West Sussex and LSTF money – Horsham cycle parking

This post is part of an ongoing series examining how West Sussex County Council are managing to spend £2.4m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash (won from the DfT back in 2012) on schemes of negligible ‘sustainable’ benefit, with a particular focus on cycling.

The aim is to show how the money that councils receive for cycling from central government (tiny amounts, relative to the scale of the overall transport budget) is being dribbled away, thanks to a combination of tight timescales, limited or insecure funding streams, no continuity of local expertise, poor or non-existent guidance, and local prejudice.

Two previous posts have described how

In other words – two schemes that do next to nothing to make cycling a more viable and attractive mode of transport, at a total cost of £310,000.

The focus in this post is on a further £30,000 of that LSTF cash, which has been spent, badly, on cycle parking in Horsham town centre.

This sum is as large as it is because of an underspend in a proposed LSTF funded cycle route across the town. The original budget for this route was £320,000; this was scaled down to £180,000 once it became apparent that very few interventions were actually planned. That underspend has consequently been redistributed to projects like the parking described here.

£30,000 would buy you an awful lot of sheffield stands – the kind of parking that is appropriate in a town centre location. However, most of this £30,000 appears to have been spent on three two-tier cycle parking stands, of this type –

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This kind of cycle parking is unsuitable for a town centre location, where people will generally be locking their bikes up for short periods of time – to visit shops, restaurants, friends, and so on.

Two-tier parking only really makes sense at locations where people will be leaving their bikes for longer periods of time, and where demand is particularly high. At transport interchanges like railway stations, two-tier parking like this is an obvious choice, because people won’t mind so much the effort of lifting their bikes into these racks if they are leaving the bike for an entire day.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, however, if you are just popping into a supermarket. Yet this is the kind of parking that has been chosen.

Worse still, the locations for these stands have been selected by Horsham District councillors, quite deliberately, with the intention of discouraging cycling in the town centre.

Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North, HDC’s cabinet member for Horsham town, said: “I am delighted that the provision of town centre cycle parking is being improved in this way, making the centre more accessible by a more sustainable form of transport.

“There are currently no covered cycle shelters in the centre of Horsham and cyclists are often seen penetrating areas which should only be used by pedestrians. These new shelters will help clear the pedestrian zones and motivate more people to cycle into town. It will also contribute towards less traffic congestion in the centre so it’s a win win all round.”

The idea, presumably, is that people will lock their bikes up at the edge of the town centre, then walk to the location they want to visit, then walk back to the cycle parking on the edge of town, and then cycle off again, instead of just cycling directly to the location they want to visit and locking their bike as close to that location as possible.

Cycling in Horsham town centre is unfortunately viewed as a problem, and sustainable transport funding has been used to place inconvenient cycling parking in inconvenient locations in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of it.

I say ‘futile’ because most of the town centre is already legally accessible by bike, and where people are cycling in genuinely pedestrianised areas, they are usually doing so either because a contraflow has not been provided on the sensible alternative, or because the parallel road is deeply hostile. Placing cycle parking at the extremities of the town centre will do nothing to change this behaviour, and it’s unsettling that tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash is effectively at the whim of councillors who can make stupid decisions like this.

Here’s where the parking has been placed. One of the racks has been located behind one of the town’s car parks, tucked away in a corner.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.33.31This couldn’t really be much more inconvenient for the shopping areas nearby.

Parking indicated by red dot; shopping areas outlined in blue.

Parking indicated by red dot; shopping areas outlined in blue.

These racks remain empty, while the pre-existing sheffield stand parking nearer the shops (on the sensible side of the car park) continues to be busy.

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The second of these two-tier stands is an even more ridiculous location, plonked right next to a busy shared use path, meaning getting bikes in and out of the rack blocks it –

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… and also sited well away from the two obvious nearby destinations, the library, and a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Again, this rack remains empty, while the parking at Sainsbury’s and the library is in use – because that parking is near where people want to visit.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.46.23The final two-tier stand is actually in a reasonably good location, closer to town centre shops, and next to an existing informal parking area.

But again, it’s being almost entirely ignored, with people opting for the existing (easier to use) railings –

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.48.54… or sheffield stands nearby –

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.49.41… or even lampposts closer to the shops.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.50.25None of this should be surprising. The Horsham District Cycle Forum consistently argued against these types of two-tier racks, and the principle of locating them in out-of-the-way areas. Yet these stands, in these locations, were implemented regardless.

They’re not even very good stands. In fact they’re dire. My (fairly standard) Dutch bike won’t even fit in them.

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There’s also nothing to actually lock your bike to, which needless to say is a problem if you want to leave your bike for any length of time and expect to come back and still find it where you left it.

It’s difficult to roll your bike into their upper tier (thanks to those metal bars that mean my bike doesn’t fit) – the manufacturer’s own video shows that bikes have to be lifted some height off the ground, and deposited in the rack. Not easy for most people, especially those with utility bikes.

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And without any hydraulic or spring assistance, you need to be pretty strong to lift your bike back up to a horizontal position. I can barely manage it, like this commenter on the local paper website

I’ve just come back from looking at the new rack installed in Medwin Walk. I’m an active, fit, burly, six-foot-two-er, and my bikes are light. I’d struggle to load one onto the top deck of the new rack. Unlike the racks at the front of Horsham Station this new one has no spring or strut assistance on the top deck and is missing a dedicated locking point on each rack. So how someone smaller, less strong, and with a heavier bike than me is supposed to cope with using the rack is beyond me.

The final nail in the coffin is that they’re actually quite dangerous.

Which means that they are now taped off, out of use, awaiting some kind of solution. (Entirely different cycle parking, perhaps?)

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.08.30Sadly, this looks like yet another waste of tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash, to add to the money squandered on the projects already documented.

What is frustrating is that some of the LSTF cash has actually gone on good new sheffield stands, in sensible locations, which I have noticed are already well-used, despite only being in place for a matter of days. These ones were being used even before the cones had been taken away.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.26.42£30,000 could have bought a lot of this kind of parking, in the right kind of places. But instead it’s been spent almost entirely on impractical parking in inconvenient locations, of such a poor quality I can’t see a solution without the stands being entirely replaced. It’s depressing that something as simple as cycle parking can’t even be get right. The waste continues.

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Planning disaster in the making

A large development is set to go ahead to the north of Horsham, on the other side of the town’s northern bypass. It will cover (approximately) the area shown in red.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 15.26.34There’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong with new development. Indeed, it can solve existing problems with previous poor design, and can ‘build in’ sensible patterns of land use and transport. Kloosterveen – a new town in a similar location outside the city of Assen’s ring road – has achieved this, with cycling and walking made the obvious mode of transport for short trips in Kloosterveen, and in and out of Assen. Some pictures of connections with Kloosterveen will feature later in this post.

The signs are not at all hopeful, however, that this new development is going to be beneficial in those terms. Existing patterns of travel, dominated by private motor traffic, will continue to be accommodated, while walking and cycling are almost entirely being ignored, with tokenistic attempts at provision.

Thanks to a previous planning disaster when the northern bypass was built in the late 1980s, there are currently no grade-separated crossings for people walking and cycling (and indeed for motor traffic) along the entire stretch of this 70mph dual carriageway – the A264 – that skirts the current northern edge of the town. Country lanes were severed, with no safe crossings.

The mind boggles at how this was pushed through so recently, with absolutely no thought for how people would cross this road on foot, or on bike.

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Crossing from one side of the bypass to the other on the route of these two lanes shown above involves dashing across four lanes of 70mph+ traffic.

The other two crossing points are fast roundabouts – no help for pedestrians here either, and if you are cycling, you have to cycle on the roundabouts themselves. Again, the limit across both of these roundabouts is 70mph.

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In effect, the land to the north of the bypass is a complete no-go area if you are on foot or bicycle, unless you want to make lengthy detours (and the same goes for accessing the town from this area). It is next to impossible to cross safely or comfortably.

This new development to the north of the town – in precisely the area that is currently severed from the town – should represent a golden opportunity to deal with these severance issues. However the plans released so far are desperately poor.

The developers boast of a ‘Sustainable Masterplan’ – but, tellingly, there is no mention of short-trip transport on the developers own page here. ‘Sustainability’ is framed entirely in terms of ‘natural space’, ‘green buffer zones’, ‘woodland’, ‘ponds’ and ‘allotments’, and not in terms of how people are actually travelling about – a typically British oversight.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 15.53.27Depressingly, the details of the plans reveal that the developers are almost entirely concerned with accommodating existing and projected motor traffic associated with the new development, while very little consideration has been given to how easy, safe and convenient it should be to cross the bypass that separates the town from the development, or indeed to travel around in the development on foot or by bike.

connectivity

Let’s look at the proposed crossing points for people walking and cycling, one by one, starting with the one to the west.

This is one of the country lanes severed back in the 1980s, that is now going to be expanded into a very large (signalised) roundabout. (You can see the former country lane on the left of the plan below.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.06.27The road to the south of the roundabout, connecting with an existing residential area in Horsham, will be a cycle- and bus-only road. It’s not clear, however, how many people will be willing to cycle on the road to get this connection – it will involve cycling in the middle of three lanes of motor traffic, accelerating to join the bypass, on the entry to the roundabout from the north, as shown in blue, below.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.06.27Given the scale and design speed of this roundabout, and the projected amounts of motor traffic using it, it seems far more likely that people will use the combined toucan crossings that are proposed, along with pedestrians. That, however, will involve FOUR separate toucan crossings.

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The picture is much the same at the next crossing point. Here an existing at-grade roundabout is going to be enlarged considerably. Again, you can see the current roundabout, underneath the proposed new design.

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This roundabout is going to be even busier, as it represents the main direct crossing point for motor traffic going into and out of the town (more on the potential problems this will represent later). Again, no grade-separation for walking and cycling is proposed; only a series of toucan crossings. In this case, FIVE of them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.25.31It should be noted here that the developers and their associated transport planners are insistent that people would ‘prefer’ this kind of arrangement to a simple underpass, or bridge. The Tr​ansport, Infrastructure and Flood Risk Report carried out for the developers by Peter Brett claims

‘At grade’ crossings are generally more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists due to reduced distances and the avoidance of ramps or stairs, so are the preferred solution.

But this assertion that at grade crossings are ‘generally more attractive’ is not supported by any evidence. What it seems to trade on instead is the legacy of poor underpasses and bridges that have been constructed for pedestrians and cyclists in Britain. Underpasses that are dark and gloomy, with corners, multiple flights of steps, and poor drainage. Underpasses that are (rightly) avoided by most people because of their unattractiveness, which in turn makes them even more socially unsafe. Underpasses that are used in unsuitable locations, within dense urban areas, to allow inappropriate volumes of motor traffic to flow uninhibited.

Believe it or not, this is the crossing to Dorking railway station

Believe it or not, this is the crossing to Dorking railway station

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 17.09.01

But this area isn’t a town centre location – it’s a crossing of an existing major road, a bypass that also serves a through-route function, connecting major settlements like Guildford, Crawley and Worthing. Grade separation is exactly the kind of treatment that should be employed on this kind of road, and it can and should be done well. The first picture below shows the direct cycle route between Kloosterveen and the city of Assen, passing under the city’s ring road.
DSCN9260

Would people honestly ‘prefer’ five toucan crossings to this kind of arrangement?

Here are some other examples of underpasses, in Assen and Utrecht. Convenient, easy to use, and safe – both in terms of actual and perceived danger.
DSCN9363 DSCN0310 DSCN9174

Underpasses like the ones pictured above do not involve any delay, or any interaction with motor traffic whatsoever. They would make walking and cycling into and out of the new development an absolute breeze, compared to a series of 4 or 5 separate crossings in the middle of a large,  busy and noisy roundabout.

By contrast, the current plans would make cycling and walking less attractive than driving, which is truly disastrous for an allegedly ‘sustainable’ development. Underpasses would redress that balance, making walking and cycling a more obvious option.

Now the developers are proposing a grade-separated crossing for walking and cycling between this large new roundabout and the eastern end of the development. However, they have chosen a bridge, which is a poor choice, because this section of the bypass is built on an embankment, high enough to take it over the railway line connecting Horsham to London (incidentally, this picture also shows another desperately unsafe at-grade crossing of the 70mph dual carriageway bypass).

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That means that any bridge will have to gain not only sufficient height to clear the road itself, but also the height of this embankment. It turns out that this will amount to eleven metres of height gain.

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… And that means a 240m long plod up a steep 5% slope.

By contrast, an underpass could slip easily under the bypass here on the flat, given that the bypass is already 3-5m higher than the surrounding land. It could look like this.

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There are surely very few people who would choose to climb and descend for 250m on each side of an exposed bridge, instead of walking or cycling through a straightforward underpass like this. Or indeed, very few people who would prefer a series of 4-5 separate crossings on busy roundabouts to the other good underpasses pictured in this post.

Getting this right is vitally important, not just for people walking and cycling, but also for those people who want to drive. The more trips that can be made to and from this new development, with the town itself, on foot and by bike, the less congestion there will be on the existing (and new) road network.

The road that has been chosen to form the sole direct connection between the new development and the town centre is already desperately congested at peak times, even before several thousand extra houses are built, with planning that accommodates car trips by those new residents and funnel them onto existing, congested roads. The red arrow, below, marks the only crossing point for motor traffic along this stretch of road – the largest roundabout, already described.

quality-environment

Unfortunately the road into town south of this crossing is really not suitable for accommodating more motor traffic.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.43.20

This is not the makings of a distributor road.

I hope the picture above gives a bit of a flavour of Rusper Road – it’s pretty narrow, narrowed even more by residents parking. To top it all off, in the background of the above picture (looking north towards the new development) is Littlehaven railway station, which not only has a large amount of on-street commuter parking associated with it…

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.56.47… but also has a level crossing, across this road, which closes for eight trains every hour, for one to two minutes. Remember – this road is already congested at peak times. This bottleneck is going to be made even worse.

So it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to funnel more motor traffic down this road, adding more danger, congestion and pollution to a route that already has too much motor traffic. Alternatives to travel by car are desperately needed.

The Transport Assessment for the development notes that

Horsham town centre is accessible within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of the centre of the site.

A short distance, in other words. The centre of the development is just two miles from Horsham town centre. But unfortunately very little is being done with these plans to make cycling a genuinely attractive mode of transport. I don’t want to sit and wait at five separate toucan crossings just to get across one road; nor will anyone else. That means people will plump for the car, clogging up local roads even more.

And that’s not all. The plans will erode the primary function of the bypass, to carry through traffic on a quick route, away from the town centre. If they go ahead, along with the plans for roundabouts on the bypass to the west of Horsham, there will be five separate sets of traffic lights for drivers to negotiate on the bypass.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 22.30.45With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.

So there is a strong case for grade separation at these junctions, not just for walking and cycling, but also for motor traffic – to ensure that through traffic is kept out of the town. This will cost more, but the cost in the long run will inevitably be higher if these junctions are not designed properly now.

The final connection under the bypass already exists – it’s a 2m wide footpath running alongside the aforementioned train line.

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Unfortunately this path doesn’t actually connect up with anything on the northern side of the bypass, and the path to it from the town is in a disgraceful condition.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 09.36.40This is the only safe crossing of the northern bypass, and the condition of paths to and from this underpass (or, rather, the lack of paths) is a decades-old issue, unresolved by West Sussex County Council. Local campaigners are putting pressure on the council and the developers to sort this issue out.

HorshamsMissiingLinkMapThis is an absolute no-brainer – it just requires surfacing of the existing boggy path, and a tarmac link running alongside the existing railway line. But the developers publicity material only states, weakly, that

There is currently an underpass which we could improve to provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists and we are also assessing the feasibility of providing a foot / cycle bridge across the A264. [my emphasis]

‘Could’ improve. By contrast, the large new junctions for motor traffic – without ambiguity – ‘will be provided’.

This difference in language is symptomatic of the lack of consideration of walking and cycling in this new development, and the failure of West Sussex County Council to force the developers into providing safe, attractive and obvious connections for these genuinely sustainable modes, along the length of the northern bypass.

A planning disaster in the making.

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On diversion

Out on my bike earlier in the week I came across a road closure on a country lane just south of Ashington in West Sussex – Hole Street.

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As you can see, a diversion has been put in place. Not a problem, you might think, except that this diversion sends you directly onto the A24, which is a national speed limit dual carriageway, with no cycling infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 21.53.29Not an enticing prospect, even at this relatively quiet time of day, even for someone relatively hardened like me. I just do not want to cycle on a road with vehicles like this bearing down on me at 60mph. (For the record, the road at this point carries about 35,000 vehicles per day, and – amazingly – about twenty very brave people cycling).

Essentially the authority (or individual) responsible for putting the ‘diversion’ signs out was only thinking about drivers. It’s simply not acceptable to divert people cycling onto a road of this character, even if – thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s – the A24 is legal to cycle on, with no parallel provision.

I took my chances and ignored the ‘road closed’ warning, reasoning that even if resurfacing was taking place I could, at a push, walk past it. (As it happens, I didn’t encounter the closure before I turned off this lane, about a mile further on down the road.)

But as I pedalled along the deliciously quiet lane (with no through motor traffic) I dwelt on whether those ‘diversion’ signs should actually be permanent. After all, why should motor traffic be using this country lane as a through route, when there is a fairly expensive dual carriageway trunk road running in parallel? Indeed, would there even be that much difference in time if you asked drivers to take the longer (but faster) route?

When I got home, I took a look at Google maps. Here’s the section of country lane that was closed, with point A being where I encountered the ‘closure’ sign, and point B where that lane meets another ‘A’ road – the A283.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.07.15The ‘closed’ length of country lane here is 1.5 miles. What would be the alternative? Well, this is the ‘diversion’ that drivers are being asked to take while this lane is closed – the A24 (which I chickened out of cycling on) and the A283 – two sides of a triangle.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.10.25The distance has gone up to 3.3 miles – over double the distance.

But what about in terms of time? The country lane, Hole Street, has a mixture of 40mph and 60mph limits, but really, it should be 40mph for its entire length, at most. At 40mph, travelling from A to B would take around 3 minutes.

Using the ‘main road’ route involves 1.5 miles on the 70mph A24, and then 1.8 miles on the 50mph A283, for a total time of around 4 minutes.

So – despite the extra distance – really not that much more time. And these are the roads that are designed for the through traffic – built and engineered to take heavy traffic. The country lane would be quieter and safer, not just for people using it on foot, horse, or bike, but also for the residents. Really – the kind of diversion that is currently in place should be permanent. Hole Street should be access-only, at all times.

This might sound radical, but it’s a  common intervention in the Netherlands. While cycle paths alongside roads (main roads) are a visible and obvious intervention, the approach is quite different on country lanes, which are stopped-up, or simply signed as ‘residents only’, with drivers who are travelling through expected to take the long way round.

One of these examples featured as a Cycling Embassy ‘Good Facility of the Week’ – a country lane closed to motor traffic, except for residents, on the outskirts of the city of Utrecht.

The sign says

The sign effectively says – no motor traffic, except for residents

It’s worth placing this example in context.

People cycling are obviously exempted from the closure – that means they can cycle from point A (where the photograph was taken) to point B, in a fairly straight line.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.39.38This route isn’t available as a through route for drivers, however. They have to go the long way round.

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This isn’t really much of a hardship, however – the motoring route is a fast road (equivalent to a British A-road), with the added benefit for drivers of not having any slow vehicles on the road. Agricultural and bicycle traffic shares a separate path along this road (again, this featured in a Good Facility of the Week).

Cycling three abreast on the service road, parallel to the fast main road.

Cycling three abreast on the service road, parallel to the fast main road.

The system employed by the Dutch in this context isn’t about ‘punishing’ driving, but more about putting cycling and driving on separate systems, for safety reasons. On the main road, cycling has its own parallel provision, but on the narrow country lanes, motor traffic is cut out, and forced to use the longer route. Very often, that ‘longer route’ will in any case be more attractive than the direct route that has been closed, because it is wider and faster, and designed specifically take through traffic.

For instance, if you want to drive between the city of Delft and the new town of Zoetermeer, you are forced (or ‘forced’) to take the A12 motorway. An ‘as the crow files route’ is simply not available to you.

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Naturally enough, the country lanes between the two urban areas, joined up with cycle-specific paths, form a direct cycling route.

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But you wouldn’t really want to use these country lanes in your car, even if you were allowed to, because you have a very fast motorway to connect you – it doesn’t really matter that the route is less direct.

Diversions of this kind are an excellent – good for safety, good for drivers (who don’t have to worry about pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders on their faster routes), good for residents of the country lanes, and good for the people using those lanes to get about, or simply for recreation.

Perhaps we ought to look more closely at whether we can convert our temporary diversions of through motor traffic away from country lanes into permanent diversions – and indeed more broadly about what our country lanes should be for.

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What distinguishes Dutch driver behaviour from British behaviour is the design of the roads they use

There was a revealing detail in Bicycle Dutch’s post last week on a (failed) attempt to create a cycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s.

One of the main cycle routes to the Utrecht University, Burgemeester Reigerstraat, was completely transformed and re-opened as a bicycle street in November 1996. The street got a median barrier to prevent motor vehicles from overtaking people cycling.

Here’s a picture of that arrangement, from Mark’s blog.

burg-reigerstraat02Note here Mark’s description of driver behaviour on this street –

Emergency services also complained and they warned about dangerous situations because they were held up. Impatient car drivers were seen overtaking cyclists with two wheels on the barrier. [my emphasis]. This scared people cycling onto the narrow side-walk and that in turn frightened pedestrians. A good two years later (in January 1999) a new Utrecht council terminated the experiment. The centre barriers were removed and so were the signs that forbade to overtake people cycling.

In fact, you can clearly see a driver doing this in the photograph above – squeezing past, very close to someone cycling, driving up on the central median.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Dutch drivers really are just as bad as British ones when confronted with design that puts them into conflict with people cycling. The reason why we have a skewed impression of the quality of Dutch driving is that – by and large – Dutch road design separates cycling from driving, and insulates people cycling from the consequences of driver misbehaviour.

As I’ve commented before, in trips across towns and cities you will encounter a tiny fraction of the number of drivers you would on an equivalent trip in Britain. On main roads you will be physically separated from drivers, and on side streets you will encounter few drivers because these streets are not sensible routes for through traffic.

And in these few places where you do come into contact with drivers, design ensures that priorities are clear and unambiguous, and that drivers behave in a slow and careful manner – for instance, by placing side road crossings on steep raised tables that drivers have to drive over.

However, just as on that failed design in Utrecht in the 1990s, when Dutch drivers are confronted by design that doesn’t make sense, they will behave badly.

On busy through roads that have little or no cycle infrastructure, they will squeeze past you, into oncoming traffic, in precisely the same way that some British drivers will do, confronted by the same situation.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.12.31

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On country lanes (that are access-only roads) they will drive very close to you at high speed, just like some British drivers will.

On busier rural roads – without cycle tracks – they will squeeze through at speed, into oncoming traffic –

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They will even squeeze through at the same time oncoming traffic is overtaking someone cycling the other way.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.20.13On the narrow streets of central Amsterdam, drivers will follow very close behind you,  and squeeze past with inches to spare.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.17.06Many of these streets allow contraflow cycling (like the example above). It is often quite an unnerving experience attempting to hold your ground as a driver rushes past you in the opposite direction.

This also happens on a narrow street in the centre of Utrecht, which is a through-route for taxis, buses and delivery drivers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.09.23I’ve experienced close overtakes like this one almost every time I’ve used this street.

And of course Dutch drivers will happily park on footways, on cycle lanes, and on cycle tracks when a suitable parking space isn’t available, or nearby. Even obstructing junctions to do so.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.17.50This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s nothing particular special about Dutch drivers. They will behave in anti-social ways like British drivers, and drive just as badly as them, when confronted with the same types of design.

All the familiar problems that people cycling in Britain encounter – close passes, squeezing through at pinch points, left hooks, and so on – would undoubtedly occur in the Netherlands too, on a large scale, if their roads were not designed to eliminate those kinds of problems from occurring in the first place.

Attempting to change the ‘driving culture’ of Britain without changing the way roads are designed would be a futile experiment – we can see this in the way Dutch drivers behave on roads that put them into conflict with cycling, like the failed bicycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s, and countless examples of poor driver behaviour on ‘British-style’ Dutch roads.

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Systemic failure

Back in November 2010, a cement mixer crashed through the parapet of a bridge over the (branch) railway line between Guildford and Waterloo, close to Oxshott station in Surrey. The mixer fell onto a passing train. Miraculously, no-one was killed, although several people were injured, including the driver of the mixer, and a person sitting on the train directly under the point of impact, who was seriously injured.

The driver of the cement mixer, Petru Achim, played a large role in this incident. He crashed his lorry into the end of the parapet of the bridge, losing control, and then (in an attempt to avoid oncoming traffic) swerved it through the parapet itself and onto the railway, with serious consequences.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that Achim escaped relatively lightly in court. Charged with driving without due care and attention, he was fined £100, and given five points on his licence.

More significantly, because this crash happened on the railway, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) produced a full report on the incident. The background; how the collision occurred; how it unfolded; how it could be prevented. It’s 36 pages long, and you can read it here.

I stumbled across this incident a few days ago after re-reading Joe Dunckley’s brilliant post, 7 years, 4 months and 18 days, about the safety record of British railways, how that has been achieved, and the extraordinary difference with the safety record of Britain’s roads. As Joe writes,

The last time anybody died on a train that crashed in Britain was on the evening of 23 February 2007 when a Virgin Trains express to Glasgow derailed on mistakenly unmaintained track at Grayrigg in Cumbria

Perhaps the 2010 Oxshott incident was the closest someone has come to dying on a train since 2007.

It’s well worth reading the RAIB report, which produced five recommendations – two for Surrey County Council, two for the Department for Transport, and one for Network Rail – all with the intention of preventing such an incident ever occurring again.

The recommendations for Surrey County Council were that they should ensure the parapet ends of bridges in the county are visible and well-marked, and that they should review ways of protecting the ends of the parapet of this particular bridge in conjunction with Network Rail, and implement the best method for doing so.

The recommendations for the DfT were to issue guidance to highway authorities on how best to highlight the unprotected ends of bridge parapets, and also

to prepare guidance for highway authorities on identifying local safety hazards at bridges over railways which could be mitigated by measures such as signage, hazard marking, white lining or safety barriers, and include consideration of previous accident history and the causes of those accidents.

Finally, the recommendation for Network Rail was that it should

include, within its annual examination of rail overbridges, the requirement for the structures examiner to identify and record any highway features which may increase the risk to the railway such as absence, obscuration or poor condition of parapet end markers.

… and to improve its ways of reporting these issues to highway authorities.

The tone is neutral, without setting out blame. Essentially the approach is to recognise that human beings are fallible, and will fuck up, and sets out the ways to prevent that fucking up from causing injury or death.

I’m not at all familiar with how the Dutch investigate deaths on their roads, or whether they go into this amount of detail after collisions in an attempt to ensure that type of collision never occurs again, but there is a strong parallel here with the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety.

In typically Dutch language

Since humans make errors and since there is an even higher risk of fatal error being made if traffic rules set for road safety reasons are intentionally violated, it is of great importance that safety nets absorb these errors. Behold the Sustainable Safety approach in a nutshell! A type of approach that, incidentally, has been commonplace in other transport modes for a much longer time under the name of ‘inherently safe’. [my emphasis]

As this passage points out, Sustainable Safety is relatively new – it only started being applied in the Netherlands in 1997, much, much later than the air and rail industry began developing techniques to ensure that failures (either mechanical or human) did not snowball into death or injury – the techniques employed in the RAIB report described here.

It’s so new, in fact, that it obviously has not been applied everywhere in the Netherlands. Their crap, unforgiving road designs are still being removed and updated; their country lanes that carry too much motor traffic are still awaiting a systematic downgrading (or upgrading); bypasses to take through traffic away for the places that people live are still being built;  the process is ongoing.

A crap junction in Amsterdam

A crap junction in central Amsterdam

There are five strands to Sustainable Safety, but perhaps the two most important in this context are homogeneity and forgiving environments.

Homogeneity in essence boils down to not putting slow and fast things in the same space; and not putting light and heavy things in the same space. If you want motor traffic to go faster than bicycle traffic, then you should not put bicycle traffic in the same space. You should provide for it separately.

A textbook example - the main road into Utrecht from the east. Here it is acceptable for bicycle traffic to mix with motor traffic on the 30kph access road. But obviously not on the main road itself.

A textbook example – the main road into Utrecht from the east. Here it is acceptable for bicycle traffic to mix with small volumes of motor traffic on the 30kph access road (which is not a through-route for motor traffic). But obviously not acceptable to mix on the main road itself.

Likewise if your road or street is going to carry heavy traffic as well as bicycle traffic, then something has to give – either that bicycle traffic should be separated, or heavy traffic simply shouldn’t be allowed on that road or street.

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This hasn’t been achieved everywhere in the Netherlands yet, but it is being aimed at, everywhere. And this principle, even in isolation, ensures that Dutch roads and streets are considerably safer than British roads and streets, where we think nothing of mixing bicycle traffic with heavy motor traffic, or fast motor traffic (and usually both).

It is – appallingly – pervasive and normal.

Scenes like this in Dutch towns and cities are being eliminated.

A typical British urban cycling environment in Epsom, Surrey.

The principle of forgiving environments corresponds to the approach to rail safety. It recognises that human beings are fallible, incompetent, or inattentive, and attempts to ensure that the environment people are travelling can cushion those mistakes.

A typical British example of unforgivingness is the failure of a lorry driver to look in his mirror, at a particular moment, as he sets off from some traffic signals, just at the same time as someone cycling travels down a cycle lane on their inside.

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A failure to spot someone travelling down the inside of a vehicle at a particular moment, in a mirror, coupled with a failure to appreciate the danger of using a cycle lane, should not result in death or serious injury. This is an unforgiving environment.

By contrast a forgiving environment separates movements, and/or ensures good intervisibility, and time to appreciate what the other party might be doing. It also allows rules to be broken (willingly, or unwittingly) without serious consequences. Because that’s what humans do – we break rules.

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We don’t appear to have anything like Sustainable Safety in Britain. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that collisions happen, again and again, in the same way, to the same types of people, involving the same kinds of vehicles, even at the same junctions, over and over again, and nothing appears to be learnt.

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Over and over again.

We blame individuals for their failures – their failure to look in a mirror; their failure to appreciate that some types of cycle provision should be treated with extreme caution; their failure to not react quickly enough – without apparently ever stopping to realise that it’s the broken system that should be fixed, not the fallible human beings who are using it.

Maybe it’s because life is cheap in Britain – but that’s too simplistic. Life is selectively cheap in Britain. As the investigation that features at the start of this post shows, we take life very seriously when it is at risk on the railways, or in the air, and develop rational policies to structurally eliminate deaths and injuries from occurring in the future.

Yet on the roads, that concern for life apparently evaporates. Death and injury almost seems to be taken as an inevitable characteristic of our roads themselves; that they are innately dangerous.

The most telling manifestation of this assumption is the continual grumbling about the lack of personal protective equipment on the part of (a particular) vulnerable road user.

A fairly typical example – with equally typical responses

This kind of grumbling goes hand-in-hand with a blinkered view of Britain’s road environment as almost naturally hazardous – that our roads present spontaneous danger, to which the proper response is to don protective equipment before venturing into it, without even questioning the effectiveness of that equipment, or more pertinently whether our public space should even present such danger in the first place.

Other transport systems are designed in such a way that protective equipment is not needed, and make allowances for stupidity, incompetence, or inattention. Yet the British road network remains an inhospitable jungle, where mistakes mean death or serious injury for vulnerable users (and indeed even for those protected within motor vehicles).

The Dutch have appreciated this difference, and moved to put road design and road safety on the same footing as other modes of transport. Why haven’t we?

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

West Sussex and LSTF money – Albion Way

This is the second post in a series examining the ways in which West Sussex County Council are spending the £2.46m of cash they received from the Department for Transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), for schemes to be implemented between 2012 and 2015.

The first post looked at the Northgate gyratory in Chichester, where £210,000 (£140k from the DfT, £70k from West Sussex’s road safety budget) will be spent repainting an existing dangerous and substandard cycle lane around the gyratory, and adding flashing warning signs.

That scheme – like most of the other schemes being funded in Chichester and Horsham by the DfT’s £2.46m – is being implemented right at the last minute, before the April 2015 deadline. This delay is symptomatic of West Sussex’s problems with knowing how to spend money properly, and developing schemes that will actually make any significant difference to how people travel in the county.

However, when it comes to spending that same LSTF cash on conventional motor traffc-centric schemes, West Sussex are quickly able to deploy it – and all of it.

In Horsham, well over a hundred thousand pounds of that DfT funding – remember, for allegedly ‘sustainable’ transport – was used rapidly and efficiently for new traffic lights at three junctions on the town’s inner ring road, as Horsham District Cycle Forum point out.

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New efficient signals for motor traffic, Horsham, 2014

These new lights appeared in spring 2014, well before the 2015 deadline, and involve ‘signal optimisation’ – a fancy word for increasing the capacity of the junctions on the ring road,  for motor traffic. So in essence –

Sustainable transport funding has been used to reduce delay for motor traffic in Horsham town centre.

The money has been spent on new MOVA traffic signals, which unlike the pre-existing standard traffic signals, will respond to queue length. For instance, if there’s a very long queue of motor traffic on one arm of a junction, the system will respond, and allocate more signal time to that arm of the junction, to disperse the queue. The system serves to increase the ability of these junctions to handle motor traffic, by ensuring more efficient flow of motor traffic. Driving in the town centre just got a bit easier.

Astonishingly this is against the background of falling motor traffic levels on the road in question, Albion Way.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 14.18.48

It’s not as if congestion has been getting worse – the money has simply been hoovered up for a project to reduce queues for drivers.

So how has this use of ‘sustainable’ funding been justified? Here’s the paragraph describing the scheme, in West Sussex’s DfT bid document

Access improvements around the town centre

Improving access to the town centre (HR4), that will reduce delays and improving safety at junctions with A281 Albion Way/Park Way. These will include Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation. This will help improve and create an efficient transport network to support access for businesses by reducing congestion, and encourage investment in Horsham.

In what amounts to an unintentionally ironic nod to the way this scheme has been delivered on the ground, this paragraph positions the the real purpose of the funding (smoothing the flow of motor traffic, a.k.a. ‘reducing congestion’) behind some ASLs.

Of course, describing the improvements as

including Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation

is a bit like describing a shopping trip as ‘including some Monster Munch, as well as a new car’, because the cost (and indeed usefulness) of the ASLs is absolutely negligible. They are just paint, as we shall see. The near entirety of the £127,000 West Sussex received from the DfT for this scheme has in reality gone on the MOVA system – new traffic signals, new induction loops, and assorted computer software.

The painted ASLs are simply window-dressing, a convenient fig leaf for a scheme centred on improving journey times for motorists. They will do little or nothing to make the three junctions they’ve been painted at any more more attractive, or safer.

They have been thoughtlessly applied, as the following examples will show.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 00.34.34

Money well spent.

Here is a typical example; a box three lanes wide, with no safe way to access it. Indeed, no legal way to access it, with a solid white line stretching from kerb to kerb, which can’t be crossed under a red signal.

Within a matter of weeks, it had evidently been decided that the green of these ASL were too lurid, and they were all repainted a darker shade of green. This same ASL now gained a hatched entry point.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 00.37.31

It’s under the car.

There was some vague talk of giving this new traffic signal system the ability to prioritise buses, by fitting them with sensors that would allocate green signal time to buses stuck waiting. This hasn’t happened, and even if it did, without the presence of any bus lanes it’s not at all clear how buses will really benefit, given that – as in the photograph above – they will remain stuck in the flow of general traffic.

This ASL technically allows you to position yourself in front of motor traffic to make a right turn, from lane three, but this is a deeply unappealing prospect under free-flow conditions, with motor traffic flowing in lanes one and two, and stopped in lane three.

Just manoeuvre across to lane three, and stop in front of that car, before the lorry arrives.

Just manoeuvre across to lane three, and stop in front of that car, before the lorry arrives.

This same junction has other dreadful examples.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 15.26.40

It is arguable that these designs actually increase danger, by encouraging people to cycle to the front of the queue up the side of large vehicles, which may then set off.

Any existing cycle lanes have simply been repainted, with no thought or consideration about how they could have been widened, or improved.

We couldn't paint this lane any wider - we need the space for hatching on the far side.

We couldn’t paint this lane any wider – we need the space for hatching on the far side.

Likewise this crap – a short stub of contraflow that ends in an absurd fashion – has again been given a fresh coat of green paint.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 15.38.40

This short bit of quiet one-way road is crying out for a properly-designed contraflow, to allow people to access the town centre. But West Sussex have failed to use the money they’ve received to design one; they’ve lazily repainted the existing crap, which people continue to ignore.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 15.41.39

Technically you are supposed to turn through 90°, cross the road, then use the pavement on the other side. Which makes no sense at all to anyone cycling.

The ASLs on the other junctions are just as bad. Another three lane-wide strip, with no safe access –

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 15.44.59

And these beauties –

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 15.45.57

 

Spot the ASL.

Spot the ASL.

The final junction, again, has ASLs that have the potential to encourage people to put themselves in danger –

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 16.09.48

The design of this junction was also altered, making it worse for pedestrians. A direct, single-stage crossing on the northern arm (captured on Streetview, below)…

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 16.17.13

… has been replaced by a two-stage, staggered crossing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 21.14.09To repeat, Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash has paid for this – less convenient pedestrian crossings, in order to increase capacity for motor traffic.

The pedestrian crossings at the other junctions remain dire. Merely crossing the road into the town at the first junction described can involve up to five separate crossings, because there are no crossings on the eastern side of the junction.

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Despite West Sussex’s bid for the LSTF cash having the stated aim of ‘improving access to the town centre’, no new crossings have been added here. People continue to dash across five lanes of motor traffic, rather than hanging around waiting, pushing buttons on four separate crossings.

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The LSTF cash that West Sussex won could have been used to make this unpleasant road genuinely attractive for walking and cycling, with direct pedestrian crossings, and a bi-directional track on the ‘town’ side of the road, replacing a traffic lane. Something like this.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 21.47.32

But instead it’s been wasted on traffic signals to ease the passage of motor vehicles through the town, and (as at Chichester) on some paint that does very little to make the road safe or attractive for cycling.

How many people will be tempted to start cycling on Albion Way now it has got some green stripes on it, at the junctions? Very, very few. These ASLs might make life slightly easier for the people already cycling here – those who know how and when to safely use them – but in my experience, huge numbers of ordinary people continue to ignore the road, cycling on the pavement, like pedestrians.

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Bluntly, we need infrastructure that works for these people, not tokenistic bits of green paint for the handful of people willing to cycle on hostile roads like this one.

To remind ourselves, West Sussex received nearly two and a half million pounds from the DfT to spend on sustainable travel in Horsham and Chichester – over a million pounds, for each urban area. That money could have made a tremendous difference, had it been spent on meaningful, high-quality routes for cycling.

But instead it is entirely going to waste, hoovered up to ease the passage of motor traffic, or dribbled away in the form of ineffective projects like the Northgate gyratory, or hopeless ASLs like here on Albion Way.

UPDATE

One thing I forgot to mention in this post is that the induction loops in the Advanced Stop Lines frequently fail to detect bicycles. That means if you are sat in the ASL, and no motor traffic is queuing behind you, you will wait indefinitely until some motor traffic arrives behind you to ‘trigger’ a green. That’s how ‘sustainable’ transport works!

Posted in Car dependence, Horsham, Infrastructure, Traffic lights, West Sussex County Council | 12 Comments

It’s motor traffic, not immigration, that prevents children playing in the street

So Nigel Farage gave a speech at the White Cliffs of Dover yesterday, in which he suggested that children are not playing football in the street any more because of ‘discomfort’ and ‘unease’ due to high levels of immigration.

I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself. And I sense over the last decade or more we are not at ease.

If we went to virtually every town up eastern England and spoke to people about how they felt their town or city had changed for the last 10 to 15 years, there is a deep level of discomfort. Because if you have immigration at these sort of levels, integration doesn’t happen.

Further clarification of Farage’s and UKIP’s opinion on this topic was provided by the party’s economic spokesman (and candidate for Cambridge in the 2015 election) Patrick O’Flynn, as reported by the Press Association’s political correspondent –

Even at face value, this smells like total codswallop. If kids want to play football, they really won’t care what country the other kids’ parents might have come from. They just want to kick a ball around – the culture, nationality or language of other children they might want to play with is completely irrelevant.

Now it’s possible parents won’t let their children out on the streets because they have fears about safety due to ‘immigration’, but it’s pretty miserable politics to play up to these fears, and indeed to give them some legitimacy by presenting them as a genuine reason why children are absent from our streets.

If there’s a genuine problem with community cohesion, that can surely only be helped by letting children in the neighbourhood – from all backgrounds – play with each other, on the streets. The answer certainly isn’t to pretend that stopping further immigration into Britain can solve these kinds of problems, where they might exist.

Of course, the real reason why children don’t play on our streets is actual danger in the form of motor traffic. Where streets are closed (even on a temporary basis) to motor traffic, children from diverse backgrounds will happily play with one another – for instance, in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse areas, Hackney.

And in the Netherlands, where residential streets are usually categorised as ‘access roads’ – not useful routes for motor traffic, and consequently with very low motor traffic levels – spontaneous street play by children is extremely common.

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These are safe environments, where the only motor vehicles present will be those accessing properties on the street – residents, visitors, or delivery drivers. That’s it. There’s no real need to speed, as these aren’t through routes, but in any case, most of these locations will have traffic calming in the form of speed tables and tight geometry. The language of the street tells you that it is a residential area, and that, coupled with the low traffic levels, means that they are safe areas for children to play. That’s why parents let them play there – nothing to do with ‘immigration’.

Most residential streets in Britain, by contrast, will often function as through routes – convenient options for people who want to drive the shortest route, or who wish to avoid congestion on parallel main roads.

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That’s why children don’t play on them.

If UKIP genuinely want to see children playing on the streets, they need to adopt Sustainable Safety as a policy.

Posted in Safety, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 19 Comments

West Sussex and LSTF money – the Northgate gyratory

Last week I wrote a long post about how West Sussex County Council are proposing to use millions of pounds of ‘sustainable’ transport funding (distributed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership) on schemes that have negligible (or even non-existent) sustainable transport benefit.

Even those parts of the schemes that, by West Sussex’s own admission, have no sustainable transport benefit whatsoever, could obviously be designed to accommodate walking and cycling routes. But West Sussex have chosen not to do this. They want to build very large roundabouts on the edge of a major town that have absolutely no walking and cycling provision.

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In that post I described how this is symptomatic of a wider problem with cycling outside of cities in Britain – West Sussex in particular is just one many local authorities that have no consistent stream of funding for genuinely sustainable transport, no real enthusiasm for engaging seriously with cycling as a mode of transport, and little or no expertise on how to design properly for it.

What cash that is available for cycling from central government – either through these LEP channels, or through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – appears to dribble away, used on schemes and projects of negligible benefit.

This post is the first in a series that will examine what West Sussex has done with the £2.46 million of cash the county was awarded by the DfT for sustainable travel projects, to be spent between 2012 and 2015.

West Sussex’s initial bid was for £5m, for four towns and cities – Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Horsham. The DfT rejected that bid, and only chose to fund the schemes for Chichester and Horsham – about half the total bid (hence £2.46m). So these posts will cover where those millions of pounds have gone, in Chichester and Horsham. It should also be borne in mind that the total spend will be significantly higher, with matched funding from the local authority in many cases.

A case in point is the subject here. £140,000 of that DfT cash is being spent on the Northgate Gyratory in Chichester (with a further £70,000 coming from West Sussex’s own road safety budget). This is a very busy road system – dubbed ‘The Fire Station Roundabout’ (because it has a Fire Station in the middle of it) – just to the north of Chichester city centre. It is where the city’s inner ring road meets roads heading off to the north, out of Chichester.

What is that £210,000 buying?

  • A repainting of the existing cycle lane markings.
  • Some solar-powered flashing signs telling drivers to ‘Think Bike’.
  • A video.
  • A pdf.
  • That’s it.

It should be borne in mind that the Northgate Gyratory is a significant barrier to cycling in Chichester – to get in and out of the city centre from the north, this roundabout has to be used. And it also has a safety problem – despite its innate hostility obviously suppressing cycling, there have been six serious cycling injuries in the last nine years.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 21.36.10So this is a shambles. Frankly, the money has been wasted.

Here’s the video West Sussex have produced to publicise the repainting of the cycle lanes, and the new flashing signs.

The basic problem here is that the existing design for cycling is dire, and it isn’t being changed. The crap cycle lanes are being repainted, and the flashing signs smack of desperation, an attempt to mitigate the inherent flaws in the road layout (although, as we’ll see below, the signs appear to have arrived with an earlier, and even more hazardous, version of this scheme that has been abandoned).

As a Chichester local told me –

By definition if you need to have such signs, surely this means you haven’t designed your roads properly for cyclists.

It’s hard to disagree.

It should be noted that there are already signs at Northgate gyratory – signs that aren’t electronic.

Northgate Gyratory Think Bike

I doubt flashing signs will do much to address the risks for people cycling at this gyratory, any more than the existing metal ones do anything.

The problems are the result of poor design, on both entry and exit to the roundabout.

On entry, drivers will not be looking in the direction cyclists are coming from, which is almost from behind them. Their attention will be focused instead on the roundabout, looking for gaps in motor traffic.

Northgate driver looking angle

This problem is compounded by ‘masking’. Even if drivers are looking in these two different directions, those in the nearside lane will often have their visibility of the cycle lane obscured by motor vehicles in the outer lane.

Northgate 1To repeat, this design is not being changed. Just repainted.

Likewise on exit, collisions occur because drivers are unsure about where people cycling will be going (or make assumptions about their direction), while similarly people cycling will be unsure about whether drivers will be entering or existing the roundabout. For example.

Northgate exit uncertainty

 

The blue arrows represent a driver and a cyclist. At the positions pictured, neither has a clue what the other is going to do – stay on the roundabout, or exit it. That uncertainty is a recipe for collisions.

Safely navigating this cycle lane involves looking back over your shoulder, through  180°, in an attempt to observe what motor traffic behind you is doing.

Conveniently this is even demonstrated in West Sussex’s video.

Northgate looking back

Again, to repeat, this design is not being changed. Just repainted.

A recipe for collisions.

The problems described here are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved, yet won’t be. People cycling are not in visible positions, and when they are, there’s uncertainty about who is going in which direction.

Another local, Paul Wreyford, has this to say in the road.cc article on the gyratory plans

The cycle lane design remains very similar to the existing layout. There still remains the danger and conflict that I and many of my neighbours have experienced on this system.

This is; the high speed of exiting traffic at each junction, the lack of visibility for the kerbside driver when two vehicles are at a two lane entry, the failure of drivers to signal when exiting, and the lack of lane discipline/lane markings on the gyratory system.

I’d also add that even relying on drivers signalling their intentions to exit (or stay on) the roundabout, is simply not good enough, because if someone doesn’t signal, or signals in error, and their intentions are (mistakenly) assumed, the consequences would be catastrophic.

The black car isn't signalling an exit. Staying on the roundabout?

The black car isn’t signalling an intention to exit. Staying on the roundabout?

So there is a series of clear, identifiable safety problems, that are a direct consequence of the existing design, which is merely being repainted. The issue is not a general lack of ‘awareness’ of cyclists – awareness that needs to be ‘raised’ by a number of flashing signs -as the video and the poster imply.

Northgate Take Care

Pay attention.

Pay attention! That’ll do it.

Imagining that the remedy to the collision record of Northgate is ‘taking care’ or ‘paying attention’ represents a spectacular misdiagnosis of the actual underlying problem with the gyratory – crap design.

Here’s a video I’ve taken showing one of the exit points of the gyratory, in the south-west corner.

The video essentially speaks for itself, but a few things can be observed.

  • Traffic on the gyratory is pretty much continuous, even at this relatively quiet time of the day (the middle of the afternoon). Without knowing with certainly where drivers are going, you will almost always have to come to a complete stop to cross the exits if you are using the cycle lane.
  • Notice that many drivers do not signal their intention to exit – 0:28, 0:32 0:50, in just this short clip. Indication plainly cannot be relied upon, despite the implications of the West Sussex video. Assuming drivers are staying on the roundabout because they’re not indicating would be a very bad idea indeed.
  • Notice how the man cycling has to look directly behind him (1:03), even when not crossing the exit.
  • The pedestrian environment is also terrible; notice the struggles/uncertainty about how and where to cross at 0:35. The issues are essentially identical to crossing the exits by bike.

An extra insult is how the poor existing road markings – needless ‘Give Ways’ for people simply leaving the roundabout by bike, like these –

Northgate Give Way 1 Northgate Give Way 2Are just being repainted, without any apparent thought about whether they are even necessary.

A good use of £210,000

A good use of £210,000

Sensible advice would be to avoid these cycle lanes entirely, if you feel confident enough to do so, and to cycle with motor traffic on the roundabout, to minimise the problems of intervisibility described here. That’s a pretty dire state of affairs considering this is supposed to be a six-figure ‘improvement’.

But it could have been even worse. The initial plans from West Sussex for this gyratory proposed giving cycling priority on both entry and exit.

Northgate initial plansThis was really a dreadful idea, given all the aforementioned problems of uncertainty.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with giving cycling priority over motor traffic, but not with this kind of geometry, and with these kinds of speeds on exit. The flashing warning ‘Think Bike!’ signs were included as part of this scheme, again presumably in an attempt to make it slightly less lethal.

Northgate Think Bike

But this ‘priority with paint’ design appears to have been abandoned following a road safety audit, leaving us with the status quo. Plus the signs.

So £210,000 is going to be spent doing essentially nothing.

Unfortunately, I suspect that simply wasn’t enough money in the first place to come up with a serious, design-led solution to the issues with this roundabout, drawing on best international practice in designing cycling infrastructure that is safe and attractive to use.

There’s plenty of space at Northgate for a major redesign, accommodating cycling infrastructure of the type seen in David Hembrow’s video above, and described in his blog post here. But the aimless result we’ve ended up with has probably flowed from that initial problem of insufficient cash. Northgate needs a major physical redesign, and £210,000 was never going to be enough.

Maybe West Sussex weren’t ever that interested in examining serious alternative designs, or in devoting a large chunk of the money they won from the DfT on implementing one scheme, preferring instead to spread it thinly on a large number of schemes that look good, presented as a nice long list, but which are ineffective in practice.

Meanwhile the old paint is being scraped off, ready for new paint.

Northgate paintNext week I’ll be looking at another West Sussex scheme, also involving six figure sums of LSTF cash. Stay tuned.

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, Uncategorized, West Sussex County Council | 17 Comments

Conflicting greens – the implications of a new Oxford junction for ‘simultaneous green’

The Dutch ‘simultaneous green’ junction arrangements allow people walking and cycling to progress through signal controlled junctions in any direction they choose, at the same time as people from all the other arms of the junction.

‘Simultaneous green’ works well on very large junctions, as this David Hembrow video shows –

As well as on smaller ones. My video this time –

In Britain, however, there is some confusion about whether these kinds of arrangements would be legal, particularly as they involve ‘conflicting greens’ – green signals running at the same time on arms of a junction that are an angle to each other. (See this thread on the Cycling Embassy forum, for example).

Now of course we already have examples of ‘conflicting greens’ in the UK – greens for traffic from opposite arms of a junction, which allow people to turn right across the opposing traffic stream. For instance, if I’m turning right in my car, or on my bike, I have a green signal to go, while someone heading straight through the junction from the opposite direction also has a green. We both have a green, yet our paths will cross! The answer is – the turning party yields, rather than assuming green means a manoeuvre can be performed without conflict.

So this seems to be a straightforward objection to the ‘we don’t do conflicting greens in the UK’ claim.

But what about greens from junction arms that are not directly facing each other? What about you having a green to go straight ahead, while the junction to your left – at 90° to your junction – also has a green?

I was told last year by a highway engineer, whose opinion I value, that there isn’t actually anything in UK traffic regulations that specifically rules out doing this. He explained that this option is technically available. You could give motor traffic green signals simultaneously on two arms of a junction at 90° to each other. This just doesn’t happen because, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and would probably be quite unsafe – for motor traffic, at least.

There is now a new junction in Oxford that seems to substantiate this – that you can allow ‘conflicting greens’ on a junction, at 90° to each other (or indeed at other angles). The Hythe Bridge Street junction lies between the city’s station, and the city centre. It used to be composed of two separate roads, with a cut-though in the middle diagonal for walking and cycling –

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 19.29.36But it has now been converted into a straightforward crossroads. Or, actually, a slightly less than straightforward crossroads.

The odd arrangement is on the western arm of the junction.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 00.21.58

Looking east, across the junction

The signals tells us that all motor traffic must turn left, heading north. Meanwhile, however, people cycling are exempted from that instruction – they are able to cycle off in any direction they please, north, east, or south.

So far so good, but allowing people cycling to do this actually involves a ‘conflicting green’. While this arm of the junction is green, it turns out that traffic flowing south out of the northern arm also has a green signal.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 00.25.55

Here’s another photograph, this one from Graham Smith, showing the same location, but from the south-western corner of the junction.

Picture by Graham Smith

Picture by Graham Smith

The man on the bike and the van driver both have a green signal. Note that at the time Graham’s picture was taken – January this year – there aren’t any road markings in the junction. Indeed, this was the initial plan, as below.

Hythe Bridge Street

Click to enlarge. I’ve highlighted, in red,  the paragraph that makes clear people cycling can progress in any direction through the junction from the western arm.

Some markings were then hastily added at the end of January, presumably in response to local complaints and actual collisions.

575470.fullA painted waiting area, right in the middle of the junction.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 09.28.17

This is, of course, still far from brilliant – if you are not familiar with the junction, it’s not entirely clear how it will work, and even if you are, you are still exposed to collision risk from motor traffic turning around you, without any protection.

But the main point of this post is that – regardless of the safety implications – it is apparently entirely legal to give green signals, simultaneously, from junctions at 90° to each other, as shown below – even if the ‘traffic’ coming from the western arm is cycle-only.

Hythe Bridge Street

 

The safety implications of this odd arrangement in Oxford – which involves interactions between bikes and motor traffic – are surely much greater than a clearly-explained simultaneous green layout, which will involve interactions only between people cycling.

So – what’s stopping us?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Compare and contrast

In 2011 Ghulam Murtza was stopped by the police, and issued a fixed penalty notice. He was prosecuted for committing an offence under section 24 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, and fined £115. He was carrying his child on his bike, on a seat that may or may not have been strictly legal.

This is section 24 –

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 15.15.04

Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

As it happens, this is a fine I am at risk of receiving pretty much every single day, because I give my partner a ‘backie’ on my omafiets, like this –

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 15.12.13My oma isn’t ‘constructed or adapted’ for carrying more than one person – she just sits on the rack – so by the letter of the law we are both risking fines every time we do this.

This is the law Murtza fell foul off.

Compare this £115 fine with the cases of Michael Mason and Daniel Squire, who were both mown down from behind and killed by drivers.

In the case of Michael Mason, the driver faced no criminal proceedings whatsoever, despite the fact she ‘could not explain why she did not see Michael when many other witnesses had.’

In the case of Daniel Squire, the driver walked free from court, despite admitting texting while driving in the period immediately prior to the fatal collision, and (from the new reports available) a deeply unconvincing account of what transpired.

Two fatal collisions.

But no fines, not even any penalty points, in either case. Killing people apparently merits less punishment than carrying someone on a bike.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments