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…