Sunday, 22 April 2018

You Get Who You Design For

It is a simple enough concept "you get who you design for", but it is utterly lost on many designers and the public alike.

The media and especially social media is adept at moaning about cyclists not using cycle lanes which immediately explains how the discussion is framed. The term "cyclists" in my view is all to often used when presenting "people cycling" in a bad light and it is often used as a shorthand for a stereotypical person in lycra (or whatever their clothes are made of) blasting along on a road bike.

The Cyclists. Monkey Dust, BBC.

"Cycle lanes" is another catch-all term and variously means anything which vaguely has some sort of sign or paint on the road which demands The Cyclists stick to it. Even if we are talking about some paint on the road which sets aside space in the gutter; a bumpy footway which can be cycled on because some signs have been added to it; or a world-class cycle track; the outraged demand that they be used.

Why aren't people using this cycle lane which
has been provided at huge tax-payer's cost?

Shared-use cycle tracks are interesting. If they have even a moderate use by people walking, then they will end up being slow for cycling (people people walking are in the way) and they will be intimidating to walk on (because of The Cyclists). We sometimes get a bit for cycling and a bit for walking, although a white line up the middle is the usual treatment. We'll get rage from people driving who expect The Cyclists to get off the road and onto the cycle tracks. Even if they end up making people give way at every side road.

Give way to drivers at every side road.
(Don't forget to keep looking behind you)

Once we start treating people cycling as *people* who we wish to move in comfort and safety, rather than The Cyclists, then things start to change. For a start, the demographic starts to change from the young, white male;

We see a shift from people wearing PPE to people travelling in ordinary clothes;

We see the types of cycle change. Road bikes are no longer the most popular as riders don't have to keep up with traffic to be safe;

We start to see deliveries being made by cycles;

And where people feel really safe, comfortable and welcome, we'll see people using all sorts of cycles to get around;

Families will start to cycle because they are not exposed to traffic;

Hell, we'll even see people who are not cycling!

This really isn't a difficult concept to grasp. If you treat people cycling properly, then they won't be in the way of people who want to drive which makes life easier for everyone concerned. Even the roadies will prefer the decent infrastructure;

Saturday, 14 April 2018


The UK needs to have a grown up conversation about traffic congestion and the issues which stem from it.

Coming home from work on Thursday, the dual carriageway was its usual evening crawl;

It is often like this, but it was especially bad because of an emergency (partial) closure for road repairs at a large junction. Given that the schools were on holiday as well, it was especially noticeable.

OK, this was an unplanned event and so it was bound to cause problems, but just think about the daily "drive time" traffic news, or the twitter feeds of transport authorities and this is actually routine. There is no resilience left on our urban highways and as such, they are extremely sensitive to disruption.

The problem is, however, that (the royal) we has no plan to deal with the problems. At the national level (and I include the devolved administrations) we are hopelessly locked into the predict and provide cycle of adding lane miles to interurban roads and motorways, then wondering why they have filled up and then perhaps more seriously, we get surprised when the crunch hits our towns and cities!

We've made it easy to drive between and around towns for so long we have now got to the point where they cannot absorb the daily influx with any efficiency. We know that the roads are quieter in the school holidays and I wonder why people can't make the link. Where secondary roads and residential streets remain easy to use for through traffic, then they have also been subsumed into the daily peak. This perfect storm makes it very hard for people to imagine change and it also makes it hard to make change because the implication is that we have to reduce motor-traffic in the widest sense.

Although we have some encouraging noises from some regional governments, there is an almost total absence of debate about congestion. Local press and radio witter on about roadworks disrupting drivers, they talk about drivers being caught out by bus lanes and speed cameras and they whine about the cost of the latest scrap of walking or cycling infrastructure. We never get the voices asking why we have got to this point and more importantly, how we deal with it.

We could increase urban road capacity by adding lanes, but only if we are prepared to knock down buildings and give further space to tarmac. We need to confront the congestion problem and until we do, every intervention which goes against it will require disproportionate amounts of energy to deal with.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Heading West

After the long slog of winter, it was a joy to be able to cycle further than my usual commute this week and in the sunshine. It was even more of a joy to be cycling with my older daughter on what was her longest trip since learning to ride a couple of years back.

Round our way, cycling in safety is in short supply. Perversely, it is easier to get to the retail park than the local shops because the former has a cycle track passing it, whereas the latter is mixing with poor driving along heavily-parked streets. So, for a cycling day out we have to travel further into London and that either means taking the bikes on the train or in the car.

We chose the latter which meant we could start at Barking and cycle right into Town via CS3. If you're interested in the section built before the wonderful Central London section, you can read about it here. Nothing has changed on this section and sadly, the development works ongoing around Canning Town and Canary Wharf hasn't changed the road layout at all. Still shared crossings or giving way to traffic.

Our intention was to cycle to the headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers at Great George Street in Westminster to go and see their Invisible Superheroes exhibition, although in the event, we had to park on CS3 by Westminster Bridge and walk because of the complete absence of cycle parking in the area around the ICE, despite there being plenty of space in the area - a really poor show from Westminster City Council.

The exhibition is part of the ICE's 200th anniversary and even if you haven't got children, it is worth a visit if you are in the area during the week. It a bit of fun seeing my own civil engineering hero, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, getting the superhero treatment and rather fitting that his Embankment scheme now allows people to cycle in safety along the Thames!

We also managed to fit in lunch at Borough Market which was heaving with people as usual (my favourite time is 8am on a Saturday); and as usual, there were the usual drivers pushing through the crowds. If there ever was a place which needs to be a pedestrian zone during the day, then this is it.

But away from the crowds, we had the freedom of CS3. Despite what some would have you believe, it performs a vital off-peak transport function for those who work outside of the 9 to 5 norm, as well as being a great way to see some of the city sights. With children, this sort of trip was impossible before it was built.

It is a theme that I am constantly repeating, especially those who go on about such infrastructure being only used in the peak times. It is true that transport generally is used most at peak times - that is why they are called peak times. For cycling, if the infrastructure is not available off-peak, then it is never going to be inclusive or enabling. So be honest, you just hate the idea of kids being able to have a day out under their own steam.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Traffic Signal Pie - Time For T

I've been grappling with an issue of what we can do where a cycle route in a quiet network of back streets meets a busy urban mixed-use A-road.

There is a real-world site I have in mind, but I won't name it as it is too close to work. However, this doesn't matter as the geometry is more important that location and it has been good to flex my brain on the issue.

The main road in question is a typical long-distance single carriageway A-road which was never planned as such and so ends up connecting a series of shopping centres with housing between each; plus the occasional school and community facility. In fact, these mixed-use streets are everywhere and often end up being the de-facto long-distance road network.

The existing layout is shown above. The main road runs east-west and carries around 20,400 vehicles per day (over 24-hours), with 17,500 of them being cars. There are (unsurprisingly) 200 people per day cycling, 500 bus/ coach movements and the rest various sizes of HGV.

The total highway width gets up to around 20.5 metres with about 11.5m being carriageway (with advisory cycle lanes). To the south of the junction, we have a primary school. The side street 7m wide, flaring out to a huge 21m as it means the main road - probably because of the former industrial estate (now housing with a couple of small workshops). The side street feeds a residential area and because of modal filters, it's the only motor vehicle entrance into the estate. There is also a signalised pedestrian crossing to the west of the junction on the main road.

Aside from the main road being pretty awful to cycling along, the principal issue is one of helping people cycling to turn right into and out of the side street. The main road needs cycle tracks to do anything about the woeful cycling numbers and the twice a day congestion, but the links are pretty simple, the junctions are the challenge.

My starting point was a junction I had studied in Amsterdam;

The junction of Middenweg with Zaaiersweg is not a million miles away from my study location. Aside from the central bus/ tram lanes, there is only one general traffic lane in each direction and the road is flanked by one-way cycle tracks and footways. The cycling here feels nice and safe. The issue here is one of turning left (i.e. UK right) from the side street (Zaaiersweg) which is the main access to a filtered estate. 

Turning left required people cycling to cross the entire carriageway to get to the cycle track going in the opposite direction (towards the city in this case). At least when I was there, the main road was quiet enough to find a gap to cross in one go, but I could imagine times when this would be harder. After mooching around in Streetview, I found a junction with Postjesweg elsewhere in the city which provided space to cross the road in two parts (with cycle space) and a pedestrian crossing on one side and this gave inspiration for my crack at a UK version;

Although I hadn't been to this junction, I have crossed large urban Dutch Roads with a refuge and priority remaining with drivers such as here;

As you can see from below, the highway space has been reworked as you might expect to see in a place such as Amsterdam.  

For people cycling, the side street has a similar entrance treatment to Zaaiersweg and so the right turn out (Dutch left) has people cycling coming from the shared carriageway of the side road and across the cycle crossing point with motor traffic retaining priority. Those turning right in have a similar provision, but they end up in the shared carriageway (blue is right out, purple is right in);

People on foot retain a crossing, but it's now a zebra rather than being signalised.  I put the sketch out on Twitter and as usual it provided for some good debate. David Hembrow did sound a note of caution in terms of the UK probably having far more motor traffic than the Netherlands and so it might not be suitable, also citing Dutch experience with the same. He also flagged the issue of needing to divert the traffic [from the main road] before trying to 'civilise the street'.

This is where the UK constantly comes up against a wall. In my example, there is a high-speed (parallel) dual-carriageway about 750m to the north and to reduce through-traffic on the main road, we would have to divert it to the trunk road. This would mean having people driving longer distances switching to the trunk road and at the same time making it less favourable to use my main road example as a long-distance route. The problem is (at least for now) is the trunk road is often heavily congested at peak times and a major change like this would need political cooperation across a number of boroughs and Transport for London.

So, I wondered if a pragmatic approach could be signalising the junction with the justification that it helps feed a quiet cycle route to the north. If a borough were going it alone (like one of the mini-holland boroughs) then this could be a treatment which protects those who we would like to get cycling (such as children going to the primary school) and as such, any loss of capacity for long-distance drivers is given back to local people who will want to cycle.

In playing with the space, it was clear that space was tight into the side road and so providing a set of three parallel crossings with "floating" crossings couldn't quite fit. The sketch below shows my thinking (ignore the southern cycle-only arm).

This approach would make for a simple method of control whereby the east-west motor traffic runs together, then the side road (north) runs an then finally the three parallel pedestrian and cycle crossings run together. I had to think a bit differently;

The image above shows the side street as having those cycling and driving mixing as opposed to the separation in the example above. The traffic signal method of operation took some thinking about, but it runs like this;

1. East-west motor traffic runs together (black),

2. Traffic released from side street. Motor traffic joins carriageway of main road (black) and cycles enter the cycle tracks (purple),

3. Pedestrians cross both arms of the main road (red) and cycle traffic turning right from the main road into the side street runs in parallel,

4. East-bound and left turning cycle traffic runs with pedestrians still crossing both arms of the main road.

3 and 4 could be swapped so that eastbound/ left turning cycle traffic runs before cycle traffic turning right into the side street, but either way, 3 and 4 are essentially a single pedestrian stage within which two cycle sub-stages are squeezed because people cycling need less time to cross. Don't ask me what the timings might be with this as I am not a traffic engineer!

The drawbacks of this design are that people cycling east are going to have their progress halted (and there will be red light jumping). In the UK, we couldn't have people cycling ahead being put into conflict with left turning drivers within traffic signals, although for some reason this is perfectly acceptable at uncontrolled side roads with advisory cycle lanes!

Alternatively, left turning drivers could be held on red signals (so-called 'hold the left turn'), but this requires stacking space which isn't available in my example - see the layout here in Mile End, East London;

The cycle track on the left can run with the ahead motor traffic movement when the left turning motor traffic is held. It is all very complex and needs lots of motor traffic stacking space!

So where does this leave us? Signalisation can be costly and not very flexible for walking and cycling (after all, signalisation is generally about stopping conflict with motor traffic). With the first sketch, we could have parallel zebra crossings, but having one on each side of a junction in such close proximity would be extremely unusual (if not unheard of in the UK).

I don't have the answers, just suggestions and so it is going to have to be down to the context. On a mixed-urban A-road, we are not going to be able to signal every single side street, although we can be clever with filtering them. As David Hembrow has said, the motor traffic reduction is key - how we get there is one for the politicians. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

ALARM 2018

I've been following the ALARM survey for some years now and for the first time in a very long time, the one-off cost to clear the backlog has reduced.

The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey (ALARM) undertaken by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) has shown that the backlog has reduced from £12bn to £9bn. That's not because £3bn more has been invested in road maintenance, it is far more complex than that. One point to make is that this survey is just about carriageways and cannot reflect the true needs of highway maintenance as a whole and it is only England & Wales.

Above, gives some of the key headlines from the full report which gives the headlines. The inference is that main roads are generally those which get the most investment (which makes sense given their traffic volumes), but local roads are being left out. Even lightly used local roads will still be at the mercy of the elements, but the reality is that many (especially in urban areas) are expected to be release valves for the main roads.

The structural condition reinforces this as we can see a polarisation between "good" and "poor" roads as the "adequate" roads percentage shrinks.

I have often said similar, but there is a realisation in the industry that the situation remains unsustainable and my own view is we need to start trying to get the best out of what we have now. This is summed up in a comment in the report;

"We need to think long and hard about building new roads. If we don’t have enough money to maintain the existing roads, how are we going to be able to maintain new ones?"

One point Londoners might be interested in, especially after the cuts to London's road maintenance funding, is that the shortfall has increased compared to last year. This will undoubtedly get worse.

One of the main problems is that roads are hugely political. At one end of the scale, we have the government dogmatically tied to the notion that building roads is essential for continued growth. That in itself is patently nonsensical because because growth cannot be infinite. 

At the other end of the scale, we have local authorities being hammered by the gradual removal of funding from central government with their responsibilities growing. In many ways social care is vastly more important than filling potholes, but the local highway network is the one asset that a local authority has which binds the rest of its activities and responsibilities together. We need a different conversation about all of this.