Just how contemptuously bad can cycling infrastructure get?

Earlier this year ago I wrote about the Northgate gyratory in Chichester. This is a horrible roundabout, with very high motor traffic speeds, and risible, dangerous cycle ‘infrastructure’ around the perimeter; cycle lanes that put people cycling in hazardous positions and actually make it more difficult to negotiate the roundabout than by actually cycling with the flow of motor traffic.

This year £210,000 has been spent ‘improving’ this roundabout for cycling – an improvement that involved merely repainting the existing rubbish around the edge of the roundabout, and adding ‘innovative’ flashing signs that state THINK BIKE.

Last week I managed to pay a visit to this ‘completed’ scheme, to see just how well this turd has been polished.

It’s still a turd.

It’s hard to convey in words just how angry it makes me to see cycling infrastructure of such an appallingly low quality being superficially dressed up with a fresh coating of lumpy green paint and some stupid signs – a dressing up that the Council are, amazingly, actually proud of.

Posing in front of the sign shown in the video -

West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith posing in front of the sign shown in the video.

COUNCIL leaders claim the road network in Chichester has been boosted by a ‘Mexican wave’ of new signs at the Northgate roundabout.

New cycling technology has been placed around the gyratory, which the county council said made it safer for cyclists and drivers. The warning technology has been introduced to make motorists aware of the presence of cyclists in the cycle lane.

Rejoice! The driver of that thunderous HGV will now be aware of your presence – evidently he wasn’t before, which is reassuring.

“The new system is an excellent way of making sure motorists know when a cyclist is approaching a junction,” said Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, the authority responsible for the roundabout.

An ‘excellent way of making sure a a motorist knows you’re approaching a junction’ that somehow differs from just using their eyes to see someone cycling in front of them.

“I found it really useful to see for myself how the technology works and I hope cyclists will find it improves their journey.”

You won’t find anyone who thinks that. Because it’s nothing more than an ineffectual sign.

She was given the chance to cycle the route herself along with the newly-appointed cabinet member for highways and transport, John O’Brien. He echoed the leader’s praise of the new warning system.

“This is a really clever use of technology,” he said. “The sensors are normally used to detect cars and trigger traffic signals. But we’ve specially adapted them at Northgate to detect bicycles in the cycle lane. I hope the improvements will encourage more people to get out of their car and on to their bike.”

‘Hope’. We can always rely on ‘hope’ in the face of overwhelming certainty that this crap isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference.

The project has cost £210,000 for the signs as well as ‘updating the cycle lane and painting it green’, according to the county council. The council described the sensors and flashing signs as ‘state-of-the-art’.

‘State-of-the-art’. Jesus wept.

Of course the signs aren’t even the problem; the problem is the dreadful layout. Adding some flashing signs here is like attempting to save a house that’s about to collapse by putting up some fresh wallpaper in the living room.

As you cycle around the edge of this gyratory, at every exit slip you have to crane your neck back through 180° to see whether motor traffic is about to swerve left across your path at 30 to 40mph.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 23.00.25

I was trying to think of how this might equate to designing for driving; perhaps it’s like expecting drivers who have no wing mirrors to set off from a stationary position parallel to a high speed lane of motor traffic, to cross that lane.

We would never design for motoring like this.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 22.36.02

People have been seriously injured on this roundabout – and will continue to be seriously injured – not because drivers are failing to ‘think bike’, but because this layout is fundamentally shit. It’s that simple.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 22.39.56

As I hope the photograph above makes plain, anyone cycling here really has to make sure that no motor traffic is coming at all, before venturing across the exit slip. You cannot rely on drivers signalling their exits, nor on where you think they might be going. You cannot take that kind of chance. That means you have to wait for the roundabout to be clear. At every exit. Even at the entrance to a car park.

Stop. Look back over your shoulder. Check.

Stop. Look back over your shoulder. Check.

It is so stressful, hazardous and unpleasant negotiating this roundabout on a bike I found myself involuntarily swearing at the stupidity and complacency of the people who think this is worth issuing self-congratulatory press releases about. It is a million miles away from acceptable.


Ive uploaded the road safety audit for this sign scheme – the documents can be read here and here.

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36 Responses to Just how contemptuously bad can cycling infrastructure get?

  1. AndyC says:

    And, just to demonstrate how safe we think our roundabout is, let’s pose for a photograph wearing helmets and hi-viz as if we are on a construction site!

    • Simon says:

      I know what you mean. I assumed they were from the engineering firm which put up the signs rather than the council. Could they look more like people who don’t cycle and will never cycle, regardless of infrastructure?

  2. paulc says:

    those corners have been engineered for high speed traffic flow… completely unlike the Dutch where they deliberately engineer conflict points for low speed interactions with good sight angles.

  3. I just got a bit sick from just watching it

  4. ….and there is even enough space to have separate cycle tracks that cross the arms at right angles and to tighten up the geometry so motorised vehicles slow down at the critical points.

    At least this design is safer (!) than the previous proposal where the cyclists would have had “priority” and been actively encouraged to ride in front of oncoming vehicles without looking first.

  5. The ‘Exception Report’ from the road safety audit gives an illuminating insight into quite how haphazard the design process for these cycle activated ‘Think Bike’ signs was.

    • Andy R says:

      Do you have a link to the audit(s) and the exceptions report? BTW, if it was safety audited at Stage 1 or 2, it would also need to be audited at Stage 3 (post construction) as a matter of course.

      • I have sent a copy (Stage 2a) to AsEasy -perhaps he can put it up?

        • Will do – I’ll host them here.

        • Andy R says:

          Don’t suppose you’ve got the Stage 2, have you?

          • No, sorry.
            The design went through a number of stages.
            The original scheme for this gyratory did not specify what solution was to be employed and the scheme budget was relatively modest at £84 000. The description was:
            ‘Northgate – safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists around the gyratory
            -reviewing the existing provision for cyclists and identifying where improvements can be made to reduce potential for conflicts – eg moving cycle paths off-carriageway
            -crossing points for pedestrians trying to access the central island
            -bus priority measures’
            I think C2M Hills’ first proposal included moving cyclists onto the pavement and adding toucans but that local cyclists were (understandably) unhappy about that.
            In February 2013, an ‘Options report’ was published. It states that the first option was based on a 2012 study by TMS for the existing cycle lane to have priority over motor vehicles, but it noted that LTN 2/08 advises against annular lanes on busy roundabouts. The second (preferred) option was for carriageway reduction to allow a bidirectional shared-use path around just part of the gyratory.
            In January 2015 a proposaI was produced with cycle priority very similar to option 1: https://aseasyasridingabike.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/dynamic-envelope-summary.pdf. That was apparently rejected as a result of a safety audit.
            The current scheme retains the flashing signs but removes cycle priority.
            In my opinion WSCC has got in this position because it failed to treat cycling as a serious form of transport, it lacked technical expertise and it handed the project over to a third party without proper management and control.

  6. Dan B says:

    Hang on – they’ve put in sensors that activate electronic signals when bikes approach, and NOBODY thought that traffic lights might be useful? It would, I fully understand, still be shit, but at least it might be a very slightly shinier turd…

  7. Chis4Trail says:

    I believe this r’about was subject to a (then) TRRL exp in 70/80s with an annular ring of, I think, contrasting colour. It failed… as drivers failed to give way to those on bikes despite contrasting surface. I know one of the experimenters (now long retired). There is, I believe, no TRL report and I think it is too early for Google to find it it was otherwise published. Will try and report back. There may have been a ‘working paper’ or ‘internal note’ and a paper copy may be in TRL library (if that still exists!)

    • Notak says:

      By ‘annular ring of contrasting colour’ do you mean some kind of formalisation of the old HC advice to ride round the edge of a roundabout, across all the exits until you reached the one you were taking? I remember following that advice once, maybe twice; even as an inexperienced teenager (the kind of person the advice was aimed at) on a fairly small and quiet roundabout I could soon tell it was a fundamentally crap idea!

  8. bz2 says:

    For reference, £210,000 is about 2/3rds towards the cost of building an entire Dutch roundabout (source).

    • S Lunnon says:

      Do you have a link I can copy (and translate) for the cost of building a Dutch roundabout?

    • And that is including building the part of the roundabout used by drivers too? Right now this roundabout exists. You could put in cycle tracks, or even better, grade separation, in the right location with the right sightlines and fix up the curbs to encourage much slower speeds, something in the range of 15-20 mph rather than 30-40 mph for much less than the cost of this paint and signs.

  9. Chis4Trail says:

    Digging around… I’ve discovered that the previous ‘dutch’ style scheme was reported on at a PTRC conference and there is a ref: in Traffic Engineering and Control: “Layfield R E and Maycock G (1986). Pedal-cyclists at roundabouts. Traffic Engineering + Control, June 1994, pp 343-349. ”
    I think some dates have got mangled… Don’t know where to go for old copies of TEC, or past papers of PTRC events.
    There is also: TRL Report LR285 written in 1997 (nearly 20 years ago!)
    “Cyclists at roundabouts – the effects of ‘Continental’ design on predicted safety and capacity”

  10. Jitensha Oni says:

    Not quite getting this – if the cyclist is meant to give way at various points, where does the warning to motorists come in? Watch out a cyclist will be giving way to you?? And some of the signs appear to be on the inside curve of the gyratory, drawing motorists’ eyes in the opposite direction to the cycle lane:


    By the way, you didn’t show the best view:


    yep that’s a give way off the gyratory offset from the street entrance because of the bollard.

  11. SteveP says:

    Just amazing stupidity. Throwing money away to hurt people. Sadly, the UK traffic law does not mandate the use of indicators. It’s rather more of a suggestion (Rule 186 relates to roundabouts) and as any driver knows, a large percentage of motorists don’t bother (heck, they can’t even stay in a marked lane) and many others appear totally confused about the correct pattern. Failure to indicate before turning is an infraction in many jurisdictions, although I wouldn’t stake my life on it.

    I recall a London black cab driver did some television shows driving taxis around the world. He was up on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic in the middle of winter and was given a short driving test (in the snow) by his employer, who pointed out he had failed to indicate a turn. “What? Every time?” “Yes, every time”.

    • Bez says:

      Personally, I’d offer the possibly slightly devil’s-advocate argument that indicators should be done away with. For any manoeuvre other than changing lanes on multi-lane carriageways, the absence of indication would necessarily make other parties more cautious, since they would not be able to infer anything from a flashing light. The scope for assumption is, so this argument would go, much reduced.

      When I cycle there are situations in which I deliberately do not indicate, because I know that if I do so, people’s assumptions about my immediately subsequent actions may cause them to put me at slightly greater risk.

      Making indication mandatory seems a reasonable idea, but to my mind it falls at two hurdles: firstly the case where someone forgets to do it, and secondly where someone changes their mind prior to manoeuvring.

      Fundamentally, indicators are not a safety device. They are anything but: They are a traffic flow-enhancing device, allowing people to move off sooner where (as in the overwhelming majority of cases) the indication is accurate.

  12. Matt Barker says:

    Words fail me. Better would have been a low speed, single lane, Dutch roundabout without cyclist priority but with 90 degree crossings away from the RB itself, or simultaneous green traffic lights, or even, given the space, grade separation, with the road rising above pavements and cycle paths

    • Andy R says:

      Given capacity doesn’t seem to be an issue (there’s only one, wide circulatory lane available for motor vehicles) then looking at OS mapping data there appears to be enough room for a 3.65m wide lane, a 2m wide verge and a 3m wide cycle track, all within the existing kerb lines of the circulatory carriageway. A layout like that would also have the advantage of allowing the exists and entrances to be squared up somewhat, to slow traffic down, as opposed to the current ‘slip roads’ encouraging fast exit speeds.

      • paulc says:

        “A layout like that would also have the advantage of allowing the exists and entrances to be squared up somewhat, to slow traffic down, as opposed to the current ‘slip roads’ encouraging fast exit speeds.”

        oooh can’t have that happening… they model for vehicular transport flow, cyclists don’t count and actually get in the way. This is why we consistently get marginalised. Their models are cr@p… they should be using Dutch ones…

        • Andy R says:

          Do the Dutch actually use traffic models with peds and cyclists at the summit though? I’m under the impression that the implementation of cycle and ped infrastructure is/was basically a political decision (which does also happen to have massive benefits for the environment, health, etc., etc.). But as for some sophisticated modelling process – I’m not so sure, else surely there’d be research paper after research paper comparing their approach to ours. and to that taken in every other country.

          After all, there’s no ‘Cycle AutoTrack’ bolt-on to allow us to model the swept paths of various cycle types on links – the Dutch just build wide and be done with it – I suspect a similar attitude towards modelling traffic flows..

  13. Utter contempt shown with a Give Way at the entrance to a car park! Seriously wtf!

    My local council is currently looking at changing the roundabouts at motorway junctions to improve cycle safety. I dread to think what is going to be proposed. Anybody got any links to such designs?

    • Eric Fraga says:

      Giving way for car parks is typical for West Sussex County council unfortunately. Their mindset is stuck in a car-centric view of the world and nothing seems to be able to dislodge it. All but one of the recent “improvements” in infrastructure in Crawley have cyclists and pedestrians having to give way to motor vehicles, even in a park setting. Very depressing.

      And asking councillors about this leads to no answer at all. Democracy in action…

  14. Bez says:

    A simple glance at the gyratory from the top of North Street is sufficient to assess this intervention. Immediately apparent is the fact that the signs have no consistent placement relative to the junctions. Some point towards joining traffic, some towards traffic approaching an exit, some on the nearside, some on the offside.

    For instance, the sign at the North Street junction faces joining traffic, and is positioned directly ahead of the vehicle as it angles left to join the gyratory. This may seem reasonable at first, but it is likely that drivers will be looking to their right: there is a good chance that the sign will either be missed or will act as a distraction, potentially increasing risk. At the Orchard Street exit, however, the sign faces traffic on the gyratory and is placed to the offside, well away from the sight line of anyone leaving the gyratory (ie those who will cross the cycle lane flow) and thus again possibly acting as a distraction to them and potentially increasing risk.

    This inconsistent treatment of the junctions makes it clear that no-one has considered the interactions of flow, or road users’ sight lines and subjects of attention in a consistent manner. Had they done so, we might expect to see consistent placement, and communications with the council might have elicited a more robust justification for the intervention than we have seen.

    It has all the hallmarks of someone desperately throwing things at a wall to see what sticks.

    Unfortunately, all that has stuck is an invoice for nearly a quarter of a million pounds.

  15. Notak says:

    It’s just the kind of cycle lane to bring out the “vehicular cyclist” in every one! Which is what I would do, if I had to ride round it (and knew it was there). But what would I do if I was with my (nervous, inexperienced) son or (confident, experienced but much slower) wife? Or maybe even on my own but laden with luggage or just feeling a bit off? Probably get off and push. (Actually, if I knew in advance it was there, I’d try and find another route.)

  16. Andrew L says:

    Stop and give way. Stop and give way again. Stop and give way a few more times. All at points where you have to crane your neck around and second guess what other vehicles are going to do. If only they’d spent a little more, there could be some “End of Route” signs at each point as well!

  17. Mike Adams says:

    I’m surprised that the three experienced and regular cycle-commuters who appear in the photo didn’t register a complaint about this mish-mash of ignorance and profligacy. The council leader should be forced to ride this junction every working day for a year.

  18. cyclestrian says:

    This is awful. And we paid for it. Will someone complain to an ombudsman or to the NAO (depending on source of funds)?

  19. Chris says:

    It’s not my part of the world so I’m not going to do it but it would be interesting to ask the council responsible to read this article and the comments and comment themselves here.

  20. Franz Jofl says:

    Brits drive, there’s no need for bike lanes there.

  21. Alan Davies says:

    This roundabout is the turnaround point for one of my regular longer rides. I circulate the entire roundabout and exit at my original entry point. I have not yet had a problem but then I don’t use the cycle lane; ever. Nor would I; it appears much more hazardous than mixing with the traffic in primary where I can maintain priority over joining traffic. I think I’m right that most collisions between cyclists and motorists occur at junctions so I can’t imagine why anyone would choose a route having , effectively, 10 more junctions where priority is ceeded at every one.

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