On the village high street

This post is part of a series, starting at “So what would you do here?” and On rural main roads, on making cycling an attractive mode of transport in rural Britain.

Big busy fast main roads are the major barrier to making journeys by bicycle for most of the rural British population, and proper high-quality cycle tracks are the most plausible solution to that problem. It would be nice to be able to reclaim all the roads from the fast cars and big trucks, make them places where people can happily ride bicycles again, but that doesn’t seem likely for a long time. At the moment, providing dedicated inviting space for bicycles alongside them is the only proven solution.

In some cases the same solution could be applied to rural settlements: enabling cycling by reallocating some of the roadspace from general traffic to bicycles, as in this village on a busy road and intercity bicycle route between Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands:

But more often the reverse is true of rural villages. Not only is it difficult to provide cycling space because of the constraints of very old streets, but the political will is the opposite within villages than without: speed is unpopular and most residents want the cars tamed and the streets reclaimed for people. It is just about possible to calm these streets, with the right engineering, and the will to do it exists — not because of anything to do with cycling, but because people live and work and shop and raise their kids in these places.

That’s part of the Dutch model, where they recognise that roads, whether we like it or not, have become routes for motor vehicles, while streets must be places for people but where, with the right engineering, a limited number of motor vehicles can be accommodated.

On this country road near Assen the speed limit drops to 20mph when it enters a village…

…but a number on a sign is not enough. A wide smooth straight road doesn’t feel like a 20mph zone, and people will break the limit unless you make them want to stick to it. When space is about to get constrained by old houses, for example, the speed limit is enforced with a pinch point / slalom and a change to a rougher and louder surface. It’s here that the 2.5 metre bicycle paths merge into the street — after the pinch point, of course:

You can see how it might be done at the entry to this village, where the previously ample space for quality dedicated bicycle infrastructure begins to run out:

The brick paving is supposed to exaggerate the speed to the drivers, so that they compensate by slowing further. On its own, it wouldn’t necessarily stop those who are really determined to be assholes.

Many British villages are already quite effectively traffic calmed by their geometry. The A357 in Stalbridge is calmed by pinch points between old buildings, parked cars outside the newsagent and butcher shop, and the slalom around the 15th century market cross:

Or these traffic calming features on the A351 in Corfe Castle, a medieval village squeezed between hills:

But in places they could benefit from a few tweaks to the shape and design, to make people drive calmly and sensibly. This street in Limburg isn’t perfect for cycling — its features didn’t prevent the white Golf with the British number plates being driven badly — but I show it because the terrain and settlement layout more obviously resemble small Westcountry towns and villages than those in the flat north of the Netherlands. The side-markings are not specifically cycle lanes but are simply there as a traffic calming feature, supposedly making the road space feel narrower.

Similarly in Belgium:

Dorset have at least stopped painting centre lines on narrow village streets, where they encourage drivers to push on in their own lane, regardless of the actual conditions and clearance around them.

We already have a reasonably good manual telling councils how to design these streets correctly and which mistakes of the 1960s to stop repeating. These sorts of fixes would be welcomed by the residents of rural towns and villages. Not specifically as a means of removing the fast traffic barrier to cycling, but of removing the traffic threat to the people who live and work and shop and go to school here, which blights high streets, driving people away — a package of fixes, for pedestrians too, such as fixing this section of the street, near the primary school, where the pavement on the left becomes too narrow; where the pedestrian cages on the right, coupled with the wide radius turns into the side-road force pedestrians to cross in a less convenient and less safe place; and where the railings end, outside the bicycle shop, at a drop kerb that is blocked by a marked parking bay:

There are plenty of ways to get fixing streets like these, which double as ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads, wrong, and there are plenty of potential side-effects which need to be monitored and controlled — posts later this week.

10 thoughts on “On the village high street”

  1. Taking space from motor traffic to give it it to bikes is a good idea but the risk is that cyclists are then compelled to use that space and banned from that stretch of road (reasonable if the road is narrowed) – as in other countries. I couldn’t support this; the only times I’ve had accidents which weren’t my fault have been on cycle paths and caused by other cyclists. I use my bike to get from A to B or to get exercise and in either case I want to go at a reasonable pace – which is not safe on any cycle path I’ve ever seen. I stick to the roads because they are safer and avoid cycle paths unless there is really no option. I dread the idea of being compelled to use cycle paths.

    1. HG – you are someone who cycles, regardless of whether there’s any lanes or infrastructure. We have a HUGE latent demand for cycling that can only be satisfied with the sort of infrastructure that will allow our mums and kids to feel safe on it as well as us. Part of the problem with cycle campaigning to now in the UK is that it’s come only from groups like the CTC who represent hobby and sport cyclists.

  2. Spot on…

    The Design Manual for Streets is a really good place to start, but it is fairly new and goes against the grain of traditional highway engineering – a profession that has dedicated the last half century to the goal of maximising the throughput of motor traffic. Even if you persuade your local authority to go down that path they will then come up against another bunch of highway engineers performing a “Safety Audit” – which is nothing of the sort – just a check that the scheme conforms to the standards in the highly autocentric Design Manual for Roads and Bridges.

    Another document worth looking at is LTN 1/11:

    Click to access ltn-1-11.pdf

    Things are beginning to change in the right direction, and the more local communities see and hear of places that have done things better the more political pressure there will be for change.

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