Sunday, 14 July 2019


For the first time in a very long time, I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to read lots of guidance and to catch up a little on designing for cycling.

This post was going to be a bit of a review of what is out there, but frankly, after getting more acquainted with the Dutch CROW Design Manual for Cycle Traffic, I thought this was worth concentrating on.

Luckily, the Dutch speak better English than I, so the manual is available in English, although you'll have to save up as it's €135 which is an eye-watering amount to spend. However, as an engineer, it's a cracking read (and I am still working through it) and I shall be rereading it a great deal.

"But, RH, we can't do this in the UK" I hear some of you cry. Well, traffic signals are awkward because the Dutch (and many other countries) have priority for ahead movements with right turners (UK left) having to give priority, although it is often the case that the Dutch don't rely on this because it is still risky - in this video, you'll see a combination of "hold the right (UK left) turn" on the main road and give way turning right on the side road where there isn't space for a turn right lane;

I digress slightly, because the CROW Manual spends lots of time on the principles and the UK can copy most of what's in there (although there are a couple of things we shouldn't copy).

We are constantly reminded that the design approach puts cycling ahead of motor traffic in many cases, but where it cannot, then alternatives can be used to keep the modes apart - I am thinking of grade separation at large roads where surface level crossings would be risky;

There is a clear message to the designer early on;

"Put yourself in the shoes of the cyclist as future user of the design, also taking into account vulnerable groups of cyclists, such as children and the elderly".

The manual is no-nonsense throughout and it sets out to demonstrate that cycling is a very important transport mode for the Dutch and that it should be put at the heart of design. We are also constantly reminded of the 5 principles of cycling design;
  • Cohesion,
  • Directness,
  • Safety,
  • Comfort,
  • Attractiveness,
These 5 principles are constantly reinforced throughout the manual both in how each chapter is structured - the design chapters are set out in such a way that each principle is a sub-heading to be explained and there are regular summaries. In addition, there is a whole section at the end of the manual which provide example layouts and other advice which are referred to throughout the whole document which helps to give understanding and practical visualisation.

The overall chapters are logically set out too;
  • The development of bicycle traffic (essentially Dutch policy),
  • Cycle-friendly design (more general policy and how it fits together at a high level),
  • Basic data (the 5 principles, design speed, design cycle, dynamic considerations),
  • Design of the cycle network (network planning using the 5 principles),
  • Road sections (i.e. 'links' from a UK point of view),
  • Junctions,
  • Implementation, maintenance and furnishings (planting, lighting, signage etc),
  • Evaluation and management (including winter service),
  • Design sheets.
For something so elegantly written, it is very hard to explain to someone who hasn't read it just how easy to read and apply the manual is and so you are going to have to believe me, but perhaps it can be best described as "flowing" in the same way that cycling should be designed for.

One of the (several) points I have picked up is the one that suggests that every time we ask someone cycling to stop, we require them to expend the same energy as cycling 100m. Thinking back to my old commute of 5.6km, I would have to stop at least 8 times; more when giving way at every side road; so I would have to expend another 800m worth of energy or 14% more.

If you are able to afford or borrow a copy of the manual, I thoroughly recommend it and certainly, it needs to be in every design consultant or local authority design team's technical library.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Rural Transport - Harwich vs Hulst

Whilst driving between Clacton-on-Sea and Harwich yesterday, I was reminded how badly let down our rural communities are when it comes to transport. 

In contrast with many parts of the UK I have to regularly remind myself that although London is vast, it has a great transport system and it's really not too difficult to get around. But, our trip was London to Clacton to Harwich and back home to London, so car it was. Part of out trip included the B1414 which happens to be NCN51;

It's a route which essentially runs parallel to the A120 between Colchester and Harwich port. By car, the recommended route via the A120 is 29km and the NCN51 is about 30km - it's therefore not in commuter territory, although it does connect up a number of villages and once one is within 7km of Harwich port, it would in theory help people travel to Harwich from the villages of Great Oakley and Little Oakley - perhaps 30 minutes by cycle.

However, there is absolutely nothing to make cycling pleasant and indeed possible for most people. The cycle route is essentially just a series of signs to guide you along the twisty lanes, many with a national speed limit. As I cruised the route from the safety and comfort of the car, I saw one person cycling on a section of narrow footway and that was it.

Compare with the Dutch town of Hulst in South Zeeland at the same scale;

Routes galore providing easy access by cycle, not because there are more of them, because they are high quality. Hulst has the N290 skirting it, taking longer distance traffic around the town as Harwich has the A120 skirting it (with a connection to the port of course). But whereas NCN51 is just signs, the cycle routes around Hulst have cycle tracks like this (on a section running by the side of the N290);

It also has traffic calmed and quiet village streets;

From what I can work out, both towns have a number of bus routes serving them, although not that frequently. They also have plenty of people driving to them if you look at their respective town centres and parking availability. But if the bus doesn't suit you or help you, then it's really the car or nothing to get to Harwich from the local villages. 

Meanwhile, Hulst has got the ultimate turn-up and go mode designed in to its road network and parking is free as well. We have so far to go and given Harwich is one of our gateways to the Netherlands it's embarrassing.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

My Continuing Adventures In Time & Space

Where did the last 15 years go? It's a question which has been playing on my mind a great deal for the last few months and now I am at the end of an event I have been waiting a long time for.

Friday was my last day working as a local authority engineer and this weekend feels like I have walked away from a massive storm. I am currently in a calm place as I have left so much stress behind but I am anticipating with some trepidation Monday morning as I start my first day working as a consulting engineer. The post has been created for me and so I hope I can measure up to the incredible faith that has been put in my abilities.

My second local authority stint has been incredibly rewarding and for better or worse, it has been the making of me as an engineer. I am one of those irritating people who have been fortunate to wander along in their careers with little direction and yet finding something good to do. This time has been no exception because I was introduced to my new company by someone I knew on social media and then met during the day job - they are owed some pints!

I'm also about to start my 25th year as a civil engineer which (with any luck when it comes to a sensible retirement age) means I'm over half way through my career. That also feels very weird. But, the next challenge awaits and the big news is that I will be specialising in walking and cycling design which has given me the most satisfaction in recent years.

Sadly, the job I have left just got too frustrating in recent times as I spent less time engineering more time servicing an increasingly bureaucratic system which had no time for active travel or anything remotely radical which didn't service the car-sick status-quo. It was time to move on, it just took a while to admit it.

My last actual piece of work was a report looking at an area of 1km radius which took in six schools and proposed a 20mph speed limit and filtering across the area which went to ward councillors who are looking to visit Waltham Forest, so I might have sown a seed for the future.

Last Thursday was my last cycle commute to work and the route I took is a metaphor for how far we have to go in the UK with just a short section of decent cycling provision bookended by shared paths and having to mix with traffic. I filmed by commute and I will leave you with a video of something I loved and hated in equal amounts, because it was not exactly Amsterdam, but it was a reliable journey time.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Open The Rotherhithe Tunnel To People

It's a London-centric post this week given the continuing controversy about Thames Crossings in East London.

We have had Sadiq Khan clash with Caroline Russell who asked the Mayor on Thursday why he is continuing with the Silvertown Tunnel which will lock the scheme in for the next Mayor and of course sits uncomfortably with climate change and London's chronic pollution problem;

Then on Friday, it was announced that work on the Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe walking and cycling bridge was being put on hold.

The bridge appears in the Mayor's Transport Strategy (MTS - see where I have circled in purple below), Walking Action Plan, Cycling Action Plan and the Draft London Plan.

The London Plan and the MTS are the key London development policies and so the bridge is (was) a very important strategic link supporting housing and employment growth both sides of the river.

TfL's Strategic Cycling Analysis recognises the crossing is needed (in terms of latent demand), so there is a compelling case in policy and demand terms for it. Personally, I think it's quite disgraceful that walking and cycling is not being taken as London's first priority, but then you'd have guessed that. Halting work is because of TfL's financial problems making it hard for the organisation to spend funding now developing the scheme, plus the cost of construction, whereas the Silvertown Tunnel is a private finance scheme which will be paid for through tolls later.

Current talk is for a ferry service to be developed, although details are vague and unless a ferry is free, runs 24/7 and is fully accessible to all types of cycle, it's simply not going to cut the same mustard as a fixed link would. The bridge's engineering is complex because of the need to maintain river navigation and its length, so yes, it is a significant investment for London.

Even a ferry service is going to be costly and it will take some years to develop because of the need to plan and build the terminals as well as procuring the ferries. A ferry service will also have significant revenue costs for its life which does make it ripe for charging which sends the wrong message.

So, what else can be done. Well, my immediate reaction is to repurpose the 111 year old Rotherhithe Tunnel which is essentially on a bit of a managed decline with a 20mph speed limit, a 2 tonne weight limit, a 2m height restriction and a 2m width restriction. The venerable tunnel was never designed for the punishing levels of motor traffic thrown at it over the years and so perhaps it could see its dotage as a crossing for people?

TfL is about to start work on Cycleway 4 which will connect Tower Bridge and Greenwich. Interestingly, the route goes through the Rotherhithe Roundabout which is the southern connection for the tunnel;

So, I'm thinking that a new cycleway is taken through the Rotherhithe Tunnel because where it pops up on the north side, it is close to Cycleway 3 (I'm using the new terminology) - in fact Cycleway 3 currently passes over the northern approach at St James's Gardens;

It wouldn't take much civil engineering to connect the Rotherhithe Link to CW3 with CW3 skirting the north of Canary Wharf. CW3 will be intersected by the north-south Hackney to the Isle of Dogs route which is being planned which also intersects with CW2. I think a map might help;

CW2 in green, CW3 in purple, CW4 in red, Hackney to Isle of Dogs in Orange and Rotherhithe Link in pink. There are some other routes in the area and I haven't shown the full lengths of the CW routes either.

So, what about the motor traffic? The DfT traffic data for the Rotherhithe Tunnel was 30,618 vehicles per day in 2018 (down from 37,520 in 2003 when it was busiest). Astonishingly, 142 brave souls a day cycle through because, yes, you are allowed to cycle and walk through the tunnel if you like to be gassed by fumes! Of the daily flow around 6,000 vehicles per day are light goods vehicles.

This is the rub, what to do with 30,000 vehicles? Perhaps a quid pro quo for the Silvertown Tunnel is that Rotherhithe is taken out of use and motor traffic has to use the new capacity to the east. Perhaps we need to accept busier roads in the area, although long term it is probable that there will be traffic evaporation as is usually the case. Perhaps we need to be bold and trial a closure for a few months and deploy some decent traffic monitoring.

Perhaps we could add an electric shuttle bus fleet to create a new public transport link that doesn't exist now, although the buses would have to be small and lightweight such as this type I saw in Deventer in the Netherlands;

We simply cannot continue as we are in this city and we have to start pushing private car trips out in a more radical way. If we don't have the funding for large infrastructure schemes, then we need to modernise what we have and that means walking and cycling first.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Traffic Signal Pie: The Long Wait

So this week, I was inspired by Brian Deegan to go and time how long it took to get a green man/ cycle at a 2-stage toucan crossing I use twice a day.

To be honest, it wasn't quite as bad as it might have been with a 45 second wait for the first half and a 25 second wait for the second half;

For those who are interested, the location is here. The interesting thing about the crossing is it was one of the things that enabled me to start cycling to work in 2011 because it just used to be a pair of dropped kerbs on each side;

The provision of a signalised crossing along with shared-path widening and the adding of a 2-stage toucan at another junction all worked to make my trip easier. It's all far from perfect, but it makes the journey possible. I digress.

The problem with my regular crossing is that the length of time it takes to get a green leads to a couple of scenarios because of the traffic flow on the road it crosses. On one side of the crossing, it's a bit harder to see the gap in traffic because of the speed of vehicles leaving the adjacent roundabout, but there is never slow moving traffic. 

On the other side, it's either absolutely deserted and so there is no need to wait for a green and sometimes it's pretty much stationary which leads to the quandary of crossing between two lines of traffic or push and wait for a green. Driver behaviour is variable with some leaving the crossing clear and some blocking it and with the risk of motorcyclists filtering between the two lanes. I often press the button and wait for a green so I am sure because it is often the case that one lane is moving and the other is not which means (depending where I am crossing from) that I am masked from drivers in the moving lane.

So, am I just a whinger? The journey usually takes a sedate 25 minutes and if it takes a couple of minutes to cross, so what? Am I more important than the drivers I am stopping to cross the road? The thing about traffic signals is that they are not a safety device, they are a traffic (in the widest sense) management tool. They are used to help people cross or join the main traffic flow whether on foot, cycle or in a car. They work if everyone obeys the rules, but the outcome can be catastrophic if someone doesn't (with the risk being higher from drivers of motor vehicles).

There is more detail in the guidance (LTN 2/95), but essentially, where traffic speeds are lower (85th percentile being under 35mph), then the green man/ cycle can be set to come in quickly (although the 20 to 30 seconds advice is still too long, it can and should be quicker). With higher traffic speeds, then the crossing will need speed detection.

On a 30mph road, needing speed detection admits there is a speeding issue and so speeding is rewarded by the crossing controller ensuring that approach speeds aren't too high. Speed detection can actually help reduce the time for a green man/ cycle of course when approach speeds are low and it is safe to bring in the crossing stage nice an early. Speed detection used to comprise of loops cut into the road and physically connected to the crossing controller which is very costly, but the technology is now allowing wireless detection which is far cheaper.

If we have the crossing connected to an area traffic control system (such as SCOOT), then waiting times might be even worse because the green man/ cycle is only coming in when it's not going to affect journey reliability time for drivers which is being monitored across an area. Certainly, my regular toucan is connected to SCOOT which is part of the reason it takes ages to get a green.

If someone is going to using a signalised crossing on a busy road, then the stream of drivers is going to be stopped at some point anyway, so wouldn't it make sense for the crossings to actually change quickly? the flip side of them not changing quickly is partly drivers seeing a red signal but nobody crossing (making red light jumping tempting) and partly people crossing because they are fed up with waiting and possibly not finding a safe gap (especially with children and older people having trouble assessing traffic speed).

It's also about respecting those travelling under their own steam and realising that their effort is significant in comparison to those driving. It's about time we started getting our priorities right.