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, with a photo of an almost identical junction used as an example of what not to do.

Part of the LCDS 2014, showing a photo of an almost identical junction, with an 'X' in the corner indicating it's a bad idea. The text below reads 'This track works well on links but requires cyclists to give way at each side road. Cyclists often choose to stay on carriageway rather than take fragmented routes with built-in delay.'

Excerpt from LCDS 2014 (chapter 1, page 3).

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 (chapter 5, page 25) – click to enlarge.

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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18 responses to “CityConnect: You’ll get what you’re given

  1. There maybe a solution to all this, the UK exceeds the EU pollution limits in many UK cities. Interestingly the UK led the way in air pollution in the 1950’s with the Clean Air Act in 1956, but now no longer – the UK will only become compliance by 2030 these type of particulate emissions are killing 50000 people a year many of them our children.
    The Sunday Times has started a campaign on Air Pollution
    Their aims:-
    Better monitoring of air pollution
    Easier access to information about pollution levels
    More action to curb pollution.

    Research has shown that Diesel engines pump out more particulates when cold or in urban usage, ie short journeys – this is where cycling could be the level to reduce this!


    • Mark Williams

      The weekday Thunderer has had a `cities fit for cycling’ campaign for a couple of years now (only started after one of their employees got put into a coma, mind you) and look what that has managed to achieve :-/… The government already has statutory obligations wrt. reducing carbon emissions. Yet when they embarked on their latest round of new MOAT building, the highways agency/ planning inspectorate’s response to CO_2 objections was basically `meh’.

      So please forgive me for not holding my breath (figuratively or literally) waiting for this one to bear fruit!

  2. rdrf

    The “it’s been through safety audit” excuse is something that needs to be nailed. The Ranty Highwayman has posted on this some time ago and it is worthwhile reading it.

    Safety audit does not mean that everything is OK. There isn’t a pass or fail, and it is essentially one view of one highway engineer, who is probably not used to looking at schemes supposedly assisting cyclists.

    In fact a lot of safety audit approaches can actually make life worse for cyclists – things get passed which may endanger cyclists, or something supporting cycling may seem to “be unsafe”.

    I think you should be able to look at the report and see whether the auditor considered the issues you think are important.

    • Thanks for reminding me about the Ranty Highwayman’s article, very useful. I’ve now linked to it above.

      I asked CityConnect to provide it, but they refused for reasons of ownership (seriously!).

      • But, those undertaking a road safety audit on this scheme (I assume at Stage 2, Detailed Design) will either have experience in designing for cycling or be calling on the expertise of someone who has. If neither has been done, then the RSA is not worth the words. Has anyone done the FOI yet as I for one would be interested to read and comment as a trained (but not practicing) auditor.

  3. “But ask them to spend another minute or two in this luxury cocoon …” Smiley face.

  4. malaconotus

    Just been and looked at the two completed junctions (on the south side of York Road) which do have cycletrack priority over the side road. They are awful! Object lessons in how not to do visual priority. Wide entry radii, no colour contrast, kerbing across the track and not across the road.

    • I’ve seen photos of a couple of them, but CityConnect told me they weren’t finished yet, so I’m reserving judgement for now. Though all the physical stuff looks complete, I can’t imagine that applying some paint will help much. If you have any photos, I’d be glad to see them.

  5. The ‘green icon’ original plan is the one I’ve been trying to find since this all went to hell, please could Cityconnect be reminded of these plans?

  6. MJ Ray

    Even if it’s not a rider-killing smoking gun this time, I’m worried by the London standards because I’ve been told that they specify design speeds of 10 and 15mph. Even the crap Cycle Infrastructure Design guidance said 20mph. What other nasties have been snuck through under the label “London” which means many of us rural campaigners haven’t read them yet?

    • Mark Williams

      It’s very unlikely that LCDS calls for design speeds anything like as high as that (15–25km/h) in London. After all, chapter 6 explicitly recommends an x-height of 25mm for direction signs in all but the most exceptional circumstances—you can work out what range of design speeds that equates to from draft chapter 2 of Traffic Signs Manual.

      I suspect that Cycle Infrastructure Design (I haven’t knowingly seen it) only says that the UK doesn’t do design speeds greater than 30km/h (~18 imperial miles per hour) and has no minimum for cycle infrastructure. Guess how this gets translated into practice? Then, compare and contrast with Design Manual for Roads and Bridges…

      Short answer to your question: there are lots of other nasties in LCDS, but `London’ is just a bullshit excuse, even within London.

  7. Barry Bethal

    There are more of these near-completed junctions coming to people’s attention now, and they’re all looking bad – poor visual separation, sharp chicanes, street furniture obstructing sightlines (although we’ve been promised some will be moved). It’s all becoming a bit of a shambles, I’m embarrassed for the city and disgusted by the wasted money. I can’t see any of it tempting me off the road at the moment.

    • Please don’t wash your hands of it. You might recognise the dangers, but the experience elsewhere is that these tracks attract new riders who don’t recognise the dangers until one hits them broadside (literally). Document, publish, press – please!

    • I’ve seen some photos of other junctions, mostly on York Road before it turns into Barwick Road, and they do look rubbish. CityConnect have told me that they’re not finished yet though, so I’ll reserve judgement until they are. Though I’m not optimistic, as all the hard engineering is finished, and I fail to see how a layer of paint will improve matters much!

      • You can reasonably expect the “it is not finished yet” excuse to be used in perpetuity, with Leeds being the half of the project that uses the excuse the most.

        Leeds “built” a cycle path at Sheepscar Interchange which took three and a half decades to be “finished”. They have form. The Regent Street path ground to a halt for nearly a year.

        The cityconnect scheme will probably never reach a state that anyone will claim as “finished”, partly because the people in power don’t actually give a shit, and partly because claiming it to be “finsihed” might imply that it be expected to meet the standards that it was originally presented to the public as being intended to meet. If it is never “finished”, then it officially doesn’t have to be any good.

        It is obvious that the most senior people involved in launching the Leeds to Bradford “super” highway have already lost interest. This is mainly because it is a vanity project that arose out of an imaginary “Tour de France Legacy”. Accordingly, the way it looks to PR photographers in the city centre(s) is far, far more important than whether it is a safe route that is useful to people on bikes. As long as any deaths caused by poor design occur outside the very centres of the cities, nobody in power will care, or do anything to fix it.

        The Dick Lane junction is a good example of this. It is a very non-prestigious nowheresville of no importance to the council egomaniacs.

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