Saturday, 3 December 2016

Filtered Permeability vs Necessary Access

"Filtered Permeability" is a term often used by people trying to describe the act of preventing people from driving through an area, but it is a little more complicated when we need to provide access.

At a basic level, "filtered permeability" utilises strategically placed "road closures", or "modal filters", to prevent people driving motor vehicles through (normally) a residential area in preference to a main road. In this case, the road is only "closed" to people driving through to gain an advantage, people who live in an area and wish to drive in and out can still do so. Deliveries can still be made and refuse collected. People can walk and cycle through with no impediment too.
The image above gives a rough idea of how we can use some modal filters to keep access into an area for motors, but prevent it's use as a through route.

A modal filter can take all sorts of forms including gates, bollards, planters, kerbs, concrete blocks and so on. So let's look at a few real examples;

We can put in a gate as above. It's relatively cheap, but doesn't add much to the look of street (and no, those bollards are not going to work for people cycling). We can do this better;

The photo above is the same junction which has been made a little bit prettier. The common thing about the two designs is that the ability to open the filter remains - the gate can be unlocked and opened, the central bollard can be unlocked and removed. 

There are two reasons we may wish to do this, first, if a road elsewhere in the estate needs to be closed for highway works, then the filter can be opened to provide a temporary alternative route. Second, we might need to get an emergency vehicle through. 

I do not speak for the emergency services by any means, but in my own experience, they would generally treat a modal filter as a location to avoid, preferring to use the same route which drivers would normally take. Increasingly, those driving emergency vehicles may not be working a local "patch" and so satellite navigation is increasingly being used and in that case, the modal filters will show as closures.

The ability to open a filter is more generally helpful some time into an incident and the vast majority of the time will be something the fire brigade will do. This is generally because the fire brigade will carry keys to the gate or bollard (normally a universal key, but local agreements operate) and the police and ambulance don't. If there is a fire or large incident with lots of "kit" on the scene, then opening a filter gives another option for moving things and people in and out of the area.

As a basic objective, I would always advocate that filters can be opened up for emergency use. In terms of the space needed, the fire brigade will generally quote Part B5 of the Building Regulations;

For gated (or preferably bollarded) filters, a gap of 3.1m is preferred and this is quite good as with a 100mm bollard in the middle and a bollard either side, we get 1.5m clear space which is perfect for cycling through (actually, we can go a touch wide). The road width of 3.7m would apply if we are using a short section of cycle track as a fire path which would have filters at each end which is exactly what was done in the photo below;

In actual fact, the fire path could be narrower (Manual for Streets gives more advice) because the critical thing is the space needed to open up the equipment bays on the fire pump and for firefighters to get at the kit inside as the photos below;

I digress. For fire fighting, there are some other options. Flexible bollards are useful as there are some designed to be driven over at very low speeds;

The photo above is of the "Neopolitan" by Glasdon. The arrangement has a removable centre bollard which has a special key to pop it off its base (several would have to be supplied to the local fire brigade), but actually, they could just drive over it and if it got too damaged, it would be easily swappable for a new one. Here's a video of the bollard in action;

Other manufacturers are available, but from my own experience, this is a good product (no, I'm not on commission either). The layout in my photo has 1.5m gaps between the bollards and as they are a bit wider than 100mm, we get a slightly wider gap for fire pumps to get through. The bollards are a thick plastic and so fairly rigid to a person giving it a shove. The risk of course is Joe Public gets wind of the system and has a go themselves, but that is a wider enforcement issue. The other real advantage is for people cycling through, there is some give if they are clipped and in a crash, one should come off far better than with a rigid steel bollard.

But we have yet more options. The photo below is Eric Street in East London which is closed to motor traffic (that's what the circular signs mean, despite having the unlawful sub-plate to explain). The lumps of concrete in the centre are there to dissuade car drivers, but allow fire pumps and probably ambulances through too. There is a cycle bypass on each side to, although it's not a great layout for people on foot trying to cross.

The problem is that this layout is likely to get hit and despite the fact there are large and lit prohibition signs, we still have a responsibility to try and design out risk. A variation of this approach can be seen in Cloudesley Street, Islington;

Again, it uses concrete (bumpy blocks this time) to dissuade access. This is more conspicuous and can be driven over by fire pumps and (if the traffic order allows) refuse trucks.

Rising bollards are a way of managing access, just as the example below in Leicester city centre. Such a system if often managed via a control centre and so takes resources to manage. It is a method which will keep non-authorised users out, but it is an ongoing cost.

Many filters are physical because if someone sees an opportunity, they go for it, such is the temptation. However, with many local authorities taking on the enforcement of moving traffic contraventions from the police, solutions exist where just a couple of signs can be used, monitored by cameras.

The photo above is of Orford Road in Waltham Forest. The filter here operates between 10am and 10pm and only permits local buses during that time. In actual fact the circular signs are wrong as they mean "no vehicles", it should be a sign meaning "no motor vehicles" as cycling remains permitted. This filter is part of a network around the local neighbourhood which allows deliveries and access out of the controlled areas, but where there is no possibility of using the area to beat traffic on main roads. If there is a filter with an exception just for buses, it will often be called a bus gate (sometimes bollards are used to keep people out as I mentioned above).

The camera enforcement of this type of filter is very clever. It doesn't rely on someone sitting watching a monitor all day, a computer does the hard work. The camera system will sense movement through the filter and record a piece of video. Software scans the video for a number plate and if one is found it can compare it against a database of registered vehicles (buses, emergency vehicles or whatever) and then if a non-permitted vehicle is "seen" a the video is packaged up and sent to an enforcement officer to review and if an offence has been committed, they send out a penalty charge notice.

Camera enforced filters can be controversial as people (who get fined) often cry foul that the signs weren't clear, or the road layout leads into making a mistake. I do have sympathy as even though a layout might be technically correct, we should make some layout changes to make it totally clear because even totally incorrect bad press sticks in the public's mind.

There are lots of other ways to filter, such as banning movements at junctions, weight limits, width restrictions or using one way streets for motor traffic but which allow 2-way cycling as in the photo below from Cambridge;

One issue which comes up from time to time is that of people using motorcycles to get through filters and so we sometimes end up with crazy tangles of ironwork to stop them as ably demonstrated here at Trinity Street in Southwark;

It's an old filter which was used to try and stop all motor vehicles, including motorcycles. It's now part of London's Quietway 1 and although the central barriers have now been moved out a bit, it's still rubbish. The answer here could be a bollards with camera-enforced "no motor vehicles" signs. Perhaps we could even be pragmatic and not worry too much about motorcycles and let people through given the tiny mode share involved.

We can even close whole streets to motor traffic such as this example at Danefield Road, Camberwell;

The key points when looking at modal filtering is to think at a network level first and also consider that fire, refuse and delivery access will be needed. Try and avoid filters which require the drivers of large vehicles to reverse or perform three-point turns. If there is a bus route, then access is easily maintained with a camera-enforced system.

My important point is that filtering out traffic from an area doesn't need a standard approach. We have a variety of treatments and many ways to write traffic orders and so there is a great deal of flexibility out there.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Stockholm Syndrome: Breaking It With Carrots & Sticks

I've been casting my eye beyond the UK again, taking inspiration from the city of Stockholm. Specifically the city's "Urban Mobility Strategy".

At 70-odd pages, it's a bit of a read (although short by strategy standards), but I want to focus on just two diagrams from the strategy as they sum up the issues and challenges for Stockholm and indeed any town or city. First is this from page 7;

It is a really elegant way of setting out the space that (road) transport modes take and the competition between traffic (in its widest sense) deemed by function and whether it is considered to be vital for a city. Pedestrians are absent from the diagram which is a little odd, but the document does correctly realise that people walking are traffic and states they should be at the top of the planning and providing hierarchy. Trains/ light rail is not on the diagram as this is about streets (although trams are always a potential part of the mix).

The second diagram looks at kerbside activity (page 20);

There is recognition that on a street, "stopping" is either to wait or park. Waiting is of course a transient activity, whereas parking is generally longer, although the middle part of the diagram considers shorter term parking.

In those two images, we have our choices laid out for us. Street space is a finite physical resource and although we do have the fourth dimension of time to play with, there are decisions to be made. Now, assuming we're into the efficiency suggested by the two diagrams, where does it leave us? Yes, we're into carrot and stick and this is where I leave Stockholm's strategy to expand to a few practical ideas. Make no mistake, none of what I am about to write is new, clever or revolutionary, it's just we seem to do "things" without the thought of integration.

The Carrots
These need to come first and the single-largest carrot comes from providing infrastructure to give people genuine alternatives to the private car and this will involve giving space over to walking, cycling and public transport. This is absolutely pivotal, because without genuine alternatives, any policy is going to be derided as anti-car/ anti-driver and we know where that ends.

We don't need to build everything at once of course, but there must be focus and determination. Schemes such as London Embankment cycle track represents a tiny amount of road space, but already, it is moving 5% more people than it did before. For sure the route is conveying huge numbers of people on cycles and is a step change from what we've seen before. Of course, there will be many people who have reassigned to the route because it feels much safer than their old route, but in a way it doesn't matter as they have a comfortable route now. The new people have seen these people use it and realised they can do so to. The trick now is to build on this and provide parallel routes with the same quality which ends up as a the base grid.

We might also look at key walking routes in our towns and cities. For example, a main railway station and area of offices could be reworked to give wider footways, motor-free areas, rest on green (man) crossings and single stage crossings to make things comfortable and easy - half a mile can be walked in less than 10 minutes. We've done this well in places already and if the station is in the town centre, there are of course huge improvements for walking generally.

Buses probably need to be unravelled. We often have indirect routes in pursuit of trying to have entire populations within a certain distance of a stop. Perhaps a better solution would be a series of radial and orbital bus routes combined with time-based ticketing. One might need to change buses because of a lack of round the houses route, but if the routes are high-frequency, stops are well-sheltered with information and you don't have to buy another ticket, then there could be some good time savings, especially if decent priority is given to buses.

Freight needs to be moved around as well as people. We can't carry on with 40 tonne lorries being used for deliveries everywhere (even smaller 18 tonne lorries are still way too big for many urban places). We need to look at freight consolidation centres on the outskirts of towns and in larger conurbations, consolidation hubs. If there is integration with rail, we get more options for long-distance movements. Local deliveries can be undertaken by van and cycle. Why not get groups of businesses to collaborate and consolidate their goods such as London's Regents Street? This is an area Business Improvement Districts (BID) could really lead on. Less traffic movements and better deals for businesses.

We will need some delivery vehicles in town, as well as service vehicles for refuse collection, cash deliveries and postal services and in those cases, kerb space should be reserved for loading, rather than private car parking. The thing about deliveries is that they have to be reliable because businesses operate "just in time". Perhaps some arterial routes should be designated as freight corridors and lanes given over to deliveries. It doesn't have to be peak time, but a decent window could be given to ensure the goods of a city can flow and will allow logistics firms to plan their delivery slots when they know they have a clear run.

Park and ride is often touted as a solution to city transport and if done well, it can make a difference. In order to make that difference, services need to be reliable and frequent, so bus priority measures are needed to that buses are not sat in the same traffic jams. From what I gather, patrons are also very price-sensitive and it doesn't take much to scare them away. I would say that park and ride takes a lot of infrastructure to put into place and it does need out of town space for car parking.

The Sticks
I'll level with you, this is going to have to be anti-(private) car because of space (as on the first image), but if we are giving people the choice carrot, we can then apply some stick - it can and probably should be subtle and gradual. Congestion charging and road pricing are always talked about, but as single measures, they're too blunt. Unless we are giving people genuine choice, then road pricing facilitates driving by the better off and everyone else either pays a greater amount for their travel or get priced off the roads (if they could afford to run a car in the first place). If you have no genuine alternative, then it's a tricky position to be in.

The approach set out in Stockholm's strategy is that private parking should be off street. In suburbia, this is often possible. In city centres, such a policy would mean that property developers have to think about rentable/ saleable residential/ commercial space or parking. Of course, a city centre car park with high charges still remains an easy choice for those who can afford it and this is why (in the UK at least), many local authorities are reluctant at cutting such availability because it is seen as an important revenue stream. Perhaps there might be better incomes from commercial and residential space long term where the building ownership is retained by the local authority?

There are issues with vehicle storage in terms of the land it takes and with on-street parking, it is space which could (and should) be used for other things. I think the key is to go after destination parking first because you can have all the cars you like, if there is nowhere to park at the destination, it's pretty pointless driving there; why do you think that out of town shopping have so much parking! We can reduce the number of public parking spaces each year bit by bit and this will start to give people a push (remember, we're investing in proper alternatives). Perhaps we start on the big roads and the space released can be used for cycle tracks, bus priority and loading. Destination parking is also a proxy for trip generation, so cutting back on it means less people are likely to drive.

For private parking, it has to be a workplace levy such as Nottingham's which has gone into tram and public transport improvements, with the idea being mulled over by Oxfordshire. It is a golden goose as eventually employers will realise that their car parks are costing them two much and they'll be put up for redevelopment, but that's not bad thing. In cities with decent planning policies, developments can attract levies for transport improvements - this is what has helped fund Crossrail in London. A levy means that the parking provided at the end of the journey now pays back some of the externalities to the local authority in terms of maintaining a fat road network previously there (by design or evolution) for low occupancy private driving. All the time, we are looking to reduce motor trips and then to rebalance the capacity for other things.

Where we have been changing road networks to assist freight, the flipside is we need to look at banning large vehicles from small streets. As we switch to hubs and consolidation, we can make this a reality with weight limits which exclude large vehicles. We can do this now, but it raises objections from those wanting to take large vehicles into tight places, so we have delivery/ access exemptions; so it's why we need the carrots as well. Even refuse trucks are too big in many locations and so there will often need to be a shift to smaller vehicles, although their use in residential areas doesn't create huge flows and if we start getting rid of some on-street residential parking, they (and fire engines) will have half a chance of getting through.

Breaking the syndrome
We have our own motorised Stockholm Syndrome in the UK; we've been captured by the car and the politics of cars giving unlimited mobility. We trust the government to provide for driving (as in today's Autumn statement) and of course, we have great affection for our cars.

We don't see national leadership and so it is left to local authorities to try and make change happen, but while this localism is great in theory, it always seems to have government interference when real change is sought.

Change is not simple. It is not about dealing with single modes or aspects. We need area-wide plans and strategies, linked to funding and with proper objectives and outcomes. I'm afraid there seems to be few places willing to try to enable real change and the future remains bleak.

I wrote my first blog post just about four years ago, where I asked "what do we really want". Looking back, it only seems to me we want the current mess to persist, despite that fact that it starkly doesn't work.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Ecocycle: Dense Cycle Parking

Cycling has lots of gimmicks, but today I saw something very cool indeed - a genuine solution to the problem of cycle parking.

More specifically, the problem of providing lots of cycle parking in a small space; the "ecocycle - automated cycle storage" system. I'll dive right in. A user wishing to park their bike presents it at set of mini lift doors, swipes a card and then it is whisked away and one goes about their business. No faffing with locks and no worry about leaving your bike. 

Ecocycle's unit in London is the only one that that the Japanese supplier has provided outside of the country. The unit I saw was an above-ground demonstrator, but the unit can be installed underground as well and take 204 bikes with just the entry unit on the surface. Take a look at their website for lots more information.

Tucked away in a side road, the ecocycle unit is a cylinder with
bikes stored on racks stacked on to of each other.

You can just make out the multi-storey parking through the
windows of the building.

 The groove is where you put your bike/ collect it.

And with the swipe of a card;

Your bike arrives in seconds.

The bike is held until you step on the pad next to it
where it's released. Leaving or picking up in 13 seconds.

Clearly, there are all sorts of locations this could go and the underground version can hold 204 bikes, but it is especially exciting for new build schemes where not only could the space be for residents or workers, but extra capacity available for public rental. Do have a look at the website or follow them on Twitter

My thanks must go to Nick for hanging around on a freezing Sunday to show us the system and for Jonathan from the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign for arranging the demonstration. I'll leave you with a little video;

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Words Of Encouragement

"Encourage"; what does that word mean to you? It could mean a lot of things and so in this week's post, I have had a little think about how it is used in an active transport context.

Google the word and you get plenty of definitions;

give support, confidence, or hope to (someone)

persuade (someone) to do or continue to do something by giving support and advice

stimulate the development of (an activity, state, or belief)

to make someone more likely to do something, or to make something more likely to happen

to talk or behave in a way that gives someone confidence to do something

We often bribe people to change their behaviour, whether it's a free bacon roll to encourage people to cycle to work on one day a year, give them a discount on the purchase of an electric vehicle, or give a schoolchild a badge for walking once a week. We sometimes give one to one training to change people's behaviour such as cycle training or we give one to one support such as personal travel planning. We also use advertising to ask people to "share the road", not to drink and drive or wear reflective clothes when walking at night.

I'm not saying encouragement is a bad thing, but from an active transport point of view, it always seems to be a way of either teaching people to cope with traffic, to give drivers a get out or geared to making an event day or week a "success". I mean, would a bacon roll really tempt you onto a bike for your daily commute?

For me, it's like the whole "give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day" proverb as it leaves you wondering about the next day, or the next month. It is all very well getting people to put up with the conditions through training, special events and marketing, but a different matter to keep them coming back when it's cold, dark and wet. 

I prefer to focus on the word "enable" as it's more tangible and long term. "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" doesn't even cut it, I want people to simply be able to grab a fish when they want; and this is only possible with changes to how our streets are designed, built and managed. 

Enable means that nobody needs to be taught to cope, to be induced or to be rewarded as the infrastructure simply allows people to change their behaviour to travel actively as it's easy. Enabling is a mass-action treatment. As for the bacon roll? Open a cargobike base cafe along a protected main road track, you'll do a roaring trade.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Schools: Beyond The Hi-Viz

I upset a school a couple of weeks back by having a pop at them promoting hi-viz and at least out in Twitterland, I said I would revisit the subject; hence this post!

It's *really* easy for me to criticise others and so this week, I want to give my view on what a powerful position schools command and how they could capitalise on it.

I ended by previous post by stating;

My message to schools is that it is right for you, as community leaders, to take an interest in the safety of our children. But, please don't buy into this hi-viz crap, put your influence to work in demanding changes to our streets and systems to protect our children as this is a long term investment and not an annual garish fix.

Schools are at the heart of our communities and they are well positioned to enable change. For children, the daily school run will expose them to all sorts of travel behaviour, the behaviour of other people and indeed will help form their own travel habits, so it is the golden opportunity to rebalance our transport systems.

The other thing about schools is they create all sorts of informal links with parents and indeed between parents, so news and ideas can spread. Children have amazing powers of persuasion and they don't have the dogma of how we have traditional planned transport or how we have let it develop.

The school run is also the cause of much complaint within the wider community. People complain about (traffic) congestion and then wax lyrical about the roads being quieter during school holidays. During term time, there is the battle between parents parking badly and residents getting drives blocked in, parents parking on the footway or on restrictions and just how it's made awful for those walking (and to a far lesser extent) cycling with their children to school. Of course, we also have a whole range of other issues associated with a lack of active travel such as health, pollution and so on.

So, what do schools do now (other than the hi-viz issue!) Well, many have school travel plans in place and they are good tools in their own right. They allow schools to generate travel data and to measure mode share over time and they are also a focus of initiatives to encourage parents and pupils to shift from private car journeys to other modes.

School travel planning used to be pretty dull, report-driven and time-heavy for schools. Fortunately we can do a lot of this online. In London, Transport for London runs the STARS programme and elsewhere, we have the Modeshift STARS scheme (both are free to join). Both schemes look to award bronze, silver and gold standards for travel planning. There are some differences, but a bronze school will have started to look at activities to effect mode change, silver schools will have data to show mode change and have a substantial programme of activities and gold schools will be excelling in activities with a noticeable mode shift (the TfL scheme seems to be a little more numbers-led on the shift).

I have been working with schools on and off for many years and I have seen the change from the old report-based methodology to the STARS approach and some schools have achieved significant shifts over the years. At least in my area, we have quite a high number of schools with gold accreditation, but as with other parts of London and the UK, it is a bit patchy (but do have a search to see what your local school is doing).

One of the largest barriers to engagement is the attitude of the head teacher and indeed staff resources to organise and manage the process, but I think it is an excellent scheme and in the absence of significant infrastructure change, the mode shift some schools achieve is frankly astonishing.

But that's the problem. Although are physical things which can be done to help enable active travel, it is limited to things such a providing secure cycle and scooter parking in a school. Infrastructure outside the of the school gate doesn't feature, unless it is route planning, safety awareness or parking campaigns and I think this misses the power of the process. I have spoken a local school travel planning events over the years and the theme I have always covered is that of enabling change through infrastructure.

This has been listened to by some schools and in terms of activities (in the broadest sense), they have started to ask for changes to local streets. From a funding bid point of view, this is really helpful when trying to convince councillors to include an engineering measure as the ask shifts from "staff" ideas to being something demand by the local community. But, I think this needs to go way bigger and it is the schools which are key.

The TfL STARS website suggests that the average school journey is under 1 kilometre or a 10 minute walk. This is a big area around a school and with a bit of map plotting, we find that 1km catchments around schools (at least in urban areas) often overlap or come close to each other and it is also the case that two or more schools might have similar barriers to enabling active travel.

In the current so-called austerity times, there is less money than ever before for local transport and this is perverse because 66% of journeys are under 5 miles, 38% under 2 miles and 19% under 1 miles. There is no leap of the imagination required to understand that within school areas, we have lots of people living, we have shops, we have businesses - all people who have local travel needs which are not going to be dealt with by building motorways.

I think schools should be at the heart of this. Call it community travel planning if you like, but it needs schools and coalitions of schools with other community groups to start identifying a lack of decent walking and cycling infrastructure in their travel plans. They then need to plan and prioritise what would make real change (forget the technical stuff, that's for the engineers to worry about).

The approach means that common problems can be addressed with shared resources. When it finally comes to engaging with the people elected to make decisions (yes, councillors, I mean you), a very compelling and community-led plan could be the result. So yes, my message to schools is very much to see far beyond the hi-viz and take your place in deal with the causes of our local transport problems and not papering over the cracks with day-glo.