Turbogate gets weirder

From the press release, the ‘turbo’ roundabout in Bedford will now be under construction – building was scheduled to start yesterday, Monday the 21st of July.

Pretty much everything you need to know about this strange scheme and its convoluted history is here on the Alternative Department for Transport blog. (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain also hosted a guest blog critically examining some of the claims made for this design).

Presumably in anticipation of construction starting, the local cycling campaign for North Bedfordshire (CCNB) have put out a statement justifying the design. It’s as curious as the scheme itself. Principally it clings to the sad, failed strategy of attempting to design for two different categories of ‘cyclists’ separately, instead of the proven, successful approach of inclusively designing for everyone. 

CCNB believes that the dual use scheme will improve the safety of all types of cyclists (and pedestrians). Experienced cyclists will use the on-road carriageway around the roundabout while the less confident, new and young cyclists will use an off-road shared use route using four zebras is a good compromise.

For ‘experienced cyclists’ –

The tighter geometry and enforced lane discipline should slow down traffic over what it is at present. An experienced cyclist adopting the primary position should thus avoid being overtaken or cut-up and as a consequence feel much safer. The lane discipline should also ensure that most motorists know what cyclists are doing and in the same way cyclists should also know what motorists are doing.

Well that sounds attractive, on a roundabout that will still be carrying around 25,000 PCUs per day! And for everyone else –

Current regulations stipulate that cyclists can cycle across zebras if there is a dual use path on either side but unlike pedestrians must give way to motor vehicles. The zebras will be wider than normal and the design will allow easy modification to a more traditional Dutch style junction when the DfT allows cyclists to use them in the same way as pedestrians, hopefully sometime next year.

The experience of cycling like a pedestrian.

I am deeply, deeply sceptical about claims this design can be ‘modified’ to a Dutch-style junction, not only because a Dutch-style junction would have perimeter tracks, clearly distinct from footways, rather than shared use areas, but also because the zebras in this scheme cross multiple lanes on the approaches, at sharp angles, a design that is simply not appropriate to ‘convert’ to a crossing. (To say nothing of the appropriateness of cycling on these zebras while waiting for this ‘conversion’).

Would converting these zebras to 'cycle zebras' amount to 'Dutch' design?

Will converting these zebras to ‘cycle zebras’ amount to a ‘Dutch style junction’?

The CCNB response also contains this strange factoid –

The roundabout is generally very busy mainly in the short morning and evening rush hours. The area concerned is fairly small and it is not possible to have Dutch style off-road cycle tracks along any of the four roads involved. [my emphasis].

Really? Looking at the four roads involved – the four arms of the roundabout – in turn –

Union Street –Union Street

Tavistock Street –

Tavistock StreetRoff Avenue –

Rolfe AvenueAnd Clapham Road –

Clapham RoadIt is plainly possible to accommodate cycle tracks on these approaches. And you don’t even need to believe me –

In the application, the designer submitted a mocked up version of what the roundabout could look like with a ‘proper’ Dutch design, including side road priority for cyclists on fully segregated cycle tracks and tight curve radii to slow vehicles.

That’s right – the designer of this scheme presented a possible version of this roundabout, with cycle tracks on entry and exit. Here it is!


As the CTC report, Bedford Borough Council vetoed this design on the grounds that it would affect motor traffic capacity; having one lane on each of the approaches wouldn’t be sufficient to cope with current volumes of motor traffic.

So – faced with the intransigence of the council, and the ludicrous constraints of the the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund – it would be understandable if the local cycle campaign admitted defeat, and grimly accepted this being forced on them, while grumbling about it. But to actually come out and support this dog’s dinner?

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11 Responses to Turbogate gets weirder

  1. My first thought is the drivers will all shout at the cyclists that stay on the road for not using the cycle provision provided.

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      I’m not sure they’ll get the chance. If it’s anything like as busy as some of the roundabouts round me in the morning rush hour, vehicular bike riders will be through the queueing cars (soon to be even slower!) and never seen again.

      Epic fail.

  2. They will. It’s incredible that CCNB feel the need to defend this horror.

  3. Pete Owens says:

    To see why the idea of putting cycle tracks round the perimiter of a roundabout is such a dangerous idea take a look at this video of the TRL trial:
    Here we are looking at an idealised trial situation. The drivers know that they are participating in a trial of cycle facilities so they are expecting and know to look for cyclists. They know they are being watched so they are on their best behaviour. They have volunteered their time to participate in the trial so are not in a hurry to reach a destination. There are no distractions: buildings, signs, pedestrians, buses trucks and so on. All the cycists are in riding very slowly wearing full binman outfits. Yet scroll the video through to 2 minutes and watch what happens – it is a good job she was riding slowly looking carefully and covering her brakes.

    What is saddest is that this roundabout, like the initial now abandonned design for Bedford, does incorporate the key feature that makes Dutch roundabouts safer than ours. ie the tight geometry that slows vehicles down to cycling speeds. This would have proved huge benefit if only the trialed it with cyclists riding on the road.

    • Wow, you’re really quite deluded. The accident rate at actual dutch roundabouts, with the perimeter track, is tiny.

      Once more we’ve got someone going “that can’t possibly work” whilst ignoring the reality that it DOES work, and there’s LOADS of examples of it working.

      • davidhembrow says:

        Pete, Al, actually, the truth lies somewhere between your two opinions. While Dutch roundabouts are overall quite safe, they use two different designs which have very different safety records.

        TRL picked up and trialed only the design of Dutch roundabouts which have perimeter tracks, and these have very much worse safety records than the design which does not. It is unfortunate that TRL decided not to trial the safer design as I would expect this to work far better in a British context (i.e. drivers less used to bicycles). The problem with the perimeter track design is precisely that which Pete Owens spotted, and it is solved by the other design.

        Geometry, overall size and the size of the centre roundabouts are red-herrings, though. In reality these all vary widely amongst both types of Dutch roundabout. There’s no obvious correlation between geometry and safety, only between the priority rule and crossing design and safety.

        Amazingly, Bedford have been threatening to build “Dutch” roundabouts based on a misunderstanding of how Dutch roundabouts really work since at least as long ago as 2011. That’s when I was first was in touch with one of their people about this.

        • Paul says:

          David – you talk of 2 different designs but the essential difference seems to be the priority where the cycle track crosses the motor vehicle path. In effect your safer design would be the same as the Bedford one with cyclists obliged to use the zebras (and give way at every crossing)

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  6. davidhembrow says:

    You may be interested to know that there is now an engineer’s report about the Bedford turbo roundabout. The result in Bedford is barely a turbo roundabout as the Dutch would recognize it at all, and the provision for cyclists is appaling. The report is very critical of the many design errors.

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