The possible versus the acceptable

North Parade in Horsham is a fairly busy distributor road (running north – unsuprisingly) out of the town centre. It has a 30 mph limit, and very narrow cycle lanes, which give up at a couple of awful pinch points.

IMG_3890The local cycle forum are quite rightly pressing to have these sorted out – in fact the picture above shows us with a representative from West Sussex County Council. A good interim solution would be to have the pinch point removed, and replaced with a zebra (this is an important crossing for pedestrians, with access to the park on the left).

Long term, this road desperately needs cycle tracks. There is absolutely no shortage of space here, as you can see, but obviously their construction would involve investment – adjusting the kerb line and drainage, and so on.

The problem is that councils like pinch points. They make it relatively easy for pedestrians to cross roads, without them interfering with ‘traffic flow’ (i.e. motor traffic flow) in ways that zebra or toucan crossings would.
Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 08.30.31And it is on this kind of issue that Sustrans’ new guidance is really quite unhelpful, because it doesn’t challenge councils’ inclination to continue employing pinch points (or ‘central islands’) like this, at all.

The handbook simply says ‘avoid gaps of 3.1 – 3.9m’. Going by a standard bus width of 2.5m, the pinch point in Horsham probably falls outside this recommendation, and is therefore acceptable, by the terms Sustrans set out. Even if it didn’t, ‘avoid’ is hardly strong enough – likewise the suggestion that a cycle lane of 1.5m ‘should’ continue through the pinch point. [EDIT – I’ve now got around to measuring these pinch points, and they are exactly 3m wide.]

Councils will want to take the easy path, that of least resistance, and do as little as they can. They can paint a bicycle symbol in the middle of the pinch point, and by Sustrans’ terms, that’s acceptable – indeed, even recommended.

I think this is the issue that many people have with the Sustrans’ guidance. It’s not that it doesn’t contain good recommendations (there’s plenty of good stuff in there) – it’s just that it is far, far too weak in opposing the stuff that we all know councils will only be too happy to build, if it means they can get away with doing things on the cheap. This is a real problem if you are presenting your handbook as best practice.

This isn’t a matter of asking for the (currently) impossible, or for those aspects of Dutch or Danish design that would be difficult to implement in the UK, or that are alien to UK highway engineers. It’s about demanding quality where it would be easy and obvious to achieve it. I would like a Sustrans manual that says 3m wide pinch points on a road with a 30mph limit and about 10,000 vehicles a day are completely unacceptable, not one that says ‘consider’ painting a cycle symbol in the middle of the pinch point.

If councils come back and say we can’t build a cycle route to those standards? Nothing has been lost; the road will remain as crap as it was before. And no time and effort has been wasted in half-arsed efforts to present it as a ‘route’.


This entry was posted in Infrastructure, Pinch points, Sustrans, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The possible versus the acceptable

  1. dave lambert says:

    Thanks for this post. I am starting to think that decent cycle provision must be achieved despite the likes of CTC and Sustrans, not because of them.

  2. paulc says:

    Sustrans are part of the problem, they see nothing wrong in sending cyclists the long quiet way round even if it means double the distance rather than fighting for proper seperated infrastructure. Bollards, chicanes and gates and other barriers are also a big problem with the rubbish Sustrans keep accepting as good… I can’t navigate my local NCN routes with my recumbent or with my trailer behind me… and it’s pretty obvious those disabled using hand-cranked or tricycles can’t either…

    I really hate pinch points as motorists insist on trying to overtake me before them rather than waiting until I’ve passed through… I take primary as early as possible even if there’s an advisory cycle lane and there’s always horns and shouting when I do this…

    This is how they should be done, see the separated cycle lane through the pinch point:

    That island there is at the entrance to a popular arboretum in Gloucester.

    Mind you, the 20 mph section beyond it is regularly exceeded by motor vehicles 😦

    • Ian says:

      That is truly excellent! Here’s the Glasgow equivalent:,-4.315566,3a,75y,200.09h,68.31t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sRCoKoI4smf8HyLufbpQl0w!2e0!6m1!1e1?hl=en

      See the 4″ gap between the pavement and the triangle of tarmac? That’s the cycle lane; leading you straight into the back of a parked truck!

      If you carry on along the road you can admire the next junction where they didn’t even bother with any cycle lane at all when widening the pavement as well as admiring the many parked cars in the cycle lanes on both sides of the road.

      Alternatively, go a few yards back up the road and you can see a car driving in the cycle lane at another pinch point – he’s probably exceeding the 30mph speed limit on this road by at least 10mph!

      The only thing Glasgow Council have achieved which is useful is Advanced Stop Lines – these now mean that instead of blocking pedestrian crossings when waiting at a red light, motorists only block the cycle lane (I’ve even seen police cars doing it).

    • pm says:

      Something I find to be an additional irritation is the presence of road cushions immediately before the pinch-point. To ‘take primary’ means bouncing right over the centre of the road cushion (worse, often those things are not properly continuous with the road surface as a pothole-crevace opens up around them).

    • Reg Oakley says:

      You are confusing pinch points with pedestrian refuges.

      • D. says:

        Unless I’m missing something, most pedestrian refuges *are* pinch-points

        • Reg Oakley says:

          I was referring to the example posted by Paul C which was a pinch point designed exclusively to control motor traffic with a cyclist by pass.
          Unfortunately the proliferation of pedestrian refuges designed as a cheap skate way of allowing pedestrians to cross with safety cant help but be a pinch point that do endanger cyclists.
          I recall seeing one pedestrian refuge near Hull that was preceeded by a notice instructing motorists not to overtake cyclists at the “traffic island”.

          I am off the opinion that there proliferation of pedestrian refuges has come about largely as a response to the UK regulations for pedestrian crossings which insist that the costly installation of belisha beacons is a must.

    • Tim says:

      And mine, which has little mini-buildouts before and after the main (bypassed) buildout, to force the cyclist to do a little shimmy through it, if they can get past the waiting car in the first place. I have no idea why.

      • Ian says:

        That’s a good one Tim; I admire the way the designer has widened the grass verge, forcing the cyclist to weave right, then narrowed it and placed an island forcing the cyclist left, followed by wider pavement before the parked cars so cycles are forced right again – it’s a chicane!

        If you backtrack up few yards up the road there’s an excellent example of pavement widening to make it easier for pedestrians to cross. Except if you’re in a wheelchair or pushing a pram – you might find crashing down a kerb, then up & down 3 speed bumps (these actually seem to be designed to inconvenience pedestrians more than motor vehicles who get nice gaps through them), up another kerb and over some grass isn’t the best place to cross.

        Google Earth shows 2 very brave cyclists; one cycling past the parked cars where there is no provision at all for cyclists and the other coming out of the shared cycle/pedestrian route beside MMU which deposits him straight across a pavement onto a road where the traffic doesn’t seem to have even been warned of his existence.

  3. Ian says:

    Absolutely agree with that last paragraph; there are far too many piss-poor cycle lanes where I live (Glasgow) that are either too narrow (one near my house is basically telling cyclists to scrape their handlebars along a line of parked cars), full of parked cars, potholed or abandon you at every junction and pinchpoint (the very places where a cycle lane might be helpful). The end result is cycle lanes that you can’t cycle in (but can’t cycle out of because motorists are annoyed that you’re not in the cycle lane).

    I’d much rather have nothing at all than a poorly designed, poorly executed and poorly maintained cycle-lanes; spend the money saved on fewer, good-quality routes instead.

  4. Jitensha Oni says:

    Exactly, there need to be minimum standards applied. However, I don’t fully understand why the cycling organizations are coming out with these guides now, with a major update to the TSRGD in the offing, which promises some significant changes. Their handbooks may be out of date within the year.

    On a more detailed point: I’m sure there are compelling reasons for having the cycle symbols in the pinch point and not before them, but I can’t see them. Simiarly “slow” is another sign frequently painted on the carriageway within the pinch and not before. You wouldn’t do this at the apex of a blind bend so why here? Agree with pm about the cushions too.

    @Ian – going N from your StreetView location there are some interesting spectator balconies on the central island 🙂

    But we have stuff like that too (who doesn’t) – the no-cycle lane version:,-0.280154,3a,75y,353.76h,81.01t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sedZeF2GzMdBXJ1IXrYn7kw!2e0

    or a crap version of paulc’s (the drain is a nice touch),-0.295558&spn=0.021556,0.028367&cbll=51.394053,-0.295521&layer=c&panoid=ZlyMkoUF0oqLHqdmjy6NZw&cbp=12,143.13,,0,32.13&t=m&z=15

    or, for a wonderfully narrow cycle bypass only, outside a station (strangely without a pedestrian crossing, and there are plenty of pedestrians when the trains come in – go figure),-0.353394,3a,75y,330.32h,71.11t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sxkDzPKoHP80_Tb2QVRAxOA!2e0

    When looked at country-wide, it’s just all so random.

  5. Ade says:

    Here is another classic Glasgow pinch point that annoys the hell out of me –,-4.434285,3a,75y,126.68h,79.85t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sWHbM8JBqcjVGZ8Yw0bUd_w!2e0?hl=en – at least with this one they haven’t even attempted to put a pretend cycle lane in.

  6. Andy R says:

    Those ‘bypasses’ probably just started out as continuations of the kerbside channel, to avoid costly in-carriageway drainage works. Somewhere it talks about widening these to allow cyclists to pass build-outs without going into the pinch point and coming into conflict with motor vehicles. Unfortunately none of these designers seem to have had the courage of their convictions and given over anything like sufficient width. And that width, of course, has to take account that the channels won’t be swept, and detritus will build up, so actually need to be wider than the 2.0m, or whatever the rest of the ‘ideal’ lane is.

  7. Dan B says:

    I feel it’s the problem of campaigners being too happy to accept any tiny crumb of recognition of cycling in provision that the tiny crumb becomes the aim of councils. Why are campaigners praising paint, when it’s clear that paint provides no safe environment and isn’t enough to encourage more people onto bikes. However, it is enough for councils to say “we’ve done something – there’s nothing more we can/have to do”.

    Stop rejoicing about crap and we’ll stop getting it.

  8. @angus_fx says:

    Pedestrian refuges are crap for pedestrians. You’ve got no priority, so you end up stuck on a small rock with cars whizzing by at 30mph inches away on either side. OK for someone traveling alone, but with a child on one arm and a pushchair on the other, forget about it. Three or more friends walking together? Sorry, you’re out of luck folks – cars are more important. Mobility scooter user? Screw you.

    We got the local council to rip the refuges out on the main road and put Zebras in instead. What pedestrians need is priority, not lumps of concrete. Now all we need is for the DfT to permit councils to enforce zebras via CCTV, unfortunately a minority of drivers – and a few cyclists too – need re-educating via their wallets.

    • @angus_fx says:

      … at some point hopefully we’ll get some cycle lanes on the road in question (LCN route, high traffic volume 30mph “A” road.. no cycling provision at all, not even paint). With the pinch points dealt with, it’s at least physically possible.

      • Dan B says:

        Paint IS NOT provision! If they offer painted lanes, object as strongly as possible. Make them do it properly or not at all. All paint does is ‘allow’ bikes to use the road if motor vehicles don’t want to use it. Having no paint does the same, but costs a lot less and stops the “well, you’ve got all these cycle lanes – why are you complaining?” attitude from authorities

        • @angus_fx says:

          Painted lanes with double yellows (which would involve the removal of some on-street parking to allow said lanes to exist) would be a significant improvement on what’s there now. I’d object to paint without double yellows however. Removing the parking would actually do a lot more for cyclists than the paint itself though – there’s some dumbly placed parking which forces cyclists to move in to primary with 30+mph traffic behind).

          • Simon Still says:

            Changing the law on parking would be a major win for cycling provision.
            No parking in a cycle lane at any time with no need for other markings
            Then a shift from “park anywhere unless otherwise marked” to “parking legal only in marked bays”. Long term you’d have a huge saving in paint and increase in safety – parking spaces would have to positively be justified as not causing obstruction/danger.

  9. Adam says:

    I quite like the approach sometimes taken in Aberdeen with the extra wide cycle lanes through the pedestrian refuge pinch points. A lot of people said they don’t get it and it looks stupid but what it does is show that there isn’t room for a bike and car side by side.,-2.103031,3a,75y,4.12h,72.38t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sA4h1IwHId5gaqLeO0JgVjg!2e0

    • paulc says:

      doesn’t stop you being carved up by someone who “Must Get In Front”…

    • Simon Still says:

      Isn’t that even worse? Definitely gives a cyclist the Impression that they are safe in the cycle lane and a vehicle that there is enough space to pass whereas the reality is anything but.

  10. paulc says:

    nasty cycle facilities/infrastructure in Gloucester:
    Shared use paths on both sides are narrow and have unforgiving sides yet the motorised traffic gets to play with two whole lanes each way… plus it’s a fast road, major choke point because of the railway going over it (no side routes for cyclists to use), horrendeously busy except late at night… officially 30 mph, yet every man and his dog whizz past at 40 which was the previous limit here…
    A couple of hundred yards further on, lo and behold, an ASL, yet no means to get into it from the adjacent shared path… and that crossing in front of it linking the two shared use paths isn’t a Toucan either… (must check this and get back) and the refuge is not quite wide enough for someone with a bicycle either…
    The path with the railings is shared use, the path directly in front (adjacent to the ASL and feeder lane isn’t, yet there’s nothing to indicate this fact
    Narrow shared use path with nasty tight barriers (blocks my trailer, have to un-hitch it) made far worse because selfish housholder doesn’t keep his hedge trimmed back to the edge of his property…

  11. Pingback: Cycling to School | Cargobike Dad

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