True safety lies with design

I shared some pictures the other day, in an attempt to convey a fairly simple message – that the safety record of the Netherlands for cycling is almost entirely attributable to the physical environment people cycle in, and that it isn’t down to exemplary behaviour (either of people cycling, or of people driving), or down to clothing, or safety equipment, or special lighting, or any other kind of gimmick.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 18.22.01 Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 18.24.13

Admittedly it isn’t particularly obvious from the photographs, but these pictures were taken at two large, busy junctions in Utrecht – the first is at the Westplein, a major junction just to the west of the train station, the second is the junction of Vleutensweg and Thomas a Kempisweg. The people in the pictures are able to negotiate these junctions in total safety, despite doing what they are doing, and wearing what they are wearing, and riding battered bikes, because they are completely separated from motor traffic, either physically, or in time, with dedicated green crossing stages for cycles.

I am not necessarily condoning this behaviour – my point was that the superior Dutch safety record is achieved in spite of it.

It’s hard to generalise, but you rarely see people carrying exceptional loads, or texting, or cycling with dogs, or giving backies, in British cities, but all these things are extraordinarily common in Dutch cities, while hi-visibility clothing and helmets are almost entirely absent. Indeed, I would even estimate that people with functioning lights are definitely in the minority in the centre of larger Dutch cities.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.02.58It is blindingly obvious, therefore, that safety – true safety – for people cycling does not lie with behaviour, or with clothing or equipment, but with a safe environment, one that allows what in British eyes might be ‘stupid’ behaviour, but that is in reality just natural, flawed, human behaviour in an environment that feels safe.

The Dutch safety record is actually even more remarkable because of the broad demography of the people cycling, particularly those that are most vulnerable – young children, and the elderly. 23% of all trips Dutch people over the age of 65 make are cycled.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.20.32 Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.22.17These are people for whom even minor incidents could be quite serious.

Likewise 40% of all trips Dutch children under the age of 17 make are cycled. This group is vulnerable in a different way. Firstly they are inexperienced, and still learning how to use the road network…

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.27.54

… and secondly, kids (and especially teenagers) will prat about. It’s just what they do.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.28.11Again, the Dutch environment is forgiving enough to accommodate this behaviour while maintaining safety.

Nor does safety in the Netherlands lie with exemplary (or even slightly better) driver behaviour. You will see the same kind of impatience, driver error, speeding, tailgating, and silly behaviour as on British roads. Stand at a busy junction for motor traffic, and you will see drivers fiddling with their phones, or speaking on them. Dutch drivers will SMIDSY too, when they encounter junctions where they have to process a lot of movements and interactions.

Assen's most dangerous junction. We only had to stand here for five minutes before we saw this incident.

Assen’s most dangerous junction. We only had to stand here for five minutes before we saw this incident.

Why would it be otherwise? The Dutch are human beings, just like the British, and are just as fallible and flawed as we are, when they are behind the wheel of a car.

Mobile phone user, Utrecht

Mobile phone user, Utrecht

Motorway tailgating at over 100kph

Motorway tailgating at over 100kph

The essential difference with Britain, however, is that, while cycling in the Netherlands, you are almost entirely insulated from this bad behaviour. On main roads you are not in the same space as drivers. Often they will be some distance away, even invisible.

Cycle path along an 80kph A-road, east of Assen. The road is on the left-hand side, behind the trees.

Cycle path along an 80kph A-road, east of Assen. The road is on the left-hand side, behind the trees.

In urban areas, particularly in new developments, routes for bikes and motor traffic will often be completely unravelled, with entirely separate ‘main roads’ for cycling and motor traffic between destinations.

Major junction to the north of Zwolle. Cycle traffic has the direct route into the new development, on the bridge. You will not go anywhere near this road.

Major junction to the north of Zwolle. Cycle traffic has the direct route into the new development, to the right, on the bridge. You will not go anywhere near this road.

And on residential and access streets, motor traffic is only there for, well, access reasons, meaning your chances of encountering drivers speeding somewhere else are negligible.

Residential access road, Zwolle

Residential access road, Zwolle

This policy also means that side roads are infrequently used by drivers, again meaning potential conflict with motor traffic is greatly reduced.

Crossing a residential side road in Utrecht. Not many motorists will be using this junction - only for access.

Crossing a residential side road in Utrecht. Not many motorists will be using this junction – only for access.

Where interaction does (infrequently) have to occur, like at the side street shown above, design helps to ensure that it is clear who has priority, and that there is little to be gained from driving badly.

It is this whole raft of design measures that means interaction with motor traffic is negligible by comparison with Britain, and usually benign when it does occur. Although idiot drivers undoubtedly exist, your chances of meeting one are greatly, greatly reduced. By contrast, in Britain, you are almost always continually exposed to that idiocy, sharing the same road space as motor traffic on main roads, and indeed on side streets which will often form through routes for drivers, trying to get somewhere else.

True safety lies with design; design that accounts for human fallibility, rather than design that relies on perfect human behaviour, or on attempts to create better human beings.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Getting ‘shared space’ the wrong way round

There’s been a fair bit of discussion of ‘shared space’ recently, prompted mainly by the Holmes Report into Shared Space, which was released at the start of the month.

‘Shared space’ is of course a catch-all term that covers a wide range of street and road treatments, but in essence it involves reducing distinction (either visually or physically, or both) between the carriageway and footway – between places where users are ‘expected’ to be, in general.

I don’t think there is any genuine, or ‘ultimate’, shared space out there – one that has no distinction whatsoever across the whole building-to-building width. You will always find some kind of distinction, be it in the form of tactile paving, or colour difference, or a minimal kerb upstand, or bollards, between where different modes should be going.

Exhibition Road isn't really all that 'shared' - tactile paving, a drain, and bollards all combine to create a pretty visually distinct carriageway and footway

Exhibition Road isn’t really all that ‘shared’ – tactile paving, a drain, and bollards all combine to create a pretty visually distinct carriageway and footway

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 16.20.42

Likewise Poynton – again, a clear kerb line, and material difference, make it obvious what is footway, and what is carriageway

New Road in Brighton perhaps comes closest, with only a drain breaking up the uniform surface – but here sheer weight of pedestrians numbers, and a tiny amount of motor traffic, make this resemble a genuinely pedestrianised street with limited motor traffic access.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 16.25.30And this points toward something a little bit back-to-front about how these treatments are often applied in Britain. New Road is a bit of an exception; it is effectively an access road, one that makes little or no sense to drive down if you want to go anywhere, because a one-way system sends you back to where you’ve come from.

By contrast, ‘shared space’ treatments are instead frequently applied on roads that are through-routes for motor traffic, carrying it from somewhere, to somewhere else. Poynton is composed of a junction of major A-roads; Exhibition Road carries around 15,000 vehicles a day; Byng Place in Camden is a through-route; major schemes in Coventry and Ashford have both applied ‘shared space’ treatments to main roads. Preston, too, appears to have jumped on the bandwagon in the last year.

Preston

‘Shared space’ on Preston Fishergate, which remains a through-route for motor traffic.

Indeed, all the examples of ‘shared space’ shown in the Sea of Change film – areas where partially-sighted and blind users have difficulty crossing roads – involve through routes for motor traffic.

Meanwhile, all the small access roads near these big main road schemes – residential streets, or streets that (should) serve no through function for motor traffic – are left with ‘conventional’ highway engineering, footways with high kerbs, clearly distinct from what look like roads, rather than streets.

For instance, it is the through-route Exhibition Road that has the ‘shared space’ treatment (and a 20mph limit), while, bizarrely, the minor residential side-street joining on to it, Princess Gardens, has a conventional tarmac road appearance, and a 30mph limit.

Princess Gardens, in the background, complete with standard road engineering, and 30mph limit

Princess Gardens, in the background, complete with standard road engineering, and 30mph limit

This is, really, the wrong way round, and entirely opposite to the way the Dutch conventionally design roads and streets, and distinguish between them.

In the Netherlands, the ‘shared space’ style treatments are applied on streets that have been quite deliberately designed to remove through traffic, leaving only a very small number of motor vehicles using them – the access roads. Meanwhile the main roads, carrying through traffic, usually have very clear distinction between the carriageway and the footway (in large part because the Dutch clearly separate cycling from motor traffic on these kinds of roads).

So what looks like the kind of treatment we might see on a fashionable main road in Britain is almost always applied on a very low motor traffic access road in the Netherlands. Examples from Wageningen, Gouda, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Veenedaal, Utrecht, and Assen below – all very low (motor) traffic streets.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.11.26 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.12.37 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.13.36 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.15.32 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.16.28 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 20.17.20

Although these treatments looks like ‘shared space’, these are all autoluwe, or very low car traffic areas.

These are appropriate locations for a lack of definition between footway and carriageway because the reason for that distinction – motor traffic – is no longer present.

By contrast, the main roads near these access roads will have clear definition, because… well, these roads are still carrying a significant quantity of motor traffic – distinction is required.

A main road in Wageningen.

A main road in Wageningen.

… And a main road in Utrecht.

… And a main road in Utrecht.

I don’t quite know how, or why, Britain appears to have grasped the wrong end of shared space stick, applying treatments designed for streets that are intrinsically suited to sharing – access roads – onto main roads instead, in an attempt to fix them.

Perhaps it is because of an innate reluctance to accept we have a motor traffic problem. Perhaps we are attempting to convince ourselves that we can turn traffic-blighted roads into ‘places’ simply by changing the way they look, rather than honestly accepting that they are through-routes, or accepting that genuine places require an access-only function for motor traffic. (I’ve written about the need for honesty – and placefaking – before).

There is a role for shared space design (or whatever you want to call it!) in Britain, but it is vitally important that it gets applied in the right places, and in the right contexts. Making our streets and roads safe, comfortable and attractive for all their potential users – particularly those with physical disability or impairment, but also everyone walking or cycling about on them – depends on it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

History comes full circle – Tavistock Place moving towards the cycle provision it deserves

There are a good number of encouraging cycling schemes appearing in London now, either physically on the street, or in the form of consultations and trials.

One of the latter is Camden’s plan for the Tavistock Place, or ‘Seven Stations’, route, running east-west across Bloomsbury. There’s an excellent, detailed history of the origins of this cycling infrastructure from David Arditti here, which is well worth reading if you haven’t already done so (and probably worth reading again, even if you have).

Given the present-day consensus on cycling infrastructure, I think it’s hard to imagine just how radical this rather narrow two-way track was at the time it was built, and David’s piece gives a good account of the struggles and difficulties that were faced in implementing it.

But fifteen years on, it is a victim of its own success – it is too popular. Around 6000 cycles pass along it on a weekday, and that’s an awful lot for a 2.5m bi-directional track with high kerbs.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 21.33.34

I’ve heard some silly suggestions that this volume of cycle traffic means that the cycling infrastructure should be completely dismantled, mixing cycles back in again with the motor traffic that still uses this street. That would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg – destroying the attractive cycling conditions, free from interaction with motor traffic, that bring so many people to this street on a bike in the first place. 10,000 motor vehicles per day is far too high a level for comfortable sharing on a bike.

But something obviously has to give, and to its credit, the borough of Camden have come up with what is a really quite radical improvement, which is going to be trialled before being implemented permanently.

The trial will involve turning the existing, pictured, two-way track into a one-way track, conventionally at the side of the road, for east-bound cycle flows. If you’re cycling west, the entire existing westbound motor traffic lane will become a cycle lane.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 21.57.23

The purple arrows show flow for cycling; the blue arrow, motor traffic flow. Restricting motor traffic to just one-way means only lane for motor traffic, and consequently much more space for cycle traffic.

In a neat twist, that means the street is finally going to catch up with Paul Gannon‘s original proposals from over fifteen years ago – which involved restricting motor traffic to one direction (albeit to create a genuinely wide two-way track, rather than one-way provision on each side of the street).

Caption

Visualisation by Paul Gannon, taken from his blog here

Of course this bold vision was watered down in the way David Arditti describes – two-way flow for motor traffic was maintained, resulting in the compromised narrow two-way facility that is on the street today. (It is nevertheless interesting that this compromised facility has attracted enough people cycling to make the case for present-day expansion unarguable).

The really clever part of this new trial scheme is how this same one-way arrangement is being used to actually reduce motor traffic levels, by pointing the one-way flow in opposing directions, on either side of Gower Street.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 22.04.32

That means it’s no longer going to be possible to drive along the length of this street – you can’t drive (for example) into the West End from the east along it, and vice-versa, you can’t drive from the West End into Clerkenwell along it. Motor traffic levels should consequently therefore greatly reduce, on top of the reduction that will come from reducing from two-way flow in two lanes to one-way flow in one lane.

The arrangement will also prevent taxi drivers coming from the east and turning right (northbound) towards the stations on Euston road – this will remove a great deal of the collision risk at the junctions that was a problem on this route, coupled with conventional one-way flow for cycling.

Taxi drivers weren’t to blame for taking this route. Right turns are prevented on Euston Road by Transport for London in order to ‘smooth traffic flow’ along it (providing a signal for right turning motor traffic means stopping oncoming motor traffic). That has inevitably meant pushing motor traffic that should be using Euston Road onto these roads in Camden, effectively creating a gyratory system at the expense of borough roads, in order to push as much motor traffic along Euston Road as is possible. A sane solution to London’s traffic flow (all types of traffic, not just motor traffic) should involve allowing motor traffic to make right turns from main roads, instead of these kinds of arrangements, which create extra motor traffic (and extra risk) on streets that should not be carrying it.

Camden’s trial for Tavistock Place is planned to start in August, and will run for 12 months, after which it is hoped to convert the scheme into a more permanent arrangement, with stepped tracks on each side of the road, and improved crossings. With lower traffic levels, I suspect many of the existing traffic lights could be removed, replaced with priority junctions and zebra crossings, so there’s much to gain for pedestrians too. All in all it should make for a much more attractive, calmer street that is better to walk and cycle along.

The trial plans are available to view here

Posted in Camden, Infrastructure, One-way streets, Transport for London, Trial arrangements | 19 Comments

You’re not held up by people cycling – you’re held up by other people driving (and yourself)

Imagine a street that carries 14,000 cyclists a day, on the street itself. That equates to around 1,500 people cycling along the street per hour, or 25 every minute.

Imagine driving down that street. Surely a nightmare for any self-respecting driver who wants to make progress. A miserable experience. You’d never be able to overtake, what with all the cyclists trundling in front of you, often two or three abreast, taking up the whole road.

Well… no. Actually overtaking in a car on this street is pretty easy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.47

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.34

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.08

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.46… It’s even easy to overtake with people cycling two abreast, in both directions.Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.17 Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.58Even a very wide three abreast doesn’t present a significant problem.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.04This doesn’t compute, surely!

How on earth can it be easy to overtake when there are so many bloody cyclists in the middle of the road?

The answer is quite simple – the reason drivers can overtake easily is because there aren’t many other drivers using this street.

Take a look at the photographs again. There isn’t oncoming motor traffic to prevent an overtake. There’s also limited on-street parking (just one set of bays, on one side of the road, in designed bays) meaning the road itself is not obstructed by parked vehicles.

Quite clearly it is other motor vehicles – both moving and stationary – that makes overtaking difficult, because a vast amount of cyclists ‘clogging’ a road doesn’t necessarily represent an impediment to motoring progress.

To compare with a British example – struggling to overtake a cyclist heading away from the camera here?

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.35.32Or here? (Looking in the opposite direction on the same street)

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.38.16That’ll be because of the large amount of oncoming motor traffic, preventing you from moving out into the opposing lane, and the amount of parking on both sides of the street, greatly reducing the available width of what is, in reality, a very wide road.

Really, how could it be otherwise? How can a human being two feet wide, on a road that is 35 feet wide, …

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.41.15…. seriously present an impediment to progress, without other big blocky things (including the vehicle that you yourself are driving) greatly reducing the space available?

In reality, hell is other drivers – not other people people cycling.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Trying it out

Last year I wrote about the stalled attempts to improve Bank junction in the City of London. The problem appears to be the time it is taking the City to model the effects of potential changes to the junction – in fact, the City are developing a new model from scratch, which is taking eighteen months, meaning results won’t even be in until Spring 2016.

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.

As I wrote then, this is a very time-consuming and expensive way of finding out something that could be established by trial arrangements, on the street itself; this could involve closing or restricting some of the streets in the area to motor traffic. Such a trial could be temporary, meaning that if genuine chaos did ensue, then the layout could be reverted back to normal very quickly, with alternative arrangements tried at a later date. The results of such a trial – given that they correspond to the real world – would also be much more accurate than those provided a model, even a very expensive one.

Of course tragedy struck at this junction last month, with the death of Ying Tao. If action had been taken more quickly to try out arrangements to improve Bank, rather than waiting years to develop and test a model, then improvements could already have been in place by now.

In a similar vein, in their response to the consultation on Quietway 2 in London, Transport for London rejected closing parts of the Quietway as a through-route to motor traffic, for the following reason –

Some respondents to the consultation felt that closing Calthorpe Street and/or Margery Street to general traffic would be a more appropriate intervention. The changes proposed at this junction are due to be delivered this year, in line with the opening of the new Quietway route. These suggestions would have a wider impact of LB Camden and LB Islington’s road network and would require much further investigation. It is considered this would not be deliverable within the timescale, as investigation would be needed of the impact on adjacent streets.

Such a measure would apparently require ‘much further investigation’, because of the impacts on the surrounding road network.

As it happens, I was passing along this very road – Calthorpe Street – earlier this week, and was amazed to discover that it was actually filtered, in the way respondents to the consultation had been calling for.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.23.59Well, not in exactly the same way – people cycling were bumping up onto the footway to get around the closure. But the effect is the same. What look like some water main repairs have seen the total closure of this street to motor traffic.

Was there carnage on the surrounding streets? Total gridlock? I didn’t come across any, at least nothing out of the ordinary for London. At the very least a simple trial closure like this could be implemented for, say, six weeks to genuinely investigate whether such a closure would cause gridlock elsewhere. It would also give residents (who, by the way, are in favour of such a closure on this street) a chance to experience the benefits in terms of quieter and safer streets for a short period, buying-in support for a permanent closure.

What seems to be at play here, both at Bank and with TfL’s response to closure requests, is what Rachel Aldred has recently called

The terrifying spectre of delays to motor traffic

Fear of holding up drivers, even for a few more minutes, seems to be crippling, to such an extent that rather than just trying out closures we will spend years developing models, or carrying out ‘much further investigation’, to establish what we could find out quickly and easily by on-the-ground trials.

To be fair, some local authorities are much bolder, and are keen and willing to experiment with reducing routes and capacity for motor traffic. Last year Camden coned off a lane on the entry to Royal College Street, just to see what happened.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.36.26Answer – nothing happened. Traffic still flowed.

That means there’s a whole lane’s worth of space that can be (and is now) being re-allocated to cycle provision on St Pancras road, in the form of a stepped cycle track.

And this week Camden announced plans to trial reallocating an entire vehicle lane along the Tavistock Place route to a westbound cycle lane, restricting this road to one-way for motor traffic, in opposing directions (which should mean a large reduction in through motor traffic too). The existing two-way track, grossly over-capacity, will become a one-way track. More about this in a future post.

Waltham Forest are also keen to experiment; their bold mini-Holland scheme of closures to through traffic is now becoming permanent.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.43.24And in Leicester – were the Cycling Embassy spent last weekend for their AGM – the council is apparently keen to trial lane closures in advance of building cycling infrastructure. This cycle track on Newarke Street, built on a vehicle lane, was preceded by a coning off of the lane in question, to examine the effects on motor traffic.

Spot the lawbreaker.

Spot the lawbreaker.

And a similar ‘coning off’ was recently performed by Leicester City Council on the nearby Welford Road – a lane was deliberately taken away to see what happened.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 11.48.01Again, we were told that the impacts on motor traffic were minimal – and presumably some cycling infrastructure is now planned for this pretty scary road.

Finally, CycleGaz spotted another recent temporary trial arrangement on Norbury Avenue – this one for three months.

These kind of trials don’t really require that much boldness; they’re cheap, quick to install, and can be reversed at the end of the trial if they prove to be unpopular, or if genuine gridlock does actually result.

Why can’t other councils and transport authorities break out of their paralysing fear of effects on motor traffic, and emulate what Camden, Leicester, Waltham Forest, Croydon and other councils are willing to try out?

UPDATE 

Another example!

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

School run shenanigans

News from Sussex Police

Woman convicted of driving dangerously outside Crawley school

A Crawley woman has been sentenced for driving dangerously outside a school.

Leanne Andre, 43, of Friars Rookery,  Crawley, pleaded not guilty to driving dangerously in October 2014 when she appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on 11 June, but was found guilty.

Andre received a 12-month Community Order of 90 hours unpaid work, was ordered to pay total court costs of £810 and has been disqualified from driving for 12 months as well as then having to take an extended driving test.

The incident happened in Gales Drive, Three Bridges, on the afternoon of 23 October last year.

Andre had parked her vehicle illegally in the bus stop directly outside Three Bridges primary school whilst picking up her children from the school. The local Three Bridges community policing team was patrolling the area at the time in response to numerous reports of dangerous parking  near the school at opening and closing times.

They put a notice on the windscreen of Andre’s car pointing out that it was parked illegally.

Upon Andre’s return to her car a PCSO approached her explaining why the notice had been issued. She responded by directing verbal abuse at him, and drove off. A Police Constable asked her to stop but instead she accelerated towards the officer, swerving just to avoid contact, and continued gaining speed as she drove away, giving no consideration to the parents and children who were waiting, as she claimed she was in a rush.

Officers had the registration number and description of the car and subsequently went to Andre’s home nearby to arrange to inteview her under caution.

PC Jo Millard said; “Andre’s actions on that day were irresponsible and dangerous. We will take action against offenders driving in such an anti-social and dangerous manner.”

No doubt this would have been a full-page spread in the Daily Mail, coupled with earnest coverage on Radio 4, if Andre had abused and threatened police officers while on a bike. ‘Do cyclists have entitlement issues?’ ‘Is it time for cyclists to wear number plates to curb their bad behaviour?’ ‘Do they need to wear hi-viz identification vests?’

But as it is, it will pass completely under the radar, just another example of everyday traffic violence that passes without comment.

Bloody cyclists.

But this isn’t even why this story caught my attention – I spotted where Andre lives. Friars Rookery. Which is…

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 08.58.10… 300 metres from Three Bridges Primary School.

It is, literally, just down the road – so close the police officers could presumably see her turning back into her own street.

Crawley is a New Town, meaning most of the main roads in it are lovely and wide. Cycling infrastructure (sometimes of reasonable quality, mostly of dubious quality) did arrive on the major roads, but unfortunately residential distributors like Gales Drive didn’t get any.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 09.11.50No continuous footways across the side roads either, meaning young children walking to school have to ‘take responsibility’ for crossing side roads while dangerous and aggressive drivers like Andre emerge out of them to take their own children to school.

Slow clap, Britain.

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Us, not ‘Them’

Sad as it is to say, I suppose there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about another sequence of deaths and serious injuries of people riding bikes – the most troubling and unsettling being yet another woman being crushed by a left-turning tipper truck at a notoriously dangerous London junction – running in parallel with a series of poorly-timed articles and programmes, apparently driven by a media industry that seems determined to pour petrol on the flames of what should be a deeply serious issue, for the sake of ratings.

A feature of these articles in newspapers, or appearances on TV, is the reference to people cycling as ‘them’, or ‘they’. All from the last few days –

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 19.40.18

Exhibit A.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 19.43.00

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

Exhibit C.

Glenda Slagg nonsense there, from Sarah Vine, Fiona Phillips, and Angela Epstein, respectively.

Of course the trick with this kind of ‘journalism’ is to play to what you think is your audience, parroting their prejudice back to them. And sure enough the response was predictable –

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.03.01 Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.03.31 Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 20.07.49Who is this ‘them’, though? Who are ‘they’?

Pictured below are just some of the 51 people who have been killed riding a bike in Britain so far this year.

Keep the word ‘them’ in mind.

‘Them’? What do these people have in common, beyond the tragedy of their deaths, and their mode of transport at that time?

They are – were – just ordinary people. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. Not ‘them’. Ordinary people who just happened to be riding a bike.

Us.

 

The full list of 2015 fatalities is at Beyond The Kerb.

Posted in Uncategorized | 37 Comments

The gap

You may or may not have seen this fascinating graph from the Economist in 1981, shared with me by Graham Smith.

Economist graph

Minitram? Of course.

It’s an amazing insight into the way cycling had effectively disappeared as a serious mode of transport for short trips, in the minds of the establishment.

The ‘gap’ between walking and driving for trips of up to 3 miles apparently had to be filled by something – Minitram? with a suggestive question mark – without the apparent realisation that a perfect mode of transport already existed, and had thrived in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

We’re stuck with this legacy today, reinforced by a further three decades of failure to establish cycling as that mode of transport for the ‘gap’ between walking and driving. This ‘cycling oversight’ also has implications for the way we expect people to travel around without a car.

Local authorities expect people to walk to bus stops, rather than cycle, and that often means bus routes have to meander to where people live, rather than taking direct routes. Apparently many local authorities have a requirement that bus stops should be within 300m of anyone’s doorstep – that means the competitiveness and directness of the bus itself is sacrificed to accommodate short walking trips to bus stops.

There are two examples of this in Horsham, one in a large new development to the west of the town that is nearing completion, and another large development to the north of the town that is awaiting planning permission, but looks set to go ahead. The development to the west looks like this –

West of Horsham developmentThe new development lies in the shaded area. The red and orange lines are the (direct) driving routes for private motor traffic (a massive new junction, and extra lanes, have been added to the bypass, running north-south, that bisects the development). The wibbly-wobbly blue line is, sadly, the bus route, through the development, to the town centre.

Clearly the directness of the bus route has been sacrificed, to bring the bus stops close to all the properties within the new development.

The proposed development to the north of Horsham has a very similar bus route.

North of Horsham planAgain, the bus route is a wibbly-wobbly line (running roughly east-west, in blue) skirting all the way through the development, before heading south into the town centre.

Of course this indirectness (and delay in getting to where you actually want to get to on a bus) isn’t the only problem with this kind of ‘doorstep bus route planning’. It also means that buses will often have to fight their way through residential streets that (quite properly) are not designed for through traffic, according to Manual for Streets. We saw an example of this in a new development on the outskirts of Newcastle, on a Cycling Embassy Infrastructure Safari.

DSCN9798This isn’t really the kind of road a bus route should be running down – it’s narrow, has on-street parking, and pinch points and features designed to slow motor traffic. None of these are intrinsically bad things – indeed, they may be desirable on residential streets – but I don’t think they’re compatible with a bus route.

Having to take buses through residential areas, to pass close to doorsteps, effectively means pushing buses – which should be using through-roads to get from A to B – onto access roads. And this is something that Oxfordshire County Council (among others) are now complaining about.

Street design in new housing estates ‘too restrictive for buses’

Oxfordshire County Council has criticised the street design in some of the county’s recently-built housing estates, saying the main streets are too narrow and low-speed for efficient bus operations.

“The recent design orthodoxy for large residential developments in Oxfordshire has been far too restrictive for bus operation and this restricts the eventual range of bus services that can be operated,” says Oxfordshire.

The council’s comments reflect a concern of bus operators across the country that their needs are not being taken into account in the design of new developments, with designers promoting narrow streets and traffic calming features to reduce the dominance of traffic.

I think this is only half the story – clearly the solution to this problem isn’t to widen residential streets to accommodate bus flow, but instead to ensure that bus routes are run on (properly designed) through-roads, away from residential areas. Bus routes simply shouldn’t be running through access roads.

The story is very different in new Dutch developments – the buses run on the main roads that skirt the development, designed to take buses and through-traffic – with people cycling to the stops from within that development.

DSCN9257This means that residential areas only need to accommodate access traffic, and can be designed to slow it, without having to worry about how easy it is for buses to pass through efficiently. Because buses don’t pass along these streets.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.34.11And it also means that – unlike the ludicrous bus routes being proposed in Horsham – the bus is a fast, direct and attractive alternative to driving.

Of course, this does involve the use of a mode of transport that fills ‘the gap’ between walking and taking the bus – one that allows people to travel distances of around 1-2 miles with ease, and allows bus stops to be retained on the direct routes for the bus.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.44.05Taking cycling seriously as a mode of transport would mean that buses would work much more effectively, and be much more competitive with driving – and would also keep buses out of residential streets that are (correctly) not designed to accommodate them.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Fantasy visualisations and ignoring the elephant in the room

Horsham’s going up in the world, because we’re getting a John Lewis, which opens next week.

That means the town’s existing Waitrose supermarket – located pretty centrally in the town centre – is now moving out beyond the town’s four/five lane inner ring road, to join John Lewis on a joint site.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.04.52

It could be worse, of course – the site is at least still within the town, unlike Tesco’s current location, the supermarket having decided to bugger off beyond the town’s bypass in the late 1980s, some two miles from the town centre, and pretty difficult to access if you don’t have a car – so difficult you might as well not bother.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.08.20But of course the town’s inner ring road still presents a significant obstacle. While it’s going to be pretty easy to drive to John Lewis and Waitrose, anyone who wants to access the site on foot or on bike from the town centre – and indeed from most of the town, to the north and east of the new location – is going to have get across those four lanes of motor traffic.

The visualisations I have seen are not inspiring. In fact, they are pretty much the epitome of screwing over people walking and cycling in the interests of preserving motor traffic capacity.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.26.45

The new John Lewis/Waitrose building, mostly out of view, on the left, with a substantial new car park in front of it. The town centre is to the right, with the four lane inner ring road, Albion Way, dividing the two.

In more detail. The main pedestrian movement will be from the top right of this picture – that’s the pedestrianised centre of Horsham. The obvious desire line from this point to the new superstore is marked in red. The routes people will have to take instead are marked in blue.
Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 22.26.45The crossing at the top of the picture is an existing, staggered, crossing; the one at the bottom will be new, but it’s not entirely clear whether it will even be signalised (see UPDATE at bottom of post).

As for riding a bike to the new superstore? Hahahaha. Oh, seriously. No, no idea. Presumably you just have to cycle on that road. The footways will remain too narrow for acceptable ‘shared use’, but that’s probably what we’re going to get.

Back in 2013 – when these plans were being announced – Horsham District Council were claiming that

The creation of a new vehicular route or the major redesign of Albion Way [the four lane inner ring road] in this area will be encouraged to make the environment more inviting to cycles, buses and pedestrians. A new vehicular route would enable the reduction of traffic on the old section of Albion Way and allow for better connections between this area and the town centre, in particular across Albion Way to West Street.

But that seems to have all been pie in the sky – no substantial changes are being made, and all four lanes of motor traffic are being kept. This road will remain very hostile to cycling. Bear in mind that it currently carries 20-25,000 vehicles a day. The severance here is considerable, and will remain so.

Other visualisations plastered in the vicinity of the development are completely crazy. They show hordes of people ambling across this four lane road, with absolutely no motor traffic on it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.12.16Another image again shows this four lane road with no motor traffic on it, and the narrow pavements teeming with people.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.13.30

Reality check, courtesy of Google Streetview. Note also the width of the footways here.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.16.23I’m not sure what the intention is with these visuals – perhaps the most ridiculously optimistic I’ve ever seen.

Presumably the intention is to create the impression that the town centre is ‘connected’ in some way to this new site on the other side of the road; that it will be easy to amble from one side to the other. There was talk at some stage of a ‘shared space’-style area across these four lanes of traffic – that this idea was even seriously considered just goes to show how much councils are willing to stretch credulity to maintain motor traffic flow while pretending to address severance.

The planning application documents described the use of ‘materials’ to create some kind of continuity for pedestrians across this road, visually connecting the new development to the town centre.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 23.45.04

‘A sequence of paving, lighting and street tree planting as part of a wider signage and wayfinding strategy will link Albion Way with the Bishopric and beyond to West Street and the wider town centre’

But you can’t polish a turd. A four lane road carrying a great deal of motor traffic isn’t going to melt into insignificance simply because some of the surfacing materials have been changed.

A long-term plan for Horsham must involve addressing this inner ring road – it is, frankly, a big mistake to accommodate so much motor traffic right in the town centre when the town itself already has a bypass, that actually predates the construction of most of it. The signs aren’t promising, however – new development outside the bypass will involve a lower speed limit (down to 40 mph from 70 mph), and multiple new junctions with signals, on the bypass itself, which I suspect will make the bypass less attractive, and push more motor traffic through the town centre, as I argued here

With 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.

And there doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan for motor traffic in Horsham – the function of roads is being eroded or blurred, perhaps in the vague hope that it will all sort itself out.

There needs to be some kind of vision for Albion Way, that involves motor traffic reduction, and better provision for walking and cycling. As it happens, the construction works taking place right now for this development involve reducing this four lane road to just two lanes.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.11.31

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.12.45

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.14.13

That space on the right – on the town centre side of the road – could quite happily be repurposed for a bi-directional cycleway, something like this.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.18.12

Such a design would reduce the dominance of motor traffic on this road in the town centre, create more breathing space between pedestrians and the road, as well as opening up cycling as a transport choice for ordinary people, the people currently struggling their way around it on the margins, like the woman in the picture at the header of this blog, or this family –

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.23.37

… and indeed those people who aren’t even bothering to cycle in the first place, even though they might want to.

Motor traffic levels have fallen by around 20% since the millennium on Albion Way.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.26.52It’s high time we had a proper solution for this road, not fantasy visualisations and hopelessly naive attempts to address severance.

UPDATE

Thanks to Horsham Cycling Forum for some pictures of the site – they’ve spotted that (unsurprisingly) there’s going to be no crossing directly opposite the entrance, at all. But the road has been resurfaced with some fancy tarmac.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Space Invaders

The Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Richard Wellings, had this to say recently –

Wellings completed a PhD in transport and environmental policy at the LSE.

I am absolutely no fan of the Advanced Stop Line, or ASL, but the argument that they should be removed to make for ‘more efficient use of road space’ – i.e. space for one more car in a length-wise direction – disintegrates rapidly under inspection.

One of the reasons why ASLs at junctions are so ubiquitous in Britain is that they have a negligible effect on motor traffic capacity, or indeed even a beneficial effect, assuming that the number of cyclists remains the same in scenarios with and without an ASL.

 A TRL study on this topic (Wall et al 2003) found that in practice, sites given an ASL plus nearside feeder lane tended to see a slight increase in motor traffic throughput, as long as no motor vehicle lanes were removed. For those seeking to ‘balance all modes’, this is a free gift – extra space for cyclists without taking away space for motor vehicles.

The result is perhaps not surprising. If cyclists are more easily able to reach the ASL during red phases, they can quickly move out of the way of motor traffic, whereas if – as without an ASL – they’re distributed more randomly in the traffic queue, as they are less able to reach the front, the resulting delays to cars may in fact be slightly greater.

So Wellings’ argument is wrong even in its own terms – removing ASLs would actually likely worsen the efficiency of junctions with status quo mode share. Those ten people sitting on bikes in the ASL – apparently ‘inefficiently’ – would instead be dispersed at random amongst the queue of motor traffic, effectively taking up more space, and being more like, well, motor vehicles, rather than being released in one quick burst at the head of the queue.

But much more importantly, Wellings’ argument is also wrong from the perspective of a simple analysis of efficient use of road space. In this now widely-shared picture of the junction on Theobalds Road in London, there are 27 people on bikes taking up space that could be occupied by three cars, at most.

P1020194

3 cars, or 27 bikes – what’s more efficient at shifting people, bearing in mind that average car occupancy in England is 1.5 people?

To take another way of looking at this (moving away from the dreaded ASL) – at this Dutch junction, there are ten people using the cycle infrastructure on the left.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 21.26.10Would the occupants of those cars on the right hand side of the picture prefer to be 5-10 cars further back in the queue? Is that what ‘efficiency’ means?

I suspect part of Wellings’ problem here – and it is a broader problem with transport planning across Britain – is an inability to see cycling as a viable, serious mode of transport, that can function as an alternative to the car.

This perspective – perhaps we can call it the Wellings Perspective – sees cycling as some kind of minor annoyance on the existing road system, an annoyance it would probably be good to get rid of altogether. From the Wellings Perspective, ‘Cyclists’ are seen either as people who can’t afford cars (and who should be walking or getting the bus instead), or as leisure users, clogging up the network while engaging in their hobby. Of course, children cycle too, but we can tolerate them bimbling about on the pavement while their parents walk behind them.

Back in the real world, making changes to the road network that will enable many people to cycle instead of using cars for short trips, therefore freeing up space on the road network for all users, is simple good policy, that is now being grasped by Transport for London as well as by government ministers (and by implication the DfT itself) –

I know one of the common complaint is that there simply isn’t enough space available on our roads for cycling infrastructure.

My response is that there simply isn’t enough room not to put it into place.

But from the Wellings Perspective, these kinds of changes make no sense, because they involve impeding serious, actual transport – i.e. cars – for the sake of a few weirdos and hobbyists.

The Wellings Perspective is apparently unable to grasp that ‘a cyclist’ isn’t some ‘extra’ problem on the road network, that has to somehow be fitted in around drivers (or better yet eradicated altogether). Instead ‘a cyclist’ is someone who could have been driving instead. 

To take just one concrete example.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 22.08.02

All these children cycling and walking home from primary schools across a main road in the Dutch city of Assen – literally, hundreds of them – could be framed as ‘a delay to motorists’, because they’re holding them up as they cross the road. But in reality, due to the fact that they are walking and cycling home, rather than being ferried by car and therefore adding more motorists onto the road network, they are reducing delay to motorists.

This is so simple I can’t quite believe I’ve had to type it – but there you go. Sometimes things have to be explained to ‘Heads of Transport’ at economic think tanks.

This brings me to something Rachel Aldred has also written – in this case, about cars on the road network as ‘positional goods’

There are many items that are what economists call ‘positional goods’ – a key benefit of the object is derived from having something that others don’t, something that is either physically or socially scarce. Fashion largely works on this basis. The opposite is the Internet. If I have the Internet, and virtually no one else does, it’s rubbish – the benefit of the Internet comes from everyone using – and often, contributing to – it. But if I buy a new and expensive pair of shoes, and see many other people wearing them, I’m not going to be happy. Part of what I’m paying for is the hope that you don’t have the shoes.

But motor vehicles take positional goods to a new level. Having a new pair of shoes doesn’t entitle me to kick others off the street. Cars, on the other hand, marginalise non-users not just socially but also physically.

As Rachel goes on to explain, it was the car as a positional good that essentially caused a collapse in cycling levels in Britain. Previously quiet lanes, streets and roads on which most people could happily cycle became increasingly hostile as the use of cars spread, too hostile for these ordinary people, leaving the tiny hardened minority willing to continue cycling on the motor traffic-dominated road network.

But there is another obvious aspect to the car as a positional good. Car driving is attractive in relation to the number of other people who are not engaging in it. Here’s a definition lifted from, err, the Institute of Economic Affairs

Positional goods… have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

Naturally, if everybody drove, for every trip, then the value of driving would diminish rapidly, particularly in urban areas. (Indeed, the value of urban areas themselves would diminish rapidly).

Driving is not much fun when everyone else is doing it.

Driving is not much fun when everyone else is doing it.

By contrast, the early days of motoring must have been glorious by comparison – roads relatively free from other motorists, in the most part.

What I am driving at here (excuse the pun) is that the quality of the driving experience actually depends on large numbers of people not driving. One might even go so far as to say that the urban motorist is to some extent a freeloader; his or her driving convenience is actually purchased thanks to other people’s willingness to walk, to cycle, or to take public transport – often in less than ideal, or hostile, British conditions.

Drivers don’t even have to be moving – precisely the same logic applies to high-street parking. Setting aside the fact that this will involve the use of street space that could be allocated to walking, seating, dining, (or bus lanes or cycling infrastructure), the ready availability of on-street parking again depends upon other people not using it to access high street shops and services. That empty space is only there because of those people walking or cycling past it.

An empty car parking space on a high street in Utrecht. Note also the huge numbers of parked bicycles here; every single one represents less pressure on a car parking space.

An empty car parking space on a high street in Utrecht, behind people accessing shops and services by bike and on foot. Note also the huge numbers of parked bicycles here. Every single one represents less pressure on a car parking space.

Noisy, dangerous, unpleasant, and hostile streets and roads that are confusing and awkward to navigate – even for motorists – are a natural consequence of futile attempts to accommodate more and more driving and parking, and a failure to realise that sensible transport policy relies upon enabling and prioritising the most space-efficient modes, for the benefit of all, including those using the least space-efficent.

We arrived in this position, I suspect, largely through ‘boiling a frog‘ – streets that had always been open to all became increasingly colonised by motor traffic, but at such a gradual pace few thought to stop and question what the actual end point was going to be, and at a time when the answer to streets becoming clogged was to devote more and more urban space to the mode of transport that was causing the problem.

SIngle-occupancy vehicles. Efficient?

SIngle-occupancy vehicles, most undoubtedly making short trips within Horsham. Efficient?

Is this use of road space (indeed, of urban space in our town centres) a sensible way of moving people around for trips of under 2-3 miles?

The outcomes could be so much better for everyone, drivers included, if we stopped focusing on ‘cyclists’ as some kind of impediment to motoring, and instead realised that cycling should be a serious mode of transport like any other, and should be developed as a safe and attractive alternative for those people driving.

Around a hundred people cycling, in a matter of seconds, across a 'simultaneous green' junction in Gouda

Around a hundred people cycling (in a matter of seconds) across a ‘simultaneous green’ junction in Gouda

Prioritising such an efficient mode of transport would free up time and space on the road network for those travelling around in cars.

Perversely it might even restore some of motoring’s positional value.

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments