Tag Archives: bad design

Berlin does not have a cycle network

I often hear great things about cycling in Berlin.

Apparently there are “ubiquitous grade-separated cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, and other facilities“, which mean that “you can get round most of Berlin on segregated bike paths“.

According to this Lonely Planet guide book I have here, “the biking infrastructure is fantastic“, and Stephen Evans of the BBC found “endless cycle tracks” (where are they, Steve?).

I really wish all this was true, but unfortunately it’s nonsense. Berlin is definitely second-rate for cycling.

I often find myself wanting to go somewhere within cycling distance but having to choose to use a different mode of transport, because the conditions for cycling there are too unpleasant for me or the people I’m with.

So with this in mind, I made a map of Berlin’s cycleways. And I’ve been extremely generous in my definition of “cycleway” here. Nothing comes close to the criteria set out in this article.

A map showing roads in central/north/east Berlin which have protected cycleways along them. It's very sparse and disconnected.

This is not a cycle network. (Click for full-size.)

I may have missed a few little bits off, but I think I got all of it.

The red lines are the not-too-bad cycleways, and the grey lines show the absolute rubbish, such as this…

A very narrow, bumpy, neglected cycleway on Luxemburger Strasse in Berlin

Only people with mountain bikes may overtake here.

…and this…

pathetic narrow cycleway right up against the edge of a wide, fast busy road in Berlin. There are parked cars on the footway beyond the cycleway. I have added an arrow to point out the cycleway, it is that bad.

I’ve added an arrow to point out the cycleway, otherwise you might miss it. (Photo: Google Maps)

…so don’t go thinking that I’m being harsh on Berlin here. If anything, I’m being too kind for including those on the map.

In the interests of balance, here’s a typical example of one of the better cycleways denoted by the red lines:

One of Berlin's better cycleways. Not too narrow, but a tiled surface and a low fence which pedals could hit. Also right next to parked cars with only a tiny buffer.

One of Berlin’s better cycleways. Just enough room to squeeze past in the door-zone.

Everything else is either a painted lane on the road or nothing at all, and like most people I’m not willing to mix with motor vehicles along fast, wide, busy roads.

The map covers the part of Berlin where I live and spend most time – the central north and east areas – but the picture is pretty much the same elsewhere in the city. Some areas are better than others, but not much.

I was considering adding some of the back streets on this map too, but I couldn’t think of any that were really suitable. On the whole they’re either too busy with traffic to be serious contenders for being part of a cycle network, or they’re surfaced in the rough cobbled “Kopfstein” that make cycling a pain in both the physical and metaphorical sense of the word.

(I’ll cover some of the back streets in a later post, such as Stargarder Strasse which should be great but is a busy rat-run, and Choriner Strasse which is designated as a “Bicycle Street” but has nothing beyond a few signs to back this up.)

At least there are no buses around here, just trams, though bad street design means that they can be dangerous too (the subject of yet another post to come). But as you can see from the map, travelling by bike in Berlin can be a real pain unless you’re happy to mix with cars, vans and lorries on multi-lane roads.

Photograph of Danziger Strasse in Berlin, showing a painted cycle lane on the carriage-way side of the parked cars, with a lorry thundering past.

Be my guest. I’ll walk.

 

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Cycling in Berlin

There’s so much to cover here in Berlin, that I can’t possibly fit it all in to one blog post. I have to tell you about the excellent public transport system, the suffocating dominance of car parking, the superb driving conditions, the less-than-superb cycling conditions, the at times downright hostile footways, the culture and attitudes, the VC-and-helmet-loving local cycle campaign, and so much more.

So this first post is a general overview of conditions for cycling in Berlin as I’ve experienced them these past five months, and I’ll begin with this statement:

Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I can see how this common misconception may come about, though. Berlin is far better for cycling than any British city (and, for that matter, any city in the US, Australia, etc…). It’s easy to visit Berlin and see the higher number and wider demographic of people cycling and think “yes, Berlin is a good example for cities back home to copy.”

I’ve heard it said that Berlin, with a 13% average modal share for cycling, provides a more realistic model that’s easier for British cities to achieve.

The trouble is, to someone who lives in a country where cycling has been actively suppressed for decades, almost any amount of cycling looks impressive. Living in the UK, it’s easy to see the current motor-dominated transport mix as normal or natural, and therefore to think that countries with higher cycling rates have done something special, artificial and unnatural.

But the truth is that road design in the UK effectively bans cycling as a mode of transport for the vast majority of the population. The “natural” level for cycling can be seen in the Netherlands, where car use is not discouraged (on the contrary), but there are generally no barriers to cycling either. The road system there has been designed so that people can feel free to use whichever mode of transport they wish to, and they very often choose to use a bike.

Somewhere in the middle we have places like Berlin, where the authorities pay lip service to cycling infrastructure, and grudgingly provide for a fairly low rate of cycling, but where journeys by motor vehicle are still prioritised pretty much all of the time, and given the lion’s share of road space.

What this means is that Berlin’s modal share is low, much lower than it should be. A 13% cycling rate is not high or impressive, or anything to get excited about, though it may seem otherwise to people living in countries where cycling almost doesn’t exist.

Berlin’s cycling share should be at least double the current rate, and with better infrastructure, it easily could be.

A View from the Badly-Designed, Badly-Maintained Cycle Path

So Berlin does have some cycleways, separated from motor traffic. This is a good thing, and it enables many Berliners to use a bike for journeys which, without the cycleways, would be made by motor vehicle.

But while these cycleways exist, and make cycling away from motor traffic possible, they are – almost without exception – awful. Berlin falls short on all three important aspects of good cycling infrastructure: maintenance, design, and network.

Maintenance

…or rather the lack of it. For example, concrete tiles are normally used as the surface, and over the years these become uneven, meaning that riding on them is pretty bumpy, sometimes dangerously so. Tree roots lift up the surface too, though while the carriageway never seems to be affected (it is clearly better cared for), the cycleway and footway are often left rucked and cratered. Bushes and trees are frequently not trimmed either, meaning much (or, in places, all) of the cycleway width is taken up by foliage.

A narrow cycleway next to a very, very wide road. The cycleway is almost completely obscured by a bush growing beside it, rendering the cycleway almost useless..

Yes, that really is a cycleway on the right, and its patchy surface is almost completely obscured by a bush.

Design

Even the newest and best-maintained cycleways are poor in comparison to their Dutch counterparts.

Even along the roomiest boulevards they’re too narrow, often wiggly, with street furniture right against (or even in) them. Flush kerbs are virtually unheard of, and the cycleways fall and rise at every driveway (most of which are surfaced in uneven cobble stones) and at side-streets too, where they usually turn into paint on the road. All this bumping up and down expends a lot of unnecessary energy and turns an easy journey into a tiring one.

A cycleway narrows as it wiggles sharply around a pole which is installed in its way. There are further barriers on the right too.

I used to play computer games like this as a child.

The junctions are badly and dangerously designed, with none of the safety or convenience that you see in Dutch cities. That was the first one that struck me, incidentally. Where the Dutch take the cycleway away from motor vehicles at a junction, here in Berlin it bizarrely moves towards the main carriageway, suddenly thrusting you into the blind-spot of turning vehicles.

This design also means that the Dutch-style protected, unsignalled right turns aren’t possible (where the cycleway, like the footway, isn’t controlled by the traffic lights as people turning right aren’t actually interacting with the junction).

A cycleway moves towards the carriageway as it approaches a junction.

Rather than continue straight on, bike users are diverted into the blind spot of turning vehicles. This is the standard for Berlin cycleways at junctions.

The Network

The network is more of a patchwork, as it’s full of large holes and therefore unreliable.

A wide boulevard in Berlin, with most space given to the main carriageway.

No space for cycling on Sonnenallee, but plenty of space for motoring. There’s no good alternative to this road either, so footway cycling is very common here.

Some roads have cycleways, some have painted lanes, some have nothing at all. There seems to be no logic to it, either – some quiet, minor streets have cycleways for some reason, despite the level of motor traffic being very low, while many multi-lane urban motorways have nothing at all.

There’s no consistency of provision, no minimum quality of service that can be relied upon. The surface can vary from smooth asphalt to a relief map of the Moon’s biggest craters. In places, the width of the cycleway suddenly changes at random and for no apparent reason, and in other places the cycleway suddenly disappears, unceremoniously dumping you into the carriageway.

A cycleway suddenly ends and riders are sharply diverted onto a busy dual carriageway. This is a permanent design.

Should I get homesick for Britain, I’ll go stand here and remember why I left.

When roadworks interrupt the cycleway, sometimes you’re thrust out onto a fast, busy road, but other times you’re sent the other way to mingle with people on foot, and sometimes you’re simply abandoned. I haven’t once seen a temporary cycleway take the place of a general traffic lane at roadworks, as is usual in the Netherlands.

Poor-quality handling of a cycleway at roadworks in Berlin. The cycleway turns into painted lines which suddenly veer onto the busy dual carriageway, into the path of motor traffic.

Surprise! Now just swerve out from behind that parked car, onto the dual carriageway.

There’s unfortunately little joy in using the back streets, either. There’s almost a total absence of modal filtering, with most streets remaining two-way through-routes for all vehicles. Luckily, the main roads are so good for driving that rat-running isn’t the huge problem it is in the UK – endless queues of traffic that are normal for London are unheard of here, even at rush-hour. But some people still choose to drive down the back streets at unsuitable speeds, and there’s very little to prevent this.

A small street which remains open to motor traffic in both directions, with cobblestone surface, making for an awful cycling environment.

Rough cobbled surface, busy two-way rat-run, pathetic attempts at traffic calming. What’s not to love?

An even bigger problem with the back-streets is that they’re commonly surfaced in a kind of large cobblestone known as a “Pflasterstein” or “Kopfstein”. These are smooth with rounded tops, and are a real pain to cycle along at anything more than a crawling pace, and even then you’d better not be carrying any fruit. These surfaces are not always well-maintained either, meaning that large gaps can appear between uneven stones, creating danger for bikes.

Despite their bike-inhibiting nature, thanks to modern car suspensions these cobblestones do nothing to slow down a speeding driver.

A close-up of the bumpy cobbled surface of a typical Berlin back-street.

Even when well-maintained, this is awful to ride on, the photo doesn’t do it justice. Many people choose to ride on the footway along roads surfaced like this, even on streets with almost no motor traffic at all.

The Forbidden City

All this means that while I have many more opportunities for utility cycling than I did in London, there are still huge swathes of the city that effectively remain inaccessible to me by bike, and many destinations within cycling distance that I instead choose to use public transport for, even though it’s slower than the bike and costs €2.20 each way.

So Berlin is not a great place for cycling, though it may seem that way to visitors. It’s not all awful (I’ll show some good stuff at some point) and it is better than pretty much all English-speaking cities, and its lacklustre infrastructure does enable more people to use a bike.

But really it’s a below-average place for cycling, with weak infrastructure – and that’s why Berlin shouldn’t be a model for elsewhere, except as a way of learning which mistakes to avoid.


Footnote: If you’re looking at any of these photos and thinking “I’d like some of that”, please take a look at the videos of David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur to see how it should be done instead.


Note: My German is okay but not perfect. If there’s anybody out there with native-level skills and a cycle campaigning urge, and you would like to proof-read/edit some German-language posts I have planned for a sister blog and campaign, please do get in touch!

 

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How to get from Waterloo to Greenwich the hard way

So the plans for Andrew Gilligan’s much-discussed “Quietways” are starting to appear.

Here I’ll look at the plans for the part of the route with which I’m very familiar, east of Waterloo in central London. (If you have knowledge of the route beyond Law Street, please do let me know your thoughts in the comments. The Kennington People on Bikes blog has covered more of the route here though I must say that the suggested changes are rather milder than I’d want to see.)

I’ll say now that I’m not impressed by these plans. They seem to consist of nothing but signs on a route which is already fairly quiet, although not quiet enough in my experience, as much of it needs modal filtering to prevent motor vehicles using it as a through-route.

But these weak plans seek to solve none of the problems that exist along the route, they are mostly just window dressing of the existing infrastructure.

Assault-course cycling

For example, the planned changes on Globe Street offer nothing new for those cycling – quite the opposite in fact, as they introduce four new points at which people riding bikes must give way, while providing no benefits over the existing arrangement.

Here’s Globe Street as it is today:

The existing layout of Globe Street SE1. Simple but effective cycling infrastructure.

Globe Street today.

It works pretty well already (despite the incorrect signage, and even with a lorry parked on the street).

The junction mouths could be wider to allow cycling two-abreast, and there’s a superfluous island (I assume it’s left over from before 2010 when the street was one-way for motor traffic with two-way cycling, before the junction became bikes-only, hence the now-oddly-positioned arrow), but it does work fine. In fact Pilgrimage Street, on the other side of Great Dover Street, ideally needs the same bikes-only junction treatment.

Now here’s the new Quietway plan for Globe Street:

The over-engineered design for Globe Street.

Southwark’s over-engineered plans are a waste of money and energy, and offer no improvement over the current layout.

My question is: how does this make cycling easier or safer?

It feels like a desperate attempt to spend the Quietways money somewhere – anywhere! – rather than admit that the plans are nothing but some signs and paint and spend the money on something useful.

Cycling north-east, one will enter a narrow channel, then mount a hump up to footway level, before dropping back down and reaching the junction. As the foot crossing leads to a locked back gate, I’m not convinced of the need for it. (Perhaps Southwark Council really do expect higher foot traffic than pedal traffic here…)

Don’t get me wrong, if foot traffic is high then we should consider giving it priority over other modes. This is a design I’d love to see on some of London’s other, car-filled roads, by the way. But that wouldn’t ever be considered – it’s only where bikes are concerned that we can tame the roads, it seems.

Cycling in the other direction, THREE new give-way points for people on bikes are to be installed. The first is just before the raised pedestrian crossing, the second is just before the car park exit, and the third is just after the car park exit. I have absolutely no idea what the third give-way is for, other than to punish people for riding a bike.

Why is there even an entrance/exit to the car park on Globe Street? There’s another one to the south side of the car park, surely that’s enough capacity for one apartment block. (Blocking off the exit to Globe Street would mean there’s capacity for a few more car parking spaces for residents, too – win-win!)

No wheelchairs or trikes, please – we’re British highways engineers

After negotiating all that, there’s a fourth give-way to a dead-end carrying no motor traffic at all. Why the priority can’t be changed in favour of bikes on the Quietway, I have no idea. The number of other vehicles using that part of Trinity Street must be almost zero.

Talking of Trinity Street, there’s this lovely bit of ironwork:

A fence bisecting the road, with a gap in the middle for bikes, but with two more fences covering the gap, making it hard to actually cycle through.

Yes, you are actually meant to cycle through this. (Photo: Google Maps)

This particular test of stunt-bike skills is designed to stop people using the street as a rat-run by motorbike – and kudos to the residents for preferring to have a quiet street instead of the dubious pleasure of being able to drive out of it at both ends (unlike the residents of Gilbert Road in Cambridge who value saving a few minutes’ driving over clean air, quiet roads, and safety).

But surely there are better ways of preventing rat-running by people on motorbikes without reducing the cycling capacity to almost zero? And it does massively restrict cycling capacity, as it takes so long to negotiate safely. Many mount the footway to get by, though my favoured solution was simply to use the parallel Cole Street, which features no such restriction. This isn’t designing for mass cycling, it’s a bad joke.

I’m not even sure that the anti-(motor)bike fence is needed any more anyway, as Trinity Street’s junction with Great Dover Street has been blocked off now. It would be simple to extend the new plaza to separate Trinity Street from Falmouth Road, meaning that Trinity Street would be a dead end and of no use to rat-runners.

However, the only planned improvement to this ridiculous bottleneck is to move the two central fences away from the gap, by 30cm, “to comply [with] current cycling design guidelines and ensure cyclists of all abilities can negotiate this feature”. This is paying lip service to the concept of cycling infrastructure which is suitable for all ability levels – no such worries seem to have occurred to the designers elsewhere on this route.

Lipstick on a rat-run

Webber Street, Great Suffolk Street and Law Street are all currently used as rat-runs by people driving motor vehicles, and under these plans they are to remain so. This is not designing for all abilities.

A person on a bike rides out of the junction and has to pass between two large white vans waiting at traffic lights to do so.

The Google Streetview camera catches a typical scene at the junction of Webber Street and Great Suffolk Street.

There are only superficial changes planned at this junction, so the scene above will continue to occur. What if the lights turn green just as you start to pull out, do you trust the drivers not to move forward? Can you see if there are more bikes coming from the left, hidden behind the van? Can you imagine members of your family making this manoeuvre?

A few bollards and entry restrictions would fix this in no time, making the junction bikes-only by blocking off the end of Webber Street as well as Great Suffolk Street to the west. So why are no such improvements included here? They genuinely would improve the roads for people cycling, while keeping access for residents and businesses, and would cost very little too.

Law Street has the same problem. It should be a quiet residential street, but stand there at rush hour and you’ll see it’s mainly used as a speedy short-cut by people driving cars. If a cycle route isn’t suitable 24/7, then it’s not a cycle route.

The cycle Quietway plans for the junction of Law Street, Wild's Rents and Weston Street in London SE1, with dangerous right turn highlighted.

I’ve highlighted the Quietway right turn in a lovely shade of official Quietway purple. Can you imagine a young child waiting there while cars were passing around them on all sides?

Put some bollards on the junction at the end of Law Street and the problem is solved. The right turn along the Quietway can then be made safely, rather than waiting in the centre of a maelstrom of taxis.

Two other points about Law Street: Firstly, you’ll see a pedestrian-priority crossing of the cycleway at the end of Law Street. Why isn’t the same pedestrian priority being installed on the carriageway?

The truth is that motor vehicles are far more dangerous than bikes, so people on foot need more help to walk where there are motor vehicles than where there are bikes. And yet I keep seeing designs that suggest the opposite, that the very concept of a bike is toxic and lethal while all cars are made of marshmallow and driven by kindly vicars.

Secondly, the “bikes right turn” painted symbol could lead drivers to believe that all bikes indicating right are turning onto the Quietway cycleway, whereas some will be turning onto Wild’s Rents instead, potentially leading to dangerous under-taking on the junction.

Protected cycleways where they’re not needed

The plans for Tabard Street are over-engineered, with a short length of unnecessary cycleway that looks too narrow, and bike symbols painted in the door zone of parked cars (this particular intervention seems to feature throughout the plans).

Plans for a segregated cycle path on a quiet back street.

This is just daft.

Regular readers will know that I’m an advocate of high-quality physically separated cycleways, but this ain’t it. We need them on busy main roads, not on quiet back streets! I thought the whole point of the Quietways project was to use cheap measures to reduce motor traffic on a string of roads to form a safe cycling route. So I don’t understand the need for the pointless cycleway here.

Tabard Street is long and straight and vehicles drive too fast along it (hence the speed humps). Why not simply block it off to motor vehicles at the Quietway’s entry and exit points, thereby removing through-motor-traffic while preserving access for residents? (That way, we won’t even need the bike symbols painted in the parked car door-zone, either.)

Money to spend on whatever

Furthermore, I’m concerned that footway and general carriageway improvements appear on the plans. I’m all for improving the footway but surely this should not come out of the cycling budget (especially removing old, redundant driveway drop-downs as seen here on the ‘plan I’ PDF, surely property developers should pay for this when they remove the garage or driveway?).

And what to make of the fact that in only 2.4 miles, there are apparently a grand total of 41 humps along the length of Quietway 2 in Southwark?

I get the impression that the scheme has some money behind it that must be spent, but as the designers are unwilling to add filtering to remove routes for motor vehicles, they don’t know where to spend it. Hence the ridiculous over-engineered stuff on Globe Street and Tabard Street.

I’m still not convinced that the Quietways concept is even a good one. It seems to be a continuation of the failed dual network approach, where some people are expected to put up with inconvenience while others put up with danger.

Who are these people who currently won’t cycle, but will happily leap onto a bike once Andrew Gilligan installs some signs along an already existing, convoluted, twisty-turny route full of humps and rat-running drivers, where they have to constantly give way to everyone? I’m not sure that these people exist.

The whole idea seems to be designed to shut cycle campaigners up while not upsetting the all-important drivers by making any actual changes to the roads. The Quietways don’t seem to form a network, and they’re definitely not the fine grid of interconnected cycling-friendly routes which are needed to enable mass cycling.

It feels a lot like we’re repeating the mistakes of the recent past by creating yet another version of the failed London Cycling Network, with isolated scraps of strange infrastructure, fading paint, and neglected signs scattered around the city.

It doesn’t even live up to its branding, as many of the roads that should be “quiet ways” are, in reality, speedy rat-runs which are to remain exactly as they are.


If you’re minded to take part in the consultation – and given the result of recent consultations I’m not sure it’s worth the bother – then you can submit comments via Southwark Council’s website here.

 

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Leeds and Bradford Cycle Superhighway: Confused? You will be.

The plans for Leeds’ “Cycle Superhighway” are so afwul that I genuinely don’t know where to start.

So I’ll start by saying this: I would rather go full-Franklin and campaign against this scheme than risk any of this crap being installed.

It really is so awful that I would rather see the whole project cancelled than have the current scheme approved. Regular readers will know that I’m all for segregated cycling infrastructure, and I’ve campaigned hard to get it.

But there’s now a bigger danger to cycling in Britain than those old-school “cyclists’ proper place is on the road” types, and that is poor-quality infrastructure.

Nothing will derail the entire “Space for Cycling” movement more than the acceptance of rubbish designs, and Leeds’ plans are probably as good an example of rubbish designs as you’ll find anywhere.

A year of no progress whatsoever

It’s now over a year since I first wrote about Leeds and Bradford’s lacklustre plans, though I hoped at the time that the designs would be improved.

So, a whole year has passed, surely that’s plenty of time to come up with something at least vaguely reasonable?

Sadly, it seems not. While the latest plans are an improvement over the ones I last looked at (especially the sections in Bradford) they still fall short of the standard of infrastructure that’s needed here.

As is normal with such big projects, there’s a wonderful-sounding “vision” (PDF) and then there’s the grim reality of the actual designs themselves. They’ve got a name (“CityConnect”) and a logo, which must not be tampered with.

Visual guide to how you must and must not use City Connect's precious logo.

It’s interesting that they’ve been so exacting with the logo, yet extremely sloppy with the actual plans.

These big schemes always have plenty of lovely words about how great cycling is and how it benefits everyone and how brilliant it would be if people could use a bike to get around, but then the planned scheme makes it clear that cycling comes last, motor vehicles are more important, and the whole thing is going to be a botched job.

It’s all about the branding – PDF here, but make sure you have some incense sticks and a whalesong CD ready, it’s a wild ride of paradigm-busting colours and mutual touching.

(Incidentally, whoever is running the City Connect Twitter account is responsive and helpful, though they have been unable to provide me with simple and important pieces of information, such as the width of the planned cycle track. This fits in with branding being prioritised over content, I guess.)

It seems to me that whoever is in charge of this scheme either doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing, or they’re cynically and intentionally trying to appear modern and cycle-friendly while actually continuing Leeds’ reputation as the Motorway City of the 1970s. I’m told that there are some great people involved who really do want the best but are being hampered by relics of the past in powerful positions. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the current plans are dreadful.

And that’s particularly annoying for me personally, as this scheme affects areas that are close to me. I grew up in Leeds and my family still lives there. My BMX was stolen from outside the very Halfords that this scheme runs past.

More importantly, my niece – just five years old, an age where Dutch children are regularly cycling around with their parents – lives very close to the planned route.

When it’s built, would my sister be able to use this cycleway with her daughter? In ten years time, will my niece be able to ride into town safely on her own, as millions of Dutch teenagers do today?

Looking at these plans, no. Not even close. It’s not a safe design, it’s a hack job. I would not advise my sister to use this “superhighway”. I would advise against it.

So who is this scheme for? Who is it aimed at? Existing cyclists – very few though there are in Leeds – surely don’t need this, as it will only slow them down. I can’t see how it would attract people to begin cycling either, as it’s just not convenient enough compared to the alternatives.

It seems to be aimed at some kind of day-tripping leisure cyclist who prefers huge arterial roads to greenery.

Plans of confusion

I was intending to dive into the plans themselves in this post, but due to the inconsistency of the images and icons shown to describe different types of cycleway, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s planned where.

For example, the blue circle icon for their “Type 1″ cycleway seems to suggest that the footway, cycleway and carriageway are all at the same level, with raised kerbs separating them.

But then the cross-section diagram seems to suggest that the footway will be at the normal raised level, and the cycleway at carriageway level with a raised kerb as a divider (like CS2X in London).

And then they’ve used a photo of a section of CS3 in London to illustrate this, which is like neither of the other two suggested arrangements (though that photo does match their “Type 2″ cycleway!)

Various images that Leeds Council have used to describe their Type 1 cycleway, none of which match up.

Do those behind this scheme even understand the difference?

Okay, so I’d read all this and decided that the blue ‘Type 1′ cycleway must be level with the carriageway, with a raised dividing kerb, like in the 3D image at the bottom and the cross-section diagram on the left.

But just when I thought I might be able to make sense of the plans, there’s more mess! The designs show triangles at the start and end of the blue ‘Type 1′ sections, which I’ve been reliably informed denote a ramp up or down (the point of the triangle being the bottom of the slope):

A section from Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing apparently raised cycle track, also described as being at carriageway-level

The triangles suggest that the blue sections are raised to a higher level than the carriageway.

It seems that the people behind the plans are as confused as I am, because somebody has clearly spent a lot of time drawing these triangles in. Whoever sat at a computer and did this must have thought that the blue “Type 1″ cycle paths are raised from carriageway level, or they wouldn’t have diligently spent time and effort adding ramps into the drawings.

I asked the always-responsive City Connect Twitter person about this, and they checked for me. It seems the blue “Type 1″ cycleways are at carriageway level after all, and the triangles on the plans were “an error from [the] design team”.

An error? Look, I’m not an engineer, I’m just some schlub who would like people to be able to use a bike for transport easily and safely. How on Earth did nobody notice this before me? Is the communication within the project so poor that nobody is scrutinising the plans as much as untrained members of the public? Why are we paying people to make such obvious errors?

How many more errors – invisible to my untrained eye – are hidden in these plans, to remain there until the guys with the shovels turn up on site?

Note, added 20th September 2014: It’s also occurred to me that if the blue bits are indeed at carriageway-level, where’s the 60cm-wide segregating strip meant to go? The black line on the plans is nowhere near wide enough. How can people be expected to give informed feedback on such vague plans?

Nothing says “Superhighway” quite like the words “footway conversion”

There’s also inconsistencies such as this:

Confusing labelling on Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing a footway conversion at carriageway level

They’re just putting labels on at random, now.

The image above shows a footway conversion while the icon used is for a carriageway-level cycleway divided by an island. We all know that “footway conversion” means nothing more than a few signs and some paint, so why have they labelled it as being at carriageway-level? (And I wonder if they intend to move the many lamp-posts and telegraph poles that are currently embedded in the footway?)

Photograph of footway to be converted into a cycleway on York Road in Leeds

Are they really planning to drop this footway down to carriageway level? I don’t think so. So why label it as such? (Image: Google Streetview)

At least, I hope the intention is to convert the entire width of it into a cycleway, although the icon suggests that one half of it will be turned into a cycleway, with the other half remaining a footway.

With such inconsistency, and with no width given anywhere, it’s impossible to tell. Isn’t that the whole point of plans, to answer these questions?

Finally for now, the icons for “cycle lane across junction” and “cycle path across junction” are used inconsistently, too:

Different parts of the plans show different icons for side-road treatments

So bikes go on the what, now?

The whole thing reeks of sloppiness. How are members of the public expected to give feedback when the designs are so unclear? Even those who are paid to work with them seem unsure about what is intended where.

If only they’d paid as much attention to detail on the plans as they have done on the logo.

Anyway, that’s enough for today, I reckon. I’ll have a deeper look at some of the plans very soon.

But for now, I’ll leave this question, which I sincerely hope someone from City Connect can answer: Why are there no widths given for any of the planned cycleways?

 

Update, Wednesday 23rd July 2014: A response was posted by City Connect on their blog, which prevents linking to anything but the main blog page, so you have to click here then find the blog titled “Section G Plans”, which should be at the top until they add a new post.

At least, I think it was a response to my blog post, or my tweets. It’s hard to tell, as there was no link to what was being rebutted.

 

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Bedford’s turbo roundabout plans get even worse

Just when you thought it was safe to get back on a bike, the bad engineers strike again!

I’ve written so much about the Bedford turbo roundabout (and the ensuing scandal, delightfully dubbed ‘turbogate‘) and I was hoping that the project might be cancelled and I wouldn’t have to bother getting into Bedford again.

But it turns out that while myself and other cycle campaigners (proper ones, that is, who want safe, convenient cycling for all, not those pretend ones who take your money and then sit on their arses writing press releases all day) were upset with the whole concept, another group of users wasn’t happy with one particular aspect of it.

Motorcycling groups were worried about the raised lane dividers. They were concerned that if a motorbike hit one, it could throw the rider into traffic. (See here and here.)

This is obviously something which motorcycle users were concerned about, though I’m not sure that it should be an issue. The whole point of a turbo roundabout is that you choose a lane on the approach road, long before you reach the roundabout itself, then you stay in that lane throughout. There’s no more need to ride near the raised dividers than there is to ride beside the kerb. A motorbike rider would be in the middle of the lane throughout. But clearly there were concerns, and maybe I’m not understanding the full implications to motorcyclists.

The upshot of all this is that Bedford Council have agreed to remove the raised lane dividers.

So what does this leave us with? A roundabout designed to speed large numbers of motor vehicles through a busy junction, paid for by ‘Cycle Safety Fund’ money and approved by our major cycling campaigns. Great.

But I really don’t see how this scheme can go ahead now – not with Cycle Safety Fund money, anyway. The funding application document specifically mentions these raised dividers as part of the design, claiming they would “prevent vehicles cutting across lanes”.

As a key aspect of the design has been removed, so the funding must surely be withdrawn.

Who has the power to cancel this scheme? The Department for Transport? Sustrans, who managed the Cycle Safety Fund for the DfT? If you know, please tell us in the comments.

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Armadillos: The Emperor’s New Infrastructure

Please, dear non-London readers, I apologise for covering the capital so much! But while this blog post may have originated with a London street, its influence is spreading so it should concern you too, wherever you may be.

It’s no secret that I’m not entirely keen on the new Royal College Street design. I’m clearly not alone in thinking this, either.

The whole idea of these “armadillos” – as the currently-fashionable little plastic blobs are called – is to provide cycling infrastructure on the cheap. But as my dad always said, “if you buy cheap, you buy twice.”

While Royal College Street isn’t the best example of cycling infrastructure, I admit that it isn’t a complete disaster. The cycle lane does work most of the time (in the places it’s actually there, and when there’s no bus passengers, and when no car has driven over the armadillos – though that’s quite a few caveats, mind).

But the only reason that armadillos even work at all on Royal College Street is because they don’t stand alone, but are interspersed with large protective planters, and because the street has a relatively low level of motor traffic.

That level of traffic is not low enough, in my opinion – if there is a level of traffic at which armadillos are suitable, I’d say Royal College Street still exceeds that, which is why earth-filled planters were included as part of the design. But even they are not enough either.

Recently bollards have also been added to the mix – or should that be ‘added to the mess’? The bollards are there to protect the planters, which are there to protect the armadillos, which are there to protect people on bikes. And people have won awards for this nonsense!?

It might have been easier to just do the job properly in the first place.

Royal College Street in Camden, showing a planter, bollard and armadillo to protect the cycle lane.

Armadillos and planters and bollards – oh my! (Photo: Joe Dunckley)

(Though I must say I was pleased to see the parking bays also recently moved away from the edge of the cycle lane, to give some safety from the door zone.)

Meanwhile, outside the M25…

In Manchester, the council have been experimenting with armadillos alone to separate cycle lanes, which hasn’t been a resounding success, shall we say. “Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester” has been covering it thoroughly, but essentially they’ve discovered that armadillos aren’t made of some sort of magic car-repelling material after all.

An armadillo which has been smashed by motor vehicles.

This is not quality cycle infra. (Photo: Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester)

TfGM are wanting to use armadillos on Oxford Road, where taxis will be pulling over to pick up and drop off passengers. Will taxi drivers be fearful of crossing these low plastic humps? I can hazard a guess that they won’t.

Shrinking armadillos

They’ve also shrunk over time. When people first started banging on about how Seville had massively increased its cycling rate, we were seeing pictures of these big concrete things:

A protected cycle lane in Seville, which uses much bigger blobs, made of concrete and much closer together.

This is what was originally promoted – large, concrete armadillos (Photo: Claudio Olivares Medina)

But somehow they’ve shrunk in the meantime, and become tiny plastic things which many drivers don’t even notice:

Though the Seville “Tobys” are much better than the frankly pathetic armadillos, I’m still not a big fan. They’re simply not high-quality infrastructure. They reduce the usable width of the cycle path as they’re essentially an intermittent high kerb. They should, at least, keep the cycle path clear of motor vehicles.

(Apparently Bristol have rejected armadillos on their Clarence Road project, in favour of Tobys.)

The same is true of the planters, by the way. I don’t know where the idea first came from, but check out these examples from Vancouver. They’re about twice the size of the Camden ones, much closer together, and are themselves protected by a concrete kerb. Suddenly it’s clear why the Camden ones are failing…

In conclusion: Armadillos are rubbish.

Like painted lanes in the 1980s and ASLs in the 1990s, some cyclists imagine that armadillos may alleviate some of the problems they face and welcome them as a positive measure.

But like those other half-hearted attempts at cycling infra on the cheap, they are not the high-quality infrastructure that is needed to increase cycling rates in Britain.

These little plastic blobs are currently very fashionable in transport design circles and they are already starting to spread around the country as yet another way of doing cycling on the cheap instead of doing it right, once and for all, by doing what is proven to work.

Make no mistake – armadillos are popular because they’re cheap, not because they’re effective.

I’ve been trying to think of a situation where armadillos might be suitable, but I can’t. The nearest thing I’ve seen in the Netherlands have been at roadworks or on temporary routes, and even there they’ve been much larger, heavier, concrete blocks – and even they don’t provide protection against a badly-controlled car. So what hope does a little plastic blob have?

Even as a  temporary measure to try out a cycle route before committing it in concrete, I don’t think they’re good enough. And the schemes where they are being installed aren’t temporary. These projects are intended to last for decades. Remember how Enfield council thinks they could be used?

Laughably awful visualisation by Enfield council, showing narrow bike lanes in the dooring-zone, and bus stops on the wrong side of cycle paths.

If this is Dutch, then I’m a Dutchman’s uncle.

So be careful what you wish for, my dear cycling campaigners, and be careful what you welcome. You may be about to praise the next great nationally-adopted cycling failure.

 

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As Turbogate trundles on, people wonder what is being done in their name

This is my third, and hopefully final, post in the Turbogate saga: Part one is here, and part two is here. (Nope, I was wrong. Here’s part four.)

It seems that few people are happy about the Bedford ‘turbo’ roundabout, and the fact that cycling organisations gave it (and other rubbish) their seal of approval.

Some CTC members understandably feel let down by how their representatives seem to have been played by the DfT’s, as are some members of other cycling forums.

I have read the official CTC response by Chris Peck (it’s worth reading the comments), and Cyclenation’s response by Simon Geller, and I have to say I’m not massively impressed by either of them. I’ve not seen anything from British Cycling or Sustrans on the matter, yet. (And I’ve no idea why the Campaign to Protect Rural England even had a seat on the group, but that’s another thing.)

Both responses make the point that the DfT’s funding method was very poor – there was a fixed amount of money which had to be spent in areas with higher collision rates within a very short space of time. Add to that a group of people who are physically in different locations having to make judgements for plans in towns they know nothing about.

Fair enough, that’s rather a crap situation for the DfT to set up. But why did the cycling organisations play along with this? Chris Peck says there was a risk that if this £20m wasn’t spent, they might not give us any crumbs in the future.

Oh no, perish the thought! No more badly-planned pittances to be spent in a hurry? Cycling in the UK might end up in the doldrums.

Old news

I hate to gloat (actually I love it) but in November 2012 I wrote a scathing article about a £20m cycle funding announcement from the DfT, as did David Arditti (though I think both articles were about a slightly later £20m crumb than the one which funded the Bedford turbo, the principle is the same). Chris Peck himself even pointed out that £20m was not enough, but then apparently continued to play along with the DfT’s game anyway.

At the time I said I was disappointed that every one of our prominent cycling organisations had said that the £20m was “welcome” rather than slamming the government for failing to invest in cycling in any real way.

The £20m was intended to shut cycle campaigners up, generate a few positive headlines, and make it sound like the government was doing something while doing nothing. The cycling lobby fell for it, and the DfT’s plan worked brilliantly.

Screenshot of road.cc article titled 'CTC and British Cycling welcome extra £20 million for cycling announced by Norman Baker'

The moment that UK transport policy turned the corner. Everything was different from this point on. Oh, hang on, that’s complete nonsense isn’t it?

Back then I said that “£20m spread across the country is going to do nothing for cycling, except maybe the installation of more of the same kind of crap we’re used to getting.” The Bedford turbo roundabout (plus many more, including the “scandalousCatholic Church Junction in Cambridge) has proved me, and others, to be right.

As long as cycle campaign groups “welcome” this kind of rubbish and then play along with the resulting mess, cycling will continue to receive the same kind of dismissive treatment.

If the process was no good, if the timescales too narrow, if the proposals too weak, then CTC, Cyclenation, Sustrans and British Cycling should have all told the DfT that this was the case, rather than enabling them to push this rubbish through and create poor designs seemingly “approved” by the cycle lobby.

Even older news

The thing is, this is nothing new, it’s been happening for years.

While I was researching a different article, I came across this comment on a Road.CC article from February 2011:

“Here in Plymouth we get sub-standard “cycle facilities” passed off AFTER consultation with Sustrans & CTC. The council flatly refuses to acknowledge that anything could possibly be wrong, as both CTC & Sustrans have “signed off” on what was delivered.”

So it seems that, as ever, nothing has changed in British cycle campaigning circles.

Dutch driving infra cynically hyped as Dutch cycling infra

Finally, I have to come full circle and must have another go at those behind the turbo scheme.

Let us put to one side the cycling organisations approving this design. Let us say we disagree with their decision, but it was a tricky situation and they did what they felt was best at the time. Let’s say fair enough.

Let’s even pretend for a minute that the turbo roundabout was the only option available to the designers, that the UK’s road design standard prohibit a better solution, and that this sub-standard bodge was the best solution for this location.

I still have a beef with Bedford council, and it’s this: Why was this design presented as being a piece of tried-and-tested Dutch cycling infrastructure?

Turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands are for motor vehicles only, but the bid document strongly suggests otherwise (though note how it has been cleverly worded, so it’s not an outright lie):

“Turbo-roundabouts are now the standard roundabout design in the Netherlands where traffic capacity does not allow a compact (continental style) roundabout to be installed. In essence they function like compact roundabouts, where cyclists take primary position in the lane but vehicle speeds will be reduced to under 15mph. The evidence is that they have the same very significant safety benefits of compact roundabouts, compared to other junction styles…”

Where is this “evidence” that turbo roundabouts offer “very significant safety benefits” to people on bikes? (And this must surely be about bikes, considering this is a bid for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money.)

I’d very much like to see this evidence, because as far as I know the Dutch have never routed bicycles over this type of infrastructure. (In fact, David Hembrow had to go to some lengths to reach his nearest one by bike.)

They even admit as much, though try to couch the inconvenient fact in vagueness (in the ‘background information’ document, available at the bottom of Chris Peck’s article):

“Dutch “turbo-roundabouts” … have a proven vehicular safety benefit (though cyclists are nearly always off-road in these Dutch designs).”

“Nearly always”?! Please, defenders of this scheme, show me which Dutch turbo roundabouts are intended for use by people on bikes. If you cannot do this then the whole project is surely based on a lie.

And here we also see that the “safety benefit” mentioned in the bid document is “vehicular safety benefit” – great evidence for £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money!

Note also, the photographs of turbo roundabouts on page 5 of that document show no cyclists using them, only cars and lorries. The only cyclists to be seen are in the computer-generated image on page 4 which shows people on bikes using separate cycle paths.

Call it Dutch, we’ll buy it

This is cynically misleading language, used to suggest that the turbo roundabout is one of the designs which the Netherlands has used to achieve mass cycling. This has resulted in headlines such as “Council goes Dutch to improve cycle safety at busy roundabout” and “UK’s first Dutch-style roundabout gets underway in Bedford“.

As if to prove the confusion created by this language, that second article is complete with a photo of a real cycle-friendly Dutch roundabout, being trialled at TRL.

Unfortunately, the word “Dutch” is being tacked on to almost any design to imply that it’s proven Dutch cycling infrastructure, when it’s nothing of the sort. (This is what annoyed me when the second-rate Royal College Street revamp was described as “truly Dutch”.)

Once this Bedford turbo roundabout is installed, provided nobody is killed or injured in the first few months you’ll see local authorities up and down the country wanting to install them, calling them ‘Dutch’ and therefore great for cycling. As it’s a cycling roundabout, they will be paid for with money intended for cycling projects, of course.

And if you have any problem with that, they’ll tell you that the designs have been approved by your favourite cycling campaign groups.

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