Tag Archives: infrastructure

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.”

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Pretend infrastructure

Bicycle streets! Don’t you just love them? Put up a few signs, a bit of paint, and voilà – instant Groningen.

Except it doesn’t work like that at all, though not everyone has figured that out yet.

For a bicycle street to work, it needs to have very, very low levels of motor traffic. It needs to form no useful through route for motor vehicles. Bikes needs to greatly outnumber cars and vans.

In Berlin, the highly-paid experts responsible for the roads think that signs and paint are enough to create a great cycle network. Just put up signs to tell drivers that a road is a bicycle street – or a home zone, or no entry – and they’ll behave differently, right? They’ll stop using that street as a rat-run, no?

Here’s Choriner Straße in Prenzlauer Berg:

Funny, the signs and paint don’t seem to be working.

Does it look like bicycles dominate there? Does that look suitable for young children? (And don’t be fooled by the low speeds, drivers are going slow because a double-parked car has narrowed the carriageway just off-camera to the left.)

This is pretend infrastructure – something which makes it look like the authorities are considering cycling, while they’re actually doing nothing. Other modes of transport don’t have this (with the possible exception of walking). There’s no airports without runways, or motorways with grazing sheep designed-in.

It’s not just Berlin that does this. When I lived in London, Lambeth Council painted bike symbols on Hercules Road to try and pretend it wasn’t an awful rat-run. That particular street is soon to be part of London’s forthcoming network patchwork of Quietways, so the green blobs of paint which taxis speed over will instead be purple blobs of paint which taxis speed over – more pretend infrastructure.

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road



Here’s another bit of pretend infra, a moment’s walk away from the first video, at the junction with Oderberger Straße (look at it on a map and you’ll see it’s clearly a rat-run to cut the corner of Eberswalder Straße and Schönhauser Allee – no traffic lights, either).

This junction is signposted “no vehicles, except bikes and emergency vehicles” yet there’s nothing at all to stop anyone driving through here. So what happens?

More pretend infra. There’s even a “no through route” sign at the end of the street, but the local drivers all know this is nonsense!

The most profitable form of pretend infrastructure at the moment is shared space. If you’ve strolled along London’s famous Exhibition Road recently, you’ll be aware of the magnitude of bullshit at work here.

Lots has been written about the failure of Exhibition Road and other examples of shared space so I won’t go into detail here, but unfortunately the on-trend placemaking street architects’ marketing teams are still busy selling snake-oil, as can be seen here on Hackney’s lovely new Leonard Circus, where white van drivers share safely with anyone lucky enough not to be in the way:

Would you want your loved ones wandering around there when he speeds through this pretend infrastructure again, or would you prefer some tried-and-tested, proven-to-work sustainable safety?

 

(If you have any examples of pretend infrastructure, please leave a comment!)

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cycling to school with the CTC again (a follow-up post)

Like the first time I wrote about the CTC, my most recent post (until this one) has also got people thinking about what they do and how they do it.

Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director for the CTC, responded to the article which is much appreciated, and you can read my reply there too.

The People’s Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire blog wrote an article titled ‘CTC: who do they represent these days?‘ which is well worth a read, as it covers other ground such as the CTC’s support for the disastrous “Nice Way Code” campaign, and their “welcoming note” (albeit heavily qualified) to the DfT’s complete and utter dismissal of the Get Britain Cycling report.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, PJ McNally covered another example of the CTC ignoring cycling infrastructure even when it’s under their very nose. Please do go read PJ’s excellent blog post on the subject, but I think the gist of it is worth repeating here in a little photo-post.

One of the locations in CTC’s “Cycletopia” is Cherwell School (actually in Oxford) where it is claimed that almost 60% of pupils cycle to school. Impressive numbers! According to the CTC’s Cycletopia page, “the school runs cycle maintenance workshops, there’s an active cycling club and they even campaign to improve road conditions for cyclists” which sounds lovely, though I dare say that even with all these pro-cycling policies few parents would allow their children to ride a bike along busy roads.

What isn’t mentioned is the excellent (by British standards) cycle infrastructure around the school, specifically the wide cycle path along Marston Ferry Road.

Though I know it’s not ideal to get a feel for infrastructure purely from online sources, here’s a few images from Google Streetview. Luckily for me the Streetview car seems to have passed by at commuting time on a school day for one of the images.

A photo of a cycle path next to a busy road near Cherwell School in Oxford. Many children on bikes are using the cycle path. None are using the main road.

I can’t help but notice that the children are on the cycle path, not on the busy road to the right. I suspect the children on the footpath have moved there to get out of the way of the Googlemobile. (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of the Marston Ferry Road cycle path, showing a very wide, physically separate cycle path.

Further west, the cycle path loses the hedge but remains physically separated from the road by a kerb, grass verge and lamp-posts. The width looks great! (Image: Google Maps)

A photo of B4495 Marston Ferry Road cycle path, where it crosses an access road to a car park. The cycle path has priority over the side road.

At junctions, the cycle path moves away from the road, gains a centre line, narrows, and rises up gently. It has clear priority over the minor road (though the paint could do with a refresh!). It’s not quite how I’d do it, but it’s clear that bikes have priority here. A shame about the bizarre pedestrian barriers on the narrow footpath though! (Image: Google Maps)

A photograph of the walking and cycling underpass which enables Cherwell School pupils to safely cross the busy main road.

While I can’t vouch for it at night, I’m sure this underpass is safe and well-used during the day, especially at school commute times. (Image: Google Maps)

Looking further around on the map it seems that there are other traffic-free cycle routes from other nearby housing areas, albeit not as wide and well-made as this one.

Again I acknowledge that it’s difficult to truly understand how something works merely by looking at a photograph of it. But it’s clear that the cycle path is at least worth a mention when discussing the high rate of cycling at Cherwell School. To ignore it is madness.

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cycling to School with the CTC

Over a year ago I wrote an article criticising the CTC. What sparked it was their “Right to Ride to School” page, which at the time suggested that everything except the roads was the reason for Britain’s 2% cycle-to-school rate.

Since then, they’ve clarified that that specific campaign is aimed solely at those schools which place additional blocks in the way of cycling — such as mandating on helmet use, refusing to allow bike parking, or even banning cycling altogether.

Fair enough, I suppose, but I’d say that schools’ irrational opposition to cycling is merely a symptom of the unpleasant and dangerous conditions on Britain’s roads and streets. No school wants a dead child on their hands, and so they try to ban what they see as a potentially deadly activity.

But campaign for the right conditions — and this does mean cycle paths, by the way, training and 20mph zones alone won’t convince many parents to let little Timmy and Jenny out on their own — and these fears will evaporate.

To talk about cycling to school without mentioning cycle paths is strange and rather silly. The CTC say that the campaign is aimed solely at obstructive schools, but it’s still ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to what’s really preventing children cycling to school.

I still think, a year on, that the CTC remain weak (to the point of having no official position) on Dutch-style cycle infrastructure, and whether they get behind it or not isn’t my concern. They do run the risk of being left behind, as today the word “segregation” is on everyone’s lips when cycling infrastructure is mentioned.

They claim that they “have always supported good infrastructure” but that’s not enough. They need to actively push for good infrastructure, but they won’t do it. Meanwhile they’re happy to get behind stupid rubbish such as the Nice Way Code, yet another “share the road” campaign. (Though they do offer some mild criticism where nobody will read it.)

The only overtures they’ve made towards the Dutch model is the frankly embarrassing Cycletopia, which seems to have died a death of neglect anyway.

Cyclecraft for your children, cycle paths for ours

What spurred me to write this post, however, is that I received confirmation of something I had suspected since I wrote that original post. Last year, I wrote:

“Even the photo they have used looks suspicious – why can’t we see where these children are riding their bikes? Looking at the short height of the kerb in the bottom-left corner of the photo, I wonder if these children are actually riding on a protected cycle path. Has it been cropped to prevent angry emails from vehicular cycling zealots?”

Here is the photo in question, still in use on the CTC’s website:

The CTC's photo of three young children riding bikes, but it is cropped so we can't see what type of surface they're riding on.

“Take the lane kids, John Franklin will be proud!”

I asked at the time for the location of the photo, and despite being told that the CTC knew, I wasn’t told.

Well, I now know where this photo was taken, and I know that this is a staged photo of a CTC employee’s children. I’m not going to reveal the location, as I’m not sure whether these particular children use this segregated cycle path (for that’s what it is!), and I don’t want to compromise their privacy (they haven’t had a choice about whether to be involved in this debate, after all).

But I will show you a photo of the location, which I think tells us all we need to know:

A photo of the location of the CTC's Right to Ride to School photo, showing the context. A narrow but otherwise Dutch-style cycle path runs parallel to a road.

Aha, found it! More towards Bikeability, or Go (a little bit) Dutch?

The children were riding on the very type of infrastructure that the CTC are still reluctant to push for. It’s not very wide – probably only about 1.5m – but in most other respects it’s fairly Dutch (well, for a British attempt at a cycle path, anyway).

I find it very cynical and dishonest of the CTC to choose this location to take the photo, yet failing to call for this type of infrastructure. They seem to be saying “oh training is enough for your children to ride on the road, but not for our children. Our children use the cycle paths, but we won’t tell you that!”

Why crop the photo so closely? Why not show the wider context? Because when you’re an organisation which believes the-road-is-right (and, let’s face it, they still do) you can’t admit that, for your children, the road is simply too dangerous (but that this physically protected cycle path is lovely and safe).

So this is a staged photo of children on bikes. It had to be staged because nowhere in Britain has the type of infrastructure that’s required to see scenes like this every single day:

A photo of the school run at a school in the Netherlands. A wide cycle path is filled with children riding bikes.

Why do you think all these children are here? I’ll give you a clue: it’s the cycle path.

This kind of scene is commonplace and every-day in the Netherlands, and it’s the infrastructure – especially the cycle paths – that make it so. If the CTC really want children to ride to school, this is what they need to start pushing for.

I’ve heard voices from the inside who suggest that the CTC is moving towards supporting Dutch-quality cycling infrastructure, but I’ve been hearing this stuff for a year now. When’s the announcement? Where’s the new policy document?

I suspect that while the CTC pay lip service to the notion of cycle paths, some of those in charge remain enamoured with the idea that we can create a cycling revolution on the roads as they are.

So instead they continue to bang on about Bikeability as if that’s going to change a damn thing:

“Improving conditions and provision for cyclists on the road network is crucial if we want to get more children cycling. But it is also vital to be teaching them basic skills of bike handling, hazard perception and the road skills required to deal with the conditions as they are now.”

No, it’s not, because no parent is mad enough to let their children actually ride a bike on the roads!

Perhaps what the CTC should do, instead of all these campaigns, is start some sort of club for people who like to go on long bike rides. I bet they’d be good at that. Don’t know what they’d call it, though.

27 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

After 40 years, can Leeds finally stop being the “Motorway City of the Seventies”?

Talking to people in Leeds about utility cycling is a bit like trying to explain air conditioning to Eskimos.

I don’t mean to insult the citizens of Leeds here – I was one myself for 30 car-filled years. I love my friends and family, but they have lived their whole lives in a city which has one of the lowest cycling rates in a country with one of the lowest cycling rates in Europe, so you can hardly blame them for driving everywhere and thinking that’s normal and healthy. I understand that from this position the concept of utility cycling can seem baffling and outlandish.

Nor do I criticise anybody in Leeds who uses a car every single time they leave the house. There are few genuine alternatives for most people.

The bus system in Leeds is dominated by one bus company, almost to the point of monopoly, and there is no integrated ticketing system or smart-cards in use. So if you buy a day ticket on a FirstBus bus, you can’t use it on another operator’s bus. You can buy a “Metro Day” which is a ticket issued by the local transport authority, but that costs more and isn’t widely advertised.

As there’s no Oyster equivalent either, each new passenger has to have a conversation with the driver about where they’re going, hand over cash and wait for change. Multiply this by several passengers, or even twenty or thirty people at a busy stop, and you’ll see why a bus journey in Leeds takes much longer than it should.

There’s no metro system, just regular National Rail trains. These are only of use to those who live near a station, and who aren’t in a rush. They’re not the most frequent services either, to say the least, and some of them have certainly seen better days.

The cycling modal share in Leeds is pathetic. Even the commuting share, which tends to be about twice as high as the overall modal share, is around 1%. In the student areas it rises to the giddy heights of 2%.

But this is no surprise, as Leeds City Council has for decades promoted private car use above all else. Not long before I was born, Leeds proudly proclaimed itself to be “Motorway City of the Seventies“. That was actually used as a slogan for the city! You can imagine the sort of schemes they cooked up.

The planning decisions which were made back then have resulted in a dreadful transport environment. Even driving in Leeds is no fun, as the congestion is so bad. (It’s not London, but it’s bad enough.)

Morning Has Broken

However, there is a small ray of light shining through the diesel smog. Like many local authorities across the UK, Leeds, along with conjoined sibling Bradford, is at long last rousing from its 40-year transport slumber, awakened by the delicious aroma of central government money.

The two neighbouring councils have joined forces to come up with a grand plan to create a “cycle super highway” from the centre of Bradford all the way through Leeds to the other side. (If it sounds familiar, that’s because those in charge of Leeds have delusions of grandeur and will copy everything London and Manchester does.)

Someone at the council clearly has a sense of humour, as they’ve called their bid Highway to Health. In it, they’ve used the word “segregated” which is interesting as this wasn’t even on the menu a couple of years ago, but it’s seemingly a word which no cycle plan can be without today.

It promises “segregated, safe cycle lanes, secure cycle parking and activities to encourage cycling and walking” which sounds pretty good. And looking at the plans, they’re considering something which would give those 1970s planners heart attacks: “reduce existing carrigeway to provide cycle track”.

This is actually really encouraging. There’s plenty of space in Leeds for really great cycle infrastructure (not that lack of space is ever a good reason to ignore cycling). They’ve defined two types of cycle track, one Dutch-style and one Danish-style, and they’ve got the general idea right.

Leeds' two cycle track designs. One Dutch-style with a separating kerb, and one Danish-style with only vertical separation.

Pretty good, but not wide enough. Ideally the elevation of the cycle track would always be halfway between the footpath and the road, as it is in the Type 2 diagram.

They’ve also defined what their bus stop bypasses will look like, and they look pretty good to me.

Leeds council's bus stop cycle bypass design.

Looks okay to me. They’ve got the general idea.

Part of the route has access roads alongside the main road, and these will be utilised for cycling as part of the plans. This is a great way to get a long stretch of decent cycle route, almost for free, as long as they can discourage as much motor traffic as possible by using alternating one-way restrictions and other methods.

A False Dawn?

Unfortunately, while the general concept is a good one, they seem to have been designed by someone who drives everywhere, although they have watched that video of London’s planned cycle path along the Victoria Embankment. I doubt that those behind the plans have been to the Netherlands to see why cycling works so well over there.

(I acknowledge that these plans are a first draft, merely an attempt to get the funding, and I sincerely hope that the scheme designers take this constructive criticism on board should this project go ahead.)

For a start – and it’s a biggie – their minimum width for a one-way track is only 1.5m, and 2.5m for a two-way track! This is far too narrow, and makes me worry that the whole scheme is about to unravel. The standard minimum for one-way cycle track should be 2m (ideally 2.5m), and 4m for a two-way track. If the current widths are kept, Leeds’ cycle tracks run the very real risk of being seen as toytown infrastructure, dangerously narrow, and a waste of money.

It also looks like they’re planning for full-height vertical kerbs, which reduce the usable width of the cycle track by quite a margin. It sounds like a silly little detail, but it’s really not. Kerbs need to be suitable for safe cycling, and the standard UK road kerb isn’t good enough.

Toucan play at this game

Also worrying is the number of toucan crossings (combined cycling-and-walking crossings). They’re nearly always fiddly for bike users and confusing or unnerving for those walking. If we must sometimes put the two modes together, parallel cycling/walking crossings are legal, so why can’t we use those?

I’m not sure about their concept for when a cycle track meets a pedestrian crossing either. What happens if people are waiting at the crossing? Do bike users have to wait until the crossing is clear, or are they expected to swerve onto the footpath? Are people on foot expected to press the button then take a few steps back?

The Netherlands has solved these problems, we need to copy their designs rather than waste time and money with rubbish like this:

Leeds City Council's plans for when a cycle track passes a pedestrian crossing. A recipe for confusion.

A recipe for confusion, not fair on people riding bikes or walking.

Here’s one in action, near Leeds train station:

A photo of a cycle track which runs beside a pedestrian crossing. The cycle track gives way then disappears, only to re-appear after the pedestrian waiting area

Something is wrong here.

Well I say “in action” but this design only really works because so few people cycle in Leeds that the chances of a pedestrian meeting a person on a bike here are infinitesimally slim.

(Incidentally, the cycle tracks near the station are of a pretty high quality for the UK. It’s just a shame that they’re so very short and of limited use. Added July 2014: I say they’re good “for the UK” which is faint praise – they still have some severe flaws, as described in this Reddit conversation.)

Dutch-style junctions? We’ve heard of ’em

They seem to be having terrible trouble getting junctions right. Whoever drew these plans really needs to visit the Netherlands, as all the situations have been solved already. The current plans involve a mixture of ASLs, painted cycle lanes and toucan crossings, which simply isn’t good enough.

Again, the Dutch have existing, working solutions for all of these junctions. Why not copy them?

Detail from Leeds council's plans for the roundabout at Barwick Road and the Ring Road, where bike users are expected to use a two-stage pedestrian crossing with a pig-pen island.

I’ll be honest: this doesn’t scream “convenient” to me. (See it on Google Maps)

Do you think there might be a better solution here? Even though Dutch-style roundabouts are still undergoing trials, why not provide a single-stage straight-through crossing?

Note to traffic engineers: IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO DO A 90º-TURN ON A BIKE.

Here’s another junction:

One of Leeds City Council's junction designs, a confusing mess of paint and toucan crossings.

“We didn’t know what to do here. Will this do?” (See it on Google Maps)

I like the phrase “on and off road facilities to be provided” which is traffic planner code for “this looks hard, and we didn’t know what to do, so we’ll put ‘confident cyclists’ on the road, and everyone else will just go on the path.”

I know this junction well, and I can tell you that the proposed design is a mess. They really need to go back to the drawing board on this one. It’s really not that complicated (it was a roundabout until about ten years ago) but they’ll need to put in some cycle-specific signals to fix it. Dare they make the cars wait?

And a final junction:

A junction on York Road in Leeds, where the cycle paths turn into on-road cycle lanes

Nice cycle paths, shame about the junction. Also note lack of any facility for turning right, other than cycling across multiple lanes of motor traffic. (See it on Google Maps)

This junction really isn’t that complicated, there’s no excuse for giving up on the cycle paths and putting in painted lanes instead. They may as well do nothing and cross their fingers. Junctions are where good cycle path design is needed most!

Oh Bradford, where art thou?

I must reserve my ire for Bradford though, as they’re letting the whole thing down. Their side of the scheme looks largely to be business as usual, with long stretches of “on-carriageway cycling”. If you’re lucky, there will be a painted cycle lane.

The section below is on Leeds Old Road, which is a wide road with a painted central strip. There is plenty of space for a proper cycle track. Bradford aren’t even trying.

Thanks for nothing, Bradford. (See it on Google Streetview)

They’re even suggesting “cycle on carriageway” at the enormous multi-lane Thornbury Gyratory, which is ridiculous and shows that they really don’t care about cycling.

The enormous Thornbury Gyratory in Bradford, where the council thinks there's no room for cycle paths.

This junction is HUGE, and all they’re suggesting is cycle lanes? Look at it on Google Maps. LOOK AT IT NOW.

Maybe Bradford is secretly hoping to become the new Motorway City of the Seventies.

In conclusion: possibly

Overall though, the scheme is a huge leap forward, and a world away from the usual cycle provision of bus lanes, blue signs and apathy (well, the Leeds side is, anyway – Bradford really needs to get with the programme). It’s physically a huge scheme too, crossing right from one end of the city to the other.

This is no complete solution, however. It’s still nowhere near the dense network of cycle paths and nearly-traffic-free streets which are required for mass cycling, and there are many details which need to be fixed.

But there are very many good points also, and the general concept is the right one – provide safe, protected space for cycling, away from motor vehicles.

With some alterations (fix the junctions, widen the tracks) then maybe – just maybe – Leeds can finally begin to leave the 1970s behind and one day become a 21st century European city.

 


 

Manchester is also up to something which is good but could be better. Two schemes, in fact – this one in the city centre and this one on Oxford Road. You can take a look and tell the council how to do it right – even if you don’t live there you can respond.

 

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Bike paths along main roads are key

I’ve discovered a great new tool on Google Maps which shows the required cycle network in any city, town or village across the country!

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open Google Maps
  2. Search for your location in the box at the top
  3. Et voilà! Your cycling network map is displayed clearly.

Here’s a bike network map for central London (I’ve removed the labels so you can see the roads more clearly):

A standard road map of London (with the labels removed)

It’s the vehicular cycling network of today, and the all-citizen cycling network of tomorrow!

Here’s how it works:

  • The green and orange roads are main routes which need good quality separated (aka segregated) cycle tracks. These roads are too busy to mix bikes with motor vehicles, especially the green ones. (Note: Since writing this, Google have changed the way they colour the roads, making the green roads yellow, the orange ones white, and the white ones off-white, so it’s not as easy to spot main routes any more. Bah!)
  • Most of the yellow roads require separated cycle tracks, but some of them can be made one-way or be blocked from being used as a through-route by motor traffic, in order to reduce the usefulness of them and therefore reduce the amount of motor vehicles on them.
  • The thin dark lines (or white roads if you zoom in) will all be either one-way streets or filtered to make them useless as through-routes and therefore vastly reduce the amount of motor vehicles on them, and the speed limit will be 20mph or lower, so cycle paths won’t usually be required on them.

Simple, eh? How great of Google to provide us with such a tool!

I’m joking, of course, but the point I’m making is a serious one. There are many advocates for alternative routes for cycling, but the important routes are already there: they’re the main roads, the big ones which go directly from one place to another, which people are already familiar with.

So I’m not entirely convinced about the “quietways” aspect of the Mayor of London’s “Vision”  (I’m not the only one) and nor am I convinced that Hackney has cracked it for cycling.

Of course, I genuinely applaud Hackney council for the filteredpermeability measures, 20mph zones, parking restrictions and removal, and the few cycle paths which they have installed (though I doubt I’d be heard above the sound of Hackney applauding themselves) but their main roads still leave much to be desired and are generally horrible.

While 20mph zones and low-traffic streets are good in themselves (indeed, they’re an important component of a “liveable” city), on their own these measures will not enable mass cycling.

With these cheap and easy options, Hackney is going after the “low-hanging fruit” (i.e. the people who are already eager to use a bike) who will put up with inconveniences such as back-street routes. To grow the cycling rate (and demographic range) will be much more difficult – do they want children riding bikes to school, or pensioners riding bikes to the shops? Do they want people with disabilities – such as wheelchair or motorised scooter users – to be included in this transport revolution?

The problem with the “quietways-only” method favoured by Hackney is that you can’t ride very far without coming up against a large, busy road.

Let’s imagine that every single minor road and street in London had been properly traffic-calmed to a level where everybody felt safe riding a bike on them, but the busy main roads were still places full of heavy traffic where bicycles and motor vehicles were expected to mix. The “safe cycling” map of London might look like this (black lines only):

A map of central London with the main roads removed.

Hmm, these quietways are rather restrictive and disjointed. (Note that the black lines include walking-only routes, so it would be even worse than this. If only Hyde Park was that cycle-friendly!)

Not much use, is it? All the useful, direct routes with the places you want to go are out of reach. The streets which are inviting for cycling don’t go anywhere useful, and each neighbourhood is disconnected from the next by a main road. Even if the main roads could be crossed without actually cycling along them, it’s not a good transport system because the small streets are difficult to navigate.

This is what cycling through Hackney feels like to me. There are some fine streets, but you’ll frequently come up against horrible motor vehicle-dominated thoroughfares. It’s not a network, it’s a patchwork.

Main roads are the main roads for many reasons: They are the direct routes from A to B. They have the shops, the pubs, the dentists, etc., which people want to visit. They offer social safety, in that they’re well-lit, visible and busy.

Similarly, the back streets are quiet for a reason. They’re not direct routes to anywhere. They’re mainly residential, with few locations people wish to visit. Late at night they can be largely deserted, which leads to people fearing to use them.

A photograph of a dark, empty, spooky street

“This quietway might be a little too quiet…” (Photo: Sereno Casastorta)

Why should people be relegated to fiddly routes through small streets just because they’ve chosen to ride a bike, while people driving cars have the most convenient, easy and direct routes?

Furthermore, if we really are planning for huge increases in cycling, why should these quiet residential streets be over-run with people on bikes? Can they really become a safe place for children to play if they’re also rat-runs for thousands of bike users who have no more connection with the area than a taxi cutting through from one station to another?

As far as I can see, cycle paths along main roads is the headline. Filtered permeability and 20mph zones are great, but they’re just the support act. Without dedicated bike paths on the main roads these streets are nice but disjointed fragments which will do little to encourage more cycling.

Most of the major roads in London could easily support decent cycle paths, and I suspect that’s true for much of the UK also. (Certainly, it is the case in Leeds.) It may be a politically difficult step to take, but it’s a necessary one if cycling is to become a serious transport choice for everyone.

 


If you’re wondering how I made the custom maps, I used this.

30 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The road to Hell is paved with ASLs

Whether you call them Advanced Stop Lines and Advanced Stop Zones or prefer the more casual-sounding ‘bike box’, they all amount to the same thing: a piece of crap.

I believe that the real reason for their existence is not to make cycling safe, as you might think, but rather to get cycling campaigners to shut up. Neither of these goals has been achieved, of course.

ASLs make sense in that perfect, ideal world where the Highway Code is set. There, humans can all be trained and/or forced to behave perfectly at all times – a bit like North Korea, or Stepford.

Image from the UK government's Highway Code, showing ideal use of a bike zone at a traffic light junction. So perfect!

The Highway Code’s idealised version of the UK. There are more people on bikes in this image than there are in the whole of West Yorkshire.

But here in the real world, inhabited by imperfect and fallible human beings, people on bikes still get killed when the traffic lights change, and an ASL does nothing to help a bike user who arrives while the traffic is already flowing. They’re often ignored by drivers too, the police don’t enforce them. Unfortunately, all this means that ASLs have become another endless battle in the War On The Roads™ and some cycling activists spend a large amount of time trying to convince drivers – and the authorities – to respect them.

It does annoy me when I see drivers pull up across the ASL. Of course, I have no problem if, say, an ambulance causes the flow of traffic to stop and the lights change to red leaving a car stranded there. But so many people drive up to a red light and over the first white line right into the bike area. Some drivers even drive across both white lines and into the pedestrian crossing or junction beyond!

I’d argue that if you’re unable to bring your vehicle to a halt before reaching a clearly marked position on the road, you really shouldn’t be operating such a machine at all.

A van is stopped at a red light, completely within the 'Advance Stopping Zone' for bike users.

This van has very neatly stopped within the ASZ, note the centimetre-accurate alignment. Maybe the driver mistook it for a parking space?

ASLs are not good infrastructure

But for all that, I don’t really care. I’ve been asked to sign petitions to get the police to enforce the rules. (Which would be nice for a change.) But really, I won’t waste my time polishing a turd, and neither should you.

Improving ASLs is not what cycling campaigners should be spending their time on. It would be like, say, environmental campaigners asking Shell and Esso to use a nicer font in a lovely shade of green. Or perhaps it’s more like a slave asking for the chains that bind them to be chrome-plated.

What I’m saying is that the ASL is a pretend friend to a bike rider. They’re there as a kludge, a poor compromise between total motor dominance and calls for cycling infrastructure. They’re rubbish. Yes, I know that drivers should stay out of them, and everybody should follow the rules, but it’s a distraction from the bigger picture. The whole argument is worthless.

Nobody is waiting for ASLs to be enforced before they take up cycling. Nobody is saying “if only there were more areas at traffic lights where I could sit in front of growling motor vehicles, I’d take up riding tomorrow!” In fact, I reckon the idea of sitting on a bike in front of a large motorised vehicle is one of the key points which prevents more people from using a bike for transport.

Two people on bikes wait in the ASZ at a red traffic light. Immediately behind them are buses and cars.

A rare instance of an ASZ relatively free of motor vehicles. Does this attract people to cycling? “Ooh, lovely, a painted area which allows us to position ourselves in front of heavy vehicles! Let’s do this every day!”

Don’t waste your time campaigning for this rubbish to be enforced or improved. Don’t ask for nicer chains, demand their removal!

There are very few places where an ASL is appropriate, yet the UK is covered in the damned things. There are already tried-and-tested solutions for junctions which don’t involve mixing up motor traffic with bikes – or mixing bikes with pedestrians, as is the current fashion in the UK. Pedestrianise London has a good article covering the right way to do these things so I won’t write about them here.

Sure, they have a few ASLs in Cycling Heaven – ahem! – I mean, the Netherlands. But they’re not common, and are considered an old-fashioned design. Any infrastructure geeks going visiting the Netherlands will find themselves pointing at them excitedly – “Ooh! There’s an ASL, just like at home!”

When the Cycling Revolution™ comes, ASLs will be the first against the wall

The worst thing about ASLs is that they’re designed for very low levels of cycling. Sure, one or two bikes are fine. Maybe even five or six. But what happens if twenty people were to arrive on bikes? What about fifty? Where are they all meant to go?

A birds' eye photo of a UK road junction with an ASL. All vehicles are positioned perfectly, no motor vehicles have entered the ASZ. But the ASZ can only hold around ten bikes, and there are twenty in shot, overflowing up the left-hand side of motor vehicles waiting.

Is the UK ready for the Cycling Revolution® or are we designing roads for cycling shares of, ooh, say, about 2%?

The photo above shows pretty much an ideal situation for a junction with an ASL. There’s a wide cycle lane and no motor vehicles have encroached beyond the stop line. But the ASZ is already filled with about ten bikes and is overflowing into the cycle lane, where another ten people on bikes are waiting in the van’s blind spot. The ASL does nothing for these people.

Why are we designing infrastructure which cannot handle more than a dozen people on bikes? The design is so weak, it’s proof positive that the government has low cycling targets, because the infrastructure they’re putting in simply can’t handle more than a very small number of people on bikes.

But imagine if the orange van was a lorry – should all bikes wait behind it? What if the ASZ looks clear and the lights change while passing the lorry? What’s the goal of this infrastructure? Suddenly it’s all rather confusing.

Or even take a look at the Highway Code’s idealised image of how an ASL works at the top of this post. Note that even in their perfect world’s green-ticked scenario, there’s a bike on the left-hand side of the left-turning car. Even if that bike moves to the front of the ASZ, what happens when a fourth or a fifth bike arrives? The system just can’t cope with more than a few bikes.

How large would the ASL have to be to cope with the doubling of cycling which London is expecting?

An altered photograph showing a junction with an extremely long (20m or so) ASZ, to demonstrate why ASLs aren't compatible with large numbers of people cycling.

Mmm, roomy.

So that’s why I don’t like ASLs, and that’s why I want rid of them.


 

If you’re not convinced by my arguments, feel free to try one of these other esteemed bloggers: the Davids Hembrow, Arditti or Brennan, and also Paul James, Freewheeler or Londonneur.

 

Update: And there’s more, from NI Greenways, Cyclegaz and WillCycle. Thanks to Stripymoggie, Mark Skrzypczyk and WilliamNB in the comments below for these links.

 

Also, I just noticed this comment which I made on David Hembrow’s blog in May 2012, making the same point. I must have been mulling this over in my mind for quite some time!

32 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized