We saw yesterday what Transport for London have been asking the Transport Research Laboratory to test for them.
It is an almost exact copy of a conventional Dutch roundabout with perimeter cycle tracks. They have even copied across the Dutch road markings, which I suspect may have created some uncertainty amongst the test drivers, as the ‘sharks teeth’ give way markings are quite different to the British version. The roundabout, we are told, will subsequently be tested with standard UK road markings. The only addition appears to be a forest of Belisha beacons marking out the zebra crossings (and some luminous jackets and helmets).
Andrew Gilligan made a publicity visit to the site, testing it out for himself, before giving interviews with both BBC and ITV News. I think he did an excellent job in presenting the case for this design, pointing out that (most importantly) it will make what are currently big, scary roundabouts places that anyone on a bike will feel happy negotiating. He also argued, persuasively, that this design will yield instant safety benefits, even taking into account the immediate unfamiliarity of users. It forces drivers to take the roundabout slowly, and cyclists crossing exits and entry points are always directly in a driver’s eye-line, and will cross paths at right angles. If you compare this design with the current nightmare roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge (covered here and here, the video amply demonstrating what Gilligan calls a ‘Darwinian’ approach to road interaction), there is no contest in terms of safety and amenity.
It’s very pleasing to see Transport for London engaging with designs that have been proven to work, and the City Cyclists blog is correct to say that this is a huge step forward. The Netherlands has history and expertise in making the street and road environment safe and pleasant for cycling. They’ve made mistakes that we don’t have to, because we can simply copy their superior end product. So we don’t need ‘innovative’ solutions, when there are proven and established solutions already available.
That brings me to a flyer that was distributed on every seat at the recent Cycle City Expo in Birmingham, which suggested it was time to ‘put cyclists in the middle of the road’. The link on the flyer takes you here, to TTC transport planning. The website states
As a profession we are getting better at providing safe and well designed cycle provision, however cars are still viewed as ruling the road and current design guides and standards for on-road cycle facilities more often than not place cyclists on the nearside lane where they are required to deal with surface hazards and drainage services. In order to ensure that people have priority and feel comfortable when they are cycling we need to be more innovative and adventurous in our approach to providing for cyclists.
Just what kind of ‘adventurous’ provision for cycling is being proposed quickly becomes clear -
One particular exciting, innovative and possibly controversial way of putting cyclists first is by designating a central lane for bicycle traffic, which involves:
- Central cycle lane;
- Cars using narrow lateral lanes, but can straddle the central cycle lane;
- Overtaking of cycle prohibited; and
- Speed limit reduced to 20 mph.
A ‘central lane for bicycle traffic’.
The reason these kind of designs are ‘adventurous’ and ‘innovative’ is because they are bad. They are ‘adventurous’ only because countries with proven experience of designing for cycling would not even contemplate employing them.
Further detail on this scheme is provided by a set of presentation slides, available here. The idea seems to be based around the assumption that putting cyclists at the side of the road is bad, because it means that ‘cars rule the road’.
Well, those are all plainly awful solutions (the last isn’t even a solution at all). But that doesn’t mean that ‘putting cyclists in the middle of the road’ is automatically better; for a start, we can put cyclists at the side in well-designed ways. Pointless, or intermittent, paint, that puts cyclists in dangerous positions, is not the only way of doing things.
But the presentation suggests that ‘putting cyclists in the middle of the road’ already exists in Europe as a strategy, even in the Netherlands.
The picture on the left looks to be from France; the picture on the right is of a fietsstraat in the Netherlands.
It appears, however, that the concept of the fietsstraat has been fatally misunderstood. The fietsstraat does not place cyclists ‘in the middle of the road’, ahead of motor traffic. A fietsstraat is, conceptually, a bicycle track on which motor vehicles are permitted to drive. Crucially, the only motor vehicles doing so will be those gaining access to properties along the fietsstraat; a fietsstraat is never a through route (the concept is illustrated well in this Bicycle Dutch post).
So the reason cyclists are in the middle of the road in that slide is principally because they know they will not have any motor traffic behind them, beyond the occasional resident. Being in the middle of the road flows naturally from the relaxed environment. How relaxed will the TTC scheme be?
‘Street open to all modes of transport’.
That is, the complete opposite of the fietsstraat, which makes sure the street is not open to all modes of transport.
The scheme smacks of ‘assertive cycling’ being forced upon cyclists who don’t want to be assertive in the first place; it puts markings on the road to position cyclists slap bang in the middle of the road, while motor traffic is tempted to undertake in lanes that are just wide enough for doing so (why would you even need signs telling motorists not to do this?)
Using cyclists as mobile traffic calming is a bad idea; it’s not good for motorists, and it’s not good for cyclists. To expect cyclists – even those who currently cycle, let alone those who are too nervous to ride at present – to hold a position in the centre of the road with a queue of traffic behind them is deeply unrealistic, as well as a suboptimal solution for making cycling attractive. You make cycling a mode of transport that people might want to use by increasing its comfort, not by forcing those on bikes into ‘dominating’ the road when they almost certainly don’t want to.
The ‘scheme’ even seems to accommodate on-street parking -
Which may, paradoxically, make it slightly safer by discouraging dangerous undertaking. The end result, however, is something rather similar, if not identical, to existing residential streets with parking on both sides, something the final slide (unintentionally?) acknowledges -
A central area to cycle, by default. Not exactly a great leap forward.
Employing a central cycle lane on streets without any car parking is not a ‘continental’ solution. The Dutch fietsstraat, so badly misinterpreted here, relies upon the removal of motor traffic, not the positioning of cyclists in front of motor traffic still free to use the street as a through route.
We don’t need ‘adventurous’ new designs, we need ones that work already, and that make cycling a pleasant experience. If you are deliberately choosing to force cyclists to cycle in front of motor traffic, you’ve already failed before you’ve even started.