Crap facilities in LTN 2/08

Some folk think that things would be better — or less bad, at least — for cycling in this country if only LTN 2/08 “Cycle Infrastructure Design” were strictly followed. They see some good recommendations in the guidance, and perhaps a solution to the more bizarre makeshift crap facilities. A few go further, thinking that the document could actually be the basis for the better, safer, more attractive streets that would support a mass cycling culture.

I’ve explained why I think LTN 2/08 is not fit for the purpose of guiding cyling infrastructure design, but I don’t blame people for seeing the contents of LTN 2/08 as an improvement on the cars-only street designs and crap facilities that we have now. There really are good things in the guidance. Instructions for filtered permeability are given — though sadly at the level of individual streets rather than whole neighbourhoods. There are strong words about the use of “cyclists dismount” signs — though perhaps they could be even stronger. Replacing centre lines with wide advisory cycle lanes, tightening junction geometry, and other cycle-friendly traffic-calming solutions are suggested. The streets and cycle facilities in LTN 2/08 generally look more attractive than those that most of us are used to.

But at the same time, the document clearly encourages certain kinds of crap. There are two in particular that I feel like discussing: bus lanes and shared pavements.

On bus lanes, LTN 2/08 says:

6.1.1 Bus lanes are generally popular with cyclists (Reid and Guthrie, 2004).

A chapter is then devoted to bus lanes, giving, for example, guidance on designing out close overtakes by specifying lane widths, and specifying that cycle lanes can not continue through bus stops.

The cited source for the claim that bus lanes are popular with cyclists, Reid and Guthrie, is behind a paywall. But the abstract says:

Surveys and interviews carried out in Edinburgh, Hull, Derby and London found that riding in bus lanes (including contra-flows) was generally very popular with cyclists because it appeared safer and more direct than cycling in general traffic.

That is, lanes from which all motor vehicles except buses are banned are more popular than lanes which are full of trucks and fast cars. Bus lanes on busy roads are something that cyclists use to get by, they are not an aspiration and they do little to reduce the barriers to would-be cyclists switching their travel mode. In fact there are many problems with bus lanes: they’re shared with some of the biggest, most intimidating and most polluting vehicles on the road, constantly stopping and starting; they’re shared with impatient and frequently hostile taxi drivers (though there is no good reason why they should be, and this could easily be remedied with a change to the rules if only politicians were willing to make it); they do nothing to solve the junctions problem; they don’t solve any problems outside of their hours of operation or the hours of parking restrictions; and they suffer from much the same left-hook problem as cycle tracks — and one that is far more difficult to solve with engineering than that of cycle tracks.

More important are the things that LTN 2/08 has to say on “off-road cycle routes”. Off-road cycle routes should mean cycle tracks and paths. But little in LTN 2/08 comes anywhere close to resembling proper cycle tracks. It’s all shared paths — the basic unit of the crap facility. Indeed, the first line of the chapter on off-road cycle routes prescribes these shared pavements:

8.1.1  Off-road cycle routes almost invariably accommodate pedestrians too.

(The switch from prescriptive to descriptive language is a bit bizarre. Perhaps the authors knew of the problems with shared pavements and couldn’t quite bring themselves to explicitly endorse it, but were prevented from recommending anything better? The document could equally state that cycle routes are almost invariably blocked by ridiculous obstacles and “cyclists dismount” signs. But it doesn’t, it strongly discourages such things. This is a prescriptive document therefore this is a de facto prescription for shared pavements: that is how engineers are going to use it.)

I’ve already discussed the damaging endorsement of “dual networks”, and the idea that standards can be compromised on cycle routes because Real Cyclists will naturally always prefer to ride on the roads. It shows up right from the start, in the introduction:

1.3.8: inexperienced and/or leisure cyclist – may be willing to sacrifice directness, in terms of both distance and time, for a route with less traffic and more places to stop and rest;

And it can be found again, in the section on off-road routes. After a good start on design speed, it explicitly recommends compromising on quality, all because it can’t imagine a cycle route having a separate footway:

8.2.1 On commuter routes, cyclists usually want to be able to travel at speeds of between 12 mph and 20 mph, preferably without having to lose momentum…

8.2.2 A design speed of 20 mph is preferred for off­road routes intended predominantly for utility cycling…

8.2.3 Where cyclists share a route with pedestrians, a lower design speed may be required. Routes with design speeds significantly below 20 mph are unlikely to be attractive to regular commuter cyclists, and it may be necessary to ensure there is an alternative on­carriageway route for this user category.

There are certain situations where a shared path may be acceptable. Outside of urban areas, where usage is low, for example. And shared use can be appropriate if applied not as a route but at destinations, to help get the final few yards to the parking. It is rarely the right way to build a through route in urban areas where usage both on foot and on bicycles will be high, leading to conflict. A manual should be explaining such things. This one isn’t, it’s just endorsing low quality shared paths — for that’s how it will be, and has been, interpreted — whether it intends to or not.

The formula for crap facilities continues where width is discussed:

8.5.2 A minimum width of 1.5 metres is recommended for a one-way cycle track. The minimum recommended width for a two-way cycle track is 3 metres

8.5.3 Where there is no segregation between pedestrians and cyclists, a route width of 3 metres should generally be regarded as the minimum acceptable, although in areas with few cyclists or pedestrians a narrower route might suffice.

These are, of course, minimum widths, and they are indeed acceptable minimum widths where, say, there is a short section where a pre-existing, immovable and unworkaroundable building or geographical feature makes the desirable width impossible. But they’re rarely appropriate over sustained distances, except perhaps, depending on the exact circumstances, on the lowest trafficked rural routes — and even then, routes that are predicted to be low usage do not always turn out to be so. That these are merely the minimum widths for low usage routes is mentioned in the document, and the authors can not be blamed for their misuse — though I would like more to have been said about what the actual desirable widths are.

But misused the widths are. Every new relief road and shopping centre distributer and every big new road submitted to the DfT for funding last year — even those in so-called “cycling cities” — has a 3.0 metre bidirectional shared pavement on one side.

Obviously the problem here goes far wider than just this document alone. The way that at least some local authority engineers and consultants approach this stuff is revealed in this delightful discussion on those other crap facilities — Advance Stop Lines:

My colleagues and I have been looking through LTN2 /98 and its more of a compendium of How Not To Do Traffic Engineering than anything else. I would hope that Figure 9.4 was swiftly removed from street – in fact I have to wonder why DfT even published the picture in the first place! Another one is Figure 7.2 which invalidates the double yellow lines – and thats given as a good example? Come on!

These are figs 9.4 and 7.2:

There are other marvelous comments in that thread…

I have NEVER seen the point of ASL across full width when a R/T is NOT permitted (and some even show this across three lane approaches.

I agree re the suggestion that 5 metres max depth is excessive. This measurement is applied as a standard in Edinburgh and I have queried the use of such a distance in a city where under 1% of daily commuters are cyclists.

Obviously the content of LTN 2/08 itself is not even half of the problem when highways departments are populated almost exclusively by non-cyclists who think that the worst thing about the cycling infrastructure guidance is a non-standard bicycle-shaped red traffic light and that advance stop boxes don’t need to be deeper than a truck’s blind spot, and when politicians are reinforcing that cars-first culture by pursuing fanciful programmes of “smoothing traffic flow”. But fixing the guidance looks to me like the easiest step in the change that is needed. If things are going to continue to be built by a formula with no understanding of the theory, we should at least make sure that the formula is right.

(Thanks to Mark and Paul, who helped to annotate the good and bad in LTN 2/08 a few months ago — though I don’t claim to speak for anybody other than myself in this post.)

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9 responses to “Crap facilities in LTN 2/08

  1. I agree with much you have to say here Joe, clarifying the shortcomings of the guidance as is. I don’t believe you can have a genuinely useful ‘formula’ without the theory as in all likelihood one would reach the conclusion that a ‘formula’ is actually a hindrance rather than a help. The theoretical principles of advancing better infrastructure design, and then application to a specific location should be the least we should expect.

    Until such time as we don’t have the economic imperative informing the “reinforcement by politicians of that cars-first culture” we are on a hiding to nothing in terms of the incentive to overhaul even this piece of ‘guidance’ – Can’t engineers think for themselves? I thought they were problem solvers. – Reform of this whole area will likely be leaden and offer few and weak returns. As long as people appreciate that, without of course refraining from keeping up the pressure.

    I prefer to call for radical overhaul rather than piecemeal reform. If only because it signals no end to ‘crap facilities’.

  2. Is a shared use facility crap just because it is shared use? Most if not all of Sustrans’ off-road routes are intended to be available to walkers and wheelchair users as well. Routes such as the Downs Link from Bramley to Shoreham is also a walking trail, ditto the Tarka Trail and others. Most are of course more leisure than utility routes, and they are by no means perfect, but they work reasonably well in a UK context.

    Even where a route is planned to be bike only, it will be used by pedestrians and is difficult to see how you can stop them. The cycle track along the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, for example, or the cycle path which used to run down to Waterloo Road from the Station, before they installed the hire bike docking station and made a shared-use path instead, so formalising what already happened .

    Admittedly fast, fit cyclists don’t fit well in shared space because you start to see the principal problem with sharing as in cycles and motors on the road – material differences in kinetic energy between users. For those however who need to be tempted out, and who would probably proceed at up to 10-12 mph as advised on such paths, they needn’t be that bad.

    Whenever I see a photo illustrating a crap shared use facility, the most outstanding evidence of crapness is usually either the fact that it is in reality just a footway with a white line down the middle, and barely 1 metre either side of the line, or it has obstacles at regular intervals such as those posts with the blue roundel of a bike one side and an adult and child walking on the other, or a lamp-post, or a telephone kiosk. They always seem to be on the side which the roundel shows as the bike side but it would not be satisfactory if they were on the pedestrian side either, if the path is to be usable by wheelchairs or sight-challenged people. If they were obstacle-free, wide enough, and had priority over minor roads at junctions, I personally wouldn’t object to sharing them with pedestrians.

    Can we really envisage a network of paths which are exclusive to cyclists. I don’t think even the Netherlands has that – indeed, they have to share them with small mopeds as well.

    As for ASLs, they seem to be widely misunderstood, and not just by motorists creeping into them. I always assumed that the reason they are full-width has nothing to do with turning right (as per the engineers’ apparent grumble) but to provide sufficient space for all cyclists to get in front of the traffic where they can be seen. Certainly, if you come up to a red light at Blackfriars Junction in rush hour, there will be more bikes than motors waiting at the lights – quite typically 20-30 bikes – and they could fill the ASL but in practice they string out back along the kerbside for some distance and so get sandwiched by the motor traffic. Whether ASLs are a smart contribution to a Dutch style infrastructure is a different issue.

  3. To defend bus lanes over bike lanes on roads
    -they are wider; more space between you and passing cars
    -Parking in them is enforced more often, especially when buses have CCTVs in them that can issue tickets. You never see a set of traffic wardens ticketing everyone parked in a bike lane (e.g. stokes croft) whereas they do sometimes in the bus lanes up gloucester road.

    Against
    -taxis use them and think the bicycles are in their way
    -motorbikes
    -often very intermittent hours of use -and full of parked cars outside that (case in point: gloucester road, bristol).
    -fast moving bikes going on the inside of stationary traffic are at risk of being clipped by cars turning across them, especially from oncoming cars turning right over them. That shows up in some of the (many) videos, but to me those collisions are near predictable. There’s a car waiting to turn, the cars in the jam have put in space, there’s no visibility of the bus lane from the stationary cars, the driver starts to turn and a bike coming up at 20 mph is in trouble. motorbikes have the same problem; maybe even taxis.

    It’d be poignant to do some photoshop of the railway path with all you get from normal off road routes: random road signs. A bus shelter in the middle. A van or two. It is possible to do good urban commuter routes, it just needs willpower and competence.

  4. In response to SteveL, bus lanes don’t really work as bike lanes simply because buses and bikes work in different way. Buses go quite quickly between stops and then stop for a while to allow people to get on and off, while cyclists maintain a steady speed unless forced to stop, e.g. by a stopped bus in front. UK Bus Lanes are generally too narrow to allow a bus to pass a cycle safely, so you get conflict and the leap-frogging effect. (In Paris, if the bus lane is wide enough for a bus to pass a bike, bikes are allowed in: otherwise they aren’t, not that many people pay attention to the traffic rules in the City of Light) Many cyclists have learned to cope with the conditions in UK bus lanes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t necessarily accept them, and where the Hierarchy of Provision says we should prefer bus lanes to segregated cycle lanes, I think it’s wrong.

  5. Bus lanes are also used by taxis, and increasingly by motorcycles too. The fact that cyclists aren’t banned from using them doesn’t mean that they constitute good cycling infrastructure.

    Bus lanes can be OK for cycling only if bus and cycle traffic is light but general motor traffic is heavy, and there is not enough space for a separate cycle path.

    I would argue that if there is not enough space on a road for both a bus lane and a cycle path, it is more important to provide the cycle path, for the following reasons:
    – safety for cyclists
    – encouraging physical activity and healthy living
    – less pollution
    – to encourage bus passengers to cycle and experience personal freedom

  6. Pingback: Crap Cycling in Wrexham | Chester Cycling

  7. Pingback: Friday Facility no.11 – Furneaux Walk, Horsham | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  8. I think I may have used both of the “facilities” in the pictures. They look like Wrexham and Chester. Am I right?

    I’d like advance stop boxes if they were enforced – but they aren’t. A bus driver assaulted me last year after I complained about his crowding right next to me in one. I was threatened with assault earlier this month (to the extent where I had to call 999) after I complained about another driver’s driving into one.

    I am, however, concerned that segregated cycle infrastructure tends to assume low speeds, which makes them unusable for anyone in a hurry. At one point on my ride to work this morning (down London cycle route 3 through south London) my cycle computer was showing an average speed of 18.7mph and a maximum speed of 24mph. I don’t see anyone’s building infrastructure to accommodate that safely in the UK in the foreseeable future, I’m afraid.

    I’m consequently broadly of the integrationist tendency – I want to cycle safely on the roads. I explain my view with more colour and less policy detail here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/in-which-our-hero-picks-up-cycling.html

    Invisible.

  9. Pingback: On the origins of shared use | At War With The Motorist

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