Infrastructure for all

Inclusive cycling infrastructure is often described as being suitable for ‘8-80′ – for the young as well as the old. It’s a good philosophy. However, it is not quite adequate, in and of itself, to capture what’s required for infrastructure to be of a suitably high standard.

For instance, a good deal of substandard infrastructure could reasonably be described as 8-80. Wibbly-wobbly crap on pavements, for instance, can be negotiated by eight year olds, as well as eighty year olds.

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This isn’t, however, this kind of infrastructure that many people would actually choose to use. Nonsense like this gets avoided by people who are able (although not necessarily willing) to cycle with motor traffic.

So ‘8-80′ isn’t quite sufficient, in and of itself. What’s required is infrastructure that is suitable for the young and the old, as well as the fast, the confident and the experienced. Infrastructure, for instance, that’s suitable for 8-80, as well as for a team time trial.

The opening stage of the 2015 Giro d'Italia, on a cycle path by San Remo. Picture by Alec James

The opening stage of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, on a cycle path by San Remo. Picture by Alec James

The cycle path in the picture above is one that can obviously accommodate high speed cycling, but at the same time it is also suitable for a full range of other cycling types, the slow; the young; the old.

A similar version of this test was proposed by Joe Dunckley – a ‘Boris test’.

That is, infrastructure has to be good enough for someone like Boris Johnson – who habitually disparages substandard off-carriageway infrastructure, while voicing his preference for mixing it with motor traffic on busy roads – to choose to use it, rather than opting for the motor traffic alternative.

Cycling infrastructure should accommodate all these people, on the same singular design. It should offer comfort, safety and attractiveness, as well as being direct and convenient. This is uniformity of provision, well explained by David Arditti

We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.

There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.

Uniformity of provision is tremendously important, because its alternative – dual provision – essentially involves designing for failure. Dual provision means building something that, at the design stage, it is already accepted that people will not use. It involves building, for instance, shared use pavements that the designer knows will be avoided by people who prefer to cycle on the carriageway, because the shared use pavement is too inconvenient, awkward, or slow. Equally, it involves catering for people on the carriageway while acknowledging that many people simply won’t want to use that same carriageway because it is too intimidating, or hostile. We still continue to build infrastructure according to this failed philosophy, at tremendous cost.

Accommodating fast cycling doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of the slow, or the less confident, or the nervous. In fact, quite the opposite – cycling infrastructure designed for speed means more convenience for everyone. It means an absence of sharp corners, of barriers, of ‘shared use’ in appropriate circumstances, of pedestrian-specific design in general. If it’s good enough to ride a bicycle fast on it, then it will undoubtedly carry benefits for slower users, even those who are not on bicycles.

Fast infrastructure brings just as many benefits for slower users

Fast infrastructure brings just as many benefits for slower users

That’s why aiming for 8-80, although admirable, isn’t good enough by itself. It needs to be good enough for everyone to want to use it.

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Coasting

I don’t know what percentage of bikes in the Netherlands operate with coaster brakes, but it must certainly be a sizeable proportion, perhaps even a majority. The tell-tale sign is handlebars free from brake levers (or those with just one brake lever, for the front wheel), and in Dutch towns and cities, these kinds of bikes are ubiquitous.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 23.21.45By contrast, the number of bikes in the UK with coaster brakes must be a tiny, tiny minority of the overall total. My omafiets is one of those bikes.

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I’d never ridden a bicycle with a coaster before, so I was quite nervous about how it would work out for me, and hesitated about whether I should opt for a more familiar lever-operated brake. But having lived with it for a few years, there’s absolutely no way I would have a different kind of brake for my rear wheel. It’s brilliant.

The front (drum) brake is lever operated, so I am UK-legal, in that I have two independent braking systems, one for each wheel. But in all honesty it’s not really necessary – the vast majority of the stopping power comes from the coaster at the rear. It’s an effective brake, particularly because on this kind of bike, your body weight is almost entirely over the rear wheel. The front brake is merely a nice extra.

The coaster brake is a back pedal brake – to slow down, you merely apply downward pressure on the pedals, in precisely the same way you apply downward pressure on a brake pedal in a car. In fact, that’s the closest analogy to the action of a coaster brake – slight downward pressure, slight braking; more downward pressure, stronger braking; stamping down on the pedal, well, your wheel is going to lock up.

I think it’s that association with braking in a car that makes a coaster brake actually quite intuitive. Braking with your feet quickly becomes natural – it took only a week or so for a complete novice like me to become accustomed to it. I now often find myself absentmindedly pushing down on the pedals to brake on my other (coaster-free) bikes, simply because that’s now a natural movement for me. (Meeting no resistance whatsoever, my brain instantly transfers the message to my hands instead!)

That ‘naturalness’ is just one advantage of the coaster brake. An important other advantage is that it leaves your hands free for other things, particularly signalling. As signalling with your hands is often needed when you are simultaneously slowing down, to turn off of, or onto, a road at junction, it’s so much more convenient and easy to have your feet doing the braking, rather than having to transfer your hands from the brake levers to a ‘signal’ position, and then back again, or compromising by braking with just one brake, while signalling with the other hand.

Another major advantage is maintenance. Because a coaster brake is effectively operated by the chain, which is already part of the bike, that means there’s no need for ‘extra’ cabling or levers. The bike is neater, and tidier, with no braking system to maintain in addition to the transmission (which in any case is protected from the elements).

On the downside (for me at least), with a coaster brake your pedals can’t be rotated backwards – at least only for a little bit, before the brake fully applies. That means when you stop, it’s helpful to ensure that your pedals are in a position ready for you to go again. You can’t ‘kick’ them backwards to get them back into position.

In practice, this quickly becomes very natural; my technique is shown in the video below.

The most powerful braking position is with the pedals at 3 o’clock/9 o’clock; and that’s pretty much an easy position for you to start off again.

Ready to go again

Ready to go again

If, by chance, your pedals aren’t in a great position to set off again, the best thing to do is to roll your bike back a foot or so, returning the pedal to a position where force can be applied. Or (as I sometimes do) just push off and use your momentum to start pedalling again. It’s no big deal.

It also helps to have your saddle low enough so your feet (or at least your standing foot) can reach the ground with you sat on it, as in the picture above. That means you are not forced to apply weight to the pedals when you come to a stop, which is tricky when that’s your braking system.

With this kind of bike, a low saddle just feels comfortable and natural in any case – just look at the relaxed chap in the first picture in this post – so any notion of raising it to an allegedly ‘optimal’ height for power transfer doesn’t really fit. Bikes like these are for comfortable cruising, not hard acceleration, or performance.

The only other downside to a coaster that I’m aware of is that – in the event of an emergency – your pedals may not be instantaneously in the right position to apply the best available braking power (unlike brake levers on your handlebars). They may be at the top, or the bottom, of the pedal stroke, where not much backwards force can be applied.

Whether this is a major factor or not, I don’t know – I have always been able to stop fairly sharply on the few occasions I’ve had to. Perhaps this is because (by risk compensation) I ride more slowly, and more carefully, more aware of what idiots might do, simply because I have to react in a slightly different way. Typically if I pick up speed, or I approach a situation where I may have stop, my pedals ‘rest’ in the best position for stopping, parallel to the ground. I rarely find myself pedalling hard into a situation where there is uncertainty. Maybe I’m just older and wiser!

But overall I find that the braking system just fits with this type of bike – it’s easy, painless, instinctive, and it works effectively. If I had to get another omafiets I would choose a coaster brake without hesitation.

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Held up

You don’t have look too hard on social media to find the ravings of drivers muttering about being delayed, impeded or obstructed by someone cycling ahead of them. Usually it’s a rant about someone being ‘in the middle of the road’, or people riding two abreast, or not using a ‘perfectly good cycle path’ – often accompanied by a photograph uploaded to the internet by the driver.

The general background impression of all this noise is that delay and inconvenience on the road network is exclusively bike on motor vehicle; that it’s the slower, two-wheeled vehicles that cause the hold ups. That’s intuitively understandable – cars are fast, bikes are slow, slow things hold fast things up.

But there is, of course, a different perspective – one from behind the handlebars. This week – in a poor attempt at a parody of social media moaning – I tweeted a picture of terrible congestion on Shaftesbury Avenue.

I was being held up; this very wide road was completely clogged by a large number of drivers, travelling three abreast. If they weren’t there, or if they were to stay over to the left, I would have been able to make stately progress.

A little further on, and I was still unable to cycle at the speed I wanted to. In fact I was stationary.

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Bloody motorists.

And again, later that same day, in the evening, streets in Westminster were completely clogged. I gave up, and walked on the pavement.

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This is all so commonplace it’s background – I suspect even many people cycling will not reflect on the fact they are being held up and impeded by motor traffic. It’s so normal it’s not worth commenting on. Queues of traffic that are often difficult to filter past are everywhere in urban areas.

And it’s not just the traffic that is moving – or attempting to move. The car on the right of the picture above is parked. Without that parking occupying valuable road space, again, I would have been able to have made progress. Parking is often tremendously obstructive, yet this passes without comment. It’s a subtle way in which other modes of transport are impeded, yet unnoticed. And of course having parking on both sides of narrower streets means that roads have to be made one-way, causing needless delay (in the form of diversions) for people on bikes who would otherwise be able to take direct routes.

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If all that parking wasn’t there, this road wouldn’t be one way, and I wouldn’t have to cycle around three streets, instead of just taking the direct route down this one. I’m directly, or indirectly, impeded up by motoring.

I’m also held up by traffic lights, pretty much everywhere I go by bike, in urban areas.

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Traffic lights are so ubiquitous it is very easy to forget that they essentially only exist to facilitate the passage of motor traffic – and to allow people to cross roads dominated by motor traffic. Where motor traffic levels are low, or non-existent, there is of course no need for traffic signals, even where human beings are moving about in tremendous numbers.

And of course the width of motor vehicles means I am unnecessarily held up, where otherwise I would be able to pass by oncoming traffic without difficulty.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 23.15.35People coming the other way on bikes on narrow streets, however, do not hold me up.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 23.36.19There are probably countless other ways in which motoring is obstructive and causes delays – feel free to point them out in the comments. The problem is that this delay is a result of street design and layouts that seem to be ‘natural’. Nobody questions parking on both sides of the street, and how that might affect flow or capacity. Nobody questions the existence of traffic lights, or one-way systems – both subtle ways in which motoring is privileged at the expense of delay and inconvenience to non-motorised users. Nobody questions the effects of motor traffic congestion itself on the free movement of non-motorised users.

This isn’t to say that people cycling won’t ever hold up people driving; just to say that there is a very large flip side to that coin. The solution to these difficulties, for both people cycling, and for people driving, is to place these two modes onto different systems – to separate the two modes of transport as much as possible, creating parallel routes for cycling on main roads, and removing through motor traffic from access roads, in line with the principles of sustainable safety.

If you’re a motorist complaining about being held up – firstly, the person who is cycling in front of you will almost certainly be held up by motoring just as much, if not more, than you, and secondly… there’s an answer out there.

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What do we actually mean by ‘representing all transport users’?

This post is about London TravelWatch, but it could really be about transport in Britain more generally, and about how ‘transport users’ are conceptualised – in particular, those who use bicycles, or might want to use them.

London TravelWatch describe themselves as follows

London TravelWatch is the official watchdog organisation representing the interests of transport users in and around the capital. Officially known as London Transport Users Committee, we were established in July 2000.

They also state

Funded by the London Assembly, we speak for all London transport users on all modes of transport.

But what does this actually amount to? Who are the ‘transport users’, using all modes, that they claim to represent?

As we’ll see, the interests of ‘transport users’ in London are not particularly well represented by London Travelwatch if the mode of transport they happen to be using is a bike. They’re even less well represented if these transport users might want to use a bike, but are discouraged from doing so because of hostile conditions for cycling.

Children getting to school are ‘transport users’. If they are using the bus, their interests are well represented by London Travelwatch. If, however, these same children are attempting to get to school by bike, their interests are essentially ignored.

To take one example, London Travelwatch responded to Camden’s consultation on their West End Project, last year. This is a major scheme, costing tens of millions of pounds, and involves major changes to the roads in the Tottenham Court Road area. There was a significant opportunity to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Yet from the summary of responses collected by Camden Council, London Travelwatch essentially had nothing to say about the comfort, convenience and attractiveness of cycling in the scheme. Indeed, their only mention of cycling appears to be

Concerns about the use of light segregation and the potential for this to be a hazard to pedestrians crossing the street.

Namely, concern that the only (inadequate) separation from motor traffic initially proposed by Camden could be a hazard to pedestrians. London Travelwatch had nothing to say about the safety or comfort of cycling on either of the main roads in the scheme, particularly cycling mixed with motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road, which will be a busy two-way road open to all motor traffic after 7pm, and all day on Sunday.

Similarly, in their response to Transport for London’s proposals for Superhighway 5, between Oval and Victoria, which involves (for the most part) a bi-directional cycle track physically separated from motor traffic, London Travelwatch opposed these proposals, arguing instead for cycling to be accommodated within ‘4.5 metre wide bus lanes to facilitate buses overtaking cyclists’.

This is in accordance with London Travelwatch’s latest policy update on cycling, from September last year, which states that 

The best practicable solution for cycles on many of London‟s roads would be to accommodate them in wide bus lanes (4.5m) or wide (4.5m) inside lanes in order that cycle can pass wide vehicles and wide vehicles can pass cycle

So a group which professes to represent the interests of ‘transport users’ suggests that the best way to accommodate cycling is… mixed in with motor traffic on main roads, in lanes that will often be busy with taxis and large, intimidating vehicles.

Some ‘interests’ may be being represented here, but it’s doubtful that it includes those of people who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses. 

This failure of representation flows, I think, from a failure to reflect on whether existing patterns of transport use in Britain are natural. By ‘natural’ I mean that those patterns arise out of a genuinely free choice between modes of transport. It is more than likely that bus use (and indeed driving and walking) is much more popular than cycling in London (and other towns and cities across Britain) because cycling is quite a scary and intimidating mode of transport for most ordinary people. Many ‘transport users’ who might opt for the bicycle if it were a safe and attractive choice are consequently not doing so, even if that mode of transport would make a great deal of sense for them, not least in terms of time and money saved. Their interests are not being represented because of a lazy assumption that the interests of ‘cyclists’ correspond to the behaviour and habits of the minority of existing users.

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The interests of the young girl in the picture above – a genuine ‘transport user’ like anyone else – are being represented by the road layout she is riding a bike on. She can navigate otherwise hostile road environments, like the large junction shown in the picture, because that environment has been designed with her interests in mind when she is riding a bike, just as the footways here are designed for young girls to walk on, or buses that pass through this junction are designed for young girls to use. She is separated – either physically or temporally – from heavy motor traffic as she cycles along this road.

By contrast it is extremely unlikely that her interests would be represented by shared bus lanes, even if they are slightly wider than normal.

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We know this because young children are not seen riding bikes in these kinds of environments. They, and their parents, haven’t made a free choice between cycling in this kind of environment and walking, driving, or getting the bus through it. Instead, riding a bike in this kind of environment with young children is genuinely unthinkable to most people, just as it would be to walk with young children along a busy road that doesn’t have a pavement.

Indeed, more broadly, framing the debate in terms of specific ‘transport users’ is an unhelpful way of defending interests, because people are, essentially, multi-modal. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to present the interests of ‘bus users’ in opposition to ‘cyclists’ (as London Travelwatch appear to do) because with a sensibly designed transport network everybody would be a potential bus user or bike user, every single day. Indeed, this is typical in the Netherlands, where cycling and getting the bus are extremely well integrated.

Hundreds of bikes at a bus station in Assen

Hundreds of bikes at a bus station in Assen

Dutch people use bikes to cycle to bus stops, and then catch the bus for the longer stages of their journeys that would be less convenient to cycle.

Nobody is born a ‘bus user’ or a ‘pedestrian’ or a ‘cyclist’ – they are all human beings who happen to be choosing a particular mode of transport at a particular time. On that basis a proper defence of ‘transport users’ interests’ should examine whether people have a genuine choice between the modes of transport that would make sense for them, for the trips they make on a daily basis. To take just one example, if it turns out that cycling (for instance) would make a great deal of sense for children to make their way to school, and yet few children do actually cycle for these trips, then quite plainly the interests of these transport users are not being represented, even if they are not ‘cyclists’ at the present time.

To ignore this and other ways in which choice of transport mode is constrained when examining the kinds of improvements that could be made to our transport environment would be a fundamental failure.

 

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Two junctions on Tower Bridge Road

This hit and run incident at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Abbey Street has been featuring in the new recently.

Andrea McVeigh posted on the SE1 forum last week to describe what happened when she and her husband crossed Tower Bridge Road near the Abbey Street junction at about 6pm on Tuesday 14 April.

As they stepped onto the pavement on the western side of the road, a cyclist who was on the pavement collided with Ms McVeigh causing her to fall.

This is an ongoing case; the person cycling still doesn’t appear to have presented themselves to the police so it can be resolved.

But from the version of events we have, it’s plainly not a great idea to have people cycling whizzing about on pavements, especially when it’s not obvious to pedestrians that they might encounter someone cycling on a footway. (In this case – because cycling on this particular stretch of footway is not legal.)

How this incident unfolded; pedestrian crossing the road (red arrow) meets someone cycling (green arrow)

How this incident unfolded; pedestrian crossing the road (red arrow) meets someone cycling on the footway (green arrow)

However, just 200 metres from this junction, a little further south down Tower Bridge Road, Transport for London have designed a junction on a new Quietway between Greenwich and Waterloo that involves… people cycling on the footway.

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People crossing the eastern side of junction on foot, in a north-south direction, will encounter people cycling along the footway, in an east-west direction – a perpendicular conflict on a footway, very similar to the kind of conflict in this hit-and-run incident.

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Yet at this junction with Rothsay Street/Webb Street, just down the road from where the collision involving Andrea McVeigh and the unknown man took place, cycling here will be entirely legal, planned for by this new design.

Quietways like this will (or should) be attracting lots of potential users on bikes. But there’s going to be very little to indicate to anyone crossing the road on foot that the footway on the other side is, effectively, a busy cycle route. It will look like a large area of pavement.

Hit and run collisions involving people cycling on pavements are shocking, but isn’t it just as shocking that we’re designing precisely that kind of conflict into new junctions just yards away?

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West Sussex and LSTF money – Horsham cycle parking

This post is part of an ongoing series examining how West Sussex County Council are managing to spend £2.4m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash (won from the DfT back in 2012) on schemes of negligible ‘sustainable’ benefit, with a particular focus on cycling.

The aim is to show how the money that councils receive for cycling from central government (tiny amounts, relative to the scale of the overall transport budget) is being dribbled away, thanks to a combination of tight timescales, limited or insecure funding streams, no continuity of local expertise, poor or non-existent guidance, and local prejudice.

Two previous posts have described how

In other words – two schemes that do next to nothing to make cycling a more viable and attractive mode of transport, at a total cost of £310,000.

The focus in this post is on a further £30,000 of that LSTF cash, which has been spent, badly, on cycle parking in Horsham town centre.

This sum is as large as it is because of an underspend in a proposed LSTF funded cycle route across the town. The original budget for this route was £320,000; this was scaled down to £180,000 once it became apparent that very few interventions were actually planned. That underspend has consequently been redistributed to projects like the parking described here.

£30,000 would buy you an awful lot of sheffield stands – the kind of parking that is appropriate in a town centre location. However, most of this £30,000 appears to have been spent on three two-tier cycle parking stands, of this type –

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This kind of cycle parking is unsuitable for a town centre location, where people will generally be locking their bikes up for short periods of time – to visit shops, restaurants, friends, and so on.

Two-tier parking only really makes sense at locations where people will be leaving their bikes for longer periods of time, and where demand is particularly high. At transport interchanges like railway stations, two-tier parking like this is an obvious choice, because people won’t mind so much the effort of lifting their bikes into these racks if they are leaving the bike for an entire day.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, however, if you are just popping into a supermarket. Yet this is the kind of parking that has been chosen.

Worse still, the locations for these stands have been selected by Horsham District councillors, quite deliberately, with the intention of discouraging cycling in the town centre.

Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North, HDC’s cabinet member for Horsham town, said: “I am delighted that the provision of town centre cycle parking is being improved in this way, making the centre more accessible by a more sustainable form of transport.

“There are currently no covered cycle shelters in the centre of Horsham and cyclists are often seen penetrating areas which should only be used by pedestrians. These new shelters will help clear the pedestrian zones and motivate more people to cycle into town. It will also contribute towards less traffic congestion in the centre so it’s a win win all round.”

The idea, presumably, is that people will lock their bikes up at the edge of the town centre, then walk to the location they want to visit, then walk back to the cycle parking on the edge of town, and then cycle off again, instead of just cycling directly to the location they want to visit and locking their bike as close to that location as possible.

Cycling in Horsham town centre is unfortunately viewed as a problem, and sustainable transport funding has been used to place inconvenient cycling parking in inconvenient locations in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of it.

I say ‘futile’ because most of the town centre is already legally accessible by bike, and where people are cycling in genuinely pedestrianised areas, they are usually doing so either because a contraflow has not been provided on the sensible alternative, or because the parallel road is deeply hostile. Placing cycle parking at the extremities of the town centre will do nothing to change this behaviour, and it’s unsettling that tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash is effectively at the whim of councillors who can make stupid decisions like this.

Here’s where the parking has been placed. One of the racks has been located behind one of the town’s car parks, tucked away in a corner.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.33.31This couldn’t really be much more inconvenient for the shopping areas nearby.

Parking indicated by red dot; shopping areas outlined in blue.

Parking indicated by red dot; shopping areas outlined in blue.

These racks remain empty, while the pre-existing sheffield stand parking nearer the shops (on the sensible side of the car park) continues to be busy.

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The second of these two-tier stands is an even more ridiculous location, plonked right next to a busy shared use path, meaning getting bikes in and out of the rack blocks it –

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… and also sited well away from the two obvious nearby destinations, the library, and a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Again, this rack remains empty, while the parking at Sainsbury’s and the library is in use – because that parking is near where people want to visit.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.46.23The final two-tier stand is actually in a reasonably good location, closer to town centre shops, and next to an existing informal parking area.

But again, it’s being almost entirely ignored, with people opting for the existing (easier to use) railings –

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.48.54… or sheffield stands nearby –

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.49.41… or even lampposts closer to the shops.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 22.50.25None of this should be surprising. The Horsham District Cycle Forum consistently argued against these types of two-tier racks, and the principle of locating them in out-of-the-way areas. Yet these stands, in these locations, were implemented regardless.

They’re not even very good stands. In fact they’re dire. My (fairly standard) Dutch bike won’t even fit in them.

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There’s also nothing to actually lock your bike to, which needless to say is a problem if you want to leave your bike for any length of time and expect to come back and still find it where you left it.

It’s difficult to roll your bike into their upper tier (thanks to those metal bars that mean my bike doesn’t fit) – the manufacturer’s own video shows that bikes have to be lifted some height off the ground, and deposited in the rack. Not easy for most people, especially those with utility bikes.

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And without any hydraulic or spring assistance, you need to be pretty strong to lift your bike back up to a horizontal position. I can barely manage it, like this commenter on the local paper website

I’ve just come back from looking at the new rack installed in Medwin Walk. I’m an active, fit, burly, six-foot-two-er, and my bikes are light. I’d struggle to load one onto the top deck of the new rack. Unlike the racks at the front of Horsham Station this new one has no spring or strut assistance on the top deck and is missing a dedicated locking point on each rack. So how someone smaller, less strong, and with a heavier bike than me is supposed to cope with using the rack is beyond me.

The final nail in the coffin is that they’re actually quite dangerous.

Which means that they are now taped off, out of use, awaiting some kind of solution. (Entirely different cycle parking, perhaps?)

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.08.30Sadly, this looks like yet another waste of tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash, to add to the money squandered on the projects already documented.

What is frustrating is that some of the LSTF cash has actually gone on good new sheffield stands, in sensible locations, which I have noticed are already well-used, despite only being in place for a matter of days. These ones were being used even before the cones had been taken away.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.26.42£30,000 could have bought a lot of this kind of parking, in the right kind of places. But instead it’s been spent almost entirely on impractical parking in inconvenient locations, of such a poor quality I can’t see a solution without the stands being entirely replaced. It’s depressing that something as simple as cycle parking can’t even be get right. The waste continues.

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Planning disaster in the making

A large development is set to go ahead to the north of Horsham, on the other side of the town’s northern bypass. It will cover (approximately) the area shown in red.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 15.26.34There’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong with new development. Indeed, it can solve existing problems with previous poor design, and can ‘build in’ sensible patterns of land use and transport. Kloosterveen – a new town in a similar location outside the city of Assen’s ring road – has achieved this, with cycling and walking made the obvious mode of transport for short trips in Kloosterveen, and in and out of Assen. Some pictures of connections with Kloosterveen will feature later in this post.

The signs are not at all hopeful, however, that this new development is going to be beneficial in those terms. Existing patterns of travel, dominated by private motor traffic, will continue to be accommodated, while walking and cycling are almost entirely being ignored, with tokenistic attempts at provision.

Thanks to a previous planning disaster when the northern bypass was built in the late 1980s, there are currently no grade-separated crossings for people walking and cycling (and indeed for motor traffic) along the entire stretch of this 70mph dual carriageway – the A264 – that skirts the current northern edge of the town. Country lanes were severed, with no safe crossings.

The mind boggles at how this was pushed through so recently, with absolutely no thought for how people would cross this road on foot, or on bike.

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Crossing from one side of the bypass to the other on the route of these two lanes shown above involves dashing across four lanes of 70mph+ traffic.

The other two crossing points are fast roundabouts – no help for pedestrians here either, and if you are cycling, you have to cycle on the roundabouts themselves. Again, the limit across both of these roundabouts is 70mph.

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In effect, the land to the north of the bypass is a complete no-go area if you are on foot or bicycle, unless you want to make lengthy detours (and the same goes for accessing the town from this area). It is next to impossible to cross safely or comfortably.

This new development to the north of the town – in precisely the area that is currently severed from the town – should represent a golden opportunity to deal with these severance issues. However the plans released so far are desperately poor.

The developers boast of a ‘Sustainable Masterplan’ – but, tellingly, there is no mention of short-trip transport on the developers own page here. ‘Sustainability’ is framed entirely in terms of ‘natural space’, ‘green buffer zones’, ‘woodland’, ‘ponds’ and ‘allotments’, and not in terms of how people are actually travelling about – a typically British oversight.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 15.53.27Depressingly, the details of the plans reveal that the developers are almost entirely concerned with accommodating existing and projected motor traffic associated with the new development, while very little consideration has been given to how easy, safe and convenient it should be to cross the bypass that separates the town from the development, or indeed to travel around in the development on foot or by bike.

connectivity

Let’s look at the proposed crossing points for people walking and cycling, one by one, starting with the one to the west.

This is one of the country lanes severed back in the 1980s, that is now going to be expanded into a very large (signalised) roundabout. (You can see the former country lane on the left of the plan below.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.06.27The road to the south of the roundabout, connecting with an existing residential area in Horsham, will be a cycle- and bus-only road. It’s not clear, however, how many people will be willing to cycle on the road to get this connection – it will involve cycling in the middle of three lanes of motor traffic, accelerating to join the bypass, on the entry to the roundabout from the north, as shown in blue, below.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.06.27Given the scale and design speed of this roundabout, and the projected amounts of motor traffic using it, it seems far more likely that people will use the combined toucan crossings that are proposed, along with pedestrians. That, however, will involve FOUR separate toucan crossings.

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The picture is much the same at the next crossing point. Here an existing at-grade roundabout is going to be enlarged considerably. Again, you can see the current roundabout, underneath the proposed new design.

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This roundabout is going to be even busier, as it represents the main direct crossing point for motor traffic going into and out of the town (more on the potential problems this will represent later). Again, no grade-separation for walking and cycling is proposed; only a series of toucan crossings. In this case, FIVE of them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.25.31It should be noted here that the developers and their associated transport planners are insistent that people would ‘prefer’ this kind of arrangement to a simple underpass, or bridge. The Tr​ansport, Infrastructure and Flood Risk Report carried out for the developers by Peter Brett claims

‘At grade’ crossings are generally more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists due to reduced distances and the avoidance of ramps or stairs, so are the preferred solution.

But this assertion that at grade crossings are ‘generally more attractive’ is not supported by any evidence. What it seems to trade on instead is the legacy of poor underpasses and bridges that have been constructed for pedestrians and cyclists in Britain. Underpasses that are dark and gloomy, with corners, multiple flights of steps, and poor drainage. Underpasses that are (rightly) avoided by most people because of their unattractiveness, which in turn makes them even more socially unsafe. Underpasses that are used in unsuitable locations, within dense urban areas, to allow inappropriate volumes of motor traffic to flow uninhibited.

Believe it or not, this is the crossing to Dorking railway station

Believe it or not, this is the crossing to Dorking railway station

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But this area isn’t a town centre location – it’s a crossing of an existing major road, a bypass that also serves a through-route function, connecting major settlements like Guildford, Crawley and Worthing. Grade separation is exactly the kind of treatment that should be employed on this kind of road, and it can and should be done well. The first picture below shows the direct cycle route between Kloosterveen and the city of Assen, passing under the city’s ring road.
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Would people honestly ‘prefer’ five toucan crossings to this kind of arrangement?

Here are some other examples of underpasses, in Assen and Utrecht. Convenient, easy to use, and safe – both in terms of actual and perceived danger.
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Underpasses like the ones pictured above do not involve any delay, or any interaction with motor traffic whatsoever. They would make walking and cycling into and out of the new development an absolute breeze, compared to a series of 4 or 5 separate crossings in the middle of a large,  busy and noisy roundabout.

By contrast, the current plans would make cycling and walking less attractive than driving, which is truly disastrous for an allegedly ‘sustainable’ development. Underpasses would redress that balance, making walking and cycling a more obvious option.

Now the developers are proposing a grade-separated crossing for walking and cycling between this large new roundabout and the eastern end of the development. However, they have chosen a bridge, which is a poor choice, because this section of the bypass is built on an embankment, high enough to take it over the railway line connecting Horsham to London (incidentally, this picture also shows another desperately unsafe at-grade crossing of the 70mph dual carriageway bypass).

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That means that any bridge will have to gain not only sufficient height to clear the road itself, but also the height of this embankment. It turns out that this will amount to eleven metres of height gain.

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… And that means a 240m long plod up a steep 5% slope.

By contrast, an underpass could slip easily under the bypass here on the flat, given that the bypass is already 3-5m higher than the surrounding land. It could look like this.

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There are surely very few people who would choose to climb and descend for 250m on each side of an exposed bridge, instead of walking or cycling through a straightforward underpass like this. Or indeed, very few people who would prefer a series of 4-5 separate crossings on busy roundabouts to the other good underpasses pictured in this post.

Getting this right is vitally important, not just for people walking and cycling, but also for those people who want to drive. The more trips that can be made to and from this new development, with the town itself, on foot and by bike, the less congestion there will be on the existing (and new) road network.

The road that has been chosen to form the sole direct connection between the new development and the town centre is already desperately congested at peak times, even before several thousand extra houses are built, with planning that accommodates car trips by those new residents and funnel them onto existing, congested roads. The red arrow, below, marks the only crossing point for motor traffic along this stretch of road – the largest roundabout, already described.

quality-environment

Unfortunately the road into town south of this crossing is really not suitable for accommodating more motor traffic.

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This is not the makings of a distributor road.

I hope the picture above gives a bit of a flavour of Rusper Road – it’s pretty narrow, narrowed even more by residents parking. To top it all off, in the background of the above picture (looking north towards the new development) is Littlehaven railway station, which not only has a large amount of on-street commuter parking associated with it…

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.56.47… but also has a level crossing, across this road, which closes for eight trains every hour, for one to two minutes. Remember – this road is already congested at peak times. This bottleneck is going to be made even worse.

So it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to funnel more motor traffic down this road, adding more danger, congestion and pollution to a route that already has too much motor traffic. Alternatives to travel by car are desperately needed.

The Transport Assessment for the development notes that

Horsham town centre is accessible within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of the centre of the site.

A short distance, in other words. The centre of the development is just two miles from Horsham town centre. But unfortunately very little is being done with these plans to make cycling a genuinely attractive mode of transport. I don’t want to sit and wait at five separate toucan crossings just to get across one road; nor will anyone else. That means people will plump for the car, clogging up local roads even more.

And that’s not all. The plans will erode the primary function of the bypass, to carry through traffic on a quick route, away from the town centre. If they go ahead, along with the plans for roundabouts on the bypass to the west of Horsham, there will be five separate sets of traffic lights for drivers to negotiate on the bypass.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 22.30.45With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.

So there is a strong case for grade separation at these junctions, not just for walking and cycling, but also for motor traffic – to ensure that through traffic is kept out of the town. This will cost more, but the cost in the long run will inevitably be higher if these junctions are not designed properly now.

The final connection under the bypass already exists – it’s a 2m wide footpath running alongside the aforementioned train line.

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Unfortunately this path doesn’t actually connect up with anything on the northern side of the bypass, and the path to it from the town is in a disgraceful condition.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 09.36.40This is the only safe crossing of the northern bypass, and the condition of paths to and from this underpass (or, rather, the lack of paths) is a decades-old issue, unresolved by West Sussex County Council. Local campaigners are putting pressure on the council and the developers to sort this issue out.

HorshamsMissiingLinkMapThis is an absolute no-brainer – it just requires surfacing of the existing boggy path, and a tarmac link running alongside the existing railway line. But the developers publicity material only states, weakly, that

There is currently an underpass which we could improve to provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists and we are also assessing the feasibility of providing a foot / cycle bridge across the A264. [my emphasis]

‘Could’ improve. By contrast, the large new junctions for motor traffic – without ambiguity – ‘will be provided’.

This difference in language is symptomatic of the lack of consideration of walking and cycling in this new development, and the failure of West Sussex County Council to force the developers into providing safe, attractive and obvious connections for these genuinely sustainable modes, along the length of the northern bypass.

A planning disaster in the making.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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What distinguishes Dutch driver behaviour from British behaviour is the design of the roads they use

There was a revealing detail in Bicycle Dutch’s post last week on a (failed) attempt to create a cycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s.

One of the main cycle routes to the Utrecht University, Burgemeester Reigerstraat, was completely transformed and re-opened as a bicycle street in November 1996. The street got a median barrier to prevent motor vehicles from overtaking people cycling.

Here’s a picture of that arrangement, from Mark’s blog.

burg-reigerstraat02Note here Mark’s description of driver behaviour on this street –

Emergency services also complained and they warned about dangerous situations because they were held up. Impatient car drivers were seen overtaking cyclists with two wheels on the barrier. [my emphasis]. This scared people cycling onto the narrow side-walk and that in turn frightened pedestrians. A good two years later (in January 1999) a new Utrecht council terminated the experiment. The centre barriers were removed and so were the signs that forbade to overtake people cycling.

In fact, you can clearly see a driver doing this in the photograph above – squeezing past, very close to someone cycling, driving up on the central median.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Dutch drivers really are just as bad as British ones when confronted with design that puts them into conflict with people cycling. The reason why we have a skewed impression of the quality of Dutch driving is that – by and large – Dutch road design separates cycling from driving, and insulates people cycling from the consequences of driver misbehaviour.

As I’ve commented before, in trips across towns and cities you will encounter a tiny fraction of the number of drivers you would on an equivalent trip in Britain. On main roads you will be physically separated from drivers, and on side streets you will encounter few drivers because these streets are not sensible routes for through traffic.

And in these few places where you do come into contact with drivers, design ensures that priorities are clear and unambiguous, and that drivers behave in a slow and careful manner – for instance, by placing side road crossings on steep raised tables that drivers have to drive over.

However, just as on that failed design in Utrecht in the 1990s, when Dutch drivers are confronted by design that doesn’t make sense, they will behave badly.

On busy through roads that have little or no cycle infrastructure, they will squeeze past you, into oncoming traffic, in precisely the same way that some British drivers will do, confronted by the same situation.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.12.31

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On country lanes (that are access-only roads) they will drive very close to you at high speed, just like some British drivers will.

On busier rural roads – without cycle tracks – they will squeeze through at speed, into oncoming traffic –

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They will even squeeze through at the same time oncoming traffic is overtaking someone cycling the other way.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.20.13On the narrow streets of central Amsterdam, drivers will follow very close behind you,  and squeeze past with inches to spare.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.17.06Many of these streets allow contraflow cycling (like the example above). It is often quite an unnerving experience attempting to hold your ground as a driver rushes past you in the opposite direction.

This also happens on a narrow street in the centre of Utrecht, which is a through-route for taxis, buses and delivery drivers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.09.23I’ve experienced close overtakes like this one almost every time I’ve used this street.

And of course Dutch drivers will happily park on footways, on cycle lanes, and on cycle tracks when a suitable parking space isn’t available, or nearby. Even obstructing junctions to do so.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.17.50This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s nothing particular special about Dutch drivers. They will behave in anti-social ways like British drivers, and drive just as badly as them, when confronted with the same types of design.

All the familiar problems that people cycling in Britain encounter – close passes, squeezing through at pinch points, left hooks, and so on – would undoubtedly occur in the Netherlands too, on a large scale, if their roads were not designed to eliminate those kinds of problems from occurring in the first place.

Attempting to change the ‘driving culture’ of Britain without changing the way roads are designed would be a futile experiment – we can see this in the way Dutch drivers behave on roads that put them into conflict with cycling, like the failed bicycle street in Utrecht in the 1990s, and countless examples of poor driver behaviour on ‘British-style’ Dutch roads.

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Systemic failure

Back in November 2010, a cement mixer crashed through the parapet of a bridge over the (branch) railway line between Guildford and Waterloo, close to Oxshott station in Surrey. The mixer fell onto a passing train. Miraculously, no-one was killed, although several people were injured, including the driver of the mixer, and a person sitting on the train directly under the point of impact, who was seriously injured.

The driver of the cement mixer, Petru Achim, played a large role in this incident. He crashed his lorry into the end of the parapet of the bridge, losing control, and then (in an attempt to avoid oncoming traffic) swerved it through the parapet itself and onto the railway, with serious consequences.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that Achim escaped relatively lightly in court. Charged with driving without due care and attention, he was fined £100, and given five points on his licence.

More significantly, because this crash happened on the railway, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) produced a full report on the incident. The background; how the collision occurred; how it unfolded; how it could be prevented. It’s 36 pages long, and you can read it here.

I stumbled across this incident a few days ago after re-reading Joe Dunckley’s brilliant post, 7 years, 4 months and 18 days, about the safety record of British railways, how that has been achieved, and the extraordinary difference with the safety record of Britain’s roads. As Joe writes,

The last time anybody died on a train that crashed in Britain was on the evening of 23 February 2007 when a Virgin Trains express to Glasgow derailed on mistakenly unmaintained track at Grayrigg in Cumbria

Perhaps the 2010 Oxshott incident was the closest someone has come to dying on a train since 2007.

It’s well worth reading the RAIB report, which produced five recommendations – two for Surrey County Council, two for the Department for Transport, and one for Network Rail – all with the intention of preventing such an incident ever occurring again.

The recommendations for Surrey County Council were that they should ensure the parapet ends of bridges in the county are visible and well-marked, and that they should review ways of protecting the ends of the parapet of this particular bridge in conjunction with Network Rail, and implement the best method for doing so.

The recommendations for the DfT were to issue guidance to highway authorities on how best to highlight the unprotected ends of bridge parapets, and also

to prepare guidance for highway authorities on identifying local safety hazards at bridges over railways which could be mitigated by measures such as signage, hazard marking, white lining or safety barriers, and include consideration of previous accident history and the causes of those accidents.

Finally, the recommendation for Network Rail was that it should

include, within its annual examination of rail overbridges, the requirement for the structures examiner to identify and record any highway features which may increase the risk to the railway such as absence, obscuration or poor condition of parapet end markers.

… and to improve its ways of reporting these issues to highway authorities.

The tone is neutral, without setting out blame. Essentially the approach is to recognise that human beings are fallible, and will fuck up, and sets out the ways to prevent that fucking up from causing injury or death.

I’m not at all familiar with how the Dutch investigate deaths on their roads, or whether they go into this amount of detail after collisions in an attempt to ensure that type of collision never occurs again, but there is a strong parallel here with the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety.

In typically Dutch language

Since humans make errors and since there is an even higher risk of fatal error being made if traffic rules set for road safety reasons are intentionally violated, it is of great importance that safety nets absorb these errors. Behold the Sustainable Safety approach in a nutshell! A type of approach that, incidentally, has been commonplace in other transport modes for a much longer time under the name of ‘inherently safe’. [my emphasis]

As this passage points out, Sustainable Safety is relatively new – it only started being applied in the Netherlands in 1997, much, much later than the air and rail industry began developing techniques to ensure that failures (either mechanical or human) did not snowball into death or injury – the techniques employed in the RAIB report described here.

It’s so new, in fact, that it obviously has not been applied everywhere in the Netherlands. Their crap, unforgiving road designs are still being removed and updated; their country lanes that carry too much motor traffic are still awaiting a systematic downgrading (or upgrading); bypasses to take through traffic away for the places that people live are still being built;  the process is ongoing.

A crap junction in Amsterdam

A crap junction in central Amsterdam

There are five strands to Sustainable Safety, but perhaps the two most important in this context are homogeneity and forgiving environments.

Homogeneity in essence boils down to not putting slow and fast things in the same space; and not putting light and heavy things in the same space. If you want motor traffic to go faster than bicycle traffic, then you should not put bicycle traffic in the same space. You should provide for it separately.

A textbook example - the main road into Utrecht from the east. Here it is acceptable for bicycle traffic to mix with motor traffic on the 30kph access road. But obviously not on the main road itself.

A textbook example – the main road into Utrecht from the east. Here it is acceptable for bicycle traffic to mix with small volumes of motor traffic on the 30kph access road (which is not a through-route for motor traffic). But obviously not acceptable to mix on the main road itself.

Likewise if your road or street is going to carry heavy traffic as well as bicycle traffic, then something has to give – either that bicycle traffic should be separated, or heavy traffic simply shouldn’t be allowed on that road or street.

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This hasn’t been achieved everywhere in the Netherlands yet, but it is being aimed at, everywhere. And this principle, even in isolation, ensures that Dutch roads and streets are considerably safer than British roads and streets, where we think nothing of mixing bicycle traffic with heavy motor traffic, or fast motor traffic (and usually both).

It is – appallingly – pervasive and normal.

Scenes like this in Dutch towns and cities are being eliminated.

A typical British urban cycling environment in Epsom, Surrey.

The principle of forgiving environments corresponds to the approach to rail safety. It recognises that human beings are fallible, incompetent, or inattentive, and attempts to ensure that the environment people are travelling can cushion those mistakes.

A typical British example of unforgivingness is the failure of a lorry driver to look in his mirror, at a particular moment, as he sets off from some traffic signals, just at the same time as someone cycling travels down a cycle lane on their inside.

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A failure to spot someone travelling down the inside of a vehicle at a particular moment, in a mirror, coupled with a failure to appreciate the danger of using a cycle lane, should not result in death or serious injury. This is an unforgiving environment.

By contrast a forgiving environment separates movements, and/or ensures good intervisibility, and time to appreciate what the other party might be doing. It also allows rules to be broken (willingly, or unwittingly) without serious consequences. Because that’s what humans do – we break rules.

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We don’t appear to have anything like Sustainable Safety in Britain. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that collisions happen, again and again, in the same way, to the same types of people, involving the same kinds of vehicles, even at the same junctions, over and over again, and nothing appears to be learnt.

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Over and over again.

We blame individuals for their failures – their failure to look in a mirror; their failure to appreciate that some types of cycle provision should be treated with extreme caution; their failure to not react quickly enough – without apparently ever stopping to realise that it’s the broken system that should be fixed, not the fallible human beings who are using it.

Maybe it’s because life is cheap in Britain – but that’s too simplistic. Life is selectively cheap in Britain. As the investigation that features at the start of this post shows, we take life very seriously when it is at risk on the railways, or in the air, and develop rational policies to structurally eliminate deaths and injuries from occurring in the future.

Yet on the roads, that concern for life apparently evaporates. Death and injury almost seems to be taken as an inevitable characteristic of our roads themselves; that they are innately dangerous.

The most telling manifestation of this assumption is the continual grumbling about the lack of personal protective equipment on the part of (a particular) vulnerable road user.

A fairly typical example – with equally typical responses

This kind of grumbling goes hand-in-hand with a blinkered view of Britain’s road environment as almost naturally hazardous – that our roads present spontaneous danger, to which the proper response is to don protective equipment before venturing into it, without even questioning the effectiveness of that equipment, or more pertinently whether our public space should even present such danger in the first place.

Other transport systems are designed in such a way that protective equipment is not needed, and make allowances for stupidity, incompetence, or inattention. Yet the British road network remains an inhospitable jungle, where mistakes mean death or serious injury for vulnerable users (and indeed even for those protected within motor vehicles).

The Dutch have appreciated this difference, and moved to put road design and road safety on the same footing as other modes of transport. Why haven’t we?

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