I wrote this post about how the visible physical appearance of a junction should emphasise the legal priority that exists (unlike in the UK where design often contradicts priority). But while clear visual priority is an essential part of junction design, it’s merely a way of emphasising the legal layout. It is not enough to create a safe junction on its own, as David Hembrow explains here.
I’d like to discuss something which is often done wrong: priority.
I’m not talking about the legal sense, but the visual sense. We need to change the way we think about minor junctions.
You see, you can have all the laws and paint you want, but if a junction looks like the cars have priority, then drivers will take advantage.
Here’s an example, on Cable Street in London:
Let’s ignore the many, many failings of this poor-quality cycleway (we’d be here all day) and concentrate on how the junction is arranged.
The cycleway has priority here, but so many things suggest otherwise. The kerb-line, for example, curves around and across the cycleway. The yellow lines do the same, creating vagueness in priority.
Note how there’s no kerb running along the edge of the cycleway as it crosses the junction, either – the carriageway is constant, while the cycleway is interrupted. This is a confusing mess.
Considering that many, many more people will walk across this junction than drive across it, it’s crazy that the footway isn’t also continuous.
These conflicting signals are often designed in by whoever draws up these plans. Perhaps the belief is that people will follow the rules like robots, ignoring things like kerb lines and parking restriction markings. But people don’t work like that, and this junction is unclear and dangerous as a result.
Further along the same road, a different junction is much better. Yes, it is still flawed, but the priority is much clearer:
Note the unbroken surface of the cycleway. (Photo: Google Maps)
Note how the surface of the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines. (This junction would be much better with a continuous footway too.)
Here’s a poor example from Berlin:
Technically, bikes have priority here, but I really wouldn’t trust that paint. The cycleway simply ceases to exist across the junction. (See it on Google Maps)
People cycling along this road have priority at this junction, but does it really look like they do? The asphalt surface of the carriageway is unbroken, the sweeping kerb (designed for fast turns by car) cuts across the cycleway, and the footway and cycleway both drop down to carriageway level.
There’s no inconvenience at all for people in cars. There’s nothing but two fading, broken white lines to suggest to drivers that they should give way. Can those lines even be seen in wet weather? What about when it’s dark?
This isn’t sustainable safety. It’s paying lip service to cycling and walking, and it’s the reason so many cycle campaigners believe cycleways to be dangerous at junctions.
They’re right – badly-designed infrastructure can be dangerous – but that’s not an inherent flaw with cycleways, it’s simply bad design. Well-designed cycleways are proven to be safe.
The junction above could – and should – look like this:
This is real cycle infrastructure, and real walking infrastructure – genuine, proven to be safe, tried-and-tested design, quite unlike the type of tokenistic rubbish we’re used to getting.
Here, the whole area doesn’t look like a road, it looks like footway, with a cycleway running through it. It’s clear that this isn’t the domain of motor vehicles. Nobody is “on the road” when cycling or walking through here – quite the opposite, it’s motor vehicles that are guests “on the path”.
The whole junction area is raised up to footway level (rather than people on bikes and on foot having to drop down to carriageway level) and motor vehicles must mount a ramp to enter the junction.
This ramp, plus sharp corners, slows cars right down. It also provides better visibility between drivers and those whose path the drivers are crossing – nobody needs to look back over their shoulder. It works in all weather, 24 hours a day.
At the risk of pushing the point too much, here’s another example:
Better, but still not right.
This is better than some of the other examples, but still flawed. The kerb line cuts across the cycleway, so the surface is broken. The surface of the cycleway is different as it crosses the junction. The corner radius is too large. The footway should also have priority across the side-road.
Here’s what it looks like from a driver’s point of view:
Not as clear as it could be.
It’s better than the paint-only examples, but the kerb still guides your eye around the corner. It’s good that the surface is different across the junction, but it still looks like the road has priority.
It could be much clearer, like this:
To a driver leaving the minor road, it’s clear that they do not have priority here, that the road is severed by the footway and cycleway. People driving have to drive up a ramp and over the cycleway and footway in order to pass through this area the main road.
Anyway, I hope I’ve made the point. Failure to make priority clear and obvious is a design flaw which I see all the time, both in Berlin and back in the UK. To create truly inviting conditions for walking and cycling, highways designers must change the way they think about how junctions should look, and make a positive decision to make walking and cycling a clear visual priority.