Tag Archives: crap cycleways

The user experience

With our street designers discovering some new technical terms and with budgets to commit before the end of the financial year, spring 2015 is shaping up to be a period we’ll look back on as one of the great waves of Crap Facilities.

Bus stop bypasses seem to be a big favourite of the bollocks cargo-cult imitations of infrastructure right now, from the weirdly, needlessly difficult:

Through the plain bizarre:

To the just bafflingly, utterly unusable wastes of money:

And from a quick scroll through @AlternativeDfT‘s timeline, I see junction designs that coroners have judged to be deadly — and which we know from extensive experience render the infrastructure simply unusable — are still the in thing:

Obviously robust and relevant design guidance and standards would help avoid this rubbish. And obviously short-term and unstable funding regimes with inadequate oversight have contributed to the madness. And obviously political pressure can sometimes stand in the way. But those alone can’t excuse professionals from squandering their budgets on quite obviously unusable, and quite plainly unused, bollocks.

I used to think it was sloppiness. That underpaid, underresourced and underappreciated council officers had understandably given up caring that their work is a waste of time where the product will be so shit nobody will use it.

But then you find them defending the rubbish…

…even trying to argue that the users are wrong…

And you realise these street designers don’t know the process of design.

The examples above, and the designers’ responses even more so, indicate that our streets are being designed with barely any understanding of people or how people use streets. No attempt has been made to understand what users need, or the experience of using the infrastructure they’ve designed.

This field has a problem with its attitude to users. From an understandable exasperation with users’ green ink suggestions, and mixed experiences with the statutory consultation process, officers can develop a general disdain for the user. Proper designers, though, are fine with the fact that users don’t always come up with sensible solutions. But proper designers know that what matters is users know what the problem is. And the users know what the experience of using the product is. And proper designers try to understand the problem, and proper designers try to check what the experience of using their design will be.

Proper designers don’t blame the user when their products turn out to be unusable.

I don’t blame the individuals who are given no time, training or support to do a proper design job. This is just another failure of the system.

We need the right design guidance, and we need the right funding framework, and we need the right political will. But we also need a proper user-centric design and consultation process. Safety audits? How about usability audits?

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Better than nothing

So the scandalously inappropriate and inadequate designs for the Bedford turbo roundabout have come a step closer to construction, receiving DfT approval, and with grim inevitability Sustrans have proudly press released their support for this barefaced misappropriation of cycling funds for the construction of a high capacity motor road junction in an urban centre. Their defence of the scheme seems to be that, because they anticipate that motorist speeds will probably be a bit lower than in the current arrangement, cyclists will be able to “take the lane” as they ride amongst the heavy motor traffic; and if people do not wish to take the lane then they will instead be allowed to pootle on a pavement designed for pedestrians. A dual provision of equally, but differently, unattractive prospects.

But they’ll be less awful than what is there now.

And that seems to be enough for Sustrans. No need to fight for anything better, if it’s less awful than what’s there now then it gets the Sustrans stamp of approval. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything more from Sustrans after years of being ground down by the conditions in which they’re trying to operate, but “better than nothing” seems to be the limit of their aspirations in everything they do these days. On the National Cycle Network, where signposting flights of steps, heavily eroded sheep tracks, and private roads marked “no cycling” is for misguided reasons considered better than having no signed cycle route at all. And in the latest edition of their design guidance, where, for example, such guidance is given as to paint bicycle symbols on the carriageway at pinch points caused by traffic islands — rather than simply to stop squeezing bicycle users in with motor traffic in such a way — because such symbols are taken to be better than nothing.

I’m not convinced that paint on busy roads is in the slightest bit better than nothing for cycling. I think it’s delusional — or colossally gullible, perhaps — to believe that putting a piece of trunk road engineering in a city centre is worth anything at all for cycling. And I think that luring people onto heavily eroded sheep tracks is far worse than nothing for cycling.

But I don’t have time to argue about the specifics of cases like these, and I shouldn’t have to. Rather I have a more general point to make.

Things that are a marginal, almost imperceptible, or questionable improvement on what is there now are not better than nothing.

Marginally reduced speeds and crap shared footways are not better than nothing when they’re being employed in the theft of half a million pounds from the budget.

Rebuilding a junction to a design that you hope, maybe, might make things marginally less bad than they were, is not better than nothing if it means perpetuating a fundamentally anti-cycling and traffic dominated town centre for perhaps another fifty years.

Mediocre guidance is not better than nothing if it’s used in place of genuinely good guidance — if the Sustrans brand allows professionals to dismiss the recent London and Cambridge guidance as foreign or utopian when all that the cyclists themselves say they want and need is some paint at a pinch point.

Signing inappropriate cycle routes is not better than nothing if they give aspiring bicycle users an even worse experience of cycling than they would get from following their streets. They are worse than nothing when they are cited as an example of cycling already having been catered for and nothing more needing to be done.

Better than nothing is not good enough. Marginal gains aren’t good enough.

That’s one reason I’ve never got all that into local campaigning, much though I appreciate and admire those who do have the energy to do so. I don’t actually think it’s worth my time. I don’t think the tiny single victories are ever worth it. Call me selfish but I don’t think that one shared pavement that allows half a dozen or so additional kids to get to school by bike is worth it. I don’t think the lighting on that one path in the park that makes a couple more people feel safe getting home by bike at night is worth it. I don’t think that one bike lane that keeps one pensioner riding to the shops for an extra year or two is worth it.

I mean, I guess I’m happy for them and everything, but, whatever.

What motivates me is extreme selfishness and some bigger picture selflessness. That’s the selfish interest in the quality of the places where I spend my time, and my journeys around and between them. And the big picture of the problems that our communities, society and planet face. Transport policy has a big impact on public health — through air pollution and active vs sedentary lifestyles it impacts pretty much any non-communicable disease you can think of — on climate change, energy use and economic productivity, and so ultimately on quality of life. And on all of those counts a policy of mass modal shift away from motor vehicles and to cycling would be a huge net positive. But nothing short of a revolution will do.

A real revolution — not a 5% mode share target shoehorned in beside business as usual.

Anything less is not going to make the slightest meaningful difference. Not going to make any noticeable difference to my journey being spoiled by heavy traffic and air pollution. Nor is it going to make any noticeable difference to population, planetary, or economic health. Not even going to add up to something that does in time, or reach a “tipping point”. A “cycling revolution” that is not registrable in things like morbidity statistics, by air quality measurements, in transport sector energy consumption and carbon emissions, or in the population’s quality of life, is not a revolution. And if it’s not a revolution (and if it doesn’t help me personally), sorry, I don’t really care. It’s not worth my time asking for it.

And “better than nothing” is worse than nothing when it stands in the way of changes that are actually worth giving a shit about. One tiny aspect of one tiny tiny part of the whole being “better than it was before” is worse than nothing when it takes the pressure off and makes a handy excuse to allow everything else to continue as it was before. As an organisation or campaign, settling for better for nothing is worse than nothing when the people who have invested their time and money in you begin to lose the motivation to ever do so again. Better than nothing is worse than nothing when it distracts our attention from our actual goals and what actually needs to be done to achieve them: when it gets us too tied up in projects instead of policy.

They tell us that perfection is the enemy of the good. Well better than nothing is the enemy of anything actually worth having. And that, Sustrans, is why you’re losing so many friends.

(And before you start telling me that trite cyclesport-inspired cliché about marginal gains again: that only works when you’ve already done the big stuff and made it to the top of your game. Marginal gains make the difference when you’re a top olympic athlete. They’re not going to help when you’re the kid who doesn’t get picked at games.)

Bristol: this is an embarrassment, sort it out

Bristol is, I think — and have mentioned here many times — one of the top three least worst cities for cycling in the UK. They understand there that it is the danger and discomfort posed by motor traffic that prevents people from cycling, and it is their steady expansion and improvement to traffic-free routes that enabled a near doubling of cycle modal share for commuting since the 2001 census, to what is, by Britain’s risible standards, a relatively respectable 8%.

And this last week the city invoked jealous looks from the rest of the country on twitter when it opened the consultation on the latest in its long backlog of cycle network infrastructure projects: a proposal for what it describes as a “Dutch-style” bidirectional cycle track alongside a main road and the New Cut of the River Avon a little way south of the city centre. Not because the few hundred metres of cycle track are in themselves all that revolutionary, but because they saw a city quietly getting on with it, happy to replace car parking spaces with cycling infrastructure, and with little of the “Crossrail for bikes”-style hype.

So it should be a subject of great embarrassment for Bristol that at the same time as designing “Dutch-style” cycle tracks that take space from motoring on Clarence Road, it is finalising planning permission for the next Facility Of The Month alongside a big new ringway road — dressed up as a Bus Route — a couple of kilometres to the south.

The latest visuals of the South Bristol Link Road are strong contenders for the most ridiculous artist’s impression of a new road yet — and gosh does that prize have some competition.

_68808465_13.07.16reservedcorridorartisticimpressionfromnewsletter

And amongst the wildflower meadows and sylvan glades of this new paradise, where morning motorists will no doubt be serenaded by songbirds as they speed uninterrupted through the city like they were promised in the car commercials, pedestrians and cyclists will be treated with utterly contemptuous shared pavements.

brt

A nineties throwback, a footway with a white line down it, interrupted by every driveway and sprawling side-road. Straight out of the government’s Manual for Crap Facilities.

Elsewhere Bristol is learning the lesson that much of its first generation cycle infrastructure — the Railway Path, the quaysides, and many dozens of “fiddly little bits” documented in detail by Sam Saunders — is proving inadequate, victim of the city’s small success, as their insufficient capacity and lack of clarity creates conflict between users. Which is why the city is learning to build “Dutch-style” clear cycle tracks — Clarence Road being the latest of a series.

And it’s why it’s so galling to see a proposal for something not even up to standards of that first generation of infrastructure. A facility that is, at best, worthy of Birmingham or South Gloucestershire.

The crap cycle facility to the isles

Glenfinnan

In January I said some nice things about the Caledonia Way, what is shaping up to be a very nice leisure (and perhaps, for some locals, plain utility) ride between Oban and Fort William, via Glencoe. I never got around to writing the other half of the story: the road to the isles. I don’t really have any interesting point to make about it, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of pretty places and crap cycle tracks. Continue reading

On the origins of shared use

Continuing from last month

It should be noted, in case any confusion remains — and I’ve seen plenty — that despite the superficial similarities, “shared use” and “shared space” are quite different things. “Shared space” is a road with a less than the traditional amount of delineation between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, as at Exhibition Road. “Shared use” is an off carriageway or away from road facility — a pavement or path — shared between cyclists and pedestrians.

I noticed a slightly different kind of “shared space”/”shared use” conflation when skimming through the Living Heart campaign’s reply to the Bristol Central Area Action Plan. Obviously the Living Heart folk know the difference between them — one of them being an academic expert on the misuse of shared space — but they do suggest that the enthusiasm for shared use in local authority highways departments and in documents like LTN 2/08 is related to the ideology behind shared space:

The [shared space] ideology discussed in Section 4.2 has also led to a strange belief in the UK that compelling pedestrians and cyclists to share space is better than providing separate space for each (as is now normal practice in larger cities in the Netherlands and Denmark). In circumstances where space is constrained (in some cases unnecessarily, on paths which are too narrow) or flows of pedestrians (e.g. Broadmead) or cyclists (Bristol to Bath cycle path) are high, this is causing significant conflicts.

I don’t believe this. The evangelism for the extreme Exhibition Road variety of shared space is inspired by a libertarian ideology which makes the claim, against all evidence and experience, that if we remove all regulation and restriction from road users then the optimal order will naturally arise through lots of little interactions and subtle negotiations. Obviously order does form from the chaos of this form of shared space, but it’s an order in which motorists rule and pedestrians huddle at the edges out of the way.

Shared use, on the other hand, is cheap and easy. I’ve been looking at the history of it and I don’t think the reason, logic or ideology behind it is really much more complicated than that.

There are two types of shared use, with slightly different histories: pavements, and away-from-road paths. The big driving force behind away-from-road paths has been Sustrans. They tend to build ~3 metre wide shared paths — most of their surfaced rail trails are of this design — their reasoning being that “shared” is “flexible”: when numbers of one type of user or the other are high, and the other low, you’re not trying to deny the crowds use of a perfectly good empty bit of path. Sustrans correctly reasons that it is best for them to build ~3 metre shared paths, rather than trying to segregate users into two pieces of ~1.5 metre path separated with a white line as is sometimes the case, and as Sustrans tried on the Bristol Railway Path for a while. But only because Sustrans is an overstretched charity trying to get the most for their money, and who therefore don’t want to buy asphalt for more than 3 metre wide paths. Their choice is therefore shared or segregated 3 metre paths, and shared is the best of those options.

Passing
(cc) Edinburgh Cycle Chic, by-nc-sa

Better still is a 5 metre segregated path, like the route through Edinburgh University and the Meadows, but Sustrans are going for the cheap option and most councils have copied them.

Shared pavements have a slightly different history. So far as I can see, they are an invention of the early 1980s, with authority to construct/convert what it rather optimistically calls “cycle tracks” being introduced by the Highways Act 1980 (Cycling England had a document explaining it (PDF)). The 1980 Highways Act was a little before my time, so I tried to look up the original intention of the “cycle tracks” through the parliamentary debates. We know, of course, that Thatcher’s was an extreme pro-car and pro-road expansion government, famous for The Great Car Economy and Roads For Prosperity. My guess was that, if the government of the time even noticed that cycling existed, it probably saw it as a form of transport in terminal decline — something backward and even irresponsible. I was expecting to find that the purpose of shared pavements was not to enable or encourage the irresponsible act of cycling, but that they were a quick and cheap road safety measure intended to get bicycle users out of harms way for as long as it took the poor things to save up and buy a car of their own.

It was an impression partly supported by the BMA’s 1992 book on cycling, but I haven’t found much in which the Thatcher government puts its hostility to cycling into words — though it did slip out in this astonishing 1989 exchange in which Transport Secretary Paul Channon tells an Oxford MP that enabling cycling would be a bad thing for Oxford, given that the town has a car factory.

Rather, it seems that the government of the early 1980s had much the same attitude to cycling as the government now, and did much the same thing as the Labour government of the late 1970s, the Major government in the mid 1990s and the Blair government at the turn of the century. They saw that “cycling is booming“, paid lip service to it, published a statement of policy and then failed to devote anything near adequate resources to implementing the policy, relied almost entirely on local authorities to implement the policy and failed to ensure that the resources that had been allocated to LAs were actually going to be spent on interventions that work, until eventually everybody simply forgot that the policy had ever been declared. As the British Medical Journal put it, “The Government should stop its delaying tactics, with its stream of vapid consultative documents, and act to ensure that its citizens can travel safely and freely without hindrance by others.” To be fair, they did at least try to focus what little effort and funding they did devote to cycling specifically into better routes.

So the government and our representatives were probably no more and no less hostile to cycling than today’s. Perhaps, then, shared pavements weren’t meant as a simple get-them-out-of-the-way measure?

The 1980 Highways Act was very wide ranging — cycling was a tiny little bit, Section 65 of 345, and so cycling was only a tiny little bit of a debate and discussion. Part of that debate actually took place under the predecessor Labour government, in 1978, and the comments of under-secretary for Transport, John Horam, illustrate how that government was imagining the cycle tracks, mocking Dennis Skinner for suggesting that we should need or want to spend money on anything more than a white line on a footway:

Mr John Horam (Labour, Gateshead West)
On the question of cycle tracks and the clarity of the legislation, I again give the commitment that we shall make perfectly plain what is the law on this matter. It is within the powers of local authorities simply to draw a white line on a footway and turn at least part of it into a cycle track. We shall spell out all these details in the technical note.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Labour, Bolsover)
Worse than skateboarding.

Mr John Horam
I fear that we may be getting some dissension from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, but I do not think that I shall draw him into the debate, because I know that he is strongly in support of this broad principle.

Mr Dennis Skinner
I support these principles, as one who owns a Raleigh with five gears. … I am intrigued about the business of having a white line down a footpath, with cyclists on one side. I can visualise myself travelling at 35 mph—when I am at my best—and a poor old lady walking down the other side of the white line. It seems to me that we need to look back a bit. Before the war, when we had other job creation schemes in hand not far from Clay Cross, the Government of the day—they were not of the present type, though I suppose that they were not all that much different—put forward a scheme for a cycle track between Clay Cross and Chesterfield, which stood on its own. If we are to launch out, I, as one who is not afraid to talk about public expenditure and mopping up some of the unemployed, am happy about advancing the case for proper cycle tracks at the side of the pavement, or somewhat removed from it, with none of this white line nonsense.

Mr John Horam
I take it that Clay Cross will be building large, expensive kerbs between cycle tracks and pedestrian facilities when it gets round to this, as no doubt it will. Everything happens in Clay Cross. No doubt the council will notice this new legislation and be eager to implement it at the first opportunity, so that the hon. Member for Acton and my hon. Friend can use the cycle track at Clay Cross when it comes into being.

So, again, the point of shared pavements was that they were cheap and easy — features that were especially important in 1978. The chair of the All Party Friends of Cycling Group agreed that cyclists were cheap and easy.

The new Conservative government didn’t debate cycling again before the Highways Bill became the Highways Act, but it did come up again in 1984 with the Cycle Tracks Act, which sought to simplify the bureaucracy for converting public footpaths to shared paths. It was primarily intended for urban alleyways, passageways and paths through parks and allotments — things like this and this. The story of the Act perhaps illustrates the attitudes and intentions for shared paths and pavements.

The Cycle Tracks Bill was introduced as a private member’s bill by the newly elected Conservative MP Barrow and Furness, Cecil Franks, though it was picked up and backed by the government. Franks, a local council man who was probably surprised to find himself in parliament representing a traditionally Labour seat, explained his motivation for introducing the bill: as a local councillor he had sincerely wanted to introduce more away-from-roads cycle routes, but the bureaucracy of seeking permission to “close” the footpath and then planning permission to “construct” the new cycle track — when in fact no physical works at all would be required — had been too great.

The Bill received cross-party support, and the stated intentions for all who spoke in the debates was to enable and encourage cycling. As Simon Hughes (Liberal, Bermondsey) said:

Liberal Members welcome the Bill. I feel confident, as I think do all hon. Members who have participated in the debate, that one result will be a reduction in the number of accidents, many of which can debilitate people and reduce their mobility for life, which are occasioned at present by cycle users, pedestrians and motorised transport users taking the same routes and getting in each other’s way. It is my belief that it should also result in an increased use of the bicycle throughout the country…

…His Bill is greatly welcomed by the Liberal party, as it is by all parties and by a large number of present cyclists and those who, as a result of it, will become cyclists. It is to the advantage of all.

If they thought that cycling was a means of transport in terminal decline that should be cleared out of the way for as long as it takes to die out, they certainly didn’t say so. Quite the opposite: starting from about 1979, it has been obligatory to start such speeches with “cycling has been booming in recent years…“.

There were only a couple of critical remarks.  Colin Moynihan (Conservative, Lewisham East) was critical of the narrow scope of the Bill, mentioning lack of design standards — and the lack of understanding from MPs of the need for them — for the shared pavements which had been introduced previously:

These questions are central to the consultation proposals behind the Bill and the importance that it gives to the safety of cyclists. The difficulties involved have in many ways been underestimated in the debate. The Cyclists Touring Club document on the Bill states that in the past cycle tracks have been extremely dangerous as well as unsatisfactory in other ways. It states: “There is neither priority nor protection for the cyclist at junctions from other traffic turning across his path or leaving minor roads, work entrances and private drives across the track. The majority of motorists, even if they notice the existence of the tracks, assume that they have priority over cyclists using them. It is usually difficult for a cyclist approaching a junction to ascertain the intentions of following motorists and inconvenient for a cyclist to stop and give way at every junction, no matter how minor, in order to be assured of no conflict. Queues of vehicles waiting to enter the major road from a minor one also invariably block the cycle track.” I have discovered that from my own experience. “Indeed, it is seldom possible to leave a cycle track sufficiently in advance of a junction in order to safely execute a right turn.” The greatest danger to cyclists certainly occurs at major junctions, especially roundabouts, where it is crucial that the highway code be observed. Other examples are bottlenecks such as bridges. Yet at these points cycle tracks often cease to exist. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) spoke of the difficulty of matching a completed cycle track with a similar stretch on the other side of the road. Cycle tracks may suddenly cease to exist, pitching the cyclist into a maelstrom of traffic at the most dangerous places. The Bill seeks to tackle those problems….

…Furthermore, the Cyclists Touring Club states: “Cycle tracks are frequently illegally obstructed and enforcement of parking restrictions has a low priority with the police. Defective vehicles are often moved on to a cycle track in order to clear the main carriageway even by the police themselves.” The maintenance of cycle tracks is given a low priority by local authorities. I hope that the bill will encourage local authorities to become more actively involved in the development of cycle tracks, and that there will be a move to greater local involvement in the development of cycle tracks….

…The Bill will achieve many of the CTC’s aims, including the banning of mopeds from cycle tracks and the banning of parking on cycle tracks, which has concerned many people for a long time. It will now be an offence to drive or park partly or wholly on a cycle track….

…The most important part of the process is the construction of the cycle track. There is no point in having cycle tracks that are a mass of potholes and inefficiently built, as they might serve only to add to the risks faced by cyclists.

and criticism of shared use from Gerry Bermingham (Labour, St Helens South) — albeit only from the “danger and discomfort for pedestrians” point of view and not also from the “not attractive for cycling” point of view:

As it is proposed that there should in some cases be tracks containing cyclists and pedestrians, I have reservations about the Bill. On my way to the House on Wednesday I was nearly mown down by cyclists coming up on the pavement behind me. That reminded me of the dangers of intermingling pedestrians and cyclists. There is much point, therefore, in the argument of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. If we allow the two to be near each other, there must be a segregating feature, not only for the blind but especially for small children using the footpaths.

It has been suggested that there might be a curb to sector the area. In my view, that would be the minimum solution, and I should not be happy simply with white lines, which are meaningless to the blind and are ignored to a large extent by young children who have not yet acquired the safety techniques, so to speak, of being with traffic.

But otherwise, members from all parties agreed that shared paths and pavements would be a good cheap and easy way to encourage and enable cycling, and didn’t see any need to bother themselves thinking about standards of design and maintenance.

And I don’t think that local authorities today think about shared use any differently: I don’t think there is any widespread idea that pedestrians and cyclists should be mixed — that it is an inherently good thing. Councils think of shared use, if they spend any time thinking about it at all, exactly as the MPs of the early 1980s did: it’s cheap and easy.

But even “cheap” is expensive when it’s money wasted on things that don’t work. So, while the intentions of thirty years ago might have been all good, the same can’t be said now that we have thirty years of experience with unattractive and ineffective shared pavements. If MPs today are serious about enabling and encouraging cycling they must retire these crap facilities in favour of infrastructure that actually works.

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.)

The DfT’s crap cycling manual

No sooner had I posted a list of things for Norman Baker and his colleagues to be doing — to prove that they were doing things that will actually make a difference, rather than just passing the buck to under-resourced and poorly supported local authorities — than they acted. Baker and road safety minister Mike “Petrolhead” Penning have written a letter to local authorities, encouraging them to, er, look at their junctions and invite businesses to sponsor cycle lanes.

I don’t think many people have fallen for this charade. There is little point in simply suggesting that local authorities rebuild junctions. If they did — and they’re not going to on any significant scale unless and until they find the money from somewhere (and that’s unlikely to be from sponsorship), but suppose they did… — they would go through the normal design process and, er, the instructions would tell them to build the same cycling hostile crap as before.

There are reasons why we have atrocious junctions and crap cycle facilities. Our engineers and lowest-bidder contractors have been trained to build these things. They are also told explicitly not to build the sort of high quality infrastructure that we need. If we are ever going to make any significant advance, the government — central government — needs to do something to help our engineers into the 21st century. The first and most obvious step is to revise the guidance — the manual — that makes local authorities build crap.

The Department for Transport have, over the years, produced a number of guidance documents that tell council officers and consultants how to build roads and streets. Things like the “Design Manual for Roads and Bridges”, which tells you how to build a motorway… or city streets, if you like your streets to look and be used like a motorway. Better streets are built according to the principles of the more modern and civilised “Manual for Streets 2”.

“Cycle Infrastructure Design” (PDF) — commonly known by its serial number, “Local Transport Note (LTN) 2/08” — is the document which sets out the principles for building for cycling, and all the technical details of the government’s recommended facilities. The devolved administrations in Scotland and London have produced their own manuals which vary slightly from LTN 2/08.

Some cycle campaigners are fans of LTN 2/08 and think that if only it were strictly followed things would be better. In their briefing to The Times last week (PDF), for example, cyclenation say:

DfT publication LTN 2/08 (Local transport note no. 2, 2008) is generally good at setting out guidance for cycling provisions, but frequently goes unheeded.

I understand where cyclenation are coming from, and I think no ill of them for writing this. Because most British main roads and cycle facilities are even worse for cycling than LTN 2/08 recommends. Following the manual would be an improvement. But not much of an improvement. Saying that LTN 2/08 is good shows just how abysmally low our expectations have sunk.

The manual largely consists of guidelines rather than strict rules, and the guidelines are frequently broken. Certainly there are, as the cyclenation briefing says, cases where the guidance has gone unheeded and we have ended up with crap cycle facilities. But there are also cases where the guidance has gone unheeded and we have ended up with something far better than would have be provided had it been followed: some of the best (and yes, in this country “best” is hardly “great”) examples of on-street infrastructure — the tracks on Camden’s Royal College Street, for example — break all of the rules of LTN 2/08. And all too often — through a combination of poor training in how to use the guidance, competing political demands like “smoothing traffic flow”, and the many fundamental failings of the guidelines themselves — the guidance is heeded, and the result is still a crap cycle facility.

Because LTN 2/08 isn’t good. It frequently endorses the wrong things. It recommends against international best practice infrastructure and omits almost every detail of it. And it fails right from its first fundamental principles, which is why anybody can “heed” the guidance and still build whatever crap they like. I think that LTN 2/08 is a greater hindrance than help for cycling and that replacing it is a necessary step.

The introductory section of LTN 2/08 is the most widely endorsed. It contains a series of underlying principles for designing for cycling. Some of it is very good — the need for “convenient, accessible, safe, comfortable and attractive” space for cycling, for example, and the need to think at the level of the network, not just streets and routes. There is something of a disconnect between these principles and the rest of the guidance, and the good principles rarely shine through in the built designs. But it is also far from the case that the underlying principles are all good.

The first problem that leaps out while reading the introduction is the Hierarchy of Provision. I’ve written before about why the Hierarchy is the wrong approach to the problem, so I won’t here, except to reiterate that the Hierarchy is not fit for the role that it has been given — that of central formula for deciding which solution is appropriate — which is one reason why so many inappropriate solutions have been implemented.

The second fundamental problem is that LTN 2/08 endorses “dual networks”. It correctly identifies that different cyclists have different needs and abilities, but from this fact it draws some very wrong and damaging conclusions. “Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others. In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority.” That is, new, nervous and child cyclists will be grateful for a crap facility that gives way to every side road, or a winding backstreet route, while confident cyclists will want to be in their natural place — on the road, with the traffic, riding in the vehicular style. Indeed, the former category are expected to eventually cast off their training wheels and graduate into the latter  category.

I would have hoped that “dual networks” could have been the one thing that might be able to unite cyclists in opposition. As cyclenation say in their briefing to The Times, crap cycle facilities can do more harm than good when other road users get indignant at your refusing to use them. But I know there is one cycling campaigner and consultant who is proud of his dual network, and just in the past few weeks LCC’s Go Dutch campaign has also taken a turn down the dual network path. I think this is the wrong path: when you stop designing infrastructure that’s good enough for everybody, you tend to end up with stuff that’s good for nobody.

The effect of the “dual networks” principle in LTN 2/08 is that neither “network” is satisfactorily designed. The low-traffic “network” can be designed down: it can concede priority, take circuitous routes, share busy pedestrian spaces, and even advise dismounting — yes, LTN 2/08 says elsewhere that those solutions are undesirable, but, hey, this is just the training network, they’ll soon graduate onto the road so what does it matter? And when it then comes to fixing the main roads and busy junctions, engineers will “take into account the type(s) of cyclist expected to use it”, conclude that the inexperienced and nervous cyclists will be usingthe other “network”, and design the roads and junctions accordingly. You can see the wretched result of the dual networks principle all over our cities — famously on the Euston Road, where the cycle route leads you along “a sort of fiddly thing”, while Real Men like Boris Johnson prefer to “scoot down the underpass“.

Theoretically the dual networks don’t have to be substandard, of course. But if you design infrastructure that isn’t substandard, there’s just no need to think in dual networks. The Dutch also recognise the variety of cyclists. Their engineering manual recommends designs of sufficient quality to accommodate that variety. Their designs work. The idea that cyclists will want to graduate on to vehicular cycling — that it is aspiration rather than a survival strategy — is perhaps one of the reasons why LTN 2/08 entirely omits quality separated infrastructure… except where it gives spurious reasons not to consider it.

The authors of LTN 2/08 have obviously not looked at Dutch solutions or the Dutch manual. There are a total of three references to the Netherlands and three further references to the continent in the document. Three of those references are about cycle parking. One is in an aside about roundabout geometry. A Dutch study measuring overtaking distances — probably irrelevant to current British conditions — is mentioned. Finally, the authors have this to say about modern European cycle track design:

“As a result of concerns over the safety of parallel cycle tracks crossing side roads, it is becoming common European pratice to reintroduce cyclists to the main road in advance of a junction. Cyclists pass the junction on the carriageway and then rejoin the cycle track.”

It’s just bonkers.

The final fundamental conceptual problem with LTN 2/08 is not explicitly stated, but is written right through the guidance. Despite being the cycling-for-transport infrastructure guidance, despite being introduced with a reminder of why cycling should be supported, the document just doesn’t treat cycling as a serious form of transport. That’s not a problem specific to LTN 2/08, obviously, and it will take more than just revisions to a document to change the entrenched culture of the nation’s highways departments. But it’s especially dissapointing to find the document so riddled with it. It is clear that the authors are stuck in the car-centric paradigm and lack imagination for how things could be.

“Advisory cycle lanes,” for example, “are not recommended where they are likely to be blocked by parked vehicles.” Not, “car parking should be restricted in cycle lanes.” We’re told that we like cycling in bus lanes: “They are preferred over off-road facilities as a result of the advantage of remaining in the carriageway and therefore having priority at side roads” [my emphasis]. This is the guidance for providing for bicycles and it can not even imagine a world in which bicycles might have priority over turning vehicles. This is especially bizarre given that, technically, pedestrians have priority over turning vehicles — though pedestrians bold and brave enough to take it are ever rarer. To me it seems so blindingly obvious that the natural arrangement would be that anybody continuing straight would have priority over those turning, regardless of the means of travel of either party. The authors of LTN 2/08 can’t imagine that world — can’t imagine that there could be any alternative to our might makes right of way world.

What of that top-of-the-hierarchy solution, “reducing traffic volume”, if highways authorities can’t even imagine a cyclist having priority over car parking or motorists leaving their driveways? This is a problem that obviously goes far wider and deeper than this one document — Karl’s experience of the LTN 2/08 in practice illustrates the cultural problem we face. But replacing this document has to be one of the first steps to changing that culture. This is the document that Norman Baker says “provides comprehensive good practice advice on a range of practical infrastructure measures to help cyclists,” when he tries to shrug off the Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. It doesn’t. It’s part of the problem, and it’s his problem.

These are just the problems with the fundamental underlying principles. Just wait ’till I get around to listing the ridiculous details — the crap facilities it recommends and the almost complete absence of of best practice solutions from this “comprehensive good practice” guide…