Time for Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads

*PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION*

As I’m sure most of you already know, the Department for Transport recently made a decision to increase the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads in Britain to 50mph.

One of the arguments made for this policy was that of safety. The intention is to reduce the speed differential between HGVs and other motor traffic from 20 mph (the difference between 60 mph, and 40 mph – the previous limit for HGVs) to 10 mph. It is asserted that this will reduce the temptation to overtake HGVs in dangerous situations.

The Department for Transport states that

The change to the national speed limit on single carriageway roads will modernise an antiquated restriction, which is not matched in most other European countries, including some of the other leaders alongside the UK for road safety (eg the Netherlands and Norway)

It is true that this change will bring the UK more into line with the Netherlands, which has a higher speed limit for HGVs of 80km/h (~50mph) on single carriageway roads.

However, I would like to argue that this change – this reduction in speed differentials between HGVs and other motor traffic – should form just the start of a comprehensive approach to road safety that reduces danger for all road users, based on the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veilig. Rather than just one isolated measure, the UK should bring its entire road network, and the way it is designed, into line with the Netherlands.

Sustainable Safety is all about prevention - preventing crashing from occurring, and, secondarily, reducing the risk of serious injuries when collisions do occur.

One of the core principles of this approach is homogeneity – equalising, as much as possible, the mass, speed and direction of vehicles, to reduce collision risk. In particular, fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and vehicles travelling at speed should not be travelling in opposing directions, without separation. Likewise measures should be taken to separate bodies of unequal mass; for instance, heavy vehicles like buses and lorries should be not be sharing the same space as pedestrians and cyclists. The basis for this approach – and other Sustainable Safety measures – is that human beings are fallible, and that the environment we travel in should respond to that fallibility, rather than expecting us to not make mistakes, ever.

Although this approach is only a few decades old – launched in the early 1990s in the Netherlands – the Dutch have made great progress in applying Sustainable Safety to their road network. They have removed speed differentials, reclassified road types, and improved the forgivingness of their roads and streets. SWOV estimate that, from 1998 to 2007, Sustainable Safety measures had reduced the number of deaths on Dutch roads by 30%, compared to a situation in which these measures had not been implemented.

Meanwhile Britain languishes far behind, with a road network totally unsuitable for the few vulnerable users who are brave enough to venture onto it.

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The contrast with the Dutch road network – open to all users, of all ages and abilities, regardless of their mode of transport – could not be more stark.

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As it happens, in raising the HGV speed limit on single carriageway roads to 50mph, the DfT has, accidentally or otherwise, made a tiny, tentative step towards applying Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – the speed limit differential between HGVs and other motor traffic has been reduced.

But this is, plainly, nowhere near enough. Sustainable Safety principles  should instead be applied comprehensively and consistently across Britain’s road networks, ensuring that all road users are travelling at similar speeds, and that if they are not, that they are provided for separately.

What would this mean in policy terms?

  • Speed limit differentials between all forms of motor traffic should only exist where vehicles have an opportunity to overtake each other safely, without coming into conflict with oncoming traffic – on motorways and dual carriageways, or where specific overtaking locations are provided, with central reservations, or barriers. Overtaking should be performed in lanes with motor traffic travelling in a uniform direction, rather than in lanes which carry oncoming motor traffic.
  • On single-carriageway roads where the speed limit for HGVs will be raised to 50mph, sustainable safety dictates that all motor traffic should also be limited to 50mph – a reduction from the current 60mph limit.  This uniform lower speed limit should be accompanied by design features that encourage drivers of vans and cars to adhere to it. The risk of dangerous overtaking – cited as a justification for the increase in the HGV speed limit on these roads – would be reduced greatly by such a move, as all motor traffic would be subject to the same speed limit, and travelling at a more uniform speed.*
  • It is absolutely essential that this uniformity of speed of motor traffic on the road network is accompanied by the provision of high quality, separate routes for road users that travel at substantially lower speeds – people walking, cycling, and riding horses, as well as agricultural traffic. It is not at all appropriate for these users – generally travelling at no more than 20mph – to travel in the same space on single-carriageway roads as vehicles travelling 30mph faster or more; or indeed in the same space on dual carriageways, which have even higher speed limits.
  • Not only would the construction of these separate routes greatly increase the safety of these vulnerable road users, they would also serve to make the journeys of motorists safer, smoother and less stressful.
  • On roads where separate routes for slower users cannot be provided, or where it is not cost-effective or appropriate to do so, measures should be taken to reduce through motor-traffic, and to encourage motorists to use faster roads (roads where, as above, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders will have separate provision.)
  • This universal 50mph limit should apply on main roads, with a 40mph limit elsewhere. As with the reasons set out above, this uniformity is on the grounds of homogeneity of speed, and again serves to reduce the temptation to overtake dangerously.

Naturally enough, I am coming at this issue from a cycling perspective, but I hope it is clear from the above proposals that these measures would benefit everyone who uses the road network, either on foot, on horseback, on bike, or at the wheel of any kind of motor vehicle.

It would make journeys by foot or by bike considerably safer, and far more pleasant, but just as importantly the same would apply for journeys being made by motor vehicle. The stress of having to deal with overtaking slow-moving agricultural traffic, or people cycling, would be removed. Journeys would be smoother, safer and more predictable. It would also genuinely reduce any (legal) incentive to overtake HGVs in situations where specific overtaking opportunities have not been provided – all motor traffic would be travelling at approximately the same speed on these roads. Only on roads designed with safe overtaking opportunities would different categories of motor vehicle have different speed limits.

We would have a humane road network, that is safe for all, rather than the current one that effectively excludes the vast majority of users who aren’t travelling in motor vehicles. In addition, it would make the journeys of people in motor vehicles safer, and more straightforward.

This needs to happen. That’s why I have started a petition calling on the Department for Transport to develop and implement these policies for Britain’s roads.

I hope you can sign it.

*In some limited circumstances, a 60mph limit for all motor traffic could be retained on single-carriageway roads (for instance, long distance routes where higher speeds might be justified), provided design measures have been put in place to eliminate the danger of head-on or crossing conflicts.

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments

Dual network strikes again

Yesterday Transport for London announced their plans for Elephant & Castle, which had been out to consultation earlier in the year. There are some good elements here, but there’s a worrying amount of inconsistency. Attractive conditions for cycling aren’t continuous through the scheme.

This is most obvious on the Link Road, the bit of road that connects the main roundabout with the junction to the south – the junction where Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed in May.

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What TfL are going to build on the Link Road. The roundabout is to the left; the southern junction is to the right.

A cycle track runs northbound on this stretch of road, at bottom (the TfL plan is oriented with north to the left). This bypasses a large bus stop. There is no reason why this won’t work, providing it is designed properly.

But curiously, in the opposite direction – southbound – there is no cycle track at all. Instead we have a cycle lane running outside of a long bus lane/stop, sandwiched between stopped, or moving, buses, and general traffic lanes.*

At both ends of this cycle lane there are problems. At the northern end, buses and cycles will be moving across each other’s paths, at the point where the protected cycle track ends.

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And at the southern end, we have similar problems -

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People cycling straight on (south) will have to deal with motor traffic (including HGVs) wishing to turn left cutting across them, and buses moving out in the opposite direction. And this at a junction where someone has recently been killed by a left-turning HGV.

It’s a mess. And, more importantly, a needless mess, when there is sound design on the other side of the road that could just be copied across. There should be a cycle track here, running behind the bus stop. There is little to no point attempting to do something properly in one direction, and giving up in the other.

There is plenty of space to play with here. You can see on the diagram above that a median (in yellow) is being retained between the two carriageways, which is 1.5m wide. It has a fence on it, in an attempt to stop people crossing the road; presumably this is why it is being retained.

In addition, it seems that space is going to waste, due to some familiar (pervasive) ‘dual network’ thinking. TfL write that they will be implementing

additional improvements for cyclists who wish to remain on the carriageway such as, widening the carriageway northbound on the Elephant and Castle Link Road to allow for 4.5m bus lane to offer space for cyclists to overtake buses, and introducing a new cycle feeder lane on the approach to St George’s Road to offer better protection to cyclists approaching the junction [my emphasis]

So rather than doing things properly, and providing cycle tracks away from the carriageway that anyone – fast or slow – would naturally want to use, a 4.5m wide bus lane is being implemented in parallel to the northbound cycle track.

This is a waste of everyone’s time. As David Arditti argues -

There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.

But this is what TfL (and doubtless most other councils in Britain) are still doing. Indeed, quite explicitly, in this specific instance. In response to requests in the consultation for wider cycle tracks in the scheme, TfL respond [pdf] -

The proposed cycle lane will be two metres wide, which is the same width as the segregated cycling facilities that are being introduced elsewhere. This is wider than many cycle lanes in London, and because cyclists will also have access to the 4.5m wide bus lane there is in effect greater capacity.

In effect – we don’t need to do things properly, because we are fully expecting a large number of people to continue cycling with motor traffic on the carriageway.

The logic is circular – the low quality of the cycle tracks will hold up people who want to cycle faster, and these people will opt for the main carriageway; those people opting for the carriageway are then used to justify the low quality of the cycle tracks. It’s insane.

No country that does things well designs for cycling like this. Instead, they employ high quality, inclusive networks that anyone is happy to use, because they are fast, direct, safe and continuous, for everyone.

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Can we really not achieve this here? Can we not build two wide cycle tracks, in each direction? Or are we going to waste space continuing to  attempt to cater for two different kinds of cyclists simultaneously?

 

 

_______________________________________________________________

*It’s not entirely clear from their response whether TfL will be employing this ‘cycle lane outside bus lane’ design – which appears on their updated design drawing, showing the new changes – or a a wide bus lane, with no cycle lane at all, which is mentioned in their changes. Either way these conflicting movements will still exist.

Posted in Dual network, Elephant and Castle, Transport for London | 37 Comments

If people cycling are breaking the law, there’s a problem with the street

In Horsham, there’s a street where people cycling consistently break the law. South Street is a one-way street in the centre of town; stand here for any period of time, particularly in the morning or the evening, and you will see people cycling ‘the wrong way’ – either on the footways, or in the carriageway itself.

IMG_4247

Going the wrong way

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Also going the wrong way

Why is this? Well, South Street has to be seen in context.

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South Street is the short link, marked in red, with the arrow showing the ‘correct’ direction

South Street forms part of the one-way route through the centre of the town; you can only drive through the town from the roundabout to the south-west, to the junction at the north-east – not in the opposite direction.

There were good intentions here – the centre of Horsham has very little motor traffic, and it travels at low speeds, thanks to a (self-reinforcing) 20mph zone with humps, sharp corners, and a cobbled surface. The idea is (and was) to make through traffic take the inner ring road, that loops around the town centre, and this generally works. (I’ve covered the background in this previous post).

However this policy has made it very difficult to negotiate the town centre by bike, because the one-way route through the centre has no exemptions for cycling. It makes it difficult – indeed next to impossible – to cycle across the town from east to west, and (for our purposes) from north to south.

Looking again at South Street, it’s quite easy to see why people are cycling through here; it forms part of a direct link between the Park to the north (where it is legal to cycle), to the routes through to the southern parts of Horsham.

The obvious route, from north to south, across the town centre

The obvious route, from north to south, across the town centre

There isn’t any other alternative if you want to head from the north of the town, to the south, except for the inner ring road itself, which is a dual carriageway carrying around 20,000 motor vehicles a day, at 30+ mph.

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Albion Way, Horsham’s inner ring road. An attractive route for cycling?

The additional detail – as well as the outright hostility of this road to cycling – is that it would be a lengthy detour to use this road, rather than taking the direct route. Fine if you are driving, which doesn’t require any physical exertion, not much fun if you are cycling.

So the ‘problem’ of cycling the wrong way on one-way streets is really a problem of failing to design safe, attractive routes for people who wish to cycle – indeed, ignoring cycling completely in the design process.  

The obvious solution here is to make South Street two-way for cycling – that is, simply legalising the illegal behaviour. I think this could be achieved quite safely without any physical alteration to the street, beyond changing the no-entry signs to include an exemption. There’s not much traffic travelling through here, and people are already cycling the wrong way, without the world ending! 

Long-term, it would be more appropriate to emphasise two-way cycling with this kind of design -

Two-way cycling in the centre of Assen, on a one-way road for motor vehicles

Two-way cycling in the centre of Assen, on a one-way road for motor vehicles

But in the meantime a simple exemption would work.

I think it’s worth considering these kinds of problems with two important principles in mind -

  • All the regulation and control on our streets – one-way roads, traffic lights, and so on – exists because of motor traffic. Prior to the existence of large volumes of motor traffic, almost none of this control was necessary. So people cycling have been swept up in, and inconvenienced by, a system that wasn’t necessary for their mode of transport.
  • We want more people cycling; more cycling is a good thing, as is less driving. So we should do all we can to exempt cycling from the controls that exist solely because of motor traffic.

It seems that these kinds of ideas are, sadly, completely alien to most people. The associate editor of the Irish Sunday Times, John Burns, had this to say in response to a comment of mine about ‘fixing’ the problem of cycling the wrong way on streets -

Presumably this was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, but it falls flat, because yes, this is precisely what we should do doing. If people are cycling on footways, there’s a problem with the street. If people are cycling through red lights, then there’s a problem with the junction. The problem lies not with the behaviour; it lies with the street itself.

I’ve already described how pavement cycling does not exist in the Netherlands, as a phenomenon. There simply isn’t any reason to cycle on footways, because the alternative is better.

And the same logic applies to jumping red lights. In the vast majority of cases, there’s either too much unnecessary delay, or there is no need to hold people cycling at a red light, when they could safely proceed. More generally, urban areas in Britain are bloated with traffic signals, a result of a failure to restrain motor traffic, or to redirect it to more appropriate routes. Dutch town centres have vastly fewer traffic signals, and hence vastly fewer lights for people to jump.

Earlier this year, a video of ‘bad cyclist behaviour’ in York went viral, featuring in the Daily Mail and a number of other national newspapers. The original YouTube video now appears to have been withdrawn – but you can view it here, in BT’s ‘motoring’ section.

Nearly every single example of ‘bad behaviour’ in this video would not exist in the Netherlands, because roads and streets there are designed to make cycling easy and painless, rather than throwing up pointless obstacles in their way.

The video opens with people bypassing a red traffic light to turn left, on a well-used cowpath.

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Junctions in the Netherlands are designed to accommodate this behaviour. There is no reason to hold people cycling at red traffic signals unnecessarily – people in York have worked this out for themselves.

This is followed by a sequence of people cycling the wrong way on one way streets (being admonished by the dayglo finger of shame) -

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This is behaviour that should simply be legalised, and made safe. Towns and cities should not have these kinds of restrictions on movement in these directions by people cycling.

Next up, someone cycling straight on through a red signal at a T-junction -

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Again, streets should be designed to allow this kind of behaviour; there’s no need for people cycling to come into conflict with motor traffic while performing this manoeuvre.

Then a sequence of people jumping traffic lights that – judging by the locations – shouldn’t exist at all -

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Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.07.13Should there be so much motor traffic in these kinds of locations to justify signalisation? Almost certainly not.

The video is rounded off with some people trundling on footways alongside some pretty dreadful-looking roads.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.34.03 Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.35.08Would they be here if there were suitable conditions away from footways? Definitely not.

Rather than shaming and blaming, a more constructive (and more importantly permanent) solution to illegal cycling would be to design the problem out of existence. In doing so would we make our towns and cities vastly more attractive places.

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

A ‘cyclist’ is not a different species; just another human being

Short version – it’s as preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’ as it would be to attribute them to ‘trainists’, ‘busists’, ‘planeists’, ‘tubists’ or ‘pedestrians’. A ‘cyclist’ is just a human being who happens to be travelling by bike, just as a ‘pedestrian’ is a human being who happens to be travelling on foot, and a ‘trainist’ one who happens to be travelling by train.

 

 

Last month Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme ran a short segment on cycling safety, featuring MaidstoneonBike, among others.

About halfway through the programme, a number of tweets from the audience were read out, presumably in the interests of ‘balance’. That ‘balance’ being that on a programme arguing we need to do more to keep ‘cyclists’ safe, we need other people arguing that ‘cyclists’ need to do more for themselves.

Among these tweets, read out to an audience of millions, were the following statements -

cyclists have no spatial awareness

and

bike riders are irresponsible

There are, I think, only two ways these comments – and countless others like them – can conceivably make sense.

1) It’s possible that a ‘cyclist’ isn’t a normal human being, but rather some variant of the species that lacks spatial awareness, or that is more irresponsible than a standard human being.

2) Alternatively, a ‘cyclist’ is a normal human being – but there is something about a bicycle that immediately removes their spatial awareness, and makes them more irresponsible; or, that a bicycle appeals uniquely to that subset of humanity that is lacking spatial awareness, or is irresponsible.

The first is obviously absurd; the second bears slightly more serious consideration, but not much.

But I think that the first (absurd) explanation does actually correspond to the way plenty of people think, reflexively. Perhaps it is what the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up in the popular imagination – a skinny young male, dressed in lycra, wearing funny shoes and a funny helmet. This person isn’t ‘one of us’. They’re a bit alien.

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A clear example of this phenomenon came on a Radio 4 comedy programme last night – The Show What You Wrote, on which the ‘ensemble’ perform ‘the best’ listener submissions, chosen from thousands of entries. The very first sketch of this programme – indeed the first of the entire series – was remarkable, for what it says about these kinds of attitudes.

It starts with the sound of a car being driven, followed by a loud crashing sound, and a squeal of tires.

Man: I think I’ve hit something! Oh, I can’t believe this. A nice, country drive, and this happens. I feel awful.

Woman: Poor little thing. Do you think his little family are wondering where he is?

Man: Oh my God it moved! It’s still alive!

Woman: Well we’re going to have to put it out of it’s misery. Here – use this stick.

[Sound of a beating]

Man: Oh, that wasn’t nice.

Woman: Okay, now you get rid of his body, and I’ll stick his bicycle in the boot.

LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE

The ‘humour’ here – such that it is – relies upon the audience believing that the man and the woman are discussing hitting and dispatching something not-human, when it turns out they hit and dispatched a human, or a sort-of-human. Presumably the image the audience have in their mind is of a kind of skinny, lycra-clad, helmeted ‘species’, like in the picture above.

The ‘joke’, however, would be preposterous if the word ‘cyclist’ conjured up these images in the popular imagination.

Caption

You get rid of her body, and I’ll put her bike in the boot. Ho ho ho!

So – as ridiculous as it is to think of ‘cyclists’ as a different kind of human, or not-human, this is unfortunately the instinctive reaction of plenty of people. Radio 4 comedy programmes would not run segments like this if it were otherwise.

The other explanation – that a bicycle itself somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary human being into an irresponsible one, or that bicycles uniquely appeal to those that lack spatial awareness, or variants thereof – is almost as ridiculous.

People who ride bikes use plenty of other modes of transport; they all walk, they almost all drive motor vehicles (except, of course, children), they take the train, the tube, and the bus. For it to be true that ‘cyclists’ have particular characteristics of lawlessness, or of irresponsibility or cluelessness, that other transport users don’t have, these characteristics must suddenly appear when they sit astride a bicycle, and then just as suddenly disappear when they dismount.

Is this likely? Can ‘spatial awareness’ suddenly come and go, according to the mode of transport someone is using? Obviously not; someone’s spatial awareness is a constant. Likewise ‘irresponsibility’ is a constant; an irresponsible person will be irresponsible regardless of their mode of transport.

A man who pushes you out of the way while cycling will undoubtedly be the same kind of person who pushes you out of the way while walking, or while trying to get onto a train, or who will use his horn while driving. But this kind of behaviour – equally likely across all modes of transport – is never used as an attribute of ‘pedestrians’, or ‘trainists’, or ‘motorists’.

A moment’s reflection will show that it makes absolutely no sense to attribute characteristics to people who happen to be using a particular mode of transport.

‘Motorists have poor hearing.’

‘Trainists are sweaty’.

‘Busists lack a sense of direction.’

All utterly, utterly preposterous; yet BBC presenters are quite happy to read out precisely these kinds of statements on air, to millions of people.

Think about what you’re saying.

Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments

Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?

The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) -

In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.

I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.

Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.

And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea -

BtFVcU3IgAACHR0So this strikes me as a location where pavement space could entirely reasonably be reallocated for cycling, provided that pedestrian comfort is not significantly worsened.

Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit -

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Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.

Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).

Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.

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There’s an obvious location for a cycle track here, and it’s not the pointless blue stripe with vehicles on it

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Likewise – clear away the clutter, and there’s an obvious cycle track, between the trees and the motor vehicle.

This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.

I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.

This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, Uncategorized | 23 Comments

On the buses

A hot topic at the moment is potential conflict between London’s bus network, and an expanding cycle network – one suitable for all potential users.

It’s becoming a prominent issue, I suspect, because in the places where cycle provision is being installed, or proposed, space is – in some instances – being taken from the bus network. The Superhighway 2 extension along Stratford High Street has taken a lane away, in each direction, from a six lane road. However, that road did, in the recent past, have (intermittent) bus lanes in each direction – bus lanes that aren’t there now.

Likewise the new proposals for Superhighway 5 show that the cycle tracks on Vauxhall Bridge will come at the expense of one of the two bus lanes, rather than at the expense of a general traffic lane.

A bus lane has gone missing.

Six lanes down to five, but a bus lane has gone missing.

The West End Project in Camden is also being presented by some as a ‘conflict’ between bus priority and cycle priority, although it is not clear to me that the parties who are demanding a much higher standard of cycle provision in the scheme are suggesting that bus priority should be watered down. Importantly, there is no reason – in principle – why a good bus network, equivalent or better to the bus provision currently running north-south through this area of Camden – cannot work alongside a cycle network of a high standard.

The problem, I think, is that Transport for London see the bus network as the easiest thing to erode, when it comes to installing cycle-specifc provision. Bus lanes are already the ‘domain’ of Transport for London; there isn’t a large, vocal group standing up for them, apart from the bus companies, who are themselves contracted by TfL. It’s probably much easier for Transport for London to put cycling provision in place of a bus lane than it is in place of a general traffic lane, and they are taking the path of least resistance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Vauxhall Bridge could have excellent cycling provision, and two bus lanes in each direction. Those four lanes of private motor traffic could come down to three, with bus priority maintained. As I’ve said above, there is no necessary conflict between bus provision and cycle provision.

Space for cycling should come first from private motor traffic, then from the bus network, if necessary, and if that can be achieved without eroding the quality of the bus network as a whole. Indeed, this is how Dutch cities, in my experience, function. Space for walking and cycling comes first, then space for a bus or public transport network, and space for private motor traffic then has to fit in around that. This ordering means that many ‘main roads’ in Dutch cities aren’t open to private motor traffic at all, except for access. In Haarlem -

Or in Utrecht -

Potterstraat - a bus- and cycle-only main road

Potterstraat – a bus- and cycle-only main road

You can find numerous examples of where private motor traffic has been squeezed out, to make space for a good public transport network, alongside comfortable, attractive conditions for cycling and walking.

So to that extent, any ‘battle’ between public transport and cycling in London is most likely a reflection of a failure to take space away from private motor traffic, or to reduce it to the extent that buses are not impeded. This is, I think, the strategy for the ‘Clerkenwell Boulevard’ – to maintain bus and cycle priority along the length of the route, while allowing private motor traffic to use the bus lanes, but for access only.

And in Camden, there is again no reason why – in theory – priority bus routes cannot exist alongside high quality cycling infrastructure in the West End Project, although I appreciate that politically and strategically this is very difficult.

The biggest part of that political and strategic difficulty lies with the fact that cycling remains very much a minority mode of transport in London. It is a huge ask to demand space for it, in its own right, when it still forms a small percentage of trips in the city, compared to driving and public transport.

And yet… This is all very circular. People do not cycle in large numbers in London primarily because space has not been allocated for cycling. Cycling has not been prioritised, or given the space necessary to make it a comfortable, safe and attractive mode of transport, suitable for more people than the small minority who cycle now.

What is needed is a strategic vision about the future of London, and other British towns and cities, built around the way we would like people to be making trips, and certainly not one built around maintaining existing mode share. A central part of this strategy should involve opening up cycling as a genuine choice for all, alongside walking, driving, or taking public transport. That choice does not exist, at present. It is clear that people drive or take public transport for trips that would actually be more convenient by bike. They are forced into driving or taking the bus because conditions for cycling are sufficiently hostile to remove ‘choice’ altogether. The Alternative Department for Transport has written a very good blog about precisely this point.

The table below (courtesy of Transport for London) gives some indication of the problem.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 00.40.32

66% of all bus stages in London are under 3km, and nearly 90% are under 5km – about 3 miles (with the caveat this data is ‘as the crow flies’, i.e. a direct line from bus stop to bus stop).

Now of course many of these trips are ones that are inconvenient, or impossible, to cycle – they might be connecting trips on public transport, or a bus genuinely is the best option for the trip in question. Likewise many people making these trips won’t be able to cycle – they might be too infirm, or carrying too heavy a load, or it might just be raining, or too cold. This is what transport choice is all about! But surely a considerable proportion of these trips could be cycled, and more importantly the people making them might prefer to cycle them if we had Dutch-equivalent conditions in London.

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

Going by these TfL figures, on average something like 4 million bus journeys are made by London residents every day (and I’ve heard figures of 6.5 million trips per day, in total), but we haven’t arrived at this position spontaneously. Such a large number of bus trips has arisen out of the bus network being developed and prioritised, and made an easy and obvious choice for ordinary people.

To argue that cycling is for fit young men, while (by implication) bus travel is for ‘everyone’, a universal mode of transport, is to spectacularly miss the point. Cycling isn’t for everyone precisely because it hasn’t received the care and attention that bus travel has received. Humane, civilised cities offer people a genuine choice between bus travel, cycling, and walking; they don’t pretend that the fact ‘everyone’ takes the bus while ‘cyclists’ (fit, young and male) continue to cycle is a natural state of affairs.

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

So the respective modal share for buses and cycling in London isn’t in any way ‘natural’, or spontaneous. We should think carefully about what London can and should look like if cycling was an available choice for everyone, and the benefits that would bring, rather than tying ourselves to defending existing levels of public transport use (and, even worse, existing levels of driving). 

Indeed, there are many good reasons why we should be prioritising cycling ahead of public transport; reasons that no doubt explain why many London boroughs, including Hackney and Camden, continue to place cycling ahead of public transport in their road user hierarchies. (Although in practice this does not happen – presumably because of the weight of numbers of people using buses, compared to the numbers cycling).

Cycling offers public health benefits that are harder to achieve with public transport. Cycling involves being physically active; taking the bus does not, at least not to the same extent. If we are serious about public health, and reducing the burden on the NHS, then walking and cycling should obviously be prioritised ahead of public transport.

Buses present danger. They are much better for cities than private motor traffic, but the fact remains that they are large heavy objects that travel quite fast, carrying considerable momentum. They can, and do, kill and seriously injure people on a regular basis – 2000 people have been killed or seriously injured by TfL buses since 2008, nearly one a day.

Although emissions technology is improving, and much more progress can be made, buses pollute - here’s just one example. 50% of NOx emissions in central London come from Transport for London buses. More people cycling means fewer buses are needed, and cleaner air.

While children and the elderly go free on London buses, as do people using travelcards, most people have to pay to use a bus. £1.45 for a single trip, while a bicycle – once you have one, of course – remains free at the point of use.

Buses are slow. This might come as a surprise to most people, who would never dream of cycling on the roads in London, but a journey by bus is typically much, much slower than one by bike, especially when the fact you have wait for a bus is accounted for. (To take just one example, a trip I used to make from Kentish town to Old Street on the 214 typically took 30 minutes, to cover 3 miles. This is one of the reasons I started cycling in London; most people are not as confident or as happy as me cycling on roads busy with motor traffic, and not have the choice I did).

Buses are indirect. Quite obviously, buses don’t go from door-to-door. You will have to walk to the bus stop at the start of the journey, and away from it at the end, and very often this will involve travelling indirectly – away from the most direct route. Cycling, by contrast, offers a door-to-door journey. You go where you want to go (at least, this is something you should be able to do).

And finally buses disconnect you from the street*, and the people on it. If you see someone you know when you are cycling, you can stop and talk to them. If you see someone you know when you are on a bus, you’ve probably missed that opportunity.

It should be emphasised again that these are merely reasons why cycling should be prioritised ahead of public transport, and definitely not reasons against public transport per se. Public transport is vital, and important, and should be strongly defended ahead of private motor traffic, and taxis. We should have space for cycling, and space for public transport. But in recognising that importance, and acknowledging the huge part buses play in transporting Londoners, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for failing to make cycling a viable for mode of transport, for all.

*Edited – this piece originally used the word ‘antisocial’ here, which on reflection I don’t think is quite right. I’ve changed this, to more accurately reflect what I wanted to convey.

Posted in Uncategorized | 49 Comments

A difference between Horsham and Farnham

Horsham and Farnham are ostensibly quite similar. Two prosperous towns in the south of England, about 25 miles apart, as the crow flies. Farnham has a population of about 40,000 people; Horsham is slightly larger with a population of 55,000.

Although, beyond these main similarities, there are presumably many differences, one noticeable difference one stands out. The number of pedestrians who are being seriously injured in their town centres.

Looking at Horsham first – just four pedestrians have been seriously injured in the town centre in the last ten years.

From Crashmap.

From Crashmap.

Noticeably, every single one of these casualties occurred on the inner ring road; a dual carriageway with a 30mph speed limit. All occurred at crossing points into the town centre. There were no serious casualties, at all, within the inner ring road.

The town centre of Farnham, at the same scale -

From Crashmap.

From Crashmap.

Rather different. 18 pedestrian KSIs over the same period, including one fatality. Four of these occurred on the A31 Farnham bypass, which has to be crossed to get into the town from the station. 13 pedestrians have been seriously injured in the centre of Farnham in ten years. News reports on two of these incidents are here and here. (The data doesn’t include last year, and so does not include this incident).

Why might this be? Why is nobody being seriously injured in the centre of Horsham, while a pedestrian is being seriously injured in the centre of Farnham at a rate greater than one a year?

Horsham is a far from brilliant place to walk and cycle around, but the town centre itself has largely been civilised. Much of it is pedestrianised, and there is very little motor traffic travelling through it. What traffic that is moving through is generally travelling at a low speed, thanks to a 20mph zone (zone, not limit) with tight corners, humps, and cobbled surfaces.

The only route through Horsham town centre.

The only route through Horsham town centre.

Farnham, by contrast, is not so much a ‘town centre’, more a funnel for motor traffic.

It really is this bad.

It really is this bad.

A one-way system dominates the shopping streets in the centre, motor traffic travelling at 30mph, with tiny pavements on either side (see for yourself).

The price of this arrangement – beyond how awful it is, as a place – is a pedestrian seriously injured, at least once a year. Somehow Horsham manages not to do this to people visiting its town centre.

Interestingly enough it appears that the problem has been recognised – proposals from Jeremy Hunt (yes, that Jeremy Hunt!) for pedestrianization of some of the problematic streets in Farnham has just been narrowly endorsed. Worth keeping an eye on.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

‘Culture’

Over the course of the last few years, an area of Horsham – East Street and Market Square – has seen the gradual removal of motor traffic. Five years ago East Street was a conventional ‘road’, with narrow pavements, and, with Market Square, was open to motor traffic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

East Street was given a ‘shared surface’ treatment back in 2010, and this was combined with the banning of the use of the street by motorists, except for loading and deliveries, and blue badge parking in a handful of bays. Subsequent to that change, the council went further, and removed motor traffic completely from the street, with temporary bollards, between 10:30am and 4:30pm. Deliveries take place before and after these times. Market Square – which can only be accessed legally from East Street – effectively became pedestrianised too, as a result of these changes.

There was some chuntering about these developments from many locals. The changes the council made were driven in large part by the numerous cafes and restaurants on East Street and Market Square, who wanted to put tables and chairs out on the street and on the square. This wouldn’t be possible without removing the motor traffic.

The grumbling – presumably from people who still wanted to drive down the street, during the day – focused on how Britain doesn’t really have a ‘cafe culture’, and that it would be silly to put table and chairs on the street. That’s just not for us Britons, the argument implied -we don’t really ‘do’ that sort of thing. People on the continent, maybe, but not us.

Well, of course, the tables and chairs did go out on the street, and, lo and behold, it turns out that we do have a cafe culture!

Market Square - full of tables and chairs, with people using them

Market Square – full of tables and chairs, with people using them

The truth is that ‘culture’ was a pretty empty causal explanation for why Britons – and people in Horsham in particular – didn’t eat and drink out and the street. Compare the above picture of Market Square with how it used to look in 2009 (from the opposite direction) -

640px-Horsham_town_hall_2009

The old Market Square. (Picture from here).

Nobody was sitting outside here, because, frankly, it was a bit shit. Essentially a car park.

And precisely the same was true of East Street. Compare today -

East Street today. People eating and drinking, on the street.

East Street today. People eating and drinking, on the street.

with the previous arrangement -

The old East Street.

The old East Street. Nobody eating and drinking on the street.

It wasn’t our ‘culture’ that stopped us from sitting on the street. It was the physical environment. As soon as that was good enough, then our ‘cafe culture’ suddenly appeared.

I think there are important lessons here for anyone who mistakenly tries to attribute the differences in the amount of cycling between Britain and the Netherlands to ‘culture’. Yes, of course, the Dutch do have a ‘bicycle culture’, but that doesn’t explain why they cycle so much. Perhaps by a combination of historical accident, good fortune, strong campaigning and bold political leadership, they’ve ended up with an environment that allows cycling. What ‘cycling culture’ they have flows from that environment. Impose British-style conditions on the Netherlands and that ‘culture’ would rapidly evaporate.

Likewise it would be absurd to attribute Britain’s low cycling levels to any lack of ‘bicycle culture’. People don’t cycle here because – again through a combination of historical misfortune, poor planning, and poor political leadership – the environment for cycling is dreadful. Where conditions for cycling are – even temporarily – made good, then suddenly our ‘bicycle culture’ materialises.

Sky Ride, London 2013 - mass cycling for one day of the year, on roads that suppress cycling for the remaining 364

Sky Ride, London 2013 – mass cycling for one day of the year, on roads that suppress cycling for the remaining 364

That’s why this quote, from Charles Rubenacker -

The Dutch have created the safest and most complete bicycling network in the world, but we need to look beyond infrastructure and into their collective souls to better understand why riding a bike is so normal in the Netherlands.

is so baffling. The true explanation is grasped in the first half of the sentence, before being discarded for an explanation that is not so much genetic, as mystical.

Do we Britons need to ‘look into our collective souls’ to understand why we don’t ride bicycles? We could do, but I don’t think it would get us very far.

‘Culture’ is an empty explanation. It asserts that the way things are is due to things being that way. Arguing that the Dutch have high cycling levels because of ‘cycling culture’ is akin to arguing that Britons don’t eat out on the street because we don’t have a cafe culture – we don’t have a culture because we don’t have a culture. It’s circular and meaningless.

Posted in Culture | 37 Comments

The going rate

I’ve just spotted that Transport for London’s new Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan attempts to pull the same trick that Norman Baker and Mike Penning tried to pull back in 2012.

That is, it makes a comparison between cycle safety in London and Amsterdam (along with other cities) on the basis of deaths per head of population, rather than deaths per total distance travelled by bike (or by total time spent travelling by bike).

Here’s the graph in question, from page 10 of the Plan -

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 20.42.07

Followed by the helpful explanation -

Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York.

So, looking at this graph, you might think that London (in yellow) is fantastically safe! Just look how much lower the number of fatalities there are, compared to Amsterdam, per capita. London had just 1.7 cycling fatalities in 2012 per million population, where Amsterdam had 6.5 – nearly four times higher.

But of course this is an entirely misleading comparison. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, across London, cycling only accounts for around 2% of all trips made, whereas in Amsterdam cycling accounts for nearly 40% of all trips made. There is much, much more cycling in Amsterdam per capita, so comparing cycling fatalities purely on a per capita basis is absurd. It’s like concluding it’s much safer to cycle in London than in Amsterdam if you have a Dutch name, because many more people with Dutch names are killed cycling in Amsterdam than in London.

This is the same logic that led Mike Penning to argue

I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling

And (more recently) Denis McShane to suggest

How much of this is down to stupidity or dishonesty is hard to tell. You would certainly think Transport for London and a Transport Under-Secretary (as Penning was, at the time) should know better.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning here – beyond the failure to use an appropriate rate – is that, in Amsterdam, children and the elderly (both more vulnerable groups, for different reasons) ride bikes in large numbers.

24% of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled, while in London 95% of over-65s never cycle. If people that are, in general, more frail – and more likely to suffer death than a younger person in an equivalent incident – aren’t cycling at all, that will have a further skewing effect on casualty figures.

A demographic cycling in Amsterdam, but not cycling in London

A demographic cycling in Amsterdam, but not cycling in London 

Thanks to the Road Danger Reduction Forum, who spotted this ‘measurement’ issue.

Posted in Safety, The Netherlands, Transport for London | 27 Comments

Sustainable safety – the British way

One of the principles of the Dutch approach to road safety – sustainable safety, or duurzaam veiling – is homogeneity. Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction.

Roads should be designed to eliminate, as much as possible, mixing road users with large differences in speed and mass in the same space. So, for example, relatively slow pedestrians should not have to mix with relatively fast bikes, and relatively light bicycles should not have to mix with relatively heavy buses or HGVs. Likewise road users who travel slowly should not be expected to share space with vehicles travelling considerably faster.

It appears this principle has been grasped by the Freight Transport Association, who argue

we believe there is evidence confirming that road safety will be improved if the differential between HGVs and other road users is reduced.

Sounds fantastic!

Except… the measure the FTA are welcoming involves reducing the speed differential by shifting lorries to a higher speed, so they are travelling at the same speed as smaller motor traffic.

Conveniently the FTA seem to have overlooked those ‘other road users’ who will still be travelling at around 15mph, or slower, for whom this move to higher speed limits for HGVs will distinctly worsen their safety, according to the logic that the FTA themselves accept. The speed differential between people walking, cycling and horse-riding, and HGVs, is being increased.

Sustainable safety – the British way!

UPDATE

The DfT press release similarly completely overlooks the effect this speed difference will have on vulnerable road users. It states -

This change will remove a 20mph difference between lorry and car speed limits.

… while adding a ~40mph speed difference between HGVs and people walking, cycling and riding horses. Great stuff guys.

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments