Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?

The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) -

In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.

I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.

Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.

And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea -

BtFVcU3IgAACHR0So this strikes me as a location where pavement space could entirely reasonably be reallocated for cycling, provided that pedestrian comfort is not significantly worsened.

Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit -

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 21.25.18

Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.

Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).

Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.

DSCN9752

There’s an obvious location for a cycle track here, and it’s not the pointless blue stripe with vehicles on it

DSCN9768_2

Likewise – clear away the clutter, and there’s an obvious cycle track, between the trees and the motor vehicle.

This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.

I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.

This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, Uncategorized | 23 Comments

On the buses

A hot topic at the moment is potential conflict between London’s bus network, and an expanding cycle network – one suitable for all potential users.

It’s becoming a prominent issue, I suspect, because in the places where cycle provision is being installed, or proposed, space is – in some instances – being taken from the bus network. The Superhighway 2 extension along Stratford High Street has taken a lane away, in each direction, from a six lane road. However, that road did, in the recent past, have (intermittent) bus lanes in each direction – bus lanes that aren’t there now.

Likewise the new proposals for Superhighway 5 show that the cycle tracks on Vauxhall Bridge will come at the expense of one of the two bus lanes, rather than at the expense of a general traffic lane.

A bus lane has gone missing.

Six lanes down to five, but a bus lane has gone missing.

The West End Project in Camden is also being presented by some as a ‘conflict’ between bus priority and cycle priority, although it is not clear to me that the parties who are demanding a much higher standard of cycle provision in the scheme are suggesting that bus priority should be watered down. Importantly, there is no reason – in principle – why a good bus network, equivalent or better to the bus provision currently running north-south through this area of Camden – cannot work alongside a cycle network of a high standard.

The problem, I think, is that Transport for London see the bus network as the easiest thing to erode, when it comes to installing cycle-specifc provision. Bus lanes are already the ‘domain’ of Transport for London; there isn’t a large, vocal group standing up for them, apart from the bus companies, who are themselves contracted by TfL. It’s probably much easier for Transport for London to put cycling provision in place of a bus lane than it is in place of a general traffic lane, and they are taking the path of least resistance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Vauxhall Bridge could have excellent cycling provision, and two bus lanes in each direction. Those four lanes of private motor traffic could come down to three, with bus priority maintained. As I’ve said above, there is no necessary conflict between bus provision and cycle provision.

Space for cycling should come first from private motor traffic, then from the bus network, if necessary, and if that can be achieved without eroding the quality of the bus network as a whole. Indeed, this is how Dutch cities, in my experience, function. Space for walking and cycling comes first, then space for a bus or public transport network, and space for private motor traffic then has to fit in around that. This ordering means that many ‘main roads’ in Dutch cities aren’t open to private motor traffic at all, except for access. In Haarlem -

Or in Utrecht -

Potterstraat - a bus- and cycle-only main road

Potterstraat – a bus- and cycle-only main road

You can find numerous examples of where private motor traffic has been squeezed out, to make space for a good public transport network, alongside comfortable, attractive conditions for cycling and walking.

So to that extent, any ‘battle’ between public transport and cycling in London is most likely a reflection of a failure to take space away from private motor traffic, or to reduce it to the extent that buses are not impeded. This is, I think, the strategy for the ‘Clerkenwell Boulevard’ – to maintain bus and cycle priority along the length of the route, while allowing private motor traffic to use the bus lanes, but for access only.

And in Camden, there is again no reason why – in theory – priority bus routes cannot exist alongside high quality cycling infrastructure in the West End Project, although I appreciate that politically and strategically this is very difficult.

The biggest part of that political and strategic difficulty lies with the fact that cycling remains very much a minority mode of transport in London. It is a huge ask to demand space for it, in its own right, when it still forms a small percentage of trips in the city, compared to driving and public transport.

And yet… This is all very circular. People do not cycle in large numbers in London primarily because space has not been allocated for cycling. Cycling has not been prioritised, or given the space necessary to make it a comfortable, safe and attractive mode of transport, suitable for more people than the small minority who cycle now.

What is needed is a strategic vision about the future of London, and other British towns and cities, built around the way we would like people to be making trips, and certainly not one built around maintaining existing mode share. A central part of this strategy should involve opening up cycling as a genuine choice for all, alongside walking, driving, or taking public transport. That choice does not exist, at present. It is clear that people drive or take public transport for trips that would actually be more convenient by bike. They are forced into driving or taking the bus because conditions for cycling are sufficiently hostile to remove ‘choice’ altogether. The Alternative Department for Transport has written a very good blog about precisely this point.

The table below (courtesy of Transport for London) gives some indication of the problem.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 00.40.32

66% of all bus stages in London are under 3km, and nearly 90% are under 5km – about 3 miles (with the caveat this data is ‘as the crow flies’, i.e. a direct line from bus stop to bus stop).

Now of course many of these trips are ones that are inconvenient, or impossible, to cycle – they might be connecting trips on public transport, or a bus genuinely is the best option for the trip in question. Likewise many people making these trips won’t be able to cycle – they might be too infirm, or carrying too heavy a load, or it might just be raining, or too cold. This is what transport choice is all about! But surely a considerable proportion of these trips could be cycled, and more importantly the people making them might prefer to cycle them if we had Dutch-equivalent conditions in London.

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

Going by these TfL figures, on average something like 4 million bus journeys are made by London residents every day (and I’ve heard figures of 6.5 million trips per day, in total), but we haven’t arrived at this position spontaneously. Such a large number of bus trips has arisen out of the bus network being developed and prioritised, and made an easy and obvious choice for ordinary people.

To argue that cycling is for fit young men, while (by implication) bus travel is for ‘everyone’, a universal mode of transport, is to spectacularly miss the point. Cycling isn’t for everyone precisely because it hasn’t received the care and attention that bus travel has received. Humane, civilised cities offer people a genuine choice between bus travel, cycling, and walking; they don’t pretend that the fact ‘everyone’ takes the bus while ‘cyclists’ (fit, young and male) continue to cycle is a natural state of affairs.

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

So the respective modal share for buses and cycling in London isn’t in any way ‘natural’, or spontaneous. We should think carefully about what London can and should look like if cycling was an available choice for everyone, and the benefits that would bring, rather than tying ourselves to defending existing levels of public transport use (and, even worse, existing levels of driving). 

Indeed, there are many good reasons why we should be prioritising cycling ahead of public transport; reasons that no doubt explain why many London boroughs, including Hackney and Camden, continue to place cycling ahead of public transport in their road user hierarchies. (Although in practice this does not happen – presumably because of the weight of numbers of people using buses, compared to the numbers cycling).

Cycling offers public health benefits that are harder to achieve with public transport. Cycling involves being physically active; taking the bus does not, at least not to the same extent. If we are serious about public health, and reducing the burden on the NHS, then walking and cycling should obviously be prioritised ahead of public transport.

Buses present danger. They are much better for cities than private motor traffic, but the fact remains that they are large heavy objects that travel quite fast, carrying considerable momentum. They can, and do, kill and seriously injure people on a regular basis – 2000 people have been killed or seriously injured by TfL buses since 2008, nearly one a day.

Although emissions technology is improving, and much more progress can be made, buses pollute - here’s just one example. 50% of NOx emissions in central London come from Transport for London buses. More people cycling means fewer buses are needed, and cleaner air.

While children and the elderly go free on London buses, as do people using travelcards, most people have to pay to use a bus. £1.45 for a single trip, while a bicycle – once you have one, of course – remains free at the point of use.

Buses are slow. This might come as a surprise to most people, who would never dream of cycling on the roads in London, but a journey by bus is typically much, much slower than one by bike, especially when the fact you have wait for a bus is accounted for. (To take just one example, a trip I used to make from Kentish town to Old Street on the 214 typically took 30 minutes, to cover 3 miles. This is one of the reasons I started cycling in London; most people are not as confident or as happy as me cycling on roads busy with motor traffic, and not have the choice I did).

Buses are indirect. Quite obviously, buses don’t go from door-to-door. You will have to walk to the bus stop at the start of the journey, and away from it at the end, and very often this will involve travelling indirectly – away from the most direct route. Cycling, by contrast, offers a door-to-door journey. You go where you want to go (at least, this is something you should be able to do).

And finally buses disconnect you from the street*, and the people on it. If you see someone you know when you are cycling, you can stop and talk to them. If you see someone you know when you are on a bus, you’ve probably missed that opportunity.

It should be emphasised again that these are merely reasons why cycling should be prioritised ahead of public transport, and definitely not reasons against public transport per se. Public transport is vital, and important, and should be strongly defended ahead of private motor traffic, and taxis. We should have space for cycling, and space for public transport. But in recognising that importance, and acknowledging the huge part buses play in transporting Londoners, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for failing to make cycling a viable for mode of transport, for all.

*Edited – this piece originally used the word ‘antisocial’ here, which on reflection I don’t think is quite right. I’ve changed this, to more accurately reflect what I wanted to convey.

Posted in Uncategorized | 49 Comments

A difference between Horsham and Farnham

Horsham and Farnham are ostensibly quite similar. Two prosperous towns in the south of England, about 25 miles apart, as the crow flies. Farnham has a population of about 40,000 people; Horsham is slightly larger with a population of 55,000.

Although, beyond these main similarities, there are presumably many differences, one noticeable difference one stands out. The number of pedestrians who are being seriously injured in their town centres.

Looking at Horsham first – just four pedestrians have been seriously injured in the town centre in the last ten years.

From Crashmap.

From Crashmap.

Noticeably, every single one of these casualties occurred on the inner ring road; a dual carriageway with a 30mph speed limit. All occurred at crossing points into the town centre. There were no serious casualties, at all, within the inner ring road.

The town centre of Farnham, at the same scale -

From Crashmap.

From Crashmap.

Rather different. 18 pedestrian KSIs over the same period, including one fatality. Four of these occurred on the A31 Farnham bypass, which has to be crossed to get into the town from the station. 13 pedestrians have been seriously injured in the centre of Farnham in ten years. News reports on two of these incidents are here and here. (The data doesn’t include last year, and so does not include this incident).

Why might this be? Why is nobody being seriously injured in the centre of Horsham, while a pedestrian is being seriously injured in the centre of Farnham at a rate greater than one a year?

Horsham is a far from brilliant place to walk and cycle around, but the town centre itself has largely been civilised. Much of it is pedestrianised, and there is very little motor traffic travelling through it. What traffic that is moving through is generally travelling at a low speed, thanks to a 20mph zone (zone, not limit) with tight corners, humps, and cobbled surfaces.

The only route through Horsham town centre.

The only route through Horsham town centre.

Farnham, by contrast, is not so much a ‘town centre’, more a funnel for motor traffic.

It really is this bad.

It really is this bad.

A one-way system dominates the shopping streets in the centre, motor traffic travelling at 30mph, with tiny pavements on either side (see for yourself).

The price of this arrangement – beyond how awful it is, as a place – is a pedestrian seriously injured, at least once a year. Somehow Horsham manages not to do this to people visiting its town centre.

Interestingly enough it appears that the problem has been recognised – proposals from Jeremy Hunt (yes, that Jeremy Hunt!) for pedestrianization of some of the problematic streets in Farnham has just been narrowly endorsed. Worth keeping an eye on.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

‘Culture’

Over the course of the last few years, an area of Horsham – East Street and Market Square – has seen the gradual removal of motor traffic. Five years ago East Street was a conventional ‘road’, with narrow pavements, and, with Market Square, was open to motor traffic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

East Street was given a ‘shared surface’ treatment back in 2010, and this was combined with the banning of the use of the street by motorists, except for loading and deliveries, and blue badge parking in a handful of bays. Subsequent to that change, the council went further, and removed motor traffic completely from the street, with temporary bollards, between 10:30am and 4:30pm. Deliveries take place before and after these times. Market Square – which can only be accessed legally from East Street – effectively became pedestrianised too, as a result of these changes.

There was some chuntering about these developments from many locals. The changes the council made were driven in large part by the numerous cafes and restaurants on East Street and Market Square, who wanted to put tables and chairs out on the street and on the square. This wouldn’t be possible without removing the motor traffic.

The grumbling – presumably from people who still wanted to drive down the street, during the day – focused on how Britain doesn’t really have a ‘cafe culture’, and that it would be silly to put table and chairs on the street. That’s just not for us Britons, the argument implied -we don’t really ‘do’ that sort of thing. People on the continent, maybe, but not us.

Well, of course, the tables and chairs did go out on the street, and, lo and behold, it turns out that we do have a cafe culture!

Market Square - full of tables and chairs, with people using them

Market Square – full of tables and chairs, with people using them

The truth is that ‘culture’ was a pretty empty causal explanation for why Britons – and people in Horsham in particular – didn’t eat and drink out and the street. Compare the above picture of Market Square with how it used to look in 2009 (from the opposite direction) -

640px-Horsham_town_hall_2009

The old Market Square. (Picture from here).

Nobody was sitting outside here, because, frankly, it was a bit shit. Essentially a car park.

And precisely the same was true of East Street. Compare today -

East Street today. People eating and drinking, on the street.

East Street today. People eating and drinking, on the street.

with the previous arrangement -

The old East Street.

The old East Street. Nobody eating and drinking on the street.

It wasn’t our ‘culture’ that stopped us from sitting on the street. It was the physical environment. As soon as that was good enough, then our ‘cafe culture’ suddenly appeared.

I think there are important lessons here for anyone who mistakenly tries to attribute the differences in the amount of cycling between Britain and the Netherlands to ‘culture’. Yes, of course, the Dutch do have a ‘bicycle culture’, but that doesn’t explain why they cycle so much. Perhaps by a combination of historical accident, good fortune, strong campaigning and bold political leadership, they’ve ended up with an environment that allows cycling. What ‘cycling culture’ they have flows from that environment. Impose British-style conditions on the Netherlands and that ‘culture’ would rapidly evaporate.

Likewise it would be absurd to attribute Britain’s low cycling levels to any lack of ‘bicycle culture’. People don’t cycle here because – again through a combination of historical misfortune, poor planning, and poor political leadership – the environment for cycling is dreadful. Where conditions for cycling are – even temporarily – made good, then suddenly our ‘bicycle culture’ materialises.

Sky Ride, London 2013 - mass cycling for one day of the year, on roads that suppress cycling for the remaining 364

Sky Ride, London 2013 – mass cycling for one day of the year, on roads that suppress cycling for the remaining 364

That’s why this quote, from Charles Rubenacker -

The Dutch have created the safest and most complete bicycling network in the world, but we need to look beyond infrastructure and into their collective souls to better understand why riding a bike is so normal in the Netherlands.

is so baffling. The true explanation is grasped in the first half of the sentence, before being discarded for an explanation that is not so much genetic, as mystical.

Do we Britons need to ‘look into our collective souls’ to understand why we don’t ride bicycles? We could do, but I don’t think it would get us very far.

‘Culture’ is an empty explanation. It asserts that the way things are is due to things being that way. Arguing that the Dutch have high cycling levels because of ‘cycling culture’ is akin to arguing that Britons don’t eat out on the street because we don’t have a cafe culture – we don’t have a culture because we don’t have a culture. It’s circular and meaningless.

Posted in Culture | 37 Comments

The going rate

I’ve just spotted that Transport for London’s new Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan attempts to pull the same trick that Norman Baker and Mike Penning tried to pull back in 2012.

That is, it makes a comparison between cycle safety in London and Amsterdam (along with other cities) on the basis of deaths per head of population, rather than deaths per total distance travelled by bike (or by total time spent travelling by bike).

Here’s the graph in question, from page 10 of the Plan -

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 20.42.07

Followed by the helpful explanation -

Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York.

So, looking at this graph, you might think that London (in yellow) is fantastically safe! Just look how much lower the number of fatalities there are, compared to Amsterdam, per capita. London had just 1.7 cycling fatalities in 2012 per million population, where Amsterdam had 6.5 – nearly four times higher.

But of course this is an entirely misleading comparison. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, across London, cycling only accounts for around 2% of all trips made, whereas in Amsterdam cycling accounts for nearly 40% of all trips made. There is much, much more cycling in Amsterdam per capita, so comparing cycling fatalities purely on a per capita basis is absurd. It’s like concluding it’s much safer to cycle in London than in Amsterdam if you have a Dutch name, because many more people with Dutch names are killed cycling in Amsterdam than in London.

This is the same logic that led Mike Penning to argue

I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling

And (more recently) Denis McShane to suggest

How much of this is down to stupidity or dishonesty is hard to tell. You would certainly think Transport for London and a Transport Under-Secretary (as Penning was, at the time) should know better.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning here – beyond the failure to use an appropriate rate – is that, in Amsterdam, children and the elderly (both more vulnerable groups, for different reasons) ride bikes in large numbers.

24% of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled, while in London 95% of over-65s never cycle. If people that are, in general, more frail – and more likely to suffer death than a younger person in an equivalent incident – aren’t cycling at all, that will have a further skewing effect on casualty figures.

A demographic cycling in Amsterdam, but not cycling in London

A demographic cycling in Amsterdam, but not cycling in London 

Thanks to the Road Danger Reduction Forum, who spotted this ‘measurement’ issue.

Posted in Safety, The Netherlands, Transport for London | 27 Comments

Sustainable safety – the British way

One of the principles of the Dutch approach to road safety – sustainable safety, or duurzaam veiling – is homogeneity. Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction.

Roads should be designed to eliminate, as much as possible, mixing road users with large differences in speed and mass in the same space. So, for example, relatively slow pedestrians should not have to mix with relatively fast bikes, and relatively light bicycles should not have to mix with relatively heavy buses or HGVs. Likewise road users who travel slowly should not be expected to share space with vehicles travelling considerably faster.

It appears this principle has been grasped by the Freight Transport Association, who argue

we believe there is evidence confirming that road safety will be improved if the differential between HGVs and other road users is reduced.

Sounds fantastic!

Except… the measure the FTA are welcoming involves reducing the speed differential by shifting lorries to a higher speed, so they are travelling at the same speed as smaller motor traffic.

Conveniently the FTA seem to have overlooked those ‘other road users’ who will still be travelling at around 15mph, or slower, for whom this move to higher speed limits for HGVs will distinctly worsen their safety, according to the logic that the FTA themselves accept. The speed differential between people walking, cycling and horse-riding, and HGVs, is being increased.

Sustainable safety – the British way!

UPDATE

The DfT press release similarly completely overlooks the effect this speed difference will have on vulnerable road users. It states -

This change will remove a 20mph difference between lorry and car speed limits.

… while adding a ~40mph speed difference between HGVs and people walking, cycling and riding horses. Great stuff guys.

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Turbogate gets weirder

From the press release, the ‘turbo’ roundabout in Bedford will now be under construction – building was scheduled to start yesterday, Monday the 21st of July.

Pretty much everything you need to know about this strange scheme and its convoluted history is here on the Alternative Department for Transport blog. (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain also hosted a guest blog critically examining some of the claims made for this design).

Presumably in anticipation of construction starting, the local cycling campaign for North Bedfordshire (CCNB) have put out a statement justifying the design. It’s as curious as the scheme itself. Principally it clings to the sad, failed strategy of attempting to design for two different categories of ‘cyclists’ separately, instead of the proven, successful approach of inclusively designing for everyone. 

CCNB believes that the dual use scheme will improve the safety of all types of cyclists (and pedestrians). Experienced cyclists will use the on-road carriageway around the roundabout while the less confident, new and young cyclists will use an off-road shared use route using four zebras is a good compromise.

For ‘experienced cyclists’ -

The tighter geometry and enforced lane discipline should slow down traffic over what it is at present. An experienced cyclist adopting the primary position should thus avoid being overtaken or cut-up and as a consequence feel much safer. The lane discipline should also ensure that most motorists know what cyclists are doing and in the same way cyclists should also know what motorists are doing.

Well that sounds attractive, on a roundabout that will still be carrying around 25,000 PCUs per day! And for everyone else -

Current regulations stipulate that cyclists can cycle across zebras if there is a dual use path on either side but unlike pedestrians must give way to motor vehicles. The zebras will be wider than normal and the design will allow easy modification to a more traditional Dutch style junction when the DfT allows cyclists to use them in the same way as pedestrians, hopefully sometime next year.

The experience of cycling like a pedestrian.

I am deeply, deeply sceptical about claims this design can be ‘modified’ to a Dutch-style junction, not only because a Dutch-style junction would have perimeter tracks, clearly distinct from footways, rather than shared use areas, but also because the zebras in this scheme cross multiple lanes on the approaches, at sharp angles, a design that is simply not appropriate to ‘convert’ to a crossing. (To say nothing of the appropriateness of cycling on these zebras while waiting for this ‘conversion’).

Would converting these zebras to 'cycle zebras' amount to 'Dutch' design?

Will converting these zebras to ‘cycle zebras’ amount to a ‘Dutch style junction’?

The CCNB response also contains this strange factoid -

The roundabout is generally very busy mainly in the short morning and evening rush hours. The area concerned is fairly small and it is not possible to have Dutch style off-road cycle tracks along any of the four roads involved. [my emphasis].

Really? Looking at the four roads involved – the four arms of the roundabout – in turn -

Union Street -Union Street

Tavistock Street -

Tavistock StreetRoff Avenue -

Rolfe AvenueAnd Clapham Road -

Clapham RoadIt is plainly possible to accommodate cycle tracks on these approaches. And you don’t even need to believe me -

In the application, the designer submitted a mocked up version of what the roundabout could look like with a ‘proper’ Dutch design, including side road priority for cyclists on fully segregated cycle tracks and tight curve radii to slow vehicles.

That’s right – the designer of this scheme presented a possible version of this roundabout, with cycle tracks on entry and exit. Here it is!

unionstreet-rbt-500x349

As the CTC report, Bedford Borough Council vetoed this design on the grounds that it would affect motor traffic capacity; having one lane on each of the approaches wouldn’t be sufficient to cope with current volumes of motor traffic.

So – faced with the intransigence of the council, and the ludicrous constraints of the the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund – it would be understandable if the local cycle campaign admitted defeat, and grimly accepted this being forced on them, while grumbling about it. But to actually come out and support this dog’s dinner?

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Why model, when you can experiment?

The junction outside the Bank of England is truly awful; a vast open space of tarmac, motor traffic thundering through in five directions, and pedestrians accommodated on tiny pavements. What should be a beautiful civic space is devoted to motor traffic flow.

From Google Streetview

From Google Streetview

To be fair to the City of London, they have recognised the problem, and are looking to make improvements. It seems they are examining the potential for closing off motor traffic from certain directions, or at certain times of day.

But here’s the method they are choosing to employ for examining the options -

At the moment we are establishing how wide the impact might be if we make big changes at the junction. This will give us the starting point of what we will need to look at in detail. We should complete this work by September 2014.

Our next task will be to build a computer traffic model to assess what is likely to happen if traffic is prevented from crossing the junction for example in certain directions or times of day. Information from pedestrian and cycling movements will also help to develop solutions. This is likely to be a big piece of work and will take some time to complete but it is very important to have credible options for alterations to the junction. We hope to have this work completed by early 2016.

They are building a computer traffic model to do so – in their own words, ‘a big piece of work’ that is going to take one and a half years to complete. Eighteen months. There is no word on how much this is going to cost.

I imagine the complexity here is due to the fact that we don’t really know how to model people cycling and walking, as described in this excellent post by smalltown2k. It’s really very difficult, and the City appear to be attempting to do so. Now obviously the ability to model these kinds of movements is going to be very important in the future, and it is valuable that we can start to assess what might happen to traffic flow if we acknowledge how people walk and cycle about, and how they might shift mode under different conditions.

But really, rather than just building a hugely complex model from scratch to find out what happens when a junction is closed to motor traffic, couldn’t the City just do it, on a trial basis? If the result is genuine chaos, then the trial can quickly be abandoned.

There are good reasons for thinking a trial of this kind – closing roads at Bank temporarily – would not result in chaos. The main one is that the area is ringed by major arterial roads, composed of London Wall to the north, Aldgate and Tower Gateway to the east, and Upper Thames Street to the south.

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All are designed to carry large volumes of motor traffic, and all lie very close to Bank itself. These are the roads that should be carrying through traffic; the area around Bank should, realistically, only be carrying private motor traffic that is accessing the area. Certainly, the Bank junction should not be carrying through motor traffic in an east-west direction, as there are two major roads to the north and south – just a few hundred metres away – that were built for this purpose.

So – why not just try this? Try it now, rather than spending eighteen difficult months building a model from scratch. You’ll get results that correspond to the real world, and much more quickly!

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Chipping away

The summer is the season when West Sussex County Council – and presumably many other British councils – decide to start spreading gravel on their country lanes, sticking it down with tar and hoping that motor vehicles will ‘bed it in’. IMG_4553This technique is apparently called ‘chip seal’.

It is simply awful to ride on, especially when it has just been laid – the gravel is still loose, and slippery to ride on. Stones get flung up, particularly by passing vehicles, which rarely stick to the 20mph suggested limit. And it’s a poor surface to ride on, even when it has been ‘bedded in’ – rough, and noisy, and far worse than a machine-laid tarmac surface.

Worse than that, chip seal appears – to me at least – to actually accelerate the deterioration of a road. Here’s an example, a mile away from where the new chip seal has been laid in the photograph above.

IMG_4555 IMG_4554This road was ‘chip sealed’ in the last four to five years (I can’t remember precisely when). But as you can see, the layer of gravel has been intermittently blasted off, leaving a bumpy patchwork surface, partly composed of the remaining chipseal, and the underlying original road surface. Again, absolutely awful to ride on, but more problematically, the kind of road surface that is going to deteriorate very rapidly. Potholes are already starting to develop in the areas where the chipseal has been blasted off. The depressions are places where water is retained, perfect for the development of road damage.

I’ve cycled on country lanes in most of the countries of western Europe, including places where roads are subject to extremes of temperature – Switzerland and Sweden. Yet no other western European country appears to employ ‘chip seal’ – they seal roads properly, with machine laid surfaces. My guess is that these roads – while more expensive to lay in the short term – are much cheaper in the long term, because they last much longer than this strange ‘gravel’ approach.

Why does Britain do things differently? Is chip seal genuinely cost-effective? Answers please!

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Asking people to behave, instead of making them

A post by Joe Dunckley yesterday – about how we keep expecting education and awareness to change driver behaviour, ahead of physical engineering – reminded me of something I’d been meaning to write about for a while. It was provoked by this sign I came across in the village of Rotherwick, in Hampshire.Beneath the standard ‘watch out for children’ warning triangle, some locals have evidently felt the need to ask drivers to ‘please’ slow down, attaching a do-it-yourself sign to the pole.

Needless to say, although the locals are asking drivers to slow down to 20mph, the speed limit through the village – and past the school – remains set at 30mph. The official limit is on the pole on the other side of the road.

But hey, drivers have been warned there’s a school here – they’ll all drive carefully, won’t they?

And there’s a similar example in the village of Partridge Green in West Sussex – again, by the village school.

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A ‘kill speed not kids’ sign near the junction with the school is, of course, not accompanied by any corresponding low speed limit, or physical measures to enforce it.IMG_0374Although the DIY sign here has a picture of a zebra crossing, there isn’t any crossing, at all, outside the school itself – but there are some barriers to stop people crossing the road where they might actually want to.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 10.56.34Perhaps the pick of the bunch, though, is this DIY sign outside William Penn Primary School in Coolham, which is aimed at… the primary schoolchildren themselves. Behave!

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Nice of West Sussex County Council to do absolutely nothing to make this dead straight road – just outside of a 60mph limit – safer for schoolchildren.

And it’s not just outside schools. The residents of Tower Hill – a rural road, but with plenty of housing along it, and no footpath – plainly feel that the 60mph limit through where they live is preposterous, and have made their own speed limit signs. There have been many crashes here.IMG_3509All this is sadly symptomatic of the British approach to dealing with traffic danger. At locations where there really shouldn’t be fast motor traffic, and where there is clear local demand for low vehicle speeds (people are making these signs and attaching them themselves) there isn’t anything to make drivers behave, or design that reduces the danger posed to vulnerable road users; only informal requests and home-made signs.

Perhaps the background assumption here is the one Joe describes in his post – that the British driver is innately well-mannered, and doesn’t really need to be told what to do; he’ll either be behaving sensibly already, and if not, polite requests will be sufficient.

the British tradition of soft measures goes far wider, deeper and further back… Motorists may moan about having been the victim of a “war” that restricts their freedom, polices their movements, or sends campaigns of severe punishment for accidental and unavoidable infringement of petty rules, but the reality is that right from the start, when the red flag acts were repealed, this country’s response (and that of much of the English-speaking world) to the problems that motorists create on the road has largely been light touch and libertarian, in which the children are simply asked again and again to play nice, even as they become ever greater bullies, and only if they’re really bad might they have their pocket money docked. We encourage and raise awareness, appeal to the legendary British sense of fair play, and still believe that the ideal road is within reach if only we can persuade everybody to get along through courtesy, good manners, and communicating our intentions clearly to one another.

But these homemade signs are symptomatic of a failure of that strategy. They wouldn’t exist if drivers responded properly to their environment; there wouldn’t be any need to exhort them to slow down to an appropriate speed if they were already doing it. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any need for barriers to stop children crossing the road where they want to, if we could rely on drivers approaching schools at a sensible speed.

What these signs demonstrate are that ‘soft’ measures – education, exhortation, awareness, and so on – don’t work. We need physical environments that make people behave, and that design in safety. If we want people to drive slowly, that needs to come from the design of the road or the street in question, not from home-made signs that plead desperately for sensible behaviour.

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