Sunday, 9 December 2018

Route Cause

Because the UK lags so far behind other countries in rolling out road and street upgrades that makes cycling an inclusive form of transport, we're often left with 'routes' being planned and then watered down.

It's all chicken and egg of course, but one of the big issues in trying to deliver an end to end route is that any compromise along its length could mean that people will be put off from using it and several compromises means we simply don't attract anyone.

We have spent a long time in the UK looking at routing cycling along back streets and canals, through parks and quiet places which don't get in the way of motorised traffic. Circuitous, sometimes lonely, sometimes full of rat-running traffic, these routes invariably have to cross larger roads and streets or run along them for a while before diving off again.

Canals were designed to move goods on the
water, not people along the towpaths

A park might be a lovely place to pootle through, but if there is nobody else about then it might not feel safe. Once it gets dark, a park is certainly less pleasant to use and of course, if it is locked up at night, that's your route destroyed because you'll have to use the roads that the park section of the route seeks to avoid. So many of our residential streets have become a de facto part of the traffic network that nobody can visualise a way back and so a few wayfinding signs and some paint is not going to make a driver's rat run feel safe.

Paint is not infrastructure

Where we are looking at routes on main roads, then there is perhaps more of a chance that they will be delivered to a decent standard (if we are talking protection) because there is clearly political capital invested for the idea to even be contemplated. It's getting close to the "we are delivering this, how do you want to shape it" approach and when delivered, people flock to this kind of intervention.

An alternative approach to routes is to look at areas; and in many cases, we are not especially looking to design with people cycling in mind because the interventions are great for walking and to deliver low traffic places as a matter of objective. This is looking at the problem from a neighbourhood or area approach. In other words, find a locus and roll out filtered permeability until one hits the main roads, thus creating a low traffic neighbourhood or area. This approach actually makes a lot of sense because most trips are going to be relatively short and it gets the focus away from the commute which has been a significant part of the route approach.

Orford Road, Walthamstow
At the heart of a Mini-Holland 'village' treatement

The locus for the scheme needs to be something that currently attracts a decent number of trips, such as a shopping parade, a town centre, a school or community hub. A scheme which deals with through traffic and manages parking can deliver a great return for very little investment. If one delivers the project using temporary materials and the experimental traffic order process, then change can be rapid. Again, an area approach is going to come with a certain level of political investment - this is an inescapable fact.

So, once we hit the main roads, then what? Well, the simplest way forward is to make sure we are delivering other area-based schemes which meet the same main roads which can then connect together by providing safe crossing points between the two. I realise that not all of these places will meet opposite each other, but it's a starting position. Before we know it, we have not only started to deliver some of the traditional 'routes', but we have low traffic places and we are already changing things for people.

A parallel zebra crossing connecting two
low traffic areas together over a main road

However, we do need to look at the main roads and streets because that is where people need to go as well. A greater shopping choice, more community facilities and access to public transport networks are going to feature much more along main roads and streets. However, we've delivered better neighbourhoods and areas which hopefully helps make the argument for change. From here, invest in the conflict points first and then join them up along the links, picking up other low traffic areas as we go.

Investment at junctions on main roads is critical

Taking an area approach gives a good foundation on which to build and even if there are some gaps and problems, we stand more of a chance of them being carried than we do with an end to end route. It should come as no surprise that in places where a decent network has been developed, people are able to cope with any (small) shortcomings. Compare to many UK examples with several issues along separate routes, it's no wonder that people see them as failures. Of course people must want to change how the live and travel and this absolutely needs a push from the community and politicians willing to give it a try.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

What Mode of Transport Would a Strawman Use?

At least in London, we've just had the annual event whereby cabbies tell cyclists that you can't shift 20 tonnes of concrete by bike and cyclists tell cabbies that can't shift 20 tonnes of concrete by cab either.

OK, it wasn't quite like that, but it wasn't far off and the strawman army was deployed in force in arguments which have been repeated whenever a town or city tries to grow cycling as a transport mode. 

For those with an interest, the thing which kicked it off this year were several days of blockades on London Bridge by cab drivers on who are upset that Transport for London is proposing interim traffic controls on Duke Street Hill/ Tooley Street in order to reduce traffic. For the cab drivers, this will mean that they can only use the whole corridor in the westbound direction.

As you can see from the snippet from TfL's traffic CCTV system, Borough High Street (south of London Bride) was inadvertently made nice and quiet by the protest; you'll notice the amount of space given to traffic while the footways are crowded - right outside London Bridge station on the right and Borough Market on the left.

In many ways, the scheme that is being protested about doesn't matter, it's that every time something is proposed (making cycling, walking and bus transport easier in this case), the cabbies are out opposing it. A scheme is either in the wrong place, it is unfair on cabbies' passengers who always need to be dropped outside the door of wherever they are going, it operates at the wrong time and so on.

We're often subjected to ableist nonsense that cabs are vital for people using wheelchairs. Yes, cabs are certainly very useful to many people, especially as London's rail network isn't fully accessible. However, for some reason, the idea of a wheelchair user attaching a handcycle unit and cracking on under their own steam is utterly alien.

It's not just the cabbies. This week, there was a story about a group called 'Unblock the Embankment' pushing behind the scenes to undo some of the work in creating protected cycleways in Central London. The group spouts the usual crap about cycleways causing congestion, causing pollution and blocking emergency vehicles, but they are clearly oblivious to the fact that much of Central London doesn't have cycleways and it's the amount of traffic causing the problems.

As it turned out, the eastern end of the route at Lower Thames Street seemed to be running OK as I walked over London Bridge last Friday morning;

At least Unblock the Embankment are now telling us who they really are and that is the Licenced Taxi Drivers' Association, Royal Jersey Laundry, Canary Wharf Group, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the British Motorcycle Federation. Certainly the LTDA, CPT and Canary Wharf have long lobbied against cycling infrastructure, but the laundry firm is a new one for me. They are based in Chadwell Heath and so in serving Central London, their vehicles will be driven right through East London and so it must be assumed that The Embankment is a useful for them.

This leads us to the freight strawman which states that we cannot shift heavy loads around by bike. Well, if it is the 20 tonnes of concrete, we are not going to shift it by bike; it's going to be by truck, although at the very least it should be a direct vision type;

What cycles can do, however, is shift lighter loads that might otherwise be moved by van. Whether it's lunches for the office worker;

Letters and parcels;


Refrigerated food;

Or even a cycle taxi/ freight service such as PedalMe, there are so many configurations of cycle out there, with larger ones having e-assist;

The wonderful thing about using cycles to transport goods and people around is that they are space efficient, energy efficient, low polluting, flexible and they present a far lower road danger exposure that cars and vans.

The debate needs to be moved on. Cycles have to be part of the transport mix as we densify our towns and cities because there isn't space to shift everything we need by motor vehicle. That's not to say the day of the motor vehicle is over because we still need to move heavy goods, we will still need buses and yes, we will still need taxis.

Rather than putting energy into trying to stop the inevitable, lobby groups should start pushing for a lower traffic future because it will mean that space can be reserved for the motor vehicles we really need. And besides, when it comes to the strawmen, there's only one person's view I'd trust;

Saturday, 24 November 2018

School Streets - The Basics

I'll let you into a little secret. Although the idea of 'school streets' seems radical, the legislation allowing us to deliver them has been around for decades.

The term 'school street' is not some kind of legal term, it's a marketing idea designed to win hearts and minds. If that what it takes, then fine, but the mundane fact of the matter is we are using traffic engineering tools to protect children from drivers and rolling out the concept has to be applauded because as ever, it demonstrates that asking people to play nicely doesn't work and that infrastructure is generally the answer.

School streets are essentially just 'pedestrian and cycle zones' which use traffic orders and some of the tools of filtered permeability to create quieter or motor traffic-free streets around schools. As with any scheme, local context is important in tailoring the design for the situation. The basic traffic sign to be aware of is 618.3C of the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2016 (TSRGD16) and this is used at the entry points to the 'school street';

For a school street, we're not going to need to worry about all of the permutations, but I think the following will be our considerations;

  • The 'pedestrian and cycle zone' wording and the red circle with the motor car and motorcycle is a basic requirement. It means that the way ahead is only for people walking and cycling; and we want the latter because we want kids cycling to school.
  • Next we have the times of operation. This is going to be Monday to Friday for the main part and the times are going to straddle the start and end of the school day. I'll come back to this in a minute.
  • Exceptions can include blue badge holders, loading, permit holders, buses and taxis. Blue badge holders might be exempted, especially is there are pupils being driven to school or a member of school staff needing assistance, although it may be that the member of staff arrives before the restriction starts. We don't want loading or taxi access at all in my view, although bus access might be needed.
  • The "at any time" plate at the bottom essentially explains that beyond the entry point, there is no parking or waiting to take place - in essence it's a signed version of a double yellow line. This can be varied to a part time control and in all cases, repeater signs are needed. If there is a general problem with parking, then this can be a useful (and tidy) addition.
  • Of course, as this operates on a zonal basis, we can include as many streets as we like.
For completeness, for the exit points from the zone, 'zone ends' signs are needed;

Unless the parking controls introduced on the entry sign are being used, it's a kind of pointless sign because if one is not allowed to drive in during the restriction times, then one won't see the sign. If one drives into the zone when it's not operational, then it's academic. However, it might just help reinforce the zonal approach when people notice is and so I'll go with it and as pointed out by @ShowMeASignBryn;

"the Zone Ends sign is important to warn people inside the Zone that they are passing the end of the restricted area and should be aware of "normal" road conditions past the sign especially if the street design is identical."

In terms of keeping people out during the restriction time, there are two main options;

  • Camera enforcement. Using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), those driving into the zone will be detected and a fine issued by the traffic authority. Fixed cameras can cost £15k-20k each to procure and install and they need power, communications and a 'back office' to process the fine. CCTV cars are the other way to deal with the enforcement and so they could be deployed randomly as part of general tasking.
  • Removable/ foldable bollards or gates can be used to physically prevent motor traffic accessing the zone. This requires somebody to physically deal with the bollards and gates. If the zone has a morning and afternoon restriction, then this means the closure is attended to four times. 

With the physical approach, the easiest way to manage this would be by putting a formal agreement in place with the school, so they can deal with the process. Because we are also probably only going to run such a scheme during term time, it would also make sense to enlist the school's help to change the signs at the start and end of term as well. If we don't do this, then the restriction would apply during the school holidays. This might actually be fine, but if residents or business are affected, then we may want to take them into account during holidays.

The easiest way to manage the signs would be to use a folding sign which can be locked open or closed as required and this could again, be managed by the school by agreement. There are also variable signs that have rotating prisms which do the same job, but it's something else to maintain. Here's an example of a folding sign from a scheme in Hackney;

You can see that the top half of the sign folds down to cover the bottom half and there are toggle locks to hold it in place. In this example, the restriction applies for 45 minutes in the morning and the afternoon and people with the correct permit are exempt (this could be residents or businesses). In fact, Hackney has quite a nice scheme explainer and details on it's website as does Edinburgh.

How such a scheme is established is up to you. A permanent scheme requires the usual public consultation, traffic order and decision-making process. Alternatively, an experimental traffic order could be used which allows a live scheme to be part of the consultation process. Either way, it is likely to need a decent level of public engagement because in essence, we are telling people they cannot drive somewhere.

A permit system perhaps reduces the pain for residents and if their street is usually blocked at school times, they may welcome it. Care needs to be taken that the problems in the streets by the school don't just get pushed a bit further out with unintended results being the issue. However, given that it only takes a few parents to increase the risk exposure to many children, then it's a welcome use of one of our traffic management tools.

If we make driving kids to school harder, some who are making the short trips will give up and walk (or cycle). I acknowledge that some people drop their kids off as part of their journey to work or elsewhere, but that doesn't give them licence to park next to the school or put everyone else at risk. They'll have to change.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Adoption, Dedication & Use

How do streets, or more specifically - highways, come into existence? Who maintains them? And, what say does the public have? This week's post is a brief run around the law.

By far the easiest way to create a new highway is for it to be built by a developer and for the local highway authority to 'adopt' it by agreement. In other words, the developer (or land owner) and the authority will enter into a legal agreement which will set out various terms and conditions to be met (on both sides) which will lead to the new road/ street being taken over.

The agreement is made under S38 of the Highways Act 1980 and it can be as complicated or as simple as both parties agree. It is usual for specification of the new highway to be agreed (structural design, surfacing, drainage, lighting etc) normally with drawings, inspections of the work being undertaken by the highway authority, the issuing of certificates of completion, maintenance periods etc. 

It can equally be applied to an existing road where the highway authority is satisfied that the quality is good enough for adoption (sometimes intrusive investigation is needed). I should point out that the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is different, so please forgive me as I simply don't have experience of the process there. There is a Scottish guide here and Northern Ireland guide here.

A 'commuted sum' can form part of the agreement which provides money up front to be invested in future maintenance of the new highway (either ring fenced, or more usually, generally). There will also normally be a cash deposit or bond which the highway authority can access if a developer goes bust and the works need to be completed (which means that any residents moving in don't have to pick up the bill).

Contrary to popular belief, the highway authority doesn't take ownership of the land, just the fabric of the new highway. Put simply, a highway is a legal (and often physical) veneer over land which affords the public to pass and repass (subject to any prevailing restrictions). There is case law on how deep a highway goes into the ground and there is no one answer. It's generally taken as what is necessary and so could be a few metres down to include a sewer (as utilities have highway rights) or it could have no depth at all. A railway tunnel, by contrast,  wouldn't be within the highway, even if shallow. All good fun!

The approach and policy within each highway authority does vary, but the basic processes are similar. S38 is by far the best way to deal with it because the other ways of establishing a highway can often be a complete pain. Highway authorities do not need to adopt anything they don't want and it's difficult to talk about policy in general.

If we take a general approach of something looking like a highway, operating like a highway and being used like a highway, then it is often the case that it is a highway. At least if this has gone on for at least 20 years. S31 of the Highways Act 1980 essentially provides for such a situation, although it's a little more than someone saying "it's a highway".

The problem is that the highway authority doesn't go around looking for things to designate as highways and so this '20 year rule' only ever gets tested if there is a dispute and the highway authority has to adjudicate. In addition, S66 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 altered the Highways Act to remove the ability of S31 to apply to the use of mechanically-propelled vehicles to establish a 'way', although than a 20 year period starting before 2006 (so it will an obsolete clause by 2026). The term 'mechanically propelled vehicles' does not include pedal cycles and e-assist cycles.

In general terms, the process gets kicked off when a route gets blocked by someone and someone else who has been using it complains to the highway authority - the issue has been called into question and the 20 years will now stem from the date of the complaint. The complainant can then be invited to provide evidence that the route has been open for an uninterrupted period - and that can be difficult for individuals of course.

The local authority can write to frontagers (those with property fronting the way) to try and gain witness statements and of course, there may be historic photographs which can help test the assertion. The final position may well be down to tracking down the actual owner of the land to see if there was any declaration or other evidence that the land was or wasn't intended to be used as a highway. It's often a process which can drag on for a very long time and it's potentially costly unless the evidence is clear cut. Negotiation and agreement is always the easiest way forward.

In order to protect their position, landowners can (and should) lodge a declaration with the highway authority that the 'way' is not intended to become a public highway. They would submit a map and a statement explaining that the way is not intended to become a highway and this information is held 'on deposit' as part of the 'highways register' which is the record of highway information in an area. They can equally decide that the way is to become a highway and submit a declaration to 'dedicate' it as such. It doesn't mean the highway authority undertakes any maintenance, just that the public get a right to use it.

A landowner can also regularly block the route (using gate for example) or erect appropriate signage to explain that the way is not a public right of way. Many landowners don't realise that the law is here and this does lead to tensions where they suddenly close something off which people have been using. My personal view is that highway authorities would be better taking a proactive approach in looking at what is happening in their area and looking to secure routes which serve public amenity as highways.

It doesn't necessarily follow that a highway becomes maintainable 'at public expense', save for the S38 process. A highway exists as a legal veneer over land and there are countless examples where the residents/ frontagers and/ or landowners maintain a highway over which there is full public access. The highway authority can impose restrictions (parking and traffic) over these highways as they would on one maintained by them. 

Above is an image of a road maintained by the residents, but on which the highway authority controls parking. A restricted parking zone has been chosen because it's virtually impossible to paint yellow lines and parking bays on the road which is little more than a track!

There are other (more complicated) processes which I won't cover here as they are a little more obscure, but I will mention S228 of the Highways Act 1980 which is a great wheeze. It's often used when there is no record of a landowner, but the highway authority wants something to become a highway after works are undertaken (by the highway authority) to 'improve' the way. A simple site notice gives a month for people with interest in the land to object, although if there are relevant objections, it could get bogged down in the magistrates court.

S228 can also be used if the landowners are known, but as with above, if there is hostility to the way becoming a highway, then the process is fraught.

I probably shouldn't have to say it, but I'm not a lawyer and as with design issues, you should seek your own independent professional advice. Highway law can be a minefield and the Highways Act in particular is often changed by other legislation. The best advice I can give is that where possible, get things done by agreement and any processes will then flow smoothly!

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.