Tag Archives: separation

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.

DSC_5434

Advertisements

Crap facilities in LTN 2/08

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

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

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

On bus lanes, LTN 2/08 says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The formula for crap facilities continues where width is discussed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are figs 9.4 and 7.2:

There are other marvelous comments in that thread…

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

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

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

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

Return to Glasgow again

A quick update on this post, which was in turn an update on this one. Briefly: when I passed through Glasgow in the spring there were some cycle tracks under construction (and on streets that the Mayor of London, and many cycle campaigners even, would no doubt describe as “too narrow”), and, while they looked pretty good, the markings were not yet down, so there were some ambiguities about how it might work.

I will make a wider point about these tracks and more in a future post, but for now, this post is just some photos showing off what Glasgow has been getting — not just here, but at several similar routes in the city.

The good news: the crossing of side-roads has been done pretty much exactly right: the priority is clear, and if the markings weren’t enough, the contrasting colour should be:

It’s not quite 100% perfect: as the coloured surface shows, there is still a rather generous sweeping curve for vehicles turning left onto the minor road to race across the tracks. But it’s plenty enough to make it one of the best examples of on-street cycle tracks in the UK… not that this is a great boast.

The not so good news is where the tracks switch from one side of the road to the other, at the same time as the road is intersected by another minor road. When I was last here, it wasn’t year clear how crossing to the opposite corner of the crossroads was going to work.

Well it’s a two stage crossing. The minor road is another cycle track priority crossing, with coloured surface to make it obvious, though this time the track first briefly jumps up and down kerbs (and slippery ridged paving that’s potentially dangerously aligned) over a wee patch of shared use footway.

Then comes the crazy bit, a toucan crossing:

I’ve only passed this way a couple of times — at the tail end of the evening and morning rush hours — so perhaps I’m not the best person to judge, but a signal controlled crossing seems like overkill. Signals are expensive to install and power, so you’d expect authorities to be cautious about using them. But I just can’t work out why they’re needed here. The two obvious simpler solutions would be to have a non-signaled crossing with cyclist priority (and a zebra), as has been done with the minor side-roads, or a non-signaled crossing with motor priority. My impression of the motor traffic volume was such that the latter would not hold up cyclists any longer than the signals do. The former would obviously be preferred, and my impression of cycle and foot traffic volume was that cycle priority and a zebra would not hold up motor traffic much — though it would hopefully contribute to slow speeds on a street lined with shops, flats, and a playing field. I don’t know… perhaps at the height of rush hour it’s required.

My suspicion is that there is a toucan here simply because the old fashioned engineering rule book can’t accommodate the more obvious alternative.

That’s the only real issue with this new section of the tracks. The width, though perhaps not generous, is certainly sufficient. It would be nice if we were in a position where all those bollards were not necessary, but we’re not. Further on at the traffic lights, the tracks have their own dedicated phase (sadly without a detector that lets cyclists go first, as the Dutch might have):

But the full route isn’t yet complete up to this standard. To reach the city centre you are still directed on an ad hoc route along old footways-turned-shared-paths (signed as cycle routes but still without drop kerbs or toucan crossings) across the tangle of motorway slip roads and into the foreboding poorly-lit motorway underpass. And that leads me to my point…

…which I’ll post when I get the time.

Revenge and road danger

Almost all cycling campaigners agree that a cycling society — “mass cycling” — would be desirable. The world would be a better, happier, healthier, wealthier place, and our towns and cities nicer places to live, if far more people cycled and far more of our journeys were made by bicycle.  And there is little controversy left about the barriers to cycling and the fact that fear of traffic and hostile conditions for cycling are the biggest and most impenetrable barriers to cycling in this country.  Large volumes of fast moving and dangerously driven motor vehicles create an environment in which most people never cycle.  This is old ground I shouldn’t need to go over again.

The big disagreement is how we break down that barrier. One set of campaigners want to separate the large volumes of fast moving motor vehicles from cyclists.  The other thinks that there is a better way: separation is unnecessary and perhaps even undesirable.  Their alternative is to tame to motorcar.  They would teach drivers how to overtake properly, how not to park in dangerous places, and how not to drive a tipper truck all the way into the advanced stop box while preparing for the left turn at the change of the lights.  And if they demonstrate that they can’t be taught, ban em and bang em up.  Teach drivers to play nice and the barrier to cycling will tumble, the argument goes.

As a typical cycling forum poster puts it:

I don’t even know why the councils in this country bother with cycle lanes. The money would be better spent educating idiots on the road on how terrifying them driving 6 inches from us at 50mph is.

It’s a response to the road danger problem that I have every sympathy with.  Every time somebody passes within touching distance I want to reach out and touch, and cause damage or inspire a little of the fear and discomfort in return.  I usually can’t watch helmet cam footage: I know that something bad is going to happen and that somebody is going to get away never accepting that what they did was wrong.  I desperately want them to know just what a fucking terrible thing they did.

The world in which tame motor cars roam the streets is a world in which every evil, selfish, or simply ignorant motorist has been made to realise that they have done wrong and made to feel shame and remorse for all those times they nearly took a life.  It’s a world in which we get our revenge on all those individuals who wronged us.

The problem is that road danger isn’t really all about individuals.  Ian Roberts describes this peculiar way of thinking about road danger in The Energy Glut: our focus on individual “accidents” and the individual who is to blame.  The pedestrian who jaywalked, the drunk driver, the person who made The Bad Judgment to cause it all.  And when it costs a life, we want revenge for That Bad Judgment.  This is how we think in the “road safety” paradigm: something went wrong, and we can educate, engineer, or enforce that out.  The Human Being and the Motor Car are perfectly able to peacefully coexist, it’s just that idiot needs dealing with.

It’s a nice idea.  But it doesn’t work.  Revenge won’t solve the road danger problem.  Education can’t solve it.  And “road safety” should have been written off decades ago.

For six decades road deaths and injuries have primarily been reduced simply by the human beings getting out of the way.  Education, engineering, and enforcement have had at best a minor role in cutting the rate of death and injury to cyclists over the year.  What really cut the number of deaths to cyclists was people stopping cycling, leaving only a few of the most confident, assertive, and powerful on the roads. Even those of us left have cut our distance, and set personal limits on the sort of roads we’re willing to ride on.  The Human Being and the Motor Car do not peacefully coexist.  The Human Beings get out of the way.

Why won’t revenge, education, and road safety eliminate road danger and make the roads a nice objectively and subjectively safe place to ride?  Because road danger isn’t all about the individual and their preventable mistakes.  Sometimes the pedestrian wasn’t jaywalking and the driver wasn’t drunk.  The “accident” happened simply because putting metal with that sort of kinetic energy — even the kinetic energy of a 20mph car — right next to soft fleshy people who are going about their daily lives is dangerous in any situation, no matter how well everybody behaves.  Death and injury is an inevitable result of mixing people and motor vehicles.  Idiots can make it even more probable, but it will always happen.  Ian Roberts goes right ahead and blames the car lobby for suppressing any thoughts that the car, rather than a few rogue users, might be an inherently dangerous thing to have around — but you really must read the book for that story.

Even if it were possible to weed out all of the bad apples, there will always be enough road danger to put people off cycling.  But realistically it’s not even possible to weed out all of the bad apples — or to force them to be good.  It is frequently claimed that “strict liability” will enforce good behaviour, and even that it has been proven to work — just look at the Dutch, they have strict liability and there’s loads of cycling there.  It’s another very attractive idea: if you come near me with that thing, you’ll pay.  I think most British cyclists see “strict liability” and salivate at the idea of that idiot, desperate the overtake through that little gap at 50mph, being forced to sit there and suppress his urges.  We taste that sweet revenge again.  But the real idiot won’t wait.  As David Hembrow points out, the Netherlands has idiots too.

That’s not to say that there is no reason for enforcing the rules, punishing the wrongdoing, improving driver education, and ensuring justice for the wronged. Only that those are not the things that will bring us closer to a world where mass cycling can happen.

Vengeance is no way to go about establishing productive policy, no matter how desperately we yearn for it.  Policy needs to be based on what works, and when it comes to establishing mass cycling we can try any number of policies, but as long as we are asking squidgy and snappable humans to share with hard objects possessed of such large quantities of kinetic energy, none of them ever will.  Get rid of those hard objects — separate them off — and we can make progress.