Southwark reverses away from ‘Going Dutch’

In the wider policy context of how cycling should be catered for on London’s streets, there’s some fairly astonishing guidance being drafted by Southwark Council on cycle lanes. It’s so weak that I think it is fair to say, as Southwark Green Party are arguing, that it represents a ‘U-turn’ on the council’s prior commitment to Going Dutch.

The Greens write

Cllr John [Labour leader of Southwark Council] promised to change the council’s approach last year following a campaign of tens of thousands of cyclists calling for more protection on main roads. In March 2012, Cllr Peter John appeared to sign up to the “Go Dutch” principles, telling Southwark News that the existing policy of integrating cyclists with main traffic “was not the best strategy”, and said his change of heart came “since the meeting with Southwark Cyclists” where they presented a new set of policies including proper, protected cycle lanes.

Last year’s change of heart does not appear to be reflected in this guidance, which seems to go out of its way to ‘integrate’ cyclists in Southwark with motor traffic.

On the very first page, we have this table, setting out Use Requirements.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 16.23.55

The important points to note here are that, in principle, no cycle lane is to be provided at all on any street with a 20 mph limit, apparently regardless of the volume of motor traffic on that street. Worse, on 30 mph streets cycle lanes are only to be used ‘potentially’, on a ‘case specific basis’ – and that if employed they should only be advisory, rather than mandatory, meaning motor vehicles are free to drive and park in them.

These proposals are explored in greater detail in the guidance, which states, in Section 2.2 -

With-flow cycle lanes should not generally be necessary on two-way 20mph streets. Other methods to improve the carriageway environment to make it safe and comfortable for cyclists should be used in preference.

‘All alternatives’ to cycle lanes on these streets should be fully explored, and indeed if cycle lanes are encountered in a project area, ‘they should be reviewed with the intention of designing them out if appropriate’. The only reasons given for actually retaining cycle lanes on streets with a 20mph limit are if other options are prohibitively expensive, or for ‘legitimate safety reasons’. And the sole permitted exception for cycle lanes on 20 mph streets is purely for bypassing mode filters; these cycle lanes ‘should not be longer than around 6-8m’.

It’s worth reinforcing, at this point, that cycle lanes on 20 mph streets (good cycle lanes, of course) are extremely common in the Netherlands.

DSCN9393

This residential street in the city of Assen, which has a 30km/h (19mph) speed limit, also has wide, continuous cycle lanes. One of the main purposes of this kind of arrangement is to ensure vehicle speeds are kept low, by narrowing the carriageway and removing the centre line, which creates uncertainly with oncoming motor traffic. But these kinds of arrangements – highly beneficial for cycling – are being explicitly ruled out in this Southwark guidance. 20mph limits mean no cycle lanes.

Indeed the guidance seems really quite keen to do away with cycle lanes on 30mph roads too; it states that ‘it will need to be demonstrated that… – on balance – a lane is the best means of addressing the needs of cyclists’. Likewise

any existing instances of mandatory or advisory cycle lanes encountered within a project should be reviewed to check that they remain both necessary and are still the best way of meeting cyclists’ needs.

In a cop-out, the guidance states that mandatory cycle lanes (lanes that are illegal to drive in, unlike advisory lanes) should not be introduced, because they are

problematic in terms of cost, street clutter, order making and enforcement. They are also unlikely to provide substantial additional benefit compared with advisory cycle lanes.

Why mandatory lanes cost more, or create more clutter, than advisory ones is not explained.

Concern with visual appearance extends to cycle lanes being painted a particular colour -

Generally, this is only likely to be permitted where cycle lanes on 30mph roads pass side road junctions and an evidenced safety need that could not otherwise be avoided (else addressed via less visually intrusive means) can be demonstrated

And the Appendix states that

guidance also emphasises that – even where providing cycle lanes or cycle tracks would appear justified – they may not always be appropriate for design and safety reasons. This is especially so in urban streets where the road environment can be very complicated because of the frequency of side roads, vehicle crossings, parked vehicles and other turning movements. This is supported by research. In relation to cycle lanes, this suggests that lanes encourage riskier overtaking of cyclists by other road users in some circumstances – even when cyclists are not using them.

Well, the road environment need only be as complicated for cycling as you are willing to make it. Bad cycle lanes will have problems with turning conflicts and parked vehicles, as well as encouraging close overtakes. This isn’t, however, a universal problem with cycle lanes, which can be designed properly.

DSCN9422

The hostility to cycling provision that seeps from this document extends to the ‘segregation’ of cycle lanes, using kerbs. It states

In instances other than [the use of splitter islands to provide occasional physical separation] cycle lanes should not be separated from other vehicle lanes by lengthy kerbs or extended reservations/traffic islands. [my emphasis]

The reasons given for this policy are quite remarkable -

Creation of kerb separated cycle lanes is generally discouraged by national guidance owing to the considerable road safety issues that they pose – both for cyclists themselves and other road users. In addition, feasibility is likely to be limited within busy London streets owing to various factors. These include: spatial and engineering constraints; the considerable additional cost of adapting roads to accommodate such facilities (compared to other interventions to assist cyclists); and likely opposition from other street users to proposals (for instance in relation to loss of parking. [my emphasis]

At a time when separated tracks are now being adopted as policy across London (and indeed at a national and international level), Southwark have chosen to insist that they pose ‘considerable road safety issues’, based presumably on the opinions of dinosaurs like John Franklin.

The second part of the explanation essentially amounts to ‘we can’t be bothered.’

It is most interesting that the justification in this guidance for the refusal to build infrastructure, or to provide cycle lanes, lies with the Hierarchy of Provision (cited, wrongly, in “LTN 1/10 Cycle Infrastructure Design”, rather than LTN 2/08). Southwark’s guidance refers to it as follows -

Designers are encouraged to consider first reducing traffic speeds and volumes so that cyclists can share the carriageway with other vehicles without the need for any form of special facility. Designers are advised to consider the reallocation of carriageway space to create cycle lanes or the creation of segregated off-road routes only where reducing traffic speeds and volumes would not be possible

I think this is a textbook example of how the Hierarchy of Provision is open to exploitation by councils who find it difficult to bring themselves to cater for cycling in any meaningful way. They can point to LTN 2/08, and reference it, copying its argument that cycle lanes and tracks should only be considered last after other measures like speed reduction or traffic volume reduction – conveniently ignoring how 20 mph limits, in and of themselves, do little to create subjective safety, and how (as in this document) no mention is made of traffic reduction, or removal. Southwark seem to think that a 20mph limit on a given road is enough, and that nothing else is required to make cycling a safe and pleasant experience.

The Hierarchy desperately needs replacing by a network-based guidance approach, which sets out precisely how cycling should be accommodated on a given road street, with a certain volume of motor traffic travelling at a certain speed, and a particular function. That is, guidance which maximises the degree of separation of people riding bikes from motor traffic, either through the removal of through traffic from side streets, or through the physical separation on main roads. I’m hoping this will come in the new revised version of the London Cycle Design Standards; but, at the moment councils like Southwark seem to be able to get away with it.

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8 Responses to Southwark reverses away from ‘Going Dutch’

  1. Paul M says:

    I must say that when I heard that Councillor John had suddenly had a Damascene conversion to “Go Dutch”, I didn’t believe it then so I am not surprised now.

    Making the trip from Blackfriars to LCC Bermondsey St I have to say that while there is some quite nice provision (Union St?) for the most part it is really quite horrid, and has poor permeability to the point that really the ONLY way to progress south-East towards Bermondsey St involves salmoning on a couple of one-way streets. Otherwise you either make a massive diversion or you throw yourselves to the wolves on some unpleasant busy roads.

    What is it about certain Labour-controlled boroughs, (eg also Newham and Tower Hamlets) that they seem so hostile to cycling? It’s what you’d expect of Westminster, where household car ownership is equally low (barely 40%) but extensive use of taxis and minicabs is the likely alternative. But Southwark must surely suffer from extensive transport poverty, for which the bicycle is a part of the solution. Why is Councillor John so deaf to the needs of the people he purportedly represents?

    • @angus_fx says:

      It’s an odd one this.. parts of Southwark are genuinely good for cycling (at least by London standards), and there are areas where at some stage, someone has obviously put quite some thought and effort in to making the streets more people-friendly & faced down the car lobby to get some reasonably effective filtered permeability installed. Not perfect, but good enough that it gets kids aged 10-11 playing out in the street unsupervised. Greendale and Surrey Canal Path are lovely. There are some great routes around Dulwich (though I’m not sure whether credit there is more due to the council or the Dulwich Estate) and the cycling culture there is strong – lots of kids cycling to and from school, mums with babies on bike seats etc.. very healthy indicators. Even the Elephant Cycle Bypass is, well, safe and functional, and a recognition of how bad the Elephant junction itself is for cyclists.

      And yet.. for every good bit, there’s a cop-out. No attempt to challenge car dominance on the residential streets around Peckham Rye. Unfinished bits of what should have been nearly-Dutch-quality cycle lane along “A” roads. Stop-start shared-pavement nonsense on fast roads with acres of space for segregated lanes. Junctions on major routes that are unacceptably dangerous & acknowledged as a barrier to cycling.. yet that they’re reluctant to fix properly because “numbers of cyclists are relatively low at that location”. (Of course they’re relatively low at that location – it’s an awful junction and people will go a mile out of their way to avoid it). Conflict-by-design on Bermondsey Street because they haven’t the gumption to remove parking bays which put contra-flow cyclists on a direct collision course with oncoming traffic. No cycle tracks across enormous green spaces bordered by fast, busy, narrow roads.

      What puzzles me most though about this document though is that Southwark’s councillors voted for blanket 20mph almost a year ago..

      (see http://southwarklivingstreets.org.uk/2012/11/30/20mph-southwark/ )

      .. So why are they spending time & money developing design standards for 30mph roads, when those are supposed to be a thing of the past in the borough?

      Islington went from voting for 20mph to big banners on all the lamp posts in what seemed like 3 or 4 months, Southwark it’s been more than 8 months since the vote and.. nothing.

      This is not to say that 20mph limits are a panacea, but if the borough is supposed to be 20mph, it makes no sense to write design standards for anything faster.. I sincerely hope they’re not trying to backtrack on their commitment to 20mph in the same way they clearly seem to be doing on Go Dutch.

  2. Patrick ONeill says:

    Councillors don’t write traffic planning guidelines so is this not a case of someone within the planning department doing things the way they always have done because nobody has told them not to?

    So the next time a politician comes out with a sound bite in favour of cycling, great, but nothing will happen until that translates into an actionable policy change for the people planning the roads.

    Like worker bees the world over, I suspect there is a lot of cynicism about waffle from the people at the top and they will just keep on doing what they are doing until there are clear and unequivocal instructions that there needs to be change.

  3. Andrea says:

    Another example of #NastyBritain’s attitude towards children; rather than cherishing them, as in most European countries, they are resented and very seldom thought of when designing urban environments.

  4. cycleoptic says:

    They just don’t care about cycling.
    Here is a reply from last November re the closure of Upper Ground, No thought then , none now?

    I am sincerely sorry for the delay in responding to you, but please be assured that a great deal of time and commitment has been devoted to getting this situation right within the condsiderable complex constraints that we are dealing with.

    Can I start by saying that I agree with you. Not enough consideration at the early stage was given to the impact that closure of Upper Ground would have on commuter cyclists.

    Furthermore having looked back on the planning papers for both the Sea Containers House and the Kings Reach Tower developments I can see no mention of either rail or river removal of the excavated soil. You may be aware that from 30th July a group called “Local Dialogue” was set up to consult on the proposals. This group has been chaired no doubt with the best intentions by Cathedrals Ward Councillor David Noakes – David.noakes@southwark.gov.uk – who may be in a position to say whether alternative removal methods were raised in that forum post- planning permission stage?

    ( This was late in planning stage and he says non were discussed)

    We have been working with TfL with cycling safety as an absolute priority. This is why the decision to close Upper Ground to through traffic was reluctantly taken. I acknowledge that Upper Ground west to east is a national cycling route; however, sadly it has proven to be just not possible in that location to create an alternative cycling route to the standard of Upper Ground.

    Whilst we may sometimes be justifiably criticised for the speed of our responses to public enquiries, I wish to absolutely assure you that all of us in this authority treat deaths or potential deaths on ours or anyboy else’s roads with the utmost gravity.

    All best wishes,

    Councillor Barrie Hargrove
    Cabinet Member for Transport, Environment & Recycling
    London Borough of Southwark

  5. fonant says:

    I really don’t understand why authorities hate providing for cycling and walking and children and residents, instead always prioritising people who are driving motor vehicles.

    There must be money or votes in it for them, but where?

    • Andrew K says:

      It is just because they are unwilling to admit that their old approach was completely wrong. It’s good old path dependency.

  6. Hester (@hesterkw) says:

    “Why mandatory lanes cost more, or create more clutter, than advisory ones is not explained.”

    I believe this is because mandatory cycle lanes require Traffic Regulation Orders, but advisory ones do not. However a single TRO can cover multiple lanes if they’re putting a lot in. In any case, it’s a naff excuse is a mandatory cycle lane is what is needed.

    No idea what they mean by clutter – in fact the fact that people can’t park in them must surely reduce clutter.

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