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?

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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.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 12.57.31

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

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.

IMG_0373

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!

IMG_3506

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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DB32 and ‘sufficient cycling demand’

I recently acquired a copy of Residential Roads and Footpaths: Layout Considerations. Exciting.

It’s a 1977 Department for Transport publication, perhaps more commonly referred to as ‘DB32′ (Design Bulletin 32). It has (in theory) been superseded by the Manual for Streets guidance, in the design of residential streets.

It is perhaps most notorious for a fairly ridiculous visibility splay recommendation – that the SSD (sight stopping distance) on a road with a speed limit of 30mph should be 90m. That is, a driver on a minor road arriving at a major road with a 30mph limit, waiting at the junction, should have a clear view for 90m, up the major road. This inevitably creates big, open junctions, and the temptations for drivers to travel faster, and with less care – because it feels safer for them to do so. John Dales has written recently about how this guidance is still being adhered to.

But I was really more interested in what a 1977 DfT document about roads and streets in residential areas had to say about cycling. And it’s really quite depressing.

Here it is -

Provision for cyclists

3.18 The need for the provision of a separate cycle network rather than the use of the urban road network is a matter for local authorities to decide in the light of their overall transportation planning and considerations of cyclists’ needs and safety. In some areas the use of cycles is well established whilst in other areas the terrain may be discouraging to their use.

3.19 Where there is likely to be a sufficient cycling demand in new housing schemes and where an existing cycle network terminates at, or is adjacent to, a new housing development, consideration should be given to the need to link the scheme to it, or to extend it.

3.20 In addition the provision of comparatively short lengths of segregated cycle routes may be sensible in the immediate vicinity of schools or shops to allow cyclists to disperse in a variety of directions in greater safety than would otherwise be possible, provided the use of cycles is sufficient to warrant such provision.

Paragraph 3.18 contains the now familiar ‘up to local authorities to do as they see fit’ mantra. If you are a council, and you don’t want to bother with designing for cycling, go right ahead!

And because the vast majority of local authorities didn’t want to do anything to cater for cycling, consequently nothing happened. The DfT guidance here shrugs and looks the other way; it just doesn’t care, because cycling is a mode of transport they didn’t care about. It could be forgotten – and was.

The next two paragraphs betray a form of thinking that unfortunately lingers to the present day – namely, that local authorities and planners only need to cater for the cycling that might currently exist, and need not cater for it at all, if there isn’t much of it. Paragraph 3.20 is particularly awful, with its comment that cycle provision ‘may’ (may!?) be sensible, ‘provided the use of cycles is sufficient to warrant such provision.’

If only a handful of people were cycling in an area in 1977 – well, tough luck, no cycle provision for you!

Similarly, paragraph 3.19 ponders whether there might be ‘sufficient local demand’ to merit catering for cycling, without apparently stopping to consider whether the designs being advocated in DB32 might do anything to increase or suppress cycling levels, in and of themselves. It’s almost wilful blindness.

It is this failure to recognise that the transport choices people make are not innate, but are instead a product of the environment that people are confronted with, and that has been designed for them, that persists today. We’ve had decades of planning that has assumed that people want to drive for short trips – indeed, that children want to be driven for short trips, rather than cycling independently – without ever stopping to consider whether those choices are really choices at all. Planning that hasn’t considered that many people might be driving these short trips not because they have freely chosen between driving and cycling (for instance), but because the quality of the alternatives has been eroded so much they have become too unpleasant to bear.

People are free to cycle here. Unsurprisingly most choose not to.

People are free to cycle here. Unsurprisingly most choose not to.

Cycling was rightly seen as unpopular by the authors of guidance like DB32, but the actual reasons for this unpopularity were misdiagnosed, or completely overlooked. In truth, cycling had become unpopular by 1977 because it was a pretty awful experience. It wasn’t that people had realised that driving was innately superior, and consequently logically discarded their bicycles; driving isn’t, for many types of trips. Cycling had just been squeezed out of the way roads and streets were designed, and by the amount of motor traffic that was arriving on them.

And it is this same form of thinking that has to be battled against today. Cycling is a mode of transport that, by and large, doesn’t exist in Britain. But that’s not because it’s innately unpopular. It’s because it hasn’t been catered for, for decades. By analogy, bus travel in London is, today, immensely popular, but it is easy to imagine a parallel world in which bus lanes didn’t exist, in which buses were smelly, and slow, and dangerous, and socially unsafe – a world in which very few Londoners used buses, at all. We created a system in which bus travel was made attractive and obvious, and people flocked to them.

Let’s not be like the authors of DB32 and imagine we can’t do the same for cycling.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 22.55.14

What cycling can look like, if you design for it.

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Do Dutch pedestrians get a raw deal?

My post last week – about vehicular cycling being enabled by Dutch infrastructure – prompted a tweet from Jon Usher, wondering where the pedestrian infrastructure was in the Netherlands.

It’s a reasonable question, because (looking at that post again) nearly all the photographs featuring the Netherlands do not contain ‘pedestrian infrastructure’ – they only show cycle tracks. Only one photograph in the post has a pavement beside a cycle track.

Why is this? Have the Dutch forgotten that pedestrians exist? Are they just thinking about bikes, and not about people walking?

The short answer is – absolutely not.

But in longer form – the Dutch don’t bother to cater separately for cycling and walking where there is no need to do so. There is no need, for instance, to build a pavement alongside the cycle track here, because not many people are using it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.45.20People walking can use the cycle track without any problems, sharing with people who happen to be cycling. This jogger doesn’t need a separate footway, because the two-way cycle track is perfectly adequate.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.47.22

Likewise a a new 4m wide cycle track in Nijmegen can easily accommodate joggers, walkers and cyclists, together. There just isn’t any need to build a footpath alongside it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 09.48.27

This approach means that – particularly in rural areas – the footway is a cycle track.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.58.03This isn’t a problem for people walking – the surface is very smooth (smoother than a standard paved footway), and the number of people walking and cycling is so low that conflict is minimal.

It is important to note that this is very different from British ‘shared use’ provision, which is pedestrian-specific infrastructure on which people have been granted permission to cycle. By contrast, the Dutch design for vehicular cycling, which is (by default) suitable for walking on.

Of course, if there were more people walking along these paths, then there would be a problem, and a footway would have to be constructed, to deal with this lack of comfort. Indeed, as you cycle from the countryside into a town or a city, you can quickly see the point at which the numbers of people walking necessitates separation. For instance, the path just outside the town of Veenendaal has no footway – it’s effectively a country lane, albeit one that has no motor vehicles on it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.03.05But as soon as this same path enters the built-up area, so a footway appears alongside it. The number of people walking justifies this separate provision.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.05.42And again, here’s an example of where a footway suddenly begins alongside a cycle track, as the path enters a built-up area -

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.08.18This isn’t accidental. The CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic has clear guidance on when it is acceptable to mix pedestrians and cyclists, and when they must be provided for separately. Table 20 in Chapter 4 -

DSCN0807What this table shows is that, if more than 100 pedestrians, per metre of width, are passing along a path per hour, then they must be provided for separately. So – to take an example – if we have a 3m wide bi-directional cycle track, then 300 people walking along it, per hour, exceeds the limit for sharing. These pedestrians should be provided for separately. Under 300 people walking along it per hour requires no separation.

This is fairly intuitive – a 3m wide path can easily accommodate 5 people walking along it per minute without much difficulty. And – interestingly enough – this pedestrian flow, per metre of with, per hour, corresponds very closely with high levels of pedestrian comfort in TfL guidance, which suggests that 180 pedestrians per metre of width, per hour, would have an A+ level of comfort.

Sometimes it appears that the CROW guidance is stuck to a little too rigidly. For instance, the new ‘The Crossing’ bridge in Nijmegen (which Mark Wagenbuur has blogged about) has a stunning cycle track running across it, but no separate footway.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 09.53.00

I imagine this is acceptable; it’s a long way to walk, so probably not many people will be walking here, and those that do can share this path happily. But… it would have been nice to have it, especially given the cost of building this bridge, and the difficulty of adapting it if, at some future point, pedestrian flows increase.

But all that said, it turns out that the Dutch treat pedestrians rather better than we do. They ensure that they are not forced to share footways with people cycling in areas of high pedestrian footfall, as Surrey County Council appear to be attempting to do in Walton-on-Thames. They would never mix pedestrians and cyclists on footways in busier pedestrian environments – the above guidance table would rule this out. More than 100 pedestrians per hour per metre of width requires separation.

Where pedestrians aren’t catered for separately, there really isn’t any need to do so, due to the low usage levels of the paths in question. Wide paths can be shared happily when the volume of people walking and cycling is low.

Read more about the general way in which pedestrians are catered for in the Netherlands on the Cycling Embassy blog.

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands, Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Placefaking

There’s a section early in the newly-released London Cycle Design Standards about ‘responding to context’ – the types of cycle infrastructure that should be expected on a variety of streets and roads, according to the movement or place (or both) function of that street or road.

From page 13 of the London Cycle Design Standards

From page 13 of the London Cycle Design Standards

That we have such a large variety of street and road types is largely a consequence of our historical failure to think coherently about clear functions and purposes for them. For instance, we have residential streets that, for the most part, still function as routes for motorised traffic. Our high streets, likewise, are all too often still corridors for motor traffic, rather than genuine places.

The Dutch – either by happy accident, or by careful thought, or a mixture of the two – do not have such a confused picture about the function of streets and roads. They are quite clear that, places should genuinely be places, and that this should be achieved by ensuring that the street, or square, in question serves an access-only function for motorised traffic.  Likewise if a street or road has to serve a movement function, then they won’t attempt to dress that street up as a place; the function will be quite clear, and all modes will have clear, defined paths along (and indeed across) this road.

So the historical centre of Utrecht is almost entirely a clearly-defined place, with very little motor traffic, except for residents coming and going from their properties, and deliveries. These streets do not have a movement function, at all, for motorised traffic, although they remain useful routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 14.46.25

The main roads in the city centre, however, are quite obviously movement-oriented. Although people can cross the road easily, on foot or on bike, there are clearly-defined paths for the movements of motor traffic, buses, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 14.51.03Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 14.52.37

There’s a refreshing honesty about this approach. These roads and streets can’t ever really function as ‘places’ because they have (in these examples) large bendy buses travelling through quite frequently, so there is no attempt to pretend that they are places. They are designed accordingly for movement, but without compromising pedestrian or cycle comfort.

But in the UK we seem to developed a curious alternative strategy that, as in the title of this post, I’m going to dub ‘placefaking’. It involves dressing up streets that have continue to have a serious movement function as a ‘place’, and attempting to persuade us that these roads and streets are now ‘places’, despite the fact that they continue to carry significant volumes of motor traffic. (In its most extreme form, the implication is that ‘places’ need to have motor traffic flowing through them!)

Exhibition Road in Kensington and Chelsea is perhaps the most painful example of this phenomenon. A certain amount of effort has been employed in an attempt to persuade the public that this road – heavy with motor traffic, particularly at peak times – is now civic space, where pedestrians can linger at leisure in the ‘carriageway’. That stylish diagonal lines would encourage pedestrians to cross on natural desire lines, as they pleased.

Unfortunately, the basic problem here is that a ‘place’ function won’t fit; there is too much movement, and too much movement of a particular kind.

DSCN9667

Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with planting more trees, and softening kerb lines, and making the street more attractive. But it strikes me that many of these schemes are in denial about the function of the streets in question, and in consequence it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. If the roads we are dealing with will still be carrying a significant volume of motor traffic, then we should be honest about that, and design accordingly.

My particular concern here is that cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed out by placefaking. For instance, I am not aware of any new ‘placemaking’ scheme on a road in Britain that incorporates cycle tracks where they should reasonably be provided – for instance, on roads carrying more than 2-3000 PCUs per day. (Please point me in the direction of any examples that I may have missed!)

Presumably this is because they reinforce the impression of a ‘movement’ function, interrupting the ‘placeishness’ of the new design. But there’s a degree of sticking heads in the sand here; cycle tracks are required because of the volume of motor traffic, and if that volume is high enough to demand cycle tracks, then it is fanciful to imagine you are creating a place – there is still too much motor traffic thundering through.

The proposals for Tottenham Court Road appear to me to fall into this trap. The intention, again, is an attempt to create more of a ‘place’. Trees are being planted, the kerb lines are being softened, and so on. Cycle tracks are not included.

tcr-proposed-finalAt the Camden Cyclists meeting on Monday to discuss this scheme, an officer from Camden Council explicitly referred to the ‘shared space’ on Tottenham Court Road, and also referenced ‘woonerf’ (home zone) as an inspiration.

But how much of a genuine ‘place’ is Tottenham Court Road going to be? Even when it is closed as a through route to motor traffic during the day, around 180 buses per hour at peak times will be travelling along it – on average, three a minute (Alex Ingram has crunched the numbers). More importantly, from 7pm to 8am, and all day on Sunday, this will be a conventional road, open to all traffic. A ‘place’?

I got the impression, from that meeting on Monday, that cycle tracks don’t really fit in with the Camden ‘vision’ for this road, an attempt to make it a place. Cycle tracks, which by any reasonable measure should be included because of the volume of bus traffic travelling down this road (to say nothing of the situation when it is open to all motor traffic), apparently won’t work… because of the numbers of buses travelling down this road, with passengers getting on and off them. There is a curious circularity here which implies that any road that carries a large number of buses can’t have cycle tracks on it, because floating bus stops can’t work with large numbers of bus passengers.

By all means create a genuine place, with low levels of motor traffic – then cycle tracks won’t be required. But if you haven’t dealt with the motor traffic, then you should accept reality and appreciate that cycle tracks should be required.

I’m going to finish here with this picture of Vredenburg in Utrecht, from a few weeks ago, tweeted by @CU2030.

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This is a street, nearing completion, in Utrecht, which is principally a bus-only corridor, with cycle tracks alongside it. As you can see, there are plenty of buses travelling through here – the road travels from the station, forming part of a corridor through the centre of the city, out to the university on the outskirts.

When I tweeted this picture, Tompion Platt wrote

I shouldn’t really be singling him out, because this is quite a common attitude! Indeed, I suspect most people, confronted with this image, would agree that it isn’t a ‘place’ at all. It looks like a transport corridor.

And that’s exactly right. Vredenburg can’t be a place, because it has a large number of buses travelling through. Attempting to make it a place would just fail – it would be a waste of time. So it has been quite rightly designed around a movement function, with pedestrians and cyclists catered for alongside the bus lanes. It is, as a I mentioned earlier, a refreshingly honest approach. If you can’t get rid of the buses, then you have to accept reality, and design accordingly.

Let’s not keep falling between two stools. We need to make our places actual places, and the streets and roads that fulfil movement functions genuinely accommodating for all potential users who wish to travel along them.

Posted in Infrastructure, placemaking, Shared Space, The Netherlands, Town planning | 19 Comments

Let’s get vehicular

The new edition of Cyclecraft was published last week. I haven’t had a chance to give it a good read yet, but at first glance it appears to contain much of the same dogma previous editions contained. For instance, the obviously untrue -

No alternative to the general road network has yet been devised which is as safe or advantageous overall for cycling

There is, however, this interesting – and quite correct – observation -

In countries renowned for cycle-friendly infrastructure, such as the Netherlands, vehicular design is the norm and can be used safely and easily by a broad range of people cycling. In the UK, unfortunately, most cycling infrastructure is pedestrian in design and this can have serious consequences for both safety and easy of use at typical cycling speeds.

The word ‘vehicular’ here might send shivers down the spine of some, given its long association with ‘vehicular cycling’ – an ideology that suggests ‘cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.’

But Franklin is exactly right to point out that the success of cycling in the Netherlands (and a large part of its universal appeal) lies in vehicular design – treating bicycles as vehicles capable of speed, and designing accordingly.

It means that when they bolt a cycling bridge onto a railway bridge, it looks like something you could drive your car along.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 00.46.03Or that when they build a path through a forest, it has a good tarmac surface.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 00.46.52

Or, when a cycle track meets a road, it just looks like something you would ride your bike across, not a fudged compromise.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 00.47.48In short, it means designing for something substantially faster than walking; no sharp bends, no sudden turns, better visibility where conflict might occur, and so on.

Cycle ‘infrastructure’ in Britain is so unattractive because it doesn’t achieve this. As Franklin argues, it is pedestrian in design, and people cycling are merely given permission to use it. Be it shared use pavements when things get a bit difficult -

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 00.49.51

Or toucan crossings that are obviously designed for pedestrian use, with sharp corners -

DSCN9700

Or extraordinary turn-on-the-spot markings -

DSCN8283Or side road arrangements that treat you with contempt -

DSCN0095They all fail the attractiveness test because they require you to cycle like a pedestrian; so awkward and inconvenient you might as well walk.

The genius of the Dutch system of bicycle provision is that it caters for vehicular cycling, while simultaneously ensuring that it is suitable for all users. It’s fast and direct, yet also provides the subjective safety needed to make cycling feel safe and pleasant, for all, however old or young. Proper cycling infrastructure should allow you to go as fast or as slow as you want, comfortably, without fear or harassment, and this is what the Dutch aim for, and usually achieve. It means that you will see fast cyclists -

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 01.02.46and slow cyclists

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 01.03.24using exactly the same infrastructure, while cycling at very different speeds (these two pictures were taken within about a hundred metres of each other). And both parties are comfortable – although in different ways.

‘Vehicular design’ doesn’t mean designing out other forms of use, like dawdling, or slow leisure riding, any more than well-designed pavements that allow fast walking or running design out the ability to linger. It means accommodating all forms of use; treating cycling as a serious mode of transport.

‘Vehicular’ shouldn’t be a dirty word.

Posted in Cyclecraft, Infrastructure, John Franklin, Subjective safety, The Netherlands | 17 Comments

Designing for existing mode share

There’s been plenty of discussion already about Camden’s West End Project – on Cyclescape, and in detailed blog form on Fitzrovia NewsCity CyclistsI Bike LondonVoleOSpeed and Rachel Aldred, as well as this open letter from the Movement for Liveable London. A summary can also be found on the Cycling Embassy forum.

So I won’t bore you by writing a long post to go with these detailed analyses, principally because my position is virtually identical to that of Rachel’s and David’s – namely, that whatever the merits of the scheme, and the good intentions of Camden as a borough (both of which are undeniable) it falls short on cycling, and to such an extent that it really has to be improved.

I also think it might be more worthwhile to summarise some of the central issues, both with this scheme, and more generally for cycling in London (and Britain as a whole).

It seems that there is broad agreement, from pretty much everybody, that this scheme is inadequate for cycling, whatever its wider benefits. Even Camden Cycling Campaign – who support the proposals currently on the table from Camden – state that

we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle

So the debate centres on whether the broader scheme objectives should be supported by cycling campaigners, despite that failure, and, relatedly, how the scheme should be approached by them, either in terms of ‘engagement’ or ‘criticism’ (although it’s not entirely clear where the boundary between the two lies; when ‘engagement’ becomes ‘criticism’, and vice-versa).

What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless.

I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’

But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse.

Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.

I also get the impression that the fact cycling is very much a minority mode has informed how the West End Project scheme has developed. Cycling is an afterthought, and is fitted in around other modes. If it’s too difficult to accommodate, then sharing with a relatively large volume of motor traffic will just have to do. This is completely understandable, even if it is unacceptable from a strategic, long-term point of view, one where we are aiming for a cycling modal share well into double figures, in percent.

Conversely, in a city like Utrecht, where something like 50% of all trips in the city centre are made by bike, a scheme that neglected the quality of the cycling environment would be completely unthinkable.

This mode of transport can't be ignored here

A serious mode of transport that can’t be ignored

This gets us to the nub of the issue, and a Catch-22 that bedevils cycle campaigning in Britain. Namely, it’s politically difficult to allocate space for cycling, and to prioritise it as a mode of transport, when so very few people cycle, and so many people are excluded from it. But to get us to a position where it is politically easy to prioritise cycling requires those changes to the street environment that open up cycling to everyone. Which won’t happen while nobody cycles. And round we go.

Seeing a child cycling in central London is incredibly rare, outside of a closed road event. Children get driven, or they walk, or they take the bus. So why should we create conditions that would allow children to cycle, when they don’t cycle now? Again, we’re stuck in a vicious circle.

How do we get out of this rut? The answer has to lie, somewhere, with the advantages cycling would bring at an individual level – the ease of making short trips without having to worry about parking, independence of children under 17, and so on – combined with the economic, social, health, transport and environmental benefits that would come with much greater levels of cycling, at a general level.

But it’s not going to be easy, and the West End Project scheme points to the level of difficulty. It is being developed by a borough that, to my mind, probably ‘gets’ cycling more than any other authority in Britain – on streets they control. It’s an area that already has (for Britain) relatively high levels of cycling use, declining private motor traffic, very good public transport below ground level (and soon to get even better with the arrival of Crossrail), and wide building-to-building widths (although obviously with many competing demands on that space).

Yet apparently the best that can be achieved for cycling, with all these factors in play, won’t be good enough to make any significant difference.

That’s profoundly depressing. If the surface can barely be scratched here, with all the good intentions, and opportunities, then the prospects for the rest of the country are grim. It suggests a glacial pace of change.

Is there a way forward? David and Rachel both have a number of good suggestions about possible alternative arrangements on the two main N-S streets that form the central part of this scheme. As Rachel writes

surely one of them should be good for mass, inclusive cycling. That shouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to hope to see, in 2018, which is when it’ll be built, surely?

It’s hard to disagree. The proposed scheme involves two inadequate approaches on both streets; one with with no separation at all from plenty of buses and a fair amount of traffic passing through (and of course open to all in the evening), the other with inadequate separation on what will likely prove to be a busy road.

At the very worst, we should consider the space required for just one good approach, on either of the streets in question. They are only around 200 feet apart, so as long as the connections between the two are good enough (and they should be) it won’t be too arduous to divert to the other to make a north or south journey by bike.

It’s up for discussion what form that ‘good route’ could take, but it’s worth bearing in mind the dimensions of these streets at worst. The smallest building-to-building width on Tottenham Court Road is 17 metres. The smallest building-to-building width on Gower Street is 15 metres.*

So if we consider these two streets together, as a whole (this is reasonable enough as the layout of both is being completely altered by this scheme) there is a total of 32m of width available, even at the very narrowest points of both of these streets, within which to create a high quality cycling route, suitable for all potential users.

‘High quality’ means 4m of width, either in the form of a bi-directional track, or two 2m tracks, properly constructed. That leaves 28m of width for footways, bus lanes and motor traffic, at – to repeat – the very narrowest combined point of both of these streets.

Now of course this will be complex, and there will have to be discussion about how this could be achieved. The point, in quite general terms, is that if 32m of space, at minimum, can’t be imaginatively arranged to allocate just 4m of it to proper cycling provision, in a sympathetic borough with all the opportunities detailed above, then we are really in a tremendous pickle.

Even if we accept the difficulties at these narrowest points, the quality of the cycle provision could, at worst, be compromised or abandoned at these ‘pinches'; there’s no reason to jettison the potential to implement high-quality cycling infrastructure in places where it is easily achievable, simply because it’s difficult in other places.

Making the case for the value of designing well for cycling shouldn’t mean trashing Camden’s scheme, or trampling all over it. It should be about improving it, and ensuring that it has cycling provision within it that will enable cycling for all, rather than making things slightly better for the tiny minority of existing users. Doing so would make this scheme considerably better.

I think this is tremendously important; we have to break out of the current model of incremental changes that do little or nothing for the people excluded from cycling. So – as everyone else is saying – get involved, constructively!

 

*These are the very narrowest points; the average width of Tottenham Court Road is about 23m (it gets as wide as 28m, but for the great majority of its length it is wider than 20m). The average width of Gower Street is 16m (the street width here is more uniform, hovering at a shade over 15m for the great majority of its length).

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

The trouble with our physical environment

A device that offers mobility to people who have great difficulty walking, that is limited to a maximum speed of 8mph, and poses little or no danger (at least relative to other forms of transport like the private car) should never be framed as a problem. Yet somehow the BBC contrived to do so on Wednesday night, with a programme entitled The Trouble with Mobility Scooters.

The tone was set from the very beginning, as a terminally ill lady with chronic lung disease, who could not walk for more than a few paces, slowly reverses her mobility scooter out of the garden, the presenter asks ‘do I need to be worried?’

Throughout the programme the visuals, music and editing strove to create an impression of uncontrolled, reckless or ‘lawless’ behaviour on the part of scooter users. Statistic-free statements like ‘few mobility scooter users give way to pedestrians’ (really?), or that ‘pedestrians on pavements are a common victim of scooter users’ (well, how common?) were a repeated feature of the programme.

Indeed, this was just one of many parallels with the way the media often frames debates about cycling – in this case, presenting a form of transport that in truth poses very little objective danger to other people as some kind of terrible risk that needs to be legislated against. While cycling faces continual debates about ‘road tax’, licensing, and number plates – absurd over-legislation in the face of the actual danger posed, and the benefits accruing from cycling – so the agenda of this programme was clearly one of increased regulation and training,

The other striking parallel – an unsurprising one, given that both mobility scooters and cycling are minority modes of transport, that are not catered for properly on our roads and streets – was in the way mobility scooters are seen as a problem, wherever they are.

They are a problem on the pavements. They are a problem on the road. As one of the people interviewed suggested, mobility scooters are ‘technically alien, whichever environment they are in, because they are not motor vehicles, and they are not pedestrians.’

Sound familiar?

And just as the British ‘solution’ to the problems posed by ‘cyclists’ as a group typically involves MOAR TRAINING in an attempt to get us to behave, so the BBC programme would have us believe that the ‘problem’ of mobility scooters can be solved with – yes – training.

At no point in the programme was it suggested, or even hinted at, that the physical environment of our roads and streets could be adjusted, to minimise conflict between pedestrians and scooter users, and between motor traffic and scooter users. The obvious answer to the ‘alien’ issue – that mobility scooters aren’t at home on pavements or the road – is to give mobility scooters their own space, one that could be shared with cycling (fancy that – two problems solved for the price of one). But despite the issue being framed so plainly (if accidentally), the programme didn’t stop to consider it.

The problem, as with cycling, lay with the users and their behaviour, not with the physical environment, or with the danger posed by motor traffic itself.

Witness the patronising ‘red light’ test, as a trainer says ‘well done!’ to a man stopping for a red light in a test centre, which had me wincing with recognition. The absurdity of this kind of test – given that mobility scooters aren’t really a vehicle, and can use the crossing themselves – didn’t appear to occur to the trainers. Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 15.05.56

The police officer is then filmed stating that ‘I wouldn’t say that they [mobility scooters] are lethal weapons, but they can cause serious injuries.’

But how many? There are 330,000 users in Britain – at what rate are they injuring people? The programme didn’t supply any answers, merely content to create a vague impression of a ‘problem’, stripped of context, without even the merest hint of a comparison between the genuine danger posed by motor traffic in our towns and cities, and these small, slow vehicles.

Later there was the pitiful sight of an 84-year-old man effectively being admonished for wishing to have some independent mobility, despite his failing eyesight. The idea of making our streets safe for people like this was not considered by this programme, which viewed this man as a danger, showing him ‘jumping’ a red light. Nor did it consider the consequences of denying him the use of a mobility scooter – the prospect of being housebound.

A strong presence in the programme was a campaigner for a compulsory test for mobility scooter users. Her son had been knocked down by a mobility scooter user. Intriguingly, just as (apparently) everyone seems to have been ‘nearly knocked down’ by a cyclist on the pavement, so this campaigner claimed that nearly everyone she knows ‘knows someone who has been hit by a scooter’. Ah, precious anecdote.

This isn’t to deny that collisions can, and do, happen, and can be serious, but the single-minded focus on training, at the expense of any context about the actual statistical danger being posed by scooters, or even more importantly the adjustment of the physical environment so that scooters and pedestrians aren’t forced to share the same absurdly narrow pavements, struck me as completely absurd. In describing the incident in which her son was hit, the campaigner argued that the person on the mobility scooter ‘shouldn’t have been on the pavement’ on a one-way road, which of course hints at the real underlying problem – but the programme failed to address it, or indeed even to recognise it.

The campaigner also argued that scooters travelling at 4mph in a pedestrian precinct were ‘too fast’, apparently because ‘we don’t walk at 4mph’. I suppose that’s a claim that technically can be made, but the difference between this speed and a fast walking speed is so marginal a sensible programme would have asked her what speed she believed to be acceptable, or indeed raised why scooters are limited to 4mph in pedestrian environments in the first place. This programme didn’t.

The problems with our physical environment were even presented to the programme makers on a plate as they followed a mother with multiple sclerosis. It was painfully obvious – to me at least – that her problems with getting about on her scooter were principally due to the awfulness of the physical environment, not due to any lack of training, but again the programme chose to focus entirely on the latter.

Most tellingly of all, a moment when she struggles to bump her scooter down off of a high kerb at a typically hostile British side road -

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 16.05.02

is framed by the programme as some kind of demonstration of her incompetence, a dashcam filming her wobbling about, out of control.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 16.13.07

The programme makers evidently have no idea that junctions need not be designed like this – that they could be easy to traverse for people with mobility problems. Instead they choose to segue into a piece about this mother realising she needs to… get some training!

‘She’s not the smoothest of drivers’, the narrator tells us, ‘so she’s signed up for a course.’

On the matter of whether or not mobility scooter users should be insured, the programme is content with the unchallenged opinion of… the managing director of a mobility scooter insurance company! Clearly someone in a position to offer impartial, considered advice, he tells us that ‘this form of insurance should be made compulsory. The public need protection. And certainly the users of scooters need protection.’

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Unfortunately this is all the programme has to say on the matter, a farcical treatment of the issue.

Solemn music then ensues as the programme talks about the risk users face on the roads. Just as with the failure to appreciate that the problems scooter users face (and cause) on pavements are almost entirely a symptom of our crap streets, rather than a result of bad user behaviour, so, again, the programme makers skip deftly away from the real issues, choosing instead to focus on training. This reaches a peak of absurdity as, following a voiceover about the number of deaths of mobility scooter users, over a montage, including this lingering image

Clearly a lack of mobility scooter training to blame here

Clearly a lack of mobility scooter training to blame here

… we go straight back to our compulsory proficiency test campaigner, who uses the deaths of these people to argue her case, which is more than slightly distasteful, given that there is no analysis of how these deaths happened, or whether compulsory training would have made any difference at all.

She has, however, received a response from the Secretary of State for Transport to her petition for scooter users to be given compulsory testing, which she reads out -

We have no immediate plans to make [testing] mandatory, because we lack comprehensive evidence that the use of a mobility scooter vehicle as a whole is a major public safety concern.

This is the only evidence-based piece of discussion in the entire programme.

The campaigner is infuriated that the Department for Transport, rather than using her anecdotes and small petition as a basis for policy, have chosen instead to rely on actual evidence – but the silliness of her position is, again, unchallenged. Her concerns are presented as well-founded and serious, with silence, followed by solemn music.

A programme like this could have been a genuine opportunity to assess the problems of mobility in Britain for those who can’t drive a motor vehicle, or who choose not to. But instead we were served up dross, a patronising programme that ignored the serious issue of how a poor physical environment needlessly creates conflict, causing huge problems for a vast swathe of the population who are forced to choose between crap pavements and highly dangerous roads. Rather, it chose to ridicule some of its subjects, adding ‘wacky’ music to their attempts to get about safely, while striving, transparently, to present them as some kind of serious problem.

The parallels with attitudes to cycling were unsurprising, given the similarities between these two modes of transport – ‘problematic’ only by virtue of the fact that they have been neglected and ignored.

Posted in Absurd transport solutions, Road safety, The media | 24 Comments