A tale of two cities

I was in Leicester last week and (briefly) managed to look again at some of the cycling infrastructure the city has been building recently. There is an impressive-looking cycleway, complete with bus stop bypass, on Welford Road.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.11.59Like other new cycling infrastructure in the city, it has been built with distinctive, Dutch-style red asphalt, making it obvious that this isn’t part of the footway, and something that’s different from the road. The kerbs have also been designed well – low-level, and forgiving, meaning they can be ridden over without crashing, and also that the full width of the cycleway can be used, while retaining a height distinction from the footway, and the road.

This is something London hasn’t quite got right. The cycleways in London are of the same colour tarmac as the road, which has led to a number of incidents (presumably, mostly innocent) in which drivers have ended up using the cycleway, instead of the road. The kerbs alongside the new superhighways are also problematic, particularly on the section along the Embankment.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.19.02The height difference between the footway and the cycleway along here means that the effective width of the cycleway is reduced. At the narrower points of the superhighway here – around 3m wide – the usable width is reduced down to about 2.5m, which is pretty narrow for a two-way path, especially one that is only going to get a lot busier.

But unfortunately Leicester somehow manages to convert their beautiful cycleways, with their lovely kerbs, into a horrible mess at the junctions. Here is an exit-only side road from a residential street, that few drivers will be using.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.24.36That red tarmac comes to an end, merging into a shared use footway across an expanse of tactile paving, with no priority for walking or cycling across a minor side street. Not comfortable to cycle across; confusion and conflict with people walking, and loss of priority, and momentum.

I noticed that the same kind of problem appears at signalised junctions. Again, the answer in Leicester seems to be ‘give up’, and treat people cycling like pedestrians.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.27.09The red asphalt comes to an end, you merge onto a shared use footway, and cross the road on a toucan crossing.

It seems a little unfair to criticise Leicester here, because they are doing an awful lot more than most towns and cities across Britain, reallocating road space to build cycleways, and making a genuine effort to start prioritising cycling. But these kinds of junction designs just aren’t good enough.

Meanwhile London – while it might not be getting the designs of the cycleway kerbs and surfacing right – is doing precisely the right kind of thing at junctions, keeping cycling distinct from walking, and ensuring that cycling has clear priority.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.30.35Here an exit-only residential side street – very similar to Leicester – is treated in a very different way. There is no tactile, no giving up, no merging of walking and cycling. Both footway and cycleway continue clearly across the side road.

Nor is there any merging of walking and cycling together at signalised junctions. The two modes are designed for separately.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 02.36.29So London is getting some things exactly right, and other things a bit wrong, while Leicester is getting some things exactly right, and other things a bit wrong.

I suspect a large of the difference here probably flows from the starting premise. London is quite explicitly building roads for cycling, something that is obviously carriageway, designed and built like you would build roads for motor traffic. That’s good for junction design, less good for details like kerbs. Meanwhile Leicester appears to be building what amount to enhanced footways; cycling accommodated on the pavement, but in a well-designed and visually-distinct way. Until, that is, you encounter a junction, where that cycleway reveals its true colours as a bit of footway.

Two different approaches, both with mixed success, succeeding and failing in different ways. Really, London should just carry on doing what it is doing, but making sure that the cycleways are built slightly better, with higher quality kerbs, while Leicester should look to London to see how to design junctions. Combined, the two cities might actually be producing the genuinely excellent cycling infrastructure you see in cities like Utrecht.

Beautifully built, with good kerbing, visually distinct from the footway,, and with no loss of priority, or merging, at junctions.

Beautifully built, with good kerbing, visually distinct from the footway,, and with no loss of priority, or merging, at junctions.

So the question for Britain is whether this is really a sensible way to proceed. If two of the leading cycling cities in Britain – two places showing willingness to change their roads, and to experiment – are still managing to get things wrong, but in different ways, doesn’t that suggest a desperate need for some of kind of national pooling of design experience and expertise, so that both cities are arriving at the best possible outcomes, and – perhaps even more importantly, towns and cities across the country can get things right straight away, without making the same kinds of mistakes as the leading cities?

It’s admirable what Leicester and London are doing, but – particularly in the case of Leicester – a lot of what they’re doing simply isn’t up to standard. They’re fumbling towards the light, and if willing authorities are still struggling, the outlook for places with little or no interest or expertise in designing for cycling is desperately bleak.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. We know what works. We know the best ways to build cycling infrastructure, because we’re now actually getting it right in Britain, even if we’re not getting absolutely everything right in the same place. So rather than leaving local authorities to stumble upon it – and probably get a good deal of it wrong, even if they’re trying their best – why on earth are we not putting all the good stuff in one place? In some kind of easy-to-use manual, showing local authorities the absolute best ways to deal with side roads; to deal with signalised junctions; to build kerbs; and so on. All of the kinds of things that local authorities across the country are having to find out for themselves, in a ridiculous duplication of effort, with poor and wasteful outcomes.

‘Localism’ should really mean giving local authorities the freedom to build high quality cycling infrastructure, drawn from design elements included in Department for Transport-endorsed standards.  It certainly should not mean leaving local authorities to work it all out for themselves, one-by-one. Because that’s just idiotic.

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30 Responses to A tale of two cities

  1. Looks like someone didn’t call Bob the Builder. They wouldn’t do idiotic things like turn a cycleway into a footway (one of my best childhood memories that show was).

    It would be a good idea to ensure that the DfT manual on this covers everything that is still sensible enough to use but to use language carefully. A local authority should not be able to point to a standard and say that this is the endorsed width if they are pointing to the minimum width if they have the space for the recommended width. Minimums are to be used carefully and as a last resort. There’s a reason why the recommended width exists. And how about signage meanings and what to use where on what poles. A cycle path sign is often used on bollards when they should be used on poles next to the cycleway so as to prevent cyclists from potentially running into a bollard. Bidirectional paths are not always obvious, so signing them with a pair of black arrows going in opposite directions on a supplementary plate under the cycleway sign and having a centre line works well.

    A manual like this also should cover construction techniques. For example ensuring a separate cycleway to use temporarily while provisions are being made. Closing off a bus lane with plastic barriers filled with water and well signed as a diversion works very well for cycling during construction.

    We also need a few law and regulation changes. We don’t need public consults for every little sign. Let people contribute if they want and put a list of all of the plans the government has on the internet and library and in person if they are interested, and the contact info to give feedback and voice opinion, but an average bollard or traffic regulation order doesn’t need a big debate. Zebra crossing regulations, priority on them. They all could change along with a new cycleway design guidebook.

  2. Clive Durdle says:

    Is the issue here the engineering profession? Maybe if an ecological approach should be taken that asks about the needs of everyone in the ecosystem, their specific niche requirements and does things as necessary?

    There are more issues than realised – tactile paving, bus stop by passes ….

    This article raises many of the issues😉

    http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/5/22/engineers-should-not-design-streets

  3. Clive Durdle says:

    And has London got signalised crossings right? Are they needed? If serious thought is given to mode change, so that motorised vehicles are truly guests in many places and through routes are elsewhere, do not control mechanisms like signals become redundant?

    • Mark Williams says:

      Partially agreed. Motor traffic lights are entirely an [attempted] solution to some of the many problems caused by motoring based on the observation that motorists cannot be trusted to just do the right thing on their own. Remove the motoring altogether and the signalling system becomes unnecessary. But if it is being retained as a `guest’ (good luck with that), then it will still need controlling.

  4. Clive Durdle says:

    “Last Friday I was participating in the 5th Annual Mayor’s Bike Ride in Duluth following a week spent sharing the Strong Towns message on the Iron Range. The friendly woman riding next to me asked me what could be done to to better educate engineers so they would start to build streets that were about more than simply about moving cars. My answer rejected the premise of the question: We should not be asking engineers to design streets.

    A quick review for those of you that are new here (which might be up to half the audience — amazing). Roads and streets are two separate things. The function of a road is to connect productive places. You can think of a road as a refinement of the railroad — a road on rails — where people board in one place, depart in another and there is a high speed connection between the two.

    In contrast, the function of a street is to serve as a platform for building wealth. On a street, we’re attempting to grow the complex ecosystem that produces community wealth. In these environments, people (outside of their automobile) are the indicator species of success. So, in short, with a street we’re trying to create environments where humans, and human interaction, flourish…..”

    • ORiordan says:

      In the London case however, it is a road for bikes. Good design standards for bikes should say “Use xxx spec. kerb”, the engineer specifies it in the design, the contractor orders and installs it. Basic engineering.

  5. Paul Luton says:

    The kerb problem in London would have cost nothing to get right. In the National Design Manual of our dreams – kerbs between cycle track and footway should be no more than 20mm high and angled. Safer for cyclists and easier to cross for pedestrians. Sorry Clive but that sort of detail is the province of an appropriately educated engineer.

    • AndyR says:

      Except about one-third of blind/partially-sighted people don’t appear to be able to reliably distinguish a kerb upstand of 30mm*, never mind 20mm (50mm seems to be the preferred, easily detectable height). On the other hand, wheelchair users cannot traverse slopes of more than 1:12 (basically a half-battered kerb laying on its back, a Charcon Cycle Kerb**) without difficulty***. The balancing act is not as easy as it at first seems.

      * Testing proposed delineators to demarcate pedestrian paths in a shared space environment – Report of design trials conducted at University College London Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA)
      ** http://www.aggregate.com/products-and-services/commercial-hard-landscaping/kerbs/cycle-kerb/
      *** https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/media/1497826/Shared_space_-_safe_space_Ramboll_Nyvig_report.pdf

    • AndyR says:

      Except. Kerbs of 30mm high (and of various profiles) have been found difficult to detect by about one-third of blind/partially-sighted users* and felt safe to rely on by even less (upwards of 40% IIRC).
      On the other hand, wheelchair users can find it hard to negotiate slopes greater than about 1:12** – that’s a standard half-battered kerb laid on its back (it’s also the profile of a Charcon ‘Cycle Kerb’***).

      * Testing proposed delineators to demarcate pedestrian paths in a shared space environment – Report of design trials conducted at University College London Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA)
      ** https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/media/1497826/Shared_space_-_safe_space_Ramboll_Nyvig_report.pdf
      *** http://www.aggregate.com/products-and-services/commercial-hard-landscaping/kerbs/cycle-kerb/

    • AndyR says:

      Except. About one-third of blind and partially-sighted pedestrians cannot reliably detect a kerb upstand of 30mm, and more (40% plus) do not feel able to rely on detecting such a kerb consistently(1). On the other hand, wheelchair users can find it difficult to traverse slopes more than 1:12 gradient(2) (that’s a half-battered kerb laid on its back, or a Charcon ‘Cycle Kerb'(3) as used in Cambridge). It’s a difficult balancing act between competeing (and often mutually-exclusive) user requirements.

      (1) Testing proposed delineators to demarcate pedestrian paths in a shared space environment – Report of design trials conducted at University College London Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA)
      (2) https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/media/1497826/Shared_space_-_safe_space_Ramboll_Nyvig_report.pdf
      (3) http://www.aggregate.com/products-and-services/commercial-hard-landscaping/kerbs/cycle-kerb/

      • Clive Durdle says:

        Engineers do seem to be afflicted by a particularly virulent form of siloitis, and concentrate on specific groups without really understanding everyone’s specific viewpoints, which have actually been made specific by various groups.

        I understand that similar issues happen with global health issues. Communities, specialists and governmental agencies need to be working very closely together to work out the specific issues in a locale and solutions that really address everyone’s needs.

        The concept of future search is about this – what is the history of an area, what are the issues now, where might it be.

        I understand many iterations of guidance is needed, and suggest two further – the Dutch Crow manual and Jamkhed.

        Engineers have too much influence, apart from being an extremely male group …..

        • Notak says:

          Perhaps more relevantly than just male, they tend to be able-bodied, intelligent and reasonably well off.

  6. A few weekends back the section of the North/South Cycleway (just south of your picture, further towards Blackfriars Bridge) was actually closed off as they had some workmen in with grinders/diamond cutters “adjusting” the angled edge of the path there.

    Today was also the first day I’ve tried using the East/West route from Houses of Parliament along to the point where it meets the N/S route and have to say it was quite nice! My main complaints with the design are the rather harsh humps they have installed at the points where the track raises so it can be level for crossing pedestrians – something that could have easily been remedied with either a shallow drop between pavement and track or just simply extending the hump to about twice it’s length, I don’t think they even make speed humps for cars that steep (although if they did it would bloody ensure they HAVE to slow down!). The other quibbles where relatively minor ones that involved some riders *still* ignoring the red lights at the pedestrian crossing sections and having some PHV driver just seemingly ignore his giveway line (it certainly didn’t look like he intended to stop) and instead just pull straight across both lanes before then waiting to join the main carriageway.

    I have also been using the route around Elephant and Castle and have been pretty impressed with that (bar a few pedestrians straying into the cycle sections, something to be expected I guess when it’s fairly new), it certainly feels a lot safer then mixing it with the general traffic!

    • congokid says:

      I asked for angled kerbs in every relevant consultation, and I presume lots of others did, too. When I first used the East-West route last week I thought they’d perhaps kept the original pavement side kerbstones either because of some arcane conservation byelaw, or a lack of funding to replace them with angled stones.

      I also find the ped crossings rather steeply banked, but in general I really like the new routes.

  7. Jolin Warren says:

    Transport Scotland has developed a standard for cycle infrastructure design, “Cycling by Design” (2010). I haven’t looked through the details of it myself, but it might be the kind of thing you’re looking for. Would be interesting to know if you think it’s up to scratch. Maybe a wee update and then adoption UK-wide is what’s needed?

    • AndyR says:

      I’m afraid that’s nothing more than the oft-derided LTN 2/08 ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’, given a coat of tartan.

      The London Cycle Design Guide and Welsh Active Travel Guidance are our most up-to-date design guides for cycling infrastructure.

      • Mark Williams says:

        `Guide’ being the operative word. Nobody even gets their pay docked or invoice withheld for studiously ignoring or wilfully contravening them. All an actual standard would stipulate is the set of physical criteria which MUST be met in the final outcome and they need not be excessively prescriptive—think UK building regulations. The designer would then be free to dip into the `approved methods’ as appropriate to meet or exceed these, or exceptionally and with a great deal of paperwork (to prove standards met) come up with something `from scratch’ which can be fed back into future regulations. The work crews can still be allowed to add their own flourishes—e.g. their stylised freehand diagram 1057 `tags’ or increased dimensions—as long as it remains functionally within spec.

        Of course, this approach is not necessarily conducive to large numbers of `jobs for the boys’ or constant `reinvention of the wheel’, so you can imagine where all the opposition to it will come from…

    • Colin Smith says:

      I find CbD not too bad for my own use, provided you know enough to rule out things it might seem to give as options in locations where they are not actually suitable.
      Of course, if you don’t know what you should be doing and look to use CbD on its own to tell you, then there are more problems. And if you are the one trying to get better stuff built and the designer keeps coming with poor options and “But CbD says this is OK” then it’s a right pain!

  8. Bill Jessup says:

    Is it possible the London kerbs have been chosen deliberately? If kerbs were low, making it easy to switch between cycle track & footway, with the volume & varying speeds of cyclists in London, it could risk people on bikes regularly using the footway to overtake.

    Likewise, making them as road-like as possible probably helps to deter tourists from wandering into them.

    I imagine volume of cyclists & tourists are significantly less in Leicester.

  9. AndyR says:

    Quote; “So rather than leaving local authorities to stumble upon it – and probably get a good deal of it wrong, even if they’re trying their best – why on earth are we not putting all the good stuff in one place? In some kind of easy-to-use manual, showing local authorities the absolute best ways to deal with side roads; to deal with signalised junctions; to build kerbs; and so on.”

    Design Guidance: Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013?
    http://gov.wales/docs/det/publications/141209-active-travel-design-guidance-en.pdf

  10. Toby says:

    Ironically the junctions at earlier generations of cycle infrastructure in Leicester sometimes have dedicated lights for cycles, whilst in all the new stuff it is always a shared space solution with either a toucan or uncontrolled crossing. So they did know how to do better junctions at some point.

    https://goo.gl/maps/tqQ3R65kRnp
    https://goo.gl/maps/R9UjdhmuZoK2
    https://goo.gl/maps/Ej1ccbv8QQs
    https://goo.gl/maps/9QckATxHB832
    https://goo.gl/maps/GP6rtv1sQ7J2
    https://goo.gl/maps/gdjD2MT7yrs
    https://goo.gl/maps/YbAzjBw29F82

  11. Notak says:

    Clearly what is needed is a set of national standards and a clearly written national manual to applying them, a copy to be sent to each local highways authority.

  12. Barry Bethal says:

    Meanwhile, here in Leeds our ‘super’ highway has London’s insurmountable kerbs *and* Leicester’s clueless shared mess at junctions. Count yourselves lucky.

  13. Clive Durdle says:

    A top off the head list of issues I am aware of and or personally experience🙂

    Cambers
    Dropped kerbs,
    Changes of level
    slopes
    bollards
    guide dogs and tactile paving at bus stops
    bus stop by passes
    time to cross roads
    non forgiving kerbs
    what groups get what space
    A frames
    uneven surfaces – trip hazards

    There is a huge amount of understanding that is required for inclusive design. What is being described in this op are symptoms of a profession that basically does not have a clue.

  14. MJ Ray says:

    You fared better than me. In my trundles around Leicester, I found nothing but some shared space (which I was told later that cycling is banned from 10-4 but I didn’t return to check https://goo.gl/maps/ak6KosgQwXS2 ), a lovely wide green route into the centre that bans cycling ( https://goo.gl/maps/XkgchmJKm6U2 ), what looked like paint+sign footway conversions and very narrow cycle lanes ( https://goo.gl/maps/g6C79FEwEGM2 ).

    I didn’t head out to Welford Road because I didn’t know it was different there (despite looking at the city council’s cycling page) and I had no particular reason to – it looks like Leicester isn’t much better than most Midlands cities for cycling. If they want to change that, they should start improving things during routine road renewals and not only a few high-profile projects. Otherwise, as soon as nearby cities address their own particular problems, Leicester’s going to be left in the dust.

    National standards are needed, but if I had to choose, I’d prefer government to prioritise getting it right at junctions more than the easy straights.

  15. Carlos O OC says:

    Your blog is amazing. Congratulations and thank you for writing.

  16. Roger Inkpen says:

    “The cycleways in London are of the same colour tarmac as the road, which has led to a number of incidents (presumably, mostly innocent) in which drivers have ended up using the cycleway, instead of the road.” I don’t think we’re alone in Portsmouth finding that motorists will drive/park in the cycle lane whether it is coloured or not! If drivers are going into a segregated cycleway, they’re probably the same drivers who park on the pavement. As for the kerbs on the Embankment, the ones on the left in your picture are less than a metre from the line of trees – digging them up and replacing them would have killed the trees, which have TPOs on them.

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