Continual improvement

We often hear that we are ‘forty years behind’ the Netherlands – for instance, Andrew Gilligan stated last year that

It took 40 years to turn even Amsterdam into Amsterdam, with the kind of cycle facilities it has now

This statistic tends to gloss over just how quickly the Netherlands changed the roads and streets that matter. It certainly didn’t take ’40 years’, and the danger is that such a long timescale provides a justification for inaction.

More importantly, rather than closing that gap, we are falling further behind, as David Hembrow has set out – not just because there has been little or no substantive action in London and elsewhere, but also because the Netherlands is pulling further and further ahead, with constant upgrades and improvements to its network. I came across just one of these examples this week.

I’m planning a bicycle tour of some Dutch cities I haven’t visited before, using the Fietserbond (the Dutch Cycling Union)  planner to work out my routes. This is part of the route it suggests, between Delft and Gouda – the straight blue line on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.13.03Examining what it looks like on Streetview, I found that this section… apparently runs across a field.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.15.02The wood on the right here is the dark green rectangle in the middle of the map above. The blue line of the route cuts straight where the sheep are. This was slightly concerning – I didn’t want to find myself taking a lengthy detour, or struggling across a field.

I don’t doubt the Fietsersbond planner, so did a bit of looking around. It seems that a huge new bicycle route has been built since the Streetview vehicle passed through. Here’s the junction in 2009 – the bicycle path just ends as it meets the road.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.38.10

A year later, and construction has started on an underpass. For bikes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.57.21

You can just about see the bicycle path extending off across the field in the distance (if you want to take a look for yourself, the location is here).

This doesn’t even appear to be a particularly major road, which could have been crossed at surface level – but an underpass is less dangerous, and involves less delay. Just better, even if it costs a huge amount more. The cycle route now forms a nice straight uninterrupted line between the cities of Delft and Zoetermeer.

Here’s a local news item from October 2011, announcing the opening of this new ‘fast cycle route’, with tunnels under this road (the Noordweg) and a railway line. There’s also a pdf showing the new and improved routes.

I will enjoy riding along it!

Posted in Infrastructure, The Netherlands | 6 Comments

The problem with (British) zebra crossings

Zebra crossings are, in principle, the ideal way for pedestrians to cross the road. They give pedestrians priority, and mean they can cross without delay.

But there are a number of regulatory difficulties which make them rather less than ideal. The first is the absurd requirement that every single zebra crossing has to have two Belisha beacons at either end of it, to make it ‘visible’ to drivers. Trying to implement Dutch-style infrastructure under UK rules would result in a complete forest of these beacons – amply demonstrated by the TRL trial of a Dutch roundabout.

Spot the zebra crossing

Spot the zebra crossing

European countries are quite capable of implementing zebras without these ugly poles. In France -

DSCN9736In Switzerland -

DSCN9989

And of course in the Netherlands -

DSCN9180Simple crossings that consist of nothing more than paint.

These continental zebras also do not have the ‘zig-zag’ markings on either side of the crossing, that are compulsory in the UK. This ‘extra’ marking not only uglifies the street, like the Belisha beacon – it also presents practical difficulties.

The minimum requirement is just two zig-zags – a ‘zig’ and a ‘zag’. Even this means that zebra crossings will inevitably be displaced from desire lines. Unlike in the French and Swiss examples, above, where the crossing goes from corner to corner, UK zebras have to be set back from junction mouths. Nor, on main roads, can they be placed by junctions with side roads, meaning extra delay and inconvenience for pedestrians.

About the best we can do - two 'zig-zags' back

About the best we can do – two ‘zig-zags’ back from the junction

And, from a cycling perspective, this ‘zig-zag’ rule is also inconvenient. It means that  crossings for cycling cannot be placed directly adjacent to zebra crossings, either across main roads, or across side roads.

blah

Main road crossing, with zebra

blah

Side road crossing, with zebra

Under the current rules, placing cycle tracks and zebras around the perimeter of a roundabout means that the zebra crossing is significantly displaced from the natural desire lines, as shown in this mock-up for the Cycling Embassy of a legal perimeter track.

So these rules about zebras really need to be simplified, so we can have straightforward crossings without all the paraphernalia of beacons and markings.

The other serious problem with zebras involves the rules governing their use. Here’s the relevant passage from the Highway Code, with what I consider to be an unhelpful rule underlined.

Relevant excerpt from the Highway Code

Highway Code Rule 193

That is, drivers have to give way only after the pedestrian has moved onto the crossing, not before – not, for instance, when the pedestrian is waiting to cross.

What does this mean in practice? To give an example from just yesterday, I watched an elderly lady waiting to cross a road, standing on the pavement at a zebra. Because she didn’t step out onto the crossing, no driver stopped. About five cars passed, despite her clearly waiting to cross, as I approached.

As someone who cycles in traffic on a day-to-day basis, naturally I had no qualms about striding out straight onto the crossing the lady was waiting at (it helps if you have a bicycle with you, to wheel out in front of you), commanding, or rather daring, the oncoming drivers to stop, which they did – just about. She didn’t follow me, however.

But this is the problem with Rule 193. Because priority only arrives after you step onto the crossing, Rule 193 expects people waiting to cross the road on a zebra to effectively play chicken with approaching motor vehicles. This is not something people are willing to do. Given the choice between just waiting for a gap in traffic to materialise, and stepping out in front of a driver and hoping they will stop, I suspect most will simply wait for a gap, as the elderly lady did yesterday. Indeed, this (quite rational) preference is reinforced by official advice.

‘Never assume traffic will stop’ (or rather ‘never assume drivers will stop’) means zebras only effectively become useful when there are gaps in traffic. People simply don’t want to chance it. They wait on the pavement – and that means no driver has to yield for them.

Rule 19 in the Highway Code effectively encapsulates this gaping hole in the rules.

Wait until all traffic has stopped before you step onto the crossing, But traffic doesn't have stop until you step on the crossing. Right...

The gloriously contradictory Rule 19

Wait until all traffic has stopped before you step onto the crossing. But traffic doesn’t have stop until you step on the crossing. Right… that makes sense.

It’s not surprising therefore that, as I understand it, pelican or toucan crossings are preferred by the general public, because while delay is  involved, the signals give a degree of certainty that drivers will stop – albeit a certainty that is often misplaced.

So, in essence,  Britain’s traffic rules have managed to seriously wound a sensible and straightforward way of crossing the road. I suppose we should pat ourselves on the back.

Posted in Infrastructure, Walking, Zebra crossings | 57 Comments

Dealing with a historical failure to consider cycling

Way back in the 1970s, Horsham built a stub of inner ring-road, a dual carriageway that was later extended in two stages to (almost) encircle the town centre. It’s called Albion Way.

Horsham's inner ring road

Albion Way – Horsham’s inner ring road

It involved almost entirely demolishing a church…

The remnants of St Marks

and blasting a dual carriageway through a high street, to link up with a new Sainsbury’s, built on school playing fields (you can see the car park by the ‘A’ on the map above).

Frankly, it’s a bit of a monstrosity – overkill, given that it duplicates a bypass that encircles the town. The severance is crap for people walking and cycling, who only have a few places they can cross it, which are (with one exception) pretty awful.

Lovely

Lovely

Motor traffic on Albion has consistently fallen over the last decade, and it needs to be resolved. But even in its current form it represents a bit of a mixed blessing. The town planners who initially set about building it were quite clear that motor traffic should be removed and displaced from the town centre – and that has been achieved, pretty well. The area enclosed by the ring road has only one route through it, as shown below.

The route through the town centre

The route through the town centre

This is a one-way road – all the other streets in the town centre have been pedestrianised, or are dead-ends, or do not form useful routes to anywhere, and are only used for access. And the centre of Horsham as a whole was one of the first 20mph zones in Britain, dating back to 1992. As well shall see, the only route through the centre has traffic calming in the form of humps and a cobbled surface, and  is deliberately tortuous, in an attempt to discourage people from using it as a through route, rather than the longer ring road (although in my experience many people still try).

It’s pretty good, and I have sung the praises of the town centre before, which has been improved further over the last few years by the progressive removal of motor traffic from more streets.

The only problem… is that cycling has been forgotten about.  The town centre is impenetrable from most directions by bike, because of the one-way route through it (that doesn’t have an exemption), and pedestrianisation. There is no useful, direct route across the town from north to south, nor from east to west, nor from west to east. The only route through the town centre is by following the existing one-way street. This lack of permeability is really quite poor.

This may change. West Sussex County Council won some Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) cash in the last round of bidding, which has to be spent by April 2015 – some of that cash is coming to Horsham, to construct (amongst other things) a cycling route across the town, from the station (which lies to the north of the town centre) through to the south. This will obviously have to tackle the one-way system.

This direct route is currently impossible by bike

This direct route, from the railway station (to the north) to the town centre, is currently impossible by bike, without taking an unpleasant and/or lengthy diversions

The planned route will come from the station, over the inner ring road on an existing shared walking and cycling route (running along the bridge in the picture earlier in this post). It then arrives in the Carfax, where it is confronted by the one-way road in the centre of the town.

Horsham's Carfax, looking south. Currently no cycling in this direction

Horsham’s Carfax, looking south. Currently no cycling in this direction

The route will have to run from where the photograph is taken, to the red brick building in the distance. There is a huge amount of space available here, but there probably isn’t going to be much money to play with. That means relaying the street (playing with the cobbles!) to make the carriageway wider is unlikely.

My instinct tells me a simple contraflow would be the most straightforward (and cheapest!) approach – simply legalising cycling in a contraflow direction. But there are issues. The carriageway is not especially wide, and while the volume of traffic is not very high, at all, there are potential conflicts with a loading bay on one side, and a combined bus stop/loading bay on the other. This picture gives some idea of the potential difficulties.

Not particularly brilliant to be cycling the other way under these conditions

Not particularly brilliant to be cycling the other way under these conditions

The other alternative is to route the contraflow to the left (as we look at it) of that loading bay, but this is not particularly wide, and would obviously impinge upon walking. It’s probably a non-starter.

Not a huge amount of space for cycling and walking here

Not a huge amount of space for cycling and walking here

I’ve taken a short video of this section of road, at one of the busiest times of day, 5:30pm. This is when the density of people driving through the town centre tends to be highest – to pick up friends or relatives at the end of the day, to grab some cash from the banks nearby, or simply to use it as a shortcut. This is obviously combined with the buses – the frequency is not especially high, but it could be a problem.

See what you think – it gives a flavour of how difficult it could be to cycle in a contraflow direction, and also how easy it could be!

Outside of the morning and evening, I think a straightforward contraflow could work absolutely fine. The street is very quiet. Indeed, in the evening, and the middle of the day, it can be absolutely deserted. It’s also a low speed environment, with pretty good (by British standards) traffic calming.

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

But it could obviously present difficulties at peak times. The street is awkwardly designed, as far as two-way cycling is concerned – the narrow bits are in precisely the wrong place. Optimistically, if it is made obvious that there will be people cycling in a contraflow direction to people driving through the centre, my hope is that people will exercise common sense and not crash into each other.

The advantage of this approach is that will cost next to nothing, beyond signage. If, as I fear, it’s not good enough, and people simply can’t behave, then it will have to be changed.

My ideal solution would simply involve cutting out much more of the motor traffic – stopping the use of the Carfax as a route, by installing a bus gate halfway through it. Buses could still pass through (this is an important bus stop, right in the centre), but private motor traffic could not. The roads would be returned to two-way, for all vehicles.

This would stop people driving through, but would still allow access for people loading and delivering, and to the disabled parking bays in the town centre. Indeed, we have already had an (accidental!) trial of this system last year, when the humps in the Carfax were being repaired, and the route was blocked.

The closure of the Carfax to through-traffic - by accident

The closure of the Carfax to through-traffic – by accident

This closure point here would be the natural position for the bus gate. While these repairs were taking place (for over a month) people could still access all parts of the town centre, but couldn’t drive through. I even have a picture of a taxi driving the ‘wrong’ way down the section of road that will need two-way cycling!

Legal two-way driving on this narrow section of road. It worked.

Legal two-way driving on this narrow section of road, during the repair works. This could be the way forward.

This would be the ideal solution, but it would represent a bigger change, all for a mode a of transport that people around here don’t really think exists. It would be a much harder sell. The contraflow would be easier to implement, but sub-optimal.

I’m wondering what you think.

Posted in Horsham, Infrastructure, One-way streets, Pedestrianisation, Permeability, Street closures, West Sussex County Council | 15 Comments

More motorway ‘idiocy’

So another person cycling on a motorway has been stopped by the police.

The last time this happened – just a few weeks ago – Beyond the Kerb succinctly described the different types of ‘idiocy’ involved here.

I don’t for one moment condone the idiocy of venturing onto a motorway on a bicycle. And I suspect nor do you condone it. It’s insane. It’s incredibly dangerous. And it’s illegal, and in this case a fine was levied.

But nor do I for one moment condone the idiocy of highway engineering that directs people to behave in precisely the same manner (with about a quarter of the width of tarmac to cycle on and far fewer safety criteria for the road as a whole). Yet, most people do condone it. It’s insane. It’s incredibly dangerous. Yet it’s legal, and people get paid for it.

On the A3, just a few miles from where our first idiot had his collar felt, is engineering that designs in the exact behaviour he exhibited; behaviour that attracted widespread and vociferous criticism from the police, the media and an angry public. And this is far from an isolated example of such engineering.

The latest example of motorway cycling is even more delicious, in that the motorway the man was stopped on is, objectively, far less dangerous than the A-road he had previously been cycling on, which simply ‘becomes’ a motorway at Sunbury.

Where the A316 becomes the M3

Where the A316 becomes the M3

Lets take a look at these roads.

The A316. No shoulder. Legal to cycle here.

The A316. No shoulder. Legal to cycle here.

The M3. Cycling illegal here

The M3, effectively the same road. But with a shoulder. Illegal to cycle here

The chap was ‘surrounded’ by police vehicles and escorted from the motorway with a £50 fine.

The cyclist apparently joined the motorway after riding along the A316, but “didn’t think to stop and walk off,” as the police put it.

Well, quite. Given that the objective conditions on the M3 are superior to the A316, and  that the two are essentially the same road, I can see where he’s coming from.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Junction capacity

The cycling schemes in Bedford and Southampton – the ‘Turbo’ roundabout, and the Itchen Bridge junction, respectively – have been hitting the headlines recently. A post by SmallTown2K (who has been taking a thorough look at the Southampton scheme) goes some way towards explaining why what has ended up on the ground is so compromised -

In traffic engineering parlance, the junction does not operate satisfactorily in the AM peak. What this means is the junction is over capacity. I have no baseline Arcady (roundabout modelling software) for the roundabout to compare to, but the signals are likely lower in capacity and this indicates liable to cause congestion.

Obviously, traffic will readjust and vehicle congestion isn’t the be all and end all, except, in Southampton, almost everyone drives and angry drivers don’t re-elect people. Further, and perhaps less dramatically, as a highway authority, Southampton CC is bound to a Network Management Duty which means they must secure the “expeditious movement of traffic”, albeit that traffic is defined as all road users. In that vein it should be noted for non-locals that the Itchen Bridge is a key bus corridor and congestion over the bridge would affect all these routes and the large number of people thereupon (which offhand I would guesstimate outnumber cyclists in the order of 10:1).

It is this intersection of ‘keeping the traffic moving’ (conceived in terms of motor traffic) and political unwillingness to do anything that might disrupt ‘traffic’ (again, motor traffic) that has seen the removal of the ASLs from the original plans, the extra length of stacking lanes, and so on. The quality of the junction was sacrificed.

There’s a similar story behind the Bedford ‘Turbo’ roundabout. The council simply didn’t want to do anything that might have reduced the volume of motor traffic on the roundabout, resulting in the bodge that is finally going to see the light of day, with cycling effectively pushed onto shared use pavements, with a roundabout design that has the stated intention (whether it will succeed or not is another matter) of increasing motor traffic capacity.

The problem is that cycling is, as always, seen as something ‘extra’ to be accommodated around existing motor traffic, rather than a way of reducing congestion on the network as a whole. In a post yesterday Herbert Tiemens, of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, commented that

congestion easily evaporates with only a low percentage changing cars for bicycles

But we don’t seem to appreciate this in the UK – perhaps because we can’t get our heads around the fact that ‘ordinary’ people could actually switch from their cars to cycling, for short trips, if the conditions were more acceptable.

The truth is that designing junctions properly for cycling hugely increase the capacity of these junctions in terms of the movement of people, even if capacity for motor traffic is reduced. 

I dug out an old video of mine, shot in Groningen in 2011, just to demonstrate how efficient junctions can actually be.

This is the north-west corner of Vismarkt, right in the centre of the city, at about 5:30pm.

The video is only 3 minutes long, but I managed to count around 350 people passing through this junction in just that time – almost certainly an underestimate, because the video doesn’t capture people crossing on the arm to the right. This is a rate of 2 people every second, which amounts to at least 7000 movements per hour. It’s hard to say how many people might pass through here over the course of a day, but quite obviously the junction could handle a huge amount of people in a 24 hour period. All this in a small space, with no need for signalisation, or delay. And very little danger!

By comparison, busy junctions like the Bedford ‘Turbo’ roundabout currently handle 25,000 vehicles per day, as does the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge – in a much bigger area, with much more delay, and with much greater danger. This junction in Groningen is much, much more efficient at moving people about.

I’m not suggesting that the motor traffic on these roundabouts can, or even should, disappear. The broader point is that shifting people out of their cars and onto bikes would serve to reduce congestion, not increase it – even if that means taking junction capacity away from motoring. But it has to be done properly, so that cycling is a genuine, attractive alternative.

Posted in Infrastructure, Smoothing traffic flow, The Netherlands | 11 Comments

Cycling in pedestrianised areas

Many town and city centres in Britain have extensive pedestrianised areas. Often these areas will be surrounded by busy distributor roads, designed to accommodate the motor traffic that has been excluded from the pedestrianised streets (and which in practice have served to induce demand for driving within urban areas).

Given the hostility of these roads for those on bikes, it is not surprising that pedestrianised areas are attractive routes for cycling, even when (as is often the case) cycling is illegal within them. Pedestrianised streets are also important routes and destinations in their own right. So should cycling be allowed in pedestrianised areas?

Here’s what the Dutch CROW manual has to say -

Pedestrian precincts can be found in many city centres. Although this measure was prompted by the annoying presence of motorised traffic, many of these precincts are now only open to pedestrians, in order to create a pleasant and safe shopping atmosphere. However, the question  is whether it is always necessary to prohibit bicycles as well as motorised traffic. After all, compared to the latter, cyclists cause hardly any nuisance. Another issue is that central areas and pedestrian precincts that are closed to cyclists often form a major barrier. Furthermore, these areas also accommodate a great many destination points for cyclists. Bicycle-friendly policy ensures that these destinations remain accessible to cyclists.

The manual then suggests that bicycle and pedestrian traffic can be combined if the number of pedestrians, per metre of route width, is below 200 per hour. (To take an example, for a ten-metre-wide shopping street, this would amount to 2000 pedestrians per hour walking past an imaginary fixed line on the street.) Above this level, the CROW manual does not recommend allowing cycling on these streets.

For pedestrian volumes of less than 100 per hour, per metre of route width, the CROW manual recommends ‘full combination’ – that is, just allowing cycling on a pedestrianised street, without any delineation. Between 100 and 200 pedestrians per hour, per metre, it recommends a marking out of a cycle route, with or without height difference, depending on pedestrian volume.

We have practical examples of this in the UK. East Street, in Horsham, is now closed to motor vehicles between 10:30am and 4:30pm each day, but with cycling still permitted. For these six hours, it’s a pedestrianised area, with cycling in it. After two years, there hasn’t been a single incident involving cycling, or complaint (as far as I am aware). There have been only two (slight) pedestrian injuries, both involving motor vehicles, outside of the ‘pedestrianised’ hours. It works well.

However the background assumption in the UK seems to be that cycling is ‘a problem’, that needs to be clamped down on, and eradicated in pedestrian areas, even where there is scope for its introduction. Cycling is banned on Guildford High Street during the day, for instance, despite this being a very wide street (and despite it forming part of the National Cycle Network).

No cycling allowed here

No cycling allowed here

Cycling is also banned, entirely, in the centre of Stevenage.

No cycling here either

No cycling here either

And there are doubtless many other examples. Councillors in Peterborough are agitating for a complete ban on cycling in the town centre.

The rationale for these bans – or the refusal to lift them – is usually a single incident (or even just an anecdote) about a near miss, or a collision, involving a pedestrian and a someone cycling. This is a poor basis for making policy, and, if applied to the road network as a whole, would lead to the wholesale closure of roads to motor vehicles. 

Amazingly enough, we actually have some pretty good Department for Transport recommendations on cycling in pedestrian areas, that date back to 1993 – TAL 9/93 [pdf]. This guidance was itself informed by a Transport Research Laboratory study, PR15, Cycling in Pedestrian Areas - conducted at a time when the TRL was an executive arm of the DfT.

That study was based on hour-long footage of 21 pedestrianised sites – 12 in Britain (Beeston, Bristol, Cambridge, Canterbury, Chichester, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough (2) and York) and 9 in Europe (3 each in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), followed up by 12 hour video recording sessions at four British sites, and questionnaires.

There are some very interesting findings.

  • In 66 hours of total footage, not a single collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian was observed.
  • Not one accident involving an adult pedestrian and a cyclist was recorded at any of 21 sites in the previous fifteen years. There had been only one accident involving a child pedestrian and a cyclist in that fifteen year period.
  • Cyclists adapt their speed to pedestrian density, and dismount if necessary.
  • While pedestrians tend to adapt their behaviour in the presence of motor vehicles, they do not do so in the presence of cyclists.

The TRL study gives some background on the nature of the injuries at three of the sites studied in greater detail -

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 12.36.19

From page 8 of the study

The central conclusion of this TRL study – and one repeated by the DfT guidance – is that

Observation revealed no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas, suggesting that cycling could be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians.

One of the main reasons for reaching this conclusion is how people cycling in these areas behave. They have an interest in self-preservation; they slow and adapt their behaviour to how people are walking around them. The study makes an analogy with people running in pedestrian areas. They run faster when the street is open and clear, but when it is busier and congested, they slow. (And we wouldn’t dream of banning running in pedestrian areas!)

The study contains some interesting data on how people cycling behave, particularly in those study areas where cycling is not permitted. One example is East Street in Chichester, which had a formal ban at all times in 1993, when the study was conducted. I’ve graphed the data below.

Caption

Pedestrian flows, and rate of cycle dismounting, during one day

What is really noteworthy here is how people cycling behave. At the start and end of the day, very few people are dismounting (the blue line) – despite cycling being illegal. As the day progresses, however, the number of people dismounting increases, with almost everyone choosing to dismount in the middle of the day.

There is a clear match here between dismounting rates (in blue) and the number of pedestrians on the street, per hour (the red line). When the street is busiest with people (with several thousand people walking along it, per hour) almost everyone is dismounting. Conversely when the street is much more empty (with around a thousand people walking along it per hour, or less) the dismount rates are much lower.

These patterns are repeated throughout the other British and European study sites in the TRL report, whether cycling is legal or not, suggesting that the governing factor on whether people choose to dismount or not was not legality, but the density of pedestrians on the street. Indeed, it’s these densities that inform the CROW guidance on whether cycling should be allowed, or not.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 23.33.03

Lunchtime. Even if cycling were legal here, would you bother under these conditions?

The same street, at 7pm. Still illegal to cycle here - but any reason why it shouldn't be allowed?

The same street, at 7pm. Still illegal to cycle here – but any reason why it shouldn’t be allowed?

The standout message, therefore, is that cycling behaviour naturally adapts itself to pedestrian environments. Rather than clampdowns and enforcement, perhaps we should be moving to trials of cycling in pedestrian areas, and examining how people behave and respond. The evidence shows that we can trust people to make the right decisions.

Posted in Pedestrianisation | 32 Comments

Cycling is (or should be) FUN!

I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out -

That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?

There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.

They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.

Cycle hire at Westward Ho! seafront. Looks like fun

Cycle hire at Westward Ho! seafront. Looks like fun

They will ride bikes around central London on a day out, when the roads are closed for them.

Fun! A

Fun! Last year’s RideLondon event.

Cycling on Upper Thames Street during last year's RideLondon event. You can tell by the little girl's expression that this is fun!

Cycling on Upper Thames Street, also during last year’s RideLondon event. You can tell by the little girl’s expression that this is FUN!

British kids in general like to whizz about on two wheels, even at a very young age.

Also fun.

FUN!

The trouble is that this experience of cycling – on holiday, or on seafronts, or under certain conditions – does not seem to correspond to the British public’s everyday perception of cycling, which is… not fun. In fact it often looks like absolute misery.

Not fun. Also, a little bit weird.

Not fun. Also, a little bit weird.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.10.59

Dear god, that looks terrifying. Why would you even do that?

To be clear, I’m not blaming people for wearing hi-visibility clothing, or helmets, or pollution masks. They are a response to generally atrocious road conditions – a way for people to help themselves feel safer.

And those road conditions are the central issue. People cannot imagine themselves cycling around in our towns and cities, even if they are happy to hop on a bike when they are on holiday. It just looks completely foreign, dangerous, even absurd.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Ordinary day-to-day cycling could be as fun and enjoyable as it is on a seafront, or on a day out. We just have to change our streets to allow it.

Cycling to school could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.29.07
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.27.10
Cycling in cities could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.34.32
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.40.54
Cycling across a busy urban junction could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.22.58Cycling by a dual carriageway could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.26.56
Trips from the city into the countryside could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.20.32
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.33.46
Cycling around as a family could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.50.01You get the idea.

The challenge, of course, is convincing the British that this fun, stress-free mode of transport could be available to them on a day-to-day basis, if we want it to be; that it doesn’t have to look like it does now, on the streets of most British cities and towns.

Can we bridge that gap? I hope so.

Posted in Infrastructure | 13 Comments

The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling

Could one of the biggest barriers to the implementation of the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling be… the Mayor himself?

I ask, because of an extraordinary discussion at the Transport for London Board Meeting on the 5th February, kindly uploaded to Youtube by Tom Kearney.

Here’s what Boris had to say during this discussion of cycling in the capital. (If you wish to listen for yourself, this passage starts at around 7min30).

What we did, for instance, between the Bow roundabout and Stratford – we’ve taken huge amounts of road, because, basically, there isn’t much traffic there. But, on the Embankment, for instance, it might be that some of those lavish-looking drawings just produce too much congestion.

…. I think one of the reasons you’ve got to go for segregation is partly demonstrative. You’ve got to show to potentially timid, new cyclists that a lot of work is being done to try to help them. You’ve got to show the world that cycling is stuff that is going on in a big way in London. But for my money (actually it’s all of our money) the best investment you can make, I think, is just in designating large sections of the road network… as places where you are going to find loads of cyclists. That was the philosophy behind the Cycle Superhighways. I still think it’s the right way to go. I still think, broadly speaking, an integrationist approach is the right way to go. What you want to create is a culture amongst all road users of all classes that cycling is going to take place, in a big way, on this road. And you’re not going to have segregation everywhere… It costs too much, and in my view, speaking as a cyclist, once you get beyond a certain level of proficiency, it is totally pointless. Totally pointless.

For instance, on the stretch between Stratford and Bow, you’ve got this beautiful oxbow lake kind of thing that goes off behind the bus stop – floating bus stops – at colossal expense. I forgot to use it the other day. Y’know, because I was just bombing down the road. And lots of cyclists will take that attitude.

There is so much wrong with this it provokes the question at the start of this post. On the basis of what Boris is saying here it appears that Andrew Gilligan – the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner – will have to fight against the attitudes of the Mayor himself to implement the policies in the Mayor’s Vision.

Boris explicitly states here that, in his eyes, the purpose of segregation is simply demonstrative. To ‘show’ people that something is being done - even if he doesn’t agree with the policy.

Boris still thinks that the old form of the Superhighways – without any separation at all, and just a blue stripe on the road, ‘is the right way to go’.

Boris thinks that ‘creating a culture’ amongst road users that cycling is ‘going to take place’ on this road is the way forward – an ‘integrationist’ approach.

Boris thinks that segregation is ‘totally pointless’ as an intervention, ‘once you get beyond a certain level of proficiency’.

That is – Boris is apparently only thinking about ‘cyclists’ like himself; not about what the vast majority of Londoners might want. He is not listening to what campaigners are demanding. He is denigrating the very policies that will be required to increase cycling levels in London in any significant way.

These comments are so clueless I had to double-check the date – but yes, they were uttered just a few weeks ago. Shocking.

Posted in Uncategorized | 64 Comments

A kerb nerd protests

The epithet ‘kerb nerds’ seems to have been coined to describe those people who think that, on roads that carry a certain volume of motor traffic, travelling at a certain speed, cycling as a mode of transport should not share the same physical space as that motor traffic.

This label tends to ignore the fact that the Dutch model of cycle provision – which ‘kerb nerds’ like me tend to highlight as best practice – actually involves a surprisingly small amount of this kind of lateral separation. The Dutch employ other methods – usually falling under the umbrella of ‘unbundling’ – to separate cycling from motor traffic. Motor traffic is removed from the vast majority of streets in urban areas, concentrated on a larger grid of distributor roads, or displaced onto through roads. (Bypasses genuinely are bypasses in the Netherlands).

Physical separation, through removal of motor traffic. 'Kerb nerds' want this too!

Separation, through removal of motor traffic. ‘Kerb nerds’ want this too!

‘Kerb nerds’ don’t believe in cycle tracks everywhere. They’re just another tool in the toolbox – one which, for some reason, a certain group of cycle campaigners insist on ruling out anywhere.

Beyond this basic misunderstanding, the label ‘kerb nerds’ also serves to overstate the important of kerbs in creating physical separation on the routes that actually require it. I suspect the problem here is that the people most vigorously opposed to ‘kerbs’ are only aware of the kind of physical segregation they see on a day-to-day basis, in the places where they live in Britain. (This is the most charitable explanation – wilful ignorance of Dutch practice is another).

This is the kind of physical separation they might be imagining – a hard step down into the carriageway, then a hard step back up over another set of kerbs.

The old arrangement on Royal College Street, Camden

The old arrangement on Royal College Street, Camden

I can only assume it is this type of cycle provision that – to take just one example – Councillor Vincent Stops of Hackney has in mind when he writes things like -

The problem with kerbs
At the heart of the cyclecentric, separated space campaign is a desire to see additional kerbs installed to “protect cyclists from motor vehicles” or for cyclists to be diverted onto the pavement in tracks, for example around the back of bus stops…  This is said to benefit cyclists, but ignores the problems that will be caused to pedestrians, particularly older people and the visually and mobility impaired. Pedestrians (whom hitherto transport planners have put at the top of the transport hierarchy) want to see wide, level, continuous and clear pavements and to be able to cross the street at will. Pedestrians do not want additional kerbs and complexity introduced into the street. Pedestrians do not want to have to look out for cyclists on the pavement, nor do they want to have to cross a cycle track and perch on a foot wide kerb before crossing the carriageway.

The introduction of kerbs and the paraphernalia of separated tracks flies in the face of years of work to establish that our streets are not there simply to cater for movement, but are also places for public life. Just at the time that walking policy has made a shift towards reduced segregation – for example by  the removal of guard railing etc. – and more shared space some cycle bloggers and campaigners want to shift cycling provision towards more separation.

His post has this picture of a ‘cycle track’ in it, apparently to demonstrate what ‘kerb nerbs’ want to install on every street in London.

Courtesy of Vincent Stops

Courtesy of Vincent Stops

This is the contraflow cycle track on Pitfield Street, Hackney, which Cllr Stops writes

serves a cycling function, but by no stretch of the imagination can this be described as an attractive and walkable street. For able bodied pedestrians it’s horrible to cross, for older people and disabled pedestrians it is un-passable. It is poor urban design.

Here’s the thing - kerb nerds would agree with this description.

There shouldn’t be any need for this kind of treatment on Pitfield Street – it could have motor traffic removed on it, through filtered permeability, or through opposing one-way systems. The parallel main roads, the A10 and the A1200 should be taking the through traffic.

But more than this. Cycle tracks do not need to look like the one Pitfield Street. They do not need to resemble ‘trip hazards’, or obstructions.

Good cycle tracks – the kinds ‘kerb nerds’ want to see – are not something anyone will trip over.

Trip hazard? Or somewhere children can cycle? You decide

Trip hazard? Or somewhere young children can cycle independently? You decide

No trip hazards here either.

No trip hazards here either.

Now of course it is undeniable that cycle tracks represent something ‘extra’ to cross, if you want to walk from one side of the road to the other. But this isn’t necessarily worse. How much harder is it to cross a busy road, with cycles in the traffic stream, than it is to cross the road in stages, with cycles subtracted from that general traffic stream? (Indeed, how many people on that route are cycling, instead of driving, because the environment is attractive to do so?)

Crossing a busy road, Dutch-style

Crossing a busy road, Dutch-style

And, rather than presenting barriers to Dutch people with mobility problems, cycle tracks are liberating – they are an excellent way to get about.

DSCN0178

Do cycle tracks need to be a problem for the mobility impaired?

If cycle tracks are designed well, then the distinction between ‘pedestrians’ and ‘cyclists’ disappears. Cycle tracks are simply another way for peopleeveryone - to get about, not just ‘cyclists’.

Only if you have a fixed conception of what a ‘cyclist’ could possibly be would you describe cycle tracks as ‘cyclecentric’. They aren’t barriers; quite the opposite.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has more detail on what good cycle tracks should look like.

Posted in Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, Subjective safety, The Netherlands | 24 Comments

Where next for hi-visibility clothing?

You might be the kind of person who thinks that someone riding a bike should do everything possible to make themselves visible to drivers. That they should wear hi-visibility jackets. That they should be reflective, and illuminated.

Well, if you ever cross the road at night, you might want to pay attention to what judgements that are emerging from courts – judgements like this one - might mean for the clothing you have to wear.

A MINICAB driver who struck a pedestrian in Kingsbury has been cleared of causing death by careless driving.

Wahidullah Hoori, 41, had just turned off Edgware Road in Kingsbury when his 05-reg Seat Alambra people carrier hit Barry Southgate as the slow-moving 64-year-old crossed Kingsbury Road, at 11.50pm on April 11 2012.

Mr Southgate, of Theobald Crescent, Harrow, died nine days later from his injuries at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London.

Prosecutor Nicholas Bleaney told jurors: “The prosecution say he should have seen him and had plenty of opportunity to see him and Mr Southgate was doing nothing dramatic.

“He was walking along at a relatively slow, pedestrian speed – something any driver in any part of the country, particularly in London, has to deal with all the time.

“He did not suddenly come out from behind a tree and his movements, we say, were pretty obvious. Speed isn’t an issue. The turn was conducted at a normal speed. The accident, we say, was caused by carelessness.

“He [Hoori] should have stopped in time to avoid a collision or at the very least swerved to avoid him.”

Mr Southgate had helped plaster a wall at a friend’s house before he and his friend went for a drink at The Moon Under Water in Varley Parade, The Hyde in Colindale, where the victim drank two pints of real ale.

His bus home sped past as the two left the pub and so Mr Southgate, who was also known as Barry O’Reilly, decided at 11.30pm to walk down Edgware Road and had just turned the corner into Kingsbury Road when he was hit by the nearside front grill of Hoori’s minicab.

Mr Bleaney said the defendant made a statement to police that he had been working since 2pm on the day of the collision, that he had had a day off the previous day and had consumed neither alcohol or drugs before the crash.

Witness Raluca Frunza told the court: “I saw the old man. He was on the other side of the road. He was walking really slowly because he was on crutches. He was not using [the traffic island] to cross the road. I heard a noise like a metal-to-metal noise and heard a male scream, a yell, and then I realised that the car had hit the old man.

“I saw a lot of blood on the floor.”

There is some more detail on this case from the ‘expert witness’ providers, Wayman Experts, who provided ‘expert witness’ testimony in court, that appears, by their own estimation, to have contributed to the driver being found not guilty.

Mr Dave Burgess of Wayman Experts was instructed in this matter following a road traffic collision that occurred on the A4006 Kingsbury Road, London at approximately 2353 hours Tuesday April 10th 2012.

Mr Hoori, the driver of a Seat Alhambra taxi, collided with a pedestrian who sustained fatal injuries. During their investigation the Police obtained CCTV footage of the movement of both the pedestrian and vehicle immediately prior to impact, although the collision itself was not in view of the camera.

The prosecution alleged that the pedestrian should have been seen and that there were no obstacles preventing Mr Hoori from seeing the pedestrian.

The pedestrian was wearing dark outer clothing and walking with the aid of at least one crutch at a slow pace.

Within his report Mr Burgess highlighted a number of issues, to include the blind spot created by the vehicle ‘A’ pillar and the pedestrian conspicuity. [my emphasis]

Following a trial at Wood Green CC, the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty to the charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving.

What does this all mean?

It means that if you are walking in a lit, urban area at night, wearing ordinary clothes, and you are struck and killed by a driver who should reasonably be able to see you as you cross a road, that driver will  be found not guilty due, in part, to your lack of ‘conspicuity’.

Don’t think that wearing hi-visibility clothing is just a ‘cycling’ issue.

Posted in Road safety | 32 Comments