A sign of trouble

A good indication that a design for cycle traffic is compromised is if there have to be signs attempting to tell you how to use it.

This example – where the Superhighway 2 Extension meets the Stratford Gyratory – fits the bill perfectly, with a curious squiggly route, directly you up onto the pavement, then across two signal-controlled crossings.


Picture by Diamond Geezer

The sign below is on the approach to the Vauxhall Cross gyratory, on Harleyford Road. If you want to cycle to Westminster, well, it’s quite straightforward, you just go right (somehow finding your way across three lanes of fast traffic going the same way as you), back the way you were coming from, right again, then left. What could be simpler?

Screen shot 2013-11-13 at 18.15.51
And a final example is these proposed signs for a junction in Manchester, spotted during a presentation at the Birmingham Cycle City Expo earlier this year.
Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 23.55.21The junction has trams passing through it, and so the idea is to get people to cycle on the pavements away from the left arm of the junction entirely (hence the red crosses running through a bike symbol on the signs). That makes turning right coming from the arm at the top of the picture ridiculously long-winded.

The engineers giving this presentation were, I think, a bit embarrassed about the signs they were asking us to consider. The basic problem seems to be that cycling wasn’t considered as a mode of transport at the time the plans for this junction were being drawn up, and consequently any routes through the junction were inevitably going to be an afterthought, fitted in around the margins, with confusing signs attempting to limit the damage. Amsterdam has plenty of trams, and manages to avoid having to put up silly signs like this for people cycling, because the routes you take through junctions while cycling are obvious and intuitive. Tram and cycle conflicts are avoided through proper design, not by attempting to persuade people to take circuitous and illogical routes, through signage.

This is much the same story behind the ‘right turn guidance’ issued by Transport for London on Superhighway 2, covered here. Here’s how to do a right turn, as suggested by the TfL explanatory video –

As many people pointed out on Twitter, the sign says it all.


Who on earth expects to make a right turn by cycling beyond the junction, and then looping around through 270 degrees, before rejoining the carriageway? These signs are symptomatic of a failure to take cycling seriously. They should not be necessary if the designs are right.

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12 Responses to A sign of trouble

  1. I really can’t see why the people who do this get to keep their jobs. It’s worse than what a bunch of school kids could come up with, in fact school kids would do a much better job. This isn’t road design, it’s how to get people killed. Absolutely appalling, nobody is holding them to account.

  2. Jules says:

    MPT and MetroLink are the Manchester tram developers and operators, and the Airport route is a new line being built from to Manchester airport, rather than Sheffield. That Metrolink and MPT have considered cycling in any depth at all is a fairly amazing thought, as there is little evidence of this in the construction works. They are in the process of remodelling two junctions near me to accommodate the tram tracks. These are busy junctions, with large a large high school and a large primary school close by. It would have been a perfect opportunity to create a safe environment for people cycling to school across difficult and busy junctions. Have they done so? No. The new junctions don’t accommodate cyclists effectively and just add the complication of slippery tram tracks for cyclists brave enough to attempt riding through them. (@trink_uk)

  3. That cycle facilities, and indeed all other road features, should be “obvious and intuitive” is one of the fundamental concepts of sustainable safety.

    Where something is difficult or non-obvious to use, people can be counted on to get it wrong for some percentage of uses. This is why obvious design is not only about convenience or getting rid of road signs but also about safety.

    In the case of the examples you’ve shown it is really obvious that things will go wrong. How visible are those tiny signs to someone travelling at more than a snail’s pace, or when visibility is compromised by weather or night time ? Many users won’t ever see the signs before they attempt to negotiate these “curious squiggly routes”.

    Combine with tram tracks for extra danger and… well, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. No-one should be able to get away with producing this standard of work in an environment where safety is important.

    • Imagine comparing it with household electrics, or even motorway junctions, imagine the carnage.
      Why can’t these people be held to account? They genuinely have people’s lives in their hands.

  4. Jitensha Oni says:

    Judging by the scarcity of comments, people are not seeing this as important. That’s a mistake. The complexity of the sign reflects complexity on the ground, and overly complex , hard to understand designs, especailly those that chop and change the actual intervention at tediously frequent intervals, are part of what puts people off cycling. Whether it does so more than unpleasant road conditions is arguable, but it doesn’t help, and they certainly avoid it in the Netherlands.

    In your Harleyford Road example you can get an idea of the complexity by inputting a route from there to the other side of Vauxhall Bridge in Cyclestreets (comes out better on Firefox than Safari, don’t know about other OS’s).


    North of the railway lines, it gets positively rococo. And read the written description. 16 items in 3/4 mile.
    “What could be simpler” indeed.

    PS on a smaller scale here’s a good one: http://goo.gl/maps/o2S8l

    in order to use the toucan crossing you have to cross the road where there is no marked crossing, and do the same again once you’ve got across the toucan.

    • Sarah says:

      I don’t think the dearth of comments necessarily reflects people dismissing the issue as unimportant. I personally see it as VERY important – it highlights everything that is wrong about designing for the bicycle as an afterthought. I doubt signage like this would ever need to be erected if streets were designed by people who started on the outside and worked their way in, first accomodating pedestrians, then cyclists, and then trams and/or buses before finally allocating any leftover space (and time in signalling phases) to private motor vehicles once the sustainable modes had been given adequate space and priority. But I really can’t add any shades of nuance to the basic truth that signs like this are truly awful. I was slightly reluctant to leave a simple thank-you comment; my gratitude is heartfelt, but comments that only echo what has been said and add nothing can be annoying. (David has already made one key point – which I can, again, only echo: these signs are easy to miss at night. I’ve often found it difficult to read direction signs mounted above my head using only bike lights angled to give me a good view of the road without blinding oncoming traffic. When I’m riding on unfamilar rural routes at night, I sometimes need a headtorch for wayfinding as well as my usual lighting mounted lower down.)

      I’d be tempted to demand a moratorium on building cycling infrastructure until the skills and political will to build it properly have been put in place and cycling advocates no longer have to submit improved designs for one botched junction after another to council after council, but that would probably be music to Andrew Gilligan’s ears.

    • Adam says:

      I would echo Sarah’s comments – there’s no doubt this is extremely important, but the post says it all much better than anything I could add.

      Imagine trying to cycle through that Manchester junction with kids. Terrifying.

  5. paul gannon says:

    Signs are signals of failure and a substitute for effective action

  6. bicycledutch says:

    You make a very good point in this post. Cycle infrastructure should be as clear and as direct as the carriageway is for motor traffic. That final junction example from Manchester reminded me of this junction design example from Utrecht, NL (that you know as well). Quite a contrast!

  7. Jules says:

    I’ve just got the plans for the new junction near me from the Manchester City Council showing how cyclists will be accommodated with the tram tracks (http://trinkblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/new-tram-line-junction/). This is between two schools. The junction is dangerous because drivers don’t know how to cross on-coming traffic as shown here http://trinkblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/nell-lane-mauldeth-road-junction-what-cars-do/ and are therefore unpredictable. I saw two cars turning on either side of a waiting car this morning, and it is really dangerous for cyclists as you can have drivers coming straight at you or you are forced to cross slippery tram tracks at an angle – particularly nasty in the dark when it is raining.

    Further up the road, the tram track crosses Mauldeth Road West at an angle. This is the Council’s solution. http://trinkblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/mauldeth-road-west-tram-crossing/. The road is horrible because drivers treat it as a race-track. It is not a major route, so it would have been much better to have reduced it to single carriageway and put in a segregated cycle path (both sides of the carriageway). That would be been good for school children (over 2500 going to the three schools close by) and cyclists coming to / from the Fallowfield Loop cyclepath (Sustrans).

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