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.
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 -
This 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 -
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.
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 -
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 -
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.
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 -
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.
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.
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’ -
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.
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 -
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?
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?