This is part one in a series of three posts about the Bedford turbo roundabout and the funding behind it (AKA “Turbogate”). You’ll find part two here, and part three here.
I have one word to say to the people who chose to spend cycling infrastructure money on a “turbo” roundabout – resign.
Please, resign now, and let somebody who knows what they’re doing take your job. For the good of those who live in the areas you control, leave and never go back.
That might sound like an extreme thing to say, but I cannot comprehend how anybody with even the most miniscule knowledge of Dutch traffic design can describe a turbo roundabout as “a significant improvement in cycling provision.”
There are only two possible conclusions. Either you know what you’re doing and are installing a design which was never intended for cycling and is dangerous, or you have no idea what you’re doing and think you’re actually installing something useful.
Neither option shows those responsible in a favourable light.
(I’m sure that not everyone at Bedford Borough Council traffic department is responsible for this, so this is only aimed at those who made the decision to install this thing. The rest of you aren’t cretins. If you had to work on this under pressure from your bosses, this isn’t aimed at you.)
What’s wrong with Bedford’s plans?
Firstly, turbo roundabouts were never meant for cycling on. The purpose of a turbo roundabout is to get motor vehicles through a junction as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of the fundamental concept of the Dutch turbo roundabout is that cycling is kept away from it. It would be like allowing cycling on a motorway.
(If you want to know more about turbo roundabouts and why they’re not cycling infrastructure, then read these excellent posts: “Turbo Roundabouts: Be Careful What You Wish For” and “When ‘Going Dutch’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means” by David Hembrow, and “A Modern Amsterdam Roundabout” by Mark Wagenbuur, also inspired by this dreadful decision.)
Secondly, this design which benefits motor vehicles is being paid for with £300,000 of money from the Department for Transport’s Cycle Safety Fund.
That’s so insane that I can hardly believe it. It’s like the Church of England investing in arms manufacturers. It’s completely inappropriate and goes against the whole spirit of everything that money is meant for.
In a further bout of insanity, Sustrans – fucking Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity! – are actually supporting this thing (see this Word DOC) making bold claims that turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands “function like compact roundabouts, where cyclists take primary position in the lane”. What the hell, Sustrans? This is blatantly untrue, and you’ve used it to get £300k from a cycling safety fund. What’s next – are you going to suggest that London’s 1960s Ringways urban motorway scheme is implemented as shared space?
And all this at one of the busiest junctions in the borough!
The worst thing is that they’re hyping this scheme as being good for cycling, yet go on to say that “cyclists will also have the option of using new shared paths around the roundabout leading to zebra crossings” (see this PDF).
If the turbo roundabout is so great for cycling, why would they need to install a shared-use footpath alongside it? (Also, what good are zebra crossings to someone riding a bike, which they cannot legally use without dismounting?)
What we have here is another case of the disastrous “dual network” concept, a proven failure. So the roundabout is meant for fast, confident cyclists taking the lane in front of lorries, and anybody not willing to do this can meander slowly along the footpath getting frowned at by people on foot. What we end up with is infrastructure which is no good for anyone.
They claim “Studies and experience in other countries have shown that this type of junction can improve pedestrians and cyclist provision while also reducing potential safety issues.” But if there is such a study, they have not provided a link or reference to it. I’d love to see these studies, especially with regard to people cycling on the roundabout, as that is not how it is done in the Netherlands, the world leader in mass cycling.
And yet they can’t come up with any convincing reason why a turbo roundabout is safer for cycling on than a regular roundabout, except the claim that “cyclists will find it easier to cycle through the roundabout due to the reduction in vehicles making last minute lane changes” which is rather weak, to say the least.
And anyway, if a driver really wants to change lanes where they shouldn’t, it’s still entirely possible. Look at the diagram. Imagine you’re in the straight-on lane and want to go right. It’s perfectly possible to cut across where you shouldn’t.
Designing for cycling, or designing for cyclists?
I also note that they’ve mis-typed the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund as the Cyclist Safety Fund. I reckon this is a Freudian slip, which shows that rather than thinking about designs which the whole population can use to cycle on, they are thinking about the needs of the few “keen cyclists” who are the only ones brave enough to cycling in the UK right now.
This whole way of thinking is a throw-back to the past. It ignores the massive benefits that everyone from every section of society would gain if our roads were designed so that anyone could use a bike as a fast, direct and efficient mode of transport, as they do in the Netherlands.
Cycling isn’t just for enthusiasts, it should be for all of us. Designs like this are the reason so few children cycle to school. They’re the reason so many more men cycle than women. They’re the reason so few elderly people cycle. They’re the reason so few people cycle at all.
So while this new roundabout might slightly improve conditions for existing cyclists, the idea that Bedford’s design is good for cycling is absolute nonsense.
Bedford, it’s not too late to stop this and design something suitable. The work has not started. Do not spend £300,000 of taxpayers’ money on this.
Also, stop designing for cyclists and start designing for cycling. Ask yourself if you’d be happy for young children, or your parents, to use your completed schemes.
I’d also request that you stop cynically dressing up motor-centric designs as being good for cycling. If motor vehicle throughput is your main concern, just admit it.
But most of all, please resign, for the good of the nation. Quit your job now, as you clearly are either 1960s motor-centric relics, dedicated vehicular keen cyclists who can’t comprehend ‘normal’ people riding bikes, or clueless incompetents.
PS, added at 3pm: If you want an example of the real thinking behind this project, look no further than the new sign that Bedford wants to install at the zebra crossings: