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 –
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.
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.