Tag Archives: bad design

Cycleway design in Berlin and beyond

I often see people refer to studies of German cycleways where the conclusion is that they’re dangerous, then claiming that these studies are evidence that all cycleways are therefore dangerous.

(Actually, I say ‘studies’ but it’s usually just a link to this, an English summary of one study from 30 years ago, written by one of Forester’s army of tedious greybeards.)

There is this false notion of “northern European countries” being some homogenous mass, all of them covered with identical cycling infrastructure, and that means a German study critical of German cycle infrastructure is therefore critical of the very concept of cycle infrastructure.

But the truth is that there’s huge variation between these countries. The Netherlands leads by a country mile, Denmark a distant second, and everywhere else is a runner-up. The UK didn’t even enter the race.

To use the phrase “northern European countries” with regards to good cycle infrastructure is to beat around the bush: you mean the Netherlands. Say “the Netherlands”. Sure, it’s not all perfect, but that’s where the best stuff is, by far, and in great quantities.

German engineering at its worst

So these people who quote studies of German cycling infrastructure are missing one major point: German cycleways are crap. So the studies merely prove that crap cycleways are crap. It’s certainly no smoking gun.

Quoting a study of German cycleways from today would be bad enough, but in the 1980s they were even worse, judging by some of the older stuff here in Berlin. To use that study to argue against good quality cycling infrastructure is like quoting the Hindenburg disaster to argue that travelling on an aeroplane is deadly.

No modern cycling infrastructure advocate should be asking for what we have here in Berlin, or holding it up as a shining example.

I don’t claim to have visited every German town and city, but I’ve been to a few. Some places are better than others, but in none of them has there been anything worth writing about. Even the most average Dutch town has far better infrastructure by comparison.

As I now spend my days in Berlin, let’s look at some Berlin cycleways, shall we?

First of all, it’s important to remember that cycling infrastructure in Berlin is unreliable. There’s no network, just disjointed paths which you can never be sure aren’t about to suddenly end without warning. And often where there is a cycleway, it’s narrow, rutted or covered with foliage. So the bits I’m covering here are the parts where reasonable cycleways actually exist, and not the majority of roads where there’s nothing (painted lanes don’t count).

Junctions with traffic lights

The biggest problem with Berlin’s cycleways is the major junctions. For some crazy reason, instead of keeping bicycles and motor vehicles separate at this most dangerous point, the standard design actually brings bikes towards motor vehicles!

A protected cycleway in Berlin which suddenly becomes unprotected at a junction

Rather than continue in a straight line to the junction so that bikes and turning cars meet at right-angles, the cycleway suddenly swerves left into the blind spot of turning vans. (See for yourself here.)

That’s right – the intentional design here leads people on bikes into the blind spot of motor vehicles that might be turning. That the cycleway might have been hidden by parked vehicles until just before the junction doesn’t help.

And then, to top it off, the separation ends, usually just before the junction proper. So suddenly you’re cycling on the road, right alongside motor vehicles which may be turning across your path.

The signal phases aren’t separated either, so turning motor vehicles and bikes going straight on get a green light at the same time. This isn’t necessarily a huge issue as drivers here are used to giving way to people walking and cycling when turning on green, but as the bike lane is now right up alongside the turning cars, as soon as the front car begins to turn, the cycle lane is blocked.

This bizarrely crap design also means that the “free right turn” which is taken for granted in the Netherlands doesn’t exist here. This adds much time and effort into a journey by bike, as well as danger.

It isn’t at all like the true protected intersection [1] [2] or simultaneous green junction that bike infrastructure advocates want.

People of all ages and abilities using a simultaneous green junction by bike

Simultaneous Green junction in the Netherlands. Bikes get a green light to go in all directions at once, while all motor vehicles are held at red lights. Complete safety, as well as convenience and speed. (Photo: David Hembrow)

Unsignalled junctions

Unsignalled junctions aren’t much better. There’s little consistency for a start, every cycleway is treated differently at side-roads. (The only consistent aspect is that it’s nearly always rubbish.)

For example, here on Frankfurter Allee, rather than the cycleway continuing in a straight line or bending away from the main road at a junction, it bends towards the turning cars instead, guaranteeing poor visibility angles and reducing reaction time.

Furthermore, the cycleway drops down to carriageway level, and is marked out only in paint. In essence, it becomes a painted cycle lane, offering no protection at all.

A cycleway on Frankfurter Allee in Berlin, where bikes are suddenly diverted into the blind-spot of turning drivers for no reason at all.

The few dozen people driving into this car park have priority over the thousands of people riding and walking along here. Take a look for yourself here.

Another example, here on Schönhauser Allee, is better than above. But there’s still much wrong with it. The corner radius for turning cars is too large (it should be tight to slow down turning cars). The cycleway drops down to meet the road, there’s a visible kerb which confuses visual priority, and a bumpy change of surface on the cycleway from tiles to paint.

A cycleway crosses a minor side-road in Berlin, but the quality of implementation is poor

I know this probably looks like a dream to all my UK and US readers, but please know that this isn’t good enough.

Contrast those with the usual design for these roads in the Netherlands, where the cycleway continues at a raised level, and so does the footway – it’s the driving infrastructure which is disjointed, not walking and cycling.

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 bollards prevent cars from leaving their allotted area.

Here, turning motor vehicles must turn at a sharp angle and mount a sloped kerb, which ensures slow speeds, and cars cross the cycleway at 90º, giving good visibility. This also gives people on bikes to know that a car is turning long before any collision may occur, unlike the common German design where the bike path is right alongside the turning car, so there’s no time to react if the driver hasn’t seen you.

Better cycleways are the answer, not Vehicular Cycling

Anyway, I won’t go in to more detail about why Germany’s cycleways are poor. (And yes, I’ve been to Bremen, I wasn’t impressed there either.)

That many German cycle campaigns are anti-cycleway should tell you all you need to know: German cycleways are poor quality. But many of these campaigners, unfortunately, are campaigning for Germany to become more like the UK: i.e. painted lanes and battling for road-space with motor vehicles, and the 2% journey share that comes with it.

The way to achieve more and safer cycling – as found in a tiny, low country just to the West – is to improve the quality and design of cycleways, not to get rid of them altogether.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent here. The main point is this:

Quoting studies of poor-quality, outdated designs doesn’t disprove the very concept of separate cycleways, but instead reinforces the need for using the best designs.

Anyone who quotes studies of German cycleways as proof that all cycle infrastructure is a bad idea, is either uninformed or abusing the truth in order to mislead.

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Camden’s West End Project: Compromise or Capitulation?

So after last year’s debate about Camden’s plans for a thorough re-do of Tottenham Court Road and surrounding area, the council has come back with some finished plans.

David Arditti covered it twice, Rachel Aldred analysed it, and Danny of Cyclists in the City questioned the merits of the scheme. MaidstoneOnBike presented his own plan for Tottenham Court Road. Mark of the iBikeLondon blog has been largely in favour throughout, but I really couldn’t disagree more.

The essential problem with the scheme is that Camden continue to prioritise motor vehicles, at the expense of people on foot and on bikes.

During the day, cycles and private motor vehicles will all be funnelled onto Gower Street, and it doesn’t really fit. Well, it does, if the footways are trimmed back a bit, and nobody ever wobbles, but only just. It will never be a pleasant ride, even when the cycleway isn’t being used for parked vans.

Meanwhile, the spacious Tottenham Court Road will be turned into a copy of Oxford Street, i.e. end-to-end buses, with all the dangers that entails and air so thick with pollution you can almost chew it.

To describe the planned Tottenham Court Road as “a primarily pedestrian route” is pure hyperbole, considering that for 13 hours a day it will be open to all traffic in both directions (opening up new motor vehicle routes that currently don’t exist).

Camden's drawing of how Tottenham Court Road will look. Pure propaganda.

The sun will always shine, the buses will be invisible, people will walk wherever they please, the lion will lay down with the lamb…

Where are all the buses in this photo? What will it look like at 5 past 7 in the evening, when it’s open to all traffic in both directions? The photo is pure propaganda.

The stepped cycleway on Gower Street is a compromise in itself, the bare minimum that we should accept, both in width and design (it should be wider and better separated). Yet now we’re expected to also accept vans parking on it right in the middle of the day (10am to 2pm) – a compromise upon a compromise.

Do you know how annoying it is to find someone parked in a cycle lane? Well, now imagine that to ride past it you have to hop down a kerb into the general lane, then hop back up once you’ve passed. (Or, more likely, people will hop up onto the footway, causing more conflict there instead.) That’s what’s being planned on Gower Street – In 2015! By intentional design! – and I don’t think it’s an acceptable compromise.

A van parked on a cycleway, blocking it.

Coming soon to London! Camden’s boldest urban design scheme yet, so ambitious, great for cycling! (Photo: Car Sick Glasgow)

While any sort of cycleway can seem like a miracle in London, the planned Gower Street cycleway feels like such a token effort to me. It only exists in short, intermittent lengths between junctions, where it will become a painted lane with an ASL at the end.

Camden's plan for Gower Street and Grafton Way junction.

The brown areas are raised carriageway, so there will be just painted lanes, no physical separation. There’s a lot of this on the Gower Street plans.

The junctions themselves offer no protection, just at the point where it’s most needed. Apparently these painted lanes and ASLs are “to make it safer for cyclists”! Someone at Camden Council has got a very dark sense of humour.

Is this what we campaigned for? Is it even remotely suitable for all ages, all abilities?

I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way, judging by the comments on London Cycling Campaign’s news article about the plans.

But don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the plans yourself. There’s a lot of cycle lanes and ASLs on them.

There comes a point at which compromise becomes capitulation, and to praise these plans is to cross that line.

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British Cycling’s myopic “Vision” for Leeds

Somehow, I missed this gem from earlier this year, but it’s so bad that it deserves a thorough savaging.

In July, British Cycling published their “Vision” for the Headrow in Leeds. Actually, it seems to be just a vague concept for a very small section of one street in Leeds, so its scale is hardly visionary to begin with.

First of all, let me tell you that the bit of the Headrow in question – directly outside the Town Hall – is utterly crap as it is now. Almost anything would be an improvement. (This is why the poll at the bottom of British Cycling’s article is rather stupid – “would you prefer to be fed shit, or shit with a crispy sugar coating?”)

It’s a very wide road designed for the movement of large numbers of motor vehicles (lots of buses here, with stops on the north side), and without even basic features such as pedestrian crossings in suitable places. Where crossings do exist, they’re staggered, for the benefit of motor traffic.

People crossing the road in Leeds city centre, where the Council would prefer they didn't

Google’s Streetview car caught this scene randomly. It shows that a crossing is required here. (Google Maps)

The very wide Headrow in front of Leeds Town Hall, with no pedestrian crossing

Narrow medieval streets? (Google Maps)

A long staggered crossing outside Leeds Town Hall, and very wide carriageway.

No space for better provision for walking and cycling here? Oh, no no no. (Google Maps)

Clearly, there is lots of space available here. Eastbound the carriageway has two wide lanes, there’s a wide central reservation, and the lane westbound is two cars wide for most of its length. Lots of buses use this road, and there’s no restriction on general motor traffic here either.

So with such a large canvas on which to paint some excellent infrastructure, I’m completely baffled as to how British Cycling, with help from Steer Davis Gleave, have created an absolutely awful concept, with painted lanes, unusable bus stop bypasses, and bikes sharing space with buses.

British Cycling's vision for Leeds graphic, showing painted lanes, if you're lucky

Plenty of space here for segregation, yet British Cycling’s highest fantasy is a painted lane followed by sharing with buses. (Note the fetid stench of “shared space” fancy paving, which costs a lot of money so it surely must do wonders for cycling.)

Mixing with cars will boost cycling, right?

I hate cycling in front of cars, even if they are painted in sporting colours and waving flags out the window. (Note invisible buses and bus stops.)

Bikes, buses and cars all sharing happily in British Cycling's la-la land.

It’s easy to cut-and-paste photos of Dutch elderly people and families into a picture like this, but the simple truth is that people DO NOT WANT TO SHARE WITH BUSES. (Also note the cack-handed attempt at a bus stop bypass on the left.)

Catch up by doing less

The images above are taken from this video, which ends with a pathetic request for “£10 per head”, which given that the Dutch invest more than twice that amount on road infrastructure alone (not on “soft measures” such as training or promotion), it is nowhere near enough to “catch up” with the Netherlands.

Some campaigns have actually done the maths and are asking for real money, not pulling nice-sounding numbers out of thin air (I’ve not yet seen an explanation at how £10 per head was arrived at).

Pedal on Parliament gets it. Stop The Killing gets it. The Cycling Embassy gets it. Why are the big guns of cycle campaigning so unwilling to actually ask for a decent amount?

Anyway, I digress. Back to the Leeds “Vision”.

Standing still while claiming to move fast

So there’s plenty of space – and a need – for Dutch-quality segregated cycleways along this stretch of road. Why haven’t British Cycling suggested any?

I don’t get it.

Steer Davies Gleave have some people in Leeds who seem to be on the ball.

British Cycling have got Chris Boardman, who is always saying the right things these days, and yet he’s talking about this crap as if it would make a blind bit of difference.

I don’t understand how Chris Boardman can say this…

“Millions of people in Britain say they would like to cycle but they are put off due to safety fears. We cannot pretend that this is going to miraculously change.”

…when describing a road plan which does nothing at all to address those fears. Perhaps the “we” in the second sentence refers to the cycle campaigning establishment, who, it seems, continue to pretend that people’s natural dislike of sharing roadspace with heavy motor traffic is going to miraculously change.

They quote the Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, as if he isn’t lying through his teeth:

“…we want to put cycling at the heart of the future of Leeds… That is our long-term aim, to do everything we can to encourage and help as many people as possible to get cycling.”

This is a man who went on the local news to make excuses about Leeds’ “topography” as if the huge mountains of Leeds are alone responsible for the city’s zero-point-something-percent cycling modal share. (Before anybody starts, even Swiss cities have a much higher modal share than Leeds.)

Default Man says “take the lane”

Is this simply another example of a wider problem with our society, that everything is dominated and designed by middle-class, middle-aged, white men – AKA Default Man? Do they lack the empathy to see things through the eyes of others? It seems they’re unable to listen to what people want or need.

Fifteen years ago a teenage girl from Leeds identified what the city was lacking, and what it would take for her to use a bike in her home town. Rather than listen to her, the sombre grey Franklinists explained that she was wrong, that she was much better off riding on the road instead.

Nothing in Leeds has changed since then. They didn’t listen to Zohra back in 2000, and those in positions of power still aren’t listening.

If this sort of crap is the best they can come up with, then it’s time for the grey men to get out of the way, and make space for a new generation of campaigners.

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Berlin does not have a cycle network

I often hear great things about cycling in Berlin.

Apparently there are “ubiquitous grade-separated cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, and other facilities“, which mean that “you can get round most of Berlin on segregated bike paths“.

According to this Lonely Planet guide book I have here, “the biking infrastructure is fantastic“, and Stephen Evans of the BBC found “endless cycle tracks” (where are they, Steve?).

I really wish all this was true, but unfortunately it’s nonsense. Berlin is definitely second-rate for cycling.

I often find myself wanting to go somewhere within cycling distance but having to choose to use a different mode of transport, because the conditions for cycling there are too unpleasant for me or the people I’m with.

So with this in mind, I made a map of Berlin’s cycleways. And I’ve been extremely generous in my definition of “cycleway” here. Nothing comes close to the criteria set out in this article.

A map showing roads in central/north/east Berlin which have protected cycleways along them. It's very sparse and disconnected.

This is not a cycle network. (Click for full-size.)

I may have missed a few little bits off, but I think I got all of it.

The red lines are the not-too-bad cycleways, and the grey lines show the absolute rubbish, such as this…

A very narrow, bumpy, neglected cycleway on Luxemburger Strasse in Berlin

Only people with mountain bikes may overtake here.

…and this…

pathetic narrow cycleway right up against the edge of a wide, fast busy road in Berlin. There are parked cars on the footway beyond the cycleway. I have added an arrow to point out the cycleway, it is that bad.

I’ve added an arrow to point out the cycleway, otherwise you might miss it. (Photo: Google Maps)

…so don’t go thinking that I’m being harsh on Berlin here. If anything, I’m being too kind for including those on the map.

In the interests of balance, here’s a typical example of one of the better cycleways denoted by the red lines:

One of Berlin's better cycleways. Not too narrow, but a tiled surface and a low fence which pedals could hit. Also right next to parked cars with only a tiny buffer.

One of Berlin’s better cycleways. Just enough room to squeeze past in the door-zone.

Everything else is either a painted lane on the road or nothing at all, and like most people I’m not willing to mix with motor vehicles along fast, wide, busy roads.

The map covers the part of Berlin where I live and spend most time – the central north and east areas – but the picture is pretty much the same elsewhere in the city. Some areas are better than others, but not much.

I was considering adding some of the back streets on this map too, but I couldn’t think of any that were really suitable. On the whole they’re either too busy with traffic to be serious contenders for being part of a cycle network, or they’re surfaced in the rough cobbled “Kopfstein” that make cycling a pain in both the physical and metaphorical sense of the word.

(I’ll cover some of the back streets in a later post, such as Stargarder Strasse which should be great but is a busy rat-run, and Choriner Strasse which is designated as a “Bicycle Street” but has nothing beyond a few signs to back this up.)

At least there are no buses around here, just trams, though bad street design means that they can be dangerous too (the subject of yet another post to come). But as you can see from the map, travelling by bike in Berlin can be a real pain unless you’re happy to mix with cars, vans and lorries on multi-lane roads.

Photograph of Danziger Strasse in Berlin, showing a painted cycle lane on the carriage-way side of the parked cars, with a lorry thundering past.

Be my guest. I’ll walk.

 

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Cycling in Berlin

There’s so much to cover here in Berlin, that I can’t possibly fit it all in to one blog post. I have to tell you about the excellent public transport system, the suffocating dominance of car parking, the superb driving conditions, the less-than-superb cycling conditions, the at times downright hostile footways, the culture and attitudes, the VC-and-helmet-loving local cycle campaign, and so much more.

So this first post is a general overview of conditions for cycling in Berlin as I’ve experienced them these past five months, and I’ll begin with this statement:

Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I can see how this common misconception may come about, though. Berlin is far better for cycling than any British city (and, for that matter, any city in the US, Australia, etc…). It’s easy to visit Berlin and see the higher number and wider demographic of people cycling and think “yes, Berlin is a good example for cities back home to copy.”

I’ve heard it said that Berlin, with a 13% average modal share for cycling, provides a more realistic model that’s easier for British cities to achieve.

The trouble is, to someone who lives in a country where cycling has been actively suppressed for decades, almost any amount of cycling looks impressive. Living in the UK, it’s easy to see the current motor-dominated transport mix as normal or natural, and therefore to think that countries with higher cycling rates have done something special, artificial and unnatural.

But the truth is that road design in the UK effectively bans cycling as a mode of transport for the vast majority of the population. The “natural” level for cycling can be seen in the Netherlands, where car use is not discouraged (on the contrary), but there are no barriers to cycling either. The road system there has been designed so that people have a genuine choice. They can use whichever mode of transport they wish to, and they very often choose to use a bike.

Somewhere in the middle we have places like Berlin, where the authorities pay lip service to cycling infrastructure, and grudgingly provide for a fairly low rate of cycling, but where journeys by motor vehicle are still prioritised pretty much all of the time, and given the lion’s share of road space.

What this means is that Berlin’s modal share is low, much lower than it should be. A 13% cycling rate is not high or impressive, or anything to get excited about, though it may seem otherwise to people living in countries where cycling almost doesn’t exist.

Berlin’s cycling share should be at least double the current rate, and with better infrastructure, it easily could be.

A View from the Badly-Designed, Badly-Maintained Cycle Path

So Berlin does have some cycleways, separated from motor traffic. This is a good thing, and it enables many Berliners to use a bike for journeys which, without the cycleways, would be made by motor vehicle.

But while these cycleways exist, and make cycling away from motor traffic possible, they are – almost without exception – awful. Berlin falls short on all three important aspects of good cycling infrastructure: maintenance, design, and network.

Maintenance

…or rather the lack of it. For example, concrete tiles are normally used as the surface, and over the years these become uneven, meaning that riding on them is pretty bumpy, sometimes dangerously so. Tree roots lift up the surface too, though while the carriageway never seems to be affected (it is clearly better cared for), the cycleway and footway are often left rucked and cratered. Bushes and trees are frequently not trimmed either, meaning much (or, in places, all) of the cycleway width is taken up by foliage.

A narrow cycleway next to a very, very wide road. The cycleway is almost completely obscured by a bush growing beside it, rendering the cycleway almost useless..

Yes, that really is a cycleway on the right, and its patchy surface is almost completely obscured by a bush. And yes, that’s a wide, well-maintained six-lane road with central median strip on the left.

Design

Even the newest and best-maintained cycleways are poor in comparison to their Dutch counterparts.

Even along the roomiest boulevards they’re too narrow, often wiggly, with street furniture right against (or even in) them. Flush kerbs are virtually unheard of, and the cycleways fall and rise at every driveway (most of which are surfaced in uneven cobble stones) and at side-streets too, where they usually turn into paint on the road. All this bumping up and down expends a lot of unnecessary energy and turns an easy journey into a tiring one.

A cycleway narrows as it wiggles sharply around a pole which is installed in its way. There are further barriers on the right too.

I used to play computer games like this as a child.

The junctions are badly and dangerously designed, with none of the safety or convenience that you see in Dutch cities. That was the first one that struck me, incidentally. Where the Dutch take the cycleway away from motor vehicles at a junction, here in Berlin it bizarrely moves towards the main carriageway, suddenly thrusting you into the blind-spot of turning vehicles.

This design also means that the Dutch-style protected, unsignalled right turns aren’t possible (where the cycleway, like the footway, isn’t controlled by the traffic lights as people turning right aren’t actually interacting with the junction).

A cycleway moves towards the carriageway as it approaches a junction.

Rather than continue straight on, bike users are diverted into the blind spot of turning vehicles. This is the standard for Berlin cycleways at junctions.

The Network

The network is more of a patchwork, as it’s full of large holes and therefore unreliable.

A wide boulevard in Berlin, with most space given to the main carriageway.

No space for cycling on Sonnenallee, but plenty of space for motoring. There’s no good alternative to this road either, so footway cycling is very common here.

Some roads have cycleways, some have painted lanes, some have nothing at all. There seems to be no logic to it, either – some quiet, minor streets have cycleways for some reason, despite the level of motor traffic being very low, while many multi-lane urban motorways have nothing at all.

There’s no consistency of provision, no minimum quality of service that can be relied upon. The surface can vary from smooth asphalt to a relief map of the Moon’s biggest craters. In places, the width of the cycleway suddenly changes at random and for no apparent reason, and in other places the cycleway suddenly disappears, unceremoniously dumping you into the carriageway.

A cycleway suddenly ends and riders are sharply diverted onto a busy dual carriageway. This is a permanent design.

Should I get homesick for Britain, I’ll go stand here and remember why I left.

When roadworks interrupt the cycleway, sometimes you’re thrust out onto a fast, busy road, but other times you’re sent the other way to mingle with people on foot, and sometimes you’re simply abandoned. I haven’t once seen a temporary cycleway take the place of a general traffic lane at roadworks, as is usual in the Netherlands.

Poor-quality handling of a cycleway at roadworks in Berlin. The cycleway turns into painted lines which suddenly veer onto the busy dual carriageway, into the path of motor traffic.

Surprise! Now just swerve out from behind that parked car, onto the dual carriageway.

There’s unfortunately little joy in using the back streets, either. There’s almost a total absence of modal filtering, with most streets remaining two-way through-routes for all vehicles. Luckily, the main roads are so good for driving that rat-running isn’t the huge problem it is in the UK – endless queues of traffic that are normal for London are unheard of here, even at rush-hour. But some people still choose to drive down the back streets at unsuitable speeds, and there’s very little to prevent this.

A small street which remains open to motor traffic in both directions, with cobblestone surface, making for an awful cycling environment.

Rough cobbled surface, busy two-way rat-run, pathetic attempts at traffic calming. What’s not to love?

An even bigger problem with the back-streets is that they’re commonly surfaced in a kind of large cobblestone known as a “Pflasterstein” or “Kopfstein”. These are smooth with rounded tops, and are a real pain to cycle along at anything more than a crawling pace, and even then you’d better not be carrying any fruit. These surfaces are not always well-maintained either, meaning that large gaps can appear between uneven stones, creating danger for bikes.

Despite their bike-inhibiting nature, thanks to modern car suspensions these cobblestones do nothing to slow down a speeding driver.

A close-up of the bumpy cobbled surface of a typical Berlin back-street.

Even when well-maintained, as seen here, this surface is awful to ride on. The photo doesn’t do it justice. Many people choose to ride on the footway along roads surfaced like this, even on streets with almost no motor traffic at all.

The Forbidden City

All this means that while I have many more opportunities for utility cycling than I did in London, there are still huge swathes of the city that effectively remain inaccessible to me by bike, and many destinations within cycling distance that I instead choose to use public transport for, even though it’s slower than the bike and costs €2.20 each way.

So Berlin is not a great place for cycling, though it may seem that way to visitors. It’s not all awful (I’ll show some good stuff at some point) and it is better than pretty much all English-speaking cities, and its lacklustre infrastructure does enable more people to use a bike.

But really it’s a below-average place for cycling, with weak infrastructure – and that’s why Berlin shouldn’t be a model for elsewhere, except as a way of learning which mistakes to avoid.


Footnote: If you’re looking at any of these photos and thinking “I’d like some of that”, please take a look at the videos of David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur to see how it should be done instead.


Note: My German is okay but not perfect. If there’s anybody out there with native-level skills and a cycle campaigning urge, and you would like to proof-read/edit some German-language posts I have planned for a sister blog and campaign, please do get in touch!

 

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How to get from Waterloo to Greenwich the hard way

So the plans for Andrew Gilligan’s much-discussed “Quietways” are starting to appear.

Here I’ll look at the plans for the part of the route with which I’m very familiar, east of Waterloo in central London. (If you have knowledge of the route beyond Law Street, please do let me know your thoughts in the comments. The Kennington People on Bikes blog has covered more of the route here though I must say that the suggested changes are rather milder than I’d want to see.)

I’ll say now that I’m not impressed by these plans. They seem to consist of nothing but signs on a route which is already fairly quiet, although not quiet enough in my experience, as much of it needs modal filtering to prevent motor vehicles using it as a through-route.

But these weak plans seek to solve none of the problems that exist along the route, they are mostly just window dressing of the existing infrastructure.

Assault-course cycling

For example, the planned changes on Globe Street offer nothing new for those cycling – quite the opposite in fact, as they introduce four new points at which people riding bikes must give way, while providing no benefits over the existing arrangement.

Here’s Globe Street as it is today:

The existing layout of Globe Street SE1. Simple but effective cycling infrastructure.

Globe Street today.

It works pretty well already (despite the incorrect signage, and even with a lorry parked on the street).

The junction mouths could be wider to allow cycling two-abreast, and there’s a superfluous island (I assume it’s left over from before 2010 when the street was one-way for motor traffic with two-way cycling, before the junction became bikes-only, hence the now-oddly-positioned arrow), but it does work fine. In fact Pilgrimage Street, on the other side of Great Dover Street, ideally needs the same bikes-only junction treatment.

Now here’s the new Quietway plan for Globe Street:

The over-engineered design for Globe Street.

Southwark’s over-engineered plans are a waste of money and energy, and offer no improvement over the current layout.

My question is: how does this make cycling easier or safer?

It feels like a desperate attempt to spend the Quietways money somewhere – anywhere! – rather than admit that the plans are nothing but some signs and paint and spend the money on something useful.

Cycling north-east, one will enter a narrow channel, then mount a hump up to footway level, before dropping back down and reaching the junction. As the foot crossing leads to a locked back gate, I’m not convinced of the need for it. (Perhaps Southwark Council really do expect higher foot traffic than pedal traffic here…)

Don’t get me wrong, if foot traffic is high then we should consider giving it priority over other modes. This is a design I’d love to see on some of London’s other, car-filled roads, by the way. But that wouldn’t ever be considered – it’s only where bikes are concerned that we can tame the roads, it seems.

Cycling in the other direction, THREE new give-way points for people on bikes are to be installed. The first is just before the raised pedestrian crossing, the second is just before the car park exit, and the third is just after the car park exit. I have absolutely no idea what the third give-way is for, other than to punish people for riding a bike.

Why is there even an entrance/exit to the car park on Globe Street? There’s another one to the south side of the car park, surely that’s enough capacity for one apartment block. (Blocking off the exit to Globe Street would mean there’s capacity for a few more car parking spaces for residents, too – win-win!)

No wheelchairs or trikes, please – we’re British highways engineers

After negotiating all that, there’s a fourth give-way to a dead-end carrying no motor traffic at all. Why the priority can’t be changed in favour of bikes on the Quietway, I have no idea. The number of other vehicles using that part of Trinity Street must be almost zero.

Talking of Trinity Street, there’s this lovely bit of ironwork:

A fence bisecting the road, with a gap in the middle for bikes, but with two more fences covering the gap, making it hard to actually cycle through.

Yes, you are actually meant to cycle through this. (Photo: Google Maps)

This particular test of stunt-bike skills is designed to stop people using the street as a rat-run by motorbike – and kudos to the residents for preferring to have a quiet street instead of the dubious pleasure of being able to drive out of it at both ends (unlike the residents of Gilbert Road in Cambridge who value saving a few minutes’ driving over clean air, quiet roads, and safety).

But surely there are better ways of preventing rat-running by people on motorbikes without reducing the cycling capacity to almost zero? And it does massively restrict cycling capacity, as it takes so long to negotiate safely. Many mount the footway to get by, though my favoured solution was simply to use the parallel Cole Street, which features no such restriction. This isn’t designing for mass cycling, it’s a bad joke.

I’m not even sure that the anti-(motor)bike fence is needed any more anyway, as Trinity Street’s junction with Great Dover Street has been blocked off now. It would be simple to extend the new plaza to separate Trinity Street from Falmouth Road, meaning that Trinity Street would be a dead end and of no use to rat-runners.

However, the only planned improvement to this ridiculous bottleneck is to move the two central fences away from the gap, by 30cm, “to comply [with] current cycling design guidelines and ensure cyclists of all abilities can negotiate this feature”. This is paying lip service to the concept of cycling infrastructure which is suitable for all ability levels – no such worries seem to have occurred to the designers elsewhere on this route.

Lipstick on a rat-run

Webber Street, Great Suffolk Street and Law Street are all currently used as rat-runs by people driving motor vehicles, and under these plans they are to remain so. This is not designing for all abilities.

A person on a bike rides out of the junction and has to pass between two large white vans waiting at traffic lights to do so.

The Google Streetview camera catches a typical scene at the junction of Webber Street and Great Suffolk Street.

There are only superficial changes planned at this junction, so the scene above will continue to occur. What if the lights turn green just as you start to pull out, do you trust the drivers not to move forward? Can you see if there are more bikes coming from the left, hidden behind the van? Can you imagine members of your family making this manoeuvre?

A few bollards and entry restrictions would fix this in no time, making the junction bikes-only by blocking off the end of Webber Street as well as Great Suffolk Street to the west. So why are no such improvements included here? They genuinely would improve the roads for people cycling, while keeping access for residents and businesses, and would cost very little too.

Law Street has the same problem. It should be a quiet residential street, but stand there at rush hour and you’ll see it’s mainly used as a speedy short-cut by people driving cars. If a cycle route isn’t suitable 24/7, then it’s not a cycle route.

The cycle Quietway plans for the junction of Law Street, Wild's Rents and Weston Street in London SE1, with dangerous right turn highlighted.

I’ve highlighted the Quietway right turn in a lovely shade of official Quietway purple. Can you imagine a young child waiting there while cars were passing around them on all sides?

Put some bollards on the junction at the end of Law Street and the problem is solved. The right turn along the Quietway can then be made safely, rather than waiting in the centre of a maelstrom of taxis.

Two other points about Law Street: Firstly, you’ll see a pedestrian-priority crossing of the cycleway at the end of Law Street. Why isn’t the same pedestrian priority being installed on the carriageway?

The truth is that motor vehicles are far more dangerous than bikes, so people on foot need more help to walk where there are motor vehicles than where there are bikes. And yet I keep seeing designs that suggest the opposite, that the very concept of a bike is toxic and lethal while all cars are made of marshmallow and driven by kindly vicars.

Secondly, the “bikes right turn” painted symbol could lead drivers to believe that all bikes indicating right are turning onto the Quietway cycleway, whereas some will be turning onto Wild’s Rents instead, potentially leading to dangerous under-taking on the junction.

Protected cycleways where they’re not needed

The plans for Tabard Street are over-engineered, with a short length of unnecessary cycleway that looks too narrow, and bike symbols painted in the door zone of parked cars (this particular intervention seems to feature throughout the plans).

Plans for a segregated cycle path on a quiet back street.

This is just daft.

Regular readers will know that I’m an advocate of high-quality physically separated cycleways, but this ain’t it. We need them on busy main roads, not on quiet back streets! I thought the whole point of the Quietways project was to use cheap measures to reduce motor traffic on a string of roads to form a safe cycling route. So I don’t understand the need for the pointless cycleway here.

Tabard Street is long and straight and vehicles drive too fast along it (hence the speed humps). Why not simply block it off to motor vehicles at the Quietway’s entry and exit points, thereby removing through-motor-traffic while preserving access for residents? (That way, we won’t even need the bike symbols painted in the parked car door-zone, either.)

Money to spend on whatever

Furthermore, I’m concerned that footway and general carriageway improvements appear on the plans. I’m all for improving the footway but surely this should not come out of the cycling budget (especially removing old, redundant driveway drop-downs as seen here on the ‘plan I’ PDF, surely property developers should pay for this when they remove the garage or driveway?).

And what to make of the fact that in only 2.4 miles, there are apparently a grand total of 41 humps along the length of Quietway 2 in Southwark?

I get the impression that the scheme has some money behind it that must be spent, but as the designers are unwilling to add filtering to remove routes for motor vehicles, they don’t know where to spend it. Hence the ridiculous over-engineered stuff on Globe Street and Tabard Street.

I’m still not convinced that the Quietways concept is even a good one. It seems to be a continuation of the failed dual network approach, where some people are expected to put up with inconvenience while others put up with danger.

Who are these people who currently won’t cycle, but will happily leap onto a bike once Andrew Gilligan installs some signs along an already existing, convoluted, twisty-turny route full of humps and rat-running drivers, where they have to constantly give way to everyone? I’m not sure that these people exist.

The whole idea seems to be designed to shut cycle campaigners up while not upsetting the all-important drivers by making any actual changes to the roads. The Quietways don’t seem to form a network, and they’re definitely not the fine grid of interconnected cycling-friendly routes which are needed to enable mass cycling.

It feels a lot like we’re repeating the mistakes of the recent past by creating yet another version of the failed London Cycling Network, with isolated scraps of strange infrastructure, fading paint, and neglected signs scattered around the city.

It doesn’t even live up to its branding, as many of the roads that should be “quiet ways” are, in reality, speedy rat-runs which are to remain exactly as they are.


If you’re minded to take part in the consultation – and given the result of recent consultations I’m not sure it’s worth the bother – then you can submit comments via Southwark Council’s website here.

 

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Leeds and Bradford Cycle Superhighway: Confused? You will be.

The plans for Leeds’ “Cycle Superhighway” are so afwul that I genuinely don’t know where to start.

So I’ll start by saying this: As it stands right now, I would rather go full-Franklin and campaign against this scheme than risk any of this crap being installed. It really is so awful that I would rather see the whole project cancelled than have the current scheme approved.

Regular readers will know that I’m all for good-quality cycling infrastructure, and I’ve campaigned hard to get it. But there’s now a bigger danger to cycling in Britain than those old-school “cyclists’ proper place is on the road” types, and that is poor-quality infrastructure.

Nothing will derail the entire “Space for Cycling” movement more than the acceptance of rubbish designs, and Leeds’ plans are probably as good an example of rubbish designs as you’ll find anywhere.

A year of no progress whatsoever

It’s now over a year since I first wrote about Leeds and Bradford’s lacklustre plans, though I hoped at the time that the designs would be improved.

So, a whole year has passed, surely that’s plenty of time to come up with something at least vaguely reasonable?

Sadly, it seems not. While the latest plans are an improvement over the ones I last looked at (especially the sections in Bradford) they still fall short of the standard of infrastructure that’s needed here.

As is normal with such big projects, there’s a wonderful-sounding “vision” (PDF) and then there’s the grim reality of the actual designs themselves. They’ve got a name (“CityConnect”) and a logo, which must not be tampered with.

Visual guide to how you must and must not use City Connect's precious logo.

It’s interesting that they’ve been so exacting with the logo, yet extremely sloppy with the actual plans.

These big schemes always have plenty of lovely words about how great cycling is and how it benefits everyone and how brilliant it would be if people could use a bike to get around, but then the planned scheme makes it clear that cycling comes last, motor vehicles are more important, and the whole thing is going to be a botched job.

It’s all about the branding – PDF here, but make sure you have some incense sticks and a whalesong CD ready, it’s a wild ride of paradigm-busting colours and mutual touching.

(Incidentally, whoever is running the City Connect Twitter account is responsive and helpful, though they have been unable to provide me with simple and important pieces of information, such as the width of the planned cycle track. This fits in with branding being prioritised over content, I guess.)

It seems to me that whoever is in charge of this scheme either doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing, or they’re cynically and intentionally trying to appear modern and cycle-friendly while actually continuing Leeds’ reputation as the Motorway City of the 1970s. I’m told that there are some great people involved who really do want the best but are being hampered by relics of the past in powerful positions. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the current plans are dreadful.

And that’s particularly annoying for me personally, as this scheme affects areas that are close to me. I grew up in Leeds and my family still lives there. My BMX was stolen from outside the very Halfords that this scheme runs past.

More importantly, my niece – just five years old, an age where Dutch children are regularly cycling around with their parents – lives very close to the planned route.

When it’s built, would my sister be able to use this cycleway with her daughter? In ten years time, will my niece be able to ride into town safely on her own, as millions of Dutch teenagers do today?

Looking at these plans, no. Not even close. It’s not a safe design, it’s a hack job. I would not advise my sister to use this “superhighway”. I would advise against it.

So who is this scheme for? Who is it aimed at? Existing cyclists – very few though there are in Leeds – surely don’t need this, as it will only slow them down. I can’t see how it would attract people to begin cycling either, as it’s just not convenient enough compared to the alternatives.

It seems to be aimed at some kind of day-tripping leisure cyclist who prefers huge arterial roads to greenery.

Plans of confusion

I was intending to dive into the plans themselves in this post, but due to the inconsistency of the images and icons shown to describe different types of cycleway, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s planned where.

For example, the blue circle icon for their “Type 1″ cycleway seems to suggest that the footway, cycleway and carriageway are all at the same level, with raised kerbs separating them.

But then the cross-section diagram seems to suggest that the footway will be at the normal raised level, and the cycleway at carriageway level with a raised kerb as a divider (like CS2X in London).

And then they’ve used a photo of a section of CS3 in London to illustrate this, which is like neither of the other two suggested arrangements (though that photo does match their “Type 2″ cycleway!)

Various images that Leeds Council have used to describe their Type 1 cycleway, none of which match up.

Do those behind this scheme even understand the difference?

Okay, so I’d read all this and decided that the blue ‘Type 1′ cycleway must be level with the carriageway, with a raised dividing kerb, like in the 3D image at the bottom and the cross-section diagram on the left.

But just when I thought I might be able to make sense of the plans, there’s more mess! The designs show triangles at the start and end of the blue ‘Type 1′ sections, which I’ve been reliably informed denote a ramp up or down (the point of the triangle being the bottom of the slope):

A section from Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing apparently raised cycle track, also described as being at carriageway-level

The triangles suggest that the blue sections are raised to a higher level than the carriageway.

It seems that the people behind the plans are as confused as I am, because somebody has clearly spent a lot of time drawing these triangles in. Whoever sat at a computer and did this must have thought that the blue “Type 1″ cycle paths are raised from carriageway level, or they wouldn’t have diligently spent time and effort adding ramps into the drawings.

I asked the always-responsive City Connect Twitter person about this, and they checked for me. It seems the blue “Type 1″ cycleways are at carriageway level after all, and the triangles on the plans were “an error from [the] design team”.

An error? Look, I’m not an engineer, I’m just some schlub who would like people to be able to use a bike for transport easily and safely. How on Earth did nobody notice this before me? Is the communication within the project so poor that nobody is scrutinising the plans as much as untrained members of the public? Why are we paying people to make such obvious errors?

How many more errors – invisible to my untrained eye – are hidden in these plans, to remain there until the guys with the shovels turn up on site?

Note, added 20th September 2014: It’s also occurred to me that if the blue bits are indeed at carriageway-level, where’s the 60cm-wide segregating strip meant to go? The black line on the plans is nowhere near wide enough. How can people be expected to give informed feedback on such vague plans?

Nothing says “Superhighway” quite like the words “footway conversion”

There’s also inconsistencies such as this:

Confusing labelling on Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing a footway conversion at carriageway level

They’re just putting labels on at random, now.

The image above shows a footway conversion while the icon used is for a carriageway-level cycleway divided by an island. We all know that “footway conversion” means nothing more than a few signs and some paint, so why have they labelled it as being at carriageway-level? (And I wonder if they intend to move the many lamp-posts and telegraph poles that are currently embedded in the footway?)

Photograph of footway to be converted into a cycleway on York Road in Leeds

Are they really planning to drop this footway down to carriageway level? I don’t think so. So why label it as such? (Image: Google Streetview)

At least, I hope the intention is to convert the entire width of it into a cycleway, although the icon suggests that one half of it will be turned into a cycleway, with the other half remaining a footway.

With such inconsistency, and with no width given anywhere, it’s impossible to tell. Isn’t that the whole point of plans, to answer these questions?

Finally for now, the icons for “cycle lane across junction” and “cycle path across junction” are used inconsistently, too:

Different parts of the plans show different icons for side-road treatments

So bikes go on the what, now?

The whole thing reeks of sloppiness. How are members of the public expected to give feedback when the designs are so unclear? Even those who are paid to work with them seem unsure about what is intended where.

If only they’d paid as much attention to detail on the plans as they have done on the logo.

Anyway, that’s enough for today, I reckon. I’ll have a deeper look at some of the plans very soon.

But for now, I’ll leave this question, which I sincerely hope someone from City Connect can answer: Why are there no widths given for any of the planned cycleways?

 

Update, Wednesday 23rd July 2014: A response was posted by City Connect on their blog, which prevents linking to anything but the main blog page, so you have to click here then find the blog titled “Section G Plans”, which should be at the top until they add a new post.

At least, I think it was a response to my blog post, or my tweets. It’s hard to tell, as there was no link to what was being rebutted.

 

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