Saturday, 8 August 2020

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - Injecting A Little Honesty

I'll say from the outset that I am a supporter of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and as a result, I am trying to overcome my confirmation bias when engaging with people who do not support them. However, I don't think there's enough honesty coming forth from some of the objectors.

For those who don't know, low traffic neighbourhoods are areas which maybe take no more than 15 minutes to walk across and from which through-motor traffic has been removed using modal filters to create a system of filtered permeability (I've written a whole guide to it for City Infinity). They are an integral part of the Sustainable Safety approach pioneered in the Netherlands and can be seen all over the world.

In the UK, they are a hot topic at the moment, but they have been around forever such as this example from Leicester which has been in for so long, the trees within it are mature;
LTNs cannot transform places on their own; main roads need dealing with to make walking and cycling safer along them for the simple reason of that's where many shops and services are located. However, LTNs are fundamental part of urban traffic management policy (in the widest sense) in places which try to give people genuine choices about how they travel their shorter trips.

Some designs of filter do permanently remove a section of road from motor vehicle access because it's genuinely surplus to requirements and nobody needs motor access. Some prevent motor vehicle access some of the time (school streets and pedestrian zones for example). However, the vast majority of designs do not prevent motor vehicle access at all, they just stop people driving through the area and out the other side. 

In the photograph below taken in the Vauban neighbourhood of Freiburg, Germany, you can just make out a car parked in the street. There was a guy vacuuming it and so he needed to be close to his home to run out a power cable. You cannot drive through this neighbourhood to get somewhere else (the main roads are for that), but you can get your car to your home to clean it in the same way that a taxi can drop you off there or maybe a supermarket can deliver some shopping. As a result, the street is quiet.

Here's a residential street in Copenhagen. Here, people can park their cars and their cycles. There are no cycle tracks here, but the traffic management has been designed so that the only people who need to be here either live here or have business here;
Low traffic neighbourhoods can also benefit town and city centres. Here we have Luxembourg City which has plenty of motor vehicle access, it's just that it's managed. Some areas have time restrictions, some don't, but the arrangements make it undesirable, if not impossible, to drive through and out the other side. People walking and cycling can go everywhere.
Personally, I think that the whole idea is wonderful and these places are almost always lovely to walk around and safe to cycle through. But of course, we know that there are people who disagree with the approach and that's fine.

What I want though, is to get under the skin of some of the objections. Now there are people who need to drive or be driven - and I really mean need. A LTN won't stop this, but depending on where they live in relation to a proposed filter their preferred route may well be impacted by a scheme. Their preferred route may have been the shortest route to their destination (I'll come back to that) or it's the easiest in terms of congestion or a particular junction. 

The issue of distance is interesting. There's a scheme being planned in London where somebody has commissioned a report to prove that an LTN will mean people have to drive further. Have a read for yourself if it takes your fancy. The LTN uses a series of filters to create a series of "traffic cells" which are all accessible by motor vehicle from the (main) roads circling the LTN, but you can't drive between cells without going back out onto the main roads. The report uses a simple Excel sheet to "prove" that the LTN will increase driving distances from each cell to a series of destinations on the boundary roads.

The mathematics appear fine, but they simply show a before and after distance between each cell and each destination and with that, the cumulative distance between each cell and destination is longer. If you think through the logic, then numerically it has to be the case because the filters stop people driving through the LTN. If you need to drive and your destination is beyond a filter, then you are going have to go the long way round. This report gives a mileage of 32.36 miles for "before" and 49.11 miles for "after" which is a 52% increase and is presented as such for the people in the LTN.

The problem with this type of analysis is that is doesn't present the entire picture. As I mentioned earlier, LTNs are maybe a 15 minute walk and so driving from one of the cells to any point on a boundary road is a short distance and so I have to conclude that those using this as "proof" against filtering actually want to maintain the ability to drive short distances. If you were driving a longer distance, say 20 miles, then the increase at the start or end of your trip (coming home), depending on the route you were taking could be longer than the no LTN condition, but it's a small percentage of that 20 miles. The other problem with this approach is that it simply doesn't model each choice of people person living in the LTN and it doesn't model the choices of those who did cut through.

I don't want to dwell on this one scheme and the piece of analysis, but we should widen our thinking beyond people who need to drive to people who want to drive. It may be that under normal circumstances they drop off a member of the family somewhere as part of their longer drive to work. If the LTN is substantially increasing their mileage in percentage terms, then their trip is already short and in fact they and their family member might be nudged enough to try walking or cycling - yes, LTNs do make driving short journeys less convenient (that's a nudge feature as well as making things safer). You might see the same people reducing the car-based trips to the large supermarket in favour of a bit more local shopping. that's good for them and the local shops.

For the people in the LTNs who need to drive, as well as removing the people who were driving through the area, we've also removed some of the people who we've nudged out of their cars which means that we'll probably reduce the demands on the boundary road junctions which will make it easier for those who need to drive (or be driven) to get in and out of their traffic cell. It's obviously more complex than that because we're also concerned about the impact on boundary roads and indeed other adjacent places without LTNs. In traffic modelling terms, this can be an issue because it can be difficult to model behaviors. 

Many models work by "traffic reassignment" which simply means that if you stop it flowing in one place, it will divert elsewhere, like water. Look at how sat-navs work, a road is congested ahead and so a sat-nav re-routes you somewhere else. The problem with this is traffic is more like (but not precisely) a gas because it can expand or contract depending on what's happening in capacity terms. Behaviour will show is that the potential short to medium increase in traffic on a boundary road might be enough to make some people stop making their trip. For example, someone driving for an hour might be at the very end of their threshold and another 10 minutes is enough to get them to switch to the train or stop making that trip (which may well have other consequences way beyond modelling).

An LTN will change traffic patterns, and in the short to medium term, we may well see an increase in traffic on boundary roads. We might also see patterns change and some people start using other residential streets a bit further away because it might be easier than going on the boundary road in question. That is an issue which people in and around a proposed LTN may very rightly be concerned about in terms of congestion, pollution and an increase in road danger and something which should be acknowledged, although from a traffic reduction point of view, it can't be done by making changes to main roads in isolation because that will push people to drive through local streets that are not filtered. Unless you've the resources to do both at once, LTNs should be delivered first.

In the long term people will adapt to the new reality and there is only so much capacity available and so things will have to find a level again. The skill there is having a regional approach which tackles longer distance car trips in urban areas which are a detriment to the wider community. Space should be given to walking and cycling on main roads, destination parking should be constrained, buses and trams should be given priority and so on. As well as making it harder to drive, we make it easier to travel by other means and those who need to drive can do so more easily, or at least it's no worse than before.

I think the other problem in the whole LTN debate is around whose time do we value the most and who gets a say in a scheme. One of the big problems we have with UK traffic management is the law creates a playing field heavily skewed towards driving because the general approach is for people to do what they want unless limited by law (national speed limits or local traffic orders). As soon as someone looks an putting in an LTN, they are immediately impacting the long established status quo. At a societal or cultural level we also have this whole area of thinking around people only having worth if they are going to work or driving. Imagine someone who walks their child to school and then carries on to care for a relative or maybe doing some voluntary work - do we price them into our economic models?

Do we consult children about LTNs, or do we listen to the well organised and well motivated people (whether for or against)? What value do we put on children being about to cycle to meet their friends rather than being driven (independence for the child and parent). What value do we put on an older person who can invest in an e-bike to get to their shops because the LTN gives them a safer route and some confidence? In fact, what value do we place on those local shops where people on foot spend the most money compared with retail parks? The matter of improvements for well being and society are hardly discussed.

I started this post challenging objectors to be truthful in their motivations, but I'll throw that over to people who support LTNs too. Acknowledge the points that people might have and where there are genuine issues thrown up, work hard to understand them and to try and solve them. However, when someone is projecting their views onto others or they are being circumspect then firmly challenge them. Equally, if you are against an LTN (or any scheme) because it will impact on your ability to drive where and when you like, then please be honest about it. I will disagree with you, but I will at least respect your position.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Fossil Fuel Addicts, Shock Jocks, Plumbers & The Unhinged

It is often said that unless you're getting a backlash, you're not doing anything meaningful; and maybe this past week more than any other time this has been true for walking and cycling.

This week the government published three important things. First was the very long awaited update to the English cycling infrastructure design guidance - Local Transport Note 1/20, Cycle Infrastructure Design. This is a very important because in the absence of any other understanding of how to design for cycling, it's something which any local authority or consulting engineer can pick up and understand what is required. That on its own won't make for good design because you need competent people, but at the very least it sets out the minimum requirements stall which might mean that the first reaction is to get someone in who knows what they are doing.

There is nothing radical about LTN1/20 as such, but for the first time it brings UK design guidance up to date following legislative changes brought in with the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Direction 2016 (parallel zebra crossings, low level traffic signals etc) as well as current professional practice. I say UK, but this is aimed at England and Northern Ireland because Wales and Scotland have their own guidance.

The government also launched a consultation on some major revisions to the Highway Code which (if incorporated) will update the HC to again reflect the change in things we're allowed to design now. It is also proposing changes which would give (in theory) a little more help to walking and cycling such as advising drivers (and cyclists) that people crossing side streets (walking or cycling) should be left to complete the crossing before anyone turns in - in fact, someone looking like they want to cross (including at a zebra or parallel zebra crossing) should be afforded the same courtesy.

The HC will not make our streets safer per se because reasonable and courteous people will already behave properly and let's face it, the HC is only used by people on Twitter to argue points; but it shows a political direction of travel and the courts will use the HC as a part of testing how someone has behaved. Please take a look and respond to the consultation here.

The third thing published is far more radical and is the thing that has really wound up a few people and got a certain part of the media up in arms. Once you get past the stupid attempt at gaming Google searches by the PM referring to people not being able to get fridge-freezers on cargobikes (which is nonsense), Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking actually is a genuinely bold vision. The document is full of facts about how pursuing policies based around walking and cycling can improve health, social and economic outcomes for people and where they live. This is probably my favourite graphic from the document because it's about design;

It's also a great explanation of why some people are losing the plot over plans to change how streets are managed and how people are prioritised. We've had radio shock-jocks ranting about lycra-clad cyclists, fossil fuel industry sock-puppets going on about needing to share the roads and the owner of a London-based plumbing company rationally describing people who want to cycle as fascists. Of course, such nonsense inevitably stokes up hatred from other people which at worst means people die on the streets.

The Vision also comes at a time where as part of their responses to Covid, some local authorities are trying to create safer walking and cycling space in our communities. In some cases, this has led to noisy protests and in at least two things I have read, people suggesting the schemes are like genocide to local businesses. We've also heard from motoring groups who also talk about balance and sharing and freight transport organisations which can see a challenge to their current business model which relies on the community to absorb the externalised costs of their operations.

Maybe you think I am not being forgiving in lumping the obvious loons in with the more respectable organisations, but for me, it's a spectrum and a little bit of digging shows that the main difference between these people and organisations is language rather than intent. We've followed their model for decades and look where it's got us.

There is plenty of dissonance with government of course, with the £27bn plan to expand the English strategic road network (although some of this cost is for maintenance) and a planning system which is still leading to car-centric development. It is possible to dislike a government, but welcome a particular policy however.

But, the counter to this is that we are starting to hear new voices above the screaming insults and crocodile smiles. Hyper local action groups are being formed to amplify the silent majority who would actually love to see different streets. Electronic citizen spaces, social media and people on the ground are starting to push back. The Bike Is Best campaign has undertaken some research which suggests that for every person against local measures to enable cycling are supported by 6.5 people.

This may be a surprise to many given what we see in the media and what many politicians say, but when we have political lobbying by fuel, motoring and haulage interests as well as people in the media who use outgrouping to create outrage for "debate" shows and for website clicks, it's clear that some see people being able to travel under their own steam as a threat, whether financially or politically.

Of course, a week is a long time in politics, but for the first time in a decade of being into active travel design, I'm cautiously hopeful.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

#LDNCycle Safari: Hackney On The Right Track

As part of my tour of the Hackney/ Tower Hamlets borders with Hackney Cyclist the other Saturday, we went for a look at a couple of streets which had had cycle tracks added to them.

I have had a pop at Hackney over the years because of a stubborn refusal to build cycle tracks on its main roads (some of which are managed by Transport for London to be fair). The borough relied on buses for many years as the only form of public transport, although it is now very much part of the London Overground system; the reliance on buses might explain some of the reluctance, but that will only take you so far.

Hackney is famous for modal filtering where through-motor traffic is removed from mainly residential areas (but where access is maintained for residents, deliveries, emergency vehicles etc). The most famous area is De Beauvoir Town which was extensively filtered in the 1970s - a good background from Hackney Cyclist can be read here

In more recent times, further filtering schemes have gone in such as at the southern end of Goldsmith's Row which created a section of walking and cycling street around a decade ago along the edge of Haggerston Park and today is part of Quietway 13 which runs from near Broadway Market southwest to Tabernacle Street on the edge of the City of London (Goldsmiths Road is just southeast of Hackney City Farm);

Goldsmiths Row is a very nice place to cycle because it is car-free and before the Covid crisis, it was a very popular commuting route to the The City of London with cycle traffic flows being prominently shown on the cycle counter you can see in the photograph below;

At the moment, it seems that peak weekday cycle traffic flows have reduced because people are either working from home or not working because of the virus impacting employment in The City; but weekend numbers are up which reflects people wanting to get out for some fresh air and maybe taking more advantage of what's on offer in their local area.

The problem with Goldsmiths Row is that it means main roads without any protection from traffic. At the southern end, there is at least a little detour through the park to a toucan crossing over the A1208 Hackney Road to get to Columbia Road (which is filtered at its northern end) and the northern could probably do with some neighbourhood filtering. Here's a video of the traffic-free section (link);

So, the filtered section of Goldsmiths Row is essentially a cycle track with a footway on each side, but as far as Hackney's history goes, the borough has never really built cycle tracks along roads next to general traffic. However, this is no longer the case.

Wick Road was a wide one-way street flanked by car parking and was almost an extension of the large tangle of roads to the east providing access to the A12 East Cross Route (which connects to the A11 at Bow and then the Blackwall Tunnel). Hackney decided to make the street 2-way for traffic to improve bus services and to reduce people using other streets as a cut-through.

The scheme includes one-way cycle tracks on each side of the street, new bus stops (some floating and some shared path) and extensive planting. The space for cycling was created from the removal of car parking bays, reuse of space from an existing short cycle track and part of a very wide footway (and some of this has been depaved too). 

The original idea for the scheme was to simply have people cycling on the carriageway which prompted a big push from local campaigners to have protected cycling because the road would still be busy and carry buses. The street reverted to 2-way operation last August and it was also possible to cycle in both directions in relative safety.

The photograph above is pretty typical of the layout with the existing footway at the the rear of the highway and the cycle track in some repurposed space with the original planting maintained. The first problem is that the cycle track is too narrow on some sections - here it is 1.6m wide excluding the kerb lines. Also, because I'm picky, the bollard is in handlebar catching range and I would have preferred red asphalt for the cycle track. Additionally, the tactile paving is incorrect - the corduroy type has been used when tram style is the requirement of the national guidance.

The photo above is the junction with Bradstock Road (just to the right) which was already part of a local cycle route which connected to Barnabas Road (on the left) via the retained 2-way cycle track you can see in the centre of the image (and where the tactile paving is correct from the original scheme). The designers provided a continuous treatment over the side street, although it's essentially shared presumably to make it easier to connect to the contraflow cycle track in Bradstock Road.

At the western end of the street, the cycle track ends and people cycling have to mix once more with general traffic. The photograph above is at the western end of Wick Road approaching the junction with the B113 Kenton Road. The original junction was extremely large and so the decision to integrate rather than protect is odd. Maybe the issue is that there is no plan for Kenton Road or Well Street (opposite Wick Road), but the design could have protected at the junction and integrated beyond. 

Well Street is one-way towards the junction, but a protected junction could have allowed people to enter Well Street which would be useful to have 2-way cycling in it as a local shopping street.

Bus stops along the street are two variants. Most are floating (above), although having the footway and cycle track at the same level rather than stepped is a compromise. A couple shared where people walking, cycling and using buses share an area before separation returns (below).

At least with the bus stop above, it could have been made a floating type, but space was given to a car parking bay on the other side of the street (in the westbound direction). I do like the fact the bus stop waiting areas and shared stops have a distinctive paving type which helps recognition.

For the eastbound approach to the junction with Barnabas Road (which connects to Homerton Overground Station), we are back with integrating cycle traffic in the carriageway (above) which is an odd choice because motor traffic cannot turn left here. On the other side of the junction, the return to the cycle track is via an uneven dropped kerb which is a wheel catching risk and the changes in crossfall will be awkward for the users of tricycles (below).

One of the key design decisions (taken at a network level) was to make the street two-way and improve bus access which is a good idea if we are to help people travel my means other than private car, but the carriageway has been kept to 6.5m. You will recall this is the same along Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest and this is because Transport for London Buses will resist carriageways being taken down any further, despite there being plenty of routes which are effectively narrower because of car parking. 

My view is that because we have a 20mph speed limit, we should be taking these carriageways down to 6m and remove the centre line because bus and indeed HGV drivers should be perfectly capable of slowing down when passing another large vehicle and the extra half a metre would have released more space for wider cycle tracks.

At the eastern end of the protected section, people cycling are dropped back into the carriageway approaching the junction with Brookfield Road/ Cassland Road and the A102 Kenworthy Road/ Wick Road (below). It's simply awful for cycling (and walking), but it's under Transport for London's control. It's utterly hostile and hard to navigate.

Like my discussion around Lea Bridge Road, Wick Road has compromises. The decision to go two-way for general traffic immediately creates compromises on space for other modes because of TfL Buses. There has also been a decision taken to retain a fair amount of car parking. These aren't necessarily compromises the designers would have chosen, but they are a reality. However, it is true to say that Wick Road does enable people to cycle and despite the issues, that's the important thing. Here's a video of the new layout (link);

The final scheme to look at in Hackney this week is the southern section of the B108 Queensbridge Road. It's a wide street which runs parallel and east to the A10 Kingsland Road and connects the area around Columbia Road in the south to Dalston in the north. The southern end of the street is just 200m west of Goldsmiths Row and so there's a tantalising hint of a network. The southern section of the street has recently been upgraded to provide cycle tracks between the A1208 Hackney Road and Whiston Road.

Sadly, Hackney has continued the theme of integrating people cycling with general traffic at the Hackney Road junction and at least when I was there, a van was left blocking the access to the northbound cycle track.

The design approach is the same as Wick Road with footway level cycle tracks and I really cannot see why, because the cycle track was created from carriageway space previously occupied by car parking (below). This really should have been a stepped arrangement with a forgiving kerb.

Hackney has been pretty brave in removing the car parking bays from the street, but the carriageway remains wide and as this street is not a bus route, I cannot see the reason for this. The dimensions vary, but generally the footways are around 1.8m, the cycle tracks are around 2m and the carriageway is 6.6m. There are no buses on this street and so there doesn't seem any reason why the cycle tracks could not have been 2.3m which would have been the same as the standard in Copenhagen. What is great about them is that they are machine-laid and very smooth, but they of course should have been red!

At the junction with Dunloe Street (which runs both sides of Queensbridge Road), the side streets have had motor traffic filtered (above) and there is now a parallel zebra crossing between both parts - essentially crossroads with walking and cycling having priority and very nice it is too. For some reason there are "no entry expect cycles" signs on the side streets which incorrect, they should be "no motor traffic" signs. But I'm picky.

Further north (but on the southbound side) there is a London cycle hire docking station (above). This was there before the cycle track and apparently moving it to have cycling behind it would have been costly. The mandatory cycle lane with wands does a reasonable job of keeping people safe and having cycling at carriageway level allows people hiring or dropping a bike to access the northbound cycle track via a dropped kerb on the other side of the street. 

I would prefer to see a traffic island on the upstream side of this cycle lane to provide heavier protection. At the end of the hire cycle docking station, the cycle track restarts (above). The other thing which this all shows of course is that the carriageway is too wide because it was easy to fit in the cycle lane around the docking station!

Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and so on a pleasant Saturday morning, there were plenty of people out enjoying the new street layout. Again, here's a video of the new layout (link);

One other little thing you will have seen in the video is that there are lots of new trees on the street which is great, but even if the cycle tracks were wider, there still would have been space to put them in between the cycle track and the carriageway and if provided every so often on alternate sides, then this would help break up the dead straight nature of the street because I bet there's a speeding issue (which would have been the case before). There would also have been space for the dropped kerb slopes to be provide outside of the cycle track and spots for occasional car parking or loading space which would also have helped give different cues to drivers. Maybe something more like the sketch below;

Hackney has done pretty well for cycling over the years without specific infrastructure, other than short links and park routes - Goldsmiths Row shows what can be done when a street coincides with a strong desire line. In many ways this shows that most of the time, cycling can be made great by removing through traffic (which is international best practice. However, a full network needs to provide for people on main roads and at last Wick Road and Queensbridge Road is starting to address this. What is clear though, is signalised junctions are a problem which are not being tackled yet and as a general point, there needs to be a more forceful exchange of views with TfL Buses because we really don't need 6.5m wide carriageways.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

#LDNCycleSafari: Nicer Neighbourhoods

After a few solo infrastructure safari rides during lockdown, it was nice to get out and meet an actual person to share the kerbnerdery with. So a big hat tip to Hackney Cyclist for giving me a little tour of what's new (and newish) in Hackney and just over the border in Tower Hamlets.

This week, I'm going to concentrate on places which are being created through filtered permeability. For those who don't know, filtered permeability is a catch-all term for measures deployed to manage access to or through an area using physical measures, traffic cameras and/ or traffic signs (called "modal filters". A general blog post on the subject can be found here.

The Skew Bridge (over the Hertford Union Canal) on Old Ford Road has been closed to motor traffic on both sides as part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets' Covid response. The bridge has very narrow footways and a narrow carriageway making social distancing impossible;

The council has installed a filter on each side of the bridge (where there are no premises) to create an area people can safety walk and cycle;

The photograph above is of the filter on the western side of the bridge which comprises of simple timber planters with trees and some traffic signage. The planters and the area around have been decorated by the Tactical Urbanistas, who have added some fun to the street;

Although this is a Covid response, the scheme is actually part of the Bow Liveable Neighbourhood project which seeks to remove through motor traffic from the area and back on the strategic road network and which is currently in formal public consultation following a process of public engagement which has seen the community put forward ideas. 

The strategic road network includes the A12, which is essentially an urban motorway here and the A11 which carries Cycle Superhighway 2 and so the Bow scheme will actually make it easier to cycle to the A11 for people with longer cycling trips.

According to the council, 49% of motor traffic in the neighbourhood is passing through without stopping and so with various closures to motor vehicles (with some bus gates), the aim is to give the neighbourhood back to the people who live there, rather than accommodate the people who drive through and make no contribution (and who take from the community in terms of road danger and pollution etc). Here's a little video of the filter (link);

To the west is another one of Tower Hamlets' Liveable Neighbourhood schemes, but this one for the Bethnal Green area has already been through the engagement and consultation process and is on site being constructed. We had a look at Old Bethnal Green Road on which a modal filter is being constructed to the west of Temple Street;

We chatted with the contractor who said that this scheme was a little ahead of schedule. It's hard to see what the final layout will look like, but from what we saw, it's going to have trees, cycle tracks and what looks like an emergency access.

Across the border into Hackney and we have Broadway Market. There is an actual market held on Saturdays for which infrastructure is in place in terms of removable bollards and a gate, whereas normally, the street is open to all traffic and is full of parking bays. As a Covid response, the street is currently closed to motor traffic and the space is given over to people to walk and cycle as well as providing more seating space and areas people can socially distance while queuing to get into the shops.

What was great about spending a little time in the street was that it was clear how people cycling modify their behaviour around people walking, especially as there is a parallel route for those who want to make progress. The end of my video is a sped up glimpse of how the street is working.

The arrangement for the street is in until October, but I really hope the council have some longer term plans because something like the current arrangement would be really transformative. The best thing of course, is that this filter didn't cost very much because the traffic management infrastructure was already in place!

Next is a quick look at The Narrow Way at the northern end of Mare Street in Hackney. It's a pedestrianised street which allows cycling in both directions at all times (pedestrian and cycle zone), with loading permitted between 6pm and 10am (daily) with access for deliveries being in one direction only (north to south);

It's a nice looking street with its Dutch clay paving, seating and tree planting and if you look closely, you'll see the street lighting on catenary wires. There isn't a clear cycling (or delivery traffic) route though the space as such, but maybe a hint with the way the seating and planting has been arranged (there will be a fire path kept clear of street features). 

Access from the south is a total nightmare from the main part of the A107 Mare Street where people cycling get to mix with buses and HGVs and pedestrian desire lines are poorly accommodated. At the northern end, there is a toucan crossing over the A107 Dalston Lane into the partially filtered Clarence Road.

What is amazing about The Narrow Way is that the current layout is only a few years old. It was a pedestrian zone previously, but buses used it in the southbound direction and so it wasn't really a place to walk;

In 2013, buses were rerouted from the street on a temporary basis and the impact to services were not adversely affected. This led to an interim layout where buses were permanently removed and temporary street art was used to activate the space in advance of the scheme we see today. Here's a video of the street, including the awful access from the south;

Finally this week, one final filter which is another in response to Covid. It's a "point" treatment which allows motor traffic to pass through in one direction only while maintaining two-way for cycle traffic. Just inside the Hackney border, the filter at the eastern end of Gore Road is designed to reduce through traffic in the area and to give people more space;

It's a simple arrangement of planters and traffic signs which shows just how simple and straight-forward this type of thing can be.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Sustainable Safety - An Introduction

A few months back, I wrote about how Vision Zero became mainstream in Sweden. This week, I want to introduce another road safety approach. This one has been put into action just across the North Sea - the Dutch Sustainable Safety approach.

While the Swedish approach had tended to concentrate on drivers and motor vehicles (developing to include those outside of vehicles more recently), the Dutch approach to Sustainable Safety is more developed and encompassing that the Swedish approach. Please note that this post is my understanding and if you know better or disagree, please do comment.

"Sustainable Safety" is probably an odd name because I'd imagine many people would be thinking about it being environmentally friendly. There is a link, but it has nothing to do with the natural environment. The 1987 Brundtland Report ”Our Sustainable Futures” defined sustainable development as;

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

The use of "sustainable" in "sustainable safety" is therefore describing the designing out of road safety problems today so that users aren’t exposed to the same problems in the future. This applies equally to new schemes as well as retrofitting existing streets and roads.

The road traffic system is inherently unsafe: the design of the current system is such that it causes accidents and serious injuries. The inherent road unsafety and the fact that this notion should be the starting point for improving safety is inspired mainly by developments in other sectors, such as aviation and the process industry, where this awareness had dawned much earlier. In short: Sustainable Safety replaces the accepted curative approach to unsafe locations by a proactive and preventive approach.

In fact, the manual can be downloaded from Road Safety for All website (first link). Lots of people talk about the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, but the road safety manual really gets under the skin of the Dutch approach. You'll see familiar topics such as infrastructure, vehicle design, education and enforcement.

The original vision for sustainable safety was published in 1992 which surprised me given I had read about things like De Kindermoord and the oil crisis from the 1970s. This film by Mark Wagenbuur sets the scene in explaining the fall and rise of Dutch cycling and the modern push for infrastructure in the 1970s. Sustainable safety as an approach was already being implemented so maybe the vision can be seen as a consolidation of the 20 years of learning that had already taken place.

The origin was quite similar to Vision Zero in that it was about looking at what went wrong, changing it and if collisions did occur, that their severity would be reduced. The third version of the vision covers 2018 to 2030 and sets out the five principles of sustainable safety;
  • Functionality of roads,
  • Bio(mechanics): minimising differences in speed, direction, mass and size whilst maximising protection for the road user,
  • Psychologics: aligning the design of the road traffic environment and road user competencies,
  • Effectively allocating responsibility,
  • Learning and innovating in the traffic system
The first three are design principles and the last two are organisational principles. 

Functionality seeks to design road sections and intersections which only have one function for all modes of transport (also called mono-functionality), either a traffic flow function or an exchange function. Traffic flow is as you'd expect, but "exchange" is simply about stuff happening such as junctions, parking, crossing the street etc. It has parallels with the UK "movement" and "place" approach, except the Dutch actually decide what a road or a street is for rather than the often seen UK fudge of trying to accommodate all functions and failing.

Functionality has seen the Dutch highway system stratified into three types of highway;
  • Through roads which perform a movement function along roads and through intersections;
  • Distributor roads which perform a movement function along roads, but an exchange function at intersections;
  • Access roads which perform an exchange function along roads and intersections.
Through roads are motorways and large roads (such as trunk roads and arterials) which are developed to provide a movement function without exchange. Motorways can technically be looked at as a separate class of road, although sometimes of course, cycle tracks cross motorways or run parallel to them to cross barriers such as rivers. Some large roads carry enough traffic to be through roads and so the provision of walking and cycling infrastructure will be to a high standard of protection.

Where they share the same space, they will often be grade separated such as in the photograph below where the cycle track is taken under the large grade separated junction ahead.

Distributor roads connect through roads to access roads. They can have walking and cycling provision, but it must be separated from motor traffic. When exchanges need to happen, then these will usually be at intersections. An intersection type can take all sorts of forms such as traffic signals, roundabouts or even the wonderfully named "voorrangsplein" or "priority square". The photograph below is an urban signalised crossroads on a distributor road.

The difference between distributors and through roads can sometimes be difficult to see and things can change over time. The photograph above is on an arterial route into Amsterdam but it doesn't traverse the city and so it's not providing a through function. There are side streets accessing this road directly and it connects to other distributors at signalised junctions; it also carries tram and bus routes. The important thing, however is that the volume and speed of traffic is such that people walking and cycling are protected. Roads can of course change type along their length as uses and needs change.

Access roads have everything going on. They are where people live and they may have local shops and services. There may be a footway provided for walking, but they don't have specific cycling infrastructure. The photograph below is an access road. People can park, they cross the road, there might be deliveries going on - it's clearly a place intended for people rather than through traffic.

Access roads can be created by retrofitting modal filters and by the use of local one-way systems so that the only people needing to take a motor vehicle into them either live there or are visiting for a specific reason. The photograph below shows a simple modal filter.

It's also common to find access roads running in parallel to the other two types of roads with managed connections. This can be seen in built up areas where there is a local parade of shops which allows the exchange activity to be conducted off the main road or in rural areas where the access road provides utility for farmers and cycle routes where traffic volumes are low.

The Dutch have a national policy approach to classify each road or street within this framework and to deploy a strategy to get there if conditions don't already dictate the type. It's a network-level issue because in general, there is a hierarchy to follow. For example, access roads should not connect to through roads and if they do, then there will be a long term plan to unravel the network to change this. 

It's also worth mentioning that this is primarily looking at how motor traffic is managed and so walking and cycling networks will be developed separately with the road classification issue coming into play where there are exchanges. It's also why a main cycle route may be developed on access streets because it allows cycle traffic to dominate traffic, the latter simply being allow access. Sustainable safety still applies, however, because there is a speed differential between people walking and cycling - if there's no footways, then street isn't suitable for a main cycle route.

The Road Safety Manual has a table which provides a rule of thumb for the difference in motor traffic flows for the road types. It is not intended to be a specific measure, just a way of getting an initial feel for the situation;

It's worth considering the fact that some locations can have high flows at peak times which might require other design decisions. It could be that a through road has a high proportion of local traffic and for through traffic, there is a parallel route which is better suited to take it. Engineering controls at a network level could therefore be used to change the road from a through road to a distributor road.

Where a road or a street cannot be classified at the network level or if the intended use isn't reflected by the design, then it will be designated a "grey road". This is recognition that it's not possible to do everything at once, although there will often be interim measures deployed aimed at protecting the most vulnerable person in the system. This tends to be an urban issue where there is a flow function competing with an access function and where there isn't space at the moment to provide protection to become a proper distributor. 

The street may access road in the future because of network changes elsewhere or by some significant redevelopment, but until this happens, measures are deployed to provide protection. So you may see measures deployed to make the street look and feel less attractive as a distributor with a lower speed limit and cycle lanes. 

The photograph below is of a distributor road on the edge of Kloosterzande where the use of cycle lanes only occurs within the town limits where the speed limit is reduced to 50km/h. This has been mis-applied in the UK on roads which are far too busy for mixing, but works here because the wider network approach means this is a relatively quiet street by UK standards (the town is bypassed). There is a tension between the road providing a connection function with the exchange function of an access road. Grey roads are very tricky to deal with and local context is very important.

Bio(mechanics) is about how the human body is affected by a collision and through road and street design to develop a layout which recognises this. The following is a summary of how this looks;

In other words, for each condition, this is the maximum traffic speed appropriate in terms of surviveability if there were a collision. The 50km/h (31mph) speed is interesting because it essentially requires people walking and cycling to be separate from people driving and it's the default Dutch urban speed limit. It also suggests that the road could be a distributor road (non-motorway). The 130km/h (81mph) speed limit is the motorway limit, although in places it's lowered for road layout, congestion or weather reasons.

The other implication of biomechanics is that we generally need to separate walking and cycling space because of the risk which people cycling at any reasonable speed create for people walking. This is a simplified explanation because there are subtleties between urban and rural places, but the principle of separation where speed differentials are high and integration when they are low is a fair summary. Throw traffic flow into the mix and you can see where decisions need to be made.

Psychologics is about is about ensuring that road layouts align with the general competencies of the road user, that they are ”self-explaining”, consistent and that people can adjust their behaviour depending on the prevailing conditions, especially older people. It does include an element of training people and potentially vehicle technology such as intelligent speed assistance.

For example a wide, multi-lane road suggests to someone driving that they can drive quickly, regardless of the posted speed limit or a narrow, confined layout with access for parking, trees and other street features is a place to drive slowly, regardless of the speed limit. 

Here's a UK example (below). This street is 14.9m wide with a 9m wide carriageway tells drivers that this is somewhere where they can drive fast, despite the 30mph speed limit and that non-motorised users will only be people walking, keeping to the footways. The fact that there are houses on both sides is almost lost on the user.

The Dutch street below is roughly the same width, but the carriageway of around 5.5m with cycle tracks on each side tells a different story. In terms network of hierarchy, the UK street should be an access road and the Dutch street is a distributor road. Of course, if we decided that the UK street should also be a distributor road then under sustainable safety, we'd be providing cycle tracks and other features to protect walking and cycling. It all depends on how the network has been thought about and classified.

So we use a street layout to explain to drivers what to expect and we then ensure that all streets of a similar function look broadly similar so that an access road looks like one and a through road looks like one; no matter where we encounter them. The comment about older people is one where we should expect our reactions to be worse as we get older.

Responsibility ultimately sits with decision makers and designers - the people responsible for the road system and the same people responsible for making sure it is safe. It's a concept which should shame many in the UK, especially people who design a road to "standards" and then blame user for crashing. The Dutch approach states that ultimately, it is the national government which has overall responsibility for a casualty-free road system.

The UK approach tends to leave it up to local highway authorities and that is why we don't have decent national standards for highway design (other than for trunk roads and motorways). I think it is a stark comparison and suggests that at a national level, the UK only values people who drive on motorways and trunk roads.

Of course, individual responsibility to behave correctly is part of the equation, but even here, the planners and designers of the system are responsible for ensuring that layouts are forgiving and that people getting things wrong shouldn't die; or people shouldn't die from others getting it wrong. 

Vehicle manufacturers have responsibility for the safety of their vehicles and indeed the idea of responsibility extends into social responsibility. For example, a pub chain should discourage patrons from drink driving (maybe even walking and cycling when drunk) by offering alternatives to alcohol (dare I say by making soft drinks much cheaper). Employers promote safe behaviours through staff development and company culture.

Learning and innovating is around the continuous improvement of organisations and professionals. The sustainable safety approach uses the Deming Cycle of "plan, do, check, act". The process is described as follows;

"It starts with the development of effective and preventive system innovations based on knowledge of causes of crashes and hazards (Plan). By implementing these innovations (Do), by monitoring their effectiveness (Check) and by making the necessary adjustments (Act), system innovation ultimately results in fewer crashes and casualties."

The Dutch investigate all road crashes where someone has died in order to learn lessons and where possible, extend this to crashes where someone has been seriously injured. It includes looking at data for trends or commonalities which can include the road layout, vehicle defects, behaviours or any other relevant issue. The objective is to learn rather than blame.

The dissemination of good practice is vital as well as embedding good practice into organisations so it becomes a core part of "business as usual" for everyone rather than relying on key individuals. This extends to municipalities, consultants, motor manufacturers and indeed anyone who influences the system.

Sustainable safety is a fascinating approach and the more you read about it, the more you can see its benefits. You can also see how badly the UK approaches the management of its roads and streets. The Netherlands and the UK have both built an extensive road network, including the bypassing of villages, towns and cities, but we then diverge. The Dutch have capitalised on this by redesigning their places for people whereas the UK largely hasn't.

The foundations of sustainable safety do have roots in the development and expansion of roads for motorisation and with the decisions on what each road is for. To some extent, it remains an approach coming from a driving point of view. It's probably not a surprise that the country has developed separate cycling and driving networks which just happen to coincide from time to time.

The lesson the UK can take from this is that we should be thinking about our highway networks first before we make changes whereas we often just look at a street or route in isolation. It is a concept which is at the heart of low traffic neighbourhoods where it is no longer acceptable to have local streets performing a distributor or through road function. 

Equally, it forces us to think about those main roads in terms of protecting people walking and cycling. It also shows how difficult it is to deal with high streets because if we want to maintain the flow function, there are implications for how the street looks and feels; plus how easy it is to cross. In many cases, the thing that has to give way in my view is on-street parking, but that's another discussion!