlin and then finally build the infrastructure.

Finally, the newly approved budget for cycling infrastructure will be in place from 2018 and the newly formed administrations and municipal planning departments are reforming after the elections. It'll take some time that things happen but Berlin is moving towards the right direction! For now we look really optimistic in the future.

We'll keep you updated…Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Cycling through a building in Amsterdam

BicycleDutch - 27 March, 2017 - 23:01
Road works are often a problem for people cycling. Luckily road managers in the Netherlands dislike the “Cyclists Dismount” signs almost as much as people on bicycles do. So, they … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Attempting to stop rural lane ‘rat running’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 24 March, 2017 - 13:19

The village of Warnham in West Sussex has long been plagued by ‘rat running’ – drivers taking inappropriate routes through the village as a shortcut, to avoid a lengthier (but probably, in reality, quicker) journey on more appropriate A-roads.

I’m not actually a fan of denigrating drivers in this way, as ‘rat runners’ – they are making rational decisions about the best routes for them. And even if we are willing to label them, it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. In reality ‘rat running’ is a strategic problem that can only be solved by planning and engineering decisions, ones that simply remove the ‘rat runs’ as potential routes, or that make the appropriate roads much more attractive, and the inappropriate roads much less attractive, in combination.

The village of Warnham is an interesting case study in this regard. Looking at a map of the area, we can see why there is a problem.

The village of Warnham, top centre

We can immediately see that the village (at the top centre of the map) lies in the middle of a path running east-west across the map – a path formed on the left by the A281, heading towards Guildford, and to the east, the A264, heading towards Crawley and Gatwick Airport.

Zooming in closer, I’ve drawn on the route that drivers are expected to take, following the main roads, if they were heading from Crawley towards Guildford.

I suspect the majority of drivers do follow this route – and in the opposite direction too. But it’s clearly a long way round, and there are a couple of tempting ‘direct’ routes, which cut off the long southward diversion, both of which run through or near Warnham, marked in red, below.

This problem has got, or will get, even worse, with the expansion of the village of Broadbridge Heath (now essentially a connected suburb of Horsham), to the south.

The old bypass of Broadbridge Heath is the yellow road; the new bypass has been built even further south, making the east-west route even longer.

That means fairly urgent action is required to alleviate, or remove entirely, the problem of drivers using some fairly narrow rural lanes as a shortcut alternative to main roads.

One of these interventions has taken place at the junction to the west, where Strood Lane (a narrow rural lane to Warnham) meets the A281. At this junction, people taking a short cut will want to turn right if they are heading west; conversely, they will want to turn left into this side road, if they are trying to drive east.

The junction in question, with the movements that need to be prevented

These movements have now in fact been banned, in conjunction with some minor engineering works that should support them. I went over to take a look at them a few days ago. I’m not entirely sure they will be effective.

Here we are looking west – the A281 is the main road running across the picture, while I am standing on the minor lane, Strood Lane. As you can see right turns have been banned, but there isn’t an awful lot to stop people from ignoring the sign and just turning right, as this driver is doing, literally within 30 seconds of me arriving. The following two drivers did turn left, but I suspect people habituated to using this ‘rural lane’ route as their best option will not be deterred.

To the right of the photo, we can see an encouraging bit of engineering. The island simply wasn’t there before – it’s a big build out which I think will (almost) completely stop people turning left of the major road – the corner is far too tight to be taken at speed, and it will involve coming to a complete stop, and swinging out into the opposing lane on a fast, busy road. The best feature from my perspective is the cycle bypass – a good touch. There’s no need to ban cycle turns, and we have a nice bit of engineering to support that movement. Here’s the view of the junction looking south, from the A281 main road.

The minor oversight here is some ‘except cycles’ need to be added to both the banned turn signs.

The real question is how to properly discourage those right turns out of the side road. I suspect the engineering could have been far more severe, to truly force people into turning left out of Strood Lane.

In any case, if the turning ban is wholly effective, the ‘desired route’ will involve adding about 600m to people’s journeys, as they turn left onto the A281, circle around a roundabout, then resume their journey in their intended direction (and vice versa in the opposite direction).

Will that be enough to make this route unattractive? Again, I suspect not.

Another intervention appears to be taking place at the same time, on Byfleets Lane, one of the ‘red’ routes through this area (and in my view the more tempting of the two). On the section highlighted with a black border, this already narrow lane is being deliberately narrowed, and having a ‘hard’ margin added.

Apologies for the poor quality phone photo!

It’s not particularly clear from my poor photo, but this is about a four-inch high continuous metal ‘basket’, full of gravel, which will be difficult or impossible to drive over, hence restricting this lane to basically one vehicle’s width. Passing places are being installed at intervals. This will be quite effective, I think – it will reduce the temptation to charge through here, knowing that you will be forced to confront oncoming traffic, and may have to reverse to a passing place.

The slight irony is that these works are taking… three months, during which the lane is completely closed to motor traffic (see the orange barriers in the photo above). This suggests to me that a permanent closure halfway along – one which would still permit resident access – might be an option worth exploring.

Any thoughts welcome in the comments below!


Categories: Views

Australia and a bicycle parking facility

BicycleDutch - 20 March, 2017 - 23:01
I am currently in Australia where I am meeting a lot of interesting people, my family, some good friends and last but not least the Queensland Minister for Main Roads, … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

A visit to a Highways England cycling and walking scheme – the A21 dualling

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 17 March, 2017 - 10:06

Last year I wrote about a section of the A23 – a Highways England-administered road – that had been widened (or ‘upgraded’) from a four lane to a six lane road, matching the motorway-like nature of the rest of this road as it runs south from Crawley (an extension of the M23 motorway) to the south coast at Brighton.

The subject of that post was principally the cycling and walking facilities that had been built as part of those construction works.

Part of the parallel walking and cycling route, constructed next to the widened A23

Prior to construction (between 2011 and 2014) this road was essentially a complete no-go area for walking and cycling, with no alternative but to cycle on a carriageway with a 70mph speed limit, carrying nearly 70,000 vehicles a day. There is now an alternative that is – for the most part – very good.

As I write this, a similar construction project is underway on another Highways England road, a section of the A21 between Tunbridge and Pembury, on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. This road is not as busy as the A23, carrying nearly 40,000 vehicles per day, it involves converting a single carriageway road into a dualled four lane road, rather than a six lane road.

But it is very reminiscent, in that it involves adding a lane in each direction, and in the fact  that parallel walking and cycling provision is being provided alongside this new ‘upgraded’ section of road. Again, like the A23, there was no cycling (or walking!) provision along the (single carriageway) pre-construction A21.

Definitely not a place for the fainthearted cycle user. Or anyone at all, really.

Last week Tunbridge Wells Bicycle User Group were invited to take a look at how construction of this parallel provision was coming along, with completion of the whole project due in September, and I was kindly invited along too.

The section of road being dualled, from a two-lane single carriageway, to four lanes

As you will see from the photographs that follow, the whole scheme is very much a work in progress. But the cycling and walking provision looks like it will be of a high standard.

Starting at the southern (Tunbridge Wells) end, the path runs northwards parallel to what will be a motor traffic slip road, joining the main A21.

The path here is something like 2.5-3m wide, which I think will be wide enough, especially given that, along this southern stretch, there will be parallel provision on the other side of the dual carriageway (but we didn’t get to see that, because of the nature of the construction work).

I suspect, going by what we saw, this will actually be the worst part of this path alongside the A21. The biggest issue here will be the proximity of the path to the carriageway; it certainly felt quite exposed walking along here, even with the lower traffic speeds on the A21 through the roadworks. There is definitely a need for some kind of barrier and (ideally) one that has some noise abatement function.

Further north, the path will be further way from the road.

Here we can see the new northbound carriageway, serving as a two-way A21 while construction takes places on the southbound carriageway, at the extreme right. We are walking on what is left of the old A21, which will form the foundations for the new path. The separation is much better here, although again it would be good to have something between the path and the road for more comfort.

Approximately one quarter of the way along the upgraded section of road, there is a an underbridge junction (helpfully marked as ‘underbridge’ on the map, above!), connecting up some rural lanes on the eastern side of the road. This bit of road also serves as the access point, off the A21, for the existing houses along the former road.

The road is (deliberately) bendy, to slow drivers down as they enter this new environment. The path will continue northwards alongside it, without interruption, although we were told it will be slightly narrower here, and closer to the road. The photograph above shows approximately where it will go, to the left of the road. There will (theoretically) be very little motor traffic here, and a lower speed too, so this proximity is not too much of a problem.

If you continue cycling north, you will then be using the former A21 road, which we walked along.

This will now serve as the access road for the handful of houses (four or so) along this old section of the A21 – you can see one of them to the left, in the photograph above. Although people who live here will now have slightly longer car journeys (this ‘service road’ will be a dead end to motor traffic, meaning they will have to drive back to the previous junction to join the A21) these residents will have a much better environment, living next to a very quiet lane instead of next to a fast, busy trunk road carrying 37,000 vehicles a day.

The same location (with matching telegraph pole) in 2014, courtesy of Streetview.

I shot a short video at this spot to give some idea of the change in nature of this road. You can still hear the A21, behind the bank, but it’s possible to talk quietly, and hear birdsong.

This service road continues northwards, running in parallel to the new road. For me the most impressive part of the new route is this cutting.

Again, we see motor traffic running in two directions on what will be the northbound carriageway. Meanwhile we are walking on what will become the dead-end service road, or cycle path (it will be gated at approximately this location, to stop drivers using it to continue northbound). Clearly, an enormous amount of ‘extra’ earth has been removed here to create a wide path, with good separation from the new A21.

Looking back southwards, as a construction vehicle follows us

Walking towards Tonbridge on what will be the walking and cycling route, fenced away from the new A21

The path will also be fenced off from the A21; we could see the fence under construction as we walked northwards.

In the distance here is the extent of the route we were able to walk; construction is still taking place. But even so we were able to get within a few hundred metres of the junction to the south of Tonbridge; this will form a very useful link between the two towns, which are only about four miles apart.

The real problem is going to be ensuring that Kent County Council (and the local borough councils) manage to build routes of this quality right into their town centres. This route will only connect up the outskirts of both towns; for people to cycle between them, they need the same high standard of facility along the length of their journey. If they have to battle along motor-traffic dominated roads just to reach this new path, then its potential will not even be remotely fulfilled.

Of course, in one sense it is relatively easy to build cycling infrastructure alongside this kind of road scheme. For a start it is something of a blank slate; the cycling infrastructure can simply be delivered with the project. And in addition there aren’t the kinds of issues that make building cycle routes in urban areas more problematic. To take just one example, there aren’t many junctions to deal with – the cycleway simply runs alongside the road. These are problems that will have to be overcome at a local level.

That said, it is very encouraging that a scheme that was developed many years ago is coming to fruition with what looks like a very useful piece of cycle provision embedded within it. Even within the last few years, Highways England have been moving forwards on the design of cycling infrastructure, so it is good to see something of this quality that dates from before those improvements. Highways England standards like IAN 195/16 – Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network – represent one of the best avenues for ensuring that cycling is properly designed into our road network, at every level.

The challenge is going to be ensuring that provision of this quality is built into the existing Highways England (and regional equivalent) road network, not just into new schemes like this one, and even more importantly, ensuring it happens outside of the Highways England road network – where these new routes bump against the remit of local authorities who may have little or no experience, enthusiasm, or funding. If that doesn’t happen, then routes like this one will be isolated and underused – a waste of their potential, which would be a great pity.

 

My thanks to TWBUG, and to Alison from Balfour Beatty and Tom from Highways England for showing us around.


Categories: Views

Making London’s lorries safer

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 16 March, 2017 - 19:41

Here is our response to Transport for London’s consultation on making lorries in London safer, made with our fellow organisations on the Action on Lorry danger working group:

Click on:gerresponsewithlogosDirectVisionStandard15March2017Final

 


Categories: Views

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