As Joe Dunckley has noted in a recent post, The Department for Transport’s Local Transport Note 2/08, Cycle Infrastructure Design, is a curiously muddled-headed document when it comes to off-carriageway provision. While ostensibly a prescriptive document, one that should tell us how things should be done, LTN 2/08 essentially shrugs it shoulders and gives up when it comes to the matter of cycling on paths and tracks away from motor vehicles.
The tone is set very early on in LTN 2/08 –
1.3.2 The road network is the most basic (and important) cycling facility available, and the preferred way of providing for cyclists is to create conditions on the carriageway where cyclists are content to use it, particularly in urban areas.
A passage which gives us a clue that the authors of the document simply will not, or cannot, consider Dutch-style infrastructure running alongside busy roads; they continue
There is seldom the opportunity to provide an off-carriageway route within the highway boundary that does not compromise pedestrian facilities or create potential hazards for cyclists, particularly at side roads.
The reason the authors feels there is ‘seldom the opportunity’ to provide ‘off-carriageway routes’ within the highway boundary, without conflict with pedestrians, is that the only routes of this kind they can envisage are, woefully, shared use pavements. Extraordinarily, they cannot conceive of the space that currently exists on the roadway itself being rellocated for dedicated off-carriageway provision; nor can they see any meaning for ‘off-carriageway provision’ other than pavements. This much is clear from the very first sentence of the section on off-carriageway provision –
8.1.1 Off-road cycle routes almost invariably accommodate pedestrians too.
This is because they are pavements, and the authors can’t, or won’t, think of any other way of accommodating bicycles away from motor traffic beyond putting them on these shared-use pavements.
As Joe has written, shared-use paths are sometimes appropriate, in locations where bicycle and foot traffic is low. This example is from a village outside of Assen –
Bicycles and pedestrians share this space; there is no separate pavement for pedestrians. The very low volume of foot and bicycle traffic in this semi-rural location means that conflict is minimal. Note also that this is explicitly a cycle path that has proceeds directly, with priority, across junctions, rather than a pavement with kerbing that yields at junctions.
If our pavements are to be converted into shared use in similar locations, then our junctions must be treated in a similar way, rather than simply putting dismount signs up, or painting yield signs on the pavement, as seems to be current practice at side roads. This example of ‘shared-use’ in Horsham is simply a pavement that yields in the conventional fashion of a standard pavement –
Not at all appropriate. (This is, incidentally, a location which is not analogous to the Dutch example; it has reasonably high footfall, and is also a busy (sub)urban street on which dedicated segregated provision for bicycle should be the preferred solution).
This brings me, in a roundabout way, to today’s cycling facility, which is an off-carriageway shared-use path in Horsham – Furneaux Walk.
Note, Furneaux Walk.
As the local paper reported at the time this path was named –
‘It is only in special cases that a walkway is named like this and anyone who remembers the late Laurie Furneaux will know why this mark of recognition has been made.’
It looks like a walkway, and feels like a walkway, but of course it isn’t – it’s a shared-use path, one that runs alongside a recent shopping/residential development to the south of Horsham town centre. The post at the left used to have a blue sign indicating that this was a shared path; it has disappeared, making Furneaux Walk look even more like a Walk than before.
It could have been done properly; instead it is rather inadequate.
The first, and most serious problem, is that this is not a path on which there are very few pedestrian movements, a necessary condition for appropriate shared-use. It is, instead, rather popular, being a shortcut to a Sainsbury’s supermarket, and to the town library, and to the handful of shops in the new development.
I do use this path occasionally, and I do so very carefully, because you are almost certain to encounter pedestrians on it. Despite being the stipulated 3 metres in width, conflict between pedestrians and cyclists is liable to happen, partly because pedestrians don’t expect cyclists to be on this ‘Walk’, and partly because cyclists who are less careful than me might cycle inappropriately fast. These are problems that could have been addressed at the design stage, with a separate track for cyclists, and pavement for pedestrians, but they haven’t been, probably because the guidance is, as Joe has written, totally inadequate. The net result is a compromise that isn’t particularly good for either party.
In the background, we see the supermarket towards which these two ladies are walking, side by side, blissfully unaware of my approach. In any case I am already ‘dismounting’ as I prepare to cross a footpath, before remounting a metre later as the shared-use path continues.
Here we can see the western end of this same path. Do not let the markings fool you into thinking this is a bi-directional cycle path; cyclists are expected to travel, in both directions, to the left of the white line, while pedestrians are expected to keep to the right of it.
This is not possible.
The paint is a token gesture, a tacit recognition, perhaps, that this section of the path has a high number of pedestrians and cyclists on it, and that some attempt should be made to keep them separate. Of course it cannot really do this, because the path is too narrow for the volume of movements along it and across it. Flawed from the outset.
Returning to the eastern end, we see more bodging.
As the path emerges onto the Causeway road, we of course have to have some railings to interrupt bicycles, because the path was not designed in the first place to accommodate cyclists travelling at more than walking speed. We are crossing a pavement here, and there is a visibility issue caused by the brick walls on either side; that is why the railings were thought necessary, to stop cyclists whizzing out into pedestrians walking from left to right.
But this is really hopeless on several levels. For a start, the brick wall on the left was built at the same time as the path; they form part of the same development. (Ironically, the brick wall is a cycle shed, which contains… no bicycles.) The visibility issue could have been partly addressed during construction.
Looking from the other direction, we have a direct, side-by-side comparison of how poorly bicycles are planned for, compared to motor vehicles.
The shared-use path emerges at right; a road from a car park emerges at left. Both appear from behind brick walls.
Drivers are trusted to stop at the markings by the pavement, and to look for pedestrians before they continue (in practice they quite often do not). Cyclists cannot be similarly trusted, and so are forced to zig-zag their way through railings.
Drivers have direct access from the entrance to the road. Cyclists do not; they have a footpath which they are not allowed to cycle on. The best option is to wiggle right again, having zig-zagged through the railings, onto the tarmac road – cycling for a short while on the pavement.
These might seem like minor quibbles, but remember this was a new development - an opportunity to get things right. Instead it’s more than a bit half-arsed, and worse, it’s allowed to be, because the guidance is so anaemic.
The net result is a route that ‘competent’ cyclists will not use, because it takes more time to use than the road network, even though the road network is a longer route. Referring to Cyclestreets –
Starting from the Causeway, where the photographs immediately above are taken, we find that the quickest way of arriving at the end of this path (marked out as the green line) is not to use the path itself, but to cycle north to the adjacent Blackhorse Way, and to cycle on that road instead, which is not ideal, being fairly heavily trafficked with motor vehicles, especially lorries delivering to the shops in the town centre (indeed Cyclestreets describes the quiteness of this road as ‘very hostile’, which is something of an exaggeration, but it can be a particularly intimidating canyon).
So we have a ‘dual network’, a substandard cycle path appropriate for novices and the nervous, and a road network that competent cyclists will use, in preference, because it is quicker. Indeed, quicker cyclists have been ‘designed out’ of Furneaux Walk, even though it forms the most direct route.
This is actually facilitated and encouraged by LTN 2/08. It is no way to privilege bicycle use in our towns and cities.