LTN 1/12 – a failure to understand off-carriageway cycling

The Department for Transport published a new document last month, Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists [pdf] – or ‘LTN 1/12’, to give it its technical title. The document is designed to be used in conjunction with the more general LTN 2/08, Cycle Infrastructure Design. There are some signs of positive change in this document, which does represent an improvement, of sorts, over LTN 2/08. In particular there is a discussion of ‘hybrid’ cycle tracks, which make an appearance for the first time; these are semi-segregated tracks of the kind seen on Old Shoreham Road in Brighton.

Unfortunately, however, the more general impression of the document is that it is still more than slightly hamstrung by the assumption that different kinds of cyclists need different kinds of routes, and consequently that different kinds of provision are appropriate, in parallel to each other. Further, the document assumes that ‘on-carriageway’ provision is preferable to ‘off-carriageway’ provision, even when that ‘off-carriageway’ provision actually encompasses cycle tracks; the document is also a little confused about what the terms ‘off-carriageway’ and ‘shared use’ actually mean.

From the introduction –

1.8 … [This note] expresses a general preference for on-carriageway provision for cyclists over shared use

That is, if cyclists’ needs aren’t ‘accommodated’ on the carriageway, by means of cycle lanes, then ‘shared use’ is the alternative. Another alternative, namely not accommodating cyclists on the carriageway, but not making them share a route with pedestrians, is not considered under this formulation, although confusingly hybrid cycle tracks are presented, without it being clear whether they are an ‘on-‘ or ‘off-carriageway’ solution.

The assumption that the only two alternatives are putting cyclists on the road, or making them share with pedestrians, is again present in point 1.9 –

in rural areas, a high quality shared use route away from roads might be a prime objective

‘Away from the roads’ = ‘Sharing’.

But of course, it is possible to provide routes for bicycles away from roads which aren’t ‘shared use’ at all, such as this example in Assen, which amounts to an off-carriageway ‘road’ for bikes, with pavement alongside.

The explicit creation of cycle tracks, away from the road, rather than a blending of space used by both by pedestrians and cyclists, is not addressed in LTN 1/12. Indeed Figure 2.1, on page 8 of the document, presents the choice starkly –

If you can’t ‘improve conditions’ on the carriageway, then create ‘shared use’. That’s it.

But the DfT’s terminology is actually a little confused. When they use the word ‘shared’, they actually mean both ‘shared’ and ‘not shared’, best illustrated by this photograph and caption from later in LTN 1/12 –

By any reasonable understanding, this isn’t ‘shared use’, at all – it’s a cycle track, with a pavement separated by a verge. But because the only alternative the DfT’s flow diagram presents for off-carriageway provision is ‘shared use’, they are forced into contradictory formulations like this one – ‘segregated shared use’, which really makes no sense whatsoever.

This confusion stems, I believe, from a general reluctance to insist upon universal off-carriageway provision, suitable for all cyclists; the assumption being that off-carriageway provision need only be suitable for ‘wobblers’, and thus is acceptable for ‘sharing’ with pedestrians.

3.4 The hierarchy generally discourages designers from taking cyclists off the carriageway, and Table 4.2 in Chapter 4 indicates that, for roads with 85th percentile speeds of 40 mph or less, on-carriageway provision is always a possible option. This could involve new cycle lanes, or widening of existing ones… Where it is decided to introduce a shared use facility alongside a road, it is important that the needs of cyclists who choose to remain in the carriageway are not ignored.

This of course begs the question of why cyclists would choose to remain in the carriageway, despite a ‘shared use’ facility (be it, in reality, non-shared or shared) being created especially or them. The answer, of course, is that the facility that has been created is most probably substandard rubbish.

There should never be a situation where off-carriageway provision has been created for cyclists, with the built-in expectation that many cyclists won’t use it. Yet this very same assumption is enshrined in the DfT’s own guidance. Consequently the construction (or ‘construction’) of awful facilities is tacitly endorsed. Take this sentence from later in the document, for instance –

6.26 When converting a footway to shared use, it is particularly important to try to ensure pedestrian and cyclist movement is relatively unobstructed by sign posts, lamp columns, etc.

And similarly

7.54 Where a footway is converted to shared use, care is required to ensure the route is not unduly obstructed by lighting columns, signs and other street furniture.

‘Relatively unobstructed’ and ‘not unduly obstructed’, are, of course, highly open to interpretation.

The problem, as always, lies with the dire categorisation of cyclists that endorses the ‘dual network’ principle of pavements for the inexperienced or nervous and cycle lanes, or nothing at all, for the experienced and confident. This is imported, without alteration, from LTN 2/08 –

4.1 LTN 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design provides detailed advice on the underlying principles of designing for pedestrians and cyclists. Key amongst these are the core design principles, the identification of certain cyclist categories (the ‘design’ cyclist), consideration of traffic speeds and flows, and the hierarchy of provision.

Who are these cyclists?

4.4 Cyclists, like pedestrians, do not comprise a homogeneous group. The five basic design cyclist categories identified in LTN 2/08 are:

• fast commuter;

• utility cyclist;

• inexperienced and/or leisure cyclist;

• children; and

• users of specialised equipment (e.g. cycle trailers, tricycles, handcycles).

4.5 Their needs, and hence the type of provision required, can vary considerably. For example, children or inexperienced cyclists might welcome the comfort of off-carriageway provision, while confident commuter cyclists might prefer to use the carriageway to keep journey times to a minimum.

This statement that cyclists will choose to continue using the carriageway is repeated later –

 4.13 Implementing shared use does not necessarily rule out the need to improve conditions on the carriageway, as some cyclists might choose to continue using it.

An explanation of why these ‘confident’ cyclists would continue using the carriageway, in spite of ‘shared use’ (which needn’t actually be shared) being supplied away from it, isn’t stated, but the document itself provides some clues –

4.7 For cyclists, the potential disadvantages of leaving the carriageway include poor route continuity and increased potential for conflict with pedestrians (who may also be disadvantaged).

And, of course, conflict with those sign posts, street furniture and lamp columns that LTN 1/12 accepts will be present, but not ‘unduly’ so. It’s these features, among others, that explain why cyclists wishing ‘to keep journey times to a minimum’ will often continue to use the carriageway.

But why should off-carriageway routes be discontinuous? Why should there be conflict with pedestrians on them? Why should off-carriageway routes have to accept the present of street furniture within them? It’s frankly amazing that the DfT’s own standards arrive with the built-in assumption that what the DfT is going to provide for cyclists is not going to be acceptable. Laced through all this is the assumption that off-carriageway provision is necessarily slow and a bit rubbish, and consequently the ‘comfort’ that off-carriageway provision supplies will come at the expense of convenience.

This is a bogus and deeply damaging belief. It permits the half-arsed creation of ‘shared use’ on existing pavements, because it doesn’t matter if slow cyclists have to weave around street furniture and pedestrians, as they’re only interested in feeling safe. And it serves to hinder the creation of infrastructure that is suitable for all cyclists, and that prioritises their convenience, comfort and safety.

Indeed, the document is quite clear that off-carriageway provision should only be employed for one particular reason –

4.6 The road network is the most basic and important cycling facility available. In general, cyclists need only be removed from the road where there is an overriding safety requirement that cannot be met by on-carriageway improvements

This amounts to an explicit rejection of cycle tracks like that seen in the picture of Assen, except on the grounds of ‘overriding safety’. The idea that cycle tracks could be a more pleasant and attractive alternative to the carriageway, like that track in Assen, is not apparently considered. Throughout the document, the emphasis is on keeping cyclists on the road at all costs, and only providing routes away from it (and only for a sub-group of cyclists) when everything else has failed.

4.8 LTN 2/08 introduced a hierarchy of provision to assist in the design decision process for cycle improvement schemes. The hierarchy encourages practitioners to explore on-carriageway solutions first, the aim being to discourage practitioners from resorting too readily to shared use where it might not be appropriate.

The strange logic employed in this particular paragraph disintegrates when we look at the next two points –

4.9 The hierarchy [of provision] is often a good starting point, but it is important to understand that it is not meant to be rigidly applied. For example, if scheme objectives suggest a clear preference for providing cyclists with an off-carriageway facility, as might often be the case in rural settings, creating a shared use route might be highly desirable.

4.10 Such routes can be particularly valuable where a considerable proportion of cycle traffic is for recreation, and they could be of particular benefit to children and less confident cyclists. In this situation, on-carriageway provision could be last in the hierarchy.

Here, again, we have the awful assumption that off-carriageway provision is most suitable for ‘recreation’, and wobblers. But most importantly, these two paragraphs amount to a statement that you shouldn’t use the Hierarchy of Provision (HoP) if you are considering the needs of children and less confident cyclists. Indeed, it says that if you are concerned with ‘benefiting’ children and the less confident, you should provide first what the Hierarchy suggests last.

I can’t think of clearer evidence of what is so desperately wrong with the Hierarchy of Provision; an implicit admission that it endorses solutions that privilege confident existing cyclists, at the expense of children, the slow, and the more nervous.

A more sensible approach to coming up with appropriate treatments for street and roads is actually included in the document, a table which is taken originally from Chapter 4 of Transport for London’s London Cycle Design Standards.

Notice how the preference for ‘on-carriageway’ solutions still pervades even this table; even on a road with a 40 mph limit and 10,000 vehicles per day, the table recommends cycle lanes, ahead of cycle tracks.

However, this table represents a much more sensible approach, because unlike the Hierarchy of Provision, it doesn’t attempt to work backwards by trying out various kinds of solutions on a particular road or street until the most appropriate one is found. It specifies a treatment, given the function of the road, rather than trying to avoid a particular treatment at all costs. As David Arditti has written

It makes no sense to call [cycle tracks] a “last resort” where it is the automatic, universal solution for a certain type of road… The whole concept of a hierarchy of provision makes no sense, from this perspective. Decisions on appropriate solutions for any road have to start from a decision on the function of a road, not from a universal template hierarchy.

Much the same point is made by Joe Dunckley

[The Hierarchy of Provision] approach[es] things the wrong way around: bringing a set of pre-ranked preferred solutions to a road and trying each one in turn to see which one fits. The correct approach — the one that the Dutch apply — is to start with the purpose and properties of a road: whether it is the main A-to-B road, or a little residential or access street; whether it needs to carry big dangerous trucks and buses; and so on. Once you’ve answered those questions, there is no need to try different solutions on for size: when you understand the problem, the appropriate solution follows.

So this table would represent a considerable improvement over the Hierarchy of Provision if it was used as the basis for implementing infrastructure. Bizarrely, however, it is only used in this document as a way of illustrating how the Hierarchy makes on-carriageway provision more and more suitable.

[Table 4.2] shows that adopting the upper level solutions in the hierarchy (i.e. reducing the volume and/or speed of traffic) makes on-carriageway provision for cyclists more viable. LTN 2/08 provides detailed advice on traffic volume and speed reduction.

In other words, keep trying to turn all roads into quiet residential streets. (Incidentally,  LTN 2/08 actually has very little or nothing to say on reducing traffic volume).

We then come to the improvement in LTN 1/12 – the discussion of hybrid cycle tracks, like this new one on Old Shoreham Road.

As I mentioned earlier, the document is vague about whether these actually represent an ‘off-‘ or ‘on-carriageway’ solution; the best it comes up with is a statement that the tracks have the ‘advantage’ of

allowing cyclists to remain ‘in’ the carriageway

The inverted commas allowing the authors to present an off-carriageway treatment as an in-carriageway one. The authors also have the unenviable task of trying to fit these cycle tracks into the overall ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ strategy, leading them to write unintelligible paragraphs like this one

As a result of these advantages the hybrid track might, in certain circumstances, prove to be a better solution than, say, junction improvements, hence the need for a flexible approach in determining the priority for on-carriageway measures within the overall hierarchy.

‘Junction improvements’ are, of course, preferred higher up the Hierarchy than these kinds of tracks, hence this formulation. But why can’t cycle tracks go hand in hand with junction improvements? Once again the bizarre oppositional structure of the Hierarchy leads us into difficulty; the use of the phrase ‘flexible approach’ is an indication that the Hierarchy is pretty useless at telling us what to do.

Indeed the document recommends abandoning cycle tracks at junctions, presumably on the assumption that the tracks can’t be designed well enough to make priorities clear –

On the approach to [junctions], it is recommended that the kerb delineating the track ramps down to carriageway level, then ceases. Returning cyclists to the main carriageway in this way is particularly useful at side roads, where it should be clear to motorists that cyclists have priority when passing the junction.

As it happens, the cycle tracks on Old Shoreham Road continue across side roads, without returning cyclists to the carriageway. I am personally of the opinion that priority could be made clearer here, but I don’t see any reason to abandon the tracks completely at junctions with side roads.

The main problem with this document is a fundamental failure to treat off-carriageway cycling provision with any degree of seriousness; with the rigour that roads themselves are designed, in order to make off-carriageway provision as smooth and continuous as cycling on the road itself. By way of a final illustration, within the section ‘Provision Alongside Carriageways’, (which itself contains the basic assumption that what is usually being provided is a pavement with a stripe down it), we find this depressing passage –

Section 8.10 of LTN 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design suggests that conflict [at bus stops] might be reduced by swapping the footway and cycle track positions over so that cyclists pass behind the bus shelter (where present) and any people waiting. However, these crossover points can become areas of conflict, and the resulting markings add to visual intrusion. In view of this, it might be better in such situations to simply dispense with segregation altogether.

(‘Segregation’ here being that painted line on the pavement). So the best approach to addressing how off-carriageway cycling provision skirts bus stops is… just to give up.

LTN 1/12 serves to demonstrate that the Department for Transport don’t really understand that off-carriageway provision should be a universal concept on certain categories of roads and streets, suitable for all types of users. Because it doesn’t, it continues to permit the implementation of substandard solutions that aren’t attractive, which make the journeys of the more nervous, the slow, the young, and the old deeply inconvenient, as well as compromising the amount of space available for decent solutions for all.

I hope that starts to change.

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12 Responses to LTN 1/12 – a failure to understand off-carriageway cycling

  1. Great article, even if it makes for somewhat depressing and at times downright confusing reading. You have to wonder looking at some of the steps it recommends if the whole document was written by one person, there just appears to be a few contradictions.

    Franky if this is the new design guide then sod all is going to change really. I’d love for us to design proper transport infrastructure. I’d say I fall into the “fast commuter” category but even I would prefer a decently implemented off-carriageway provision to the current (non)existing on-carriageway ones which amount to between nothing at all to a strip of white or blue paint.
    The level of alertness that needs to be maintained for riding on the road be rather draining at times and detracts from the simple pleasure of riding a bike as your constantly wondering if that roaring noise coming up from behind you is going to pass you with more than 6″ to spare.

  2. Tim says:

    Agreed. Great article. Not only does it highlight the closed-mindedness, the glaring inconsistencies and sometimes the farcical nature of the design guides – who gets paid to write these things?! – but it also highlights one of the main problems when trying to discuss various design options – that of terminology. If even the official guidance can’t use sensible well-defined terms then it’s no wonder the rest of us have trouble debating cycle ways/tracks/paths/lanes and shared-use, etc.

    I’ve been considering the current proposals for Manchester’s Oxford Road – student central and the busiest bus route in Europe – so I like the note towards the end about bus stops. I assume the potential conflict mentioned is that between the cyclists and the pedestrians, and of course there is no problem at all with the conflict between bikes and buses, which leapfrog each other all the way down Oxford Road, much to the annoyance of cyclists and bus-drivers alike. Not to mention the sinking feeling you get when you realise the bus to your right has suddenly decided to pull into the stop ahead, and it’s in the middle of a queue of buses doing likewise.

    As for “the resulting markings add to visual intrusion”, I don’t know what that even means.

    • As for “the resulting markings add to visual intrusion”, I don’t know what that even means.

      I think it’s referring to the sort of thing seen in Figure 8.4 on page 47 of Cycle Infrastructure Design [pdf]. That is, lots of paint on a pavement.

      • Tim says:

        Thank you. That’s an interesting idea I hadn’t seen before (in practice or in pictures).

        So having decided that segregation means “a painted line on the pavement” (?) the issue is that routing a lane behind a bus-stop needs a bit more paint (which is too confusing for our tiny brains). Instead, it’s better to give up on the cycle track for a bit and leave the cyclists whizzing in and out of the path of double-deckers?


  3. Quite agree with all your comments. It’s not surprising that provision for cyclists and people who just want to use a bicycle for local transport is so lacking and muddled in the UK.

    The Hierarchy of Provision attempts to provide a single decision tree that applies to all types of road. As such it spectacularly fails, as of course different types of road have different purposes and so require different types of facilities for people on bicycles. In particular it allows highway authorities to completely ignore the option of building dedicated cycle infrastructure as that’s listed quite clearly as “consider last” – very easily interpreted as “don’t bother considering”.

    Reducing traffic volumes is a laudable aim, but you only need one motor vehicle with an inattentive driver to kill, cars kill as individuals, not in packs. If anything traffic jams are a Good Thing as they slow everyone down to a less dangerous speed: we should be calling for increased traffic volumes, perhaps?

    Us “cyclists” have become far too used to putting the very real dangers of being hit by a motor vehicle to the back of our minds. We ride our bikes in spite of the road conditions, and try very hard to enjoy the experience (even though just one near-miss makes this very difficult to do). We forget that if ordinary people are to ever take to riding bicycles for transport, they need to feel safe – otherwise they just won’t bother. That means removing the danger caused by motor vehicles from the equation as much as is physically possible. As a top priority.

  4. Another ‘fast commuter’ here but I actually make my journey longer than it needs to be so that I can use the segregated path across Clapham Common and car free path through Battersea Park – the only times on my 9 mile route when I’m not fighting off motor vehicles.

  5. 3rdWorldCyclinginGB says:

    Dear DfT,

    You’ve havent re-invented the wheel, you’ve re-designed it so that it has 4 corners.

    Recall that the NL system demonstrably gives safety results for cyclists that are an order of magnitude better than the UK. How to plan safe infrastructure is spelled out in the CROW manual and largely depends on how dangerous the roads are for any and every cyclist in the 8-80+ age group. Have a look at the multiple categories of “design cyclist” sharing the infrastructure on Mark Wagenbuur and David Hembrow’s YouTube videos if you don’t think it’s possible (you clearly haven’t looked – WHY????). In future, please let those who know what they are talking about write your guidelines for you (i.e. the Dutch or Danes).

    Yours sincerely

    @Tim re; “As for “the resulting markings add to visual intrusion”, I don’t know what that even means.”

    – maybe something like this:

    tot ziens

  6. Ian Miller says:

    Motor vehicles, like cyclists and pedestrians, do not comprise a homogeneous group. The twenty basic motor vehicle categories identified by DLVA (ignoring the two deprecated types) are:

    Motorcycle (power up to 11kW)
    Motorcycle (power 11kW to 25kW)
    Motorcycle (power over 25kW)
    Automatic cars
    Cars with trailers
    Medium sized vehicle (up to 7500 kg)
    Medium sized vehicle with trailers
    Large vehicles (over 7500 kg)
    Large vehicles with trailers
    Minibuses with trailers
    Buses with trailers
    Agricultural tractors
    Road rollers
    Tracked vehicles
    Mowing machine or vehicle controlled by a pedestrian

    Note that unlike the cyclist and pedestrian categorisations which divide both by capability and personal priorities, this only considers the former. To be fair we really should sub-divide each of the above into those primarily motivated by:-
    – minimising time taken (fast)
    – minimising costs (economy)
    – minimising danger (safety)

    Bizarrely the DfT believes it is reasonable to design roads for ALL of the above, but that cyclists are too diverse to design cycle-paths for.
    The Dutch have no problem building cycle-paths that for the complete range of cyclists, mopeds and the complete range of disable vehicles from ordinary wheel chairs to micro-car valid carriages.

  7. Fred Smith says:

    Interesting post, it’s interesting to get a view on the policy behind the shambles.

    There’s one really simple thing I wish they understood – after going on about how the needs of different cyclists are very different, why is it that many cycle lanes in London are so small it’s difficult to pass! Cyclists hardly take up any space and many lanes are full to bursting for the sake of 70cm or so which would allow different cyclists to go at different speeds. The one on Torrington Place (London, parallel to the Euston Rd) is so narrow I’ve stopped using it at all, even though it is segregated and goes exactly where I want to go.

  8. Pingback: The DfT pays lip service to cycling again | The Alternative Department for Transport

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