Monday, 12 November 2018

We Want Kerbs, Not Technology.

There must be money to be made of out technology for use on our streets or for users of our streets otherwise people wouldn't keep pushing it.

There's always a new and better design for indicators for bicycles but which one never sees out in real life, photo-voltaic carriageway surfaces which only ever exist on a test track and gyroscopic buses travelling above the traffic-snarled streets.

What is it about the fantasists who promote these and perhaps, more worryingly, the fools taken in by the snake oil - is it because Shelbyville has a monorail?

For walking and cycling, there isn't an awful lot of technology that could make the experience better, although I'll give you modern materials and e-cycles I suppose. At its basic level, simply using kerbs and asphalt in the right places, amounts and layouts is all we really need and anything else becomes a coping mechanism when interacting with motor traffic because after all, the only reason for traffic signals is to manage interactions with motor traffic!

Look at the Netherlands. It is very common for road markings to be provided to act as a backup for a traffic signal failure - the photo below shows the line of give way triangles within a signalised junction.

Of course, Dutch drivers are a good/ useless as those from any other country and so in the event of a failure, walking and cycling is going to be harder! Here in the UK, we are overdosing on SCOOT which squeezes every last drop of capacity at junctions for drivers, but struggles to deal with walking and cycling (so expect long waits).

Apps don't keep people safe on the streets. Data might be helpful for planning projects, but pedestrian crossings get people across the road (yes, some involve technology, but that's to manage drivers). A clever marketing insight might inform your branding, but continuous footways and cycle tracks help make walking and cycling more comfortable over side roads will be all the advertising you need!

Look, I'm not going to be out on the streets smashing up the spinning jenny any time soon, because after all, it would be so much more difficult to undertake design work without modern computerised surveying, radar detection of utilities, computer aided design and modern communications. But, at the heart of all this is the absolute necessity to throw around civil engineering materials and elements because that is how we'll modernise our roads and streets.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

A Scandinavian Safari: Part 7 - Bikes, Lights & Little Trucks

This week, I'll bring my Scandinavian Safari series to a close with a blog post about some of the other things I saw on my trip this summer which didn't quite fit the rest of the posts.

Not all of the this things this week will be Scandinavian because the journey up was part of the fun with stays in Germany and the Netherlands and as you might expect, my camera was always hovering for a nerdy snap!

The Bikes
For my explorations in Malmö and Copenhagen, I made my first ever use of a bike hire scheme, where I used Donkey Republic. The dockless system has the cycles parked in geofenced 'hubs' (often public cycle racks) and once you have selected one and chosen the length of hire, a bluetooth lock gets you moving.

Donkey Republic's bikes have three hub-gears and even for tall people like me, they are very comfortable to ride. There is a front and rear rack and as well as the bluetooth wheel lock on the rear, there is a secondary chain which connects to it and which has a really clever holding pouch in the rear rack - all very useful if you want to nip into the shops!

The app and the payment system was really easy to use. If you ended up with a bike which needed some TLC (as I did in Copenhagen), you can find another one and swap using the app (with a reporting feature). It also had a smart phone holder which I used to hold my phone with maps running.

I was a big fan of the system and it meant that I didn't need to get a bike back to a hire shop (although in truth, I had left hire a bit late to organise anyway). 

There were other options (although I didn't try them). In Malmö, the city has Malmö by Bike (below) which is a docked system accessed by a smart card or ID/pin from a terminal giving hire for up to an hour.

In Copenhagen, there is another docked scheme, ByCyklen (below), which has e-assist cycles.

Copenhagen also has bikes available from the city's hotels which seems the perfect response to tourist demand to see the sights efficiently!

Meanwhile in Deventer (one of our stopover towns), the town centre car park operator had its own take on park and ride;

As you would expect in places where cycling has been enabled, there are plenty of other types of cycles being used. In Malmö, the postal service runs some high load capacity machines;

In addition, cycles are the vehicle of choice for deliveries as demonstrated by this well-known pizza company;

For one of our stopovers, we stayed about 30 miles from Hamburg and my son and I spent the day cycling along the River Elbe on very comfortable bikes - we needed them as it turned into a very long day as you can see from my Twitter thread from the day!

Of course, with so many practical machines being used, one kind of lets them become taken for granted and so the unusual does stand out such as these timber bikes spotted in Deventer and Utrecht;

As far as Denmark goes, there is a very famous attraction and of course, there is the odd bike to be seen;

And finally, you expect some cycle parking. Even in the less famous Swedish town of Ystad, there was plenty at the station!

Traffic Signals
No, not a long discussion on the technical points of European approaches, just a couple of the more unusual installations we saw. First, in Utrecht, the Rainbow Crossing is a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right, complete with Miffy signals!

Odense is the third largest city in Denmark and it is the home of Hans Christian Andersen. In celebration of this fact, someone has been messing about with the traffic signals;

In Copenhagen, a great addition to the pedestrian crossing push buttons is a little relief to help visually impaired people line up with the crossing direction. We could and should do this in the UK with very little effort;

City Vehicles
It's often the case that modern public service vehicles are simply too large to service historic places, but we stuff them in anyway. For when we can't do it all by bike (and nobody is suggesting we do), there is the option of appropriately sized vehicles. In Malmö, I saw a little electric maintenance van;

Vehicles of this size are perfect for when you need to carry a little more kit or stuff around, but where an 8-wheel truck is simply not appropriate. Over in Deventer, they have a little bus (Centrumbus) in the historic core. Although it's a very walkable town, the bus can give a little extra help to those who need it;

That's It!
Scandinavia was a blast, but as I said at the start of the series, please remember that the things I have written about come from a few days as a tourist, not someone who leaves and breathes the local engineering.

But, a highway engineer's adventures in time & space were fun over the summer and the journey continues. More than ever I can safely say the "the street is not too narrow, your imagination is too narrow", but seeing how it's done elsewhere can broaden one's imagination!

Monday, 22 October 2018

Priorities - Who Is The Street For At Stoke Newington?

Transport for London is currently consulting on its plans, apparently working with the London Borough of Hackney, to "transform Stoke Newington gyratory into a place for people." Except it won't be a place for people because the objectives are muddled and fudged.

OK, it's easy for me to be an armchair pundit without the traffic data and an army of experts sitting behind me, but in fact that doesn't matter because no vision has been set for the scheme.

The project objective is essentially to remove the gyratory on which I have no strong view to deliver the following aims;
  • Transforming the town centre by creating a single unified retail location with an enhanced environment for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Improving the public transport interchange, achieved through two-way bus operation, reducing congestion, and simplifying bus stops
  • Improving cycling facilities and access through the A10
  • Encouraging more journeys by walking, cycling or public transport to/from the High Street 
  • Reducing rat-running in residential streets
I've no issue with the aims; at the moment, buses and cycling are routed around the gyratory and so for people travelling south, they travel on a diversion of nearly 1.2km where the direct route would be 500m. This means that if a person is cycling to the shops on Stoke Newington High Street, one of their legs will be round the long way (depending where they are coming from and probably even more complicated if they are coming from the residential areas either side.

For bus passengers, those travel through the area have their southbound journey times increased because of the gyratory and many wanting to get to the shops will have to walk much further than if buses could take the direct route.

You can read the proposals for yourself, but from a cycling point of view, they are disjointed, full of gaps and have critical fails which will not enable anyone who wants to cycle. Protection ends at the large junctions, people cycling have to share bus lanes with multiple bus routes and they are not even 4.5m wide (which is still awful for cycling), so the brave people cycling will hold up buses. There are also advanced stop lines which have no place in modern layouts and quite a few of the right turns will be difficult (below).

One section between Stoke Newington Church Street and Brook Road will have a south-bound bus lane with a northbound general traffic lane. A northbound cycle track has been proposed for part of the route and it's good to see floating bus stops; but in several places, the cycle track will have part time loading taking place on it which operates 7am to 10am daily. It's nuts because it won't be available for commutes and the school run.

Part of the gyratory away from the High Street (Rectory Road), will have an overrunable central median and people cycling having to take primary position in the traffic (below). This will be carrying general traffic southbound largely on the current route via Northwold Road, Rectory Road and Manse Road and so in reality, it's only a partial removal of the gyratory and cycling here is going to be hell.

For people walking, some continuous footways are proposed which is welcomed and they come with drivers only being allowed to exit side streets on a left turn (below) which is a good, low-conflict layout. There are also some crossing improvements.

For the wider area, there are some modal filters being proposed and space released for 'pocket parks' (above). Although the consultation doesn't say, I assume that there will be various bits of resurfacing and other ancillary works required due to the gyratory removal.

There are lots of little details which make this scheme terrible for cycling, but it's pointless me going through each one because the project as a whole is such a critical fail for cycling. While I think walking fares better than now, it's probably more to do with removing the gyratory than concentrating on desire lines.

For bus passengers, a more direct route through the High Street for some bus routes has got to be a significant improvement, but as I mentioned above, people cycling are going to cause delays or they will end up getting close-passed by bus drivers.

So, what would I do? In some ways, it doesn't matter because I cannot possibly second guess the information which is at hand and I've not been party to any of the discussions which got us here; but I will offer some views in a minute. 

First, I wonder how the design got here. The road we are talking about is designated as the A10. In comment with so many other parts of the UK, the designation came from an evolution of the high street as a place of commerce, but over the years, they have been subsumed into a corridor for long-distance traffic. London does of course need to be serviced and in terms of serving the inner part of the city, the A road radials mean that lots of traffic will be passing through many neighbourhoods. In other words, the local importance of local high streets is in direct conflict with the demand for through traffic.

London also has a pretty dense network of buses and so the A road corridors have become important for bus travel and as a result, we have installed bus lanes and so this can in some cases mean there is no chance of fitting in cycling properly - it does vary with location of course, but where there are space constraints, the bus lanes tend to service the morning peak direction. In many cases, the bus lanes give up at junctions anyway and so when being used by people cycling, left hooks become more likely as drivers pull to the nearside.

The Stoke Newington proposals are essentially for bus and general traffic with walking and cycling fitting around those two other modes. Cycling has been provided where it doesn't interfere with bus lanes and walking gets space from what is left over as a result of partially removing the gyratory for general traffic.

If the scheme objectives were set out in the context of the Mayor's healthy streets agenda, his promise to make cycling a byword for London and having 80% of Londoners walking, cycling and using public transport, then the scheme would be completely different.

We have to talk about cycling. The only way we will get people who don't cycle now onto the A10 will be by building cycle tracks. It would make sense that these are one-way on each side of the street. Where space is tight, we can go for stepped tracks such as can be found on the A3 in South London;

Where there is a little more space, then cycle tracks with a buffer are preferable and they will form space for 'floating' bus stops, loading, pedestrian crossings and landscaping as have just been built in Stratford, East London (below);

Unless we built continuous and protected cycling infrastructure on main roads, ever detail which is watered down into painted lanes, bus lanes and space for turning traffic at junctions will simply scare people off from taking up cycling for transport. Cycle tracks which connect to filtered side streets also help to build a network for cycling - especially for local people wanting to use the high street shops and services. The filtered side streets with crossing close by also help to enable local trips to be made by foot - especially if it means people not bothering to get into their cars because their journey would be far longer!

So, my approach to the scheme would be to set out cycle tracks along the length of the scheme. Next, I would be looking at what side streets I would filter which means a bit more of a network review. Once we have an idea, then we align pedestrian crossings as close to the filters as we can get - you come out of the end of the street, you can cross on the desire line and then decide to go left or right.

Next, we look at buses. There is a wider issue about the tangle of bus routes in London which in many cases literally go round the houses into streets where we probably shouldn't really be sending them. It's controversial, but corridors such as the A10 would be better served with routes which only stop at key points (such as Stoke Newington) and in some cases, people will need to use feeder routes to get to main routes. We also have the huge cost differential with train services which means many people are using the buses for very long journeys because it is so much cheaper than catching the quicker train. TfL should be looking at this more in my view.

For places like Stoke Newington, the bus lane aligned to peak hours seems like quite a good idea (southbound in this case), but it is utterly impossible to achieve with a decent level of provision for cycling and with the proposal, the northbound cycle track will have loading on top of it.

As you can see from the image above, the street has three traffic lanes at the moment and the proposal is for a cycle track (with morning loading on it), a northbound traffic lane and a southbound bus lane. This section between Brooke Road and Stoke Newington Church Street is a huge challenge - to the north and south, there is more carriageway to play with.

There is a compelling argument here that the removal of the gyratory works against this section of the high street and so I think we have to build the cycle tracks. There would only be enough space left for one traffic lane and so this would have to be cleverly managed - the space actually cries out to be pedestrianised, but this works against the desire to improve bus access. 

Perhaps we can take a cue from Orford Road in Waltham Forest. We would permit two-way buses at all times with loading being from one direction during selected off-peak times. We don't have cycle tracks which does mean mixing with buses and some deliveries, but good design and enforcement of the controls reinforces people priority. It might require (shock horror) for a bit of alternate working and bus drivers having to negotiate with each other - think of a single track road with passing places!

Yes, it's radical, but the current proposals cannot work for cycling and without radicalism, we'll just lock in a mess for another 20 years. If we go radical then we have more of a chance to reduce motor traffic which in turn enables us to be even more radical. 

This is where we need to look at the network level. There is a Department for Transport traffic count point just south of Brooke Road (for northbound traffic) and on Rectory Road (for southbound traffic). The current 2017 data was from a manual count and makes for interesting reading;

In terms of servicing, it's not really going to be done from HGVs and there are very few going through the area (so other large will be used to serve Central London). Yes, there are plenty of LGVs, but the elephant in the room as usual is the amount of car-based traffic. This means that unless these volumes are tackled, then we will never be able to provide a transformative scheme.

My personal view is that those interesting in rebalancing streets for people should not be supporting the scheme or at least, be non-committal. I fear that those wanting to build properly for cycling will immediately be criticised as anti-bus (passengers) and walking, but without the cycle as a mode for short to medium distance trips, we cannot possibly emulate the experience in other parts of the world where cycling is a proper part of the mix and designed for accordingly.

In the final analysis, the scheme cannot possibly deliver the Mayor's vision unless there is a real desire to tackle motor traffic. The consultation for the scheme ends on 30th November.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

A Scandinavian Safari: Part 6 - Copenhagen - Around The City

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my trip from the suburbs of Copenhagen. This week, I pick up on some of what I saw around the city centre.

Copenhagen has lots of bridges - having islands and waterways makes them an absolute necessity. What is very nice to see is the bridges dedicated to walking and cycling.

To the south of the city, we have the famous Bicycle Snake (Cykelslangen) which provides part of a link route across the harbour connecting the main part of the city with the island of Amager (on which Copenhagen Airport can be found).

The north end of the bridge starts next to the Fisketorvet shopping mall (below) and yes, snakes across part of the old docks. For people on foot, the provision is nowhere near as iconic and you need to use steps to get down to dockside level or find you way through the shopping centre to a lift.

It's a nice piece of civil engineering and from a cycling point of view, the gentle gradient makes it a breeze to use in either direction - I filmed a ride across it;

The walking and cycling routes join in the docks at Bryggebroen, another bridge which links to Amager itself (below);

The neighbourhood you land in on the island of Amager is a reasonably mixed residential and commercial area with buildings around 5 or 6 storeys high and a mixture of old and new - I assume some at least are converted warehouses. The main waterfront street of Islands Brygge has the familiar one-way cycle tracks (one each side of the road) which can be found throughout the city;

As we've come accustomed to, the levels are kept flat and so the Danish-fillet makes its usual appearance rather than dropped kerbs for vehicles, cycles and people walking alike (above).

The fillets are everywhere and when people need to cross the road on foot or by cycle, they usually need to be mindful of the bump.

Further north, we have the Freetown of Christiania, which is a place with a fascinating history in its own right - a town within the city which developed from abandoned barracks and a history of unease with the main city authorities, as well as being virtually car-free. It's also where the famous Christiania Bikes brand started - those who have followed me a while will know that I'm a proud owner of one of their machines (below);

Bridges feature here such as the Butterfly Bridge which is a 3-armed lifting bridge for walking and cycling.

Just west of the Butterfly Bridge, we have the Inner Harbour Bridge (Inderhavnsbroen), which is also known as the Kissing Bridge, which has been plagued by technical problems with its opening mechanism.

The central span of the bridge splits into two at the centre and the two parts slide backwards to let shipping through - a video of it by Cezary Marek can be watched here.

The shape of the route across created by the gap into which the opening parts slide into means that there are dog-legs in the cycle route which are reinforced by red and white barriers to highlight the kinks - it's a bit awkward.

The bridge landing at its western end is into a shared area and then a local street which I found to be quite conflicted.

After my little look at some of the new bridges, I simply rode around the city for a few hours taking in the sights and absorbing the different types of cycling infrastructure.

Above shows some of the most basic provision over a large bridge (Langebro). In the UK, this would probably be a shared bus lane, but here at least, there is a bus lane to the left and so even though the protection is just paint, the wide cycle lane is also buffered from general traffic.

Just north of the bridge and we are on Hans Christian Andersens Bouelvard approaching the junction with Rysensteensgade. Here, cycle traffic gets a signal with right turning drivers being held which was a little unusual for the city. The ahead movement going into a service road.

Above is Niels Brocks Gade which seems to have recently been provided with cycle tracks.

I can't quite remember all of the locations, but on the main roads, the cycle network continued, even where space was tight and it was clear that quite a bit of car parking had been removed otherwise there wouldn't have been space (above), although in many places, parking remained available (below).

In many parts of the city, choices dictate the layout. Below is Nyhavn which is within a self-contained area which avoids through-traffic within a filtered area of one-way streets. Contraflow cycling is provided by a parking-protected cycle lane.

Below is another example of a parking-protected lane. The width of the lane means that dooring is possible, but probably unlikely.

In the city centre, there are bus stops where the cycle track passes through the boarding area (below). The general principle is that people cycling should stop where they see a bus pulling in. It's not a great layout to be honest and it's a symptom of the space arrangements.

The example below is a little better as the cycle track is much wider and so there is more space for people to avoid each other.

One layout which I am really not a fan of is the merging right turn (below). People cycling have their cycle track end as they drop into the carriageway where the space accessible to drivers turning right.

You'll note the kerb line on the right opens out and the theory is it encourages people cycling to take primary position (below), but it is really very uncomfortable, even where is was quiet.

On large roads, people cycling are not allowed to turn left in one go because of the simple two-stage signalling arrangements. A two-stage turn is required which is again a compromise to traffic flow;

When viewed from the side of the street, the signalling arrangements where turning drivers have to give way is apparent;

It kind of works because drivers generally obey the rules; however, I'd be more concerned about the cyclists arriving late in the green and perhaps at night or in the rain. Even with the simple signalling arrangements, there is also a lack of protection from right turning drivers - even a simple island would force right turning drivers to cross people cycling ahead to cross the line of walking and cycling perpendicularly.

Above is an example of some cycling directional signage which is clear and helpfully provides time and distance information. In the flat city centre, I personally found the times to be very helpful.

The layout shown above was one of the nicest I found (for a main road) because there was a planted buffer from the traffic lane.

Copenhagen isn't all cycle tracks - there are plenty of pedestrianised areas within which one can cycle, but unfortunately, there seemed to be rather too much motor traffic access, even though there are many areas filtered with one-way systems (2-way for cycling) such as Kompagnistræde (above).

There are some useful clues on how the city added its cycle tracks - make no mistake, many are retrofits rather than new-builds; a process which continues today. Above shows a double gulley system whereby the kerb between the cycle track and the carriageway picks out a former (probably parking) lane and uses the same crossfall, hence an additional gulley on the nearside of the cycle track.

Above is another familiar site in the city - blue paint; it's there to encourage people to take priority from turning drivers and to remind turning drivers that people cycling have priority. Of course, it has no magical abilities to protect - this is down to drivers obeying the rules.

The photo above shows what happens when drivers don't understand the rules and turn across people cycling.

As I said in my last post, Copenhagen is a cargocycle town and it you don't need to look hard to find them being used (above and below).


One final piece of cycling infrastructure is the train network. Train-specific sections which are arranged that you take your cycle on one set of doors and out of the other for efficiency.

Copenhagen has a wonderful cycling network. It is easy to get around by cycle and the fact that there is a city-wide network means that cycling mode share it high. However, it is also easy to drive into the city and couple with the compromises at the signalised junctions, a great deal of work is needed to get up to the Dutch quality for cycling.