Lambeth Bridge shows us that TfL still needs a fundamental shift in design philosophy

Catching up with the latest TfL consultations, I was a combination of delighted and exasperated to see the proposals for Lambeth Bridge.

Delighted, because they reveal the political will to provide for cycling and walking, even if it means sacrificing a tiny bit of motoring capacity at these junctions.

Exasperated because even when the will is there, the technical capacity clearly isn’t. Just look at it.

Click to download fullsize diagram from TfL (PDF)

Look at that splurge of tarmac.

TfL had a blank canvass here. They’re completely rebuilding the junction, which is currently a roundabout. The kerblines are going, the trees are moving, the drainage will have to be redone. It’s not like any compromise is being made to work within the constraints of what’s there now.

It reveals a lot about how TfL’s designers are approaching these problems. They had a blank canvass and they filled it with tarmac. Then they asked where they needed to fit some kerbs into it. Walking and cycling is still being designed to fit around the edges of motoring, which remains the natural rightful state of our streets.

And look at the absurd mess that has led to.

Look at the entry to Lambeth Bridge. They’ve painted an arrow on it to tell motorists to get out of the cycleway. How on earth did that happen? According to the diagram, there is only ever one lane of traffic able to head onto the bridge at any time. How did they get themselves into a situation where people might be driving in the cycle lane and need to be told to get out of it?

Look at the entry into Albert Embankment. What is that lane merge arrow painted on that grossly distended carriageway space for? Again, there is only one lane of traffic entering this street at a time.

These kinds of tarmac oceans, with arbitrary shifting kerblines and unclear routes through them, are why British junctions are confusing, stressful and dangerous — whatever mode of transport you’re using. There is a large area of tarmac here that in theory should never ever be used, even by the largest and longest vehicles, because there are no legal manoeuvres that would use the space, or at least, that wouldn’t normally and more safely and sensibly be performed using some other space. But what that tarmac does do is provide opportunities for people to make mistakes, to perform illegal manoeuvres, or to behave dangerously. The gaping wide entries into Lambeth Bridge and Albert Embankment do nothing for a law-abiding motorist except create confusion about where they’re supposed to be, but they do invite idiots to use the turn lanes and cycle spaces to jump queues or to make illegal turns.

What might this junction look like if designed with a less motor-centric philosophy?

Instead of washing an undercoat of carriageway all across the blank canvass, you’d start from the opposite default. The canvass is blank and the only carriageway you add to it is the carriageway that’s needed to accommodate the manoeuvres that are possible here. Who are the users who need to move through the junction, and where do they need to move from and to? Draw the paths that they will need to take through the junction.

Draw the paths that motorists would take through this space if following the turn restrictions and if following the most rational routes. Work out how you’d cycle around it, and how you’d walk around it. The result looks a lot like Dutch crossroads do.

Click to embiggen. (This is just a 5 minute scribble, exaggerated in places, to illustrate the concept. Please don’t tell me the turning circles are too tight for HGVs or the cycleways too narrow or there are white lines in the wrong place, I’m not trying to propose this as a working plan for the contractors.)

This kind of design enables all of the same turns that TfL’s design legally allows, and has exactly the same number of motor traffic lanes feeding into and out of each arm of the junction. Capacity for legal manoeuvres should be the same (but the illegal turns, lane misuse and simple mistakes encouraged by TfL’s original design become much more difficult). I’m not saying necessarily that this is what I’d want the junction to look like, because I wouldn’t necessarily accept the same demands of motor capacity as TfL, but if you do accept the demands TfL are working to, this is roughly how the junction would work if cycling were properly designed for.

The one impact I haven’t addressed with my crayons is that they would have to address turn conflicts across the cycleways — something that wouldn’t be an issue if we had normal priority rules. But there are multiple options available to solve that problem TfL could call upon — indeed, they already solve it in their own design, for traffic/cyclists exiting Albert Embankment, with a separate turn signal.

Tell TfL: reject GST NHS Trust’s bad ideas for Westminster Bridge

I started an only slightly facetious petition: Build safe bus stop bypasses on Westminster Bridge. Please do sign it and share it.

Facetious because it’s a tit-for-tat response to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust’s* petition against bus stop bypasses on Westminster Bridge. I felt just slightly bad resorting to such childishness in a week when more than ever I felt the need for the world to sit down and resolve its differences through mature dialogue, compromise and understanding rather than mobs lashing out for all-or-nothing outcomes.

But only slightly facetious, because Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust set the terms for this game, shunning attempts at engagement and instead spreading misinformation to frighten people into opposing a scheme with little understanding of the proposal. If that’s how we’re playing this, bring it on.

What TfL have proposed

TfL want to continue their long-overdue modernisation of London’s roads, and next on their list is Westminster Bridge. Following established international best practice, the modernisation will provide clear space for cycling that is separate and protected from the carriageway and footway, making cycling a safe and attractive option while removing conflicts with motor traffic and pedestrians. Obviously these will also be separated from bus stops, with so-called “bus stop bypasses”:

WBS Visual 1 roundabout

Readers in London will be familiar with these tried-and-tested designs from the Cycle Superhighways. Readers in a number of European countries will be so familiar with them that they’ll wonder how they could possibly provoke a second thought, let alone how something that’s such an established part of the street furniture could lead to tit-for-tat petitions and blog posts.

What Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust propose

But in Britain we really are that far behind, and therefore bus stop bypasses are still alien enough to some people that Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust have been able to spread fear and misinformation about them — enough to gather 972 signatures for their petition, which calls on TfL to “consider the alternatives”.

GST don’t elaborate on the what the alternative is, and have declined to answer questions or engage on the subject, but we know what the alternative to separating modes is — it’s mixing them. GST have, at least, clarified that they are not opposed to cycle tracks, only to the bus stop bypasses. So the only possible conclusion is that rather than bypassing the bus stops on clear separate space, cyclists mix with bus passengers in the bus stops.

Obviously that’s an insane idea, and it’s difficult to find examples of such a thing being built. But this is Britain, home of the insanely badly designed cycle facility, so it’s difficult — but far from impossible. Here’s a bus stop on Royal College Street without a bypass**:

bottom-bus-stopped

(via CEoGB)

Guess how well that works?

This is on a relatively quiet street, with just one relatively lightly used bus route and a trickle of pedestrians and cyclists. On busy Westminster Bridge this would be carnage, and it’s utterly irresponsible of GST NHS Trust to advocate for such dangerous designs.

A serious point

Shared bus stop/cycle tracks are undeniably the logical conclusion of GST NHS Trust’s stated positions, but I’m not seriously suggesting that’s what they’re campaigning for. It’s clear they have no idea what they’re campaigning for, and not much better idea what they’re campaigning against. They are the latest in a line of organisations to make knee-jerk reactions to unfamiliar ideas — and threaten those ideas by spreading fear and misinformation about them.

So the serious point is that we need to actively stand up to the bikelash if we are to ensure that Go Dutch, Space For Cycling, and the progress that we have seen these past two years do not lose momentum.

We must engage with such organisations, when they are willing to engage, understand and address their fears when there are genuine fears, and keep plugging away at spreading understanding of best practice.

And we must laugh when such organisations become laughable, and mercilessly mock the likes of “Stop CS11” from the moment they lose all credibility.

And we must keep reminding TfL that we’re here — that the 10,000 who turned up in the rain to ask them to Go Dutch have not gone away. Which is why you should sign the stupid facetious petition.

* and for once on this occasion I’ll celebrate the NHS Trusts’ refusal to waste money on brand consultants who would advise them to name themselves something that means something and appeals to the public — say, “hospitals” — and instead always insist on being referred to as cold, faceless, bureaucratic, and eminently petition-against-able “NHS Trusts”.

** though for bonus weirdness, look carefully at the far left and you can see it does have a bus stop bypass — but for cars on a service road!

Use the bus in North London? The tube? Walk? Enjoy the park? This consultation needs your support.

TfL are consulting on “Cycle Superhighway 11”, from Portland Place to Swiss Cottage. Their proposals are to create an attractive and safe route around Regent’s Park Outer Circle and up Avenue Road, enabling people who would like to make their journeys by cycle, but are currently put off by fast and heavy motor traffic, to start riding.

But the proposals aren’t just great for cyclists and for people who would like to cycle if the conditions for it were right. They’re great for bus users, people enjoying the park, and anyone who walks in Swiss Cottage. Don’t ignore the consultation because you’re not a “cyclist”: these changes are for you too!

Bus users: get quicker journeys!

The proposals will see the Swiss Cottage gyratory removed, so that traffic goes straight down Finchley Road. Bus lanes along Finchley Road will be extended, and the Avenue Road section of the gyratory will become bus/cycle only, with dedicated facilities for buses turning at the end of their routes. So buses will no longer get caught up in the congestion of cars navigating the gyratory. Traffic modelling predicts significant journey time savings for the 113, 13 and 82.

The models are less favourable for some other routes, being neutral for most routes and suggesting increases for the C11 and 31. But traffic modelling consistently underestimates the positive effects that dedicated cycling infrastructure has on bus times. When cycle tracks were extended to Stratford for Cycle Superhighway 2, for example, traffic models predicted buses would be delayed by 1.5 minutes. In fact, no such delay occurred. Why?

First, TfL’s models don’t understand bike/bus dynamics. You know when the bus gets stuck behind a slow cyclist in the bus lane? When at every traffic light the bus has to wait for a sea of cyclists to clear out of the way before it can pull away from a green light? When the bus can’t pull out from a stop because cyclists have already started overtaking? TfL’s models understand none of that. The proposals for the Cycle Superhighway will see people switch from cycling on Finchley Road to cycling on Avenue Road, freeing up the bus lanes for buses.

Second, TfL’s models don’t understand how infrastructure changes lead to changes in our transport choices. The whole point of the Cycle Superhighway is to remove the barriers for people who would otherwise like to make their journeys by cycle. One of those barriers is the motor traffic using Avenue Road and Regent’s Park as a shortcut into town. Yet TfL’s models assume that after the changes are made, the same number of people will be driving, cycling, walking, and using the bus and tube as before — that nobody will change their mode of transport in response to the closure of a ratrun for cars, the removal of barriers to cycling, or the improvements to walking and public transport. But obviously people will change their behaviour, and there will be fewer cars around to get in the way of your bus than TfL assume.

And third, TfL’s models don’t look at the effects of crashes. Perhaps even more infuriating than long journeys are unreliable journeys. TfL’s plans provide a safe route for cycling, cutting the risk of nasty crashes on Finchley Road. Removing the gyratory will end the complex race track of ever changing lanes where motorists have to jostle to move into the correct position, meaning fewer prangs and smashes blocking the road. And the improved pedestrian crossings and spaces will substantially reduce the danger of pedestrians being hit by motorists flying around the bends of the gyratory. So fewer crashes, even leaving aside the obvious benefits of not killing and maiming people, means a more reliable road.

Finally, as if quicker journeys weren’t enough, note that some of the cycling journeys made possible by the Cycle Superhighway will be for people who currently use the bus. Many bus routes are now saturated to the point where increases to frequency or vehicle capacity are no longer feasible, and the only way to relieve overcrowding is to provide alternative means of making journeys. If you don’t want your buses to get any more crushed than they already are, Cycle Superhighways are what you need.

Walk in Swiss Cottage or use the tube? Get safer streets and better crossings!

With the proposals at Swiss Cottage, improvements for cycling are almost incidental to improvements that will be made for anybody who walks here — to the tube or bus stops, the shops, pubs, cinema, library or leisure centre.

The removal of the gyratory alone will make this a much more pleasant and much less dangerous place to walk. No more speeding traffic racing around the bends of the gyratory. No more trying to work out which of the many turn lanes and slip roads the motorists might erratically throw their vehicles at. And the removal of traffic from outside the tube station at the top of Avenue Road will make for a much better environment in which to walk and wait for buses.

There will also be some footway widening and continuous footways across driveways and side roads to emphasise pedestrian priority. There are also some excellent changes to the pedestrian crossings in the consultation which need your support: inconvenient “staggered crossings” (where you wait, cross to an island, then wait again for traffic coming the other way) are replaced with single stage crossings; and an extra wide crossing of Finchley Road is added outside the tube station. A small number of the changes might not be so perfect — so make sure you respond to the consultation supporting those that are good while suggesting where you would like to see further improvements to the crossings.

Enjoy Regent’s Park, but concerned by the speeding traffic? Get a safer, calmer park!

London is recognised internationally for the quality of its parks. But one thing currently mars Regent’s Park: the fast and heavy motor traffic that is allowed to drive right through the park on the Outer Circle. At rush hour the constant procession of traffic makes the park a noisy, polluted and unpleasant place to be; outside of the peaks, motorists speeding on this road make it an downright dangerous place for the recreational activities the park was designed for.

There is no need to be able to drive through the park: Outer Circle is paralleled on all sides by main roads that are properly designed and designated for through traffic. The reason motorists nip through the park is because, with fewer junctions and traffic lights, it’s easier to speed on the Outer Circle. As anyone who has used the park for even the smallest amount of time knows, law breaking by motorists is endemic in Regent’s Park, in close proximity to families trying to enjoy the park for its intended purpose. The 30 mph speed limit (already far too high for a park) is routinely flouted, and you don’t have to hang around long to witness motorway speeds.

That Regent’s Park can be used as a racetrack by motorists is an embarrassing anachronism that the proposals seek to resolve. Four of the eight gates to the park will be closed, except for a few off peak hours in the middle of the day. Motorists will still be able to access properties, visitor attractions and car parks. But for most through journeys the park will cease to offer an advantage over the surrounding main roads. I don’t think the proposals go nearly far enough, but the plans under consultation undoubtedly offer a massive improvement over the current unacceptable situation.

So if you use Regent’s Park — or would like to be able to enjoy it but are currently put off by the traffic barrier and the noise, pollution and danger it creates — make sure you respond to the consultation supporting the changes and suggesting improvements.

This needs your support: minority vested interests are fighting these improvements

If you want to see improved bus journeys in north London, or a better, more pedestrian friendly, less traffic dominated environment at Swiss Cottage, or a calmer, safer Regent’s Park, or if you want the option to make your journeys by bicycle where currently the roads are too dangerous or unpleasant, this needs your support.

Because to make these improvements for pedestrians, bus users, park users and bicycle users, the proposals must cut a favourite ratrun shortcut for wealthy Hampstead motorists who want to be able to drive a few miles into the West End. Instead of being able to nip down Avenue Road and race around Regent’s Park, if they want to continue driving private cars into the centre of our congested and polluted (but comprehensively public transport-served) city, they will have to contain themselves to main roads.

Though totally out of touch with the reality for normal people who rely on public transport, walking and, increasingly, cycling in the city, these motorists have loud mouths and the luxury of a lot of time on their hands. They are fighting hard to preserve their private shortcuts from Hampstead’s prosperous hillsides through Primrose Hill backstreets to their West End playgrounds, at the expense of the massive public improvements that are so desperately needed for the rest of us. They’re used to getting their way, and feeling that under threat they have mounted an increasingly desperate campaign of misinformation to frighten fellow motorists and NIMBY neighbours into joining their fight. Now they’ve made enough of a cacophony to start making politicians twitchy.

So make yourself heard

The minority vested interests are relying on the majority who stand to benefit from this scheme not noticing the consultation, or dismissing it as something that’s “just for cyclists” without spotting the broader benefits. So please make sure you respond to the consultation, supporting the scheme, highlighting the improvements that are most important to you, and making suggestions for how it could be made even better for you. It only needs 10 or 15 minutes, but the deadline is this Sunday.

Cycling probably isn’t in decline in Bristol, but the city still has complacency issues

This popped up in my Tweetdeck saved searches column:

It caught my eye because I’m quite ready to be critical of Bristol. And I will be.

But first, some reassurance. These numbers are (a) just a levelling off after years of growth, (b) probably not representative of the real situation in Bristol, and (c) probably a load of rubbish.

The numbers come from the Department for Transport. Here’s how they look when plotted as an index relative to 2000, alongside motor vehicles (beware, truncated y axis):

image

So this “decline” should be seen in the context of cycling journeys still being higher in number than in the last decade.

But actually this probably isn’t the right data to even tell you whether there has been a levelling off. You might get a clue from the fact that this data puts cycling’s mode share at 1-2% in a city that claims several times that much cycling.

It’s because this is Department for Transport traffic count data, and the DfT only count on main roads. Roads like these:

roads

The biggest, busiest and fastest roads in the city, including several where cycling is not even legal.

But Bristol’s strategy for cycling has largely neglected the main roads. (That is itself one of my criticisms of the city, but we’ll get to that.) Bristol’s rise as a cycling city is built on the foundations of its off-road routes on post-industrial corridors — the Railway Path, harbourside, greenways and towpaths. And in recent years its main policy developments have been slower speeds and filtered permeability on residential streets and in the city centre, as well as the development of additional joined-up off-road arterial routes.

So one could almost hypothesise that a fall in DfT main road traffic counts are what you’d expect to see in a city where the policy has been about creating alternative routes to the main roads.

Finally though, even for the dataset that it is, these numbers need to be taken with a big pinch of salt, because they are DfT traffic counts. The clue is in the fact that the line for cycling is really all over the place. These are based on a single day per year sample, probably collected by folk sat by the side of the road with pencils and paper, and so subject to big sampling noise.

That doesn’t mean Bristol’s doing alright

In 2012, we took the Cycling Embassy to Bristol to admire the Railway Path, the Living Heart Campaign for city centre filtered permeability, the then newly completed Concorde Way arterial route and the harbourside. Since then there have been some developments.

Bristol had just voted to replace its ineffective council-led model of local government with the mayor-led model, and there were high hopes that the city might start seeing some progress after years of plodding along. Hopes were higher still when independent George Ferguson was elected later that year with a mandate for improving cycling in the city. Ferguson’s policies even promised to finally start addressing the main roads, and thanks to the volunteer-run Bristol Cycling Campaign, there’s even a network plan ready prepared to work through.

So three quarters of the way through his term, what have we got?

The Baldwin Street cycle track and the Clarence Road cycle track (2 years late and with the council instantly pandering to incompetent motorists by reducing its defences). Two very welcome schemes. But that’s three years for a kilometre of tracks, not even fully connected to the wider network. At this rate it will take centuries to complete the network.

But far more worrying than what hasn’t happened is what has. Bristol is still designing crap like this — and building it, despite the countless warnings they’ve received:

brt

Busy, narrow, discontinuous shared use footways of the kind that should have been consigned to Crap Facility of the Month 15 years ago. This is not the stuff of a “cycling city”.

Bristol is still doing far better than — and doing nothing quite so embarrassing as — the likes of Birmingham or Leeds or Manchester, of course. But that should go without saying. That should go without saying. Bristol is expected to be better than Birmingham and Leeds and Manchester. But it’s certainly not exceeding expectations. It’s not moving forward or graduating from the low-hanging fruit of greenways to the hard work of fixing main roads. When London is building the NS/EW superhighways and many more kilometres of good stuff besides, nothing Bristol is doing looks exciting anymore.

And I think that’s because Bristol doesn’t appreciate what it has got, or understand how it got it. It has fallen for its own myth that it is an alternative city, and takes it for granted that the cool, green, self-reliant people of Bristol have a cycling culture. In fact, that culture arose alongside its off-road routes, and it could disappear just as quickly.

Worse even than the crap facilities on new roads is closing the Ashton Bridge for a year, severing greenway routes, to build a busway — diverting anyone who is left willing to cycle onto a dual carriageway. Or closing the Railway Path for months with similarly inadequate diversions. Over the past few years the city has variously proposed destroying the Railway Path entirely, destroying the riverside “chocolate block” path, and destroying part of the harbourside, all in the pursuit of mediocre bus systems serving the outer suburbs.

It is clear that council officers in the city have no appreciation of how absolutely critical these kinds of routes are — how dependent the growth in cycling modal share has been on them, how much they contribute to the city’s mobility, and how easily and how totally the city can be set back by allowing such routes to be destroyed. But outside the council there’s a complacency too. I don’t think many people quite appreciate just how critical the harbourside routes are, for example, because they exist by default as spaces left behind by industrial decline, rather than as something that had to be fought for, paid for, planned, designed and built. Yet they tie together the city’s radial routes in the centre — a vital function that other cities can struggle with immensely.

I could go on.

Bristol is still far better than Birmingham or Leeds or Manchester. But it’s not radical. And it needs to start taking its cycling infrastructure seriously. Because mode share can go down as well as up — and the fall can be faster than the ascent.

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?

River crossing would be ‘discriminatory’ says councillor

A new bridge over the Thames in East London would only benefit ‘former Tory MPs’, a Newham councillor has claimed.

Councillor Airdrie Dalden is objecting to plans from Transport for London which include a bridge between the borough and the Royal Borough of Greenwich on the south of the river.

Quoting the example of journalist Matthew Parris, councillor Dalden said: “The vast majority of people currently crossing the Thames here are former Tory MPs in swimming trunks. Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to put on a swimming costume and cross the Thames. Swimming is a discriminatory form of transport.”

Parris was criticised by the Port of London Authority in 2010 after writing about his experience of being swept a mile upriver when swimming across the busy commercial waterway at night.

Mayor Boris Johnson claims that the new Thames Gateway Bridge across the river would link the transport poor Thamesmead estate and Woolwich development area in Greenwich with residential and redevelopment areas around Beckton and the Royal Docks in Newham, creating opportunities for one of Britain’s most deprived boroughs.

But Councillor Dalden told AWWTM that the money Johnson proposes spending on the bridge would not “benefit every aspect of Newham, which is an ethnically diverse borough.”

“You look around and of the people who are crossing the Thames here, they do not belong to wider ethnic groups. The majority of swimmers are former Tory MPs like Matthew Parris and Boris Johnson. Fact.”

Transport for London are now considering a compromise solution which will involve building half a bridge.

The quick, the cheap, and the inadequate

At the last Street Talks, a panel presented on the theme of “The quick, the cheap and the temporary: Speeding up the transformation of London’s streets and public spaces”. Hannah Padgett of Sustrans talked about projects that get communities to suggest and try out improvements to their streets and places; Brian Deegan talked about Royal College Street and the research that has gone into Transport for London’s new Cycle Design Standards; and Ben Kennedy from Hackney Council talked about their trial de-motorification of the Narroway.

It was all very encouraging to hear how transforming our streets to reduce the blight of traffic and enable walking and cycling doesn’t necessarily have to take decades and hundreds of millions of pounds, and so I look forward to Boris and the boroughs making some rapid progress rolling out this kind of flexible “segregation lite” around the city. It’s good to have it spelled out and spread far and wide: budget cuts are not an excuse.

Except I’m a little worried about the quick and the cheap. Sometimes I just can’t quite see how it can do the job. Take the proposals that TfL are currently consulting on for the A21 in Lewisham:

A21 Bromley Rd Canadian AvThere are two elements to this scheme: the long straight link, and the crossroads node. A mandatory cycle lane is proposed for the link — dedicated space found for cycling within the existing carriageway, but protected only by a stripe of white paint. This cycle lane looks like exactly the sort of place that Royal College Street-style segregation could be quickly and cheaply implemented. It would be far from perfect — minimal separation from passing trucks, and only on one side of the road — but it would at least be a quick and cheap interim solution that could be in place on the street within days of a consultation ending.

The junction is the problem. Perhaps I just lack the imagination but I can’t picture any amount of the quick and the cheap segregation-lite making a safe, inviting and effective crossroads — especially one in which cyclists have to get past a long dedicated left-turn lane. And fixing the junction is the main issue, since it is junctions that are the least safe and least inviting part of our streets.

The best way to solve crossroads — and perhaps the only proven way, since Danish and German junctions don’t have such a great record for cycling safety and convenience — is the Dutch way: providing good, direct, high-capacity dedicated space with plenty of separation — in space and, where there are signals, in time — from the jostling and turning motor traffic. And that can not be done with a wheelbarrow load of armadillos.

@AnoopShah4 has already reached for the crayons box and sketched out a basic idea for the sort of things a junction like this needs. Carriageway narrowing, removing the left-hook lane, and putting in dedicated tracks set back from the carriageway:

Suggestion_A21_Bromley_Rd_Canadian_AvThe fact is, the carriageway on the A21 is in the wrong place. It’s the wrong shape and size. Fixing it, to make it the right shape and size, will require at least digging up the road to move the kerbs, but probably also moving some of the things on the street (like lamp posts) and under it (like rainwater drains). That’s not cheap and easy (well, not compared to Royal College Street; it’s still a bargain beside the M74), which is why in TfL’s plans, there is only some minor tinkering with the kerbs to tighten up the turnings in a couple of places, while absurd abominations like that left-turn lane are untouched.

It’s not cheap and easy, but without digging up the road, I just can’t picture how this junction could ever match the Mayor’s promise for TfL schemes:

Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.

The current plan out for consultation is inadequate; to do things at least adequately here would require the mayor to spend some money correcting the carriageway.

DSC_3289
The Dutch had carriageways that were the wrong shape and size too, but they’ve slowly worked their way through them correcting that, adding their cycle tracks as they go.

This junction is far from alone amongst London’s main roads — the ones which require dedicated space for cycling — in being a place where I can’t see how the quick and easy could work, and it’s not just junctions where this is a problem. A great many of our streets seem to have been assembled quite clumsily, with carriageway and lane widths bouncing around erratically according to the space available between buildings, obstructions strewn across footways without thought, and decades of added and moved and sometimes removed buildouts and islands, stacking lanes, bus stops and loading bays. They’re a mess, and trying to retrofit them for cycling could only make them an even bigger mess. To do things adequately, you’re often going to have to sweep away the accumulated mess, cast off the constraints of the motor-centric streets we’ve inherited, and do things properly. But we managed to put the money and effort in to install all of those ill-conceived left-hook lanes and junction stacks in the past. We should be able to find the same to now fix those mistakes.

Stevenage is not Britain

So a dull grey 1950s new town of 85,000 people situated 25km beyond the London boundary on the far side of the Hertfordshire green belt seems to have become the unlikely topic that has dominated cycle campaigning discussion all spring. Driving this agenda is Carlton Reid, starting with his Roads Were Not Built For Cars blog describing the dense network of separated cycle paths that were built alongside the town’s big dual carriageway roads, and under the roundabout intersections, when the new town was laid out five decades ago.

Despite its network of “Dutch-style” cycle paths, Stevenage now has a modal share for cycling in the low single figures, just like its cycle track-free neighbours: it’s a typical British town, Reid points out.

The reason the cycle tracks didn’t work in Stevenage, he goes on to explain, is that car use was not restrained. The dense network of cycle paths parallels a dense network of high-speed dual carriageway motor roads linked with high-capacity roundabouts.

Others have already pointed out that the Stevenage cycle path network is ossified in its 1960s state, detached from the parts of the town that have grown since then. And others have already pointed out that the quality of the infrastructure is frequently far below modern Dutch standards, and doesn’t come close to the density of modern Dutch networks — accompanying only the biggest dual carriageway roads, with cycle users still expected to mix on through distributor roads that are much busier and faster than they would be expected to use in the Netherlands. And others have pointed out that the 14% mode share for cycling that Stevenage achieved in the 1970s — before the infrastructure had fallen so far behind the town’s expansion — is actually quite impressive for a town built for driving at a time when cycling in Britain was hitting rock bottom.

So I have no intention of discussing those things, or whether Reid is right to shrug them off. Because on the main point — that the primary reason people don’t cycle in Stevenage is because it’s a town built for easy motoring — everybody is agreed.

I’m more interested in whether Britain really has anything important to learn from Stevenage. Because Reid goes on to draw general conclusions about the UK from this town’s experience. Dutch-style infrastructure and street design, he says, would not be enough to get us on our bikes. At least as important is making it harder to use cars. Indeed, in a particularly bizarre episode that it’s probably kinder not to dwell on, he mocks the “build it and they will come” position with a weird sports analogy. It’s too easy to drive in Britain, he says, so using the car is too culturally ingrained for cycle tracks alone to get people cycling.

The problem with obsessing over the Stevenage story, then, is not that Stevenage is not the Netherlands. It’s that Stevenage is not Britain.

The Stevenage story tells us about mid-20th century new towns, which were built with dense networks of dual carriageways to keep high volumes of motor traffic flowing freely to all destinations. Traffic really is unrestrained in Stevenage. And Stevenage really does have a deeply ingrained car culture: populated by a self-selected pack of people who were attracted out of the overcrowded capital in the 1960s and up the motorway to the semi-detached countryside with the promise of a double garage and everything else that the white heat of technology could provide.

But most places are not Stevenage. It’s ironic that those who seem most fond of the Stevenage story are so often also those who like to point out that many of the streets in the City of London are medieval and so too narrow for cycle paths.

Most of us live in towns and cities that are not like Stevenage, physically or even culturally. Not to anywhere near such an extreme extent, at least. We live in cities which are, no doubt about it, car sick. Cities which have been scarred and divided by some big roads, and cities which have been disfigured by sprawling suburbias with double garage semis, certainly. They are cities where the car has done much damage, and where built-in dependence on the car still does great damage, and you wouldn’t catch me opposing car restraining policies if you were proposing them.

But though there may be little in the way of political policies to actively restrain car use in these places, the car is not, as in Stevenage, the free and fast and utterly unrestrained thing that it is in the new towns. In normal towns and cities, which don’t have the same dense network of dual carriageways joined by roundabouts, serving multistory car parks and double-garaged homes, the car must crawl down old streets narrowed by on-street parking; sit in the congestion that it inevitably creates; and on reaching a destination get waylaid by the task of finding suitable storage. Stevenage’s lesson about the need for policies of car restraint don’t matter for most of us, because in our towns and cities, there are already massive factors pushing against car use.

The problem for us is the lack of any alternatives to go to. In Stevenage the pull of the cycle path network has to compete with the much stronger pull of the road network. Supply of transport infrastructure far exceeds demand, so people opt for whatever’s most attractive. Everywhere else, the push of congested streets and insufficient public transport is met with the much stronger push of hostile cycling conditions. Here supply of transport infrastructure doesn’t meet demand, so people make do with whatever’s least painful.

So yes, of course the formula for building cycling is multifactoral. But there’s a very good reason why there is such a strong focus on campaigning for better infrastructure, and why we might even say: build it and they will come. This is the factor that has so far been missing. In London, in Bristol, in Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow, we have the push of congested roads and too many stored cars for the space available. We have the cycle training in schools and the glossy promotional campaigns. What we’re missing is the infrastructure.

If you care about growing cycling in Stevenage, by all means, go and campaign for the factor that is missing in that town: car use restraint. Good luck to you. Make it difficult to drive and I’m sure They Will Come, to coin a slogan.

I don’t really care about Stevenage. I care about enabling cycling it where it’s needed most, and I’ll carry on campaigning for the factor that is missing in those places: the infrastructure for it. In those places, when you build it, they do come — a phenomenon I’ll explore in more detail later in the week.

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 “The crap cycle facility to the isles”

Who is shopping on Leith Walk?

On The Scotsman, Grant Kavanagh, owner of a print shop on Leith Walk, pleas for space on the street to be given not to proper cycling infrastructure but to more car parking. These are Kavanagh’s arguments:

Parking on Leith Walk is a real problem for businesses at the moment and it’s really a case of motorists bringing a lot more business than cyclists.

Everyone who lives and works on Leith Walk wants it restored so that we can encourage people back into the area. If people cannot park then they will not come down to Leith Walk and that will not help us at all.

There is a vast difference between the number of vehicles that pass down Leith Walk in comparison with the number of bikes, so I don’t understand the need for dedicated lanes for minority road users.

I don’t think I need to address that last claim — about cycling infrastructure being for the minority who are Cyclists — so soon after writing about it at length. It’s the earlier ones that merit a further look.

Kavanagh clearly believes that the businesses on Leith Walk are, or are capable of, attracting customers from all over Edinburgh, who drive in and park up to shop. His belief is quite typical of small retail business owners. We have developed a national myth about the importance of motoring and car parking to urban retail. I’ve written before about how this myth was explored a few years ago on Gloucester Road in Bristol — a road which shares important characteristics with Leith Walk, namely, being an arterial ‘A’ road, running through a densely populated residential neighbourhood, and being lined with small independent businesses and a few convenience stores.

The shopkeepers of Gloucester road were asked to estimate what proportion of their customers came by car. The average answer was more than two fifths. But actually only just over a fifth drove to the shops. They greatly underestimated how many people walked, cycled, or took the bus. Their estimates of how far their customers were travelling was also way out, with business owners believing that they are able to attract customers from miles around — just as Kavanagh does — when in fact most lived a short walk away. And they found little to support the idea that motorists were good customers, with drivers likely to rush in and rush out while pedestrians hang around and visit several different establishments.

Mr Kavanagh’s business is relatively specialist. His is not the only print shop in Edinburgh, but perhaps it is the best quality or best service or best value or for whatever reason he really is able to attract customers from all over the city and beyond. But, and I hope the business owners of Leith Walk will not take this personally, very few of the shops on the street are. I don’t believe that anybody is going miles out of their way to go to a Co-op, a post office, a pharmacy, a bakery, a kebab shop, Tesco Express or their barber, accountant, or solicitor. It should not be taken as a slur on the reputation of the perfectly nice delis and coffee shops to state that almost all of their customers come from no further away than the office buildings a couple of minutes up the road and the tenement blocks around the corner, for this is the nature of delis and coffee shops everywhere.

Leith Walk succeeds as a local high street because its shops and services are mostly local shops and services — the sort of essentials that everybody needs but nobody wants to have to go out of their way to obtain. Which is why I am fairly confident that if you surveyed the people who shop there, you’d find that most live locally and walk, many combine walking with the bus, more than Mr Kavanagh would expect cycle, and a lot fewer than he would believe drive (or ever would drive, however much car parking was provided). My guess is that of those who do drive, a very large proportion are making a journey of just a couple of kilometres — for we know that a large proportion of urban car trips cover very short distances — and that Kavanagh would again be surprised at how many would consider leaving the car behind — indeed, would be relieved to be able to do so — if they were to be given a viable alternative like safe and comfortable cycle tracks. And that would mean fewer local folk clogging up the parking spaces as they stop to spend 89p on milk, and more spaces for those who are driving in from miles around to spend big at the print shop.

But we don’t have to argue over our guesses. Why not test it? The methods of the Bristol study were simple enough, and it might take one person a weekend to replicate, or a small group could do it in an afternoon.

Testing Edinburgh’s commitment

This perfect test-case for proper infrastructure is something to keep an eye on.

Leith
If the Netherlands had proper stone to build with, it would probably look a bit like Leith… but cycling there would be far less stressful.

Edinburgh, the UK’s only signatory of the Charter of Brussels and somewhere in my top 3 least worst cities for cycling in Britain, made headlines and won some praise a few months ago when, in response to local and national campaigns, lobbying, protest, and the work of a few good local politicians, it was announced that the city would devote at least 5% of its transport budget to cycling. But finding the money for cycling is only half of the struggle: even once you’ve secured it, there are people getting in the way of it happening.

Edinburgh’s cycling infrastructure has so far mostly consisted of a relatively extensive but typically disjointed network of shared-use rail trails and paths through parks, plus the usual variety of scattered crap facilities. It was supplemented this year with a “quality bike corridor” — a local take on the Superficial Cycleway, with subtle red tarmac on a secondary road instead of bright blue paint on a trunk road. But recently the hyperlocal Greener Leith has been reporting on what looks like one of Britain’s best hopes for a proper showcase of the quality that it is possible to achieve, and the numbers and diversity of people using bicycles that follows, by implementing Dutch design principles for cycling infrastructure.

Edinburgh really have no excuse at all for not getting Leith Walk right:

This is exactly the sort of road that needs cycle tracks: an ‘A’-road. Ignore all that nonsense about “well you can’t have cycle tracks everywhere, so there’s no point asking for them anywhere”. You don’t need cycle tracks everywhere. You need cycle tracks on ‘A’-roads, where the higher speeds, the larger vehicles, and the larger volumes of vehicles are big barrier to cycling. Especially so when it’s also a retail high street, a business district, and a high density residential neighbourhood, as this shop and tenement block lined street is.

It has to be rebuilt anyway. A few years ago it was ripped to shreds when preparing the ground for the new tramway that never came, and so for several years it has had a temporary layout with rubber kerbs and plastic street furniture and ever widening and deepening potholes as the authorities argued about whose fault it was that the tram project went horribly wrong. Now with the tram line terminated just short of reaching Leith Walk, the extension indefinitely mothballed, the council can get on with putting the street right. Last month £5.5m was allocated for a major overhaul of the street, so even if Edinburgh hadn’t committed to funding cycling, money shouldn’t matter when the job needs doing anyway.

Leith Walk in the rain
Leith Walk in the rain by stewartbremner, on Flickr

People want it. When asked what they wanted from their street — with a broad remit of design, services, policing, etc — the number one demand from locals was Dutch-style cycling infrastructure. And the council should not need to have great fear of opposition from the sort of outer suburban motorists passing through the inner city that politicians are traditionally keen to keep happy — for reasons that should be obvious from the map.

The route has already been surveyed by Dutch consultants Goudappel Coffeng, who reported on the vast amounts of space available for proper Dutch standard cycle tracks that there is on this street, with its acres of excess capacity, lane widths, turning lanes, stacking lanes, vehicle storage areas, and plain wasted space — and their assessment was made back when they were even expecting 8.0m of the street to have to be dedicated to a tramway which has now been shelved.

Leith Walk
Leith Walk by Chris_Malcolm, on Flickr

With council offices populated by old fashioned highways engineers following inadequate and inappropriate design manuals, excuses will no doubt be desperately sought for why providing properly for cycling on Leith Walk is really impossible, and that anyway the manual says that cyclists love sharing lanes with double deck buses really, and oh are you really sure but that would mean you would have to give way at every side road because it’s beyond our imagination to design a cycle track correctly at side roads. But there really are no excuses left here. The experts have already visited and pointed out how ludicrously easy it should be to get this one right.

We’re in the sad situation where properly designed and implemented infrastructure is so rare in Britain that things that should be boring little local technical matters become projects of national importance in our search for showcases and templates. And a situation where no high quality infrastructure has been achieved by a council without a lot of hand-holding by campaigners, quangos, and the few consultants who get it. So keep an eye on, and if needed lend a hand to, Greener Leith et al. Because Leith Walk should set an example and show off what can be done for cycling, but even if Edinburgh councillors are serious about doing it, it’s extremely unlikely that their officers know how to deliver their policy.

Cycling to the Olympics? It’s easy, and delightful, and all demographics are doing it.

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Almost a year ago I wrote about the opening of a new 5 mile cycle track, linking Dorchester and Weymouth, built alongside the busy main road that links Weymouth, and the Olympic sailing events, to Dorchester and the wider world. It was not bad — with the exception of rail trails like the Bristol to Bath Path, perhaps it’s the best inter-urban cycleway in the country. Not that this can be considered very great praise.

I thought I’d take a look and see how it’s working out for Weymouth, and I put a little of what I found in the couple of hours I spent in town in this flickr set. Continue reading “Cycling to the Olympics? It’s easy, and delightful, and all demographics are doing it.”

The CEoGB AGM Sunday evening scenic ride

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Another of the Embassy AGM Infrastructure Safari writeups. Shorter and not quite so nerdy: a scenic circuit of the lower section of the former docks in the evening sunshine, including a Victorian-era riverside shared path, a huge incongruous 1960s road system beside the Clifton Suspension Bridge viewpoint, and another example of Bristol turning roads into parks. The main point, though, was that the old quaysides and riverside paths, despite all their limitations, make usable and even pleasant (if you’re not in a hurry) cycle routes, linking up to the other traffic-free routes, and perhaps help to explain Bristol being that fraction better than the rest of the country at widening access to cycling.

Here is the Google Map tour.

Dual networks and unravelling routes in Bristol

Stokes Croft

I promised to write up the other infrastructure safaris that the Cycling Embassy took while in Bristol for the AGM in May. David Arditti blogging about the safaris prompted me to get on with it. Previously I showed you the Railway Path. Left to come are a couple of rough and rambling posts, accompanied by Google Earth infrastructure safaris, on Bristol’s arterial cycling infrastructure (below) and city centre streets, hopefully leading to the properly thought out post that will eventually get to the point.

So on the Sunday morning safari we looked at the options for utility cycling between the city centre and residential and commercial neighbourhoods in the north of the city.

As before, for the details, pictures (mostly Mark’s and David’s) and video, it’s recorded as a virtual tour to be taken in Google Maps or downloaded for Google Earth: here is the Google Map tour.

The basic context is that we rode from the city centre through 5km of residential neighbourhoods until we hit the outer ring road. The latter is late 20th century car territory — motorway junctions sending out tentacles of dual carriageway distributor roads to roundabouts around which car oriented commercial development grows. Much of the British aerospace industry, a major Ministry of Defence office, retail and logistics businesses, offices and R&D for tech companies, and a large university rise from a sea of car parks out here in the “North Fringe”, just outside the city boundary in South Gloucestershire, where the council allows that sort of thing. The route we were looking at was therefore one of important traffic flows: two centres of employment (and culture and retail and education) and the residential neighbourhoods they serve.

There are several different arterial routes serving this traffic: of road, rail and cycleway. We headed north on the original artery — the traditional main road, the A38 Stokes Croft/Cheltenham Road/Gloucester Road (turning off onto the lesser Filton Avenue for a shortcut). Just a normal British urban arterial ‘A’ road, 2 lanes + 2 bus lanes where room permits, dozens of buses in peak hours, car parking in the off peak hours, row upon row of shops and houses and little residential side roads. Occasional token painted 1.2m advistory cycle lanes, of no use to anybody under the parked cars.

DSC_5438

We headed back on a new Cycling City funded cycle route, Concorde Way, on about 50:50 residential backstreets and 3.0-3.5m shared paths. The route is not bad. Nowhere near modern Dutch standards, obviously. There are a couple of little fiddly bits with toucans and pavements. There’s a street that’s used by motorists as a ratrun. There are paths as narrow as 3.0m shared between pedestrians and cyclists, despite this being a densely populated urban area. There are paths even narrower than that, briefly, where they reuse the 1970s subways under a motorway junction. There’s a new home zone built on a through trunk cycle route. I wish it were better, but I congratulate its designers for doing so well against all the odds, fighting the rules of British Highways engineering all the way. Aforementioned pinch points aside, it’s not too narrow, it’s not too slow, it’s not too unsafe, it doesn’t ever abandon you. It has advantages, like avoiding all the traffic signals you get on equivalent main roads. It’s a 5km cycle route that works the whole way, and which is enabling people who would not otherwise get around by bicycle to do so, while at the same providing a route that confident and speedy cyclists won’t turn their noses up at.

In that sense, this might look a bit like a case of unravelling routes: putting the cars somewhere else, where they can’t bother the people on foot and on bicycles.

But that this is far from having been satisfactorily achieved is illustrated by the fact that that there are at least as many people on bicycles on the old main road as there are on the dedicated cycle route. Because the cycle route’s one really big flaw is that it isn’t where most people want to be. It runs through a park by a river, through allotment gardens beside the railway cutting, across the wasteground underneath the electricity transmission lines and past the rugby practice field. Politically easy to achieve and physically easy to build, in places where there is little competition for the space. Whereas the main road runs past the shops, and the offices, and all the houses.

And so it appears that this is less like unravelling routes and more like dual networks: the idea that if you just put a basic cycle route on back streets and traffic-free paths to enable children and the less confident to train themselves up, eventually they become confident enough to man up and take the lane with the trucks and buses on Cheltenham Road. The difference is that in most other cases, the quality of the cycling infrastructure is cut to a bare minimum and then cut some more (because it’s just a training network, so what do things like directness and speed and comfort and capacity and actually going somewhere matter?), whereas this one is genuinely good and useful and nice, if you happen to be going in that direction.

It’s great that Bristol has built this, and the several other similar new arterial cycle routes. I don’t blame them for going for this stuff instead of the main roads at this point in time. It’s the politically easy low-hanging fruit of paths across parks, derelict railway corridors and wasteland; and the relatively cheap quick wins of filtered permeability and little paths and bridges here and there to join up riverside paths and quiet streets into longer routes. Of course you’d do those things first.

But the lesson from the Netherlands — who did all the experiments for us, decades ago — is that routes like these will only buy you so much modal shift, and they can’t deliver a whole Cycling City. For most people, if the cycleway doesn’t go where they’re going, they won’t cycle. What really starts to deliver impressive numbers is enabling cycling for all, not just the unusually confident and tolerant few, to ride on that main road, the one where the shops and the offices are, the one with all the residential streets running off it. And what really makes a Cycling City is not routes but a network: if people are to routinely pick the bicycle over the car without thinking or planning, they need to be confident that whatever their journey, especially those to places they’ve never been by bicycle before, they’ll be able to just get on and go without fear of being dumped in traffic on a dual carriageway or multi-lane roundabout.

There is one more artery in this story: the M32 motorway. I wrote about it before — how parks were paved over, railway viaducts blown up, and inner city neighbourhoods bulldozed as it was thrust into the heart of the city. After all the destruction it brought in its path, the final tragedy was that, far from being designed to relieve the old arteries and streets of traffic, allowing the likes of Gloucester Road to be reclaimed from the passing motorist by its residents and shoppers, the motorway was designed to pump an ever greater volume of traffic onto those streets. But it would not be at all difficult to start fixing that mistake — to reclaim the space needed for cycling on the main arteries by sending motorists to the motorway. Which is the point I’ll get to in a future post.

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The Great #CEoGBagm Railway Path Infrastructure Safari

Railway Path

The Cycling Embassy went to Bath and Bristol for the AGM, and around the discussion and decisions for the future, we had fun riding around a couple of my favourite cities pointing at the nerdy details of the infrastructure, seeing if there was anything to be learnt about what to do and what not to do. I promised to do write-ups of them, and decided to experiment with using Google Maps as a medium for doing a photo essay tour.

Link to the Google Maps photo essay tour.

You can take the tour by going through the pins in the left-hand panel, clicking them in turn to open the bubble with the information about each point of interest; alternatively, hide the panel, set your browser to full screen mode, zoom in at the Bath (eastern) end of the yellow line and start following it west, clicking the bubbles in turn for the information (some of them can be easy to miss when zoomed in, though). Or for a third option, click on the “KML” link to open it in Google Earth for easier zooming and panning around.

Railway Path

I prepared a lot of photos in advance (and then failed to prepare a blog post in advance), but didn’t manage to get everything. Thanks to As Easy As Riding A Bike and A Grim North for capturing all the photos that I’d failed to get.

If you like the format, I’ll do the other Safaris that way too.

Mangotsfield Junction