CityConnect: You’ll get what you’re given

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

One thing that this debacle has highlighted is the urgent need for the Department for Transport to set national standards for cycling infrastructure. Not guidelines, or recommendations, but actual standards that must be followed.

Clearly, having local councils make it up as they go along just doesn’t work. There’s a reason why all the road markings and signs and layouts are familiar all across the country: It’s because standards have been set by central government, which must be followed by the various authorities that have responsibility for the roads.

And highways engineers love standards, it gives them something consistent to work from, some reliable measures to stick to, something to back them up if something goes wrong.

So until the DfT create good standards for cycling infrastructure, we will continue to get crap designs.

I’ve also been reminded to be wary of hyperbole. It’s usually an attempt to cover up something undesirable. Like those one-party dictatorships with the word “democratic” in their name, the “cycle superhighway” is anything but super. The results we are seeing are so far from the glossy vision that was promised just a year ago (PDF).

Another thing we’ve learned is not to trust local authorities, especially ones who hate cycling as much as Leeds and Bradford clearly do. I’ve been told by many people that Leeds City Council insisted that the “cycle superhighway” must not reduce motor capacity at all. That doesn’t sound like a council that wants to create cycling conditions for everyone.

The finished junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue came as a surprise to the many cycle campaigners who had spent hundreds of hours with the representatives of Leeds and Bradford councils, discussing the plans. I think they expected the junction to be fixed, as I hoped it would be.

Unfortunately, we have all been misled by people seemingly more interested in PR than creating a quality cycleway. (With the exception of commenter ‘severs1966′ who never believed a word they said in the first place.)

On Friday evening, CityConnect released a statement (PDF here) about the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue. It contains many points which I would like to address, some of which have been raised already in the comments on CityConnect’s Facebook post and on Twitter – I’m very grateful to those people who are asking questions and making points. I would be far less informed without you, and I doff my cap to you here.

So let’s have a look at CityConnect’s mealy-mouthed excuses in order.

“There’s not enough space.”

Apparently there is no room for a better design “due to highway boundary constraints” which is utter bullshit. There’s tons of space here. You can bet your life that if another lane on the gyratory was felt necessary, suddenly the grass verge would not be so sacrosanct.

Or, as this cycleway is so important – remember, it’s a “superhighway” – and it needs more space, why can’t a lane be taken out of the main road, taken for use as part of this project?

The sad truth is that cycling is still a second-class citizen here. It’s clearly being squeezed in at the edges, where it won’t interfere with motor traffic. People using this “superhighway” will find themselves doing a lot of apologising as they mingle with people walking in “shared use” areas, looking over their shoulders at dangerous junctions, and waiting at toucan crossings while people in motor vehicles glide by without delay.

“We’ve copied designs from that London!”

Unfortunately for CityConnect, their attempt to find legitimacy by quoting the London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS) has rather backfired.

The design quoted is from the old 2005 edition, and the new 2014 edition actually recommends against installing this type of junction (chapter 5, page 25).

For two-way tracks crossing two-way side roads, ‘bending-out’ by 5 metres is the recommended option. Where island separation is wide, this can be achieved with little or no deviation of the cycle track. Continuing a two-way track through a priority junction without deviation is possible, but brings with it various risks, related to the visibility of cyclists to turning motorised traffic. It is not recommended unless traffic speeds and volumes are very low and other measures can be put in place to enhance visibility of cyclists – even then, it should be subject to a sitespecific risk assessment. Closing side streets to motorised traffic is likely to be the only reliable way of dealing with these risks.

Excerpt from the 2014 LCDS.

But even if the 2014 edition did recommend this design, it wouldn’t matter – the LCDS isn’t an infallible document, handed down by some cycling deity. This would still be a crap junction. Quoting crap guidance wouldn’t make it any good.

“Those poor drivers, having to drive a little further”

I don’t get this. People love their cars. They keep them shiny and talk about how comfy they are and how great it is that they can listen to whatever they want. But ask them to spend another minute or two in this luxury cocoon, and suddenly they’re outraged! The fear of the angry resident is strong at CityConnect, as it seems they won’t even consider proposing such an imposition here.

The statement says that making Grange Avenue one-way “would have meant residents having a long detour via Thornbury Barracks Roundabout which was not considered appropriate.”

Now you’ll have to ignore Google Maps, as the current layout on there is incorrect, I believe, because Thornbury Barracks Roundabout has recently received a £3.4m make-over (yes, the entire 23km “superhighway” costs only 5x the price of making it easier for people to drive past just one roundabout).

Making Grange Avenue one-way would mean those residents who drive into the centre of Bradford would have an entire two-minutes added to their journey home! This is unacceptable, and installing a deadly junction design is the only solution. Anyone who dies will be either on foot or on a bike, and therefore don’t count as important human beings like people in cars do.

“It’s been audited for safety”

Let’s see it then. Where is this safety audit? Who wrote it? Do they have experience with cycling infrastructure? Did they take account of the many collisions at similar junctions?

(Thanks to RDRF in the comments for reminding me of this post by the Ranty Highwayman explaining what a road safety audit is, and what it isn’t. Essentially, it’s not a matter of passing or failing a road safety audit, and as CityConnect are making it difficult for us to see this audit, their claims of having one are even more meaningless.)

“The design didn’t change”

This one is such utter nonsense, it’s actually a blatant lie.

The exact quote (emphasis mine):

“The construction of this junction has not differed from the original design consulted on in terms of priorities for cyclists. However, we recognise that there is not an obvious highlight on the drawings to show that cyclists do not get priority. Whilst it is appreciated that there were ambiguities on the plans as to the priorities that would be in place for the speed tables located at a junction, there has been no intention to misinform the public or groups that have been part of the consultation process.”

The completed junction clearly differs from the original plans, which not only show the double-dashed ‘give way’ line before the speed table, but also included the green icon to indicate a cycleway priority junction:

The original plans for the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue, which clearly show the cycleway having priority over the side-road

The original plans for the junction show a priority cycleway.

I’ve criticised these plans many times for being vague, but one of the few things that is clear is that the cycleway was to have priority over the side road.

To say that “there is not an obvious highlight to show that cyclists do not get priority” is a lie, as the plans in fact show the exact opposite.

To claim that there are “ambiguities” here – one of the few things the plans were actually clear about – is a lie.

“It was only this one! Oh, and another one.”

Finally, I don’t believe that this would have been only one of two junctions with this crap design, had we not kicked up a stink about it.

There should be no junctions of a known-to-be-dangerous design on a brand-new “cycle superhighway”. Would you feel comfortable flying with an airline which promised that “only 1% of our planes has a potentially fatal defect”?

Note that in CityConnect’s table of junction types on page four of their statement, one section has “cyclists on the carriageway” which doesn’t sound particularly super to me, and another has “design not confirmed” which doesn’t fill me with confidence considering how long this project has been underway (over two years now!).

In conclusion: get stuffed

To summarise: One of the first junctions to be finished on a major project varies massively from the agreed design. Campaigners identified a serious deficiency in it, and have effectively been told to get stuffed, like it or lump it.

That’s not a great start.

 

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That Bradford junction: some suggestions

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

You know, writing about the Leeds-Bradford “Cycle Superhighway” can be really difficult, because the information provided by the people running the scheme is so often poor and inconsistent.

Last year I wrote about being confused by the plans, which were full of mistakes and essentially unreadable. It was impossible to know what was intended due to the lack of detail provided and mistakes in the plans.

And that hasn’t changed, the plans provided are still too vague. So if I’m going to make my points about the now-infamous junction, dear reader, I must first explain some errors in the plans. Here goes…

Some hypothetical junctions, and some green blobs

The information provided by the PR people defines four types of junction, as you can see in the image below. Each type has an icon.

Four types of junction used on the CityConnect project - all of them have priority over side roads.

Note that none of these resemble the finished product. (Original PDF here.)

Even though these icons are meant to simplify things, they’re used so inconsistently that they might as well have not bothered.

Below are the four icons as shown on the plans in question. Note the cycle lane and cycle track icons have been switched, and that there’s a different icon for raised table:

Four icons used to denote four junction types, only one of which matches the previous image.

Only one of these actually matches the image above. Does anyone have any aspirin? (Original PDF here.)


Okay, fine, there are confusing green blobs. Get on with it!

Anyway this is a long and boring way of saying that according to the design, the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue should look like this:

A computer-generated image of a two-way cycleway, which bends away from the junction mouth of the side road it crosses. The design is okay, but not perfect.

And not like this:

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue in Thornbury, Bradford, taken in May 2015. Turning motor vehicles have priority over people walking and cycling.

Though I think we now know where the silly wiggle came from. It seems it’s an amateurish and foolish attempt to shrink down the example junction into the space available.

The example junction in the diagram isn’t actually too bad. There’s a few mistakes (the narrow cycleway, the cycleway curve and ramp are too sharp, the visual priority is poor, there’s no need for the tactiles, there’s no continuous footway) but it’s generally the right idea. There’s actually a British example of this with good visual priority (though no footway) and a not-quite-as-good example here. You can watch a Dutch version in action here.

It’s a good design, because it allows turning cars to deal with crossing the cycleway separately, in two distinct steps. It also gives people on bikes time to react to a turning vehicle if necessary, as they’re not riding right alongside the turning car. It also means that cars being driven out of the side road don’t block the cycleway while they wait for a gap in traffic on the main road.

Lost in space

But there’s clearly no space for that here! Well, there is space – tons of it, as you can see from above:

Satellite image of the junction of Grange Avenue and Dick Lane in Bradford. There's a wide grass verge and large grassed park over the road.

Narrow medieval streets, anyone? (Photo: Google Maps)

A lane could be removed from the gyratory (shock!) or the main road could be moved west to create space for a wider cycleway and proper junction treatment.

But I can hear the excuses already: there’s not enough money in the budget to do that, it would mean moving utilities, we’d have to cut down a tree, it will reduce the almighty motor capacity, and so on.

But if that’s the case, then why did CityConnect specify that type of junction here, where it clearly doesn’t fit within the space given? I suspect that’s the only bi-directional junction they had in their toolbox, so it was simply slapped on here without much thought.

So, let’s see what we can do within the current space.

No more complaining, here’s some suggestions…

Bear in mind, this option is compromised: the cycleway is already far too narrow, and two-way cycleways need to be designed with care to mitigate the additional risks they present at junctions.

A better option would be to make this cycleway one-way, and have the northbound cycleway on the west side of Dick Lane (as suggested by Jitensha Oni on Twitter). There’s certainly enough room between the carriageway and the park wall. I think that would be a better option, as it reduces the number of interactions on the east side.

But whether this happened or not, there are two things that could be done to improve matters:

• Make Grange Avenue (the side road) one-way, therefore becoming ‘no entry’ at this junction, or even removing the junction altogether.
• Give the cycleway and footway visual priority across this junction by using contrasting materials.

I can’t see a reason why Grange Avenue is a two-way through route, as it just connects back to the main road around the corner anyway. I’d suggest simply blocking it off altogether at this junction. Or, if it must remain open for some reason, it could be arranged like this (my suggestion in red):

Amended map of Grange Avenue in Bradford, showing potential one-way restriction

Original map: Google Maps.

If Grange Avenue was made a one-way street then people on foot and bike only have to worry about motor vehicles approaching from one direction. (At the moment, a 270° view is required when cycling southbound!)

More detail, please!

Okay, let’s do our best under the circumstances. It might look like this:

A possible redesign of the junction, which gives clear visual priority to people on foot and bike.

I’ll shout this: THIS IS NOT MY IDEAL DESIGN! THIS IS STILL FLAWED! Please read below…

The footway and cycleway should be surfaced in materials which contrast with the carriageway, to give clear visual priority to the footway and cycleway.

The footway will ideally be a light colour, using light paving slabs (reinforced to handle the weight of motor vehicles, of course) and the cycleway should be surfaced in red asphalt (specifically, machine-laid red 55/10 HRA).

Ideally the entire cycleway should be in red asphalt, but unfortunately black has already been used. So as we’re dealing with a remedial fix here, the surfacing must extend along the footway and carriageway beyond the junction in both directions for several metres in order to provide the visual priority required.

The footway and cycleway need to be at footway height across the junction – i.e. with an ‘upstand’ of around 12.5cm.

To achieve this, as the cycleway approaches the junction, it will need to very gently rise up, over several metres so it’s barely perceptible, until it becomes level with the footway for a few metres before and after the junction.

At the junction, therefore, motor vehicles will need to climb a ramp to mount the crossover area, then descend a ramp into the main carriageway on the other side.

A cycle symbol and an arrow should be painted on the cycleway where it crosses the junction. (Assuming the cycleway is still bi-directional, there will need to be one in each direction.)

Finally, a “STOP” line and sign could be placed before the ramp at the end of Grange Avenue, to reinforce the footway and cycleway priority.

The finished thing might look vaguely like this (use a little imagination):

Junction in the Netherlands with continuous footway and cycleway across junction mouth, giving clear priority to people walking and people riding bikes

I’ve flipped this so it makes more sense to UK eyes. (Photo: Google Maps)

The design is still not ideal, though the main problem now is that the cycleway is far too narrow to be bi-directional – making it one way, would be preferable. But either way we’ve solved the left-hook problem and made priority very clear.

Unfortunately, unless a lane is removed or the road is shifted, there isn’t enough space for a car exiting Grange Avenue to wait beyond the cycleway and footway, which will mean that it would occasionally be blocked by a car waiting for a break in traffic on Dick Lane.

Note that this actually looks a lot like CityConnect’s other design for where a cycleway crosses a junction, albeit much improved.

Now about my fee…

99 bottles of beer on the wall…

The frustrating thing is, this is just one junction out of hundreds, maybe even thousands, on the CityConnect project. How many more have been dangerously designed, or changed without notice?

I’ve been informed about several dodgy bits by concerned people in Leeds, and I’ve spotted many more on the plans that are either vague (just like this one was, pre-installation) or look like they’ll be very fiddly by bike (think multiple toucans and 90º turns).

It’s exhausting looking through all the information around just this one junction, so I do appreciate the scale of the work involved, and the time and effort that local cycle campaigners must have put in when reviewing the plans.

But, in some locations at least, the finished infrastructure is still far from good enough. Perhaps it’s due to the way the project was funded – a limited amount of money that has to be spent on a big scheme within a short time period. So the money was spread too thinly, and the plans were rushed. I don’t think we build motorways like that.

Or maybe it’s due to the lack of interest the local councils seem to have in the scheme now that the £18m cheque has cleared and the Tour de France has left town.

I’ve been told by several sources that people high up in Leeds City Council insisted that the “Cycle Superhighway” must not – under any circumstances – reduce motor vehicle capacity. That, apparently, is a red line that was not to be crossed.

What sort of attitude is that? It may be 2015 where you are, but it’s still 1970 in certain rooms inside Leeds Town Hall.

Under constraints like that, I can see why at least some of the route is turning out to be disappointing, and I do have some sympathy for the people behind the scheme as they try to achieve big plans with so little time, money and support from above.

Not all of it is bad, some sections do look pretty promising, and I’d genuinely love to see photos and videos of the good bits too. But the problems do need fixing – the junction featured here is a real howler. If there hadn’t been an outcry about this one junction, who knows how many times this awful design might have been repeated throughout the route?

As public money is being spent on this project, it’s only fair to scrutinise it in public too. If the conclusion is that central government’s bizarre funding restrictions doomed the project from the start, or that the council is choking bits of it to death, then this should be acknowledged rather than letting the PR department pretend everything is fine. This isn’t a witch-hunt, I just think the public deserves to know what went wrong, and why.


Still to come, one day: the canal towpath of doom, and a huge junction full of toucan crossings.

 

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Leeds-Bradford CityConnect: an update

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

Well yesterday’s blog post, and especially photos courtesy of local resident Lee, have caused quite a stir.

In case you’re new to the topic, here’s a good summary here on road.cc, but the short version is this: part of a brand-new cycleway is dangerous crap, a photo was taken which spread like wildfire, and as a result someone at CityConnect has presumably had a bad day at work.

The project’s mouthpiece has now issued a statement on their Facebook page, which I shall reproduce here in case it is taken down:

“Thanks for all the comments on the junction off Dick Lane, we appreciate the time taken to let us know your views and have got the following response;

The design for this junction has not differed from the design consulted on although we acknowledge that the design drawings for this junction may have been misinterpreted. Safety concerns from the safety Audit Team were one of the factors for the design of this junction.

This junction has been subject to the same sign off process by Advisory Group and Programme Board that all other designs have. Advisory Group includes representatives from Sustrans, CTC and Leeds Cycle Campaign as well as other interested parties. The design for this junction has also been subject to the same public consultation process on and off line.

However, in light of the considerable interest on social media and sections of the press, the design team have been asked to produce a position statement to be reviewed by the Advisory Group to ensure that the final design is the best possible outcome in this location.

If we have been quiet today it is because we have been looking at the issues raised and progressing a solution. The safety of cyclists and the provision of an ambitious piece of infrastructure remains our key priority.

We’ll keep you updated. Thanks”

Unfortunately, the two main claims are untrue.

“The finished junction matches the plans”

I’m not sure whether they’re suggesting that the cycle campaigners misinterpreted the plans, or that the installation team did. Unfortunately, as we’ve never been provided with detailed drawings, I have no idea what plans the installation team received.

If they’re suggesting that the consultees misread the plans, then it takes about 30 seconds to reveal this claim to be nonsense – it’s on their own website. Section A, sheet 4 (PDF).

Here’s the junction in question, as shown on the consultation plans. I’ve removed the parking restriction markings as they’re irrelevant here and just confusing:

Original plans for the junction in question, where the cycleway has priority over the side road

Modern art or engineering plans – or maybe neither?

One problem with the plans provided is that they’re not detailed enough. They’ve been over-simplified, in an apparent attempt to make them appealing to the public. The lack of detail was something I complained about before, but while I asked more than once for detailed plans, I got nowhere.

I assume that proper detailed plans must exist somewhere, as the installation crew surely can’t have worked from this vague doodle.

The plans are frustratingly unclear. For example, if the two parallel lines to the left of the junction mouth represent the incline of the raised table, what happens to the left-hand half of the cycleway? Also, where’s the segregating island to the north of the junction?

So the public plans are a vague mess, but one thing is clear: there is a give-way marking on Grange Avenue before the raised table, and there are no give-way markings on the cycleway. This doesn’t match the now-famous photograph of the finished junction.

This means that the plans were changed – but who made the changes, and why? CityConnect needs to provide the answers.

Also, is it only this junction that has received such a change, or have any others been altered too?

“The design was approved by CTC, Leeds Cycle Campaign and Sustrans”

Now, I’m not known for being kind to CTC – quite the opposite – but I strongly doubt that, in 2014, they would have approved this design. (If nothing else, to have given the thumbs up to such a junction would do more damage to their reputation than Turbogate and the Niceway Code put together.)

My contacts within Leeds Cycle Campaign tell me that they too insisted the cycleway must have priority at side roads, and I see no reason to doubt them. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by accepting such unnecessary compromises.

Sustrans… Well actually, I can believe that Sustrans would approve such a thing, or even design such a junction, given their rather patchy reputation, but again my contacts, who were intimately involved in the consultation process, tell me that in this case the local Sustrans bods did reject designs which gave motor vehicles priority at junctions.

Anyway, the claim that cycling lobby groups approved the finished design (and not the design shown above) sounds to me like rubbish.

So what next?

What next indeed! Well I’m working on a blog post covering what should have happened at this junction, and what could be done to mitigate the current design. Whether any action will be taken is another matter.

Other parts of this project have also come under scrutiny, including the canal tow-path, which I shall be blogging about too (read the comments under the previous article for an overview).

And I also have another question for the CityConnect team: when does your funding run out? For at the moment, it’s very useful to have one point of contact to which we can address these concerns. I’m not always impressed with the answers I get, if any, but at least there’s something.

At some point this year this project will be considered closed. Will the website lapse into decay? Will the Twitter account go silent? Will the Facebook page be removed? Because if that happens, we’ll merely have two silent councils and the only answers will come from painfully slow and obstinate responses to Freedom of Information requests.

 

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Bradford’s new Cycle Super Deathway

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

In July 2014, Henry Lang was killed when riding along a cycleway on Twickenham Road in Richmond, London.

The junction is dangerously designed – turning motor traffic has priority over the cycleway at side roads. The junction is unclear, people on foot and on bike are expected to look left as well as backwards to the right, simultaneously, and so the design is dangerous.

The junction of Twickenham Road and Kew Foot Road, where the separate cycleway, and footway, cedes priority to a minor side road

This design is inconvenient and dangerous. (Photo: Google Maps)

This is exactly the type of design which all cycling campaigners hate, from the hardened road warriors who love mixing with motor vehicles, to those who dream of the stress-free cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands.

Nobody wants cycleways like this. They don’t suit the fit and confident, and they fail the rest of us. They’re crap, and they’re dangerous.

So why is Bradford building brand new inconvenient death-traps like this – with the added complications that come with bi-directional cycleways?

The photos below show freshly finished work, part of the Leeds-Bradford “CityConnect” “Cycle Superhighway” project, at the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue.

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue in Thornbury, Bradford, taken in May 2015.  Turning motor vehicles have priority over people walking and cycling.

This design is proven to be dangerous. This is not acceptable. (Photo courtesy Lee @d0tdash)

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue, taken in May 2015. The new two-way cycleway has to give way to side road traffic, as do people on foot.

Does this look super to you? Or even like a highway? (Photo courtesy Lee @d0tdash)

Shockingly bad design.

It doesn’t even match the published plans, which show the cycleway and footway having priority over the side road. Why were the plans changed, who changed them, and when? These are reasonable questions, can the CityConnect team answer them?

Why does Grange Avenue even need to be a two-way through-route, considering it merely connects back to Leeds Road around the corner?

If the person responsible for this is reading, then please quit your job before you kill someone. Let someone else do it, as you’re clearly incompetent.

Or if your bosses forced you to create this monstrosity, then please contact me anonymously so I can name and shame them before somebody dies. Let us know where the blame lies. This is a waste of public money and a hazard.

The time for this kind of crap is over. It’s 2015, we know that designs like this are dangerous, and we know what works.

I’m pleased to see that Cyclenation and CTC have both criticised it, and it clearly falls well below the CEoGB’s expectations. Leeds Cycling Campaign and Sustrans Yorkshire are also not happy, especially as they were consulted on the design, which has since been silently changed. This junction is exactly the type of thing all campaigners should be opposing.

There is lots of space here to get this right, tons of space (have a look across the road). The two-way cycleway is too narrow, the curve at the junction is too sharp, and there should be clear visual priority for the cycleway and footway.

This is all possible, there’s no physical reason why good design doesn’t happen in Britain. Is it a lack of knowledge? Is it managerial incompetence? Whatever the reason, it needs fixing.

And I’m sure excuses will be made about timescales and budgets, but these are all part of the problem that needs addressing, they’re not a reason to install dangerous designs like this.

This project should be put on hold now, and a thorough appraisal made before it is open for use by the public.

This junction is just one of many problems that I’ve been made aware of in this project. I’m planning a blog post covering some of the others, but there’s only so many hours in the day and this whole scheme seems full of dangerous flaws.

If you know of other poor-quality or dangerous parts of this scheme – or if you know of any particularly good bits that should be commended – then please get in touch.


PS. Of course, there’s the obligatory promotional video, which bears little resemblance to the actual engineering.

 

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More ‘pretend infrastructure’ – Gudvanger Straße, Berlin

There’s a sign which is used on some streets around here, which looks like this:

Share nicely, everybody! (From Wikipedia)

I assumed this means something like “home zone” and it turns out that’s pretty much right.

It marks the start of a “verkehrsberuhigter Bereich” which translates as “traffic-calmed area”. It means:

  • Pedestrians may use full width of the street.
  • Children are allowed to play anywhere.
  • Vehicles must travel at walking pace.
  • Drivers must not hinder or endanger pedestrians. They must wait when necessary.
  • Pedestrians must not unnecessarily hinder drivers.

There are also some parking and loading restrictions, but the headline is: this should be a place for people who aren’t using a vehicle.

But like the last post about Berlin’s pretend infrastructure, this sign is used on motor vehicle through-routes, and as such is entirely useless.

I’ve seen these all over Berlin. I’ve never seen children playing in them, nor have I seen people walking along them. They’ve all been rat-runs.

Here’s the nearest one to where I live. On one side there’s a park, and on the other there’s a school:

Gudvanger Strasse in Berlin. Where the traffic-calmed area is, the road narrows and is raised up.

The authorities clearly saw there was a problem here, as the current situation is an improvement over how it was in 2008. There are lots of bike stands, and the road has been narrowed which must discourage some drivers from using it, as they’ll have to wait for any oncoming traffic to clear, but it’s clearly not good enough:



The traffic calming treatment is so weak I can’t understand it. Why isn’t this section of the road closed entirely, and permanently? There’s no need for it to be a through-route at all, as the roads either side of it are also two-way through routes.

Even the local children can see the problem, as they’ve written messages such as “walking speed”, “playing allowed” and “3 – 7 km/h” on the road, in chalk:

The local kids can see what the engineers can’t.

I find this really sad.

The children are telling us that there’s a problem here, they recognise that there’s a traffic problem – but the city isn’t listening, so the kids are trying their best to solve it the only way they know how.

Then their chalk pleas are worn away by car tyres.

Luckily, some of the local people are listening, and have set up a weekly “play street” event every Tuesday from the 26th of May. Let’s hope it leads to permanent change.

Perhaps they were inspired by what the children of Amsterdam did in 1972?


“You can keep asking, but if the city doesn’t act you have to do things yourself.”

 

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Visual Priority

Today I’d like to discuss something which is often done wrong: priority.

I’m not talking about the legal sense, but the visual sense. We need to change the way we think about minor junctions.

You see, you can have all the laws and paint you want, but if a junction looks like the cars have priority, then drivers will take advantage.

Here’s an example, on Cable Street in London:

A junction on the Cable Street cycleway in London. The cycleway has priority, but everything suggests otherwise: the kerb and yellow lines cut across the cycleway, creating confusion.

This is really poor. (Photo: Google Maps)

Let’s ignore the many, many failings of this poor-quality cycleway (we’d be here all day) and concentrate on how the junction is arranged.

The cycleway has priority here, but so many things suggest otherwise. The kerb-line, for example, curves around and across the cycleway. The yellow lines do the same, creating vagueness in priority.

Note how there’s no kerb running along the edge of the cycleway as it crosses the junction, either – the carriageway is constant, while the cycleway is interrupted. This is a confusing mess.

Considering that many, many more people will walk across this junction than drive across it, it’s crazy that the footway isn’t also continuous.

These conflicting signals are often designed in by whoever draws up these plans. Perhaps the belief is that people will follow the rules like robots, ignoring things like kerb lines and parking restriction markings. But people don’t work like that, and this junction is unclear and dangerous as a result.

Further along the same road, a different junction is much better. Yes, it is still flawed, but the priority is much clearer:

A different junction on Cable Street, this time the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines, and priority is clear.

Note the unbroken surface of the cycleway. (Photo: Google Maps)

Note how the surface of the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines. (This junction would be much better with a continuous footway too.)

Here’s a poor example from Berlin:

A junction in Berlin where bikes have priority, but there's only two broken white lines on the tarmac to suggest so.

Technically, bikes have priority here, but I really wouldn’t trust that paint. The cycleway simply ceases to exist across the junction. (See it on Google Maps)

People cycling along this road have priority at this junction, but does it really look like they do? The asphalt surface of the carriageway is unbroken, the sweeping kerb (designed for fast turns by car) cuts across the cycleway, and the footway and cycleway both drop down to carriageway level.

There’s no inconvenience at all for people in cars. There’s nothing but two fading, broken white lines to suggest to drivers that they should give way. Can those lines even be seen in wet weather? What about when it’s dark?

This isn’t sustainable safety. It’s paying lip service to cycling and walking, and it’s the reason so many cycle campaigners believe cycleways to be dangerous at junctions.

They’re right – badly-designed infrastructure can be dangerous – but that’s not an inherent flaw with cycleways, it’s simply bad design. Well-designed cycleways are proven to be safe.

The junction above could – and should – look like this:

A cycleway and footway continue, unbroken, with clear priority across a minor junction

This is clear. There’s no mistaking who has priority here. (See it on Google Maps)

This is real cycle infrastructure, and real walking infrastructure – genuine, proven to be safe, tried-and-tested design, quite unlike the type of tokenistic rubbish we’re used to getting.

Here, the whole area doesn’t look like a road, it looks like footway, with a cycleway running through it. It’s clear that this isn’t the domain of motor vehicles. Nobody is “on the road” when cycling or walking through here – quite the opposite, it’s motor vehicles that are guests “on the path”.

The whole junction area is raised up to footway level (rather than people on bikes and on foot having to drop down to carriageway level) and motor vehicles must mount a ramp to enter the junction.

This ramp, plus sharp corners, slows cars right down. It also provides better visibility between drivers and those whose path the drivers are crossing – nobody needs to look back over their shoulder. It works in all weather, 24 hours a day.

At the risk of pushing the point too much, here’s another example:

A junction in Berlin where the cycleway has priority. The cycleway continues across the junction with priority, but it is still broken by a sweeping kerb line and change in surface.

Better, but still not right.

This is better than some of the other examples, but still flawed. The kerb line cuts across the cycleway, so the surface is broken. The surface of the cycleway is different as it crosses the junction. The corner radius is too large. The footway should also have priority across the side-road.

Here’s what it looks like from a driver’s point of view:

The junction shown previously, but from the view of a driver exiting the side road.

Not as clear as it could be.

It’s better than the paint-only examples, but the kerb still guides your eye around the corner. It’s good that the surface is different across the junction, but it still looks like the road has priority.

It could be much clearer, like this:

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.

Much clearer.

To a driver leaving the minor road, it’s clear that they do not have priority here, that the road is severed by the footway and cycleway. People driving have to drive up a ramp and over the cycleway and footway in order to pass through this area the main road.

Anyway, I hope I’ve made the point. Failure to make priority clear and obvious is a design flaw which I see all the time, both in Berlin and back in the UK. To create truly inviting conditions for walking and cycling, highways designers must change the way they think about how junctions should look, and make a positive decision to make walking and cycling a clear visual priority.

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These people are not criminals

Footway cycling is such a hot topic in the UK – completely out of proportion to the danger it poses – whereas here in Berlin it seems pretty much accepted.

Maybe it’s because the demographics of who cycles are so different here – a footway cyclist in Berlin is more likely to be an old woman with shopping than the UK’s stereotype “yob in a hoodie.”

It doesn’t help that nobody under the age of 8 is legally permitted to cycle on the road, however quiet that road may be. How the German lawmakers expect parents to cycle with their young children, I don’t know.

Also, like the UK, the authorities sometimes put up a sign permitting cycling on a footway, for no discernible reason. This, like the under-8 rule, accustoms people to cycling on the footway.

I expect the main reason for this rule is that those responsible for designing Germany’s streets don’t have to consider the needs of children. And it shows.

The main roads in Berlin are fast and hostile, while many of the quieter residential streets are surfaced in horrible bumpy cobble stones with huge tyre-swallowing gaps between them. (And this isn’t just historical – these stones are renewed.) And very few streets are filtered, meaning two-way through-traffic uses the back streets as a short cut.

So every time you see someone cycling on the footway, instead of cursing the person on the bike, contact your local representative asking why there is nowhere safe to cycle.

Nobody cycles on the footway because it’s faster, or smoother, or more convenient. It’s not, it’s usually slow and inconvenient and fiddly. People only cycle on the footway when the conditions on the road are too unpleasant.

To stop footway cycling, we have to create the right conditions away from it.

The people in these photos aren’t criminals. They’ve been let down by a criminally negligent government that has failed to provide somewhere safe and attractive to cycle.

A grandmother, mother and child cycle on a footpath in Berlin

Three generations using the footway to avoid cycling on a rough cobbled surface with rat-run drivers.

A father and son cycle on the footway, as the city of Berlin gives them no other safe option.

This road has seven lanes dedicated to motor traffic – four lanes for car parking, two travel lanes for cars, and an access lane for the central car parking. For bikes, there are only badly-designed painted cycle lanes.

A bird's eye view of a street in Berlin, where a late middle-aged couple cycle on the footway, while a lorry uses the carriageway.

The choice for the middle-aged couple in this photograph was to take their chances with a rat-running lorry, or use the footway.

Two children cycle on a footway in Berlin.

Due to Germany’s laws on footway cycling, this may be the only place these children are allowed to cycle.

A woman with a tag-along trailer rides on an extremely wide footway in Berlin. Despite the acres of space available, the road only has white painted lines.

Is this woman and child endangering anyone here? Should she be using the dangerous painted lanes on the road instead? Don’t let anyone tell you Berlin doesn’t have enough space for Dutch-quality infrastructure.

A family cycle on a wide path in Berlin. The road alongside has parked cars and tram tracks.

The alternative to cycling on this wide footway for these families, would be to ride single-file between the tram tracks and parked cars. No wonder they chose to avoid that.

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