Saturday, 17 October 2020

More Low Traffic Suburbs

It's simply wonderful to see Low Traffic Neighbourhoods spreading across the UK, although at least in my part of the world, I wish I did't have to cycle quite to far to find one. Hot on the heels of the LTNs in Redbridge starting to be rolled out, another interesting scheme is running.

In the first cross-authority scheme I am aware of (please let me know if I am wrong here), the London Boroughs of Newham and Waltham Forest have joined forces to create two new LTNs straddling their boundary. The Maryland and Odessa LTNs remove the ability for drivers to cut through a large residential areas which contains some nice suprises.

As with my trip through Redbridge's schemes, these new LTNs actually make Quiteway 6 nice to use and on this side of the A406 North Circular Road, it significantly improves its utility for both short local trips and longer distances for people wanting to head further east and west. Of course, being partly in Waltham Forest, there is now more opportunity for access by cycle to the north and vice versa. One issue which still remains is the Q6 route is not signed, an issue I noted back in June.

This isn't a Covid-related project, it has been in the planning for well over a year, but the pandemic has seen the prioritisation of Transport for London's Street Space programme which has funded this project in the immediate term with the project going live at the end of the Summer using the experimental process.

The image below is from the consultation website set up for the project which creates the Marylane LTN in the west (to the north of Maryland Crossrail station) and a larger area, Odessa, in the east.

To the south, both LTNs are bounded by Forest Lane (which connects the A114 Woodgrange Road (which connects to the A12 at the Green Man roundabout much further north) and the A118 Romford Road (via Grove Road). To the north, we have Cann Hall Road and Crownfield Road (which perform a distributor function). 

To the east, there is the A114 Woodgrange Road itself (with a section of the A114 Woodford road) and to the west, we have the A112 Leyton Road. Between the two areas, Leytonstone Road runs north to south. The eastern boundary is a little less defined as there is already a little bit of filtering there, with Dames Road running north-south through the edge (it's a bus route).

The boundary between the two boroughs runs along the very northern edge of the Maryland LTN and, maybe, through the northern third of Odessa. The cooperation was vital to create a logical scheme and for the user, they frankly don't really care who is in charge of the streets as the walk and roll through them. The other point of note is that in many cases, the filters are within the LTNs rather than on the edge which allows drivers to enter and exit without having to perform three point turns (the reversing part of which is a safety risk) - this isn't the case everywhere because of local contexts.

Wonderfully, Waltham Forest is planning a third and fourth LTN in the area to the north of these two which nicely fill in a gap which wasn't covered by the borough's original Mini-Holland project - the South Leytonstone project.

My entrance to the area came from the east via Capel Road (part of Q6) which has recently had a new cycle track opened at it western end which really makes a welcome change from the eastern end of the street where you have to mix with traffic and parked vehicles and it was nice to see families out and about using it (below);

Crossing Woodford Road using the parallel zebra crossing into Brownlow Road isn't great because the interface between the Capel Road cycle track and the approach to the crossing is via a kerb which really isn't flush (below_; I also found that both on my outbound and homeward legs of my trip, drivers really didn't want to stop. You've also got to swing across the junction of Browlow Road with Woodford Road which is an awkward layout.

Beyond the filter between Brownlow Road and Anna Neagle Close, there's Dames Road and after crossing it into Bignold Road, I was in one of the traffic cells of the Odessa LTN. The first filter I saw was on Station Road, just south of the junction with Clinton Road (below);

It's the now familiar timber planter and in this case the central bollard is for emergency access. The "no motor vehicles" traffic signs are cleverly fixed into the planters which means no additional footway clutter. The next one I saw was on Field Road, just north of Dean Street (below) which was an all planter affair;

This is a great location because it has made the area around a cluster of shops lovely and quiet - this is ripe for some public realm improvements assuming the scheme stays. Dean Street is a narrow residential street with one-way for motor traffic and two-way for cycling which keeps it all nice and permeable for active travel. Next was Odessa Road, north of Cemetary Road with planters and emergency access bollards (below);

A little further north on Odessa Road, I found another filter which is on the Waltham Forest side, just north of the junction with Huddlestone Road. This time, the filter was a couple of planters with the restriction enforced by camera (below). I assume this is for emergency access because just beyond is a different traffic cell and an series of streets subject existing to one-way control.

This cell at the northern limit of the scheme is really quite annoying because I wanted to head west, but the next two side streets before Cann Hall Road are one-way east. Rather than backtracking, I went to Cann Hall Road and turned west. I think Waltham Forest needs to review this and either make the streets 2-way for all traffic or 2-way for cycling. 

Cann Hall Road was actually very quiet for a Saturday morning and the Mini-Holland continuous footway treatments had made it to the south of the borough (below);

Back into the western part of Odessa was another cell with a much larger filter in Blenheim Road between Ramsey Road and Borthwick Road and my first spot of a road open to people sign (below);

To the south of the filter, the streets don't connect with roads, just a series of existing alleyway paths which aren't suitable for cycling. I went through and found Janson Road where I headed back east and zig-zagged to Ash Road, just south of Buxton Road (below);

I then turned into Buxton Road and headed west again. Buxton Road is one-way for general traffic and 2-way for cycle traffic. The last time I was here (as this is the unsigned Q6 route) I wrote;

The route does pass Maryland Primary School which is useful, but I really cannot see why the one-way is necessary - I can see a safety issue with drivers knowing they don't have other drivers coming towards them. The wider area needs filtering in my view.

Well, it's certainly filtered now, although if the LTN stays, the street could revert back to two-way for all traffic. At the western end of Buxton Road, the Q6 road crosses Leytonstone Road on a parallel zebra crossing (which again, some drivers didn't fancy stopping at) into Henniker Road and the Maryland LTN. The photograph below shows the eastern end of Henniker Road looking back over the crossing to Buxton Road.

I cycled west along Henniker Road and then turned off the Q6 route into Community Road and left again into Maryland Road and another filter. This one has an emergency access bollard (below);

Just east of Falmouth Street, Maryland Road becomes one-way for general traffic heading east with cycling remaining 2-way. At the end of Maryland Road it was a case of finding a gap in the traffic on Leytonstone Road to cross into Bow Street and the last filter of the day marking a return to the Odessa side of the scheme (below - looking back at Leytonstone Road);

This is another small traffic cell which essentially cuts out the junction of Leytonstone Road and Forest Lane, the latter of which I turned left onto in order to start my trundle back east and home. Forest Lane runs north of the mainline railway corridor (Crossrail and Greater Anglia). It's a soulless place to cycle with it's speed cushions and the entire southern side fronted by a concrete plank fence topped with barbed wire to keep people off the railway - it wasn't busy with traffic which was a small mercy.

I didn't get round to all of the filters, but the the cells I cycled through were largely traffic-free. I did see plenty of people out walking (certainly the Waltham Forest experience has been that LTNs are good for walking) and a few people cycling around. Even the main road I cycled on weren't particularly busy, although when I left the area just before 10:00, I guess it was still quite early for some people.

The one think I did notice (even more than I did with the Redbridge schemes) was just how many of the streets had been traffic calmed with road humps. I have had a quick look and I reckon that there are over 150 humps across the two LTNs with maybe 10% being speed tables (across whole junctions). 

It's hard to estimate how much they all would have cost, but with them, the weight limits on many side streets (to stop lorry drivers cutting through), other bits of traffic calming and the various one-way schemes must surely outstrip the cost of the LTNs by many, many times. And yet all of this is essentially a failure when measured against the impact of an extensive filtering scheme.

The final interesting thing about this scheme is that because the experimental process is being used, additional filters are being added to the LTNs based on initial feedback. This is a great example of the process in action and I really hope the scheme gets the public support it deserves.

I'll leave you with a video of the scheme;

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Seeking Refuge

Pedestrian refuges can be a bit Marmite to some people, but they remain a useful tool in our streets toolbox and if used appropriately they can be useful from a sustainable safety point of view, as well as improving subjective safety for people on foot.

In legislative terms, refuges are permitted as "safety provisions" and are authorised under S68(1) of the Highways Act 1980;

A highway authority may, in relation to a highway maintainable at the public expense by them which consists of or comprises a made-up carriageway, construct and maintain works in that carriageway for providing places of refuge for the protection of pedestrians crossing the carriageway.

In the practical sense, the design and materials to be used in constructing refuges are not universally set out, but if we are to ensure that they are fully accessible, then as a minimum, we should be seeing dropped kerbs being provided on the footways either side of them as well as the refuges themselves (either dropped kerbs, or more commonly the pedestrian area being flush with the carriageway) along with the correct style of tactile paving being used.

The layout most often seen around the UK uses two islands separated by a gap into which tactile paving is laid (although not always as you'll see below) and where people stand while waiting to negotiate the next crossing stage. The photograph below shows the typical arrangement although in this case it's a shared-use path crossing.

The correct choice of tactile paving will rely on the crossing circumstances, but the general requirements are set out in the national guidance which is for a buff blister paving for uncontrolled situations and red blister paving for controlled situations (zebra crossings and signalised crossings with a green man).

With controlled crossings, care should be taken when using tactile paving. Zebra crossings with a refuge are treated as two separate crossings legally and so (red) tactile paving is required on the refuge as shown on the side road zebra crossing in the photograph below.

Where the refuge is being used within a signalised situation with a green man (crossing or junction), then tactile paving should not be used on the refuge as the crossing will be single stage under signals as shown on the photograph below. The push buttons you can see are simply there for anyone who wants to cross in a traffic gap or gets caught and needs help for the second half. Crossing on the green man should be long enough to cross in one stage.

Of course, if we really want to be pedantic, we could say that the example above is not a pedestrian refuge, it is a space protected by two traffic islands which are primarily there to protect the traffic signals. Of course, it would be ignoble of me to be quite that pedantic.

If there is no green man within a signalised arrangement (which will be a junction), then tactile paving is required (but not red) because this is treated as an uncontrolled crossing point. The photograph below shows this situation, although the designer chose light grey tactile paving rather than standard buff.

One other feature about the use of tactile paving which is worth mentioning is that on wide refuges, we don't place it over the whole crossing area. For a refuge greater than 2m in depth (from the point of view of a person crossing), we actually provide two strips 800mm deep. The guidance doesn't explain why, but maybe it's about limiting the amount of blister paving which can be uncomfortable for some people to walk on or to explain to visually impaired people that the refuge is a larger size. 800mm is used so people don't step over the line of tactiles.

Of course, the next question is when is a refuge large enough to no longer be a refuge? Well, there's no firm figure, but I would say once we get to about 4m, then we can probably start talking and pedestrian islands such as this one over Hampstead Road at its junction with Euston Road in Central London which is about 5.7m wide;

In this case, it's definitely a pedestrian island because it comprises two distinct and separately controlled signalised crossings. Of course this could technically mean that a zebra crossing with a large refuge is actually a pedestrian island. Sometimes we even get a multiway crossing which definitely launches from a pedestrian island such as this three-way arrangement.

Actually, it probably doesn't matter too much. The sustainable safety point is that refuges help people cross a road in more than one part and if used appropriately, this means only crossing one traffic direction and one traffic lane at a time so someone is not having to think too much about traffic from two directions. 

The implication of this is that pedestrian refuges should be at least 2m deep (from the point of view of someone crossing) so that people with buggies or pushing a wheelchair can fully fit. Of course, many  pedestrian refuges are less than 2m deep and even down to 1.2m (the operational minimum to add keep left arrow bollards which are not too close to a kerb); but this won't be enough in many cases in terms of providing enough protection. 

This will be a judgement call for the designer, but perhaps we should be moving to a zebra crossing as a solution (but cost often plays a part in the consideration). 

The photograph above shows an example of a shallow crossing depth. Maybe this would not feel safe without slow moving traffic, but if you were crossing from right to left here on a straight through zebra crossing rather than a pedestrian refuge like this, would you be confident that drivers coming the other way would see you and stop? Context is everything and as a rule of thumb, I would be wary of providing pedestrian refuges where traffic speeds are over 35mph and where there are heavy traffic flows (OK, heavy is subjective).

It's because of the risk of being "masked" that I would be very wary about using pedestrian refuges where people have to cross more than one lane to get to them. If one of the lanes has slow moving or stationary traffic, then someone being invited to cross by a driver may not be able to see or be seen by other drivers in a moving lane. The photograph below has a single lane to cross in the first half, but the second half is a free for all for drivers and really hard to cross;

The photograph below shows just how awful it is. Imaging trying to cross here with a child in a buggy with some slow moving traffic, but others cutting through on the far side (left hand side on the image below);

The example below has two lanes to cross on each side of the refuge. You can see how slow moving traffic in one lane might mask someone. On the right hand side of the photograph, two lanes need to be crossed with traffic leaving a roundabout at speed.

In terms of materials, most pedestrian refuges will be constructed from standard concrete kerbs and concrete tactile paving. I prefer to use concrete infill rather than asphalt because the lighter colour of the concrete helps make the pedestrian refuge a little more conspicuous to drivers (light coloured block paving does the same job). 

I would also use keep left arrow bollards. There are regulations on when the keep left arrow sign should be lit, but the use of internally illuminated bollards can help spill a little light onto the feature. Keep left arrows are not a legal requirement, but in most cases, they are a sensible addition. 

Some older refuges are formed with steel "D rings" (above) which are bolted to the carriageway and filled with concrete or asphalt. Because pedestrian refuges are in the middle of the road and some drivers cannot manage to pass them without hitting them, the metal ends up getting bent which means sharp edges for tyres (below). In my experience, you could guarantee it would be a bus driver who managed to find a sharp edge with their tyre. Of course, some layouts are very tight and the odd scrape is inevitable.

There are manufacturers who produce bolt-down rubber island units and together with stick down tactile paving, the refuges can be installed fairly quickly. Of course, you'll still need to installed dropped kerbs and tactile paving on each footway.

One other issue to mention is that of mixing people cycling with pedestrian refuges. As you can see in this clip, there isn't really enough space for drivers to overtake cyclists passing this pedestrian refuge and so people cycling just end up being cut up.

Even if the pedestrian refuge were to be wider (and the lane narrower) to make the lack of space absolutely clear, some drivers will still try to cut in. The issue in general here is that if a road is busy enough to warrant a refuge to help people cross, then people cycling should probably be protected physically. 

LTN 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design suggests that lane widths of between 3.1m and 3.9m should be avoided, but I would want to see more (especially where there are lots of HGVs and buses) to give people cycling plenty of space. Of course this then means that people on foot have a longer crossing distance. 

The other issue to watch out for is where cycle traffic is going to be filtering in a lane along the inside of slow moving traffic. Like the masking issue mentioned above, there is a risk of someone invited to cross by a driver masking an oncoming cyclist. The person cycling has a responsibility to watch for people walking, but perhaps a controlled crossing might be of help in this situation;

Finally, if a refuge is to be provided for people cycling to cross a road, then it should be at least 3m in depth (from the point of view of the rider) so that all kinds of cycle can cross. If the refuge is for cycles only or shared, then give way markings should be provided unless it's a parallel zebra crossing (below) or a signalised arrangement;

I'll leave you this week with a refuge in Malmö, Sweden. It's actually where a walking and cycling route crosses a distributor road, so don't let the road cyclist fool you. 

It's a great design as the road layout forces people driving to slow down and makes crossing in two parts really easy. I might even go as far as saying, it's a baron among refuges.

Friday, 2 October 2020

Low Traffic Suburbs

One of the issues about working from home and keeping off public transport has been that cycling around to look at stuff has been that my range has been somewhat restricted and generally, positive street changes in my wider neck of the woods have been few and far between.

I did cycle into Central London at the beginning of August, but being a Saturday, having to worry about taking space up on a train coming back out wasn't an issue and perhaps I'll pootle in to look at something else soon. 

Anyway, as you would have seen from this post, from a few weeks back, I have been making use of the variable quality and comfort afforded along the A12 as it winds through the northeastern suburbs and it was to this route I again took myself to get to Barkingside South in pursuit of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), a subject which is very current and not without controversy.

The London Borough of Redbridge has introduced its "Quiet Streets" programme in which it says it is rolling out low traffic neighbourhoods, school streets, play streets and cycle routes. The programme has commenced with two LTNs; Barkingside South and Cranbrook West, with three more in the pipeline.

Being an Outer London borough, Redbridge has variable access to public transport (which is of course still excellent in comparison to many parts of the UK), although much of it is arterial serving access into Central London, rather than being geared to serve local trips. 

The borough's Healthy Streets Score Card is quite depressing reading with it being the second worst borough (just ahead of its neighbour, Havering), the same as its 2019 position. Car ownership in 2020 was 97 vehicles per 100 dwellings (the London average is 75); the borough has the third worst Outer London casualty rate for walking and cycling (KSIs per 100,000 journey stages). 

More positively, 49% of trips by residents are by walking, cycling and public transport which is still low by London standards, but not as bad as Hillingdon on 41% (and it's up 2% on 2019). Walking accounts for 21% and public transport for 27% of trips. 1.5% of the borough's adults cycle at least 5 times a week and 33% walk at least 5 times a week. In general, not quite mid-table for Outer London, but not the worst.

Maybe though, the difference that Redbridge has over other Outer London boroughs is that it has started to think about giving people choices and when you look at the areas around the first two LTNs, you can quickly see the challenges. I should also mention that the borough is being ably assisted by Sustrans' London team which has significant experience in developing LTNs (and other engineering schemes).

Barkingside South
Barkingside itself is an inter-war suburb which grew up around some historic Essex hamlets. At the southern end, we have the A12 Eastern Avenue, a legacy of 1920s road building (a bypass of Ilford and Romford, originally the A106) and at the northern end, we have Fulwell Cross, an historic crossroads which is now a large roundabout featuring the wonderful Grade II listed Fullwell Cross Library (below)

It's worth me referring to a recent blog post on Quietway 6, a route which I struggled to find much utility in and where I made two comments in particular;

At the network level, there is no modal filtering whatsoever and I would put money on Ashurst Drive being awful at rush hour because it directly connects to the A12 Eastern Avenue to the south. 

The route zig-zags along a couple of other streets to meet the A12 at the junction with Otley Approach. It's another risky transition where people are turning onto and off from the A12.

Well, the Barkingside South LTN deals with both of those issues. I'll take the second point first and illustrate what has happened with a photograph;

This is Otley Approach where Q6 awkwardly joins a short cycle track on the A12 Eastern Avenue feeding a toucan crossing over the trunk road. With turning traffic completely eliminated using timber planters, the layout is less awkward because the space on the A12 side is now usable to make a gentle turn to reach the toucan crossing.

This approach has been applied to a number of the A12 side streets, such as here at Parham Drive which similarly feeds a toucan crossing (directly behind me in the photograph below - the central cycle lane was the original layout).

The toucan crossing feeds a shared-use path given quick access to Gants Hill (station and shopping area) just 200m to the west. At the eastern end of the A12 boundary, we've the same arrangement at Cantley Gardens which feeds another toucan crossing given access to routes to Ilford and Wanstead;

These three filters don't only make it safer and easier for people walking and cycling to access the crossings of the A12, they reduce risks to drivers from rear-end shunts with people slowing to turn from the A12 and offside impacts from people pulling onto the A12 (which is a 40mph dual carriageway). This is an example of sustainable safety in action. The A12 is a through road (serving long distance traffic) and the side streets are, well, just access streets. Under sustainable safety, these streets should not connect for motor traffic, this should be via a distributor road which in the UK would probably be signalised where it joined a road like the A12. 

At a network level, Redbridge (and Sustrans) are unbundling the road network from walking and cycling networks and at least along the A12, we should note that this unbundling doesn't require any cycle tracks to be built. The wider LTN uses the same planters (sometimes with lockable bollards for emergency access) to divide the residential area into traffic cells. That is, areas into which people can drive, park, have deliveries and visitors, but not use as a cut through to reach other cells by motor vehicle, but which are fully permeable for walking and cycling;

The photograph above is of a filter on Ashurst Drive which is part of Q6. It is placed just north of Hatley Avenue and the photograph below is Bute Road, just at the junction with Ashurst Drive;

You get the general approach. By using standard planters, lockable bollards and a few parking controls, an entire area has been transformed by using a dozen or so filters. The photograph below shows a sheet which has been placed around the area to explain the scheme and how people can comment because this has been rolled out using experimental traffic orders.

The boundary roads for the scheme is the A12 as I've mentioned, the A123 Cranbrook Road, Tanners Lane and Horns Road. Cranbrook Road is a wide mixed-use street which joins the A12 at the Gants Hill junction and as well as being unpleasant to walk along, it's horrific to cycle on. It really needs the full Lea Bridge Road treatment. Cranbrook Road connects the A118 at Ilford to Fullwell Cross at the northern end of Barkingside, feeding other longer distance routes out into Essex.

Tanners Lane and Horns Road perform a distributor function with the former connecting with Cranbrook Road at Fullwell Cross and the latter connecting with the A12. Again, it's not a pleasant walking and cycling route but the highway width in places does make radical change more challenging.

The position of the filters has been cleverly thought through with the largest traffic cell being to the east having multiple access points onto Cranbrook Road (which has the highest capacity, enough to deal with the largest area) with five much smaller traffic cells taking access from Tanners Lane and Horns Road (with one cell given access by removing an existing width restriction). This is a really important feature as you can see in the image below taken from the council's website;

I purposely visited the area between about 5pm and 6pm on a Friday evening and as expected the A12 was busy and occasionally at a standstill, but this isn't unusual and it has been like this for as long as I remember. What has happened though, is the LTN area was genuinely quiet. I did see a few people who were obviously lost, but in general it seems that people have learned quickly that things have changed. Before the LTN, the streets between Cranbrook Road and the A12 looked very tempting for people to avoid Gants Hill (which has, again, been a busy junction for as long as I remember).

The other useful thing to take away is that some of the filters and parking controls are being adjusted as shown in an amendment to the experimental order which shows that if things aren't quite right, then changes can be made to the live scheme.

Cranbrook West
1.3km west of Newbury Park, the A12 Eastern Avenue meets the Redbridge Roundabout at which it intersects with the A406 North Circular Road. Cranbrook West is an area bounded by the A12 and A406. The southern end of the area is bounded by the A118 Ilford Hill which is the next junction along on the A406.

The Cranbrook West LTN is far simpler than Barkingside South as it uses just three new filters. The first is on Evanston gardens at the junction with the A12, to the north of the area (again, the central cycle marking was originally there);

As with Barkingside South, this feeds a toucan crossing which provides access to Redbridge Underground Station and Gants Hill/ Ilford, although people cycling between here and Gants Hill are expected to cycle on the carriageway of this 40mph dual carriageway which can be seen below on the approach to the Redbridge Roundabout below (just before Evanston Gardens). The filter at this location stops the general drift of people using the residential streets to try and beat the inevitable queues towards the roundabout.

At the southern end of the scheme there is a filter at Mill Road. I didn't have time to visit this location, but I'll have a look at some time in the future. In addition, a banned right turn from York Road has been removed (although the street remains exit only for motor traffic) and so hints at earlier attempts to deal with drivers using side streets at the southern end of the area.

In the centre, there is another filter on Wanstead Park Road just south of Exeter Gardens (which itself is part of Q6) and this is earmarked to become a "pocket park";

As you can see in the photograph above, the filter is bit larger and incorporates an existing pedestrian crossing point which is now nice and easy to use to walk from Exteter Gardens right into Wanstead Park in parallel to Q6, which also now has a safer access to the park. The filters have created two traffic cells which can be seen on this image from the council's website;

Each cell has multiple access points via The Drive for the most part (which performs a distributor function) and the southern end of Cranbrook Road (into which The Drive feeds at a signalised junction). The northern end of The Drive meets with the A12 at another signalised junction (with a further associated toucan crossing over the A12). In other words, the right roads and streets are largely performing the right function in terms of motor traffic distribution.

The Drive and Cranbrook Drive are still hostile for walking and especially cycling, but LTN has now at least created a safer quiet route through the area to connect to Ilford Town Centre. At Ilford Hill and the adjacent area there is an old network of cycle tracks which are not quite connected around the local gyratory, but you can sort of muddle round to get to the town centre. There is tantalising potential in Ilford Town Centre to copy Stratford and unbundle the gyratory.

Final Thoughts
I still have issues with Q6 in terms of its utility, but the two LTNs have given its use for utility far more potential for local trips and this isn't a bad approach - have LTNs with direct signed routes through them. With the connections to the A12 for cycling for Gants Hill, Newbury Park and Ilford (despite the variable nature of provision), there is actually an interesting local cycling grid developing.

The filters (above) have been carefully and cleverly positioned and adjusted as needed with the use of simple and practical materials (and they are bolted down). 

I'm really enthusiastic about the Redbridge schemes because they have so much potential for local trips and they could be a beacon to neighbouring councils to do the same. Throw in some work by Transport for London on the A12 and there's potential for some real excitement. Redbridge council (helped by Sustrans) are to be commended.

Update 19/10/20
Sadly, it was too good to be true. Despite declaring the scheme a success with it meeting its aims, Cllr Jas Athwal, the leader of Redbridge Council has said that the scheme is being removed. This appears to be because too many residents have complained about it "no working" and being "frustrated". We don't actually find out what people actually said, how many said it or any other detail. Hopefully there will be a written decision published which can be open to scrutiny.

We are living through unprecedented times and our response should similarly be unprecedented. Unfortunately, this was all to much for these two schemes. My questions to the people of Redbridge and its leadership are: if not this then what? If not now, then when?

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Non Signalised Dutch Junction

So here's a thing. In an idle moment, I might have a mooch around with Google Streetview and something interesting pops up. In Hilversum, The Netherlands, I stumbled upon a protected intersection without traffic signals.

The location is here, to the south of the city in a suburban shopping street. I've not visited the area and so I can only bring you an armchair visit, but the junction and the approach streets are interesting to look around.

The junction is a 4-arm crossroads of Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat (a two-way street) and Neuweg (which is one-way). There is a mixture of cycle lanes and cycle tracks on the approaches to the junction, but at the junction itself, everything becomes cycle tracks;

The image above is Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat looking east through the junction. The street cross section has a footway on each side, a one-way cycle track, a buffer area which has cycle parking and the carriageway itself. Just behind the viewing position, the buffer becomes a car parking area with a minimal buffer between the parking bays and the cycle track.

To the east of the junction, Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat, the cycle tracks quickly become cycle lanes and the street becomes residential. For Neuweg, the cross section is similar, although there is a single one-way traffic lane. I'm not entirely sure how this all works at a network level, but Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat looks like it's part of a general city ring road, but it's more like a circular distributor route made of city streets and Neuweg is a radial distributor road coming out from the city to connect with a National road which is performing a regional through route function.

Neuweg is interesting in its own right because it is one-way, but this very much looks like it was a way of providing space for a cycle track in each direction (as well as lots of on-street parking), although it becomes cycle lanes further. For drivers, they will have to enter the city via a different route. If you have a look around, there's a general principle of providing two-way cycling everywhere and if there's space, 2-way motoring; if not, one-ways for motors. In other words, there's a cycling network with the motoring network arranged around it. Neuwg is shown below.

Everywhere else, there are just streets where through traffic is either filtered or sent on long one-way loops to make it pointless for rat-running - these are access streets for the people who live there, their visitors and their deliveries - of course cycling is permitted everywhere and in both directions such as Rozenstraat which is one way for motors, two-way for cycling and a home zone street.

All very interesting and important context, but back to the junction. It's a pretty standard approach to have walking and cycling traffic moving orbitally around junctions (in many countries) and this junction is no exception. Cycling orbits next to the carriageway with walking next.

Walking and cycling have priority in each direction along the line of travel on Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat by way of parallel zebra crossings (on speed tables and people walking have priority over the cycle track here) whereas motor traffic has priority along Neuweg over both walking and cycling and over motor traffic Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat (where drivers are required to stop rather than give way).

Neuweg has a 50km/h speed limit with Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat having a 30km/h speed limit - the arrangement of speed limits and priority for motor traffic here suggests to me that Neuweg does perform a somewhat arterial function. From a walking and cycling point of view, Neuweg performs the same function.

For people cycling through the junction, notwithstanding the need to give way to motor traffic on Neuweg, the junction is fully protected which is rather amazing given the compact nature of the junction. The drawing of the junction below is slightly stylized - I've left off the speed tables and not drawn the transitions to and from the cycle tracks beyond the junction. Neuweg runs up and down with the one-way from the bottom towards the top of the drawing.

If you look closely, you'll see the stop lines for drivers leaving Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat and the triangular give way markings for drivers approaching the parallel zebra crossings. You'll also notice smaller give way markings on the cycle tracks approaching the junction giving cycle traffic on Neuweg priority over cyclists joining to head north or south.

As best as I can work out from Google Maps is the cycle tracks are about 1.5m wide, the footways perhaps around 1.8m (some narrower and some wider). The car parking bays are about 2m wide (light gray); with the carriageway of Neuweg about 3.7m and the carriageway of Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat maybe 6.5m. 

The cycle crossings on Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat are set back just over 5m from Neuweg which is important to ensure that drivers can see what is happening and stop to let cycle and pedestrian traffic cross as well as not blocking the other road or crossing (depending on direction of travel).

As I said earlier, I don't know the area, but the methodical approach to how the junction operates leads me to think that the safety record is probably pretty good. It also reminds us that with Neweg being subject to a 50km/h speed limit, cycle tracks are required under the Dutch system of sustainable safety and thus this extends to the junction treatment. Could this work in the UK?

In short, yes. The drawing above is the same layout, mirrored to drive / cycle on the left. It's fussier than the Dutch layout because of UK road markings and the need for zig-zags at the parallel zebra crossings - this requires the "elephant feet" square cycle markings to be 400mm from the zebra stripes. It's a daft dimension which really makes it tricky to make things work. Really, this should have been specified as between 400mm and maybe 1,200mm to give the designer flexibility. Anyway, the arrangement works and would be UK road-legal.

Of course, the key issue with this layout will be that of traffic volumes. Notwithstanding the speed limit issue I talk about above, I suspect that the junction is reasonably busy, but of course not enough to need signals. It's an old layout because the cycle tracks are made from concrete slabs rather than asphalt and giving Neuweg priority over foot and cycle traffic in an urban area like this feels a little old fashioned. This post may be little more than an academic exercise, but the junction was interesting enough to take a detailed look.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Cycling In Town Centres Is a Network Issue

Every so often there's a flurry of complaints about people cycling through pedestrianised areas. Sometimes there might be a media item in which a talking head holds the cycling community at blame for the behaviour of a few and in some cases, the local authority will ban cycling, yet wonder why people are still there.

Discourse around this subject always comes at it from the wrong end, which is either the behaviour of a few individuals or concern about people cycling from those who maybe cannot quite articulate the issue.

A typical UK local authority response to cycling
in pedestrianised areas. (Hatfield, Hetfordshire).

I'll take the latter first. If you are walking in a pedestrianised area (in a general UK context), you're not expecting people to ride near you on a cycle. In fact, given how woeful the UK's mode share is for cycling (in general), someone cycling is a novelty to most people in most places. To some, the fact that there is someone cycling in what they thought was "their" space is enough to make people concerned - in other words, the person on foot has had their experienced safety compromised because of an unexpected interaction.

Johannes Paul II Straße, Aachen, Germany. 
A pedestrianised area where cycling is permitted. 
The street layout encouraged people to cycle 
in the centre of the street.

With the former, I am talking about the behaviour of the type of person who decides it's appropriate to cycle through a pedestrianised area at their normal riding speed. Even this isn't clear cut. There will be people (as there are in any walk of life) who are plain antisocial. If they weren't riding a cycle, they would be pushing in the queue to get on the bus or if they were driving, they would be speeding as they drove past a school at kicking out time. 

There will also be other people who are still in fight or flight mode after mixing with traffic on the ring road who haven't yet relaxed from the experience and dropped their pace - it's complex, but from the point of view of someone startled by suddenly seeing someone cycle by, there is no difference - they cannot possibly know what sort of person has gone by.

A couple of people in ordinary clothes cycling through
a pedestrianised area. Heads up, taking their time.
Leicester city centre where cycling is allowed.

I thought it might be interesting to see what the research says. Three Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) reports make for some helpful reading. 

First is a study from 1993 for the Department of Transport, "Cycling in Pedestrian Areas", which used video analysis to look at the issue. The study analysed 1 hour video recordings of 12 English sites and 9 mainland European sites and then 12 hour video recordings and questionnaires at 4 English sites. 

The English sites were a mix of places where cycling was banned, allowed during some hours and allowed all the time. The sites on the mainland were similarly arranged in terms of access time, but where cycling wasn't permitted, there were periphery routes available.

Vestergade, Odense, Denmark. One of the original
streets in the study which has different access times for
cycle traffic on different sections.

The findings from the report were;
  • Pedestrians alter their behaviour in the presence of motor vehicles where they are permitted in a shared area whereas the presence of cyclists has no appreciable effect;
  • People cycling adapt their speed to suit pedestrian density and dismount if required. Conflicts are generally dealt with by people cycling taking avoiding action;
  • Pedestrian areas have good safety records. The sites in the study had no pedestrian/ cyclist collisions in 15 years apart from one child pedestrian. No collisions were observed in the analysis of the video footage.
  • Where cycle traffic flows are higher the surface treatment and placing of street furniture and  shop displays can have a significant influence and a clearly identified section for cycle traffic aids orientation and operation with people tending to walk at the sides of the street and people cycling in the centre of the street.
The conclusion of the report stated;

The extensive observations made during this report has disclosed no real factors that justify the exclusion of cyclists from pedestrian areas and indicate that cycling can be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians.

It is important not to exclude cyclists from pedestrian areas and force them to use dangerous alternative routes. There are a wide variety of appropriate and satisfactory solutions (in terms of design and regulation) the choice of which will vary from place to place, and depend on local circumstances.

The Narrow Way (Mare Street) in Hackney is
pedestrianised with cycling permitted. 
There is a hint of where to cycle with the 
street layout. The alternative routes aren't 
great, so it's a useful link.

In terms of the pedestrian and cyclist interviews, the main point of concern was around the place where motor traffic had access (Oxford) and both groups felt safer in Chichester where motor traffic was banned.

In 1998, TRL published a report titled "Alternative Routes for Cyclists Around Pedestrian Areas". This study looked at 9 English towns where there were comprehensive bans on cycling in their cores and the quality of the routes available to people cycling to bypass them. Three towns were examined in more detail where there were signed diversion routes around the pedestrianised areas. 

Gallowtree Gate, Leicester, had a cycling ban at the time of
the study with a signed diversion for cycling,
but it's now open to cycling at all times.

There is some interesting commentary (p13) in the report which states;

Shopping trips (52%) and leisure trips (13%) are the cycle trips most likely to be foregone or transferred to another mode. Commuter cyclists are less likely to be deterred from travelling by cycle due to the pedestrian area restriction: whereas the main journey purpose of 26% of cyclists interviewed is commuting/business, only 11% of trips foregone or transferred are commuting trips. 

For those journeys that cannot be made by bicycle, because of the pedestrian area cycling restriction, 31% are transferred to walk, 24% to car (driver) and 15% to bus. 26% are not made at all as the respondents travel only by bicycle.

Notwithstanding the age of the study, this suggests that town centres lose out by banning cycling twice because some people don't make the trips at all and some will drive rather than cycle which adds to local traffic congestion.

Friarsgate, Winchester. Off-peak cycling is allowed
in some parts of the city core and banned in others. 
The alternatives include busy one-way streets which
are hostile to cycling.

The study noted that there was a lack of reported collisions between people cycling and walking as a side note; with the most interesting conclusions for me being;
  • The alternative routes created additional risk from traffic and inconvenience to people cycling compared with the pedestrianised route;
  • The alternative routes were longer, with almost half involving dismounting, and a different route was almost always necessary for the return trip;
  • Where signed alternative routes for cyclists were provided, most people found them to be safe and convenient;
  • Cyclists using the pedestrian areas and the alternative routes tend to choose routes on the basis of directness and minimising delay.
  • Because of the diverse journey patterns of cyclists in the town centres, safety needs to be improved throughout the road network. This would assist cyclists in town centres and reduce the incentive to cycle through the pedestrian area
The third report is from 2003 and titled "Cycling in Vehicle Restricted Areas", again from TRL. the study was three cities (Cambridge, Hull and Salisbury) and was more concerned about behaviours. The study used video, manual speed surveys and interviews of cyclists and pedestrians. There were also discussions with the local authorities and others around nine other places.

In the summary, the following statements are made;

It was shown that pedestrian flow, regulations, the types of cyclist and the characteristics of the site influenced dismounting and cycling speeds. The majority of cyclists tended to slow down or dismount and push their bicycles when pedestrian flows were high. However, a minority (mostly young males) continued to cycle quite fast.

The interviews with 300 pedestrians and 150 cyclists, showed that the majority of pedestrians said that they were "not bothered" by cyclists using the VRA [vehicle restricted area]. However, a number of people had witnessed collisions between cyclists and pedestrians in the VRA and a majority of pedestrians at two of the three sites said they would like to see cyclists excluded for at least part of the day.

When you dig into the report, the wish for exclusion seems to come in where cycling flows are higher and only then after prompting. There is some useful discussion around how people cycling should be managed in terms of the position they take in the street. Visual impairment groups suggested that there should be a fence or barrier providing separation, but the report notes that this and indeed, a strong visual delineation would not meet urban design objectives; however, the use of street furniture could usefully channel people cycling to the centre.

In all three reports, there's obviously a fair bit to read through. Despite when they were undertaken, I think we have got some very useful information and discussion arising from the research.

From my own experiences visiting some of the places in the research and from my trips to northern European cities, I wasn't particularly surprised by the contents of the reports. The third report was one I was familiar with (but hadn't reviewed for a while) and the first two were new to me in researching this post.

So, we have evidence to suggest that most people on foot aren't generally bothered about people cycling unless flows get high and maybe concerns only get expressed when pushed. We can see that there are people who are basically just antisocial when they cycle. We've seen that visually impaired people have concerns (fully legitimate in my view). 

There's evidence to show that cycling bans are bad for the town centre in terms of losing visitors or some switching to cars. We have also seen that some local authorities ban cycling but do nothing about the diversion routes which are often hostile, indirect and with poor accessibility.

Rue de l'Eau, Luxembourg City. Pedestrianised with some 
motor vehicle access, but two-way cycling allowed.

I mentioned "interaction" at the start of this post. The evidence suggests that most people cycling take responsibility for their own behaviour and that of the person on foot - by that I mean, people are dropping their speed and dismounting when it get busy as well as anticipating the unpredictability of other people. We've also seen that by and large, there are very few collisions where people can cycle through pedestrianised areas.

Design Implications
This is a two-fold issue. The thing that most people tend to look at is the pedestrianised street itself, but in fact, it's a network level design issue. People with no business in the town centre won't be immediately thinking about slowing down too much, their minds are somewhere else and so we should be catering for them with proper routes around core pedestrianised places. These routes should feel safe, direct and legible and if done properly, we've cleared out the people who don't need to be in the the town centre which reduces the overall flows that some pedestrians find concerning.

Vaartscherijnbrug, Utrecht, The Netherlands. If you don't
need to cycle into the city centre, you can cycle
around the edge to get somewhere else.

Then with the pedestrianised areas themselves, we can use street furniture placement or perhaps textural cues to guide people cycling to the centre of the street away from stop fronts where people walking may have their attention elsewhere. Having a clutter-free central area is also pretty useful for fire access, maintenance and (where permitted) servicing; so it's a win-win.

Storgatan, Malmö, Sweden. This is the entrance to
a pedestrianised area where cycling is permitted.
The street layout still hints at the historic road layout
with different paving in the centre and with street furniture
well-positioned, people cycling stick to the centre.

The important thing is that we should be welcoming people to our town centres because it is good for them both. People obviously work in town centres and there are people who find cycling easier than walking - bans on cycling directly discriminates Disabled people who rely on cycles at their mobility aids; could you imagine the public reaction to banning mobility scooters?

The challenge we have is that local authorities that ban cycling in the UK don't provide decent alternatives (notwithstanding the needs and wants of people wanting to cycle to shops and businesses). Even this week, Worcester County Council has extended it's ban on cycling in Worcester City Centre to 10am - 6pm, from 10:30am - 4:30pm. This is apparently to make things safer for pedestrians and it has the backing of businesses after consultation (whether anyone else had a say isn't clear). 

Worcester follows the pattern of the hostile places in the 1998 TRL study because their ban doesn't come with safe and direct routes around the pedestrianised area. The way around is a heady mix of one-way streets, including the A38 where people cycling get to play with buses, HGVs and general traffic. Your outgoing route would also be different to your incoming route. Clearly the City and County are happy to turn away customers, workers and disabled people. Presumably they can produce evidence supporting the ban and the equality impact assessment they did before extending it.

Hovedgaden, Nordby, Fanø, Denmark. This village
centre is largely pedestrianised and cycling is
welcomed. There is actually a cycling bypass on the
road which skirts the village to the ferry terminal which
takes some of the through-cycling out.

You may feel that until and unless alternatives are provided, cycling shouldn't be permitted in pedestrianised areas. I have to disagree because the evidence shows that it is a low risk thing to allow (as well as being good for town centres and people). 

If there is a problem with behaviour, then this is tackled through design of the space and designing out through cycle traffic. Then you can switch the enforcement you were going to deploy on the ban onto the idiots who don't behave and you target this activity when pedestrian flows are highest because that's when the potential for interaction will also be highest.

Vismarkt, Utrecht, The Netherlands. There is a peak
hours cycle ban here, but people ignore it if they
feel they're not causing a problem.

In the final analysis, trying to ban a fairly simple form of human-powered transport is doomed to fail. If you think about it, the people who manage to get to a hostile town centre are already pretty committed and will have dealt with equally hostile roads getting there. A local authority putting up a sign won't stop them and let's face it, the chances of getting caught are going to be slim unless they really are being stupid at peak teams. 

In my view, managing and nudging people in a situation like this is far more productive than trying to ban them and we have already done the research to back all of this up.