Monthly Archives: August 2012

Continuous paths across minor junctions

It seems to me that one of the keys to successful cycling infrastructure is getting the detail right. Not everything has to be a massive gesture or huge engineering. Among the many things which impressed me on my recent visit to the Netherlands is how minor junctions are often handled.

In most countries, the tarmac on the road connects to the tarmac on all the other roads without a gap. If you live on the UK mainland, the tarmac on the road outside your front door is joined to the tarmac outside my front door without a break. It’s quite a feat when you think about it! We’re all connected by roads.

The footpath outside your front door, however, probably only circles the block of buildings in which you live. To get to the next path, you have to cross over part of the uninterrupted network of tarmac which covers the land.

This is so innate, so built-in to our way of thinking, that it goes unquestioned. Of course the roads are connected, or you can’t drive from one to the other! But it doesn’t have to be this way, as I discovered on the first night of a recent trip to the Netherlands. It’s such a small thing, such a simple thing that it’s hardly worthy of the word ‘engineering’ and yet the subliminal message it sends to road users is massive.

(This might well have been covered already by David Hembrow – it seems that most Dutch road innovations have! – but I can’t find it if it has.)

First, some diagrams. Here’s how we treat junctions in the UK:

A British-style road junction, where the minor road disrupts the footpath.

I’m not an expert diagram-maker, but I think you’ll all recognise this as a standard UK road junction.

And here’s how we discovered similar junctions to be in the Netherlands:

A Dutch-style junction, where the footpath continues over the minor road, giving priority to people walking.

A diagram of the kind of thing we saw in the Netherlands. Again, it’s simplified and not to scale, etc., but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

And here’s some photos of what I call “continuous path”, firstly from a bike rider’s point of view:

The view of a Dutch-style continuous-path minor junction from the view of a bike rider. The cyclepath and footpath both continue across the junction, and the minor road is disconnected from the main road. Cars have to mount the pavement and cross both paths to get between the two roads.

There’s little doubt who has right of way from this point of view. The white squares make riders aware that there’s a potential hazard at that section.

And from the point of view of a driver or rider on the minor road:

The view of a minor road junction, from the minor road. The footpath and cyclepath both sever the minor road's connection to the main road, and therefore it's clear that vehicles leaving the minor road do not have priority.

To a driver leaving the minor road, it’s clear that they do not have priority here, as they have to drive up a ramp and over the cycle- and foot-paths to access the main road.

It’s not entirely clear from that photo, but leaving or joining the side road means driving up a ramp, over the path and back down again. Here’s a close-up of one:

Close-up of ramp which enables vehicles to cross the continuous path

It slows cars down, and subconsciously tells drivers that they are no longer on the road, but crossing a footpath.

I didn’t get a photo from the view a driver on the main road would have, but you can have a look for yourself on Google StreetView here. Here’s a photo of a similar junction at a different location, where again it’s clear that priority lies with people on the cycle path or footpath:

A view of a continuous-path junction from the main road. It's clear that drivers entering the minor road do not have priority over people on the footpath or bike path.

A different location, view from the road. It’s clear that you can’t just sweep around the corner like in the UK.

I think the design here has a psychological effect, and the clues are all on the floor. Having to drive up a ramp onto the level of the path, and the path surface looking and feeling different to the road surface and continuing across the junction, makes it clear that people walking and riding here have priority and that a motor vehicle is a temporary guest passing through a non-car domain.

Compare this with the British way of doing things. Firstly, at most junctions the road takes priority and the path is severed:

A standard UK-style junction of a main road with a minor road. The footpath is severed and the road sweeps around into the minor road.

A very similar junction in London. Cars clearly have priority here, the wide corners of the junction mean that you barely have to slow when turning. (Image from Google StreetView, click photo to view on there.)

At some junctions in the UK there has been an attempt to implement the “continuous path” style by adding a hump, but as usual they seem to have got the detail wrong:

A British attempt at a continuous-path junction, which fails as the path is still clearly severed by the road, even though it rises up, the double yellow lines continue around the junction, and "look left" and "look right" are painted on the floor next to tactile paving.

A UK attempt at a similar concept.

Clearly, the road continues around the junction here, despite the change in level. There’s tactile paving, “look left” and “look right” markings, double yellow lines continue around the corner. Pedestrians stop for vehicles here, not the other way around. You can have a look for yourself here, and there’s plenty of other examples about.

Not every junction in the Netherlands has this type of “continuous path” but we found it to be common. It’s a great way to show priority, and to slow vehicles down. We never had any problems with this type of junction, vehicles would always wait for people on bikes or on foot to clear the junction before crossing.

Of course, in the UK, cars turning into a road should give way to pedestrians who are already crossing, but in practice this never happens. It’s another example of the perfect fantasy world populated with reasonable, logical automatons that the Highway Code is set in. In reality, the pedestrian either retreats or runs across the road so the turning vehicle doesn’t have to slow down or stop. The stakes are simply too high for pedestrians to enforce this rule, and most people I’ve asked have never even heard of it.

Implementing this kind of junction in the UK would be physically easy – there’s really nothing special going on here, engineering-wise. However, getting the DfT to approve such a simple measure could take years…*


Update, 22nd of August 2012

Mark Wagenbuur of BicycleDutch makes it clear in a comment what I didn’t in the article: that the break in the road also helps signal to drivers that they’re changing road type, from a faster road into a slow residential area.

And Paul James covered this type of junction on Pedestrianise London back in February. I knew I’d seen it somewhere before!


*Update, 25th August 2012

I’m wondering now if the DfT would even need to approve such a thing here in the UK. Surely there could be a short “pedestrian zone, except for access” at the end of a street, thereby creating the same effect within current UK regulations? Sure, it might be a bit sign-heavy (there would need to be ‘pedestrian zone starts’ and ‘pedestrian zone ends’ signs at each end) but still do-able I reckon.

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Franklin and Forester quotes, in a Dutch context

I’ve just got back from the Netherlands. I rode a bike there for two weeks and experienced for myself why so many people there use bikes every day, and why transatlantic comedy duo “The Two Johnnies” are wrong to oppose mass bike riding in the UK and US. Here’s some opening thoughts: photos of real, everyday scenes which show the rhetoric of Forester and Franklin to be ridiculous.

Click any image for a larger version.

Photo of two girls cycling safely on cycle path away from the busy road, with John Forester quote: "I have described several very dangerous situations: bike paths and voonerven being the most dangerous. The correct way to handle the dangers of these facilities is to stay well away from them and ride on the normal roadways instead."

Yeah, go on girls – follow Forester’s advice and get on that road, you’ll be fine as long as you ride your bike like you’re driving a car.

 

A photo of two families happily using separate cycle paths, with stupid John Franklin quote: "...the majority of cycle facilities require more skill and more experience to be used safely, not less. It is the least experienced who most often suffer the consequences."

Oh, those poor children suffering the terrible consequences of the Dutch cycling infrastructure!

 

Photo of swarm of people on bikes using segregated bike path during rush-hour in Utrecht, with stupid John Franklin quote: "segregation has no proven record as a 'stepping-stone' to cycling well and more widely"

He’s right, this scene is a figment of your imagination. If you go to Utrecht during rush hour you will see nobody cycling on the bike paths. They’re all just for show, like North Korea.

 

Photo of a speedy Lycra-clad sporty cyclist using racing bike on long, straight, uninterrupted cycle path, with stupid John Franklin quote: "Efficient and speedy cycling is important if cycling is to compete as a mode of transport with the car. Road-side paths of almost any kind prevent this and make cycling slow and dangerous."

This guy rides his racing bike slowly, the Lycra is purely for sexual reasons.

 

Photo of a young girl (aged about three?) riding her bike without any fear as there are no cars around, with John Franklin quote: "The extra care enforced by the presence of motor traffic, generally results in the safest cycling environment overall."

If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!

 

Photo of three smartly-dressed middle-aged professional-looking people, calmly, casually and efficiently riding bikes on a bike path, with stupid John Forester quote: "Why is it that Dutch people persist in using bicycle transportation when the system is so stacked against them? Why do they still cycle when the system restricts them to slow speed and more and longer delays, disadvantages forced on them by the dangerous design of the system that they are forced to use?"

The system is so stacked against these guys, can’t you see the upset and stress the restrictive cycle paths are causing here?

 

Three photos of people using bike paths: one of a disabled man using a hand-cranked tricycle; one of two boys and their dog; one of an elderly man. A stupid John Franklin quote: "you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles ... a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease"

I’m sure these guys can manage that 20mph sprint speed (especially the dog). If not then they shouldn’t be allowed out cycling! It’s a tough sport for serious men like John Franklin!

I was going to include more quotes from John Forester, but to read his deranged ramblings requires more resolve than I have right now.


Update, 20th August 2012

Again, some people (mainly on Twitter) are misunderstanding what I’m doing here: Vehicular Cycling is a good coping strategy for fit, confident people to ride on hostile, motor-dominated roads. Opposition to Dutch-style infrastructure is what I’m attacking, and that’s quite a separate thing.

I didn’t have to search far and wide for these quotes — both Johns are clearly against mass cycling — and only the final one is from any Vehicular Cycling instructional material (it’s from John Franklin’s book about VC, Cyclecraft — though the book also contains unnecessary anti-infrastructure dogma too).

All the other Franklin quotes are from this document from 2002, which while I admit isn’t the most current thing available, it’s one of the first documents I came across on his website and is still often quoted by anti-infrastructure people. If Franklin has changed his views since then, he hasn’t done so publicly.

Both the Forester quotes are from this document which is of similar vintage, though again Forester doesn’t seem to have changed his opinions at all since — or even bothered to visit the Netherlands to see the improvements since the 1930s. I’m sure he’d find that a lot has gone on since then.

(The Forester document is an article attacking an academic paper which recommended Dutch-style infrastructure. One of the authors of the paper, John Pucher, replied to Forester: “I strongly oppose this ELITIST view of cycling, and think that many policies should be implemented to encourage bicycling by everyone, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, children and grandparents, students and businessmen, etc. Forester’s policies would guarantee that cycling remains a marginal mode here in the US.” I think Pucher has been proved correct, and I tip my hat to him here.)

Either way, the age of the quotes doesn’t really matter. Both these guys are still quoted frequently by people who have been hoodwinked into joining the ‘Vehicular Is The Only Way’ club, and they have been shown to have had concrete effects on the roads today. Read any article on the many blogs discussing cycling in the UK and you’ll often see a comment from someone saying that the roads are fine, we just need more training, linking to a Franklin document or quoting him. Who knows how Kings Cross junction would look today had the cycling lobby not been split in this way all those years ago?

So, use vehicular cycling all you want — there’s not much choice in the UK, after all — but don’t let that blind you to the possibilities of bike riding for everyone, which promoting VC as the best and only option has consistently failed to achieve (and obviously cannot achieve, as the final image demonstrates so clearly). There’s only one proven way to reach mass cycling: the Dutch way.

 

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78% of Auto Express staff are shitebags*

A bullshit article may have renewed idiots’ interest in the dull magazine, but how well behaved are the people behind the print?

From the toilet window of the Alternative Department for Transport HQ we can see directly into the Auto Express magazine’s car park and entrance, and we witnessed more than 1,000 breaches of society rules during a two-hour morning voyeurism period.

Illegal antics included picking their nose while driving, parking at a slight angle to the white line, and not holding the door open for the person following.

Check out this week’s Auto Express if you’d like to read more biased, divisive and harmful nonsense like this.


AE Staff  %**   Fault                    Non-staff %***

287      29.4  Not wearing bowler hat       NA      NA
104      10.7  Had odd socks                49     1.6
 90       9.2  Didn't say 'thank you'       NA      NA
 84       8.6  Bad haircut                  25     0.8
 58       5.9  Picking nose                 12     0.4
 44       4.5  Using swear words            42     1.3
 33       3.4  Causing derision             17     0.5
 16       1.6  Thinking up crap articles     0     0.0
  0       0.0  Knows about "road rules"     83     2.6
  0       0.0  Can interpret statistics     83     2.6
  2       0.2  Using foreign words          38     1.2
  1       0.1  Whistling a jolly tune        9     0.3
  0       0.0  Able to write competently    22     0.7

719       74.2 Total                       380    12.1

** Sample of 976 AE staff arriving over two-hours
*** Sample of 3,140 non-staff passing during same period

Source: I made it all up

For a more sensible discussion, see here, though I’m not sure it’s deserved.

* Probably

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