Selective attention to danger

The local cycling forum in Horsham are banging their heads against something of a brick wall, attempting to get contraflow cycling on a short (residential) street that has one-way flow. This is Barrington Road.

DSCN9687There’s a bit of background here, but essentially allowing two-way cycling on this street would mean that it would form part of a useful route, from north to south, connecting up with a a reasonable shared cycling and walking path. At present, without two-way cycling, the route effectively hits a dead end.

Local councillors appear adamant that allowing two-way cycling would be ‘dangerous’, because of the parked cars on each side of the street, and the narrowness, and continue to oppose opening up this street to cycling in both directions.

We find these arguments quite unconvincing. The street is not at all busy, even at peak times, the sight lines are good, it is short, and it is surrounded by equally narrow (and busier) streets that have two-way driving on them; for instance, New Street -

DSCN9811and Clarence Road -

DSCN9813I encounter people driving towards me while cycling on both these streets, and we manage to work it out amongst ourselves. Barrington Road would, of course, involve changing the status quo, meaning drivers would now be encountering people cycling towards them when they hadn’t previously, but

  1. these difficulties can be mitigated by appropriate exit and entry treatments, making drivers aware of the situation
  2. bicycle symbols can easily and cheaply be painted on the road, again, making plain to drivers what to expect
  3. it is not unreasonable to expect drivers to look where they are going, and to respond appropriately to oncoming cyclists.

Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before. But simply refusing to allow cycling in a contraflow direction – while a neat and tidy way of dealing with that safety issue – is not a particularly productive one.

There’s a wider point to be made here. This particular case illustrates a phenomenon I would like to call selective attention to danger. What this involves -

  • a minor scheme which might introduce a small element of risk or danger being blocked, while
  • the roads and streets around that scheme – indeed, often the only alternative in the absence of that scheme – remain hostile, intimidating and objectively dangerous, without any remedial action. For decades.

A notable example of this phenomenon is the Holborn gyratory in Camden, which was the scene of death in July last year. This justifiably angry blog from Andy Waterman – written on the day of Alan Neve’s death – tells this story better than I can. But this image, from his blog, sums up the issue.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Andy Waterman

The direct east-west route – formed of a contraflow bus lane – could not be used by people cycling, and indeed the police consistently ticketed people for doing so. The only alternative was therefore the fast, wide Holborn gyratory, four lanes wide. Where Alan Neve died. Subsequent to his death, east-west cycling is now allowed in the bus lane. It probably wasn’t that dangerous in the first place; certainly compared to the alternative.

There’s similar selective attention to danger in Horsham. Contraflow cycling on this quiet residential street is seemingly beyond the pale, but across the rest of the town, we have unremittingly hostile roads that pose far, far greater risks, about which nothing has been done, and about which nothing is being done. To take just one example, barely half a mile, as the crow flies, from Barrington Road, we have this junction on our inner ring road, Albion Way.

DSCN0817

To make a right turn here by bike (at the lights in the distance) involves crossing into the third lane, moving across two lanes of heavy traffic, often travelling at or above 30mph, heading straight on. There is no alternative here, except giving up entirely. The only reason this junction might appear ‘safe’ is that very, very few people are actually prepared to do this.

The risks posed cycling down a quiet residential street, facing intermittent oncoming traffic, pale into insignificance compared with the hostility of this junction, and many others, in Horsham. Yet nothing is being done about these latter environments, while the comparatively minuscule risk of the former is enough to torpedo any changes. It’s objectively absurd.

If a council is genuinely concerned enough about my safety to stop me from cycling on a short, narrow street in such a way that I might occasionally encounter an oncoming vehicle, where is that concern on all those other roads where I, and many other people, cycle every day? Roads where I have to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic; where I have to negotiate out around parked cars into streams of traffic; where I have to position myself to prevent drivers from turning across my path; where I have to ‘take the lane’ to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. Why is your concern so selective?

Posted in Horsham, Infrastructure, London, Safety | 14 Comments

Cycling is only as discriminatory as we make it

The Birmingham Post has published an excellent response to the claims from Councillor Deirdre Alden that cycling is in some way discriminatory. It’s worth reading in full, despite the headline about ‘sport’, which presumably has been added by a sub-editor.

At the start of this article we discover that Alden was not the only councillor making these kinds of comments. Councillor James Hutchings apparently argued that ‘hordes’ of cyclists would have ‘a severe impact on pedestrians and motorists’, before stating

It might be great for cyclists but it won’t be great for the rest of the population, particularly elderly people, a lot of women who don’t cycle, a lot of disabled people who can’t cycle, a lot of the ethnic minority people – do you see them cycling all over the city in their hijabs? It isn’t sensible policy.

It’s highly discriminatory for relatively few people who don’t pay any money, who don’t insure, and I do think we do need to get away from the pretence that cycling is wonderful for everybody. Loads of pedestrians will be put at greater risk.

If there genuinely were ‘hordes’ of people cycling on Birmingham’s enormous roads, that would not have a negative impact on motorists (let alone a ‘severe’ impact) – it would be a positive one, because it would reduce the lengths of queues, and congestion more generally. Cyclists don’t come out of nowhere – they’re just people who would have been making trips by other modes.

But anyway…

Hutchings then argues that attempting to improve conditions for cycling would be ‘highly discriminatory’, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t see elderly people cycling, or ethnic minorities cycling (with or without hijabs) or disabled people cycling. (Note that his argument is anecdotal, not based on any evidence.)

His comments mirror those of Cllr Alden, who argued

The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men… most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now.

Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to cycle. It is a discriminatory form of transport

Alden stood by these comments in a later interview -

In asking for the assessment, I made the factual observation that most, not all, but most, of the cyclists I see in my area are young white men. Of course I know some elderly, disabled, women and people from all ethnic groups cycle. But clearly many in Birmingham – for lots of reasons – don’t feel they can. Surely it would be better to spend some of the cycling money in ways which would help those groups who don’t currently choose to cycle?

And also clarified her position in Cycling Weekly -

None of the £24 million is being spent on lighting the canal tow path which would enable safer cycling. It is all being spent on the road and this can put cyclists off. It is only helping current, confident cyclists – not new cyclists and all sections of society.

There is a scheme in a local Edgbaston park that is encouraging Asian women to cycle which is great but we’re talking about roads here.

Now I have to say here that Alden is actually making a sound argument. If the improvements being made to the roads are only marginal, then I think she is right to say that the money is being spent in a way that could be discriminatory. If the funding, for instance, is being spent making cycle lanes a bit wider, or painting ASLs, or other measures that are not at all attractive to children, or the elderly, or those with disabilities, then yes, the only people benefiting will be those who are cycling already, who are disproportionately male and middle-aged.

I’ve only managed to have a cursory look at the proposals for Birmingham, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but certainly it seems as if some of the schemes might fall into this trap. For instance -

'Cyclists share road space with motorists'

‘Cyclists share road space with motorists’

This is on the A41 Soho Road. Does this look like an environment in which some painted symbols in the carriageway will make cycling attractive to all?

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 16.36.43

Elsewhere we have a cycle lane alongside a dual carriageway, with loading allowed in the cycle lane.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 17.06.32

So, while there are better parts to these proposals, some of the money Birmingham has won from the Department for Transport would seem to be being spent on schemes that are not inclusive – ‘only helping current, confident cyclists’, as Alden puts it.

Whether these arguments are being made in good faith or not is hard to say; the picture is muddied by her comments about cycling being something that certain groups of society simply won’t engage in, regardless of the quality of the environment. Cllr Hutchings’ comments fall more overtly into this category; that ‘cyclists’ are a small subset of the population – compared to ‘the rest of the population’ – who don’t deserve any money.

What can be said is that cycling is only as discriminatory as we make it.

The reason why cycling is limited to certain groups, in certain places and along certain roads, is because the environment excludes others. Riding a bike – or using pedal power more generally – is something that nearly everyone can engage in, if the environment is right. Even those who don’t cycle, and use mobility scooters and wheelchairs to get about, would benefit from a quality cycling environment.

Independent mobility, on a cycle track in Zoetermeer

Independent mobility, on a cycle track in Zoetermeer

Mobile phone use (flowing robes included) - Gouda

Mobile phone use (flowing robes included) – Gouda

Headscarves don't seem to be a problem in Utrecht

Headscarves don’t seem to be a problem in Utrecht

So while it is true to say that cycling is a mode of transport that many people are excluded from using in cities like Birmingham, that in itself is plainly not an argument for maintaining the status quo. If children and the elderly do not feel comfortable cycling on dangerous roads, then rather than shrugging our shoulders and doing nothing, while wailing about how cycling is ‘discriminatory’, that state of affairs should be remedied.

BUT we need changes to roads and streets that open them up to all potential bicycle users, not marginal adjustments that make things slightly better for the few currently willing to cycle on them. Buried in the rhetoric from those councillors in Birmingham is a substantive argument.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Exempting people cycling from signals, and how that can benefit people walking

By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about reducing the need to stop at traffic lights while cycling, I thought I’d take a look at exemptions to signals – how they work in the Netherlands, and how they could be transferred to the UK.

This is a bit of a hot topic (as far as hot topics go) in cycle infrastructure design, and also something that could offer benefits for pedestrians – pertinent, as we’ll see, to aspects of the Superhighway plans. just announced by Transport for London.

The basic Dutch principle is that if someone is making a right turn by bike (our left turn, obviously) at a signalised junction, they shouldn’t have to stop. Not only is this convenient, it’s also safer – people cycling, turning right, don’t need to go anywhere near the junction itself.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 16.10.09

No need to worry about that HGV.

Amazingly the Dutch have been doing this for a very long time. Mark Wagenbuur (BicycleDutch) showed me this example dating from the 1960s, in the Overvecht area of Utrecht -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 17.58.15This signalised junction is completely bypassed if you wish to turn right by bike (much as it is if you were walking). Good design, even if it is clearly in need of renovation, being about fifty years old!

Here’s a more modern example of the same design, in Amsterdam -

DSCN9957Again, turning right here is easy, and doesn’t involve signals at all.

In fact, we actually do this already in Britain – but badly. We simply allow cycling on the footway. Either this is a simple footway conversion – ‘you can now cycle here, off you go’ – or it’s deliberate design, like (for instance) on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton, where you are allowed to cycle onto the pavement to make left turns.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.08.15

It’s a nice idea, but it’s far from ideal, not just because it creates conflict and uncertainly between people walking and cycling, but also because there’s no continuity through the junction.

Happily it seems that moves are afoot to try and bring Dutch-style design to the UK, with cycle tracks, clearly separated from both footways and the carriageway, extending around the corners of signalised junctions, and remaining outside of signal control.

Here’s a detail from a presentation made at the latest LCC policy forum, by Transport for London’s Brian Deegan -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.20.44

The full presentation is here.

It’s not quite perfect, but the principle are exactly right. Turning left is possible at any time, regardless of what the signals are doing. Likewise, the interactions with pedestrians are managed correctly, with pedestrians having priority across the track on zebras, on both arms of the junction – reaching a waiting island, and then crossing the carriageway with signals.

So this is how someone walking might move across this junction -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.25.22

In more detail!

They can, of course, cross the ‘signalised’ bit whenever they want to, if the road is clear, because UK pedestrians don’t have to obey the red man.

Flipping a picture of a junction in Amsterdam, we can see how this might look in Britain.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 21.21.09
The woman with the dog has crossed the ‘zebra’ bit over the cycle track, and is waiting for a green signal at the carriageway. Slightly confusingly, the Dutch use zebra markings across signalised pedestrian crossings too. (This is so that they can function with pedestrian priority at night, when traffic signals are turned off). But Brian’s example is how it might look in the UK.

Brian himself is pushing hard for an implementation of this kind of junction somewhere in London. His actual intention is for it to operate as a form of ‘simultaneous green’, with people able to cycle across the junction in any direction, at the same time, while all motor traffic is held – and pedestrians also able to cross at the same time, because the ‘signalled’ bit of the crossing doesn’t involve anyone cycling.

But it seems that some people in TfL are quite sniffy and sceptical about how this would actually work – Brian related how he had been told that the ‘zebra’ and the ‘signalised’ parts of the pedestrian crossing should be staggered, or offset, so that pedestrians don’t get confused into thinking that the whole crossing is a zebra. (Yes, seriously).

Funnily enough, I was in Bristol the other weekend, and, well, they are actually building something like this already.

This is the new cycle track along Baldwin Street, still under construction -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.39.41

It will be bi-directional, which is less than ideal, but I think Bristol have actually pretty much nailed how this design approach should work. The cycle track passes behind the traffic signals, meaning there’s no need to stop. There’s even a hint at a Dutch protecting island on the corner, and the pedestrian and cyclist parts of the crossing (heading to the left) are clearly separated. Pedestrians cross the track on a hinted ‘zebra’, and then wait on an island, if they have to, for the signalled part of the crossing.

The ‘zebra’ has to be unofficial like this, because doing it officially would currently require Belisha beacons, and zig-zag markings – rendering something that should be quite simple very messy. So I think Bristol have taken the right approach – it’s quite obvious that it’s a crossing, even if it isn’t done by the letter.

Are people confused by this design? It would seem not.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.46.39

I stood here for a while, and nobody appeared to feel the urge to march across the road, convinced that they had priority on a zebra, all the way across it. It’s really quite obvious what’s going on.

The rest of the track will, it seems, have this same kind of treatment at straightforward signalised pedestrian crossings.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.51.01

A little hard to see, because it’s obviously still under construction, but pedestrians can cross the cycle track on this ‘zebra’, before waiting on an island at a signalised pedestrian crossing. Simple, and it means that people cycling along the road don’t have to worry about stopping for the signals; they just have to yield to pedestrians at the ‘zebra’.

The original plans marked this arrangement much like a ‘give way a footway’ -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.54.08

From here.

This would not have been a bit messy, I think, and I’m pleased to see Bristol using the best approximation of a Dutch approach that they can manage.

So, can this be copied in London, and elsewhere in the UK? Definitely. Here’s a pedestrian crossing, from the new Superhighway proposals on Lower Thames Street.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 18.58.08

The whole crossing is signalised. But why not do what Bristol are doing, and only signalise the bit across the road, with a zebra (or ‘zebra’) across the cycle track, at the top? (Note – this would have the added benefit of shorter pedestrian stages).

Likewise, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge -

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 19.02.33

Do we really need to make people walking go out of their way, on a two-stage staggered crossing, just to get across a cycle track? Surely a simple ‘zebra’ marking would suffice. Why make our lives more difficult with all this staggering, when the cycle track could be crossed directly on zebras?

A whole swathe of ungainly pedestrian crossings

An array of ungainly, indirect pedestrian crossings

So I’d love to see all this unnecessary signalisation removed from these (very promising) plans, and replaced with zebra markings. It would make everyone’s lives much better. These plans would make a substantial improvement to the pedestrian environment as they stand, but i think they be even better.

It would also provide firm support for Brian Deegan’s attempts to implement his simultaneous green junction plans elsewhere in London, – as well as support for the sound principle of exempting people cycling left at junctions from signalisation.

Bristol are showing us how it can be done. Why over-complicate things?

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

The City of London needs to think again about its response to the Superhighway proposals

I wouldn’t mind so much if the arguments being presented against the new Superhighway proposals in London were actually considered, and credible. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re ridiculous. Let’s examine the recent City of London response, which sadly is pretty much nonsense, from start to finish.

Michael Welbank, the City of London’s Planning Chairman, states that the City

support[s] the two routes in principle

Which sounds promising, until you consider that – from bitter UK experience – a ‘cycle route’ can mean absolutely anything. A bit of shared pavement, a useless stripe on the road – take your pick.

Simply supporting the principle of a ‘route’, therefore, is meaningless, without any detail on the quality and nature of that route. And it is the nature of these Superhighways that the City of London are specifically objecting to. As Mark Boleas, City Policy Chairman, states in the same press release -

We support the concept of cycling superhighways but have considerable reservations about the current proposals

So not really ‘support’, at all – ‘considerable reservations’. Indeed, what ‘support’ the City are offering is merely for a ‘route’ of some description – the vague, undefined ‘concept of cycling superhighways’.

What form of ‘Superhighway’ do the City think TfL should be employing, instead of the current proposals? They don’t go into detail, but a clue is here -

Mr Welbank said the Square Mile’s dense street pattern meant pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all needed to share the space.

‘We’re trying to get all street-users to adapt constantly to each other and avoid a ‘It’s-my-space!’ mentality.’

Let’s pick this apart. The City of London – as far as I am aware – isn’t proposing to remove footways, and make pedestrians ‘share space’ with drivers. Indeed, pavements have been widened in many places in the City of London. More pedestrian-specific space has been created. How do the City’s public realm schemes fit with their own arguments about pedestrians and drivers ‘all needing to share space’? Are the City actually worried about pedestrians (and drivers travelling alongside the footways they are on) having an ‘it’s-my-space!’ mentality? I doubt it.

So the impression created by these comments from Welbank is that what the City of London is really objecting to is, specifically, the principle of protected space for cycling on the roads in question. Pedestrians and drivers are not ‘sharing’ anywhere in the city of London, nor will they be any time soon. The only ‘sharing’ the City is talking about is of a particular kind – mixing people cycling, with motor traffic. These two modes ‘adapting constantly to each other’.

Now, the charitable interpretation of these comments is that Welbank and the City of London haven’t actually worked out which roads are involved in this Superhighway scheme. That is – they’ve responded without examining where the Superhighway will run.

That sounds unbelievable, but note that Welbank is talking about a ‘dense street pattern’, which bears absolutely no relation to the roads on which the Superhighway will actually be built. Namely – very, very wide roads, carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day.

The 'dense street pattern' of the Embankment

The ‘dense street pattern’ of the City of London apparently means this space has to be shared by pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.

This underpass presumably has to be 'shared', rather than having cycle tracks, because of the City's 'dense street pattern'

Likewise, this underpass has to be ‘shared’, rather than having cycle tracks, because of the City’s ‘dense street pattern’

The less charitable interpretation is that they do know which roads are involved, but haven’t got the first clue about how attractive this ‘sharing’ approach might be on them, or are simply advocating ‘sharing’ because they want to maintain the status quo.

Let’s take a look at the amount of motor traffic on the roads involved – the route in the pictures above. Lower Thames Street, which will form a large part of the East-West Superhighway through the City of London, carries 49,000 motor vehicles a day, including over 4000 HGVs, 8000 LGVs, and nearly 2000 buses and coaches.

The Embankment is scarcely any better, with 61,000 motor vehicles a day, including around 3000 HGVs, and 9000 LGVs. Upper Thames Street by Blackfriars station carries 40,000 motor vehicles a day, with around 10,000 HGVs and LGVs, in total. You can see these figures for yourself on the Department for Transport site.

So these are plainly very busy roads, that are wide, and fast. There might be some people cycling here already, ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’ to the motor traffic flowing around them, but to present ‘sharing’ as a realistic design approach for cycling on these roads is extremely fanciful.

Someone 'sharing' on Victoria Embankment

Someone ‘sharing’ on Victoria Embankment. Picture by Crap Waltham Forest.

These roads are dangerous and hostile to the few people fit and brave enough to cycle on them. They include some of the deadliest junctions in London, places where experienced cyclists are killed or seriously injured with horrible regularity, one of the most recent being Bart Chan, hit by an HGV on Upper Thames Street in May this year. These awful collisions will continue to happen if, instead of well-designed Superhighways that separate people cycling from HGVs, buses and motor traffic, we get the City’s apparently desired approach of ‘sharing’ and ‘constantly adapting’.

In addition, we have a vivid annual demonstration of how actual demand for cycling along the Thames is massively suppressed. 

For just one day of the year, thousands of people fight their way into central London – carrying bikes on cars, or walking or cycling on footways – to experience the joy of cycling on these roads.

Families cycling with young children on the Embankment

Families cycling with young children on the Embankment

… And on

… And on Upper Thames Street

… And on Lower Thames Street.

… And on Lower Thames Street.

Is ‘sharing’ with the tens of thousands of vehicles using these roads, per, day a realistic prospect for these kinds of people? And if it is, where are they for the rest of the year, when the roads in the last two pictures look like this?

From Google Streetview

From Google Streetview

From Google Streetview.

From Google Streetview.

I don’t think the City of London are really thinking about these kinds of people, to be honest. They cannot seriously be advocating those young children ‘sharing’ with the HGVs you can see here.

So my impression is that they simply don’t like the idea of space being taken away, because they are worried about delays to motor traffic, and are proposing ‘sharing’ the City’s road network, not because they think it’s realistic or attractive for ordinary people, but because they want to maintain the status quo.

They can’t come out and say that, of course, so they instead have to employ these  arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny. And there are other poor, weak or self-defeating arguments in that City of London press release. For instance -

more thought needs to be given to the knock-on effects on noise and air-pollution.

Really? We can’t make cycling – a mode of transport that doesn’t pollute, and is (virtually) silent – more attractive, because that might affect noise and air-pollution? Are the City of London seriously making this argument?

Likewise, the City have taken the deeply unhelpful approach of spinning these proposals as being hostile to pedestrians. The release starts -

Square Mile planners are urging pedestrians to have their say on plans for new east-west and north-south cycle ‘superhighways’

And states

Pedestrians tend not to lobby for their interests but this is a chance and I would encourage them to have their say before central section consultation closes on 19 Oct. Crossing times might a lot longer in places.

Is this true? Where has the City got this impression from?

The TfL summary of the proposals states that there would be

longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.

Which the City has presented as ‘a lot longer’ (I’m not sure how they’ve established this).

But it’s quite clear that, overall, these Superhighways would be hugely beneficial to pedestrians. Why?

For a start, as TfL state, they will involve

Increased distance between the footway and the road, creating a more pleasant pedestrian environment

Instead of walking a few feet from HGVs and buses travelling at 30mph, people will instead be walking a few feet from people cycling, at much lower speeds. Far more pleasant, as TfL argue (and, indeed, much safer).

Not just that. Because the vast majority of the space for these Superhighways is coming from what is currently motor traffic space, the distance across the road itself will be much shorter. That means shorter crossing times, not longer ones.

All the elements in these Superhighway proposals that will make life better for pedestrians probably merit a post in their own right, but here are just some examples.

Because Blackfriars Road is being narrowed by the cycle tracks – guess what, TfL can put in a ‘straight across’ pedestrian crossing, rather than a staggered one.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 14.46.20

Better for pedestrians.

Pedestrians coming across Blackfriars Bridge currently have to negotiate two signalled crossings across two slip roads. Well, one of those crossings will now be bikes-only. Much easier to cross.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 14.49.23The scheme is dotted with bits of public realm improvement – wider footways, better public space. Here’s a couple.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 14.52.27‘Footway widened.’ ‘Footway increased’.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 14.56.10More widening, in the busy area where Westminster Bridge meets the Embankment.

Many other streets and roads involved in this scheme are being closed to motor traffic, or involve banned turns. Constitution Hill is being upgraded, separating people walking from people cycling. Parts of the Tower Hill gyratory are having private motor traffic completely removed. Horse Guards Road is being closed to all motor traffic, except official vehicles. I could go on (and will, in another post!).

Of course, there are some problems with these routes that I think could be ironed out, from a cycling and walking perspective. But the essential truth about these routes is that they will have a positive impact on the quality of the walking experience.

So, yes, like the City of London, I would urge pedestrians to ‘have their say’. But, unlike the City of London, who don’t seem to have looked at these plans in detail, and appear to have assumed them to be hostile to walking, I do so because they will make life for anyone walking in the centre of London much better, not worse.

Finally, let’s briefly return to those DfT figures for motor traffic levels on these roads. They’re quite interesting, if looked at over the last decade. Here’s the pattern on Upper Thames Street.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 00.30.47

There’s a bit of noise here, because the counts are only carried out on one day. But clearly, motor traffic here has fallen, quite substantially. Over the last 3-4 years, its about two-thirds of the level it was in the early part of the 21st century.

Or, to look at this another way, motor traffic on Upper Thames Street – on the same road layout – was about fifty percent greater a decade ago. That same road layout could cope with those higher motor traffic levels, so why on earth will it not be able to cope, today, with the proposed reduction in capacity for these Superhighways, when the motor traffic flowing on it is much lower? 

And it’s even simpler than that. In broader terms, these Superhighways are really about making the most efficient use of the available space on London’s roads. Cycling, as a mode of transport, is extremely efficient, compared to motor traffic, so that means we should be making it as easy, safe and attractive as we can, for ordinary people, to free up space on the road network. More people cycling means that those essential uses of the road network – deliveries and so on – will be made easier. And – heaven forbid – in a modern, 21st century city, we really should be prioritising a mode of transport that will make a difference, in so many ways. Even if that does mean taking a lane away from four- or five-lane roads.

For all these reasons, the City of London need to reflect on what the Superhighways will offer London, get to grips with these proposals, and change their position.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Light touch

I wrote a piece last month about the appropriate long-term response to people breaking the law while cycling – in short, it’s to fix the street they’re cycling on, so they’re not breaking the law anymore.

For instance – if people are cycling ‘the wrong way’ on a one-way street, well, the correct response is to make sure that two-way cycling is appropriately designed for on that street. If traffic is low enough, then that might amount to nothing more than just allowing it with a simple exemption. If there’s more traffic, then the solution will probably involve some engineering – or removal, or displacement, of that traffic – to make two-way cycling safe.

I also mentioned that – if there’s a problem with red light jumping – a proper long-term response is to look at how these signals are designed, and to assess whether they are even necessary.

Let me give a concrete example. In April this year, I made a short trip in the city of Utrecht.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 18.35.03

This was a distance of just over a mile, right through the centre of the city. On a heavy Dutch bike, it took me about five and a half minutes, in total – including any stops. That’s a very respectable overall average speed of 11 mph, given that I was stationary for 40 seconds at one signal.

The reason I was able to make such good progress is because, as we’ll see in the video, I only had to make that one stop. There was just one traffic light I had to deal with on this journey. The rest of it didn’t involve any stopping or waiting at all, mainly because there aren’t any other traffic signals on this trip.

With so few traffic lights – guess what! – there isn’t very much red light jumping by people cycling. Misbehaviour just evaporates when the street conditions are adapted to favour walking and cycling.

By complete contrast, the very next day, I arrived back in London, getting a train into Liverpool Street from the ferry terminal. Here’s the journey I made by bike, to Victoria -

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 19.31.21

This trip was just three and a half miles – only about three times as long as my Utrecht trip – but it included 32 traffic signals. That’s a signal roughly every 175 metres, and I estimate that I had to stop at roughly half of them.

It was hugely frustrating, coming, as I did, straight off the ferry from a country where traffic signals are much, much rarer in urban areas. Even where they do exist in the Netherlands, they will almost always exempt cycling from right turns (the equivalent of our left turn).

So it is possible to deal with red light jumping, not by clamping down on it, but by creating conditions where people cycling simply don’t have to deal with lights at all.

Posted in The Netherlands, Traffic lights | 10 Comments

The E-W and N-S Superhighways – major change, that needs to be supported

So the big story this week is obviously the launch of the consultations on two new ‘Superhighway’ routes in London. One running from Elephant & Castle towards Kings Cross; the other from the Westway to Tower Hill.

Undeniably, there are problems with these plans.

The whole scheme is composed almost entirely of two-way tracks on one side of the road, which aren’t really appropriate, except in some locations – for instance, along the Embankment, and Constitution Hill. Two-way tracks present more danger with turning conflicts, and they are more inconvenient, as often the road will have to be crossed to make a simple left turn onto the tracks.

What Transport for London call ‘early start’ signals (but in reality are ‘always stop’ signals), as employed at Bow roundabout, feature in many places on these Superhighways, particularly around Parliament Square. This design still isn’t good enough, mainly because it’s inconvenient, and can be confusing.

Turns on and off the Superhighways appear to be being achieved through a formalisation of the ‘Copenhagen turn’, with turns being made in two steps. Again, this isn’t really good enough.

Making turns  off the track, outside TfL's headquarters, via a waiting area

Making turns off the track, outside TfL’s headquarters, via a waiting area

And in many places the designs have been overcomplicated, with an excess of signals and markings that shouldn’t really be necessary. Parliament Square in particular looks very messy.

BUT (and it’s a big but) these plans are undeniably bold, and I think they should be strongly supported.

This is for a number of reasons.

As Rachel Aldred has argued in her excellent blog on these Superhighways -

the hard stuff is not digging up and remaking roads, not in a transport rich city like London. And even elsewhere resources appear if something’s a priority. The hard stuff’s the politics – getting support for change.

And this is change – big change. Although these routes are far from perfect, to me they represent a real attempt to actually prioritise cycling as a mode of transport, and on main roads too, something that we haven’t ever really seen anywhere in Britain. There are direct routes across junctions that are currently truly, truly horrible to cycle across, even for someone who is experienced, and familiar with cycling in London. Tower Gateway has a straight, segregated route across it, connecting with Superhighway 3, achieved by completely removing motor traffic from Shorter Street.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 12.02.51Likewise, the sliproad from Blackfriars Bridge to the Victoria Embankment is being turned into a bicycle-only route, which is fairly extraordinary, given the protests and arguments about this location, which fell on deaf ears for so long. The roads involved are the ones that I have been suggesting could easily accommodate cycling infrastructure, if the political will was there. And now that is happening.

In addition, as far as I can tell, every single bus stop in the these plans is bypassed, with the cycle track passing behind them. That means no interactions with buses, whatsoever – no fudged ‘wide bus lanes’ that are alleged to be suitable for sharing. This is hugely significant.

Indeed, overall, the impression given from the plans is that TfL been thinking hard about who they are designing for.

One of my pet moans, for a long time, has been the ‘dual network’ approach, that involves minimal change on the carriageway for those people already confident to cycle on busy roads, coupled with inadequate and inconvenient pavement cycling for those who aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that these Superhighway designs, whatever their flaws, are very different from that approach. There is clear intent to create something that is suitable for everyone, infrastructure that anyone on a bike would be happy to use, be they someone in lycra on a racing bike, or a very young and wobbly child.

And there are major benefits for pedestrians, too. Motor traffic will be further away from the footways, which means walking will be safer, quieter and more pleasant. The carriageways are being narrowed, too, which means shorter distances at crossings. And I strongly suspect that cycling on the footway will be a thing of the past along these routes – no more people cycling along the pavement on the Embankment, for instance, because they will have a much better alternative.

The problems with these designs can, and should be, ironed out. The ‘always stop’/’early start’ signalised junctions should be upgraded to full separate signalisation of bicycle and motor traffic movements, and I think this could be easily achieved at a later date, even if the designs go ahead as they stand. Likewise, most of these roads are so enormous that the two-way track approach could be adapted, with another track on the other side of the road, and the two-way track reverting to one-way.

And there are minor details that could be got right now. The tracks should be built properly, with shallow, forgiving angled kerbing to maximise effective width. Some of the signalisation simply doesn’t need to be there.

Do we need stop lines, and the expense of signals here, for simple bicycle movements? No.

Do we really need stop lines, and the expense of signals here, for simple bicycle-only movements, when give way markings would work perfectly adequately?

These are comments that should be made in responses to the consultation.

But the overall scheme has to be supported. If these Superhighways are built, they will undoubtedly be tremendously popular. The kind of people you see cycling on the Embankment during Skyrides – absent for the rest of the year – will be able to do so, whenever they want.

These conditions will be embedded, permanently

These conditions will be embedded, permanently

These tracks would be just the start, of course. They will only cover a tiny, tiny fraction of the routes that people will actually want to use in central London. But they will drive change elsewhere. Roads that connect up to these Superhighways will be the next obvious targets. Even in this consultation TfL themselves state that their ‘wish is for segregation’ on Westminster Bridge – not part of this scheme, but an obvious connector to it.

And more broadly, the Superhighways will make the case for cycling elsewhere in London, and indeed across the rest of the country. They will show that it can be done, and that when you make conditions right, cycling is an obvious mode of ordinary people, and that it will make a tremendous difference to the quality of our roads and streets. That has to happen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

‘Setting back’ cycling – why have the Transport Research Laboratory got junction design so wrong?

So the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have published their findings into the safety of cycle track design at junctions – or, more specifically, Trials of segregation set-back at side roads [pdf], to give the report (PPR703) its full title. This report was commissioned by TfL.

I’m going to go into some detail about it, but in short -

  • Good (Dutch) junction design is completely ignored by this trial.
  • Confusing give way markings are employed – Dutch markings, employed the wrong way round.
  • The report recommends ending cycling tracks, and ‘merging’ cyclists with motor traffic, some 20 metres from junctions on roads with higher speeds.
  • It then suggests that this ‘merging’ corresponds to Dutch design practice.

It’s worryingly bad.

From the report summary -

This report provides an overview and interpretation of the key findings from four trials carried out by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to investigate the effects of ‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track at different distances from a side-road junction.

What do TRL mean by “‘setting-back’ a kerb-segregated cycle track”? There is an explanation in one of the photographs in the report -

Explanation of 'set-back distance'. (Note also the curious markings on the outside of the cycle lane)

Explanation of ‘set-back distance’. (Note also the curious markings on the outside of the cycle lane)

Clearly, ‘set-back distance’ is being used to refer to the distance from the junction at which the cycle track becomes a cycle lane. So, this TRL report investigates the different consequences of different ‘set-back distances’ – i.e., how far from the junction the kerb separation ends.

And nothing else.

No other forms of junction design incorporating cycle tracks (designs we’ll come to in a moment) are investigated.

Why was this study so narrowly focused? The explanation comes in the summary -

A review of existing international guidance and research on approaches for taking cycle lanes across side-roads identified two distinct design strategies. Either:

• Cyclists are returned to the carriageway level at least 20m before the junction, so as to establish their presence in the traffic, or
• Segregation is brought right up to the junction (typically <=5m) and very tight geometry (and often raised crossings) used to keep turning speeds down and encourage vehicles to cross the cycle lane at close to 90 degrees. [my emphasis]

Amazingly, these two strategies – ending the segregation more than 20m from the junction, or ending it 5m or less from the junction – are the only two distinct design approaches TRL identify, and consequently the only ones they investigated.

Both these strategies involve turning a cycle track into a cycle lane at the junction. The only difference is the point at which that change occurs. Other design approaches – those commonly employed in the Netherlands at side roads – have been completely ignored. These include -

Continuing a cycle track through a junction, at the same raised level, alongside a continuous footway. Not investigated by TRL.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 00.18.07 DSCN0127 Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 00.19.30Setting back the cycle track from the carriageway, providing an area in which motorists can wait, both to enter the main road (without obstructing the cycle track) and also to pause, yielding to people cycling. Not investigated by TRL.

DSCN9429

Cycle track set back from carriageway, without continuous footway

DSCN0150

Set back cycle track, on a hump, with continuous footway.

This technique can also be employed with two-way tracks; again, set back from the carriageway, with a waiting area, and good visibility as cyclists and motorists cross perpendicularly. Not investigated by TRL.

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To repeat (I can’t labour this enough) – these kinds of techniques are completely ignored by the authors of this TRL report. The only two ‘distinct design strategies’ investigated amount to nothing more than on-carriageway cycle lanes across junction mouths, with no investigation of designs that continue a cycle track through the junction at a raised level, with continuity, with or without ‘set back’ from the carriageway.

This despite the fact that Britain itself already has a few isolated examples of reasonably well-designed cycle tracks across junctions, that correspond approximately to Dutch design. One of them – this one – is only two miles from the Transport Research Laboratory!

With 'set-back distance' helpfully included.

With the proper use of ‘set-back distance’ helpfully included

I can’t begin to understand this oversight.

So the results of this trial are really very narrow in scope, and essentially amount to nothing more than discussion of where it is best to revert to an on-carriageway treatment on the approach to a junction.

The trial examined ending the physical segregation 30 metres from the junction, up to 5 metres from the junction, in 5 metres increments. The ‘tightest’ geometry still involved the cycle track ending 5 metres before the side road.

The study found that with the kerb divider continuing closer to the junction (but still 5 metres from it), drivers turned into the side road more slowly, and crossed the cycle lane (for this is what it is, and how it is described in the report) at an angle closer to perpendicular.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it seems that drivers in the trial actually preferred segregation that continued closer to the junction. This was even the case for drivers of goods vehicles who – you would think – would prefer a less tight geometry, to manoeuvre their larger vehicles.

The preferred set-back distance for 62% of the [goods vehicle] drivers (who expressed an opinion) was one that maximises segregation from cyclists on the approach to the junction

Yet -

cyclists were divided in preferences for short or long set-back distances. The differences reflect different views on the benefits of segregation, including cyclists’ concerns about being able to position themselves for passing the junction and that drivers wouldn’t give way when turning across their path.

‘Position themselves for passing the junction’ – i.e., compensate for poor design. These findings are reflected in this table -

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 01.31.32

While a clear majority of drivers preferred separation continuing as much as possible, a large number (nearly half) of the cyclists in this trial preferred to ‘join traffic’. The report comments

this suggests that cyclists may feel safer if the segregation ends before the junction so they can merge with the traffic before the turn.

So a large proportion of cyclists in this trial clearly like the idea of ‘merging’ with motor traffic before a junction. (At this point it is worth asking whether these cyclists are representative of the general population, or instead representative of a small subset of the population, namely the ‘traffic-tolerant’.)

However, on the other hand, the motorists in the trial didn’t really understand what on earth was going on with the concept of ‘merging’.

The purpose of the segregation set-back was not well understood [by motorists] – most believing it to be to make it easier for vehicles to turn [!], only a few referred to it providing space for cyclists and drivers to adjust to each other before the junction.

Could it be that the idea of ‘merging’ people cycling and driving isn’t all that intuitive?

This suggests that there is a lack of understanding amongst drivers of how cyclists will behave at the junction.

Well, quite.

Amazingly, however, this ‘merging’ technique is actually recommended by this TRL report on roads with higher speeds.

The findings from the off-street trials suggest that two different strategies can then be considered:

  1. Bring segregation very close to the turning (<5m), sufficient to reduce the turning radius and so reduce turning speeds and position turning vehicles at right angles to the path of cyclists (this is similar to the principles behind the use of ‘continental geometry’ at roundabouts). This approach would be most appropriate where geometry is already tight and vehicle speeds comparably low, or where other measures to achieve this will also be implemented.
  2. End the segregation at least 20 m from the junction, giving cyclists sufficient space to re-introduce themselves into the traffic flow and for drivers to adapt to their presence. This would be more suitable where traffic speeds are higher and tight turning geometry is not considered to be appropriate.

Before then stating

These two situations are consistent with the two distinct design approaches adopted in the design practice sin countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands

Well, I’m sorry, I have never seen anything like this in the Netherlands, especially not on roads with higher speeds. It’s just terrible design.

One of the recommended designs from this TRL study.

One of the recommended designs from this TRL study.

And we know that this is bad design, because Transport for London have built the junctions on Stratford High Street like this, with predictable consequences.

The final boggling issue are those markings! - which make no sense whatsoever. Here’s how the report describes them -

The surface of the cycle lane was coloured green throughout… additionally using triangular give-way markings to highlight the cycle lane for turning vehicles. These markings are not an approved road marking in the UK, however somewhat similar versions are used in the Netherlands as a ‘give way’ marking.

‘Somewhat similar’ – except completely the wrong way round.

The Dutch 'Give Way' marking in action.

The Dutch ‘Give Way’ marking in action.

The Dutch use ‘sharks teeth’ as a give way marking, but crucially with the ‘sharp’ bit of the teeth pointing at the people who should be giving way. This trial, however, has managed to get this completely wrong, with the ‘teeth’ pointing at the people on the cycle track. In addition, the ‘sharks teeth’ markings have been employed across the whole of the junction, rather than just on the ‘entry’ side, where drivers would be giving way. So, used in conjuction with a British give way marking, is it any wonder people driving didn’t understand this marking?

This failure to get even the basics right is symptomatic of the general failure of this trial to assess proven Dutch junction design in a British context. How is it possible for the Transport Research Laboratory to have what seems to be absolutely no clue about how the Dutch design well at junctions?

What on earth is going on?

Posted in Uncategorized | 52 Comments

It’s not 1934

Last year I wrote a long piece about (British) ideological opposition to cycle tracks alongside roads; opposition flowing from the notion that such provision represents a ‘surrender’ of the road network.

People making this argument claim a variety of things. They claim such an ‘abandonment’ of the road network would be bad policy. Motor vehicles would have won; driving will be easier, and we will have failed in our overall goal of attempting to reduce driving and increase cycling.

Or, they claim that drivers – once people cycling have separate provision – will behave with a greater sense of entitlement, seeing the road network as ‘theirs’. Or, they claim that drivers won’t be used to driving around people cycling, with similar negative consequences for the latter group.

These arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, yet, as I wrote in that previous post,

opposition to cycle tracks in the UK, of this ideological form, persists. This opposition is not new; it has a long history, dating right back to the 1930s, a time when cycle tracks were, intermittently, being proposed alongside some arterial roads in Britain. Most strikingly, the arguments advanced at the time have hardly changed in the intervening eighty years.

One of  the oddities of these kinds of arguments is an acceptance that the motorway network is unsuitable, and unusable, by people cycling, yet the rest of the road network should be retained as being ‘for cycling’. That will often includes dual carriageways and busy inter-urban A-roads which present, to all intents and purposes, just as much danger to people cycling along them as the motorway network. Building cycle tracks alongside these roads would constitute a ‘surrender’.

The explanation for this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the motorway network was built explicitly for motorists, while the rest of the road network predates (for the most part) the motor age, even if it has been changed and upgraded out of all recognition, often closely resembling motorways. These are the roads that cannot be ‘surrendered’, especially as the motorway network (in the eyes of cycle campaigners of the era in which motorways started being built) was constructed to ‘take’ the motor traffic away from it.

Unfortunately these attitudes about the road network are fossils; they are relics of an earlier era, an era when the motor vehicle was only just starting to explode as a popular mode of transport. And yet they persist.

My petition calling for the introduction of Sustainable Safety on Britain’s roads – which will involve separate provision for cycling on main roads carrying traffic at 50mph, or higher – has attracted comments of this ilk.

Your proposal accepts the motor centric status quo and asks to remove active travelers from our road network which may not be feasible in many circumstances

And

I think volunteering to lose rights is a disastrous thing to do from a position of weakness. I absolutely don’t think that offering to get off roads will lead to the powers that be supplying a radical provision of adequate alternatives.

I also think that pushing the idea that cyclists don’t belong on (our) roads near motorists is asking for trouble when we will have to be near motors on most roads. Going along with getting cyclists out of what drivers may think is “their way” is a very dodgy thing to aim for.

The philosophy that lies behind these kinds of comments is that, one day, some day soon, the road network could become suitable for people cycling, if only we could get drivers to behave, or if only we could slow them down, or if only we would enforce the law properly, or if only we could reduce motor traffic.

In short – if only we got tough enough on driving. 

Typifying these attitudes, in a comment referring to this picture

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 20.56.49of a father and daughter cycling alongside the main road into Gouda from the A12 motorway, David said

How much pollution and noise are the man and boy being exposed to cycling next to that busy main road? Progress would mean people in variety of human powered vehicles moving a varying speeds to a maximum of 20mph, perhaps a tram or other public transport vehicle parallel with the occasional less able-bodied person allowed in a car sharing the space as a ‘guest’

This kind of approach is plainly utopian. It imagines that a motor-centric society can somehow revert to being one in which motor vehicles barely exist; that we can restore the character of our roads, as they were in the early part of the 20th century.

Theoretically, it could be possible to achieve this. Maybe we could remove HGVs from our road network, displacing goods onto rail. Maybe we could persuade people to abandon their cars for long-distance trips, forcing them to travel at 20mph when they do.

But the chances of this happening are so remote it’s not even worth considering. We need to deal with reality. It is not 1934; it is 2014, and we need to start thinking about cycling and motoring as distinct modes of transport, with separate networks, sharing only in very limited circumstances, and under specific conditions.

That, of course, means town and city centres where motor traffic is largely removed, but it must also mean a different kind of separation on main roads, the roads that will inevitably continue to carry motor traffic. This needs to happen not just because mixing motor traffic and cycle traffic presents unnecessary danger, but also because doing so makes cycling far more attractive to ordinary people.

I find it perverse to justify opposition to cycle tracks alongside main roads, carrying significant volumes of motor traffic, in terms of ‘rights’. This ‘right’ is only being exercised by a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of people who regularly ride bikes in Britain, and more importantly such a position denies other people their right to use the road network; those people who would like to cycle, but are currently prevented from doing so because of conditions. People like my partner, who will happily cycle along main roads and dual carriageways in the Netherlands, but would never dream of doing so in Britain – not in a million years – because there is no alternative, except cycling in the carriageway with motor traffic.

We cycled here. This would never have happened if the road was our only option.

A major junction on the outskirts of Utrecht. We cycled here. This would never have happened if the road was our only option.

So I’m tired, really, of having these kinds of arguments. People have already been pushed off the road network, to all intents and purposes. We need sane policies that make that network attractive, for all potential users.

It’s time to get real.

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 23.15.44

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 20.56.49 Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 23.03.00

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 | 37 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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 17.20.58

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.26.12

And at the southern end, we have similar problems -

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.29.39

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 17.32.59

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?

 

 

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*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