The issue of ‘kerbside activity’ and cycling infrastructure comes up intermittently.
In plain language, this is loading, and dropping off/setting down, and how it works with cycle tracks between the loading/drop-off point, and the footway. Just last month, the Freight Transport Association responded to Transport for London’s detailed proposals for the N-S and E-W Superhighways in London, with a particular focus on this point.
FTA’s message to Boris Johnson is that whilst it supports the development of infrastructure which improves safety for cyclists, the association is also asking him to remember that the people of London depend on goods being delivered and collected.
Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Policy for London said:
“FTA supports the development of new cyclist infrastructure which is targeted on improving safety for cyclists, and believes it can provide real benefits. But cyclists are only one user of the road and the needs of all must be considered – Londoners depend on the goods our members supply every hour of every day. It is important that these schemes are carried out in such a way that they do not unduly disrupt traffic flow or prevent kerbside access for deliveries to businesses and homes.”
FTA added that it must be recognised that delivery and servicing activity does not only take place in high street locations but on many different street types including residential streets, therefore full segregation in these locations may hinder access for deliveries. In such areas, FTA favours the use of other measures such as ‘armadillos’ or giant cat’s eyes, which provide partial segregation stronger than painted white lines, but at the same time enable vehicles to access the kerbside. [my emphasis]
My understanding of this passage is that the Freight Transport Association favours the kind of cycling infrastructure that HGVs and vans can park on, obstructing it, so they can park right next to the kerb. In other words – cycling infrastructure that, while nice in theory, is functionally useless, if it’s going to be used as a parking bay.
Similar reasoning appeared recently from Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, who argues that cycle tracks are not appropriate where there is kerbside activity.
Likewise the British Beer and Pub Association had this to say in response to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Cycling Safety –
Segregated cycle lanes already cause particular issues for pub deliveries. Manual handling of bulk beer containers such as kegs and casks (as specified in current Health & Safety Regulations) ideally requires the delivery vehicle to be sited at the kerb-side outside the premises. Physically segregated lanes prevent this access
Given that loading and parking has to occur pretty much everywhere on main roads – where cycle tracks will almost always be necessary – then if we take these objections at face value, continuous cycling infrastructure, separated physically form motor traffic, is an impossibility.
But is this really true? How does the Netherlands manage to cope? Deliveries and loading still take place on their main roads, as well as people parking, and dropping off passengers – and these are roads that will often have cycle tracks.
Well, it’s not really that hard. HGVs and vans park in marked bays outside the cycle track, and then load across it, and the footway.
The delivery driver has put a home made ‘watch out’ sign on the cycle track as an extra (albeit slightly obstructive) precaution. But it’s clear that loading across a cycle track is hardly an insurmountable problem – it’s not really any more difficult than loading across a footway, provided that the cycle track is well-designed, with low level, mountable kerbing between it and the footway, as in both these Dutch examples.
I suspect the objections from these groups are based partly on assumptions about existing patterns of cycling behaviour in places like London – cyclists are perceived as fast and silent car-like objects, whizzing around like vehicles, rather than as the more sedate mode of transport it is in places where cycle tracks are commonplace in the urban realm. It’s easier to imagine loading across a cycle track with these kinds of people moving along it –
… than one with people clad in lycra, riding on racing bikes, in cycle-specific clothing. That’s not to criticise this latter group – it’s just that perceptions can be skewed, because the existing environment tends to exclude other types of cycling.
Their objections are probably also based on their understanding of existing UK segregated infrastructure, which will often present loading issues, due to the use of unforgiving, high kerbing, which is an additional obstacle for drivers to load objects across.
But this is poor design – cycle tracks shouldn’t be constructed like this, not least because it’s bad for cycling, as well as for people loading. Cycle tracks can and should fit seamlessly into the urban realm, allowing easy loading across them. It can be done – just look at best practice, across the North Sea.