Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?

The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) –

In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.

I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.

Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.

And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea

BtFVcU3IgAACHR0So this strikes me as a location where pavement space could entirely reasonably be reallocated for cycling, provided that pedestrian comfort is not significantly worsened.

Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit –

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 21.25.18

Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.

Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).

Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.


There’s an obvious location for a cycle track here, and it’s not the pointless blue stripe with vehicles on it


Likewise – clear away the clutter, and there’s an obvious cycle track, between the trees and the motor vehicle.

This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.

I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.

This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.

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24 Responses to Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

  1. Paul says:

    Failing to move the kerb line causes conflict at every side-street/entrance where cyclists would be expected to give way to traffic coming from behind them to turn left. Perhaps the cost of doing so acts as a useful incentive to create bicycle space from the carriageway rather than the footway.

  2. TomSustrans says:

    key thing to appreciate here is that given even a high UK cycling scheme budget there is unlikely to be scope to move / renew all the services which typically sit under the footway. This means that cycle tracks taking even a small amount of footway space will end up at the same level as the existing footway, its unlikely to be feasible to drop them down to the sort of half way house hybrid level seen for example on old shoreham road let alone to carriageway level.

    However disagree with the previous comment that it isn’t possible to deliver cyclist priority except at carriageway level. There are schemes coming forward which are heading towards the sophisticated uitritconstructie (access construction) seen with dutch schemes. We can do this and as Mark says in a lot of cases the section of footway that you’d be after for a cycling scheme is already rendered unusable by street clutter.

    • Dan B says:

      What do you call a “high UK cycling scheme budget” though? Enough for a (Sustrans-approved) turbo-roundabout without ANY cycle provision, perhaps?

      • TomSustrans says:

        I’d class a “high” budget as the £200,000 that I managed to get out of the Cycle Safety Fund to do a 300 metre scheme up here where I work in the North East. Even at this level of funding which you usually wouldn’t see anywhere outside of That London there was neither scope to move services nor resurface the main carriageway (the lions share has had to go on treating side roads, which is the expensive and unavoidable bit)

        Unfortunately we live in a country that spends comparatively little on transport per head and this does have an impact on how our cycling schemes will be laid out. But that said you can still do some very good stuff if the political will and design skills are there.

        • Tim says:

          A primary school local to me has recently expanded by building large new classroom buildings on the existing playground and using adjacent unused greenfield space (over the road) for play/sports.

          The road was closed while the building was done, and the planner would like to close it permanently making it part of the school grounds, but the expense of re-routing services means that access will probably be preserved for pedestrians and hopefully cyclists – a handy bit of filtered permeability.

          A bit off topic, but yes, services can make all the difference, only hopefully in this case it could benefit more sustainable modes.

        • Dan B says:

          Why are you wanting to resurface the main carriageway with Cycle Safety money?! It’s like the Bedford roundabout all over again, isn’t it? Money set aside for Cycling is being spent on general transport costs (like resurfacing).

          Seriously, Sustrans are probably the biggest barrier to mass cycling in the UK. PLEASE just stop.

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      And there are lots of (too many) schemes coming forward that are not heading to more cycle-friendly construction.

      Also I don’t accept the too expensive to move becasue of all the stuff underneath argument: firstly this assumes that the only money for cycle infrastructure should come from hypothecated cycling budgets alone – I believe a road refurbishment should include a cycling element in its budget, otherwise the progress will remain glacially paced; and secondly it ignores the fact that it has already been shown possible, as here (note service cover at cycle path level):,-0.304787&spn=0.001644,0.00191&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.412424,-0.305297&panoid=7N0z-eLzJgsKUotnbBGA5Q&cbp=12,161.17,,0,12.53

      Otherwise, while I largely favour a Dutch approach, from where i sit in N Surrey/SW London I see much to commend Angus Hewlett’s argument. Currently too many UK drivers are too aggressive, even in “woonerf” type streets, so allowing people to use the footways on bicycles in places as Angus describes, until something is done is a fair compromise IMO. Many do.

      But to get back to urban footways, there’s an element of double standards here. A lot of recent schemes have taken space from the carriageway and reallocated it to the footway, with many plans for future builds following this trend. If kerb lines need adusting for pedestrians (±shared use) in these cases then it rarely seems to be an issue, whereas it does for dedicated bicycle infrastructure, whatever vertical level you put the cycle path.

      Also, in spots like this,-0.255572&spn=0.00658,0.007639&t=m&z=17&layer=c&cbll=51.399218,-0.255561&panoid=LEPneFbcHFkMW98gRJMN9Q&cbp=12,8.38,,0,8.65

      parking spaces take priority over any bike lanes, in addition to wide footways. The hierarchy is motor vehicle ways > car parking > pedestrians > bicycles – except bicycles don’t really get anything, apart from the resentment of drivers and pedestrians, do they (I see others have made similar comments while I was typing this)?

  3. Angus Hewlett (@angus_fx) says:

    Just one point regarding LCDS and shared footways. LCDS is for the whole of Greater London – 30 miles across, and in places, not very dense. Even within the North/South Circular there are streets with high enough traffic flows, low enough pedestrian flows and few enough side roads for shared space to work tolerably well – although certainly the exception rather than the rule. Think long roads running alongside, or across commons.

    It’s not something we should be campaigning *for*, certainly, but nor does it need to be rejected outright.

    • Joel_C says:

      Surely this will only approach being workable if these shared use paths are given appropriate priority over side roads and at junctions – otherwise you’re back to square one (i.e. people using the roads for convenience).

      I think shared use of the type you suggest has a role to play in rural and semi-rural settings, particularly on routes between settlements where there may be a footpath which has light or non-existent foot traffic.

      • Angus Hewlett (@angus_fx) says:

        Yes, see “few enough side roads”. Typically this only happens alongside commons, large parks, allotments, cemeteries etc., but there are plenty enough such spaces outside Z1&2 for it to merit a place in LCDS.

        In addition, because of the non residential nature of such places & low level of pedestrians, motor traffic tends to be fast, often legally so (“A” roads across London commons frequently have 40mph limits, which in practice means traffic does 50).

  4. Joel_C says:

    Also, well done Mark on slaying yet another sacred cow – no doubt your favourite Hackney councillor (and ex-councillor) will be getting a dose of the vapours right now. Given that in the (very) recent past, whole streets have either been closed off or drastically re-routed, or even entire blocks of buildings have been deemed expendable, all in the name of catering for motor traffic – All options should be on the table.

  5. This is a sensible article Mark, and sense is something that has been long missing from this polarising issue. I’ve spoken to quite a few (usually sensible and admirable) pedestrian campaigners who will not counter loosing footway space under ANY circumstances, even when – as in the case of CS2 on Whitechapel Road – there are acres of unused space that could be easily used to create safe space for cycling and massively improve the current woeful cycling provision there.

    This *is* a debate that needs to be had because there is only so much budget and time available to create meaningful change, and in places the quickest, most economical and indeed effective step would be to take the space from the footway and not the road.

    I often wonder though if perhaps this is also rarely considered as being acceptable within cycling campaigning circles because there is that strangely puritanical ethos among some that each cycling intervention must somehow punish the motorist in order to be wholly effective…?

    • pm says:

      I do tend to symphathise a lot with the desire to hang on to what pavement space exists for pedestrians.

      Taking pavement space, even for cyclists, feels like a slippage in the wrong direction.

      I tend to feel its only justifiable in the context of filling in a final difficult section of a route that in the main involves reallocating space from motor traffic. So I’d accept it occasionally.

      I don’t think its ‘puritanical’ so much as a realistic assessment of how things work – give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. How do you know the next step, years down the line, won’t be to later expand the road to encompass the cycle lane, now its established that space is for wheeled vehicles?

      And personally I’m pro-cycling because I want to see fewer cars on our roads. Cycling is a means to an end, not an end in itself, as far as I’m concerned.

      It is noticable though that there seems to me much less resistance to taking space from even ludicrously narrow pavements if its for the purposes of squeezing in still more parking bays.

    • Paul says:

      I would suggest that a general presumption against taking space from the footway would follow if we are arguing for cycling promotion as “active travel” which would also include walking. Pedestrian groups are suspicious enough already despite our similar situation.

  6. Liz says:

    It’s also the case that there are often very wide pavements running alongside busy roads, with relatively low volumes of pedestrian traffic, because it’s not much fun to walk alongside busy roads. For example, Blackfriars Road – apart from the area around the tube station, there is relatively little foot traffic here. Well-planned bike paths can increase pedestrian comfort by moving cars further away from the pavement and reducing vehicle speeds, which will then make it nicer to walk along the road.

  7. geoffR says:

    It’s interesting to read many of the London / urban centric points here but most of the UK is not the South East corner of England. Here in west Wales we have situations where there are pedestrian traffic flows along some trunk road pavements roads of 2 – 3 people an hour. Alongside these reasonably good gradient separated pavements on a 60 MPH road there is a white painted line bike lane. As part of the Carmarthenshire Cycling Forum response to the Active Travel (Wales) Act Design Guide we have actually asked that restrictions on the use of such paths be relaxed to accommodate more shared use paths. Failure to do so could result in miles of underused inter-urban routes being underused when in reality there is no good reason (apart from an excess of bloody mindedness from highways people, cycle campaigners and pedestrians) to ignore them.

    • Simon Still says:

      From reading David Hembrow’s blog, and what I’ve seen myself in the Netherlands, it is very common there for country roads to have dedicated bike paths alongside that that are permitted for use by the small number of pedestrians. Much better than the UK solution of an overgrown underused footpath.

    • D. says:

      I went on holiday with my family and inlaws a few weeks ago, staying just north of Tenby. I hadn’t appreciated how cycling-unfriendly many of the main roads are around there. I was banned from taking my bike with me, so didn’t get a chance to try them out, but even the new roads (west of St Clears) didn’t appear to have any provision for cycling at all. Am I wrong? Was it there and just well disguised?

      • geoffR says:

        No, you’re not wrong – here is a press release outlining our (Carmarthenshire Cycling Forum) central campaign this year:-

        Trunk Road Agency’s expenditure over 20 times more on cycling schemes in Pembs compared to Carms!!
        Carmarthenshire has significantly more Trunk Road miles, a larger population, a thriving cycle culture and the A48/A40 dual carriageway which carves the County in half and yet over the last 6 years a total of £54,646 was spent on Trunk Road cycling improvement schemes whilst Pembrokeshire has had almost £1.3 million!! Whilst applauding the efforts and expenditure in Pembrokeshire the Carmarthen Cycle Forum wants to know why such an imbalance has come about.
        Phil Snaith, Chair of the Forum points out “it isn’t that everything is fixed and there is nothing to be done. Cross Hands roundabout was altered a few years back and made even more dangerous for cyclists. Almost all cyclists illegally pass through the underpass which with some design improvements and better approaches could be a real boost. Bancyfelin to St Clears stands out also as unfinished work whilst sections of the A40 between Carmarthen and Llandovery should be made safer for the many cyclists using it. Whilst Pembs has spent its £1.3m much of what has happened in Carms has simply made it more difficult to cycle !! Such a disparity in spending has to be reversed and we call upon our AM’s and County Council to put this right”

  8. geoffR says:

    underused inter-urban routes being underused – sorry!

  9. Paul says:

    In this neck of the woods (LB Richmond) the council have decided to build out the kerb to incorporate a contra-flow cycle lane into a shared use space outside a junior school. (The school was expanded so footway was overcrowded). Cycling that way at chucking-out time will be interesting ! Removing the 2 parking spaces across the road was considered politically impossible.

  10. clare neely says:

    This assumes that the people driving have to drive, when around 80% are driving 5 miles or less. In Lambeth, where I live, 46% of people driving into the borough are driving 2 miles or less. If people walk or cycle short journeys it leaves plenty of space for cycling on the roadway.

  11. Pedestrians also can’t walk very comfortably near motor traffic. I mean a curb isn’t much, as Copenhagen proves. I suggest a minimum of a 1.8 metre wide pedestrian footway, 2 metre standard, wider if needed, and a boulevard space with all the other objects like road signs, trees, etc, between the cycleway and roadway if a separate space for the cycleway is provided.

    And also, you mentioned that at places like Farrington, the space couldn’t be reduced for pedestrians. But something you forgot is that many public transport passengers could switch to cycling (and also walking) if they were made safe and attractive enough. Not everyone near a public transport facility will be switching, some may be from Chelmsford or something like that where it would be a very long way to cycle, especially for a commute, but a lot of the traffic is local. And many people walking may switch to cycling if it was made attractive enough. Walking is pretty slow even if you don’t stop or give priority, and can’t carry much, even professional soldiers only carry about 25 kg when marching as a standard in the US army.

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