Sunday, 13 January 2019

Crash Friendly

We are concerned that nobody is hurt on our streets and roads as a result of a mistake by them or others and this underpins a better approach to highway design. Of course, when someone gets it wrong, they shouldn't pay for it with their life.

Despite the promises of self-driving vehicles always being ten years away, we have to live in the now and that means we have to install 'stuff' into the highway to warn/ inform/ regulate people and that means traffic signs, bollards and the other kit used to manage the flow of people. The trouble is, people do make mistakes and the kit tends to be crashed into. This could be anything from the almost comedic person walking into a lighting column because they were distracted, to a driver on a high speed road having a blow-out and crashing into a bridge pier.

Perhaps we can think about energy. On the one hand, walking into a lighting column can hurt, but hopefully, you wouldn't be too damaged; although some people are less able to recover. On the other hand, crashing a car at 70mph into a bridge pier is almost certainly going to kill everyone in the vehicle. In other words, the greater the energy involved, the greater the risk.

For the lighting column example or indeed any piece of street furniture, we should take care with placement so that we don't leave it in a desire where someone might fall over it or walk into it; visually impaired people are going to be disproportionately affected. For the bridge pier example, we are going to have to put in some sort of protection which will absorb the energy of the vehicle and either stop it hitting the pier or divert it away.

One feature of our roads (motorways and trunk roads in this case) are traffic signs. Because of the speed of traffic, the text on the signs is large and so the signs are also large. Large signs present themselves to the wind and so they end up being attached to chunky posts with substantial foundations. You really don't want to crash into one of these large posts as the car tends to wrap itself around the post.

In some situations, safety fence (popularly known as crash barrier) is rolled out. You've all seen the type of thing, here's a video of it being installed;

The system uses posts installed into the ground with the barrier attached. In the event of a crash, the barrier is designed to catch the vehicle and absorb the energy. Some barrier systems are tensioned to further help with absorption. People often talk about wanting to see safety fencing along footways and cycle tracks next to main roads, but this doesn't mean that they'll be kept safe as this crash test shows;

The issue is that in order to absorb energy, the posts are going to snap and the barrier will buckle and stretch - you don't want to be standing behind it. This is also the reason that if you break down on a motorway, don't sit on the barrier waiting for help - try and get away from the road as far as you can safely go. Safety fence design considers this movement called the 'working width' and so any paths behind need to be set back beyond this working width. Of course, getting people away from the very big roads would be a better answer, if not always practical.

The problem is, we cannot put safety fence everywhere. It's costly, it requires maintenance and replacement and in some places, it's just not practical because of space or other issues. We can take a risk approach and so where we have bridges and gantry signs, safety fence is useful. For large signs, we have other options - passive safety posts.

The photo above shows a very large sign next the A13 in London where the speed limit is posted at 50mph. A sign of this size needs some chunky posts to hold it up, but the available space means it's quite close to the road and in the event someone loses control, they could well crash into the sign and its posts. The designer has chosen to use 'Lattix' posts which are strong in use, but in the event of an impact, they crumple;

We also have other things to contend with such as lighting columns. On trunk roads and motorways, they tend to be quite large and again, it's not practical to have safety fence in front of all of them. A risk based approach can be taken and as with sign posts, there are energy absorbing lighting columns which fold and buckle as they absorb the energy;

Motorways and perhaps to a lesser extent, trunk roads, are very consistent in layout and opposing traffic flows are physically separated. This hasn't happened by coincidence, it is the result of work done to develop standards for high speed situations which are mandatory and require sign-off processes to depart from those standards. Of course, once you throw people into the mix, things can be a little unpredictable and very dangerous for the people working there;

Monday, 7 January 2019

Cycle Tracks Should Be Laid In Red Asphalt

Ever since my first visit to the Netherlands in the summer of 2015, I have been obsessed with the use of red asphalt for cycle tracks (OK, the Dutch do design quite well generally).

The main reasons are that using a coloured surface helps to provide visual priority in situations such as cycle tracks crossing side roads and legibility in terms of people cycling being able to see how their route is laid out ahead. 

Here's the first cycle track I closely inspected in Deventer in 2015. It is of course red and in fact, each area of each mode of transport has a different surface which helps with legibility. The grey slabs provides the footway, the brown blocks is a hard strip which provides protection from traffic in the photo and behind me, it becomes parking bays and access points to parking areas and houses.

Here's a view a but further along - as turns out, the brick paving in the carriageway has since been changed to asphalt and some of the road layout has changed since I was there; such is the Dutch approach of constantly renewing and tweaking their streets.

It doesn't really matter where you go, there is a pretty good consistency with newer layouts tending to go for the black asphalt for roads, grey for footways and red for cycle tracks (give or take local approaches). Above is from Amsterdam and below is from Maastricht.

It's a pretty simple palette to be sure, but it is consistent and in my view gives a little more interest than surfacing everything in black asphalt which is so beloved of UK engineers. Below is a photo from Utrecht and below that a photo from Harderwijk.

Of course, you can use any colour you like and a greater part of the wonder of cycling in the Netherlands is the design which goes into the layouts, but I think they would be diminished without the red cycle tracks. 

You'll also notice that the Amsterdam and Maastricht examples are very bright, but that is because they are new. After some time, the colour fades a little and in my view, you are left with a warm-looking finish - there's just something about it I like.

Just as important as the colour is the fact that the surfaces are laid by machine so that they are smooth. In some part of the the country where the infrastructure is a little older, you will find small red concrete slabs on the cycle tracks, but these tend to get changed during street renewals such as the example below from suburban Amsterdam.

You can of course use any colour you like. In some parts of the UK, green has been all the rage such as here in the City of Manchester;

London has seen extensive use of blue (although it seems less in favour now);

In the UK, there is no rules about what colour you can use, it is up to each highway authority. In fact, you don't have to use coloured asphalt. It does bring me onto the costs involved. 

Black is often the default because it's the basic colour of basic asphalt and so it's the cheapest. In the world of austerity, there is a good argument for spending the money on getting a safe layout and the colour doesn't really matter, but I would argue that a coloured surface does play a part in it as I suggested that the start.

Red is the most common colour available after black and many asphalt plants keep a bin of red AC6 on the go because it does get used around the place where people though red footways were a little posher for their conservation area and other places where people wished to keep up appearances. Of course, where green is use a lot, then asphalt plants might keep that as a standard, although it's less common in my experience. Blue and other exotic colours are far more specialist and proprietary; frankly, I'd steer clear of them because they are so more expensive.

Maintenance types would have us use black asphalt everywhere because it is cheap and I get that. There are worries about having to repair coloured surfacing because small loads for patching work becomes expensive. But actually, it doesn't matter because cycle traffic doesn't destroy the surface and if small repairs are needed, then patch them in black. Eventually, if you end up with lots of patches after many years, you'll be resurfacing anyway.

So let's spend a little on a nice surface. Let's roll out the red carpet for cycling; and as well as the care and attention we have given to the space, let's help reinforce cycle traffic as a separate mode in its own right and as Catriona says, red surfacing is awesome!

Salford. Mmmm red.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The Predictable & Lazy End Of Year Roundup: 2018

As predictable as night follow day, here is my personal round up of 2018, in which I was 

My first post of the year wondered why high profile "streets" schemes always ignored the wider network issues and tried to accommodate everything. Next, was a "Kerb Your Enthusiasm" special where I looked at how kerbs are used to make bus stops accessible.

I then gave some thoughts on the state of the UK's bridge stock, yet another indictment on how we always seem to be able to build new stuff, but now repair and manage what we have. Finally for January, I looked at the idiocy behind people claiming that cycling infrastructure will create speeding cyclists.

The month started with a look at the real speed merchants and why drivers who speed are seen as downtrodden and then a review of the decision of the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, to block the Mayor of London increasing fines for contraventions on his network.

A technical post next  with a look at how space could be allocated on a road in Poole which was going to be resurfaced. It was a challenging situation which would have to be dealt with at the network level. The month ended with brief thoughts on pigeonholing people.

The month got off to a snowy start in London during which I tried to carry on cycling (by switching to 3 wheels). It was nice to start with, but soon got boring!

Next, I wrote about rephasing traffic lights and why it's more complicated that the people who ask for it realise. Then came a post which was about simple solutions - 5 things we can do for walking, followed by an update on the state of the roads in the UK (which had improved a little).

I rounded the month off with an in-depth post on a problem I was thinking about where I wanted to connect a cycle route from a side road to a main road which led to signalised and unsignalised options.

Better weather saw a trip with my oldest daughter along London's CS3 which perversely meant driving the bikes to the start and then I wondered why we'd got ourselves stuck with congestion (yes, I know). This was followed up with a post showing that we get who we design for on our streets. The month ended with a look at the versatility we get from a 15m wide street in providing for all modes.

The first post for May was looking at the transport secretary, Chris Grayling's daft plan to force utility works to take place in footways to keep traffic flowing. I then reported on the work in progress on London's CS3 and CS6 cycleways.

For National Walking Month, I walked home from work the long way round and wrote a post on some of the things I saw on the way, based on a live tweet of the trip. I rounded the month off arguing that cycling culture (at least in contemporary terms) comes from providing infrastructure.

In a bonus guest post, the Silvertown Mole took a look at the madness of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme - a project which goes against the Mayor of London's own policies.

"When you are right, it is easy to be consistent" I argued in my first post for June - low speeds, protection on main roads and so on. I then challenged the tired old trope that London isn't Amsterdam when it comes to cycling. I argued that London isn't a single city and designing around the Metropolitan Centres could be transformative.

I then wrote about why I didn't think the Highway Code was fit for purpose and why the UK didn't join the dots on health and transport policy. 

The first three posts were dedicated to reporting on the cycling (and walking) infrastructure seen around Great Manchester on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM. The posts are here, here and here.

I then provided some thoughts on how I considered spatial planning and transport planning to be disconnected with the last post of the month celebrating the annual Ride London Freecycle event.

A bit of navel-gazing for my first August post which was my 300th blog post before I took a look at ramps and steps and then building on soft ground. The month ended with a look at risk and risk assessment.

The month saw four posts about my adventures in Scandinavia with reports from Fanø, Denmark; a new residential area in Malmö, Sweden; suburban Malmö; and Malmö's city centre.

The end of the month saw a hop back to the UK and the transformation of Stratford town centre in East London where some very good cycling infrastructure had been designed into work to remove the town's gyratory.

In the first post for the month, I continued my Scandinavian Safari to the suburbs of Copenhagen. Then, back to London for a photo blog post on the Stop Killing Cyclists Pedal on Parliament

Next, I took a tour around Copenhagen city centre and then ended the month with a look at proposals for the Stoke Newington gyratory which despite being touted as transformational for cycling remains a bus priority scheme.

A final postcard from Scandinavia started the month with a look at bikes, lights and little trucks. Next up, I moaned about the distraction of technology for walking and cycling when what is needed is kerbs.

I then posted about how highways become highways and the legal processes required before one of my favourite technical posts of the year giving an introduction to 'School Streets'.

The month started with me giving a tired old strawman a kicking as I wondered what mode of transport he might use. I was then back looking at the UK's obsession with providing cycle routes, rather looking at the wider network. A trip to Crawley gave me a short stretch of road which was a microcosm of how cycling is either bolted on to walking or driving space with people being expected to switch (often immediately) between the two.

Finally, I brought a well known Christmas story up to date with a little twist on my frustration around some UK politicians.

As ever, it just remains for me to thank everyone who has read and commented on this blog and the people I have met in real life and on social media. Special thanks must go this year to those who gave up their time to showcase what is going on in Greater Manchester and especially Catriona, Jonathan and Dave. And an extra special thanks to Phil, who helped with a rest stop in his corner of Germany as we headed home from our Scandinavian trip.

I don't know what 2019 will bring, especially in our uncertain world, but part of the fun is the journey and so I wish you a peaceful and happy New Year.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Bob Cratchit was working late in the office again; the people in the other teams had gone to the pub for a pre-Christmas drink. The junction design he was working on was an impossible task because he couldn't maintain traffic flow and provide a single crossing stage for people who wanted to walk.

It was always the same, staggered crossings, multiple crossings and missing out green men completely because of the requirements of Cllr Scrooge who simply wanted to keep all the capacity for motor traffic. "Stop messing about with pedestrian stages and get that road widened" came the voice from the boss's office; "your engineers have no business trying to make things better for people who don't drive".

Bob put his head down behind the monitor. He knew things had to change. His son, Tim, wheezed so much because of the pollution as he walked to school and it was just so difficult to get across the High Street. He feared for his son's future. Cllr Scrooge marched past Bob's workstation, sneering at him as he went past. Bob heard a distant phone ringing and then a door slamming.

Cllr Scrooge picked up the phone in his office. It was Fred, his nephew; "Hi uncle, do you want to come to our Christmas walk along the High Street?" - there was a knock on the door, "wait" Cllr Scrooge grumbled. The local cycling campaign had dropped in to ask for support for a protected cycleway on the main road into town. His nephew was still on the phone. "Humbug!" shouted Cllr Scrooge as he cut Fred off. "Roads are for cars, not lycra-clad idiots and people wandering about, getting in everyone's way". He slammed the office door in the faces of the campaigners. Cllr Scrooge muttered and went back to reading the borough's transport strategy. He soon bored of healthy streets and vision zero and dozed off in his chair.

Cllr Scrooge woke with a start. The temperature in his office had dropped to freezing and he could see his breath. The lights flickered and a mist began to form from the gap under the door. It coalesced and grew denser into the shape of a person who Cllr Scrooge thought familiar. "No, it can't be true; you died of a heart attack" - the mist cleared and there stood Cllr Marley, or what was left of him. His previously chubby face was hollow and his clothes hung in tatters. The remnants of the ceremonial mayoral chain hung loosely around Marley's neck.

"You're not real", exclaimed Cllr Scrooge, "you are dead - I'm the mayor now". A rasping voice appeared in Cllr Scrooge's head as Marley's dead eyes looked upon him. "Scrooge, I have been walking the High Street, condemned to wait to cross the road for all eternity. You will be visited by three ghosts tonight. Be warned. Don't make the same mistakes that I did, the High Street should be for people." The mist formed again and Cllr Marley faded away.

Cllr Scrooge woke with a start. "Damn" he said. "Time to go home". He walked across the member's car park, almost falling over on some ice. He cursed the highways team for complaining about cuts to the winter service budget. He piloted his big electric car out of the car park and onto the main road out of town. The streets were quiet because it was so late and he made good progress. As he approached the junction with the High Street, an elderly gent was half-way across the road, laden with shopping, but Cllr Scrooge buzzed past him, not caring if the old boy got to the pavement in safety or not.

Cllr Scrooge swung onto his driveway and into his double garage. A rusty bike hung on the wall and he wondered why he ever kept the damn thing. His knees hurt and he'd never get back on it. He plugged the car into the charger convinced he was doing his bit to deal with air pollution. He then went to the kitchen, poured himself a scotch and after settling into his favourite chair, Cllr Scrooge soon dozed off.

He woke with a start. In front of him, there were two brightly glowing children. The older child held the younger one's hand firmly. "We are the ghosts of Christmas Past" said the older child. The younger child grabbed Cllr Scrooge's hand and they all flew into the sky and over the countryside to a small village. They gently landed by a cottage and they looked through the window. A teenager unwraps a Christmas present - a beautiful bike. The scene changes. Cllr Scrooge now sees his old friend Fezziwig who is excitedly telling him about the bike courier idea he has had for the nearby town. The scene changes again and he can hear himself shouting at his girlfriend, Belle, as she slams the door shut, sick of his ambition to prioritise cars over people in the town.

Cllr Scrooge wept in his sleep as he shifted his bulk in his chair. After a while, he woke again as a faint green light flickered across the room. The light grew brighter and Cllr Scrooge could see it shining through the crack around the living room door. All of a sudden, the force of a mighty laugh threw the door open and a larger than life figure stood before him, enveloped in the brightest green light that Cllr Scrooge had ever seen. "I am the ghost of Christmas Present" beamed the Green Man and the light grew so bright that Cllr Scrooge had to cover his eyes.

The light faded enough for Cllr Scrooge to uncover his eyes and he realised that they were standing in the corner of Bob Cratchit's kitchen where Bob's son, Tim, was breathing deeply through his inhaler. He could hear Bob telling Tim that they would start looking to move away from the town after Christmas so that he could go to a school with cleaner air in the countryside, even though Bob knew he would have to ditch his bike and start driving to work again because of the distance and lack of public transport. Cllr Scrooge had killed off the guided busway proposed between the town and the village.

The green light flashed again and the Green Man and Cllr Scrooge were on the High Street with his nephew Fred and a group of friends. Cllr Scrooge wondered why so many of the shops were boarded up and he made a mental note to organise the removal of the zebra crossing so some more parking bays could be squeezed in. Fred was talking to the owner of the cafe who said he was going to move his business to the next town which had just pedestrianised its high street and built a cycleway right through the middle. 

The green light flashed again and now Cllr Scrooge could see that all of the shops on the High Street had closed down. The street was filthy and unkempt with litter blowing around in the chilly breeze. The Green Man had started to glow red and from behind him, he noticed a dark cloud forming. All of a sudden, the now Red Man disappeared and the dark cloud moved closer to Cllr Scrooge.

The cloud smelt of half-burnt diesel and Cllr Scrooge struggled to catch his breath. Wheezing, he watched as the cloud took the shape of a figure in a black, hooded robe. A skeletal arm appeared from the robe and beckoned Cllr Scrooge to follow him. They walked along the High Street and then the main road back to the town hall. Cllr Scrooge noticed that the members' car park had been replaced by a pocket park with benches and cycle racks instead of reserved car parking spaces.

Cllr Scrooge followed the figure through the doors of the town hall and along the corridor. The walls were adorned with photos of mayors that he didn't recognise, but then, some way down the corridor, he saw is own photo. The inscription showed that his mayoralty ended next year. Cllr Scrooge said to the hooded figure "but I've still three years as mayor". The hooded figure said nothing and beckoned Cllr Scrooge to follow him out of the door at the end of the corridor.

They walked along the path to the town's library which sat opposite the town hall. Through the entrance the hooded figure went, passing the books and computers, through another door to the area where the newspaper archive was kept. The hooded figure pointed at a folder which was full of newspapers from about 10 years ago. Cllr Scrooge took the folder from the shelf and set it on the table. The pages flicked and rustled until a newspaper opened at a news story, tucked towards the back of the paper. 

It said; "Ebenezer Scrooge, former town mayor has died. He didn't make it until the end of his term, having been taken ill with a respiratory disease that he suffered with for a decade. Cllr Scrooge is best remembered for the row where he tried to get the zebra crossing on the High Street removed in order to provide more parking bays. His nephew, Fred, said; "it's a shame that my uncle didn't want to learn from the past in order to revitalise the High Street. However, I have been able to keep the family name alive in local politics and in my third term as mayor, I will finally close the High Street to motor traffic. I look forward to working with our chief engineer, Bob Cratchit on this exciting project and I also want to welcome our first engineering apprentice, Bob's son Tim".

Cllr Scrooge sat down in the chair and turned to the hooded figure; "this cannot be right. I am mayor of this town, not my nephew and his daft friends. There's no way an idiot like Bob Cratchit is going to run our highways department because he won't accept that roads are for cars, not people". Cllr Scrooge's ranting woke him up. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. As Cllr Scrooge put on his working clothes he laughed at himself for having such an ridiculous dream. He went into the garage where he dug out his tools and he put on some rubber gloves. Carefully, he lifted his old rusty bike off the wall hooks and he set it on the ground. He then spent the next hour dismantling the bike and bagging it up so it wouldn't get his car dirty when he finally took it to the tip.

Cllr Scrooge went back into the house and put the kettle on for a cup of tea. As he poured the hot water over the tea bag, he started coughing. You see, Dear Reader that despite all he had been through, Cllr Scrooge is a stubborn prick who refuses to listen to experts.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Quantum Cycling Design

In many parts of the UK, we provide for cycling in a way which seems to spontaneously switch from treating the mode like driving and walking. In some cases, it depends on the position of the observer.

We have a kind of Schrödinger's cyclist - that is, one which exists in two design states where they either have to keep up with motor traffic or slow down to walking pace. In some cases, we get both designs at once.

Earlier this week, I was in Crawley, West Sussex. I was having a look at some of the roads in the town and I took some photos which actually neatly show how we design for cycling. 

The town has lots of big roads, but for the purposes of this post, I am going to look at a short section of a gyratory which includes High Street which runs north-south and was once part of the main road between London and Brighton. In common with many towns, the current road layout is a legacy of the mid to late 20th Century fashion for building ring roads and gyratories. Anyway, back to High Street.

The photos above and below are taken midway along the link (looking north) and show part of the gyratory where drivers have a choice to turn left or right at a splitter island in the distance. The van is parked on a shared-segregated cycle track which is meant to be two-way. As you can see in the above photos, the man cycling is happy to stick to the road, whereas the woman in the photo below cycles on the footway.

From the other angle, we can see the cycle track on the right. The bollard is on the end of the splitter island and the green cycle lane feeds an advanced stop line. People wishing to cycle to the right (as we look at it) either stick to the road or the cycle track which becomes unsegregated just of shot to access a toucan crossing, before continuing off to the northwest with a shared-segregated cycle track that gives way at the side roads as you often see in the UK.

Below, is the view north again from next to the bollard on the splitter island. The ASL is for people wishing to stay on the road through an area where weaving drivers get into lane on another part of the gyratory. The dropped kerb leads to the splitter island through a pair of narrowing sections of guardrail which have been provided to slow people cycling to walking pace.

The dropped kerb is not quite flush and so it creates a risk of grabbing wheels which could throw people off their cycles. I jokingly called the guardrail the Crawley Fish Catcher on social media - because that's what it reminded me of frankly!

Looking north again (above), we've slowed people cycling down so they can use the toucan crossing to the rest of the High Street.

Finally, a view south looking at the fish catcher (above). 

The exact details of the layout are largely irrelevant, but the point is that over a relatively short distance of street in one UK town, we have found several of the features of 'traditional' UK cycling design which either has one squeezed in with people walking or having to blast along at traffic speed before being abruptly slowed to use a shared crossing in order to maintain motor traffic priority.

Unless you are fit and brave, you are not going to use roads like the one I have shown here - you are certainly not going to ride there with kids, or slowly with some shopping. The painting of the footway to provide for cycling is not direct and convenient, it forces people cycling close to people walking and above all, it's faff because you cannot cycle at a reasonable speed and you have to stop to cross roads all the time.

Cycling is not walking and it is not driving. It is a distinct mode which needs distinct design decisions and details. How to sort out places like the Crawley Fish Catcher? Well, that's another story!