Saturday, 17 August 2019

#LDNCycleSafari - Quietway 14

Even as I write this post, Quietway 14 is already out of date because London's strategic transport authority, Transport for London, is rebranding cycle routes simply as "Cycleways".

I'll leave the branding debate alone for now, but as it stands, only the western section of the route has been completed between Tower Bridge Road and Blackfriars Road; although there is a short section of work completed to the east of Tower Bridge Road - the route was going out to Deptford by replacing the existing London Cycle Network route 4. Hopefully we'll get a grip and stick with one numbering system.

In parallel (literally for a short section), Cycleway 4 has started construction at the eastern end of Tooley Street (photograph below) and perhaps it shows (at the highest level) that TfL is moving to a system of interventions based on the conditions - or cycle tracks on main roads and filtered side streets as a basic approach. Whether the quality criteria are good enough remains to be seen, although it seems to be letting some boroughs water things down.

Anyway, back to Q14. As you can see from the map below from TfL's route mapping website page there is actually a bit of a grid forming in this part of London - perhaps 3km wide by 2km deep. Apart from old bridge protection kerbs on Southwark Bridge, CS7 is terrible, a legacy of former Mayor Johnson's paint'n'signs approach which really needs to be done again. Quietway 1 is OK, but flawed, whereas CS6 is world class for the bottom two-thirds of it's length.

As a summary, Q14 is for the most part rather good with hard-infrastructure being used where it is needed which demonstrates that it isn't all about the big interventions on main roads (we need both). It is a fairly direct route, it passes through residential areas for its customers and is passes small shopping areas such as here at Bermondsey Street;

What some parts do need is more filtering and where there are little shops, there should be street upgrades to make more useable public space.

The photograph above shows Newcomen Street as it approaches the A3 Borough High Street (another main road needing cycle tracks). It used to be part of a cut-through for general traffic, but it has now been transformed into a little bit of mixed use space. It is still a cut-through, but the only traffic is human powered and it was just as busy with people walking as cycling on our evening rush hour visit.

As we were chatting, the manager of the Kings Arms overheard us. We had just seen a minicab being reversed out of the street and we were wondering if it needed a bollard. The manager said that they still needed to get cars to the end (there is a retained loading bay) and she thought better signage was needed. In my view, this could be achieved with a "no motor vehicles" sign with an access exception - at least deterring some. 

Still the space was being used by pub patrons and everyone got on with each other as is normally the case when you stop general traffic. In the photograph above, you can see a lady pushing a toddler in a pushchair, clearly not worried about people cycling though.

There are some awkward locations. The junction of Union Street and Steet Suffolk Street is awful. We were headed west and rather than Q14 carrying on along Union Street to Blackfriars Road (and so CS6), the route requires a right turn at the traffic signals. This area is really busy with general traffic and it wasn't pleasant - here's a still from some video I shot;

General traffic was mainly heading east, so turning right was only possible at the end of the signal stage which was no time at all. This area needs to be filtered and through traffic put back on the main roads.

Pictures paint a thousand words, so here's some moving pictures!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Bridging The Gap

Whether it is a natural feature or a man-made barrier, we sometimes need to build bridges to get our cycle routes across them.

Now, I am not talking about crossing a road at surface level here, I am interested in rivers, large roads and rail where we need to be using a bridge of some kind and for those moving under their own steam, the key issue is one of energy and minimising effort expended in getting across the obstacle.

The best solution of course is to keep the crossing level so that no energy is lost. To do this, we either have to raise or lower the obstruction. If not, we'll have to use ramps to get over or under the obstruction or possibly meet halfway. 

The photo below was taken in Malmö and shows the road and cycle track having to dip under a railway. The thing about railways is they are most efficient when built flat and unless you can rebuild a long section (which does happen sometimes), then you have to work with what you have.

Going under something is quite good for cycling because you don't need too much headroom - about 2.5m is enough. The example above shows the contrast between cycling and general traffic with the latter needing about twice the clearance. To ensure we don't lose too much energy, slopes are very gentle. We can even do this in the UK as shown in the photo below taken in Stevenage.

Even if we have to leave the obstacle alone, dipping under it with long ramps isn't terrible, even when they are perhaps a little steep such as this example from Harderwijk;

Of course, there are much nicer Dutch examples such as this one on the outskirts of Amsterdam where the motorway is on an embankment;

There are obviously economic considerations in terms of raising or lowering infrastructure, but if we aim to keep people cycling at grade, then we'll provide the best outcome. If we are building a new motorway (or rebuilding a junction) we may be able to lift the levels a bit which means we don't have to drop the cycle crossing as much.

The sketch above shows three arrangements. The top is where the cycle route is at grade and the road raised. The second is half-way and the third is keeping the road at grade and dipping the cycle route. As you can see, the lower we drop the cycle route, the longer the ramps need to be.

So far, I've talked about the obstacle being on a bridge, but if we shift it the other way round, ramps become more critical. Of course, the obstacle being crossed may be at a lower level than the cycle route and we don't need to worry about it. In the Netherlands, there are many canals and so many bridges. They range from those with very long ramps to get over them because they are busy shipping channels;

To those where there are only occasional movements by boats and so opening bridges are used; 

That's all well and good, but railways, roads and shipping routes are not really suitable to run in this way and so we need to get the cycle route up to a level where the obstacle is properly cleared. Again, we can play with levels so that we minimise the need for ramps. Having the obstacle in a cutting is the obvious starting point such as here where the A1 motorway near Amsterdam dips down under this cycle track and road;

Sooner or later we are going to have to raise the cycle route over the obstacle and this is going to mean long ramps. In the UK, we often end up with zig-zag ramps which are awkward to use and really interrupt the flow of cycling as as this one in Salford;

However, we can actually manage to do a half decent job when we put our minds to it. In the week, I put out a tweet asking for examples of curly bridges where spiral or curved ramps are used to try and make the user experience nicer. Of course, the ramp lengths are the same as a zig-zag bridge, but curves are easier to steer around than corners.

There were lots of wonderful suggestions, but I think I am going to pick one in Hatfield because it was actually slap bang opposite where I lived for a year and I cannot honestly remember it!

Now, there are plenty of bridges with a spiral on each side, but this bridge actually carries a proper cycleway from back in the days when we knew how to build them. Thanks to a couple of photographers, we can see a stepped cycle track;

If you have a look at the section of road, the stepped track continues, but quickly becomes more conventional UK fare. There is a tantalising hint of history and an implied zebra crossing a bit further up;

So, lots of ways to do it an despite the fashion for surface level crossings, grade separation must still have some relevance even if in some cases it's a bit of getting cyclists out of the way of drivers - at least there's no waiting around for a short green.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Cycling Embassy of Great Britain AGM 2019: The Journey Is Starting In Cardiff - Part 3

This week's post is my third and final from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM in Cardiff. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

We've seen some physical infrastructure being delivered over the last two posts, but this week, I'm going to talk about social infrastructure which doesn't often get a spotlight shone on it. 

First up is Cycle Training Wales which as well as providing the range of cycle training you'd expect also runs a cycle refurbishment project through CTW's Cardiff Cycle Workshop.

We happened to pop into their unit on an industrial estate at in the north of the city and there were dozens of cycles being refurbished which stops many being scrapped and allows people to purchase a lower cost cycle while providing revenue back into the enterprise. Their shop is here with a selection of adult and children's cycles.

We heard how the project's lifeblood is its volunteers, but how all cycles are properly inspected by a qualified mechanic, so that provides peace of mind as well as repair experience for the volunteers.

We also visited Cardiff Pedal Power which seeks to help get people of all ages and abilities cycling and they do this with one of the most astonishing range of non-standard and adapted cycles I have ever seen in one place;

We saw wheelchair-accessible cycles, side-by-sides (above), tandems, tricycles, recumbents and some amazing hybrid combinations which can be adapted to fit people with a range of mobility impairments. They even had this monster recumbent tricycle which caught my eye;

Pedal Power is based at the camping ground in Bute Park and so people can try out the various cycles in a safe, traffic-free environment. As well as specialist cycle hire, you can also hire standard cycles to use to explore the city, use their cafe (which we did) as well as cycle training and tours. 

One the most interesting things we found our was that Pedal Power was providing mechanic and docking station restocking for the city's hire bike operator, Next Bike which operates an ever growing and very popular service.

Meeting these enterprises served as a usual reminder to the infrastructurists (me included) that it is not all about kerbs and it did show that even though it is early days, the various strands could be woven together to create a cycle city.

Before the AGM got underway, Caro Wild, the city's cabinet member for strategic planning and transport posed a few questions for us;

So, this is what I think in response;

1 - I think it would be worth copying the Manchester Beeline approach, perhaps at a ward or ward grouping level to both engage with the community and to try and build local networks.

2 - This has to be filtering. You don't need cycle tracks everywhere, just on the main roads or where a dedicated link would help. As I explained last week, the Grangetown scheme could be significantly improved with filtering. In fact, Caro, your own Riverside ward has lots of filtering, you just need to make it accessible to cycling.

3 - I think some of the problem here is people being funnelled into spaces which are now too small because there are no other choices. Again, sections of the Taff Trail through your ward would have pressure removed if there were safe parallel routes - filtering is your friend here too.

4 - Experimental Traffic Orders and 'Interim Materials' - get things tested quick and dirty style; especially filtering and wand-protected cycle lanes. You can tinker with them and then spend the proper money when it becomes available. You seem to have a good handle on the link between development and transport and that can be used to deliver permanent layouts later.

Of course, if Cardiff needs some help, I know some good consultants ;)

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Cycling Embassy of Great Britain AGM 2019: The Journey Is Starting In Cardiff - Part 2

Earlier this week, I caught up on last week's blog post with my first report from last weekend's Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM in Cardiff (with me so far?) This week, I continue with a look at the Greener Grangetown project.

Grangetown is a ward of Cardiff right in the south of the city and is largely bounded by the River Ely, River Taff, Cardiff Bay and railway corridor. Very roughly, the area is split between residential and commercial development.

To the east of the ward along the River Taff, the Greener Grangetown project completed in October last year, was a £2m investment partnership between the city, Welsh Water and Natural Resources Wales to better deal with stormwater in the area. 

The previous situation saw stormwater going into the local combined sewer system which is pumped 8 miles to the nearest treatment works whereas the recently completed scheme deals with the stormwater at source by intercepting it with rain gardens which eventually discharge directly into the adjacent River Taff. 

This is not to say that that a flooding risk is being added to the river because the whole idea of rain gardens is that they hold stormwater and allow it to slowly infiltrate into the ground or where the ground is too saturated or cannot take flows, they hold the water until after the storm event and so smooth the outflows. 

Rain gardens also take water out of the system naturally with their planting through evapotranspiration. The other clever thing is that biological processes within the planting structure can also break down the oils and nasty compounds which can be found on the road surface as a result of motor traffic use. 

On the ground, there are rain gardens of all sorts of sizes, from the small on street corners which also help keep parking away from junctions,

To the large which repurpose large areas paved as part of historic filtered permeability works, although the entire project area is not fully filtered.

There are a number of side streets which are curiously wide such as Abercynon Street (below). The side streets have central reservations which were previously just paved and parked over. The redesign has changed these paved areas into rain gardens, while retaining some parking (and there are lots of people parking in this area);

The other interesting thing about the project is that it has what is claimed to be Wales' first ever "bicycle street" along Blaenclydach Street and the Taff Embankment, essentially providing better space for the Taff Trail cycle route;

The layout has a central strip of imprinted asphalt to give narrow traffic lanes which gives information to people cycling that they may take the lane and that drivers should cede priority. This is not backed up with any legislative power, it's purely through design.

We visited twice over the weekend and for the most part, drivers seemed to understand how the street worked and when they did feel the need to overtake (despite the 20mph speed limit), most did so safely. I would say that cycling here did feel safer in a group and without traffic flow data, it's hard to comment on the appropriateness of the layout - certainly the driver in the photograph below didn't fancy hanging about and overtook dangerously.

I think that to truly create a bicycle street, more work is needed to get rid of through traffic because not only the spine of the scheme along the River Taff is unfiltered, a number of the side streets are also unfiltered. A bicycle street really needs to have cycle traffic in excess of general traffic to work properly.

The north end of the Taff Embankment is accessed through a signalised junction which is perfect for getting people into and out of the potentially filterable area. The plan below shows the scheme area bounded in green, the signalised junction at the top circled in purple and the unfiltered streets circled in red (there are private alleyways, but these are gated);

The layout of the streets would make it very easy to complete filtering with just 2 or 3 other treatments. My personal feeling is that the Taff Embankment needs filtering as it does present a nice straight run for drivers which is (I think) the reason for putting in road humps across some of the junctions - and filtered would have been cheaper than humped junctions;

One other little thing which came up on the visit was a proposal for a crossing over Penarth Road which runs to the north of the area. The proposed scheme has the a parallel zebra crossing to the east of the junction with Blaenclydach Street which would help cross the road and connect with the already filtered Dinas Place opposite;

The photograph above shows the view from Blaenclydach Street - the crossing would be to the right of the junction. The obvious answer here would be to filter Blaenclydach Street and have the crossing centralised to meet Dinas Place as I have roughly sketched here;

The other benefit of filtering here would be to remove traffic from the junction of Blaenclydach Street and the Taff Embankment which is currently an apparent conflict point - the Taff Embankment has to currently give way to Blaenclydach Street which creates the issue.

It's a fantastic project from the point of view of storm water management and the bicycle street concept is good, but to be a truly great scheme in terms of active travel, I think there needs to be that final push to exclude through motor traffic. Who knows, the idea might catch on!

Greener Grangetown is impressive, just look at these statistics;
  • 42,480m² of surface water being removed from the combined waste water network (the equivalent of 10 football pitches).
  • An additional 1,600m² of green space (the equivalent of 4 basketball courts).
  • The creation of Wales’ first ever ‘bicycle street’ along one of the busiest sections of the Taff Trail Active Travel route, slowing traffic by design and improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Increased biodiversity – 135 new trees and thousands of shrubs and grasses planted.
  • Creation of a community orchard.
  • 26 new cycle stands.
  • 12 new litter bins.
  • 9 new seats and benches.
  • Increased resident-only parking spaces.
Arup was the scheme designers and GreenBlue Urban were the specialist suppliers for the water management systems.

I shall leave you with a film of what it's like to ride around the area and next week, there will be a third and final Cardiff post.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Cycling Embassy of Great Britain AGM 2019: The Journey Is Starting In Cardiff - Part 1

Last week's blog post didn't get written because I had the pleasure of attending the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM. This year, we were in Cardiff.

What this means is there will be a double edition of the blog this week, starting with a look at the city's new cycleways. The current plan is to provide 5 new routes to connect people to the centre with (according to the published plans) a circular route linked them together in the city in the future.

What is possibly even more exciting is how these cycleways are just the start of some very dense work for the city as set out on its integrated network map which itself has come from the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 which to cut a long story short requires Welsh councils to develop and implement walking and cycling upgrades to a least a minimum standard.

Cardiff appears to have embraced it and is putting cycling at the heart of its development planning as the city knows it cannot accommodate more traffic. According to the draft cycling strategy, Cardiff will be 50-50 between cars and sustainable modes by 2026 with cycling being 18%. This is pretty ambitious stuff!

So, back to the cycleways. The first route which heads north out of the city centre has its first 1km under construction along Senghennydd Road which runs next to Cardiff University and Cathays Station and impressive it looks too as can be seen here in this image from the Council's scheme information with a works plan here;

So, what does it look like on the ground? Well, the huge wide road has plenty of space and plenty of space is being given over to the cycleway;

The 2-way cycle track is kerb-protected with the remaining carriageway still providing lots of space for parking and general traffic, with hopefully more of an inducement to stick to the city's extensive network of 20mph streets. At the junction of Senghennydd Road and St Andrew's Place, the scheme continues with a new (not quite finished) zebra crossing as it turns the corner;

Then on St Andrew's Place itself, some reworking of the street connects St. Andrews Crescent with Park Grove via some contraflow working and a parallel zebra crossing;

The route continues via St. Andrews Crescent and ends at the wonderfully named Stuttgarter Strasse which is a dual carriageway A-road, but can be crossed by using the existing toucan crossing, but unfortunately, that's where things stop and because the adjacent Windsor Place is one-way, it is not possible to continue into the city centre from this route. There clearly is work still to be done in that regard.

I'm not convinced about the use of corduroy tactile paving at the cycle crossing point on the parallel zebra crossing, but it is the same level as the footway, so I have to assume it's attempt to assist visually impaired people - I'm happy to be told it's helpful by those who need it of course.

Here's a little film of the work so far;

The other scheme for this week is a cycle track which has been built on North Road, or rather from some repurposed parking next to Bute Park. I had originally thought this was another Cycleway project, but it's not officially.

North Road is the A470 which eventually connects to the M4 and it's not somewhere you would wish to cycle. To the south, the route actually connects to a route through Bute Park and at the north, it joins an existing shared path which then goes back into the park. About half way along, one can cross North Road into Corbett Road.

A little further to the east, Corbett Road will become part of CW1 (when the next phase is built), but it does connect to the north end of Senghennydd Road via a toucan crossing. The crossing of North Road is via toucan crossings which isn't wonderful and Corbett Road isn't pleasant - unless you realise you are meant to use the shared footway and toucan, you can get caught by a left turn signal (see film below). This junction really should have had proper protected cycling space rather than lumping walking and cycling together.

However, there is the very start of a local network forming here and I hope Cardiff seizes the initiative and does some more local filtering with cycle tracks on the busier roads.

The photograph above is the cycle track as it crosses an entrance to Bute Park - this really should have been more engineered in favour of walking and cycling. On the day, there were event vehicles being taken into the park and so barriers rather than traffic marshals were used to slow people cycling down.

The photograph below shows how the space was actually won - it was taken from a long and skinny car park which runs along North Road (and they did take away parking spaces). The cycle track is left, then a footway stepped up and then the car park stepped down. North Road is to the right.

It would be usual to put the footway behind the cycle track and so here, I assume this was done the other way round so people getting out of cars and walking on would use the footway rather than the cycle track. You'll notice the bollard and in fact, the car park could have been used as a filtered service road, although the cycle track does of course avoid people driving in and out of parking spaces. I think it works well.

I'll leave you this time with a film of the scheme;