Bedford’s turbo roundabout plans get even worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a key aspect of the design has been removed, so the funding must surely be withdrawn.

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


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45 responses to “Bedford’s turbo roundabout plans get even worse

  1. If I was being uncharitable I’d suggest the motorbike objections amounted to “wah, we wouldn’t be able to give it full beans through the roundabout”.

    I’m quite happy to be uncharitable.

  2. TomP

    I think the objection from motorcycling groups was that the planned lane dividers didn’t *really* do anything to prevent larger vehicles from crossing them (a speeding car would bounce over them quite easily with a bit of a bump, or a lorry would cross them and hardly notice). Meanwhile, clipping them on a motorbike would be fairly catastrophic (which surely would be a danger for cyclists who find they need to escape from an errant car and is something Sustrans and all the other groups should have raised).

    • Ah, that does make more sense then.

      The supporting documents point out that lorries can drive over the dividers as a good thing (they wouldn’t get through otherwise).

      • TomP

        I think it’s all part of how badly the principle of the turbo roundabout has been applied in this case (see David Hembrow’s blog for a better explanation). Basically it should be something with a much larger footprint and where each lane is effectively a separate roadway and which has high quality segregated bike facilities so cyclists never have to enter it.

  3. Sarah

    I used to have a short cycle commute which featured two multi-lane roundabouts. I never had an actual crash at either, but I used to have to speed up or brake to avoid potential SMIDSY wrecks every so often. I can easily see motorcyclists having very similar problems. Turbo roundabouts may not be as bad if drivers really do sort themselves out before entering the roundabout, but then this isn’t a proper Dutch turbo roundabout, is it? So the motorcyclists were probably right to be concerned about hitting insidious barriers when not fully upright and stable (i.e. leaning over to corner as they go round a roundabout) and trying to take evasive action to avoid SMIDSY-type incidents not of their own making. I would have simiilar concerns as a cyclist.

    But you’re right that the rationale for spending cycling money on this is inexistent if the dividers were the selling point and they’re now gone from the design. It seems like a reason to award funding more holistically (like the Dutch do) with projects to make things better for everybody, rather than money for specific modes.

  4. Jitensha Oni

    There may be another possible line of attack, based on the existence of a large contingent of footway cyclists – 30-40% of bike traffic according to

    wherein it is written..

    “The council plans to seek permission from the DfT to install new blue ‘Cyclists give way to traffic’ signs at the crossings. Lingwood explained that, whereas pedestrians have priority over vehicles on a zebra crossing, vehicles have priority over cyclists.”

    But, if I read it correctly, the new DfT TSRGD will allow pedestrian and cyclist movements to be combined, with priority for both over motor vehicles on a hybrid crossing. I wonder could Bedford be forced to comply with this as part of the deal that they have been allowed to use a cycle fund?
    Meanwhile in Wisconsin (maybe too primitive for Hembrovian tastes, but heyyyy)…

    (there are some others in the series too)

  5. “Patrick Lingwood explained to me the history of the proposed scheme, the need to slow cars through the roundabout to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians.”


    I thought (from reading David Hembrow) that turbo roundabouts were designed to speed up traffic. If slowing down traffic to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists was really the objective I’ve no idea how they got here.

    I look forward to hearing from the DFT that no cycle safety fund money will now be going to this project. Any other outcome would be preposterous.

  6. pshore2

    I motorcycle (and cycle more). Folk pulling out and diesel spills require you to deviate from a lane on a roundabout. Lane dividers prevent that.

  7. TomP

    Good to see Sustrans have responded by pretending everything is wonderful and that nothing untoward is happening:

  8. I also regularly use a few roundabouts which on the face of it seem quite similar to the Bedford mess, and the main issue is that drivers can and do simply take a “racing line” across the lanes, making it near impossible to cross without a near miss when busy.

    I could see the (albeit flawed) logic of using the dividers to attempt to enforce lane discipline, even though it would do little for cycle safety.

    Removing the dividers so you just have a roundabout with even more paint will make it worse than before, especially in the wet when it could well be potentially lethal to bicycles and motorbikes.

    Unbelievable that Sustrans is still supporting this tripe.

  9. fonant

    Even the original idea of paying for a roundabout designed to maximise motor traffic flow with money allocated for cycling safety was appalling. Especially since the “turbo” design was fatally diluted, so the new design wasn’t any better than a normal roundabout even for motor traffic.

    This never was a scheme to improve the infrastructure for people on bicycles, and any feeble justifications that it might make things safer for cyclists on the carriageway no longer exist.

    There is even less justification for spending cycle safety money on this terrible design than the little there was before.

  10. Something I came across this week is a document called a Vulnerable Road User Audit. Might be interesting to put in an FoI for all VRUAs for this location and see how the latest change to the design has affected it.

    My other thought is what’s the process for learning lessons from this scheme and whose responsible for carrying it out? Sustrans’ statement says they’ll be doing that but I can’t believe it’s actually their responsibility. What part have the professional institutions like IHE, ICE, CIHT, CILT got to play in this? What are the DfT’s and the local authority’s responsibilities to monitor the scheme’s performance against its objectives? Surely it’s not just down to a charity to do? Maybe they’ve been contracted to, and if that’s the case what’s the purpose of all these organisations of professionals?

    If nobody’s got the bottle the pull the emergency stop cord, the next best position is to ensure the people responsible take responsibility for the quality of their own work and shorten their learning curve. And the first obstacle there is identifying responsibility, which brings us back to your question about who has the power.

    I was part of a little workshop on the google car recently which turned out to be a really useful train of thought for understanding lack of responsibility on the public highway compared to other transport modes. We can’t put a finger on who’s responsible today, and unless a cooperative culture focussed on mobility rather than traditional transport evolves here as it has in NL, we’re going to have to wait for the driverless car. *packs tent*

      • Well, they’ve sent Road Safety Audits and I’ve replied to ask if that means there aren’t any Vulnerable User Safety Audits. The RSAs (visible on the link above) make interesting reading, with things like the safety auditors believing the hype and assuming they’re dutch Turbo roundabouts so cyclists will be banned; and the attempts to push zebra crossings so far down the roads that they become unattractively far away from the desire lines and dangerous “look over your shoulder” junctions for cyclists sadly typical for this country.

      • They’ve now released the Vulnerable Road User Audit and it contains such gems as “Toucan Crossing not deemed appropriate for area given potential delays caused by signals on roundabout. Modeling confirms”, “Zebra crossings proposed for cyclists to dismount and safely cross road” and “Capacity is to be maintained”. There’s also the oft-made error of claiming that shared use is a cycling-specific facility. So please be in no doubt that cyclist safety is being sacrificed to avoid delaying motorists. Riders get to choose between slow or dangerous.

        It’s no better for pedestrians, with a bizarre claim that the zebra “crossings will be on desire lines”. They’re blatently not. They’re shunted up the side roads to provide space for the large roundabout.

        So what next? The VRUA contains claims that black is while, just like the funding bid. Who polices these things anyway?

        • Paulc

          “Toucan Crossing not deemed appropriate for area given potential delays caused by signals on roundabout. Modeling confirms”,

          simply nuts… they should be setting the delay from the button being pressed to just 5 seconds… and have sensors on the crossing that cancel it if no one’s there and also clears the green man when people are most of the way across…

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  12. Kate Carpenter

    watching with great interest – this junctions’ less than a mile from my house. very happy to help in any way I can (I’ve offered to be a member of RSA team for free!) but it’s essential that the experience of what works in other places is integrated so it doesn’t end up a half-arsed miserable compromise.

  13. We have put a post on our website about this, which I appreciate a lot of people have strong views on. The scheme was put forward by the Council because of concerns raised by local cyclists about safety at the roundabout. The real test will of course be in how it works. The scheme includes on -road and off-road provision and we expect cyclists to continue using it in different ways as best suits them.

    • Nigel – good to hear from you again. DfT publications show very few cycle-involved collisions at that location, so how are you expecting it to improve safety and how will that be measured?

      I feel your blog is also a bit dodgy saying motorcyclists “felt that it would slow them down” when their claimed view is that the barriers were insufficient to stop larger vehicles lane-jumping yet big enough to bring a motorcycle down.

      Anyway, why does Sustrans support for spending £420,000 of Cycle Safety Funding still stand when the lane dividers you think are so great have been removed and it’s now just another spiral-pattern blender roundabout with all the drawbacks that we’ve already suffered in many other places across the East of England?

      I agree that the key to success is to work in partnership, but a doormat is not in partnership with the people wiping their feet on it!

  14. The simple way to measure safety is in terms of numbers of incidents, but that takes time. Perceived safety is also really important in mode choice so we hope to see more walkers and cyclists, which can be counted quite easily.

    There were a number of different views from motorcyclists. Some motorcyclists did complain that the design might slow them down but that was a pretty weak argument I feel. The main argument against the raised delineators was concern from motorcyclists who felt that the delineator might be a hazard. The turbo element of the design now comes from the way that central islands are extended out into the roundabout.

    • The extended islands are only at Clapham Road and Tavistock Road, while the crossings are still well off the desire line, still don’t have good-visibility perpendicular approaches, have no specific space for cycles and presumably still have “Cyclists Give Way” junk by them. Actually, I can’t see the entry/exit slips for the shared use sidepaths on the drawing in Transport Xtra, but hopefully that’s just because it’s a low-res reproduction.

      Do you expect when we look at that junction in 5 years, the new layout will still result in the predicted 0.2/year cycle injury collisions or fewer (down from 0.7/year in 2002-2012) and increased numbers riding and walking (up from 550 and 3000 daily in 2012)?

      If you know there are better arguments against it, could you be less divisive and mention the stronger ones from things like MAG press releases instead, perhaps? Mentioning only the weak arguments is sometimes called strawman-bashing and it’s a bit close to trolling.

    • kate carpenter

      Hi Nigel
      as there’s a one-car-length section of 2-lane-entry on 3 of 4 legs, drivers approaching won;t know which lane to be in; and are likely to use left for ahead, getting trapped and changing lane as they enter – greatly incresign cycle risk I’d have thought? cycle injuries – 2 in 2008-12 seem to only be on one entry, so benefits very limited? Are post-mounted signs planned to tell drivers on approach. I can see this having the mother-of-all-Stage3-safety-audits! I declare an interest as a safety engineer and a local (I live less than a mile away), so have offered to audit it for free!

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  16. kate carpenter

    where can I find the current design plan? guessing the one on BBC’s website superseded? Ta K 🙂

  17. paulc

    I notice it’s Zebra crossings there… they should have installed Toucan crossings if they were really catering for the cyclists that don’t want to mix it with the traffic on the road… making cyclists dismount is JUST NOT ON these days.

    They’re currently doing a major upgrade to a roundabout in Gloucester (known locally as “Wall’s Roundabout”… they’ve kept the existing Toucans and incorporated them into traffic light control of access to the roundabout. A far better solution is being done in Gloucester even though it is still only shared use footpaths. I’ll take some photos of the current work in progress today.

    • The killer argument against Toucans is that they would be even further off the desire lines, thanks once again to the cycling- and walking-hating regulations which our MPs have failed to fix yet.

      • Paulc

        I intended to photograph the new layout today, but it was too confusing with no clear lines as to where the new Toucan wa going… the contractors could at least have sprayed a white line across the road to form the stop line at the new temporary lights… motorists were straddling it all over the place as it wasn’t clear cut for them. And then giving me the finger when I hit my horn at them for blocking it when I had a green light. 😦 ( I have a very loud electronic siren for use against pedestrians who insist on wandering all over shared paths with their headphones on/earbuds in…) It also wakes motorists up when they’ve strayed too close to me.

  18. kate carpenter now has 2013 data on and this location has shot up the rankings. 2008-12 (5 years): 1 slight and 1 serious collision involving cyclists, less than one every 2 years. 2013: 5 slights involving cyclists – almost as if they’re getting some people to report slight incidents to get the scheme justification up…..sorry, I’ll go and wash my mouth out…

  19. Martin Sölvanger

    Isn’t the main reason to build a Turboroundabout to improve safety? states that it should also improve speed and capacity. It almost feels like they neglected the entire safety aspects and have the improved speed and capacity as their main focus.

  20. davidhembrow

    There now an engineer’s report on the Bedford turbo roundabout design. It’s quite critical of the many errors made. I recommend you all read it if you want to know where the problems are with what’s been built.

    • Could you introduce the engineers to us, please? It doesn’t seem to say in the report and I only know Graham Smith and John Meudell (named on the slideshow) as campaigners for Cyclenation and pre-charity CTC respectively, but they may well have engineering experience, or the first two pages may have been authored by someone else. Thanks!

  21. kate carpenter

    I rode this again this week, and agree on the points where as a cyclist you;re suppposed to leave the road being hidden – one points you at a full height kerb, others are metres back from the road! There is no shared-use cycling which suggests it’s unlawful to ride the off-road route. pedestrians looked at me (careful, courteous, highly visible, helmet-wearing) as if I was not in a place where I was allowed. I’m seeing people trying to go ahead from the left lanes as they’ve done for 40 years, and suddenly fidning islands when the car ahead disappears to the left. I wonder how it worked in the snow? those rough in-carriageway areas get riskier in snow, like motorway service areas which are totally illegible using signs alone.

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