Tag Archives: separation principles

The Living Heart Safari

Champion Square

Champion Square: shared space that works, because it’s combined with filtered permeability.

Finally, the Saturday evening Infrastructure Safari at the Cycling Embassy’s AGM in Bristol in May. This was led by Steve Melia, a transport and town planning academic at the University of the West of England and campaigner from the Carfree UK and Living Heart for Bristol campaigns. That latter campaign formed the theme for the safari, a short ride around the city centre looking at the big roads that blight it and the ways in which traffic reduction has already helped to make a more thriving liveable city, and the potential for further reduction.

The Google Map tour is here.

The basic idea of the Living Heart campaign is to cut traffic and create a liveable city centre through the careful use of selective permeability to make it impossible to drive through the city centre, without preventing anybody who has a genuine need to be there with a vehicle — residents, traders, and deliveries — from driving in and out. In a sense, they are seeking to make the best of the Bristol that the motorway mad 1960s planners left us, with its arterial motorway and inner ring road, by switching from a system which used the big roads to feed ever greater volumes of traffic into the old city streets to one which uses those main roads to remove traffic from those streets. Or, to put it another way, they would block up the ratruns, freeing them up for more suitable and useful purposes.

Queen Square, before and after, from the Living Heart campaign.

Compared to much of the country (and I know, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement), Bristol already has a relatively good record on creating a liveable low-traffic city centre. It started in the 1980s with strategic road blocks and short sections of pedestrianisation to close ratruns in the Old Town, at King Street and Corn Street and the like, and continued in the Broadmead shopping area with (poorly enforced) bus-only streets coupled to one-way systems which enable access while making unattractive ratruns. More dramatically and famously, Bristol has succeeded in rolling back some of the mistakes of the motorway mad past: the inner “ring” road dual carriageway isn’t a ring any more. Where for decades it crossed diagonally through the fine Georgian Queen Square, blighting the area so that all around was neglected and run down, it was closed amid much protestation in the mid-1990s, and the square restored in stages through the 2000s, giving the city a much loved little park and thriving commercial zone. Similarly College Green outside the cathedral has lost a main road.

But the city centre still suffers from motorists trying to find a shortcut through the old streets, at times making them unpleasant places to be and to do business, and trapping pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users in the mess they create, not just fellow motorists. The campaign are not greatly attached to any one specific means of keeping this through traffic out of these unsuitable streets — there are lots of potential places where a block or a bus gate would be appropriate and have the desired effect. But they particularly point to the four bridges that cross the harbour within their ring road cordon as obvious places to consider.

And they have a good local example to cite. Unfortunately we were too busy looking at railway paths to look at the city centre while in Bath. At first sight Bath, with a perpetually jammed trunk road almost through the heart, would seem an unlikely choice for a lesson on liveable low-traffic city centres, but it would have been worth looking at for the ways in which many of the old city centre streets have been reclaimed from traffic while maintaining essential access: through road blocks with pedestrian and cycle permeability, a one-way system around the historic and commercial centre which enables access for delivery vans and then sends them back to the same main road they came in on, and, of interest to Living Heart, Pulteney Bridge bus gate. Together these things create some pleasant public spaces, some streets fit for cycling, and some bus routes not completely blocked by jams of ratrunning motorists.

Ultimately the Living Heart campaign, and Steve’s safari, is about segregation: separating traffic away from people. It’s what all of the diverse safaris in the Westcountry were ultimately about. Which will be explored properly in a post to conclude this whole thing. If and when I get around to writing it…

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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…

Pick and mix and the Hierarchy of Provision

The marvellous Mad Cycle Lanes of Greater Manchester has posted an extract from a history of provision for cycling in the Netherlands:

the government decided to develop a large array of measures to promote cycling, walking and traffic calming, such as:

– Reducing car access to city-centres and create car-free areas;
– Making parking in city-centres more expensive;
– Constructing cycle paths and reducing road space for cars;
– Facilitating cycling through cycle network planning, road design, signalling, parking and enforcement;
– Reducing maximum speed on the majority of urban roads to 30 km/h or less;
– Promoting cycling to encourage the use of bikes and discourage car-use.

But MCLGM draw a rather odd conclusion from this, which is not supported by the quoted text:

Note how most of the measures are about reducing and removing access by motor vehicles.

The key to increasing cycling is reducing motor traffic, the cycle tracks are the follow-up measures.

I tried to post a comment, but of course because MCLGM is hosted on Blogspot it disappeared with a server error page somewhere in the gazillion-step commenting processes. (Seriously Blogspot bloggers, it is way past time you came and joined us on a platform that works.)

I’m going to post the comment here, because it seems to be a very common mistake, and one that needs to be laid to rest.

Er. Not quite. All of the measures are “key”; none of them are “follow-ups”. They are the different solutions that apply to different situations. The British seem desperate to put things in a hierarchy. It’s completely the wrong approach, and it’s certainly not the Dutch approach.

In some places — residential streets and city centres — we need to reduce traffic speed and remove vehicular access. In other places — main arterial roads and other places with high traffic volumes and/or large vehicles — we need to reallocate space for cycle tracks. You start from the specific problem, not the preferred solution.

That is the key to increasing cycling. Knowing what needs to be done in each situation.

I’ll use this opportunity to expand on this point about putting solutions into hierarchies a little.

In Britain we have a “Hierarchy of Provision”, which recommends some types of cycling provision as preferable to other types. It was developed by the DfT and CTC in 1997, is still endorsed by many cyclists (sometimes enthusiastically so) as well as officials, and is part of the design guidance for cycling infrastructure — Local Transport Note 2/08 — upon which the nation’s Crap Cycle Facilities are modelled.

Specifically, the Hierarchy of Provision states that one should “consider first” reducing the speed and volume of motor traffic, and “consider last” shared use footways. (Note, not: “never ever consider”, the Hierarchy of Provision thinks shared footways should be “considered last”.)

This is, as my lost comment says, approaching things the wrong way around: bringing a set of pre-ranked preferred solutions to a road and trying each one in turn to see which one fits. The correct approach — the one that the Dutch apply — is to start with the purpose and properties of a road: whether it is the main A-to-B road, or a little residential or access street; whether it needs to carry big dangerous trucks and buses; and so on. Once you’ve answered those questions, there is no need to try different solutions on for size: when you understand the problem, the appropriate solution follows.

For many years in the UK there was a Hierarchy of Provision way of thinking, which led, and still leads, to some absurdities, such as the idea that in the Netherlands cycle tracks are a “follow-up measure”. When the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain came along and made the then heretical statement that, actually, for some kinds of roads, we should be asking straight-up for Dutch-style cycle tracks instead of trying to apply one preferred top-of-the-hierarchy solution to every road in the country, this entirely sensible position was often misunderstood. Unable to think outside The Hierarchy, the embrace of cycle tracks was interpreted as an attempt on the crown: to put cycle tracks at the top of The Hierarchy and to campaign exclusively for the construction of segregated cycle paths alongside every inch of road, lane, street and cul-de-sac in the country.

It seems that this misunderstanding is still spread, and by those who should know better:

Carlton Reid @carltonreid Carlton Reid
135,575 km of roads in Netherlands. 29,000km of segregated tracks. So, in UK, there’s a need for separation on *every* road? #cyclesafe
7 hours ago

Jon Smalldon @jonsmalldon Jon Smalldon
@carltonreid Nobody has said or is saying that though?
7 hours ago  Favorite Retweet Reply

Mark @AsEasyAsRiding Mark
@carltonreid Who’s saying that?
7 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Carlton Reid @carltonreid Carlton Reid
@jonsmalldon @AsEasyAsRiding David Arditti coming very close. http://bit.ly/yf7JwZ
6 hours ago  Favorite Retweet Reply

(Readers can follow Carlton Reid’s link that to the essay in which David Arditti explains very clearly and at length, in 3,000 words and two diagrams, his ideas on the interventions which might be appropriate solutions the problems that cyclists face in different situations, placing it in the context of David’s other articles, and can draw their own conclusions about whether Reid is right to sum up David’s argument as a call for segregated cycle tracks on every public road and street in Britain.)

Campaigners seem to be growing more comfortable advocating the full breadth of solutions in the Dutch “Sustainable Safety” package, but even when doing so in the Xmas edition of their magazine, the London Cycling Campaign can’t stop thinking in hierarchies: “the Dutch mantra is mix if possible, separate when necessary,” they say, as if the Dutch have a hierarchy of “consider first: mix”, “consider last: separate”. But as the LCC magazine says elsewhere, the Dutch “start by deciding the function of a road, and from this flows the design.” On a busy trunk road they don’t first consider mixed traffic.

But not everybody has quite come to terms with it all yet, and in attempting to reconcile the comprehensive and detailed Dutch solution with the crude and uncomplicated British hierarchy approach, it seems that many have had to resort to what MCRcycling calls the Dutch pick and mix: we’ll pick the filtered permeability to put at the top of our hierarchy, and campaign for that one, thanks.

Over the past couple of years, the breadth of the successful Dutch approach to street design and cycling has begun to be explained and appreciated in this country, thanks initially to the likes of David Hembrow’s blog, Mark Wagenbuur’s videos, and occasional articles like this, and recently spread even further by the Dutch Cycling Embassy and London’s Go Dutch campaign. The activity stirred up by The Times CycleSafe campaign will, I hope and expect, lead to its much wider dissemination. I imagine that attempts to arrange the continent’s engineering into a hierarchy of provision will keep people occupied for a while yet.

Getting to school in the countryside

This post is part of a series, starting at “What would you do here?”, on making utility cycling attractive in rural Britain.

In the Netherlands, children cycle to school. Almost all of them. Unaccompanied from the age of 8 or 9. You only wouldn’t cycle if you lived so close that it’s quicker to walk, and even then you might cycle sometimes anyway, so that you can go places with friends afterwards. Children there are fitter, healthier, and freer, less dependent on the parents’ taxi service. British authorities talk a lot about wanting children to walk and cycle more and to be ferried around in parents’ cars less, but have so far done little that has actually succeeded in making that happen. What would it take to make cycling to school possible in our rural British case study subject?

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Strange streets and rural ratruns in the Netherlands

On the path from Nijmegen to Eindhoven, following signs for an intermediate town, I stumbled upon the equivalent of a trunk road, the N324 Graafseweg on the edge of Wijchen, being dug up:

The cycle route here followed a series of short access streets parallel to the main road — non-through routes for motor vehicles but which are joined up with cycle tracks.

But at one point even the cycle route/access streets had been taken over by the construction crew, and bicycles were sent around a short and excellently signed diversion, along a suburban lane with cycle tracks:

And onto a little lane, Urnenveldweg I think it must have been, with no need for bicycle infrastructure, but with traffic calming — not very good traffic calming:

I imagine that this lane is normally little used. It runs parallel to the main road and doesn’t connect much other than the few properties here. So it’s interesting that the verges are so bare — what has killed the grassy edges? In addition to being the official bicycle diversion, quite a few motorists had discovered that it also makes a through route for cars, and they were determined to push their way through. Perhaps it was a self-selected sample of bad drivers — they were, after all, choosing to ignore their own diversions and instead ratrun down the country lanes. It was one of the few places in a 1,000km where being on a bicycle was anything less than completely comfortable and relaxed, and it destroyed the illusion that Dutch motorists are more considerate and better behaved than the British.

This is what they were doing with the main road:

According to a Google Translate of the council’s project page, they’ve reduced it from two lanes to a single lane in each direction, cut the speed limit to 50kmph, and put on a quieter surface — all measures to cut the noise pollution in this suburb. But the other thing they’ve done is built those walls: stone walls facing the main road, with gentle grassy banks facing the parallel bicycle/access streets and houses behind, another noise abatement feature. It’s a bit odd. I’m sure it’s preferable to having a 100kmph dual carriageway outside the front door, but it still looks like a funny sort of place to live.

On country lanes

This post is part of a series, starting at “So what would you do here?”, on making utility cycling attractive in rural Britain.

I was sent a CPRE book last week. It reminded me of these lines from Betjeman:

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

A common objection to dedicated cycling infrastructure is the size of the British road network. You can’t put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country, therefore you shouldn’t put it on any. I disagree, not just with the conclusion, but with the premise too. We can put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country. It just depends on the definition of “road”.

Country lanes like the one below, a narrow 4km long link between the north-south A357 and the east-west A30, are currently “roads” — used primarily to get motor vehicles from one place to another. How could you separate bicycles and motor vehicles here without demolishing buildings, cutting down hedges and paving over the countryside?

It starts as a little street squeezed between two old shops in a tiny town centre:

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On rural main roads

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

The Dutch model of making cycling attractive and popular is known for the policy of providing high quality dedicated cycle tracks alongside roads. What, all roads? Yes. Pretty much all roads.

But the crucial detail is that the Dutch make a clear distinction between roads, country lanes, and town streets. The roads — equivalent to Britain’s ‘A’ roads and some ‘B’ roads — have cycle tracks. The country lanes and town streets are treated differently — the subject of posts later in the week.

The Dutch concede that roads (roads, not lanes or streets) are for motor vehicles: for getting people and goods from one place to another quickly. That concession is a great bogeyman to many British cyclists, but the reality is that most British people have also conceded that roads are also for vehicles: they will never cycle on them, just as they long ago gave up walking on them, riding horses on them, and letting their children play on these roads. To solve that problem, we could either build high-quality dedicated cycling infrastructure, so that there would be no need to mix with the fast cars and big trucks, or we could calm, slow, and the reduce the numbers of cars and size of trucks, reclaiming the main roads. I think I know which one of those is more achievable and politically acceptable.

Here’s a rural British main road not so far from the case study area, linking the market towns of Blandford Forum and Wimborne Minster, 14km apart, via a few small villages:

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