In the wider policy context of how cycling should be catered for on London’s streets, there’s some fairly astonishing guidance being drafted by Southwark Council on cycle lanes. It’s so weak that I think it is fair to say, as Southwark Green Party are arguing, that it represents a ‘U-turn’ on the council’s prior commitment to Going Dutch.
Cllr John [Labour leader of Southwark Council] promised to change the council’s approach last year following a campaign of tens of thousands of cyclists calling for more protection on main roads. In March 2012, Cllr Peter John appeared to sign up to the “Go Dutch” principles, telling Southwark News that the existing policy of integrating cyclists with main traffic “was not the best strategy”, and said his change of heart came “since the meeting with Southwark Cyclists” where they presented a new set of policies including proper, protected cycle lanes.
Last year’s change of heart does not appear to be reflected in this guidance, which seems to go out of its way to ‘integrate’ cyclists in Southwark with motor traffic.
On the very first page, we have this table, setting out Use Requirements.
The important points to note here are that, in principle, no cycle lane is to be provided at all on any street with a 20 mph limit, apparently regardless of the volume of motor traffic on that street. Worse, on 30 mph streets cycle lanes are only to be used ‘potentially’, on a ‘case specific basis’ – and that if employed they should only be advisory, rather than mandatory, meaning motor vehicles are free to drive and park in them.
These proposals are explored in greater detail in the guidance, which states, in Section 2.2 –
With-flow cycle lanes should not generally be necessary on two-way 20mph streets. Other methods to improve the carriageway environment to make it safe and comfortable for cyclists should be used in preference.
‘All alternatives’ to cycle lanes on these streets should be fully explored, and indeed if cycle lanes are encountered in a project area, ‘they should be reviewed with the intention of designing them out if appropriate’. The only reasons given for actually retaining cycle lanes on streets with a 20mph limit are if other options are prohibitively expensive, or for ‘legitimate safety reasons’. And the sole permitted exception for cycle lanes on 20 mph streets is purely for bypassing mode filters; these cycle lanes ‘should not be longer than around 6-8m’.
It’s worth reinforcing, at this point, that cycle lanes on 20 mph streets (good cycle lanes, of course) are extremely common in the Netherlands.
This residential street in the city of Assen, which has a 30km/h (19mph) speed limit, also has wide, continuous cycle lanes. One of the main purposes of this kind of arrangement is to ensure vehicle speeds are kept low, by narrowing the carriageway and removing the centre line, which creates uncertainly with oncoming motor traffic. But these kinds of arrangements – highly beneficial for cycling – are being explicitly ruled out in this Southwark guidance. 20mph limits mean no cycle lanes.
Indeed the guidance seems really quite keen to do away with cycle lanes on 30mph roads too; it states that ‘it will need to be demonstrated that… – on balance – a lane is the best means of addressing the needs of cyclists’. Likewise
any existing instances of mandatory or advisory cycle lanes encountered within a project should be reviewed to check that they remain both necessary and are still the best way of meeting cyclists’ needs.
In a cop-out, the guidance states that mandatory cycle lanes (lanes that are illegal to drive in, unlike advisory lanes) should not be introduced, because they are
problematic in terms of cost, street clutter, order making and enforcement. They are also unlikely to provide substantial additional benefit compared with advisory cycle lanes.
Why mandatory lanes cost more, or create more clutter, than advisory ones is not explained.
Concern with visual appearance extends to cycle lanes being painted a particular colour –
Generally, this is only likely to be permitted where cycle lanes on 30mph roads pass side road junctions and an evidenced safety need that could not otherwise be avoided (else addressed via less visually intrusive means) can be demonstrated
And the Appendix states that
guidance also emphasises that – even where providing cycle lanes or cycle tracks would appear justified – they may not always be appropriate for design and safety reasons. This is especially so in urban streets where the road environment can be very complicated because of the frequency of side roads, vehicle crossings, parked vehicles and other turning movements. This is supported by research. In relation to cycle lanes, this suggests that lanes encourage riskier overtaking of cyclists by other road users in some circumstances – even when cyclists are not using them.
Well, the road environment need only be as complicated for cycling as you are willing to make it. Bad cycle lanes will have problems with turning conflicts and parked vehicles, as well as encouraging close overtakes. This isn’t, however, a universal problem with cycle lanes, which can be designed properly.
The hostility to cycling provision that seeps from this document extends to the ‘segregation’ of cycle lanes, using kerbs. It states
In instances other than [the use of splitter islands to provide occasional physical separation] cycle lanes should not be separated from other vehicle lanes by lengthy kerbs or extended reservations/traffic islands. [my emphasis]
The reasons given for this policy are quite remarkable –
Creation of kerb separated cycle lanes is generally discouraged by national guidance owing to the considerable road safety issues that they pose – both for cyclists themselves and other road users. In addition, feasibility is likely to be limited within busy London streets owing to various factors. These include: spatial and engineering constraints; the considerable additional cost of adapting roads to accommodate such facilities (compared to other interventions to assist cyclists); and likely opposition from other street users to proposals (for instance in relation to loss of parking. [my emphasis]
At a time when separated tracks are now being adopted as policy across London (and indeed at a national and international level), Southwark have chosen to insist that they pose ‘considerable road safety issues’, based presumably on the opinions of dinosaurs like John Franklin.
The second part of the explanation essentially amounts to ‘we can’t be bothered.’
It is most interesting that the justification in this guidance for the refusal to build infrastructure, or to provide cycle lanes, lies with the Hierarchy of Provision (cited, wrongly, in “LTN 1/10 Cycle Infrastructure Design”, rather than LTN 2/08). Southwark’s guidance refers to it as follows –
Designers are encouraged to consider first reducing traffic speeds and volumes so that cyclists can share the carriageway with other vehicles without the need for any form of special facility. Designers are advised to consider the reallocation of carriageway space to create cycle lanes or the creation of segregated off-road routes only where reducing traffic speeds and volumes would not be possible
I think this is a textbook example of how the Hierarchy of Provision is open to exploitation by councils who find it difficult to bring themselves to cater for cycling in any meaningful way. They can point to LTN 2/08, and reference it, copying its argument that cycle lanes and tracks should only be considered last after other measures like speed reduction or traffic volume reduction – conveniently ignoring how 20 mph limits, in and of themselves, do little to create subjective safety, and how (as in this document) no mention is made of traffic reduction, or removal. Southwark seem to think that a 20mph limit on a given road is enough, and that nothing else is required to make cycling a safe and pleasant experience.
The Hierarchy desperately needs replacing by a network-based guidance approach, which sets out precisely how cycling should be accommodated on a given road street, with a certain volume of motor traffic travelling at a certain speed, and a particular function. That is, guidance which maximises the degree of separation of people riding bikes from motor traffic, either through the removal of through traffic from side streets, or through the physical separation on main roads. I’m hoping this will come in the new revised version of the London Cycle Design Standards; but, at the moment councils like Southwark seem to be able to get away with it.