Pinch points

Habitual cyclists are no doubt all too familiar with pinch points, those narrowings of the carriageways where it would be impossible, or unsafe, for a bicycle and a vehicle to pass side by side. They necessitate assertive road positioning to discourage unwise overtaking- or, failing that, sensible driving.

In many cases, these pinch points are of the form shown in the picture above – a pedestrian ‘refuge’, created in the middle of the carriageway, either fenced or unfenced.

A better solution, both for pedestrians and for cyclists, would be to replace these ‘refuges’ with zebra crossings, which would eliminate the narrowing conflicts that cyclists have to endure, and make crossing the road much easier for pedestrians – they would have immediate priority over vehicles, without having to wait to cross the road in two stages.

Pinch points of this form represent a half-hearted attempt to make things a bit easier for pedestrians; their half-heartedness stemming from a reluctance to impede the flow of ‘traffic’, something that a zebra crossing would do. They are a particularly thoughtless intervention when it comes to the safe passage of bicycles, however.

In towns and cities, zebras only realistically delay the arrival time of a vehicle at the next queue. I am therefore unconvinced that zebras, in much greater preponderance, would do anything to increase journey times for motor vehicles. Given this lack of extra overall delay, the large numbers of people making journeys on foot in towns and cities – the forgotten mode of transport – surely makes the case for the replacement of these ugly islands with a design that favours both cyclists and pedestrians unanswerable.

In the Netherlands, zebra crossings across the carriageway often resemble pinch points –

but this doesn’t really matter when cyclists aren’t in a position to be ‘pinched’, travelling as they are on the wide adjacent cycle track. In this particular example, a two-way street for vehicles is deliberately narrowed, at the zebra crossing, to calm vehicles. This also makes the street easier to cross.

Unlike in the UK, this doesn’t represent a ‘negotiation’ problem for cyclists.

Zebra crossings can also extend across the cycle track to give pedestrians explicit priority.

Where on-carriageway cycle lanes run past islands, again we see that there is no such thing as a pinch point. Widths are carefully maintained.

These basic design principles – eliminating conflict between bicycles and vehicles – have, shamefully, been completely ignored in the UK, meaning that an average urban trip by bicycle here requires constant vigilance and alertness to hazards needlessly posed by the environment.

This entry was posted in David Hembrow, Guardrail, Infrastructure, Pinch points, Road safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Pinch points

  1. monchberter says:

    Pinch points are objectively useful for pedestrians but only increase conflict between motorists and drivers and the TRL back in 2002 said they should be avoided where ever possible. Does anyone in government ever listen to reports such as the one i’ve linked below?

  2. Tim Beadle says:

    Imagine your top example, but with a 300ft-in-less-than-a-mile climb: that’s my most direct route home from work. I’m probably doing 5-6mph uphill there. It’s not pleasant, so I’ve given up on that road for a parallel route that adds half a mile and four minutes to my journey, but with lower traffic volume and no pinch points.

    Sadly, that just makes the original road have one fewer cyclist on it, which (despite chicanes and pinch points) is still a bit of a race track. I’d hate to live on that road.

  3. Burntwood Road in South London is one of my favourites.
    Check out the section linked.

    I have the same issue with ‘speed cushions’ which are regularly used as traffic calming. Often used 3 across on roads with parked cars so that one sits in the centre of the road. Motorists thus naturally gravitate to the centre of the road to minimise the bump they feel. As a cyclist this means close passes when there is enough carriageway to be passed safely.

  4. thecyclingjim says:

    Wrong! wrong! wrong! They are not ‘pinch points’. I was corrected by a Councillor once at a cycle forum. They are officially known in certain circumstances as ‘Pedestrian Build Outs’. Everything else you say is bang on 🙂
    I was cycling to work this morning on a 30mph residential road. On the approach to a primary school (Fishersgate, West Sussex) there is a ‘pedestrian build out’ followed by a 20mph zone followed by another ‘pedestrian build out’ at te other side of a mini roundabout (Map here Cars often overtake me on the other side of the build out usually doing probably 35-40mph through the school zone (which has flashing lights to show when 20mph is in force).
    The more that are built, the more they are seen as a slalom course or some form of primitive challenge pitted between motorist and highways engineer. Pity that more vulnerable road users are caught in between. All they needed to do was close off the road to just give access to the school with permeability for bikes and pedestrians.

  5. ciaranmooney says:

    If the road needs to have a rest stop in the middle for people to cross it then the road is too large or it is probably not appropriate (dual carriage way) for pedestrians to be crossing at street level.

    Most of the UK examples shown have large hatched areas to allow cars to maintain speed without worring about coming in contact with oncoming traffic. I’ve yet to see a road where this is entirely appropriate.

  6. Pingback: Old Shoreham Road | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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