Tag Archives: bad design

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 (“City Connect”) 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?

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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This isn’t a Cycle Safety Fund, this is Space for Motoring

This is part two in a series of three posts about the Bedford turbo roundabout and the funding behind it (AKA “Turbogate”). You’ll find part one here, and part three here.

So what have we learned since Tuesday’s article about Bedford council spending £300,000 of Cycle Safety Fund money installing a design intended to speed motor traffic?

Well, David Hembrow got in touch with Sustrans to ask what the hell they were thinking to support such a scheme. Their reply was mealy-mouthed but also illuminating.

Paul Hilton of Sustrans is essentially saying “don’t blame us, we only recommended spending £300,000 on a turbo-roundabout.” But he did point the finger at various other individuals who apparently share responsibility for this decision.

You can read the full exchange here, in the comments of yesterday’s post.

Franklinstein’s Monster

For me, the most surprising thing was that John Franklin – yes, that John Franklin – is part of the team which decides on which schemes the DfT’s pot of Cycle Safety Fund money will be spent.

This is the John Franklin who wrote, amongst other things, that:

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!

That’s right: a man who believes that you’re safest cycling while surrounded by cars, vans and lorries is making decisions about how to spend millions of pounds of Cycle Safety Fund money.

I was surprised at this because he is Cyclenation’s representative on that board, and I’d previously been told that John Franklin didn’t have anything to do with Cyclenation these days beyond looking after their website.

I mentioned this on Twitter and then the following short but hilarious conversation took place between Cyclenation and Mark Treasure:

A Twitter conversation. Cyclenation says: 'Actually John Franklin no longer manages our website or membership database. The only connection between ourselves and JF is that he is a member of Cheltenham Cycle Campaign.' Mark Treasure says: 'But - just to clarify - he is your representative on the Cycle Safety Stakeholder Group?' Cyclenation says: 'Yes, sorry had overlooked that.'

Oh, that guy? He just speaks on our behalf when deciding where millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money will be spent. Apart from that, there’s no connection.

As Cyclenation is not just one body but a federation of local cycling campaigns across the country, it really does need to explain the reason for this bizarre situation to its members.

For a group which is a leading part of the national roll-out of the Space for Cycling campaign, it makes no sense to give such a position of influence (and thus power) to someone who believes that the only place for cycling is on the road mixed up with the cars and lorries.

Luckily, some conscientious Cyclenation members are already asking the right questions.

They Named Names!

Other members on the Cycle Safety Stakeholder Group include Chris Peck of CTC, Tony Russell of Sustrans, Ruth Jackson of British Cycling, Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Robert Semple of TfL.

Now I don’t know the views of everyone on this panel – I have no idea of Ralph Smyth’s stand on urban roundabouts, nor whether Robert Semple gets involved in decisions about places outside London – but I would suggest that members of CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling should contact these bodies and demand to know what their decision was, and their reasoning for it. (Indeed, it seems some CTC members understandably feel this way already.)

Update: Chris Peck of CTC has written an article explaining his side of the story. I think it was written before this one was published, as he refers to Patrick Lingwood’s explanation as if it’s a good one (see below). I appreciate that the whole funding situation is far from ideal, but I’m still not convinced that they took the best course of action by approving such projects. At least Chris Peck has taken the time to respond, however flawed it may be – but there has been word as yet from Cyclenation or British Cycling.

Out With The Old Rubbish, In With The New Rubbish

The more I find out about this turbo roundabout scheme, the less sense it makes that cycling organisations should support it.

One of the architects of this scheme, Patrick Lingwood, Cycling Officer for Bedford Borough Council, defended the turbo-roundabout on Mark Wagenbuur’s blog last year.

His main justification for it seems to be that what is currently there is awful, which he spends a lot of time explaining in detail. This may well be the case, but it’s irrelevant as nobody is suggesting that current layout is great. We’re criticising this specific new design, not defending the existing layout, so trying to re-frame the debate to be about old versus new is distracting and false.

He sounds like a dedicated believer in the supremacy of Vehicular Cycling, just like John Franklin and John Forester. His language is typical of those who see “cyclists” as some special breed which excludes most of the population. He believes in the failed “dual network” concept of providing for two classes of cyclist. He clearly sees his job as being to cater for the few existing cyclists rather than provide safe cycling transport conditions that everybody could use.

For someone who is a cycling officer, he has designed a scheme which increases motor vehicle capacity at this junction by 40%. Rather than create something which is suitable for all users, this is a design which only the confident few can use efficiently, and which will be slow and awkward for others. He’s taken a Dutch concept which is intended to speed large volumes of motor vehicles on trunk roads (and which cycle routes are intended to bypass altogether) and has applied it to an urban location with high pedestrian flows.

And the cycling lobby has waved it through in your name.

And There’s More…

Finally, for now, it seems that this isn’t the only dubious project that Cycle Safety Fund money has been spent on. Cycling campaigner Alex Ingram has begun to compile a spreadsheet of Cycle Safety Grants so we can see where the money has gone.

Pretty quickly, he found this £70,000 Cycle Safety Fund scheme in Hereford:

A diagram showing a roundabout in Hereford, with eight cycle symbols painted on the road

A bargain at only £8750 per cycle symbol painted on the road.

It seems that all a council planner has to do is drop a few cycle symbols into their latest design (or simply claim there’s something “Dutch” about it) and Sustrans will recommend that money intended for cycling will pay for your motor-centric scheme.

As Private Eye would say, trebles all round!

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Bedford Borough Council traffic department, you are a bunch of cretins

This is part one in a series of three posts about the Bedford turbo roundabout and the funding behind it (AKA “Turbogate”). You’ll find part two here, and part three here.

I have one word to say to the people who chose to spend cycling infrastructure money on a “turbo” roundabout – resign.

Please, resign now, and let somebody who knows what they’re doing take your job. For the good of those who live in the areas you control, leave and never go back.

That might sound like an extreme thing to say, but I cannot comprehend how anybody with even the most miniscule knowledge of Dutch traffic design can describe a turbo roundabout as “a significant improvement in cycling provision.”

There are only two possible conclusions. Either you know what you’re doing and are installing a design which was never intended for cycling and is dangerous, or you have no idea what you’re doing and think you’re actually installing something useful.

Neither option shows those responsible in a favourable light.

(I’m sure that not everyone at Bedford Borough Council traffic department is responsible for this, so this is only aimed at those who made the decision to install this thing. The rest of you aren’t cretins. If you had to work on this under pressure from your bosses, this isn’t aimed at you.)

What’s wrong with Bedford’s plans?

Firstly, turbo roundabouts were never meant for cycling on. The purpose of a turbo roundabout is to get motor vehicles through a junction as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of the fundamental concept of the Dutch turbo roundabout is that cycling is kept away from it. It would be like allowing cycling on a motorway.

(If you want to know more about turbo roundabouts and why they’re not cycling infrastructure, then read these excellent posts: “Turbo Roundabouts: Be Careful What You Wish For” and “When ‘Going Dutch’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means” by David Hembrow, and “A Modern Amsterdam Roundabout” by Mark Wagenbuur, also inspired by this dreadful decision.)

Secondly, this design which benefits motor vehicles is being paid for with £300,000 of money from the Department for Transport’s Cycle Safety Fund.

That’s so insane that I can hardly believe it. It’s like the Church of England investing in arms manufacturers. It’s completely inappropriate and goes against the whole spirit of everything that money is meant for.

In a further bout of insanity, Sustrans – fucking Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity! – are actually supporting this thing (see this Word DOC) making bold claims that turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands “function like compact roundabouts, where cyclists take primary position in the lane”. What the hell, Sustrans? This is blatantly untrue, and you’ve used it to get £300k from a cycling safety fund. What’s next – are you going to suggest that London’s 1960s Ringways urban motorway scheme is implemented as shared space?

And all this at one of the busiest junctions in the borough!

Aerial-view design of Bedford's turbo roundabout

The clue is in the name, you jerks!

Failure designed-in

The worst thing is that they’re hyping this scheme as being good for cycling, yet go on to say that “cyclists will also have the option of using new shared paths around the roundabout leading to zebra crossings” (see this PDF).

If the turbo roundabout is so great for cycling, why would they need to install a shared-use footpath alongside it? (Also, what good are zebra crossings to someone riding a bike, which they cannot legally use without dismounting?)

What we have here is another case of the disastrous “dual network” concept, a proven failure. So the roundabout is meant for fast, confident cyclists taking the lane in front of lorries, and anybody not willing to do this can meander slowly along the footpath getting frowned at by people on foot. What we end up with is infrastructure which is no good for anyone.

They claim “Studies and experience in other countries have shown that this type of junction can improve pedestrians and cyclist provision while also reducing potential safety issues.” But if there is such a study, they have not provided a link or reference to it. I’d love to see these studies, especially with regard to people cycling on the roundabout, as that is not how it is done in the Netherlands, the world leader in mass cycling.

And yet they can’t come up with any convincing reason why a turbo roundabout is safer for cycling on than a regular roundabout, except the claim that “cyclists will find it easier to cycle through the roundabout due to the reduction in vehicles making last minute lane changes” which is rather weak, to say the least.

And anyway, if a driver really wants to change lanes where they shouldn’t, it’s still entirely possible. Look at the diagram. Imagine you’re in the straight-on lane and want to go right. It’s perfectly possible to cut across where you shouldn’t.

Designing for cycling, or designing for cyclists?

I also note that they’ve mis-typed the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund as the Cyclist Safety Fund. I reckon this is a Freudian slip, which shows that rather than thinking about designs which the whole population can use to cycle on, they are thinking about the needs of the few “keen cyclists” who are the only ones brave enough to cycling in the UK right now.

This whole way of thinking is a throw-back to the past. It ignores the massive benefits that everyone from every section of society would gain if our roads were designed so that anyone could use a bike as a fast, direct and efficient mode of transport, as they do in the Netherlands.

Cycling isn’t just for enthusiasts, it should be for all of us. Designs like this are the reason so few children cycle to school. They’re the reason so many more men cycle than women. They’re the reason so few elderly people cycle. They’re the reason so few people cycle at all.

So while this new roundabout might slightly improve conditions for existing cyclists, the idea that Bedford’s design is good for cycling is absolute nonsense.

A montage of six Dutch cycling scenes: two young ladies, an older man, a woman with a child in a box-bike and another child riding alongside, a group of teenagers, an older woman, and two young children.

Will Bedford’s new £300,000 cycling roundabout enable people like this to cycle?

What now?

Bedford, it’s not too late to stop this and design something suitable. The work has not started. Do not spend £300,000 of taxpayers’ money on this.

Also, stop designing for cyclists and start designing for cycling. Ask yourself if you’d be happy for young children, or your parents, to use your completed schemes.

I’d also request that you stop cynically dressing up motor-centric designs as being good for cycling. If motor vehicle throughput is your main concern, just admit it.

But most of all, please resign, for the good of the nation. Quit your job now, as you clearly are either 1960s motor-centric relics, dedicated vehicular keen cyclists who can’t comprehend ‘normal’ people riding bikes, or clueless incompetents.


PS, added at 3pm: If you want an example of the real thinking behind this project, look no further than the new sign that Bedford wants to install at the zebra crossings:

A blue roadsign which says "CYCLISTS GIVE WAY or dismount"

This, apparently, is how Bedford council chooses to encourage cycling.

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The new Mornington Crescent junction design is an insult to us all

I was alerted to TfL and Camden Council’s plans for Mornington Crescent by Rachel Aldred’s recent article about it.

Usually when someone else writes about a subject I leave it, as there’s little point in covering the same ground, but the design for this junction is so appalling I thought it was worth writing a brief article myself.

I encourage everybody to respond to Camden’s consultation about this design, which ends on Tuesday. Ignore their leading questions, none of which involve cycling (just say “no”), and tell them exactly what you think in the comments box at the end.

Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

TfL and Camden plans for Mornington Crescent / Cobden Junction. The usual 1990s arrangement of advisory cycle lanes, ASLs and lots of space for motor vehicles.

What, no #space4cycling?

Now, it’s being touted as an improvement on the existing arrangement, but it isn’t really. It’s mildly better in some respects, especially that there are fewer crossings required when walking, but in almost all other respects it’s no better. (I’m sure it’s better for driving, somehow.)

So what do we have? Despite the tons of space available, the cycling “infrastructure” consists of narrow advisory painted cycle lanes and ASLs. That’s it.

Certainly, from a cycling perspective I fail to see how this design works at all. It doesn’t even approach the Mayor’s “Vision”, which is turning out to be more and more blurred with each passing day. (Perhaps this is one of those already-in-the-pipeline “crap designs” Andrew Gilligan warned us about?)

It’s a hymn to motoring, a design straight out of TfL’s Network Assurance department’s textbook. I don’t cycle there now, and I wouldn’t cycle there if this was installed. Would you be happy for your children or your parents cycle here?

Would those responsible for this scheme be happy to cycle there with their nearest and dearest? I sincerely doubt it.

Consultation Schmonsultation

While I’m on the subject, am I right in thinking that these online consultations are rigged? These yes/no questions ask about all the good stuff, and then you find yourself at the bottom of the page having agreed with everything they’re doing.

“Do you think more trees are nice”? Yes, course!

“Do you think the wider pavement will be better”? Sure!

“Aren’t kittens adorable?” Certainly!

“Thanks for completing our survey and giving your 100% support for our plans to drive a motorway through the neighbourhood.” What?! Hang on!

So don’t agree to anything. Just fill in that box at the bottom telling them that their plans are really crap, and they’d better think again.

Do it now!

 


Update, 1st October 2013: On the Cycling Embassy‘s forum, user ‘iBikeDream’ has posted a version of the plans with Dutch-style cycle tracks. Great work!

A re-worked version of TfL's plans, but with high quality cycle paths suitable for everyone.

Now this is more like it!

 

 

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Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch” part 2: Width

So Camden Cyclists admit that Royal College Street isn’t “truly Dutch” (though they still claim it has “gone Dutch”).

They now suggest that the street is in fact a mix of Spanish, Canadian and Danish cycling infrastructure styles. But they do also claim one ingredient from our neighbour to the east: “The lane widths conform to Dutch CROW standards.”

They are wrong to claim this, and I’ll explain why.

Looking at the new design, the cycle lanes do look pretty generous. Two whole metres wide! (That’s a bare minimum for new Dutch infrastructure.)  So the width ain’t bad.

Two people ride across a bus stop platform at Royal College Street, one behind the other.

Looks wide, but is it really?

It’s certainly far wider than what Tower Hamlets considers suitable which is so bad it ridicules itself. (I wonder if any one in Tower Hamlets council described that as Dutch?)

Never mind the quality, feel the width

In cross-section, it would look something like this (not to scale):

A cross-section diagram of the Royal College Street cycle lane, showing the absolute width to be 2 metres.

Looks pretty spacious, doesn’t it!

But there’s a problem, and it’s a biggie: you can’t actually use the whole track.

The issue is that the kerbs are steep and high – higher than your pedal at its’ lowest point. Ride too close and the pedal will whack the kerb, either on the side or on the top, and that won’t be nice.

A photo of a bicycle pedal hitting the high kerb at Royal College Street.

No bikes were harmed in the making of this article.

As a result, it’s just too dangerous to ride close to the kerb, so people tend to ride further out towards the middle of the lane.

A man riding a bike along the Royal College Street cycle lane. He is well away from the kerb.

Because of this, there’s not that much room to overtake or ride side-by-side comfortably. It can be done, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you (to coin a phrase) and be careful not to wobble.

A diagram of two people riding on a cycle track with high kerbs, showing the danger zone and discomfort zone close to the edge.

Please forgive my cack-handed drawing of a person on a bike. Also: NOT TO SCALE!

As the diagram above shows, the full width isn’t actually available to ride in. Get too close to either edge and your pedal will strike the kerb or the planter. Naturally, the closer to the edge one rides, the less comfortable one feels.

While I was watching people ride along the new track, overtaking mainly happened while passing the armadillos – the overtaker can get close to them without hitting their pedal on a planter.

A diagram of a cycle lane with a high kerb and an armadillo

The sections with the ‘armadillos’ make for easier overtaking

I also witnessed people leaving the bike lane to overtake other riders, then rejoining once they’d passed by. (Surely this is proof that there’s not enough space?)

So overtaking a single rider is possible, but it can be a little uncomfortable as there’s not much room for error.

It ain’t what you got, it’s what you do with it that counts

For full use of the available width, it would look something like this, and I want you to bear in mind that the width of the riding surface is exactly the same as in the other diagrams above:

"A diagram of a Dutch-style cycle path, showing that the full width can be used

The entire width of the track can be used. Remember, the width of the surface is exactly the same as in the other diagrams above.

Here, the cycle lane (or rather, cycle path) has been raised up halfway between the road and the path (or, to use more technical language, halfway between the carriageway and the footway).

I’ve shown two types of cycle path kerb. The one on the left is ‘forgiving’ and can be ridden into with no adverse effects, and the one on the right is low and has rounded corners (not as nice as forgiving kerbs, but no pedal-strike).

But the main thing here is that the full width of the track can be used.

My diagrams may not be to scale with the outside world, but they are to scale with each other, and the Dutch-style cycle path clearly has far more capacity than the Royal College Street examples – even though the width of the surface, from edge to edge, is exactly the same width in all four diagrams.

That “Dutch CROW standard” 2 metres (which, by the way, should be a minimum, not a target) isn’t being used to its full potential at Royal College Street, and the experience of riding on a proper Dutch cycle path of exactly the same actual width would be quite different.

North vs South

I’ve only covered the northbound lane here. The southbound lane is even more tricky, as the right-hand barrier is a row of cars, so you can’t just leave the cycle lane for a few seconds and then rejoin. The discomfort zone is also very wide due to the risk of dooring. I’m going to cover this in another post, but for now, how would you overtake this rider if they were a little further back up the hill?

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Royal College Street bus stops post: An update

I must have hit a nerve with my last article, because all manner of hoo-hah sprung up around it. Unfortunately, it was mainly on Twitter, which is a dreadful forum for debate. I’d much prefer it if people would use the comment form on the article for their thoughts, but it’s up to you I guess.

Camden Cyclists say they disagree with my piece, which is fair enough, but have offered no factual criticism of my article as of yet. They did remove the phrase “truly Dutch” from their puff piece about Royal College Street, though there is still plenty of other nonsense.

In addition to Dutch influence, they now also claim that “the armadillos are from Barcelona, the idea of using planters came from Vancouver and I understand that the bus stops are like some in Copenhagen” which made me laugh because none of those are Dutch cities or have the level and wide demographics of cycling that the Netherlands has. After all, why look to the best when elsewhere is cheaper?

The page also says “we have observed that some cyclists prefer to change the vehicle lane or to overtake the bus” which, despite being a bit mangled, says to me that the scheme isn’t working as well as it should be. When bike riders are choosing to ignore your brand new space for cycling and mix with the cars and vans on the main carriageway instead, there’s something wrong.

In desperation, they’ve taken to Streetview and found two examples of similar bus stops, one of which does look even poorer than the ones on Royal College Street. Trouble is, the one in Den Haag has an admittedly rather narrow, but still useable (maybe 1.5m-wide) bus stop island! The photo from Copenhagen seems to have been sourced from the roughest part of town they could find. I don’t remember Copenhagen looking that tatty.

Take it outside

Camden Cyclists also recently suggested that we stop discussing this online and meet in person instead, which I suspect is a way of saying they’d rather keep criticism out of the public eye.

I fell for this let’s-meet-up ruse once before and ended up in a conference room listening to Hackney LCC’s Oliver Schick drone on and on (and on and on) while nobody else could get a word in edgeways. I’ll never get those hours back, you know.

Anyway, what’s wrong with discussing things online? I think it’s great. It gives you time to research each answer, study and prepare your evidence, and present it in a way you feel puts the case forward clearly.

And what’s wrong with discussing this in public? This is a public scheme, paid for with public money, why shouldn’t it be criticised in public? (I note that they don’t object to it being praised in public!)

The Web is the perfect place to have this discussion, and I don’t intend to stop having it here. It’s 2013, get used to it.

Schrödinger’s Cat is half-dead

Since writing the article on Friday I’ve been in bed with flu. Yesterday I was feeling a little better, and I fancied some fresh air and a view of something other than the walls, so we took a short walk to the park.

In my weakened and slightly groggy state my walking pace was glacial, and suddenly London was a much more difficult place to be in. Zebra crossings felt especially stressful and dangerous – impatient drivers would pass close behind us while we were still on the crossing.

The experience gave me some small insight into what it must be like to have restricted mobility, and I can see how stepping off a bus and seeing bikes approaching could be very stressful. It underlined to me that I was right to criticise the bus stop arrangement on Royal College Street. I wonder what blind, disabled and elderly campaign groups think about it?

Questions remain unanswered

Still no answer is forthcoming about all the extra space which magically appeared between the southern bus stop and the parked cars, or between the second bus stop and the southbound cycle lane.

Where has all the extra room for motoring come from? It wasn’t on the plans or the visualisation. It’s big enough for motor vehicles to pass through. Why are people defending the council for prioritising car travel at the expense of walking, cycling and public transport?

Camden Cyclists, ever the apologists for the Council, describe this as “a little extra space”. A little extra space?! A LARGE VAN CAN PASS A BUS AT THE SECOND BUS STOP! That is not “a little extra space”. Stop apologising for the Council’s mistakes and start sticking up for what’s right. You’re meant to be a cycling campaign not the council’s mouthpiece.

They go on to say there’s “about 1m [extra space] at the southern [bus stop]“ right below a photo of the bus stop in question, showing that there’s at least twice as much. Am I the only person round here with a tape measure?

Why were Camden Cyclists so keen to defend the new layout when it clearly didn’t match the plans? Why were they so keen to write off the passing taxi as a “skinny car“? And why do they still down-play the issue? LOOK AT THIS PHOTO AGAIN. Cars and vans pass freely while people on the bike track wait. Is that what 10,000 people protested for in the pouring rain? It’s pro-car business as usual.

Where did all this extra space come from? Aren’t Brian Deegan and co. paid tens of thousands of pounds of public money each year for this sort of thing? Don’t they have a tape measure? Was there some secret diktat from above which insisted cars should be able to pass stopped buses, or was it just a surveying balls-up?

We deserve to be told. I’m not saying this is a truly terrible scheme (like Bethnal Green Road, gosh no) but it is a disappointing scheme compared to what it should be, and it certainly shouldn’t be held up as a shining example of cycle infrastructure when there are so many things wrong with it (each of which I’ll be explaining clearly, of course!).

I didn’t set out to rubbish Royal College Street. When I heard it was very nearly finished I rode up there with excitement, but when I got there my heart sank the more I saw of it. I’m just one person writing their personal opinion on a personal blog. I try to be as honest as possible and tell things like I see them. Maybe that’s why I upset so many people.

I’m tired and I’m going to bed now…

…but I’ll be back later on today with a thrilling article about kerbs and why you gotta get them right if you want to maximise your width. (I’m sure you’re as excited about it as I am.)

 


 

Oh, and finally – if you must have a pop, do it on here, Twitter’s doing my head in these days. Ta.

 

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Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch”

The new Royal College Street layout is still not finished yet, but having seen the plans and seen the parts which are finished I think I should let you know about Camden’s flagship cycle scheme. My conclusion: it’s not very good.

It’s certainly not “truly Dutch” despite what Camden Cycling Campaign say.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s better than 99.9% of other roads in the UK and I’d much rather cycle here than almost anywhere else in Britain – but that really is faint praise, as almost every other road is truly dreadful.

The annoying thing about Royal College Street is that it’s essentially new-build. The whole road has been resurfaced and had a new layout applied, so there’s no excuse for rubbish here.

But there are so many flaws it’s difficult to know where to start. So why don’t I start with the bus stops? They’re certainly nowhere near Dutch standards (this is what Dutch bus stops actually look like).

Here’s a photo of a bus stopped at the southern-most bus stop on Royal College Street:

A photograph of a bus stopped on the new Royal College Street layout. There is room for cars to pass the stopped bus, but people boarding or alighting must stand in the cycle path while doing so. A bike user veers onto the footpath to avoid people getting on and off the bus.

This is not Dutch.

There are several things wrong here. The obvious problem is that despite there being plenty of space here, bus passengers and bike users are put into direct conflict, as people boarding or alighting the bus stand in the cycle path. The woman riding a bike here has illegally veered onto the footpath to avoid this conflict.

The other thing that’s wrong here is that while people on bikes must either break the law or stop, cars can pass the bus unimpeded! (Did someone say “prioritise cycling”?)

Another photograph of the same bus stop on Royal College Street. A taxi and a motorbike pass the stopped bus, while bike users and bus passengers are placed in conflict.

This really, really is not Dutch.

However, this isn’t what was promised. Here’s the detail from the original consultation document:

A detail from the plans for Royal College Street, which show that the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway.

This was never going to be Dutch.

As you can see, the original plans show the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway, forcing motor vehicles to wait behind the bus while it is stopped. But in reality, the road here is much wider, wide enough for a car to overtake a stopped bus.

I pointed this out on Twitter and got rather arsey replies from the Camden Cycling Campaign who insisted that the scheme was fine and that a taxi is a “skinny car” (whatever the hell that means):

Camden Cycling Campaign tweets: "Some skinny car squeezed through when bus stopped close to kerb. So..??" and "Camden plan: buses delay cars. Except if no parking. The consultation drawing gives carriageway 3.9m, bus stop 3m? OK?"

This is in English.

Brian Deegan (who was head of the scheme until he moved from Camden Council to TfL) also discussed it, insisting that cars did wait behind stopped buses, although he conceded that he hadn’t actually been to look yet.

He also said that Royal College Street was “tighter to the north” which isn’t entirely correct either. It is true that the entire road width is narrower, but due to having no parking spaces the carriageway is actually wider and even large vans can pass buses here!

A photograph of the second bus stop on Royal College Street. There's enough space for a large van to pass the stopped bus, while a bike user has to stop while passengers board and alight the bus.

Even less Dutch.

So, while the van and taxi pass the stopped bus, the bike rider on the left has stopped while the bus passengers cross the cycle track to reach the narrow footpath. Does that seem like prioritising walking and cycling to you? Because it sure doesn’t look like it to me.

It looks like business as usual, prioritising private motor vehicles while patting cycling on the head (along with walking and public transport).

Just after I took the photo above, another rider chose to leave the semi-segregated cycle lane and follow the cars, passing the bus on the right-hand side rather than come to a stop until the cycle track was clear of bus passengers. I understand why he did this – why lose all your momentum when there’s clear space to proceed? – but he shouldn’t have had to make that decision. People on bikes shouldn’t be faced with a choice of choosing to be safe or choosing what’s convenient. Good cycle infrastructure is both safe and convenient.

There’s clearly plenty of space at both bus stops for a proper bus stop island to enable passengers to board or alight without standing in the cycle track. In fact, I have made one of my mock-ups, showing what the bus stop at the southern end of Royal College Street could look like:

An altered photo of the southern bus stop on Royal College Street, showing that there is plenty of space for a bus stop island.

This is more like it. (Though as Chris points out in the comments, the bus shelter should be on the island. Like this altered version of Camden’s own visualisation which I did in January.)

Conclusion: The bus stops are crap

So that’s what I think of the bus stops on Royal College Street: they’re crap (or poor, or second-rate, or sub-par, whichever you prefer) and they force bus passengers and bike riders into conflict, while giving motor vehicles the red carpet.

Further to this, it must surely be stressful for people with visual or mobility difficulties to step off a bus into a stream of passing bikes, or to step in front of on-coming bikes when the bus pulls in. And what’s more is, there’s no need for this conflict whatsoever. We know how to do it right, and shouldn’t be building in conflict like this. If the street was extremely narrow then maybe I could sympathise, but it’s clearly not.

There are other things wrong with Royal College Street – the high kerbs massively reduce the effective width of the cycle tracks, and at one point the track turns into an advisory lane which then disappears altogether – but I’ll save them for another post.

This isn’t what I expected when we asked London to “Go Dutch”.


Footnote: I wonder if Brian Deegan has been on David Hembrow’s Study Tour? I think he really needs to see what good cycle infrastructure really looks like.

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