Tag Archives: junctions

Football-pitch junctions

We’re really not stuck for space, we’re just bad at slicing it up.

I was looking at a huge junction in London recently and was wondering if you could fit a full-sized football pitch in the space. (After all, it’s a measurement people seem to understand.)

It turns out, you quite often can (or very nearly). I superimposed an aerial shot of a major football team’s pitch onto various road junctions around the UK to see how much space was really available. Then I made them look nice and uploaded them here for your perusal.

If you’re not familiar with the scale here, have a look at these photos to get an idea of just how big this football pitch is.

 

Parliament Square, London, with two football pitches overlaid

Parliament Square, London. I find it amazing that you could fit TWO full-sized football pitches in here!

 

Holborn Circus in London, with a football pitch overlaid to show just how massive the space is.

Holborn Circus, London. A notoriously dangerous junction which is currently undergoing redevelopment (though the redesign looks pretty crap to me).

 

Euston Circus, London, which is as big as a full-sized football pitch

Junction of Euston Road and Tottenham Court Road, London. Still called Euston Circus despite being bulldozed through in the 1960s or 70s, this area is currently subject to road-works where the car will remain king.

 

Aerial photo of Picardy Place, Edinburgh, with a football pitch overlaid to show the size.

Picardy Place, Edinburgh.

 

Tollcross in Edinburgh, big enough for a football pitch.

Tollcross, Edinburgh. A junction which I hate, it’s some sort of 1960s town planner’s dream scheme. Awful to walk across, takes ages waiting at the many arms of this junction. I’ve never cycled there but I can’t imagine it’s much fun.

 

A junction in Leeds, absolutely masses of unused space, very bad walking and cycling conditions.

Kirkstall Road and Willow Road, Leeds. Recently remodelled, this area offers “provision for cyclists to use the new bus lane and enjoy a safer and easier ride“, as if that’s going to get people cycling. Duuuhhh, try again, Leeds City Council!

 

Hyde Park Corner in London is bigger than THREE full-sized football pitches!

Hyde Park Corner, London. I know the island takes up much of this, but the fact that you can easily fit THREE full-sized football pitches in the area tells us that there’s literally room for improvement here.

 

And a new, late addition:

The junction of Leith Walk and London Road in Edinburgh, into which a full-sized football pitch can almost fit.

Currently the subject of fierce debate, the southern end of Leith Walk in Edinburgh.

 

Do you have any more suggestions of wide roads and junctions to try this on? Let me know in the comments and I might do a follow-up.

All satellite images from Google Maps.

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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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Continuous paths across minor junctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A UK attempt at a similar concept.

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

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

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

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


Update, 22nd of August 2012

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

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


*Update, 25th August 2012

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

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