Priorities

We’re all familiar with those situations where cycling provision just gives up.

Places where the designer couldn’t be bothered; places where it was too expensive to do things properly; places where space was a bit tight; or a combination of the above.

'END'

‘END’

Direct, safe, and continuous

Direct, safe, and continuous

That'll do

That’ll do

IMG_3890

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

But in all these cases, and in others like them, the difficulties are not insuperable. These awful outcomes are the result of political choices. For example, an insufficient allocation of funding means that cycle lanes painted on a road just give up at the places where physical changes to the road layout are necessary for continuity. Or the flow of motor traffic is prioritised over safe continuous provision for cycling.

I found an interesting counterpoint to these awful British examples in the town of Wageningen, in the Netherlands.

Churchwillweg is a distributor road, running north out of the town centre. What initially struck me about this street is just how narrow the carriageway is, for motor vehicles.

A van and a car squeak past each other

A van and a car squeak past each other

Closer to the centre of town, there is a difficulty – a building (oddly, quite a new building) juts out some distance, meaning that the available space between the buildings for footway, cycle track and road is lessened considerably.

In Britain, it’s most likely that whatever cycle provision there was here would just give up, but in Wageningen, the footway and cycle tracks continue at the same width, and it is the road that gets squeezed.

From Google Streetview

From Google Streetview

For about twenty metres, the road becomes single carriageway, meaning drivers have to negotiate with one another, while people cycling and walking pass by serenely.

Vehicles queuing, while people cycling have uninterrupted progress

Vehicles queuing, while people cycling have uninterrupted progress

Amazingly (to my British eyes) there aren’t any signs here at all, warning drivers that this is about to happen, or telling them who should give way to whom. The cycle track just juts out into the road, and drivers have to deal with it, as best they can.

Negotiation

Negotiation

More negotiation

More negotiation

I was fascinated by this design example, because it seems to encapsulate the Dutch approach. When things get difficult, or space gets tight, it is the cycling and walking infrastructure that is maintained, while space for driving is (momentarily) sacrificed.

In Britain the complete opposite is true. At difficult places, driving has continuity, and the cycle lanes are just painted between these pinch points, essentially reinforcing their uselessness, because they are not present at the places where they are most needed.

So it’s not really a question of whether space is available for cycling; it’s a question of priorities, and how that space gets allocated.

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35 Responses to Priorities

  1. Priorities indeed. When the group consensus in the UK became “delay motorised traffic at your peril” and “let motorists do what they want unless there is overriding proof that the number of fatalities would be bad for press” Britain has become a poorer country for it.
    Seeing all my Dutch friends posting party photos from Kings Day in Holland; you simply wouldn’t get a country wide street party that involved closing off lots and lots of roads and taking away parking spaces for a few days here.
    Our cultural identity has been confined to parks and greens, permission rarely given for anything that will upset somebody trying to go for a drive on a Sunday. Look at the uproar a few cyclists in the New Forest have caused.
    Priorities in the UK have had a really negative impact on how people live and where they can have fun too.

    • Matt says:

      ‘You wouldn’t get a country wide street party….’ So they didn’t celebrate the jubilee or royal wedding in your neighbourhood? That’s a shame. We did where I live and we’ve had subsequent street parties. They are very easy and cheap to arrange. Try it you might find it’s fun.

  2. dave lambert says:

    My local high street has new pedestrian lights which prioritise drivers at all times. It can take several minutes for the lights to change in favour of pedestrians, and you have to do this twice to cross the street. Who the bloody hell decided it’s ok to make people wait 5-6 minutes just to cross from one side of the road to the other?

  3. Andy Goodman says:

    Another problem in this country is that a good number of drivers would just drive over the cycle path if there was a car coming the other way.

    • dave lambert says:

      Yep, that’s right. I’ve complained in the past to my local authority about drivers mounting the pavement at speed to bypass a traffic queue. The response from the traffic department was they can’t put bollards up as this would impede traffic flow. So in effect they are assuming that drivers will mount the pavement. The danger posed to pedestrians on the pavement is acceptable, whereas reducing traffic flow is not.

      • fonant says:

        It is illegal, against the Highways Act 1835, to drive on the pavement (footway). Ask your local police to enforce the law, and report people who break the law to them. Ask your local authority why they are specifically assisting people to break the law.

        • dave lambert says:

          Asking the Met to enforce the law against drivers is akin to asking bankers to give up their bonuses. As for the local authority, after correspondence over several months going round and round in circles I moved away from that area last year.

    • michael says:

      As it happens saw that yesterday (as a pedestrian, fortunately). Queue of stationary traffic at a junction, one driver decided he was going to use a combination of the (advisory) cycle lane and the pavement as a special just-for-him undertaking lane to enable him to jump the queue and cut straight to the junction. Where he went straight on at speed from the left hand side, and to heck with anyone obeying the rules wanting to turn left.

  4. inge says:

    If a pedestrian is injured or even killed by a driver mounting the pavement the killer would probably get away with it. Because A the pedestrian wasn’t wearing a helmet . B: he/she wasn’t wearing highviz. And besides, the driver was not speeding and a tree or whatever thingy was blocking his/her view and the sun was glaring.So you see Judge it wasn’t my fault. Well, at least in the U.K. There they hate people for thinking outside the box and also for living outside it.

  5. Chris says:

    What would happen on Churchwillweg if two larger vehicles (trucks, buses…) met each other head on? Presumably one or both would just have to drive over the bike lane?

    • Tim says:

      This is quite often seen in the UK as a traffic calming measure (but rarely or never to allow a separated cycleway to continue). One vehicle just has to give way, it really isn’t complicated.

    • Ian Perry says:

      What would happen? When I cycled Churchillweg everyday, I never encountered a problem. The drivers of larger vehicles use alternative routes.

  6. user1 says:

    For me such articles are especially interesting. We have lots of examples of excellent Dutch infrastructure on wide streets, but what to do if there’s little space? For example, what would the Dutch do on a 12 m wide street (1,5+1,5+3+3+1,5+1,5) with high volume of motor traffic (which can’t be diverted elsewhere) and also some buses and pedestrians? Narrow cycle paths? Narrow mandatory cycle lanes (you can use the carriageway to overtake slower cyclists)? Wide advisory cycle lanes (with so narrow “driving strip” that it’s certain that passing vehicles would drive on these lanes), possibly with 30 km/h speed limit and traffic calming? Or maybe some other, unusual solution?

    Another question: what to do if there’s too little space for full-sized Dutch-style roundabout with priority for cyclists (http://pedestrianiselondon.tumblr.com/post/69274553619/this-image-of-the-ubiquitous-urban-dutch)? Make cyclists give way or give priority for cyclists, but without creating a waiting area for cars (http://bicycledutch.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/rotonde-3.jpg)? Is the latter solution safe enough?

    Am I right that on the road described in this article, curbs between cycle paths and the carriageway are angled, so that wider vehicles can drive over these curbs while passing each other?
    https://www.google.pl/maps/@51.974568,5.672295,3a,15y,327.78h,70.39t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sU4M-XER5YXNGFRoqtVRD6Q!2e0
    I have been thinking about exactly such a solution for some time, but didn’t know that it’s actually implemented somewhere in the Netherlands! (In fact, it looks more Danish than Dutch…) I know that it’s not ideal solution, but it’s better than just separating cyclist by a white line, or not separating at all.

    Can’t wait for more examples of Dutch solutions on pinch points or whole narrow distributor streets!

    • Jan says:

      There are all kind of different solutions for those types of roads in the Netherlands.

      – I’m not sure about your 12m wide question: 1.5+1.5+3+3+1.5+1.5 seems to work just fine?
      – When roads are even smaller, they would likely be converted to 30km/h. High volumes of motor traffic through such a road are not an option.
      – Smaller roundabouts will indeed skip the waiting area for cars. The smallest ones will also pave the entire middle part in cobblestones, to allow trucks to make the turns: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32261854@N02/9556365757/

      – The angled curbs are very common in the Netherlands. People would frown on using them for passing with a normal car, but they could be used by trucks, and might be occasionally used when loading/unloading, they allow cyclists to reach the other side of the street without dismounting, and are in general more ‘forgiving’ when the situation requires some non-standard solution. A steep curb is more protective, but nobody would use a protected bike path without a lot of care anyway, even when the curbs are angled.

      • user1 says:

        - Well, it isn’t that fine as it may look. Sure, 1,5 m wide sidewalks and 6 m wide lanes are OK, but 1,5 m cycle paths adjacent to the carriageway? They’d have 1,25 m of effective width, because cyclists use to ride 25 cm away from the edge (perhaps unless there’s also an angled curb between the cycle path and the carriageway – but as you say, the protection would then be partially lost). “Tekenen voor de fiets” discourages from using cycle paths adjacent to the carriageway, when they’re narrower than 2 m. AFAIR, the latest advise for a minimum separation for the one way cycle path is 0,35 m. As for cycle lanes, 1,5 m wide ones seem to be unusual in the Netherlands, especially on 50 km/h roads and are now discouraged by the Dutch experts.

        In conclusion, two solutions seem likely to me: 1,5 m (or wider?) cycle paths with angled curbs on both carriageway and sidewalk side or 1,7-1,8 m advisory cycle lanes. But I’m not sure, because both solutions are almost not discussed at all on cycling blogs – cycle paths protected with 90 degree curb are far more common topic.

        I’m asking, because in car-centric cities/towns it’s rather common for distributor streets to have just 2 m sidewalks and 7 m carriageway. If you’re lucky, there’s an extra 1 m of space (hence 12 m total width). If you’re not, the street would be even narrower (1,5+3,5+3,5+1,5). Most authorities would see no reason for removing through car traffic from it, because it doesn’t work bad for cars and pedestrians.

        – The type of roundabout that you’ve shown is usually rather dangerous (perhaps unless there’s very little car traffic, which may well be the case in that location). Over 20 years ago, “Tekenen voor de fiets” (again) advised for at least short curb between a cycle lane and the roundabout, so that cars cannot overtake each other using the cycle lane. But does it meet latest CROW recommendations? In “Tekenen voor de fiets” this is described as a “cycle lane” (despite the little curb), so it’s now proven to be dangerous, right? And what if the curb is longer, but only about 0,5 m – 2 m wide? I know that there are many such roundabouts in the Netherlands, but are they really safe? In such an arrangement, a cyclist has very little time to react if the driver fails to give way. I’m just not sure if it’s worth campaigning for such roundabouts (instead of ones without priority for cyclists, but with cycle paths bent away farther from the roundabout – this requires less space, since cycle paths don’t have to be circular then), especially in a country where drivers are not used to giving way to cyclists on cycle paths at all.

        – Could you show some more examples of cycle paths with angled curbs on the carriageway side (you say that they’re very common)? I’d be grateful, because as I said before, I can’t remember any other example of such cycle paths shown on blogs about cycling in the Netherlands!

        Anyway, thanks for your reply!

    • jeldering says:

      One example of very narrow streets is in the city centre of Utrecht, along some of the canals, e.g. de Oude Gracht: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=utrecht&ll=52.088314,5.121689&spn=0.00592,0.015471&hnear=Utrecht,+The+Netherlands&t=m&z=17&layer=c&cbll=52.088222,5.121729&panoid=ZovtPnnpHwMR7xM16UwRGw&cbp=12,346.84,,0,7.86

      Here there is not enough space for footpath, cyclepath and carriageway, so cyclists and cars share the (narrow) road. This is a one-way road with basically local access only (this is also what the text below the sign disallowing cars after the bridge says: “exception for local traffic”) and non-local traffic is strongly discouraged because of all the one-way streets (not for cyclists). Cyclists can continue along this road all the way into the city centre though. This road is also used by vans for delivery to local shops; cars have to adapt to cyclists here, since overtaking is not possible; cyclists can undertake cars though, by using the “pavement” (negotiating with pedestrians there), which cannot be used by cars because of the bollards.

      So, yes, if necessary cars and cyclists do share the road, but then motor traffic has typically been reduced to the absolute minimum.

    • Branko Collin says:

      Richard Mann, is that you?

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      Here you go (replying to all your comments t/m Apr 29th 2:02)
      https://www.google.co.uk/maps?ll=51.361867,-0.487347&spn=0.043249,0.062056&t=m&layer=c&cbll=51.36178,-0.487376&panoid=bPPnCVWduPnEtFsuCFCCPg&cbp=12,180.03,,0,16.86&z=14

      this is full of crawling motor vehicles in both directions in the morning rush hour. Interestingly there are more bicycle riders on this than many other roads in the area then (though still pathetically few). I say “on” but the majority actually use the footway. Basically small suburban distributor roads (at least round here) are not fit for purpose for the morning rush hour any longer and only forcing people onto bicycles (or foot) can solve it. Maybe they will force themselves, but I doubt most will. Impasse.

      Then of course even a 12 m+ road is likely to have something like this somewhere along its route (certainly near London) which may prove problematical:

      https://www.google.co.uk/maps?ll=51.348896,-0.481682&spn=0.043261,0.062056&t=m&z=14&layer=c&cbll=51.349097,-0.481811&panoid=nfk3LNnYM_YxfI_tIowMLA&cbp=12,333.11,,0,-2.61

      Otherwise, while interesting, I feel this series of comments is distracting from more easily solved points raised in the OP. There is no reason why the implementations shown in the OPs UK photos should be so bad, even with the biased and limited design options that a motor-centric country allows itself. Yet similar stuff crops up time and time again, despite there being examples of UK, if not “best”, then stop-gap acceptable, practice, the latest poor implementation being at Holborn Circus (http://www.visionzerolondon.org/2014/04/scandalous-new-scheme-at-holborn-circus.html). If schemes could be built without any of these rubbishy. conflict-heavy elements, I, and I suspect may others, would give one cheer.

      • user1 says:

        New Haw Rd is exactly the type of road I’m talking about. Here in Poland many roads look like this.
        In this case maybe it’s possible to close this road for through motor traffic, which could use the parallel motorway. But what if there’s no parallel alternative road (and no possibility to build it without demolishing some buildings)? What would the Dutch do then? We know very little about that.

        Of course there’s no reason for using such bad solutions as shown in the photos, but most campaigners would know what to do instead. The topic of narrower streets carrying through traffic is much less covered on bike blogs, though.

  7. inge says:

    The U.K has a history when it comes to plain injustice for the victims of road rage and accidents caused by motorised traffic and crappy infrastructure. Or am I mistaken about that? If so, apologies.

  8. rdrf says:

    1. Inge, I hope to use the phrase “living outside the box” for walking and cycling in future, and hereby acknowledge you as the source.

    2. Outside Maastricht (yes, I have been to Netherlands) I noticed cycle lanes continuing in a straight line with the same width whilst motors had to negotiate a chicane – same principal as above. Sorry, can’t find photograph.

    3. I note that the regime for the motor traffic at this location is a shared space one – forcing negotiation because of uncertainty.

  9. congokid says:

    One example of potentially lethal cycling provision near me in London is next to the Jam Tree pub on King’s Road.
    https://www.google.com/maps/@51.479747,-0.186738,3a,75y,217.48h,90.39t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sSCGwouDtiCjUlPFhj5Rsvg!2e0?hl=en

    Here the road narrows after spanning the railway line, and the bike lane chicanes at this point. It’s nice to have the lane, but the problem is it guides people on bikes directly into the path of passing or following motor vehicles.

    Inattentive drivers are rarely aware that the road becomes narrower and they often continue to drive on the bike lane. When I use this route I tend to ignore the bike lane and take the lane, keeping an eye on what’s coming up behind.

  10. Matt says:

    Another really interesting article. In particular the lack of signs makes me very envious of the Dutch approach. I think your criticism of designers is slightly unfair. Most highway design in the UK is based upon DfT guidance and this is very motorised vehicle dominant. Not following this guidance genuinely puts local authorities at risk and so won’t be sanctioned by senior engineering staff or politicians. To instigate change you’ll need to influence the political decision makers and they only respond to money and votes. Neither of which, sadly, are found in the provision of cycling facilities.

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  12. Fig Newton says:

    Similarly, our bike lanes end in odd places and prioritize vehicle traffic. This reminds me of a video I took regarding bike lanes in Burlington, Ontario, Canada: http://youtu.be/AffTIj5TEg8 Someone had the bright idea to spend extra money for these useless lanes to be built and signed.

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