Would you design a road like that?

A few recent examples of dreadful cycling infrastructure design in Britain all seem to have something in common. They’ve been built in ways that we would never design a road for motor vehicles.

We wouldn’t build a road for motor vehicles that had trees seemingly at random in the middle of it.

No, we would build a road with trees… at the side. Because a road with trees in the middle of it isn’t very convenient, or safe. Nor would we install advertising display boards in the middle of a road.

We wouldn’t put zig-zag barriers across a road where it meets another road; zig-zag barriers that drivers have to slalom through before they join the main road.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 00.53.07

No – the road would just join the other road normally, and we would trust drivers to use their eyes and follow the markings on the road.

Let’s say a road has to cross another road, on a bridge. Would we put zig-zag barriers on the ramp of the bridge, to slow drivers down because, frankly, you didn’t design the bridge to be driven across at a reasonable speed?

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 00.56.24

No – we’d built the road smooth and straight, without barriers, and with an appropriate design speed. Because zig-zag barriers are inconvenient, annoying, and actually impossible to get through for some users.

When a road crosses a side road, we don’t expect drivers to cross some tactile paving, entering an ambiguous ‘shared’ area with pedestrians, that loses priority at the junction.


No – we design the road so that it crosses the side road with clear priority, because it’s a main road.

When a road has to change direction, would we build it with sharp, angled corners?

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 10.57.27

No – where roads have to go around corners, or have to change direction, they do so in smooth curves. Because vehicles make turns in curves.

Would we ever expect drivers to get out of their cars and walk along a pavement for a bit, because we couldn’t be bothered to create an actual joined-up route from A to B?

Would we ever build a road, or a motor vehicle lane, that simply came to an END?

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 00.18.28 Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 00.19.53

No, that would be ridiculous. We don’t expect drivers to simply give up; we build lanes that go somewhere, that don’t just come to an abrupt halt.

Would we ever ban driving completely on a road if a small minority of drivers behaved in an antisocial way? Of course, we’re quite happy to do this with cycling, on the basis that inconvenience is something that ‘cyclists’ should naturally expect to put up with.

Would we cram driving and walking into the same space, either on busy routes, or through junctions?

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No – we don’t build ‘shared use’ routes, or ‘Toucan crossings’ for motoring and walking, because that would be inconvenient for driving. We give motoring its own clearly distinct space, with footways for pedestrians, and separate crossings.

In all these examples, the basic design principles we would employ when designing for motoring are jettisoned. Cycling is something that can be bodged in with walking when things get too difficult, something that can be abandoned, obstructed, banned, in a way that we never contemplate with motoring.

When it comes to designing for cycling, a basic rule for discerning whether you are doing a good job is to simply ask whether you would design for motoring like that. If you wouldn’t, then what you are building is almost certainly not fit for purpose.

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16 Responses to Would you design a road like that?

  1. Hey! I was working on a post about double standards for cycling! Mark… 🙂

    In other news, Nijmengen is Fietsstad 2016. London didn’t even get anywhere close to the definitive loser, Groningen.

    • andreengels says:

      I don’t think you should call Groningen the loser. It did get onto the shortlist, which means it got in the top 5 out of (a disappointing number) 9 candidate cities, all of which consider themselves well above the already impressive Dutch average, and probably rightly so. Which means it is still among the best of the very good, just not the best of the best of the very good.

  2. livinginabox says:

    Regarding the Hackney Cycle Superhighway Forest. I truly hope the idea was not intended to impede cycling, but as a decorative means to deter motorists using it as a cut-through (the iron-work would hopefully frustrate attempts at damaging the trees by frustrated drivers). Motorists (or at least some) will drive just about anywhere they can squeeze-through.

    • Notak says:

      That particular one looks to me, from the photo, as if the trees were there first and they simply put the cycle path on top of them. But I don’t know the place, so maybe they weren’t. But even if the trees were there first and couldn’t be moved, there is surely plenty of space to put the path to the side of them. Ridiculous.

      • D. says:

        That was my reading of the photo, too. The trees (which don’t look very old themselves) were there before the cycle track. But what with those cramped mediaeval streets of London, I suppose there just wasn’t room to put the cycle track somewhere else…

      • livinginabox says:

        It looks as if the ‘improvement’, from the point of view of cycling, is a retrograde step, being apparently worse than that which it replaced, although not having cycled there I might-well be wrong.
        The trees were there first (before 2008) and in 2015 there was a cycle path routed to the left of the trees (as seen in the above photo). There appears to be a history of motor-vehicles mounting the kerb and driving or parking on the pavement there because there were a number of bollards, located, and presumably intended to deter their obstruction of the cycle path (which is a common problem).

  3. Notak says:

    To paraphrase one of your earlier posts, “cycle paths should be roads for bikes”. With all that means for giving access to places not obstructing.

  4. paulc says:

    what really upsets me is that all the barriers they put in place to prevent motorbikes from using the lanes and also to slow you right down at a place where the path ends and joins the road come out of the cycling budget…

  5. Chris Smith says:

    There are countless other examples like the ones in your post, in all sorts of of places – social media, blogs, books, magazines, newspapers etc – but I don’t ever recall seeing an explanation by the person who decided on the layout explaining why they did it. Surely there is one of them who is prepared to speak up – maybe one who is retired and not under treat of loosing his/her job. They could use a false name, obscure their voice etc to protect their privacy. I’d love to hear it.

    • Matthew Phillips says:

      Or like members of Sinn Féin in the 1980s they could have their words spoken by an actor.

      • congokid says:

        Well, that wasn’t really their choice. It was all about Margaret Thatcher denying them the ‘oxygen of publicity’, so news outlets dubbed the voices.

  6. Koen says:

    Seeing those pictures, even I, a Dutchman with no connection to your infrastructure whatsoever, felt myself getting angry at the deliberate disconcern displayed here. Not even an effort to do a proper job. Tick the box for ‘install cycling provision’ and on the real work ahead.

  7. Pingback: Singletrack Magazine | Boom and Bust - Breaking The Cycle

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