On diversion

Out on my bike earlier in the week I came across a road closure on a country lane just south of Ashington in West Sussex – Hole Street.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 21.46.37

As you can see, a diversion has been put in place. Not a problem, you might think, except that this diversion sends you directly onto the A24, which is a national speed limit dual carriageway, with no cycling infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 21.53.29Not an enticing prospect, even at this relatively quiet time of day, even for someone relatively hardened like me. I just do not want to cycle on a road with vehicles like this bearing down on me at 60mph. (For the record, the road at this point carries about 35,000 vehicles per day, and – amazingly – about twenty very brave people cycling).

Essentially the authority (or individual) responsible for putting the ‘diversion’ signs out was only thinking about drivers. It’s simply not acceptable to divert people cycling onto a road of this character, even if – thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s – the A24 is legal to cycle on, with no parallel provision.

I took my chances and ignored the ‘road closed’ warning, reasoning that even if resurfacing was taking place I could, at a push, walk past it. (As it happens, I didn’t encounter the closure before I turned off this lane, about a mile further on down the road.)

But as I pedalled along the deliciously quiet lane (with no through motor traffic) I dwelt on whether those ‘diversion’ signs should actually be permanent. After all, why should motor traffic be using this country lane as a through route, when there is a fairly expensive dual carriageway trunk road running in parallel? Indeed, would there even be that much difference in time if you asked drivers to take the longer (but faster) route?

When I got home, I took a look at Google maps. Here’s the section of country lane that was closed, with point A being where I encountered the ‘closure’ sign, and point B where that lane meets another ‘A’ road – the A283.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.07.15The ‘closed’ length of country lane here is 1.5 miles. What would be the alternative? Well, this is the ‘diversion’ that drivers are being asked to take while this lane is closed – the A24 (which I chickened out of cycling on) and the A283 – two sides of a triangle.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.10.25The distance has gone up to 3.3 miles – over double the distance.

But what about in terms of time? The country lane, Hole Street, has a mixture of 40mph and 60mph limits, but really, it should be 40mph for its entire length, at most. At 40mph, travelling from A to B would take around 3 minutes.

Using the ‘main road’ route involves 1.5 miles on the 70mph A24, and then 1.8 miles on the 50mph A283, for a total time of around 4 minutes.

So – despite the extra distance – really not that much more time. And these are the roads that are designed for the through traffic – built and engineered to take heavy traffic. The country lane would be quieter and safer, not just for people using it on foot, horse, or bike, but also for the residents. Really – the kind of diversion that is currently in place should be permanent. Hole Street should be access-only, at all times.

This might sound radical, but it’s a  common intervention in the Netherlands. While cycle paths alongside roads (main roads) are a visible and obvious intervention, the approach is quite different on country lanes, which are stopped-up, or simply signed as ‘residents only’, with drivers who are travelling through expected to take the long way round.

One of these examples featured as a Cycling Embassy ‘Good Facility of the Week’ – a country lane closed to motor traffic, except for residents, on the outskirts of the city of Utrecht.

The sign says

The sign effectively says – no motor traffic, except for residents

It’s worth placing this example in context.

People cycling are obviously exempted from the closure – that means they can cycle from point A (where the photograph was taken) to point B, in a fairly straight line.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.39.38This route isn’t available as a through route for drivers, however. They have to go the long way round.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.45.01

This isn’t really much of a hardship, however – the motoring route is a fast road (equivalent to a British A-road), with the added benefit for drivers of not having any slow vehicles on the road. Agricultural and bicycle traffic shares a separate path along this road (again, this featured in a Good Facility of the Week).

Cycling three abreast on the service road, parallel to the fast main road.

Cycling three abreast on the service road, parallel to the fast main road.

The system employed by the Dutch in this context isn’t about ‘punishing’ driving, but more about putting cycling and driving on separate systems, for safety reasons. On the main road, cycling has its own parallel provision, but on the narrow country lanes, motor traffic is cut out, and forced to use the longer route. Very often, that ‘longer route’ will in any case be more attractive than the direct route that has been closed, because it is wider and faster, and designed specifically take through traffic.

For instance, if you want to drive between the city of Delft and the new town of Zoetermeer, you are forced (or ‘forced’) to take the A12 motorway. An ‘as the crow files route’ is simply not available to you.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.56.48

Naturally enough, the country lanes between the two urban areas, joined up with cycle-specific paths, form a direct cycling route.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 22.59.23

But you wouldn’t really want to use these country lanes in your car, even if you were allowed to, because you have a very fast motorway to connect you – it doesn’t really matter that the route is less direct.

Diversions of this kind are an excellent – good for safety, good for drivers (who don’t have to worry about pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders on their faster routes), good for residents of the country lanes, and good for the people using those lanes to get about, or simply for recreation.

Perhaps we ought to look more closely at whether we can convert our temporary diversions of through motor traffic away from country lanes into permanent diversions – and indeed more broadly about what our country lanes should be for.

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25 Responses to On diversion

  1. Joe says:

    We have a perfect example at Grantchester (just south of Cambridge). Here, a bridge (Brasley) is being replaced (over 24 weeks) and the road is closed to all but cyclists, pedestrians & dismounted horse riders. The diversion sends the traffic either back into Cambridge on the A603 & onto the A1134 ringroad, or for those in a hurry, onto the M11 for 1 junction only.
    The village is lovely and quiet to cycle through now, a real pleasure. Car drivers by the bucket load park up on the closed road to go for walks by the river or in the adjoining nature reserve. Loads of people wandering around on foot – so peaceful in the evenings.
    If only it were a permanent closure….

    • Ian S says:

      Perhaps you should take photos, movies and records of what is occurring. Ask local businesses whether their sales have decreased and canvass a few random residents for their feelings on the road closure, especially regarding their perception of peace and safety. Grab the views of those that have parked their cars and are walking. Utilise video footage as much as possible when interviewing people (let them know that you’re gauging their views on the impact of quieter streets or something that doesn’t fully give away your position). Write up the proposal and find a sympathetic local council member to go into bat on your behalf. Use the words like child safety, elderly safety, more desirable townscape, higher house prices, lower council maintenance expenditure, community building/cohesion, tourist attraction etc. You may find some friends along the way that can help you get a petition together to permanently close the bridge to through traffic. You never know what you might be able to achieve.

      Good luck. May you use those 24 weeks to your advantage and effect real change.

    • Ian S says:

      Oh, and don’t forget noise and pollution in your report.

      • Joe says:

        Very good points. I’ll give it go. Thanks.

        • Are you a member of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign? I’ve raised it as an issue on on our cyclescape system- we can help you, you can help us!

          • Joe says:

            No, joined a few years back and was invited to a meeting so the committee could introduce themselves to me, but in fact no one did. Your chairman attempted to humiliate me and I wasn’t too impressed with his bombastic and adversarial responses to my own introduction and research, so didn’t bother to renew.

    • It would be nice if the signs in Trumpington, Grantchester, out at the Barton interchange etc all mentioned that it’s open for cycling. I’ve been through many times, but every time there’s been someone uncertain coming the other way asking if it is really open.

  2. smsm1986 says:

    I’ve been told by council officials that pedestrians and cyclists should just ignore road closed signs as there would be too much text on the sign if you listed all of the modes of transport that can get through and where do you stop?

  3. cyclestrian says:

    The “no motors except for access” signs are a nice idea for rat runs. Would they really have any effect on the UK’s lawless roads though? More concrete engineering required?

    • Tim says:

      I’d like to think people would obey “access only” or “residents only” signs, but my concern would be that only the more considerate drivers would do so, leaving the hasty “running late” speeding drivers still using the rat run – exactly the drivers you would most want to exclude. A couple of bollards across the road half way along should do the trick. 😉

      • Bollards are a good solution, and there are lots round here that make for much better residential roads. But there are problems. Residents lose one exit from their house by car, and if it’s on their commute they are liable to complain (though where these point closures already exist I have never heard residents ask for them to be reversed!).

        Also you need to place the bollard where it is possible for vehicles, including large vehicles, to turn round. Houses will still need deliveries, removals, rubbish collection, extension construction etc. This problem at least an be a bit easier if you have two parallel, connected roads: you cut them both off, leaving a loop that you can drive round.

    • Paul M says:

      I seem to recall someone citing the example of a new residential development near Cambridge or Peterborough, where a road was closed to general traffic as a bus-only route by a rising bollard system. Private traffic had to make a modest diversion onto the nearby dual carriageway, a mile or so longer than taking this bus route to the next junction.

      The bollard ceased to function, and thenceforth the road progressively saw more and more illegal ratrunning traffic. The council’s response? Oh no, not repair the bollard, just remove the “bus only” signs!

  4. fred says:

    Interesting also to think what part GPS manufacturers have in rat-running. Presumably one can program a GPS system to prefer main roads, or to take short-cuts on country lanes..

    • cyclestrian says:

      Local residents can help here by driving slowly on their own streets. This does two things. If they do so whilst running Google Maps navigation or similar, Google will deprioritise such routes as “too slow”. The second effect of slow local drivers is to deter rat runners – if stuck behind a 20mph’er for half a mile, they’ll not go that way again..

      • cyclestrian says:

        Footnote: cyclists can also help by running navigation apps in car mode on the streets they use. Speed data will be sent back to Google (or whomever) and said streets will not be used as GPS routes. My theory is that the only reason Google added a “bike” mode to its navigation app was to stop pollution of car data with slower (“looks like slow traffic”) bike data.

    • When I was a child my dad often had a preference for rural roads if there was time available. Not because they were short cuts, but because they were prettier and less repetitive, so it helped him stay alert.

  5. Notak says:

    It’s interesting to contrast this paragraph:
    Essentially the authority (or individual) responsible for putting the ‘diversion’ signs out was only thinking about drivers. It’s simply not acceptable to divert people cycling onto a road of this character, even if – thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s – the A24 is legal to cycle on, with no parallel provision.

    with this one:
    But as I pedalled along the deliciously quiet lane (with no through motor traffic) I dwelt on whether those ‘diversion’ signs should actually be permanent. After all, why should motor traffic be using this country lane as a through route, when there is a fairly expensive dual carriageway trunk road running in parallel? Indeed, would there even be that much difference in time if you asked drivers to take the longer (but faster) route?

    The answer in both cases being “because they are rights of way”.

    Whilst I agree with the surrounding ideas – that the diversion has been planned only thinking about drivers and that it would be desirable to restrict country lanes to access-only (residents, deliveries) for motor traffic – I find it perverse that anyone who sets themselves up as campaigning for better cycling provision should include within that the desire to have cycling banned from certain roads. Far better to have the permanent diversion and leave those 20 cyclists who choose the dual carriageway to carry on their way. (At a guess they might be time triallists.)

    Please, keep up the good ideas (like closing country lanes as through routes) but don’t cede anything more to the motor lobby.

    • “I find it perverse that anyone who sets themselves up as campaigning for better cycling provision should include within that the desire to have cycling banned from certain roads.”

      Where did he argue for that? Can you point out the paragraph please? Now, there actually is an argument for that, and of course cycling is banned from certain roads in the UK, but the argument wasn’t made here. That’s another debate.

      I am also not quite sure why time-trialists should prefer to ride on the A24 rather than a closed country lane of the character shown. If the issue is surfacing, then the answer is better surfacing of country lanes, not dangerously combining cyclists and heavy motor vehicles. David Hembrow wrote interestingly on infrastructure for fast cycling
      here.

      • Notak says:

        The statement that the A24 is legal to ride on “thanks to British road design and policy lagging somewhere back in the 1960s” suggests a criticism and implied to my mind that it should not be legal. On re-reading, perhaps that criticism is only meant to apply to the lack of (decent, or in this case any) parallel provision – but that was the way it came across to me.

        As for the testers (if that is indeed who they are), they will be riding on whatever routes are used by time trials. I don’t TT myself, but I know that dual carriageways and busy main roads are often favoured courses because the ‘slipstream’ effect gives faster times. Surfacing might be another factor, though I’m not award of it being often such a consideration.

        Of course, it’s possible that those 20 riders a day using the A24 are actually commuters or even lost tourists. It would be nice to know but I guess we never will without standing there all day and flagging them down.

    • I think both the country lane and the A24 should be suitable routes for cycling and walking, but in different ways.

      The country lane should have through traffic reduced or removed; the A24 should have a high-quality parallel cycleway running alongside it, of such a quality that it shouldn’t matter whether cycling actually on the A24 itself is banned or not.

      • Notak says:

        That makes far more sense! (Arguably there are many newer main roads – I don’t know if the A24 is one of them – which don’t really go anywhere but instead bypass towns and villages and so do not form useful routes for cyclists, walkers or indeed horse riders. In these cases it might be preferable IMO to maintain continuity in the smaller, older roads which the new one bypasses and is intended to replace – does replace, for through motor traffic. All too often, these smaller roads are cut off by the new bypasses, severing what would – and were – be useful and attractive routes for cycling, walking, etc. Then we could leave the A24 to the trucks and TTs!)

        • Jitensha Oni says:

          Maybe two points to make about this. First, the part of the A24 of the post has, as with many such schemes, utiilised the old road between villages with no parallel options, leaving very convoluted alternatives, as in:

          http://www.cyclestreets.net/journey/44078666/

          Non-TT-ers shouldn’t feel they are forced to use such routes off the A24 if that does not suit their reason for riding (e.g. to go between the two end points of the above route).

          Second, there are a number of UK examples of where bypasses and dual carriageways have been given a cycle path, and are useful. Here’s one in east Oxford:

          https://goo.gl/maps/BHqrE

          and here, believe it or not, is one on the A24:

          https://goo.gl/maps/pvquh

          They see over an order of magnitude more bicycle traffic, in the first case than the west Oxford bypass with no continuous path; and in the second, than Mark’s example (and even before Box Hill became “iconic”).

          So I can’t agree with the “bypass towns and villages and so do not form useful routes for cyclists”, since it is second-guessing what any given rider might want from a trip; as well as closing the door on rectifying the infrastructure in areas like the part of the A24 of the post.

  6. gazzadawes says:

    Absolutely!

    I know a few examples both on and near my commute. I use a shared path beside a 50mph dual carriageway. There is a parallel minor lane, BUT it has the higher national speed limit of 60mph despite being narrow and twisty and is used as a ratrun making it unpleasant & often dangerous. I could list others but….

    The question is how do you stop established ratruns without closing necessary though access? One possibility could be to engineer the junctions to be one way. Signs will work alone in a lot of cases.

    Dropping boulders (the ones used to stop travellers accessing areas) to form chicanes is a possible quick way to control and restrict motor traffic without a lot of engineering

    The other thing is to reduce the speed of traffic on such roads. Reducing amount of traffic may just make it possible for the ones that still use it to speed, although making the default limit on such roads 30 will help

  7. canamsteve says:

    I support your intent, but like Notak above worry that and restriction on access will be seized by the landed gentry to cut off even more of the countryside. I cycle on similar lanes (in W Berks, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire) and you can see how small lanes have gone from accessible to all (including cars) to restricted RoWs.

    This pleases the local landowners immensely, as it keeps the riff-raff out. The lane then becomes a publicly funded driveway access road for them and often one end will be allowed to fall into disrepair to the point not even a mountain goat could get through.

    This touches on a whole range of issue – irresponsible 4X4 and dirt bike riding, access to public land, rights of passage… One through road near me, with a number of private houses (and one large estate) has a through (tarred) road that is legally a Restricted Byway (W Berks – open to cyclists). The residents have put up large signs of their own (about 100 times larger and more prominently positioned than the Council signs) which say “PRIVATE ROAD. NO unauthorised access.” It is perfectly legal to cycle or walk through, but it certainly is intimidating.

    Not far from there, a tarred Unrestricted Byway becomes Restricted just past the last home. The road continues on a few hundred yards (to a nice pub on another road). That part of the road is not tarred and frequently churned into deep muck by a local farmer. Not a big problem for the local (they would walk the distance) but on a bike it usually means dismounting and again, discourages perfectly legal use.

    I wouldn’t argue that *some* routes shouldn’t or couldn’t be designated “cycling only” with restricted access for residents. But shouldn’t that come after we’ve taken the first logical steps, such as surfacing canal towpaths well enough that cycling is encouraged (i.e. reliable surface with space for walkers, cyclists and fishers to coëxist)?

    Finally, as you allude, the current 60 mph limit on these tiny country lanes is ridiculous. Most locals drive much more slowly, varying their speed based on visibility, road condition, etc. But there are still the young aggressive drivers (many female these days) that will go by you with 12 inches of clearance at 40 mph while texting their friends. And in your route map shown, you can also imagine the situation where one of the main roads has been closed and all those with local knowledge or GPS units are diverted onto this route as an alternative. They will already be running late, so with no experience of the route will probably be driving as fast as possible. We need lower speed limits in the country. Certainly any road where it is not possible for two cars to pass without driving off the road it should be 30 mph *all* the time. Not just when they are forced to slow for another vehicle.

  8. Pingback: On diversion, again | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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