Tag Archives: infrastructure

Cycling to school with the CTC again (a follow-up post)

Like the first time I wrote about the CTC, my most recent post (until this one) has also got people thinking about what they do and how they do it.

Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director for the CTC, responded to the article which is much appreciated, and you can read my reply there too.

The People’s Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire blog wrote an article titled ‘CTC: who do they represent these days?‘ which is well worth a read, as it covers other ground such as the CTC’s support for the disastrous “Nice Way Code” campaign, and their “welcoming note” (albeit heavily qualified) to the DfT’s complete and utter dismissal of the Get Britain Cycling report.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, PJ McNally covered another example of the CTC ignoring cycling infrastructure even when it’s under their very nose. Please do go read PJ’s excellent blog post on the subject, but I think the gist of it is worth repeating here in a little photo-post.

One of the locations in CTC’s “Cycletopia” is Cherwell School (actually in Oxford) where it is claimed that almost 60% of pupils cycle to school. Impressive numbers! According to the CTC’s Cycletopia page, “the school runs cycle maintenance workshops, there’s an active cycling club and they even campaign to improve road conditions for cyclists” which sounds lovely, though I dare say that even with all these pro-cycling policies few parents would allow their children to ride a bike along busy roads.

What isn’t mentioned is the excellent (by British standards) cycle infrastructure around the school, specifically the wide cycle path along Marston Ferry Road.

Though I know it’s not ideal to get a feel for infrastructure purely from online sources, here’s a few images from Google Streetview. Luckily for me the Streetview car seems to have passed by at commuting time on a school day for one of the images.

A photo of a cycle path next to a busy road near Cherwell School in Oxford. Many children on bikes are using the cycle path. None are using the main road.

I can’t help but notice that the children are on the cycle path, not on the busy road to the right. I suspect the children on the footpath have moved there to get out of the way of the Googlemobile. (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of the Marston Ferry Road cycle path, showing a very wide, physically separate cycle path.

Further west, the cycle path loses the hedge but remains physically separated from the road by a kerb, grass verge and lamp-posts. The width looks great! (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of B4495 Marston Ferry Road cycle path, where it crosses an access road to a car park. The cycle path has priority over the side road.

At junctions, the cycle path moves away from the road, gains a centre line, narrows, and rises up gently. It has clear priority over the minor road (though the paint could do with a refresh!). It’s not quite how I’d do it, but it’s clear that bikes have priority here. A shame about the bizarre pedestrian barriers on the narrow footpath though! (Image: Google Maps)

A photograph of the walking and cycling underpass which enables Cherwell School pupils to safely cross the busy main road.

While I can’t vouch for it at night, I’m sure this underpass is safe and well-used during the day, especially at school commute times. (Image: Google Maps)

Looking further around on the map it seems that there are other traffic-free cycle routes from other nearby housing areas, albeit not as wide and well-made as this one.

Again I acknowledge that it’s difficult to truly understand how something works merely by looking at a photograph of it. But it’s clear that the cycle path is at least worth a mention when discussing the high rate of cycling at Cherwell School. To ignore it is madness.

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Cycling to School with the CTC

Over a year ago I wrote an article criticising the CTC. What sparked it was their “Right to Ride to School” page, which at the time suggested that everything except the roads was the reason for Britain’s 2% cycle-to-school rate.

Since then, they’ve clarified that that specific campaign is aimed solely at those schools which place additional blocks in the way of cycling — such as mandating on helmet use, refusing to allow bike parking, or even banning cycling altogether.

Fair enough, I suppose, but I’d say that schools’ irrational opposition to cycling is merely a symptom of the unpleasant and dangerous conditions on Britain’s roads and streets. No school wants a dead child on their hands, and so they try to ban what they see as a potentially deadly activity.

But campaign for the right conditions — and this does mean cycle paths, by the way, training and 20mph zones alone won’t convince many parents to let little Timmy and Jenny out on their own — and these fears will evaporate.

To talk about cycling to school without mentioning cycle paths is strange and rather silly. The CTC say that the campaign is aimed solely at obstructive schools, but it’s still ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to what’s really preventing children cycling to school.

I still think, a year on, that the CTC remain weak (to the point of having no official position) on Dutch-style cycle infrastructure, and whether they get behind it or not isn’t my concern. They do run the risk of being left behind, as today the word “segregation” is on everyone’s lips when cycling infrastructure is mentioned.

They claim that they “have always supported good infrastructure” but that’s not enough. They need to actively push for good infrastructure, but they won’t do it. Meanwhile they’re happy to get behind stupid rubbish such as the Nice Way Code, yet another “share the road” campaign. (Though they do offer some mild criticism where nobody will read it.)

The only overtures they’ve made towards the Dutch model is the frankly embarrassing Cycletopia, which seems to have died a death of neglect anyway.

Cyclecraft for your children, cycle paths for ours

What spurred me to write this post, however, is that I received confirmation of something I had suspected since I wrote that original post. Last year, I wrote:

“Even the photo they have used looks suspicious – why can’t we see where these children are riding their bikes? Looking at the short height of the kerb in the bottom-left corner of the photo, I wonder if these children are actually riding on a protected cycle path. Has it been cropped to prevent angry emails from vehicular cycling zealots?”

Here is the photo in question, still in use on the CTC’s website:

The CTC's photo of three young children riding bikes, but it is cropped so we can't see what type of surface they're riding on.

“Take the lane kids, John Franklin will be proud!”

I asked at the time for the location of the photo, and despite being told that the CTC knew, I wasn’t told.

Well, I now know where this photo was taken, and I know that this is a staged photo of a CTC employee’s children. I’m not going to reveal the location, as I’m not sure whether these particular children use this segregated cycle path (for that’s what it is!), and I don’t want to compromise their privacy (they haven’t had a choice about whether to be involved in this debate, after all).

But I will show you a photo of the location, which I think tells us all we need to know:

A photo of the location of the CTC's Right to Ride to School photo, showing the context. A narrow but otherwise Dutch-style cycle path runs parallel to a road.

Aha, found it! More towards Bikeability, or Go (a little bit) Dutch?

The children were riding on the very type of infrastructure that the CTC are still reluctant to push for. It’s not very wide – probably only about 1.5m – but in most other respects it’s fairly Dutch (well, for a British attempt at a cycle path, anyway).

I find it very cynical and dishonest of the CTC to choose this location to take the photo, yet failing to call for this type of infrastructure. They seem to be saying “oh training is enough for your children to ride on the road, but not for our children. Our children use the cycle paths, but we won’t tell you that!”

Why crop the photo so closely? Why not show the wider context? Because when you’re an organisation which believes the-road-is-right (and, let’s face it, they still do) you can’t admit that, for your children, the road is simply too dangerous (but that this physically protected cycle path is lovely and safe).

So this is a staged photo of children on bikes. It had to be staged because nowhere in Britain has the type of infrastructure that’s required to see scenes like this every single day:

A photo of the school run at a school in the Netherlands. A wide cycle path is filled with children riding bikes.

Why do you think all these children are here? I’ll give you a clue: it’s the cycle path.

This kind of scene is commonplace and every-day in the Netherlands, and it’s the infrastructure – especially the cycle paths – that make it so. If the CTC really want children to ride to school, this is what they need to start pushing for.

I’ve heard voices from the inside who suggest that the CTC is moving towards supporting Dutch-quality cycling infrastructure, but I’ve been hearing this stuff for a year now. When’s the announcement? Where’s the new policy document?

I suspect that while the CTC pay lip service to the notion of cycle paths, some of those in charge remain enamoured with the idea that we can create a cycling revolution on the roads as they are.

So instead they continue to bang on about Bikeability as if that’s going to change a damn thing:

“Improving conditions and provision for cyclists on the road network is crucial if we want to get more children cycling. But it is also vital to be teaching them basic skills of bike handling, hazard perception and the road skills required to deal with the conditions as they are now.”

No, it’s not, because no parent is mad enough to let their children actually ride a bike on the roads!

Perhaps what the CTC should do, instead of all these campaigns, is start some sort of club for people who like to go on long bike rides. I bet they’d be good at that. Don’t know what they’d call it, though.

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After 40 years, can Leeds finally stop being the “Motorway City of the Seventies”?

Talking to people in Leeds about utility cycling is a bit like trying to explain air conditioning to Eskimos.

I don’t mean to insult the citizens of Leeds here – I was one myself for 30 car-filled years. I love my friends and family, but they have lived their whole lives in a city which has one of the lowest cycling rates in a country with one of the lowest cycling rates in Europe, so you can hardly blame them for driving everywhere and thinking that’s normal and healthy. I understand that from this position the concept of utility cycling can seem baffling and outlandish.

Nor do I criticise anybody in Leeds who uses a car every single time they leave the house. There are few genuine alternatives for most people.

The bus system in Leeds is dominated by one bus company, almost to the point of monopoly, and there is no integrated ticketing system or smart-cards in use. So if you buy a day ticket on a FirstBus bus, you can’t use it on another operator’s bus. You can buy a “Metro Day” which is a ticket issued by the local transport authority, but that costs more and isn’t widely advertised.

As there’s no Oyster equivalent either, each new passenger has to have a conversation with the driver about where they’re going, hand over cash and wait for change. Multiply this by several passengers, or even twenty or thirty people at a busy stop, and you’ll see why a bus journey in Leeds takes much longer than it should.

There’s no metro system, just regular National Rail trains. These are only of use to those who live near a station, and who aren’t in a rush. They’re not the most frequent services either, to say the least, and some of them have certainly seen better days.

The cycling modal share in Leeds is pathetic. Even the commuting share, which tends to be about twice as high as the overall modal share, is around 1%. In the student areas it rises to the giddy heights of 2%.

But this is no surprise, as Leeds City Council has for decades promoted private car use above all else. Not long before I was born, Leeds proudly proclaimed itself to be “Motorway City of the Seventies“. That was actually used as a slogan for the city! You can imagine the sort of schemes they cooked up.

The planning decisions which were made back then have resulted in a dreadful transport environment. Even driving in Leeds is no fun, as the congestion is so bad. (It’s not London, but it’s bad enough.)

Morning Has Broken

However, there is a small ray of light shining through the diesel smog. Like many local authorities across the UK, Leeds, along with conjoined sibling Bradford, is at long last rousing from its 40-year transport slumber, awakened by the delicious aroma of central government money.

The two neighbouring councils have joined forces to come up with a grand plan to create a “cycle super highway” from the centre of Bradford all the way through Leeds to the other side. (If it sounds familiar, that’s because those in charge of Leeds have delusions of grandeur and will copy everything London and Manchester does.)

Someone at the council clearly has a sense of humour, as they’ve called their bid Highway to Health. In it, they’ve used the word “segregated” which is interesting as this wasn’t even on the menu a couple of years ago, but it’s seemingly a word which no cycle plan can be without today.

It promises “segregated, safe cycle lanes, secure cycle parking and activities to encourage cycling and walking” which sounds pretty good. And looking at the plans, they’re considering something which would give those 1970s planners heart attacks: “reduce existing carrigeway to provide cycle track”.

This is actually really encouraging. There’s plenty of space in Leeds for really great cycle infrastructure (not that lack of space is ever a good reason to ignore cycling). They’ve defined two types of cycle track, one Dutch-style and one Danish-style, and they’ve got the general idea right.

Leeds' two cycle track designs. One Dutch-style with a separating kerb, and one Danish-style with only vertical separation.

Pretty good, but not wide enough. Ideally the elevation of the cycle track would always be halfway between the footpath and the road, as it is in the Type 2 diagram.

They’ve also defined what their bus stop bypasses will look like, and they look pretty good to me.

Leeds council's bus stop cycle bypass design.

Looks okay to me. They’ve got the general idea.

Part of the route has access roads alongside the main road, and these will be utilised for cycling as part of the plans. This is a great way to get a long stretch of decent cycle route, almost for free, as long as they can discourage as much motor traffic as possible by using alternating one-way restrictions and other methods.

A False Dawn?

Unfortunately, while the general concept is a good one, they seem to have been designed by someone who drives everywhere, although they have watched that video of London’s planned cycle path along the Victoria Embankment. I doubt that those behind the plans have been to the Netherlands to see why cycling works so well over there.

(I acknowledge that these plans are a first draft, merely an attempt to get the funding, and I sincerely hope that the scheme designers take this constructive criticism on board should this project go ahead.)

For a start – and it’s a biggie – their minimum width for a one-way track is only 1.5m, and 2.5m for a two-way track! This is far too narrow, and makes me worry that the whole scheme is about to unravel. The standard minimum for one-way cycle track should be 2m (ideally 2.5m), and 4m for a two-way track. If the current widths are kept, Leeds’ cycle tracks run the very real risk of being seen as toytown infrastructure, dangerously narrow, and a waste of money.

It also looks like they’re planning for full-height vertical kerbs, which reduce the usable width of the cycle track by quite a margin. It sounds like a silly little detail, but it’s really not. Kerbs need to be suitable for safe cycling, and the standard UK road kerb isn’t good enough.

Toucan play at this game

Also worrying is the number of toucan crossings (combined cycling-and-walking crossings). They’re nearly always fiddly for bike users and confusing or unnerving for those walking. If we must sometimes put the two modes together, parallel cycling/walking crossings are legal, so why can’t we use those?

I’m not sure about their concept for when a cycle track meets a pedestrian crossing either. What happens if people are waiting at the crossing? Do bike users have to wait until the crossing is clear, or are they expected to swerve onto the footpath? Are people on foot expected to press the button then take a few steps back?

The Netherlands has solved these problems, we need to copy their designs rather than waste time and money with rubbish like this:

Leeds City Council's plans for when a cycle track passes a pedestrian crossing. A recipe for confusion.

A recipe for confusion, not fair on people riding bikes or walking.

Here’s one in action, near Leeds train station:

A photo of a cycle track which runs beside a pedestrian crossing. The cycle track gives way then disappears, only to re-appear after the pedestrian waiting area

Something is wrong here.

Well I say “in action” but this design only really works because so few people cycle in Leeds that the chances of a pedestrian meeting a person on a bike here are infinitesimally slim.

(Incidentally, the cycle tracks near the station are of a pretty high quality for the UK. It’s just a shame that they’re so very short and of limited use. Added July 2014: I say they’re good “for the UK” which is faint praise – they still have some severe flaws, as described in this Reddit conversation.)

Dutch-style junctions? We’ve heard of ’em

They seem to be having terrible trouble getting junctions right. Whoever drew these plans really needs to visit the Netherlands, as all the situations have been solved already. The current plans involve a mixture of ASLs, painted cycle lanes and toucan crossings, which simply isn’t good enough.

Again, the Dutch have existing, working solutions for all of these junctions. Why not copy them?

Detail from Leeds council's plans for the roundabout at Barwick Road and the Ring Road, where bike users are expected to use a two-stage pedestrian crossing with a pig-pen island.

I’ll be honest: this doesn’t scream “convenient” to me. (See it on Google Maps)

Do you think there might be a better solution here? Even though Dutch-style roundabouts are still undergoing trials, why not provide a single-stage straight-through crossing?

Note to traffic engineers: IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO DO A 90º-TURN ON A BIKE.

Here’s another junction:

One of Leeds City Council's junction designs, a confusing mess of paint and toucan crossings.

“We didn’t know what to do here. Will this do?” (See it on Google Maps)

I like the phrase “on and off road facilities to be provided” which is traffic planner code for “this looks hard, and we didn’t know what to do, so we’ll put ‘confident cyclists’ on the road, and everyone else will just go on the path.”

I know this junction well, and I can tell you that the proposed design is a mess. They really need to go back to the drawing board on this one. It’s really not that complicated (it was a roundabout until about ten years ago) but they’ll need to put in some cycle-specific signals to fix it. Dare they make the cars wait?

And a final junction:

A junction on York Road in Leeds, where the cycle paths turn into on-road cycle lanes

Nice cycle paths, shame about the junction. Also note lack of any facility for turning right, other than cycling across multiple lanes of motor traffic. (See it on Google Maps)

This junction really isn’t that complicated, there’s no excuse for giving up on the cycle paths and putting in painted lanes instead. They may as well do nothing and cross their fingers. Junctions are where good cycle path design is needed most!

Oh Bradford, where art thou?

I must reserve my ire for Bradford though, as they’re letting the whole thing down. Their side of the scheme looks largely to be business as usual, with long stretches of “on-carriageway cycling”. If you’re lucky, there will be a painted cycle lane.

The section below is on Leeds Old Road, which is a wide road with a painted central strip. There is plenty of space for a proper cycle track. Bradford aren’t even trying.

A section of Bradford council's "cycling ambition" plans, which provides nothing for cycling whatsoever.

Thanks for nothing, Bradford. (See it on Google Streetview)

They’re even suggesting “cycle on carriageway” at the enormous multi-lane Thornbury Gyratory, which is ridiculous and shows that they really don’t care about cycling.

The enormous Thornbury Gyratory in Bradford, where the council thinks there's no room for cycle paths.

This junction is HUGE, and all they’re suggesting is cycle lanes? Look at it on Google Maps. LOOK AT IT NOW.

Maybe Bradford is secretly hoping to become the new Motorway City of the Seventies.

In conclusion: possibly

Overall though, the scheme is a huge leap forward, and a world away from the usual cycle provision of bus lanes, blue signs and apathy (well, the Leeds side is, anyway – Bradford really needs to get with the programme). It’s physically a huge scheme too, crossing right from one end of the city to the other.

This is no complete solution, however. It’s still nowhere near the dense network of cycle paths and nearly-traffic-free streets which are required for mass cycling, and there are many details which need to be fixed.

But there are very many good points also, and the general concept is the right one – provide safe, protected space for cycling, away from motor vehicles.

With some alterations (fix the junctions, widen the tracks) then maybe – just maybe – Leeds can finally begin to leave the 1970s behind and one day become a 21st century European city.

 


 

Manchester is also up to something which is good but could be better. Two schemes, in fact – this one in the city centre and this one on Oxford Road. You can take a look and tell the council how to do it right – even if you don’t live there you can respond.

 

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Bike paths along main roads are key

I’ve discovered a great new tool on Google Maps which shows the required cycle network in any city, town or village across the country!

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open Google Maps
  2. Search for your location in the box at the top
  3. Et voilà! Your cycling network map is displayed clearly.

Here’s a bike network map for central London (I’ve removed the labels so you can see the roads more clearly):

A standard road map of London (with the labels removed)

It’s the vehicular cycling network of today, and the all-citizen cycling network of tomorrow!

Here’s how it works:

  • The green and orange roads are main routes which need good quality separated (aka segregated) cycle tracks. These roads are too busy to mix bikes with motor vehicles, especially the green ones. (Note: Since writing this, Google have changed the way they colour the roads, making the green roads yellow, the orange ones white, and the white ones off-white, so it’s not as easy to spot main routes any more. Bah!)
  • Most of the yellow roads require separated cycle tracks, but some of them can be made one-way or be blocked from being used as a through-route by motor traffic, in order to reduce the usefulness of them and therefore reduce the amount of motor vehicles on them.
  • The thin dark lines (or white roads if you zoom in) will all be either one-way streets or filtered to make them useless as through-routes and therefore vastly reduce the amount of motor vehicles on them, and the speed limit will be 20mph or lower, so cycle paths won’t usually be required on them.

Simple, eh? How great of Google to provide us with such a tool!

I’m joking, of course, but the point I’m making is a serious one. There are many advocates for alternative routes for cycling, but the important routes are already there: they’re the main roads, the big ones which go directly from one place to another, which people are already familiar with.

So I’m not entirely convinced about the “quietways” aspect of the Mayor of London’s “Vision”  (I’m not the only one) and nor am I convinced that Hackney has cracked it for cycling.

Of course, I genuinely applaud Hackney council for the filtered-permeability measures, 20mph zones, parking restrictions and removal, and the few cycle paths which they have installed (though I doubt I’d be heard above the sound of Hackney applauding themselves) but their main roads still leave much to be desired and are generally horrible.

While 20mph zones and low-traffic streets are good in themselves (indeed, they’re an important component of a “liveable” city), on their own these measures will not enable mass cycling.

With these cheap and easy options, Hackney is going after the “low-hanging fruit” (i.e. the people who are already eager to use a bike) who will put up with inconveniences such as back-street routes. To grow the cycling rate (and demographic range) will be much more difficult – do they want children riding bikes to school, or pensioners riding bikes to the shops? Do they want people with disabilities – such as wheelchair or motorised scooter users – to be included in this transport revolution?

The problem with the “quietways-only” method favoured by Hackney is that you can’t ride very far without coming up against a large, busy road.

Let’s imagine that every single minor road and street in London had been properly traffic-calmed to a level where everybody felt safe riding a bike on them, but the busy main roads were still places full of heavy traffic where bicycles and motor vehicles were expected to mix. The “safe cycling” map of London might look like this (black lines only):

A map of central London with the main roads removed.

Hmm, these quietways are rather restrictive and disjointed. (Note that the black lines include walking-only routes, so it would be even worse than this. If only Hyde Park was that cycle-friendly!)

Not much use, is it? All the useful, direct routes with the places you want to go are out of reach. The streets which are inviting for cycling don’t go anywhere useful, and each neighbourhood is disconnected from the next by a main road. Even if the main roads could be crossed without actually cycling along them, it’s not a good transport system because the small streets are difficult to navigate.

This is what cycling through Hackney feels like to me. There are some fine streets, but you’ll frequently come up against horrible motor vehicle-dominated thoroughfares. It’s not a network, it’s a patchwork.

Main roads are the main roads for many reasons: They are the direct routes from A to B. They have the shops, the pubs, the dentists, etc., which people want to visit. They offer social safety, in that they’re well-lit, visible and busy.

Similarly, the back streets are quiet for a reason. They’re not direct routes to anywhere. They’re mainly residential, with few locations people wish to visit. Late at night they can be largely deserted, which leads to people fearing to use them.

A photograph of a dark, empty, spooky street

“This quietway might be a little too quiet…” (Photo: Sereno Casastorta)

Why should people be relegated to fiddly routes through small streets just because they’ve chosen to ride a bike, while people driving cars have the most convenient, easy and direct routes?

Furthermore, if we really are planning for huge increases in cycling, why should these quiet residential streets be over-run with people on bikes? Can they really become a safe place for children to play if they’re also rat-runs for thousands of bike users who have no more connection with the area than a taxi cutting through from one station to another?

As far as I can see, cycle paths along main roads is the headline. Filtered permeability and 20mph zones are great, but they’re just the support act. Without dedicated bike paths on the main roads these streets are nice but disjointed fragments which will do little to encourage more cycling.

Most of the major roads in London could easily support decent cycle paths, and I suspect that’s true for much of the UK also. (Certainly, it is the case in Leeds.) It may be a politically difficult step to take, but it’s a necessary one if cycling is to become a serious transport choice for everyone.

 


If you’re wondering how I made the custom maps, I used this.

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The road to Hell is paved with ASLs

Whether you call them Advanced Stop Lines and Advanced Stop Zones or prefer the more casual-sounding ‘bike box’, they all amount to the same thing: a piece of crap.

I believe that the real reason for their existence is not to make cycling safe, as you might think, but rather to get cycling campaigners to shut up. Neither of these goals has been achieved, of course.

ASLs make sense in that perfect, ideal world where the Highway Code is set. There, humans can all be trained and/or forced to behave perfectly at all times – a bit like North Korea, or Stepford.

Image from the UK government's Highway Code, showing ideal use of a bike zone at a traffic light junction. So perfect!

The Highway Code’s idealised version of the UK. There are more people on bikes in this image than there are in the whole of West Yorkshire.

But here in the real world, inhabited by imperfect and fallible human beings, people on bikes still get killed when the traffic lights change, and an ASL does nothing to help a bike user who arrives while the traffic is already flowing. They’re often ignored by drivers too, the police don’t enforce them. Unfortunately, all this means that ASLs have become another endless battle in the War On The Roads™ and some cycling activists spend a large amount of time trying to convince drivers – and the authorities – to respect them.

It does annoy me when I see drivers pull up across the ASL. Of course, I have no problem if, say, an ambulance causes the flow of traffic to stop and the lights change to red leaving a car stranded there. But so many people drive up to a red light and over the first white line right into the bike area. Some drivers even drive across both white lines and into the pedestrian crossing or junction beyond!

I’d argue that if you’re unable to bring your vehicle to a halt before reaching a clearly marked position on the road, you really shouldn’t be operating such a machine at all.

A van is stopped at a red light, completely within the 'Advance Stopping Zone' for bike users.

This van has very neatly stopped within the ASZ, note the centimetre-accurate alignment. Maybe the driver mistook it for a parking space?

ASLs are not good infrastructure

But for all that, I don’t really care. I’ve been asked to sign petitions to get the police to enforce the rules. (Which would be nice for a change.) But really, I won’t waste my time polishing a turd, and neither should you.

Improving ASLs is not what cycling campaigners should be spending their time on. It would be like, say, environmental campaigners asking Shell and Esso to use a nicer font in a lovely shade of green. Or perhaps it’s more like a slave asking for the chains that bind them to be chrome-plated.

What I’m saying is that the ASL is a pretend friend to a bike rider. They’re there as a kludge, a poor compromise between total motor dominance and calls for cycling infrastructure. They’re rubbish. Yes, I know that drivers should stay out of them, and everybody should follow the rules, but it’s a distraction from the bigger picture. The whole argument is worthless.

Nobody is waiting for ASLs to be enforced before they take up cycling. Nobody is saying “if only there were more areas at traffic lights where I could sit in front of growling motor vehicles, I’d take up riding tomorrow!” In fact, I reckon the idea of sitting on a bike in front of a large motorised vehicle is one of the key points which prevents more people from using a bike for transport.

Two people on bikes wait in the ASZ at a red traffic light. Immediately behind them are buses and cars.

A rare instance of an ASZ relatively free of motor vehicles. Does this attract people to cycling? “Ooh, lovely, a painted area which allows us to position ourselves in front of heavy vehicles! Let’s do this every day!”

Don’t waste your time campaigning for this rubbish to be enforced or improved. Don’t ask for nicer chains, demand their removal!

There are very few places where an ASL is appropriate, yet the UK is covered in the damned things. There are already tried-and-tested solutions for junctions which don’t involve mixing up motor traffic with bikes – or mixing bikes with pedestrians, as is the current fashion in the UK. Pedestrianise London has a good article covering the right way to do these things so I won’t write about them here.

Sure, they have a few ASLs in Cycling Heaven – ahem! – I mean, the Netherlands. But they’re not common, and are considered an old-fashioned design. Any infrastructure geeks going visiting the Netherlands will find themselves pointing at them excitedly – “Ooh! There’s an ASL, just like at home!”

When the Cycling Revolution™ comes, ASLs will be the first against the wall

The worst thing about ASLs is that they’re designed for very low levels of cycling. Sure, one or two bikes are fine. Maybe even five or six. But what happens if twenty people were to arrive on bikes? What about fifty? Where are they all meant to go?

A birds' eye photo of a UK road junction with an ASL. All vehicles are positioned perfectly, no motor vehicles have entered the ASZ. But the ASZ can only hold around ten bikes, and there are twenty in shot, overflowing up the left-hand side of motor vehicles waiting.

Is the UK ready for the Cycling Revolution® or are we designing roads for cycling shares of, ooh, say, about 2%?

The photo above shows pretty much an ideal situation for a junction with an ASL. There’s a wide cycle lane and no motor vehicles have encroached beyond the stop line. But the ASZ is already filled with about ten bikes and is overflowing into the cycle lane, where another ten people on bikes are waiting in the van’s blind spot. The ASL does nothing for these people.

Why are we designing infrastructure which cannot handle more than a dozen people on bikes? The design is so weak, it’s proof positive that the government has low cycling targets, because the infrastructure they’re putting in simply can’t handle more than a very small number of people on bikes.

But imagine if the orange van was a lorry – should all bikes wait behind it? What if the ASZ looks clear and the lights change while passing the lorry? What’s the goal of this infrastructure? Suddenly it’s all rather confusing.

Or even take a look at the Highway Code’s idealised image of how an ASL works at the top of this post. Note that even in their perfect world’s green-ticked scenario, there’s a bike on the left-hand side of the left-turning car. Even if that bike moves to the front of the ASZ, what happens when a fourth or a fifth bike arrives? The system just can’t cope with more than a few bikes.

How large would the ASL have to be to cope with the doubling of cycling which London is expecting?

An altered photograph showing a junction with an extremely long (20m or so) ASZ, to demonstrate why ASLs aren't compatible with large numbers of people cycling.

Mmm, roomy.

So that’s why I don’t like ASLs, and that’s why I want rid of them.


 

If you’re not convinced by my arguments, feel free to try one of these other esteemed bloggers: the Davids Hembrow, Arditti or Brennan, and also Paul James, Freewheeler or Londonneur.

 

Update: And there’s more, from NI Greenways, Cyclegaz and WillCycle. Thanks to Stripymoggie, Mark Skrzypczyk and WilliamNB in the comments below for these links.

 

Also, I just noticed this comment which I made on David Hembrow’s blog in May 2012, making the same point. I must have been mulling this over in my mind for quite some time!

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How to suppress bike riding #2: Bus stops (and also, the solution)

I wrote much of this post ages ago, but never got around to finishing it. Events have somewhat overtaken me in the meantime, with TfL announcing plans to implement this very solution! (Update, ten months later: Sadly, they botched it.)

This type of design have also been recently covered at As Easy As Riding A Bike, and David Hembrow has previously discussed this Dutch bike-friendly bus stop design too. I recommend following those two links to see excellent Dutch designs.

If you require physical, concrete proof that the authorities don’t care about cycling, take a look at a bus stop. The design will almost certainly give priority to private motor vehicles, with public transport a poor second and bikes a very distant third.

Consider this fairly standard bus stop design (although it’s lacking the yellow ‘bus stop box’ markings).

What will happen when the bus pulls in?

A bus about to pull into and therefore block the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely

A bus about to block the bike lane so that cars can pass freely. (Source: Google Maps)

The bus pulls in and blocks the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely.

A photo of a bus pulled into a bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane but keeps general traffic lane clear.

The bus has pulled in to the bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane, enabling those very important cars to pass freely.

Any bike riders must wait behind…

A photo of a bus from behind. The bus is stopped on the road, blocking the cycle lane but keeping the motor traffic flowing.

Come on children, take the lane! Do it for the Cycling Revolution™!

…or pull out to pass the bus. (Note to any VC evangelists reading this: NORMAL PEOPLE FIND THIS TERRIFYING AND WON’T DO IT, HOWEVER MUCH YOU TELL THEM IT’S SAFE.)

A photo of bus blocking a cycle lane, and a bike rider overtaking the bus which is about to pull out.

People riding bikes must either wait behind the bus, or pull out to overtake it. (Overtaking a bus while riding a bike is something most people don’t ever want to do.)

This is the contempt with which the UK authorities see cycling — and buses are given second-rate status too. For not only do people riding bikes have to pull out to pass the bus (a terrifying place to be for most people) but when the bus is ready to set off it has to wait until there is a gap in traffic before it can pull out itself!

There, in one pithy design, is proof that the private car comes above all else. And it’s the standard design for bus stops in the UK, and it’s one reason why ‘normal’ people don’t ride bikes for transport. The constant leapfrogging between bikes and buses is a terrible way to organise traffic flow.

Go Dutch, go behind the bus stop

Returning back to the top photo, here’s a better alternative:

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are being suggested by TfL. The bus stops in the carriageway next to a 'bus stop island' allowing bike users to continue without having to overtake the bus.

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are now being suggested by TfL.

This design enables people riding bikes to pass buses without having to ride around the outside of the bus in the flow of traffic. (Remember, dear Cyclists: normal people aren’t willing to do that. Like the woman calmly riding while drinking a coffee there.)

Note the shallow, angled kerbs. I’m a big fan of these. If you’re using a wheelchair or pushing a pram, they’re easier to roll across. If you’re riding a bike, running into them will cause you no harm. They’re often called ‘forgiving kerbs’ (and known as ‘splay kerbs’ to those in the trade) and they’re a tiny change which makes a big difference. (One of the major flaws of the Torrington cyclepath in central London is the high, straight kerbs which mean that you must ride well away from the edge. Making these into shallow, 45º kerbs would enable the full width of the path to be used… but that’s another post!)

But that’s just version one. The bus stop island is too narrow for my liking, but because we’ve moved the bus stop and ticket machine onto the island there’s now space on the pavement available to move the cyclepath across, so we can make the bus island wider:

A version of the previous 'bus stop island' design with a wider bus island

Plenty of space for people to get on and off the bus

There’s no loss of space to pedestrians, as the cyclepath would run over where the bus stop is currently located (i.e. you can’t walk there anyway due to the bus stop, ticket machine and bin). In fact, add the footpath and the bus stop island together and there’s actually more space for people on foot because the part of the road which was previously covered in stripes of paint is now the bus island!

TfL sees the light

I never thought I would praise TfL, but that is what we must do, for they have finally seen the light and realised that nearly everyone doesn’t like riding bikes amongst motor traffic. (Seems fairly obvious to me, but there you go.) Congratulations to whoever got this new design through!

More specifically to this article, they’ve realised that people don’t like overtaking buses while riding a bike. (Except for these selfish bastards, of course, but they’re extreme sports fanatics and adrenaline junkies, so we really shouldn’t base transport policy on their desires any more than we should design roads for boy racers.)

So it’s great that TfL are now planning this kind of design for the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, and it’s the kind of thing which is normal in the Netherlands, and it works very well. Once you’re already dealing with a separate cyclepath it makes sense to put the bus stops on islands between the cyclepath and the road.

Here’s TfL’s artist’s impression of a bus bypass:

TfL's artist's impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass

TfL’s artist’s impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass. Note their fast Cyclist, no doubt about to collide with those innocent pedestrians.

It’s good but not quite right for me. Note the 90º kerbs and typical London Cyclist (capital-C intentional) complete with helmet, dropped handlebars, lurid jacket and probably gritted teeth (though he’s facing away so we can’t see that). (The Cyclist looks a bit too big to me too, but never mind.)

Here’s my slightly modified version:

My amended version of TfL's design featuring forgiving kerbs and female casual bike user!

My amended version of TfL’s design. I also changed the cyclist to a lovely middle-aged woman who isn’t going to run anyone over. “Please, go ahead.” “No, after you!” “Why, thank-you!” “You’re welcome. Have a nice day!” Etc. etc.

Nicer kerbs for starters – really, these are essential in any modern cyclepath design. I’ve also got rid of TfL’s Cyclist and replaced him with a middle-aged female who is merely using a bike for transport. (She doesn’t know anything about bikes, nor has she ever watched the Tour de France. She’s just going down the pub.)

I’m still not keen with how the cyclepath crosses the footpath – who has priority here? For me, this could be clearer.

If pedestrians have priority then can’t we add zebra-stripes to the cyclepath, or at least a ‘pedestrian’ icon on the surface? If bike users have priority then the surface should remain blue throughout the crossing area, which will make it clear to pedestrians that they’re crossing a cyclepath. (Also, maybe the footpath should lower to the cyclepath level rather than the cyclepath rising to footpath level as in the images above.)

While you’re here…

While I’m on the subject, here’s what the Cycle Superhighway looks like at the southern end of Southwark Bridge in London:

The bike lane at the end of Southwark Bridge in London stops suddenly and turns into a bus stop. Bikes are meant to pull out into the road to overtake.

TfL’s current solution: pull out into the stream of cars and vans to overtake the buses! (Photo: Alan Perryman)

That’s really dreadful, isn’t it? Expecting people to pull out into a lane of traffic which will be overtaking the bus? And we wonder why cycling is dominated by fit young men! (And I’m not going to talk about the awful pinch point in the distance there…)

So what would be better? Something like this:

A redesigned Southwark Bridge, where the bike-path continues and the bus stop is on an island between the bike-path and the road.

A better way to handle buses and bikes at Southwark Bridge.

The bikepath runs along where the bus shelter was, and the bus shelter has been moved to where the bus stopping area was. The bus stop markings are now in the main carriageway, which means – shock, horror – that cars have to wait behind stopped buses while people on bikes can ride past.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about bus stops for now.


 

If you like the sound of this you should respond to TfL’s consultation telling them how much you love this design.

 

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History continues to repeat itself

In a recent post I pondered on the fact that cycling campaigners were saying the same stuff in 1978 that they’re still saying today. I find it quite depressing that cycle campaigners seem to be running around in circles, although that article did generate some very interesting comments from people who were there 30 years ago, discussing how they’d do things differently if they had their time again.

The focus of that post was newsletters published by Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaign. If their response to Edinburgh’s “Quality Bike Corridor” is anything to go by then they don’t seem to have learned anything at all:

“While Spokes very much welcomes the new corridor, we would have liked stronger measures, including further restrictions on parking in cycle lanes, trial of segregated sections where possible and resurfacing of the worn-out red lanes on The Mound.”

I actually feel a little bit sick reading that sycophantic, snivelling quote, with its ultra-mild criticism, as if they’re meekly asking “please sir, can I have some more?”

Let’s get one thing straight: the “Quality Bike Corridor” is shit. It really is absolute shit. (I know I have a reputation for swearing after writing that article, but I really only use it when necessary; this is one of those moments.)

Let’s have a look at this great new infrastructure:

(Video by Dave McCraw – also, see his updated video here.)

Remember, you have just watched footage of what Spokes “very much welcomes” as “progress towards achieving the aim of making Edinburgh a truly cycle friendly city”.

Their criticism is so very mild it’s almost non-existent. Their most daring request is for a “trial of segregated sections where possible.” Even here you’ll notice they’ve handed the council a get-out-of-jail-free card with the words “where possible”, which will come back to haunt us as “segregated cycle paths just aren’t possible here”.

Is this really what Spokes were hoping for when they started in 1977? Is this the result of 35 years campaign work?

I know that Spokes isn’t responsible for the actions of Edinburgh Council, but why do they “welcome” such crap infrastructure? Are cycle campaigners so starved of success that they’re willing to accept any crumbs that fall from the traffic planner’s table?

Well — like David Arditti — I don’t welcome it. Many local cyclists don’t welcome it, the great Kim Harding doesn’t welcome it, and the Lothian Cycling Campaign certainly shouldn’t be welcoming it. (Those who drive or walk along its length probably won’t even notice it.)

Instead of welcoming this sort of crap, they should be condemning it. They should be telling the local news that they asked for a protected cycle route that children and the elderly would be safe using, but that Edinburgh council went for the easy, dangerous, unappealing option instead. They should be saying that Edinburgh’s target of 10% cycling rate by 2020 will be missed by a mile if this is the sort of thing they’re installing. They should be telling the council that they reject this route completely, instead of slapping each other on the back and considering it a job well done.

It’s not just Spokes who think this sort of thing is great, either – according to the Times, the CTC “praised” it, albeit with the same quibbles about enforcement of car parking restrictions and so on.

Transport Minister Keith Brown says that “Edinburgh already has an admirable reputation on cycling” although when I visited in May 2012 I found it to be no better than any other UK city which has been following Whitehall’s guidelines for decades. It was the usual crap, multiple lanes for cars, narrow paths for pedestrians, and little or nothing for bikes. (While we’re on the subject, Edinburgh isn’t even a particularly pleasant city to walk around, thanks to years of car-centric planning. It should be one of the best cities in the world to visit, but it’s badly let down by its transport planners. I won’t even mention the trams…)

Edinburgh councillor Leslie Hinds, Transport Convenor, said that the “Quality Bike Corridor” will help to make “cycling as safe and appealing as we can to commuters and cyclists of all ages” and will “encourage even more people to take to two wheels.”

If this is how people view the kind of infrastructure shown in the video, then we might as well all give up now. Seriously. Forget the target of 10% by 2020, it’s not going to happen if this is your idea of “safe and appealing” cycling. Spokes might as well disband if this rubbish is something they “very much welcome”.

This so-called “Quality Bike Corridor” is not an example of the government supporting cycling or finally taking it seriously as a transport option. This is yet another example of the government paying lip-service to utility cycling, along with – and this is the saddest bit – yet another example of cycle campaigners lapping up the crumbs from the floor.

 


 

Footnote:

I expect that Spokes do all kinds of wonderful stuff that I’m not even aware of. I’m sure they’re dedicated and working on the front line. What have I ever done? I sit here writing this stuff, I’m not out there on the street, etc.

But I couldn’t let this lie. The congratulatory tone grated on me when compared to Dave McCraw’s video and Kim Harding’s photos. As long as cycle campaigners continue to accept crap and say ‘thank you’ as if everything is fine, all we’ll ever be given is yet more crap.



 

Another footnote, added on 20th November 2012:

Sigh.

So Edinburgh’s goal is 10% modal share for cycling by 2020.

Well funnily enough, in 2001, Edinburgh’s goal was 10% modal share for cycling… by 2010.

Which didn’t happen.

Is there an echo in here?

(Source: here, via here.)

 

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