The aim of the scheme involves taking space from the carriageway – which, as you can see in this photograph of an unmodified section of the road, is ample -
I took the opportunity to visit the road for myself in the middle of May. It should be stressed that the project is (quite obviously) not finished; both Jim and I were visiting what amounts, in many places, to a building site. A true impression of how the scheme will function may not necessarily have been obtained. Some of the minor problems that I think exist may be addressed before the road is formally reopened towards the end of June.
The signs are very promising. While not up to the standard of a Dutch cycle path, the scheme is certainly streets ahead of the usual UK off-carriageway provision. For the great majority of its length, the path is very wide, as wide as a van.
It’s certainly wider than this car, the driver having decided to pull over onto the cycle track to continue his mobile phone call.
This brings me, however, to my first minor concern. Although the tracks are separated from the road by a kerb, they will prove to be a very tempting parking bay. They even look like a parking bay. There is, it seems, nothing in the physical design of the scheme that will keep cars and vehicles from parking on the tracks.
This four-car household are already spilling out onto the pavement.
In the absence of the construction lorry, the cycle track – where the lorry is parked – might be the obvious place to park ‘extra’ cars.
Ideally, I would like to have seen some more demarcation between the track and the road, perhaps a small raised kerb, like this Dutch example -
Which would make it more obvious that the cycle track is not just an extension of the road. It would also serve to keep the corners at junctions sharp, and consequently the speeds of vehicles turning across the track low (about which more below).
The space for this kerb could come from the track itself, or from the carriageway, which strangely still has a hatched ‘separation’ area between the traffic lanes, to discourage overtaking – this shouldn’t really be necessary on a suburban road.
Long term, it would make sense to replant the trees along this road – which currently lie in the pavement – where the cycle track meets the carriageway, providing a further barrier, and removing them as an obstacle from the pavement and the cycle track. As things stand, I suspect that there will have to be some vigorous enforcement on the part of the council to ensure that the tracks are kept clear of parked vehicles – there does not appear to be much in the design itself that will keep cars and vans out.
Where the cycle tracks pass residential side roads, it was pleasing to see that the kerbs separating the track from the carriageway extended as far as they could go, right up to the width of the junction mouth at its narrowest point. These are very sharp corners.
Judging by the height of the kerb above this grating, there is a reasonable height difference here, which should discourage fast corner-cutting. (This is, of course, where a raised kerb separator would help even more). I suspect some drivers might be willing to bump up across a kerb of this height.
I would also like to have seen the pavements continue across the junctions, which would further have given the impression to drivers that they should yield. The tracks do continue at the same height, meaning drivers have to turn up and over them; but continuation of the paving would have been an extra visual signal.
A continued pavement would have been good for pedestrians too. As it is, the pavements halt at these junctions with residential roads.
Curiously, one junction on the length of the works is treated rather differently – Radindnen Manor Road. I’m not sure why the treatment is different.
The kerb, unlike at the other residential junctions, is rounded off and is of a larger radius. Likewise, double yellow lines continue around the corner. The impression given is of a ’smooth’ corner for vehicles turning into the road.
Indeed I noticed that is not smooth enough for one driver, tyre marks visible across the corner of the cycle track -
I think this junction is problematic, and should have been treated like the others. The priority is not clear. Drivers should give way; however, the current arrangement is deeply ambiguous, especially in the context of the rest of the cycle track, where cyclists do have priority. The kerb should be as sharp as the other junctions, and the track should be much more ‘visible’ across the junction mouth.
A side street, Chanctonbury Road, is closed off (to motor vehicles) where it meets Old Shoreham Road.
This closure predates the construction of the tracks; you can see the former arrangement in this photograph by Jim -
It’s pleasing to see that the horrible pinch point, and the pedestrian cages and fences, have been removed and replaced with a zebra crossing, a solution I have suggested should be employed much more widely. The new arrangement is much better for pedestrians and cyclists.
A minor quibble is that the cycle track becomes a ‘shared’ area around this junction. If Chanctonbury Road is closed, the track could surely continue across the junction, with a pavement at left. The zebra crossing could extend across the cycle track, to make priorities clear. But with a school on the other side of the road, I suspect the planners feared conflicts with plenty of pedestrians crossing, and wanted to ‘slow’ cyclists by creating an area with sharing. Perhaps the current arrangement is too ambiguous; time will tell. But I should stress again that this is only a minor concern.
If we look at a map of the area -
we can see how Chanctonbury Road is closed to motor vehicles at its northern end, at the junction with the Old Shoreham Road.
It would make a great deal of sense to close all of these residential streets in a similar fashion at their northern ends, with access remaining from Highdown and Montefiore Road. Turning conflicts would be eliminated at a stroke, and the side streets themselves would become quieter and more pleasant, as they would no longer be through routes. Perhaps this is something for the future. (This is how filtered permeability and cycle tracks can work hand-in-hand).
The other ‘shared’ area of the track has been born out of necessity, as it passes over the railway bridge.
This is location where there genuinely isn’t the width available. The carriageway has been narrowed as much as possible, and the remaining space reallocated for pedestrians and cyclists. Given the width, sharing is the best solution for this short stretch. It will not be a problem. (If we want to dream, it might possible to imagine the carriageway narrowed to a single lane, with alternate priority for motor vehicles and the space given over to pedestrians and cyclists – although restrictions like this should be careful not to inadvertently divert through traffic onto residential streets).
I am sorry to say that the bus stop treatments – unless they are going to be changed – are not ideal.
The cycle tracks should pass behind the bus stop, to avoid conflict with waiting pedestrians – this would naturally involve moving the bus stop, something that hasn’t been done. At the very least there should be a waiting area for passengers to the right of the cycle track, something like the arrangement on Royal College Street (picture by David Arditti).
As things stand, passengers queuing to get onto a bus will be doing so in the cycle track, which is not brilliant. Indeed, the bus stops along the improvements are marked as ‘shared areas’ on the plans, and this is how they are being implemented, marked as such on the pavements/tracks.
My final concern, and perhaps the most serious, is the light-controlled junctions. It is at these points that provision seems to disappear. As Jim noted, these ‘scheduled’ junction improvements are not part of this plan, and will arrive later; Mark Strong confirms this. However, my impression, from the kerbing put in place so far, is that the tracks will halt some distance before the lights, and cyclists are left to fend for themselves through the junction. The kerb slopes down to road level underneath this car, returning cyclists to the carriageway about 30-40 metres from the lights.
This might be, I suspect, because ‘junction capacity’ has to be preserved, and cycle tracks, or a cycle phase on the lights themselves, are not compatible with the necessary two queuing lanes needed to get as many motor vehicles through the junction as possible. Cyclists are put into the queue.
The same arrangement – with the kerb disappearing, and the track merging into the left-hand queuing lane – is present at the eastern end of the scheme.
I hope that the tracks will not disappear in this way once the works are completed, and that some solution is found, because the disappearance is a problem in two respects. Firstly, making right turns on a bike will involve negotiating out into the second vehicle lane. This is more daunting than simply cycling along a road, a problem the cycle tracks address. The road has been made more pleasant for cycling, but the most serious impediment has not been dealt with. It’s a little analogous to securing your house with a fancy new burglar alarm, but leaving the front door open.
The second problem is that left hook conflicts – where left-turning vehicles move across the path of cyclists trying to go straight on, or right – remain unresolved. By way of an illustration of the potential problem, here’s a video of me cycling up from the seafront, towards the Old Shoreham Road, on the existing cycle track on Grand Avenue.
The cycle track disappears before the junction. As I approach the lights, which are on red, I am initially thinking about moving into the ASL area, in front of the vehicles. But then as I go to move past the white Micra, the lights change. I decide, sensibly and correctly, to hang back, and the driver also appears to have been aware of my presence, turning left quite cautiously. So no harm done. But this is an issue typical of junctions with ASLs; turning conflicts are a real problem.
Cyclists wishing to go straight on should not have to negotiate with vehicles turning left. Paths crossing like this is something Dutch design seeks to eliminate, with left-turning motor vehicles held at a red light while cyclists progress straight on, and cyclists wishing to progress straight on held at a red signal while vehicles turn left. Whether we will see something like this in the treatments on Old Shoreham Road, I don’t know, but I am sceptical. I suspect that the junctions will be similar to the existing treatments along Grand Avenue and the Drive – that is, without much or any protection for cyclists at all, despite the cycle tracks between the junctions.
Having said all that, the scheme as a whole is bold, and a great step forward. The tarmac is smooth and continuous, the paths are wide, the carriageway has been narrowed, and most of the junctions with minor roads have been designed sensibly. The quibbles about shared areas and bus stops are, I think, minor ones. Hopefully at some point in the future we can finally get around to making sure that cyclists get through light-controlled junctions in as safe, calm and secure a manner as they will progress along the tracks themselves.
I leave you with a video of me cycling along the stretch of track between The Drive and The Upper Drive, which includes crossing the worst side road treatment, Radinden Manor Road.
It’s rather nice.