Saturday, 22 April 2017

Van Gogh Walk

Van Gogh Walk is a hidden gem of north Lambeth and after knowing about the street for a while, I have finally managed to have a look for myself.

My stay was briefer even than Vincent's, but all the same it was peaceful, pleasant and definitely worth the effort to get there. Previously known as Isabel Street, Van Gogh Walk opened in its current form in 2013 and it is a bold statement for a much wider community-led project which sought to tame the streets around two local schools. For all of the background, please take some time to look at the street's website!

Before I take you into the street, it's worth setting the wider context. The street sits in an estate with a 20mph Zone and although it is traffic calmed, the place seems to be a popular cut-through. I was there early afternoon on a weekday, and Caldwell Street which runs east-west through the estate wasn't pleasant to cycle along (before it was traffic calmed, there were 3,200 vehicles per day using it). The estate sits between the A3 Clapham Road and A23 Brixton Road which should be taking the through traffic. Some key modal filters and traffic management could transform the whole area even more.

What was nice to see, however, was street trees being used for traffic calming (often book-ending and puncturing rows of parking bays) which will in time help give the impression of a much narrower road and take no space from pedestrians. Many car parking bays have also been turned over to secure cycle parking which was great to see.

The first hint that there is something different going on is the sign above. It's not a lawful traffic sign and the driver of a van as I pulled up on Hackford Road didn't pay much attention. Sadly it was liveried up as a Lambeth Council vehicle.

The photo above is from Hackford Road, looking north. It gives a hint at the high quality paving in Van Gogh Walk (to the left) and in essence the main feature spills out into the streets either side. 

This next view (above) is from Hackford Road looking west into Van Gogh Walk. The eastern end of Van Gogh Walk (shown here) is open to traffic, but only as an exit. The no entry actually makes the restricted parking sign redundant and in addition, there really should be an exemption for cycles. One issue I have here is that as the street is a level surface, for some people (visually impaired people especially), the lack of demarcation as the paving extends into Hackford Road is going to be an issue.

This next view (above) is of the other end of Van Gogh Walk, taken from Liberty Street. There is a small kerb upstand at least; but because the same paving design extends into the carriageway (which is on a road hump) there will be people who can't see the change in level and will potentially trip. Anyway, away from my complaints, let's look at some more photos.

The western end of the street is pedestrianised (and I assume fine to cycle through, because I did). There is some great compositions with trees and planting (above).

There are some nice little bits of incidental play such as these stepping stones (above) and the general layout is more garden than street.

There are also places to sit. In the photo above, we have a pair of armchairs from where one can sit and watch the world go by. Armchairs are really good for many people who struggle with sitting down/ standing up because the arms give a bit of extra help. Public seating without arms should be outlawed!

There's also a bit of funky sculpture inspired by van Gogh himself to add some vertical interest!

The eastern end of the street can be used by drivers exiting Morat Street. You can just see the blue "turn left" sign in the photo above which suggests one-way, but it's not as there is no formal start of a one-way in Morat Street. I suspect the sign was there to suggest one cannot turn right into the pedestrian section. The sign's not needed and the chap on the bike has sensibly ignored the no entry from Hackford Road behind me.

There's also a bit of cycle parking in the street which at first might seem pointless, but actually, it could be helpful for visitors.

Actually, the cycle parking could be useful to keep cycles safe while playing basketball. Yes, this is a basketball hoop in the middle of a street - the notices on the wall behind ask people to stop the noise in the late evening which is fair enough.

There's also some local interpretation which gives a flavour of the whys and wherefores.

One other little touch is this tiny community book swap cupboard.

My final photo is a close-up of the paving. It's a mixed palette of granite setts in 3 different sizes (supplied by Hardscape) and it is beautiful. From what I could see, the quality of the installation is excellent without any signs of failure on the trafficked areas (although the lack of HGVs and buses is a huge help). Granite (when properly detailed and laid) will last generations and I am a sucker for it when used in the right place.

It might seem excessive to spend a huge lump of money on one street (£420k in 2013), but it can act as a community focal point and besides, just look at the sums we are spending on building motorways. If the wider area was properly filtered, we'd essentially have a "village" style "Mini-Holland" scheme. In other words, simple filters, trees planted in the road, a 20mph speed limit and a focal point is something which could be replicated everywhere. Of course, taming the A3 and A23 is a whole different matter. I'll leave you this week with a little ride-through video;

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A Little Link

Earlier this week, I had a day off to go for a trundle around Central London. It was partly to just get out and get some fresh air (relatively) and partly to take some photos and video of interesting "streets" things.

This post is about one of the things I saw - the link between Meadow Road and the A202 Kennington Oval (which is the southern end of cycle superhighway CS5). The link forms part of London Cycle Network Route 3 and from my limited use of a section of it, forms a fairly useful route - certainly at peak times, I'm told it gets quite busy at peak times. 

The link goes through the Ashmole Estate which is owned by the Metropolitan Housing Trust and over the last few weeks, this little link has become locally controversial because of some staggered barriers installed across the link, nominally to slow the speed of people cycling, a subject which come up a fair bit. I do understand their predicament, having played the barrier game in the past. 

The first question I guess is whether or not the link is a suitable place to funnel people cycling through, but presumably LCN3 comes from the point in time where we did everything except provide for people cycling on main roads and so we end up with back street compromises. That's not to say that low (motor) traffic links aren't useful - they are. In this case, the wider estate to the southwest of The Oval is poorly permeated, so this is an important access for people walking and cycling anyway. Here is a video of the link as it leaves/ enters CS5;

The good news is that the barriers are due to be removed following some fervent local campaigning and so my comments here are about thinking a bit wider on what could be done here to improve the link with relatively modest expenditure.

The photo above is the view from the A202 end of the link. Just in the foreground there is a pair of bollards I assume are there to stop people driving through - the bollards themselves are poorly placed and help create some conflict. Just beyond, you can see the pillars of a brick archway above the entrance to the estate and beyond, the offending barriers.

This next photo is at the barriers themselves. They are standard 2 metre panels and so with my bike for scale, the distance between the kerbs is 3.1 metres - this would be perfect for a 2-way cycle track! However, we then have the paved margin on either side. I say "margin" as they are not wide enough to be footways and so people cycling and walking are lumped together. The margins are formed with 600mm slabs and the kerbs are 125mm wide (yes, I forgot to take a tape measure - doh). So we have a corridor of about 4.5 metres to play with. Now, we could just remove the kerbs and maximise the width of a shared path, but we can do better I think.

One way this space can be divided up is to provide a 1.8m footway and a 2.4m wide cycle track. Allowing a narrow strip on one side would help keep people cycling away from the walls which flank the link. We haven't widened anything, just reallocated the space that's already there, so there is clear space for the two modes using the link.

We can use forgiving kerbs between the footway and the cycle track to maximise the usable space and it would allow mobility scooter users to easily move between both.

The complication is the arched entrance to the estate which creates a pinch point (see above), taking us to about 3.5 metres. So, the first obvious thing to do is to get rid of the arch. I don't believe the arch is protected from a heritage point of view and so the bull-in-a-china-shop engineer in me says knock it down. It provides a bit of a hiding place for miscreants and so it's removal would help open views for all users. Here's a still from a video I took of the location;

Take another look at the photos with my bike in it. Clearly, we could demolish the wall on the left of the shot and build a nice wide footway there - it would be on the opposite side to the car park entrance which is further up - in fact there is space to build decent footways on both sides if the money were there to move the boundary walls back!

There is a concern about conflict as people cycling enter the main road to join CS5 - this area is a large Toucan crossing with an area shared by people walking and cycling. We could just end the link track with a shallow ramp, provide anti-car bollards about 4 metres into the link - one in the centre of the track and one on the edge of the footway. With a 2.4m track, a 100mm bollard is going to leave 1.15m either side which is tighter than the minimum 1.5m clearance we want, which isn't great I know (and I've left out tactile paving which visually impaired people would rely on). However, setting the bollards back allow people to turn from CS5 before encountering them.

The diagram below shows how this would work. You can see that people cycling from the left are on the start of the track section of CS5. For people cycling from the right, they turn left and use the Toucan to access a bus lane on the other side of the road (look at Streetview here). The diagram excludes the two-way road, but because of the arrangement here, a Toucan is probably the pragmatic solution. LCN3 flows between the top of the diagram and the right of the diagram.

OK, we've repurposed the space we have, got rid of a superfluous arch and so not spent too much money. Let's develop the concept a little further. You will see from the photos and the diagram above that the link joins the main road at sharp corners and this means the visibility isn't great; here's the view from my video camera which is at 1.1m above the ground;

My eye height is of course above 1.1m, so I could see through the railings but some cycles will have the rider eye height lower than this of course. The brick walls on which the railings sit are about 0.75m height. In other words, visibility is not great in terms of being able to see small children - a toddler's eye height will be around 0.8m above the ground.

Design guidance for such situations tends to be from a driver's point of view. Manual for Streets 2 (p79) talks about context (traffic flows, widths, pedestrian activity etc). In this situation, I'd advocate opening up the visibility because of the conflicts which will be most serious at peak commuting times. Cutting the walls back would help of course and perhaps making the current shared area a little larger and paved in the footway materials to help reinforce pedestrian priority, given that we are linking to a Toucan (I've not shown the signals control cabinet which might need to be moved);

Beyond this, we are probably into a much larger scheme which would change the crossing arrangements and the layout of CS5 which is a 2-way track on one side of the road. However, we could certainly improve on what is there at the moment.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

All Purpose Suburban Car Dependency Bingo

Active travel in the suburbs is a strange thing. It's a seemingly car dependent place, although there are of course contradictions and exceptions.

There are those who are surgically attached to their cars with the longest active journey being between the front door and the front seat; these are the people who drive to the paper shop and whenever there is talk of charging for parking, they throw up their arms and threaten to take their business to the nearest out-of-town shopping centre. 

There are people who drive to work because of the lack of direct alternatives. They get the bus if the car's in for repair, but it's indirect and sits in the same traffic as their normal car-based commute and so why shouldn't sit their in the bubble they pay for anyway? Then we have those who use their car at weekends because they get to work by non-car means (cycle, train, bus etc) , so car storage is their main contribution to suburban sprawl (yes, I'm one of these people).

We also have the people who don't live in the suburb. They drive in from further away, through suburbia and into the local town or city. We end up with large roads cutting suburban communities in half and the problems that it brings. It's all a vicious cycle because like any dependent system, it is hard to get out of it.

I often hear things which are indicators of the problems we have created for ourselves and perhaps give an insight into how much of a challenge it's going to be to change things. Perhaps I don't have enough quotes for a proper bingo card, but here are some gems I've heard in the last few weeks (absolutely true);
  • Most people travel to work by car
  • Kids are staying at home longer and they need cars
  • We live in a time pressured society
  • The pedestrian crossing causes traffic jams
  • The government should reduce duty on fuel and get people into electric cars,
  • We need fewer buses and more cars
  • We need to smooth traffic flow
  • We should have minimum parking standards
  • There needs to be more parking provided [in an existing residential area]
You've probably heard or read similar and so these views are not really a surprise. Whether these things are actually believed by those speaking them (I've no doubt that for many people, they do believe what they are saying) or if they have a little glimmer deep in their brain doubting their view; our suburbs are going to remain a feature of urban places for some time yet; so how do we call time on this?

It's a challenge and I think the answer has to lie partly with taking some of these comments to their logical conclusion - what would happen if we went back to minimum parking standards - would our streets really be clear of parked cars? Do pedestrian crossings really cause traffic jams? What would happen if most people did drive to work? 

The answer also lies in looking at the stories which these comments miss - yes, people have time pressures, but this always seems to come from those who are drivers. What about time pressures for children and other people without car access - shouldn't we be helping them?

Then we have active travel infrastructure. This is needed to to provide those alternatives (especially for shorter journeys) that people keep telling us don't exist. This is all thorny stuff, but it needs discussion and analysis beyond the bingo card. In my view, this doesn't get talked about enough and so the the old standbys stay with us.

Update 10/4/17 - Minimum parking standards
I must get out of my London-centric bubble! Phil Jones pointed out that most places outside London have minimum standards. This was swept away when Planning Policy Guidance (PPG13 in particular) was ditched in favour of the National Planning Policy Framework (for England). On parking, there are two paragraphs;

In other words, it down to the individual planning authority to decide (in line with "localism"); parking standards would be set in each planning authority's local plan and in turn would have been subject to consultation and the independent planning inspectorate examination process.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Drawing Parallels

As of March last year, we were given a new tool in the highway engineering box and we are starting to see them popping up - the parallel zebra crossing.

The changes to the UK traffic signs rules; the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2016 (TSRGD2016), brought parallel zebra crossings into being, although a couple of local authorities did sneak them in before they were properly lawful. You may also be interested in this old (unpublished) study commissioned by Transport for London which looked at people using zebra crossings on bikes. The definition of a parallel crossing is as follows;

OK, it's legalistic, but essentially it defines it as a zebra crossing which everyone will be used to with Belisha beacons (the flashing yellow globes on black and white poles) and black and white stripes on the road for pedestrians;

The bit that makes it "parallel" are the "markings provided in item 57" - that is the large square "elephant's feet" markings. As an aside (b)(i) has an interesting point about a parallel crossing going over a cycle track not needing the globes. A parallel crossing over a cycle track is quite a thing and I am not sure anyone has done this yet! Anyway, the "elephant's feet" look like this;

The above mentions "item 28" and this is the familiar cycle road marking (it is optional, but I think it's worth using);

The general layout is as follows;

OK, I've zoomed in and spun the layout round to make it more like what people walking and cycling would see;

At the moment, we don't have any guidance on how the crossings should be designed, this will (hopefully) be included in the new Chapter 6 of the Traffic Signs Manual which will deal with "traffic control" - most of the other chapters are currently being rewritten to reflect TSRGD2016.

Parallel zebra crossings operate in exactly the same way as ordinary zebra crossings do in that drivers (or cyclists) on the main carriageway have to stop (and be prepared to stop) at the crossing give way lines to let people on the crossing, well cross;

In other words, if someone has stepped onto the crossing, they must be allowed to cross and if someone has cycled onto it, they must be allowed to cross too. There was a concern when parallel crossings were proposed that we'd end up with people cycling straight out across them, heedless of traffic. It's a theoretical issue, but the general approach is that those about to use a crossing should have an awareness of the traffic and act reasonably. In practice, I think the issue will be the same as pedestrians experience and it will be poor driver behaviour being the issue.

Until we get the new guidance, I think there are some principles we should consider;

Speed on main carriageway
As with ordinary zebra crossings, parallel zebra crossings are not suitable for roads with traffic speeds about 35mph. Even if there is a 30mph speed limit, it doesn't follow that this will be the speed at which drivers choose to travel.

There needs to be reasonable visibility. This obviously applies to drivers (and cyclists) on the main carriageway being able to see people about to cross, but people cycling will not be standing close to the kerb, they will be sat further back. People riding adapted cycles and non-standard will be say even further back. For example, when I sit on my cargotrike, my eye position is about 1.3m from the front of the box and I'd sit back from the kerb a bit too.

Level crossing point
As with ordinary zebra crossings, we can place parallel zebra crossings on a flat-topped road humps. This means that people won't have to drop down into the road and then back up the other side which reduces comfort and convenience, especially for people riding adapted and non-standard cycles. Making the crossing experience better for people who might suffer pain with bumps or struggle with slopes will make the experience great for everyone.

Avoid convoluted turning
A few of the parallel zebra crossings I have seen (and experienced) require people cycling to turn at the last minute in order to cross the road. Where the cycle track runs parallel to the road (be it shared with people walking or a separate track) it will require people to look over their shoulder if they are cycling in the same direction as traffic;

The photo above is of a parallel zebra crossing at Marshall Road, Waltham Forest. For people coming towards the crossing parallel to traffic (where the car is in the photo), they have to look over their shoulder as they approach the crossing. A buffer has been provided between the road and the cycle track in an attempt to have people on cycles approaching perpendicularly to the road, but it is not quite wide enough. In mitigation, the crossing is on a hump and the one-way road is narrow to keep driver speeds low.

Where a parallel crossing is used on a cycle route which crosses a road, the arrangement works better because people arrive at the crossing perpendicularly to the road like this example from Hackney where Martello Street meets Richmond Road; 

OK, it's not quite perpendicular, but you don't need to look over your shoulder to cross the road. The cycle route has been there a long time and the "give way" sign is a remnant of when people cycling had to give way to traffic. The parallel crossing here has also benefited people walking.

Parallel means exactly that
There is one very annoying thing about parallel crossings - they have to be parallel! This means that if the pedestrian and cyclist desire lines are not the same you can't adjust them to suit. The stripes and elephant's feet are set in the regulations as being 400mm apart which is also a pain.

Think about how people walking may be confused
Visually impaired people require tactile paving to assist with crossing the road. We shouldn't be placing tactile paving on the cycle part of a parallel crossing and so this all needs careful thought to make sure that we don't create confusion for people on foot because at worse, we could be leading some people into a trap.

The photo above is the view from Clapton Square in Hackney, across Lower Clapton road. In this example, pedestrians leaving the side road on the left footway would have the pedestrian part of the crossing in front of them on the left side of the photo and a kerb if they left the right footway. For visually impaired people, this is an important design feature. The other thing just to note with the crossing above is that there is a refuge, but it is rather narrow for cycles.

I also think that maintaining the footway helps explain to people cycling that they do have to cross pedestrian's space before they get to the crossing.

Tidal traffic flow
As with ordinary zebra crossings, if traffic flows are heavy in one direction, then there is a risk of people being "masked" as they cross between the slow moving vehicles into the free-flowing traffic stream. Notwithstanding the fact that drivers (and cyclists) using the main carriageway should expect to see people crossing, this is still a safety risk. We sometimes mitigate this with a refuge (meaning the crossing is treated as two, distinct parts), but with some cycles being very long this is going to be less practical. In those situations, we need to push the distance between the stop line and the crossing position towards the 3 metre maximum to give maximum visibility.

It should go without saying, but lighting at night is crucial for safe operation. Specific zebra lighting should be used which Illuminates the verticality of people, rather than on plan.

Local education
It's not really a design principle, but the new crossing has been released into the wild with no national marketing campaign. Compare this with the current campaign to educate motorway drivers that they shouldn't drive in a lane with a red 'X' above it. I assume it's the usual government leaving it to local authorities plan, so perhaps there needs to be local publicity to explain how these new crossings work.

That's my general thoughts on how we should design parallel zebra crossings, but I I think some sketches might also help. First, the sketch below shows how I would lay out a parallel zebra crossing where a cycle track route crosses the road. The crossing itself is humped (zig-zags omitted for clarity) and the track stepped below the footway running left-right. Because of the step, there is a very gentle ramp up to the main footway which is continuous across the track.

A variation on this will be the crossing at Clapton Square which connects a side road (Clapton Square) to a cycle track on the other side of the road. We can take the opportunity to connect the route with the crossing and perhaps provide some landscaping within the closed side road;

We can go a bit crazy and have all traffic coming out of the side road, but let's make drivers turn left;

OK, the last one might be a bit more tricky as to get into the right position to cycle right to left, one would be taking the lane in the side road (which would be fine in a quiet street). My point is there are lots of options and of course each situation would be different. The next level up would be using a series of parallel zebra crossings on a roundabout, but you'll have to wait until Cambridge builds the first one to see that let loose on public roads!

Update 2-4-17
In response to the question below about giving pedestrians priority across, I guess we could do something like the sketch below, but it seems over the top to me. How do we get some people on bikes to slow down for people on foot? Welcome to the world of design!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Safety At Street & Road Works

I finally got my street works "ticket" through the post after resitting the qualifications to supervise road works which has to be renewed every 5 years.

I thought it might be useful to share a document with you which most people won't have come across (why would they) which is the main reference for people undertaking road works in terms of how traffic (in the widest sense) is managed on a temporary basis.

Safety at Street and Road Works (SSRW) has been around for many years, but the current October 2013 is now a code of practice which is very important as in general, following a code of practice will be a way of demonstrating that one has complied with the law. SSRW is no different;

The part highlighted in red states;

Warning: Failure to comply with this Code is evidence of failing to fulfil the legal requirements to sign, light and guard works. Compliance with the Code will be taken as compliance with the legal requirements to which it relates.

In other words, if you follow the guidance, you've complied with the law. This is not to say you can do things differently, but you would need to be doing better in my view. This document could perhaps be seen as a legal minimum. The part in green says that situations on motorways and 50mph + dual carriageways is dealt with differently. So, the document deals with most UK streets and roads, although in Scotland it is recommended rather than mandatory. Where a situation isn't covered, then people are directed to seek advice from their supervisor, manager or other competent person and so SSRW is aimed at road workers as well as those supervising works.

SSRW is broken into sections;
  • Part 1 - Basic principles,
  • Part 2 - Operations, 
  • Part 3 - Equipment and vehicles.
Part 1 deals with the backgrounds issues (such as the status of the document mentioned above) and also the things to consider before anyone goes near a shovel. 

Part 2 is the meat of the document. It starts with a reminder that there is a fair bit of planning to do before anyone gets to site and for planned works, someone with competence should have visited the site to plan the works and to undertake risk assessments where appropriate. For unplanned works (i.e. emergencies), there is still a need to plan, but the works may need to change as they progress.

Part 2 also talks about risk assessment and analysing traffic flow and composition (in the widest sense), the layout of road and streets, with commentary on how things might change as the work progresses. We than have advice on how works should start in terms of setting out the most basic signage which is then built on and can lead to really complex layouts. The principle here has certain signs and management tools (such as the humble cone) being set out in a certain way and certain order. When the works are complete, this "stuff" is usually removed methodically and in reverse order.

Above - your basic road works signs which should always be used. As the section continues, the layouts get more complicated and anything in a red box should be paid close attention.

The image above shows a basic layout where an excavation is taking place in the carriageway. For those who can't see, the various dimensions relate to distances signs should be before the works, the length of coned-off areas and other space requirements; all linked to a table at the end of the document which relates to speed limits. There are lots of situations described and there is commentary on how to deal with pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians, trams and railways.

The matters dealing with people on foot is well established and there are clear requirements such as;

You must take into account the needs of children, older people and disabled people, having particular regard for visually impaired people. 

If your work is going to obstruct a footway or part of a footway, you must provide a safe route for pedestrians that should include access to adjacent buildings, properties and public areas where necessary. This route must consider the needs of those with small children, pushchairs and those with reduced mobility, including visually impaired people and people using wheelchairs or mobility scooters. 

The requirements for people cycling is less established. SSRW will be 4 years old this year and even in that short time, there has been a real change on how we provide for cycling in some parts of the country. The sign shown on the first page for this is not particularly helpful;

This is at odds with the earlier statement about taking into account the needs of children, older people and disabled people. As we know, cycles are often used as mobility aids and so our game must be upped. Mind you, next to the sign it says;

Cyclists might have to use other parts of the carriageway, a temporary cycle track, or an alternative route. You should consider whether access on the carriageway can be preserved for cyclists, even if it needs to be closed to motor vehicles. 

This is an appropriate response where we are actively enabling cycling, but I fear the message hasn't got through to enough people and it is the local highway authorities which need to make this more explicit as they have to be involved in the planning of road works.

In London, Transport for London consulted on an appendix for it's London Cycling Design Standards to give more advice on assisting people cycling through road works. It was by no means comprehensive, but it was useful and sadly didn't make it to the final document (I don't know why).

Part 3 sets out the equipment road workers will need such as hi-visibility clothing, basic signs which should be carried in their vehicles (or readily available for more complex schemes), pedestrian barriers and ramps, and the conspicuity requirements for road works vehicles.

The other useful piece of information is that every road works site should display a sign explaining who is undertaking the works (promoter and contractor) and an emergency contact; you'll often see a "permit" number as well which is a unique record of the works used by the local authority for coordination purposes (and viewable online).

As well as the link to the document I gave at the start, you can also get a hard copy which is useful to carry around if you are as sad as me!