Sunday, 2 August 2020

Fossil Fuel Addicts, Shock Jocks, Plumbers & The Unhinged

It is often said that unless you're getting a backlash, you're not doing anything meaningful; and maybe this past week more than any other time this has been true for walking and cycling.

This week the government published three important things. First was the very long awaited update to the English cycling infrastructure design guidance - Local Transport Note 1/20, Cycle Infrastructure Design. This is a very important because in the absence of any other understanding of how to design for cycling, it's something which any local authority or consulting engineer can pick up and understand what is required. That on its own won't make for good design because you need competent people, but at the very least it sets out the minimum requirements stall which might mean that the first reaction is to get someone in who knows what they are doing.

There is nothing radical about LTN1/20 as such, but for the first time it brings UK design guidance up to date following legislative changes brought in with the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Direction 2016 (parallel zebra crossings, low level traffic signals etc) as well as current professional practice. I say UK, but this is aimed at England and Northern Ireland because Wales and Scotland have their own guidance.

The government also launched a consultation on some major revisions to the Highway Code which (if incorporated) will update the HC to again reflect the change in things we're allowed to design now. It is also proposing changes which would give (in theory) a little more help to walking and cycling such as advising drivers (and cyclists) that people crossing side streets (walking or cycling) should be left to complete the crossing before anyone turns in - in fact, someone looking like they want to cross (including at a zebra or parallel zebra crossing) should be afforded the same courtesy.

The HC will not make our streets safer per se because reasonable and courteous people will already behave properly and let's face it, the HC is only used by people on Twitter to argue points; but it shows a political direction of travel and the courts will use the HC as a part of testing how someone has behaved. Please take a look and respond to the consultation here.

The third thing published is far more radical and is the thing that has really wound up a few people and got a certain part of the media up in arms. Once you get past the stupid attempt at gaming Google searches by the PM referring to people not being able to get fridge-freezers on cargobikes (which is nonsense), Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking actually is a genuinely bold vision. The document is full of facts about how pursuing policies based around walking and cycling can improve health, social and economic outcomes for people and where they live. This is probably my favourite graphic from the document because it's about design;

It's also a great explanation of why some people are losing the plot over plans to change how streets are managed and how people are prioritised. We've had radio shock-jocks ranting about lycra-clad cyclists, fossil fuel industry sock-puppets going on about needing to share the roads and the owner of a London-based plumbing company rationally describing people who want to cycle as fascists. Of course, such nonsense inevitably stokes up hatred from other people which at worst means people die on the streets.

The Vision also comes at a time where as part of their responses to Covid, some local authorities are trying to create safer walking and cycling space in our communities. In some cases, this has led to noisy protests and in at least two things I have read, people suggesting the schemes are like genocide to local businesses. We've also heard from motoring groups who also talk about balance and sharing and freight transport organisations which can see a challenge to their current business model which relies on the community to absorb the externalised costs of their operations.

Maybe you think I am not being forgiving in lumping the obvious loons in with the more respectable organisations, but for me, it's a spectrum and a little bit of digging shows that the main difference between these people and organisations is language rather than intent. We've followed their model for decades and look where it's got us.

There is plenty of dissonance with government of course, with the £27bn plan to expand the English strategic road network (although some of this cost is for maintenance) and a planning system which is still leading to car-centric development. It is possible to dislike a government, but welcome a particular policy however.

But, the counter to this is that we are starting to hear new voices above the screaming insults and crocodile smiles. Hyper local action groups are being formed to amplify the silent majority who would actually love to see different streets. Electronic citizen spaces, social media and people on the ground are starting to push back. The Bike Is Best campaign has undertaken some research which suggests that for every person against local measures to enable cycling are supported by 6.5 people.

This may be a surprise to many given what we see in the media and what many politicians say, but when we have political lobbying by fuel, motoring and haulage interests as well as people in the media who use outgrouping to create outrage for "debate" shows and for website clicks, it's clear that some see people being able to travel under their own steam as a threat, whether financially or politically.

Of course, a week is a long time in politics, but for the first time in a decade of being into active travel design, I'm cautiously hopeful.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

#LDNCycle Safari: Hackney On The Right Track

As part of my tour of the Hackney/ Tower Hamlets borders with Hackney Cyclist the other Saturday, we went for a look at a couple of streets which had had cycle tracks added to them.

I have had a pop at Hackney over the years because of a stubborn refusal to build cycle tracks on its main roads (some of which are managed by Transport for London to be fair). The borough relied on buses for many years as the only form of public transport, although it is now very much part of the London Overground system; the reliance on buses might explain some of the reluctance, but that will only take you so far.

Hackney is famous for modal filtering where through-motor traffic is removed from mainly residential areas (but where access is maintained for residents, deliveries, emergency vehicles etc). The most famous area is De Beauvoir Town which was extensively filtered in the 1970s - a good background from Hackney Cyclist can be read here

In more recent times, further filtering schemes have gone in such as at the southern end of Goldsmith's Row which created a section of walking and cycling street around a decade ago along the edge of Haggerston Park and today is part of Quietway 13 which runs from near Broadway Market southwest to Tabernacle Street on the edge of the City of London (Goldsmiths Road is just southeast of Hackney City Farm);

Goldsmiths Row is a very nice place to cycle because it is car-free and before the Covid crisis, it was a very popular commuting route to the The City of London with cycle traffic flows being prominently shown on the cycle counter you can see in the photograph below;

At the moment, it seems that peak weekday cycle traffic flows have reduced because people are either working from home or not working because of the virus impacting employment in The City; but weekend numbers are up which reflects people wanting to get out for some fresh air and maybe taking more advantage of what's on offer in their local area.

The problem with Goldsmiths Row is that it means main roads without any protection from traffic. At the southern end, there is at least a little detour through the park to a toucan crossing over the A1208 Hackney Road to get to Columbia Road (which is filtered at its northern end) and the northern could probably do with some neighbourhood filtering. Here's a video of the traffic-free section (link);

So, the filtered section of Goldsmiths Row is essentially a cycle track with a footway on each side, but as far as Hackney's history goes, the borough has never really built cycle tracks along roads next to general traffic. However, this is no longer the case.

Wick Road was a wide one-way street flanked by car parking and was almost an extension of the large tangle of roads to the east providing access to the A12 East Cross Route (which connects to the A11 at Bow and then the Blackwall Tunnel). Hackney decided to make the street 2-way for traffic to improve bus services and to reduce people using other streets as a cut-through.

The scheme includes one-way cycle tracks on each side of the street, new bus stops (some floating and some shared path) and extensive planting. The space for cycling was created from the removal of car parking bays, reuse of space from an existing short cycle track and part of a very wide footway (and some of this has been depaved too). 

The original idea for the scheme was to simply have people cycling on the carriageway which prompted a big push from local campaigners to have protected cycling because the road would still be busy and carry buses. The street reverted to 2-way operation last August and it was also possible to cycle in both directions in relative safety.

The photograph above is pretty typical of the layout with the existing footway at the the rear of the highway and the cycle track in some repurposed space with the original planting maintained. The first problem is that the cycle track is too narrow on some sections - here it is 1.6m wide excluding the kerb lines. Also, because I'm picky, the bollard is in handlebar catching range and I would have preferred red asphalt for the cycle track. Additionally, the tactile paving is incorrect - the corduroy type has been used when tram style is the requirement of the national guidance.

The photo above is the junction with Bradstock Road (just to the right) which was already part of a local cycle route which connected to Barnabas Road (on the left) via the retained 2-way cycle track you can see in the centre of the image (and where the tactile paving is correct from the original scheme). The designers provided a continuous treatment over the side street, although it's essentially shared presumably to make it easier to connect to the contraflow cycle track in Bradstock Road.

At the western end of the street, the cycle track ends and people cycling have to mix once more with general traffic. The photograph above is at the western end of Wick Road approaching the junction with the B113 Kenton Road. The original junction was extremely large and so the decision to integrate rather than protect is odd. Maybe the issue is that there is no plan for Kenton Road or Well Street (opposite Wick Road), but the design could have protected at the junction and integrated beyond. 

Well Street is one-way towards the junction, but a protected junction could have allowed people to enter Well Street which would be useful to have 2-way cycling in it as a local shopping street.

Bus stops along the street are two variants. Most are floating (above), although having the footway and cycle track at the same level rather than stepped is a compromise. A couple shared where people walking, cycling and using buses share an area before separation returns (below).

At least with the bus stop above, it could have been made a floating type, but space was given to a car parking bay on the other side of the street (in the westbound direction). I do like the fact the bus stop waiting areas and shared stops have a distinctive paving type which helps recognition.

For the eastbound approach to the junction with Barnabas Road (which connects to Homerton Overground Station), we are back with integrating cycle traffic in the carriageway (above) which is an odd choice because motor traffic cannot turn left here. On the other side of the junction, the return to the cycle track is via an uneven dropped kerb which is a wheel catching risk and the changes in crossfall will be awkward for the users of tricycles (below).

One of the key design decisions (taken at a network level) was to make the street two-way and improve bus access which is a good idea if we are to help people travel my means other than private car, but the carriageway has been kept to 6.5m. You will recall this is the same along Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest and this is because Transport for London Buses will resist carriageways being taken down any further, despite there being plenty of routes which are effectively narrower because of car parking. 

My view is that because we have a 20mph speed limit, we should be taking these carriageways down to 6m and remove the centre line because bus and indeed HGV drivers should be perfectly capable of slowing down when passing another large vehicle and the extra half a metre would have released more space for wider cycle tracks.

At the eastern end of the protected section, people cycling are dropped back into the carriageway approaching the junction with Brookfield Road/ Cassland Road and the A102 Kenworthy Road/ Wick Road (below). It's simply awful for cycling (and walking), but it's under Transport for London's control. It's utterly hostile and hard to navigate.

Like my discussion around Lea Bridge Road, Wick Road has compromises. The decision to go two-way for general traffic immediately creates compromises on space for other modes because of TfL Buses. There has also been a decision taken to retain a fair amount of car parking. These aren't necessarily compromises the designers would have chosen, but they are a reality. However, it is true to say that Wick Road does enable people to cycle and despite the issues, that's the important thing. Here's a video of the new layout (link);

The final scheme to look at in Hackney this week is the southern section of the B108 Queensbridge Road. It's a wide street which runs parallel and east to the A10 Kingsland Road and connects the area around Columbia Road in the south to Dalston in the north. The southern end of the street is just 200m west of Goldsmiths Row and so there's a tantalising hint of a network. The southern section of the street has recently been upgraded to provide cycle tracks between the A1208 Hackney Road and Whiston Road.

Sadly, Hackney has continued the theme of integrating people cycling with general traffic at the Hackney Road junction and at least when I was there, a van was left blocking the access to the northbound cycle track.

The design approach is the same as Wick Road with footway level cycle tracks and I really cannot see why, because the cycle track was created from carriageway space previously occupied by car parking (below). This really should have been a stepped arrangement with a forgiving kerb.

Hackney has been pretty brave in removing the car parking bays from the street, but the carriageway remains wide and as this street is not a bus route, I cannot see the reason for this. The dimensions vary, but generally the footways are around 1.8m, the cycle tracks are around 2m and the carriageway is 6.6m. There are no buses on this street and so there doesn't seem any reason why the cycle tracks could not have been 2.3m which would have been the same as the standard in Copenhagen. What is great about them is that they are machine-laid and very smooth, but they of course should have been red!

At the junction with Dunloe Street (which runs both sides of Queensbridge Road), the side streets have had motor traffic filtered (above) and there is now a parallel zebra crossing between both parts - essentially crossroads with walking and cycling having priority and very nice it is too. For some reason there are "no entry expect cycles" signs on the side streets which incorrect, they should be "no motor traffic" signs. But I'm picky.

Further north (but on the southbound side) there is a London cycle hire docking station (above). This was there before the cycle track and apparently moving it to have cycling behind it would have been costly. The mandatory cycle lane with wands does a reasonable job of keeping people safe and having cycling at carriageway level allows people hiring or dropping a bike to access the northbound cycle track via a dropped kerb on the other side of the street. 

I would prefer to see a traffic island on the upstream side of this cycle lane to provide heavier protection. At the end of the hire cycle docking station, the cycle track restarts (above). The other thing which this all shows of course is that the carriageway is too wide because it was easy to fit in the cycle lane around the docking station!

Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and so on a pleasant Saturday morning, there were plenty of people out enjoying the new street layout. Again, here's a video of the new layout (link);

One other little thing you will have seen in the video is that there are lots of new trees on the street which is great, but even if the cycle tracks were wider, there still would have been space to put them in between the cycle track and the carriageway and if provided every so often on alternate sides, then this would help break up the dead straight nature of the street because I bet there's a speeding issue (which would have been the case before). There would also have been space for the dropped kerb slopes to be provide outside of the cycle track and spots for occasional car parking or loading space which would also have helped give different cues to drivers. Maybe something more like the sketch below;

Hackney has done pretty well for cycling over the years without specific infrastructure, other than short links and park routes - Goldsmiths Row shows what can be done when a street coincides with a strong desire line. In many ways this shows that most of the time, cycling can be made great by removing through traffic (which is international best practice. However, a full network needs to provide for people on main roads and at last Wick Road and Queensbridge Road is starting to address this. What is clear though, is signalised junctions are a problem which are not being tackled yet and as a general point, there needs to be a more forceful exchange of views with TfL Buses because we really don't need 6.5m wide carriageways.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

#LDNCycleSafari: Nicer Neighbourhoods

After a few solo infrastructure safari rides during lockdown, it was nice to get out and meet an actual person to share the kerbnerdery with. So a big hat tip to Hackney Cyclist for giving me a little tour of what's new (and newish) in Hackney and just over the border in Tower Hamlets.

This week, I'm going to concentrate on places which are being created through filtered permeability. For those who don't know, filtered permeability is a catch-all term for measures deployed to manage access to or through an area using physical measures, traffic cameras and/ or traffic signs (called "modal filters". A general blog post on the subject can be found here.

The Skew Bridge (over the Hertford Union Canal) on Old Ford Road has been closed to motor traffic on both sides as part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets' Covid response. The bridge has very narrow footways and a narrow carriageway making social distancing impossible;

The council has installed a filter on each side of the bridge (where there are no premises) to create an area people can safety walk and cycle;

The photograph above is of the filter on the western side of the bridge which comprises of simple timber planters with trees and some traffic signage. The planters and the area around have been decorated by the Tactical Urbanistas, who have added some fun to the street;

Although this is a Covid response, the scheme is actually part of the Bow Liveable Neighbourhood project which seeks to remove through motor traffic from the area and back on the strategic road network and which is currently in formal public consultation following a process of public engagement which has seen the community put forward ideas. 

The strategic road network includes the A12, which is essentially an urban motorway here and the A11 which carries Cycle Superhighway 2 and so the Bow scheme will actually make it easier to cycle to the A11 for people with longer cycling trips.

According to the council, 49% of motor traffic in the neighbourhood is passing through without stopping and so with various closures to motor vehicles (with some bus gates), the aim is to give the neighbourhood back to the people who live there, rather than accommodate the people who drive through and make no contribution (and who take from the community in terms of road danger and pollution etc). Here's a little video of the filter (link);

To the west is another one of Tower Hamlets' Liveable Neighbourhood schemes, but this one for the Bethnal Green area has already been through the engagement and consultation process and is on site being constructed. We had a look at Old Bethnal Green Road on which a modal filter is being constructed to the west of Temple Street;

We chatted with the contractor who said that this scheme was a little ahead of schedule. It's hard to see what the final layout will look like, but from what we saw, it's going to have trees, cycle tracks and what looks like an emergency access.

Across the border into Hackney and we have Broadway Market. There is an actual market held on Saturdays for which infrastructure is in place in terms of removable bollards and a gate, whereas normally, the street is open to all traffic and is full of parking bays. As a Covid response, the street is currently closed to motor traffic and the space is given over to people to walk and cycle as well as providing more seating space and areas people can socially distance while queuing to get into the shops.

What was great about spending a little time in the street was that it was clear how people cycling modify their behaviour around people walking, especially as there is a parallel route for those who want to make progress. The end of my video is a sped up glimpse of how the street is working.

The arrangement for the street is in until October, but I really hope the council have some longer term plans because something like the current arrangement would be really transformative. The best thing of course, is that this filter didn't cost very much because the traffic management infrastructure was already in place!

Next is a quick look at The Narrow Way at the northern end of Mare Street in Hackney. It's a pedestrianised street which allows cycling in both directions at all times (pedestrian and cycle zone), with loading permitted between 6pm and 10am (daily) with access for deliveries being in one direction only (north to south);

It's a nice looking street with its Dutch clay paving, seating and tree planting and if you look closely, you'll see the street lighting on catenary wires. There isn't a clear cycling (or delivery traffic) route though the space as such, but maybe a hint with the way the seating and planting has been arranged (there will be a fire path kept clear of street features). 

Access from the south is a total nightmare from the main part of the A107 Mare Street where people cycling get to mix with buses and HGVs and pedestrian desire lines are poorly accommodated. At the northern end, there is a toucan crossing over the A107 Dalston Lane into the partially filtered Clarence Road.

What is amazing about The Narrow Way is that the current layout is only a few years old. It was a pedestrian zone previously, but buses used it in the southbound direction and so it wasn't really a place to walk;

In 2013, buses were rerouted from the street on a temporary basis and the impact to services were not adversely affected. This led to an interim layout where buses were permanently removed and temporary street art was used to activate the space in advance of the scheme we see today. Here's a video of the street, including the awful access from the south;

Finally this week, one final filter which is another in response to Covid. It's a "point" treatment which allows motor traffic to pass through in one direction only while maintaining two-way for cycle traffic. Just inside the Hackney border, the filter at the eastern end of Gore Road is designed to reduce through traffic in the area and to give people more space;

It's a simple arrangement of planters and traffic signs which shows just how simple and straight-forward this type of thing can be.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Sustainable Safety - An Introduction

A few months back, I wrote about how Vision Zero became mainstream in Sweden. This week, I want to introduce another road safety approach. This one has been put into action just across the North Sea - the Dutch Sustainable Safety approach.

While the Swedish approach had tended to concentrate on drivers and motor vehicles (developing to include those outside of vehicles more recently), the Dutch approach to Sustainable Safety is more developed and encompassing that the Swedish approach. Please note that this post is my understanding and if you know better or disagree, please do comment.

"Sustainable Safety" is probably an odd name because I'd imagine many people would be thinking about it being environmentally friendly. There is a link, but it has nothing to do with the natural environment. The 1987 Brundtland Report ”Our Sustainable Futures” defined sustainable development as;

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

The use of "sustainable" in "sustainable safety" is therefore describing the designing out of road safety problems today so that users aren’t exposed to the same problems in the future. This applies equally to new schemes as well as retrofitting existing streets and roads.

The road traffic system is inherently unsafe: the design of the current system is such that it causes accidents and serious injuries. The inherent road unsafety and the fact that this notion should be the starting point for improving safety is inspired mainly by developments in other sectors, such as aviation and the process industry, where this awareness had dawned much earlier. In short: Sustainable Safety replaces the accepted curative approach to unsafe locations by a proactive and preventive approach.

In fact, the manual can be downloaded from Road Safety for All website (first link). Lots of people talk about the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, but the road safety manual really gets under the skin of the Dutch approach. You'll see familiar topics such as infrastructure, vehicle design, education and enforcement.

The original vision for sustainable safety was published in 1992 which surprised me given I had read about things like De Kindermoord and the oil crisis from the 1970s. This film by Mark Wagenbuur sets the scene in explaining the fall and rise of Dutch cycling and the modern push for infrastructure in the 1970s. Sustainable safety as an approach was already being implemented so maybe the vision can be seen as a consolidation of the 20 years of learning that had already taken place.

The origin was quite similar to Vision Zero in that it was about looking at what went wrong, changing it and if collisions did occur, that their severity would be reduced. The third version of the vision covers 2018 to 2030 and sets out the five principles of sustainable safety;
  • Functionality of roads,
  • Bio(mechanics): minimising differences in speed, direction, mass and size whilst maximising protection for the road user,
  • Psychologics: aligning the design of the road traffic environment and road user competencies,
  • Effectively allocating responsibility,
  • Learning and innovating in the traffic system
The first three are design principles and the last two are organisational principles. 

Functionality seeks to design road sections and intersections which only have one function for all modes of transport (also called mono-functionality), either a traffic flow function or an exchange function. Traffic flow is as you'd expect, but "exchange" is simply about stuff happening such as junctions, parking, crossing the street etc. It has parallels with the UK "movement" and "place" approach, except the Dutch actually decide what a road or a street is for rather than the often seen UK fudge of trying to accommodate all functions and failing.

Functionality has seen the Dutch highway system stratified into three types of highway;
  • Through roads which perform a movement function along roads and through intersections;
  • Distributor roads which perform a movement function along roads, but an exchange function at intersections;
  • Access roads which perform an exchange function along roads and intersections.
Through roads are motorways and large roads (such as trunk roads and arterials) which are developed to provide a movement function without exchange. Motorways can technically be looked at as a separate class of road, although sometimes of course, cycle tracks cross motorways or run parallel to them to cross barriers such as rivers. Some large roads carry enough traffic to be through roads and so the provision of walking and cycling infrastructure will be to a high standard of protection.

Where they share the same space, they will often be grade separated such as in the photograph below where the cycle track is taken under the large grade separated junction ahead.

Distributor roads connect through roads to access roads. They can have walking and cycling provision, but it must be separated from motor traffic. When exchanges need to happen, then these will usually be at intersections. An intersection type can take all sorts of forms such as traffic signals, roundabouts or even the wonderfully named "voorrangsplein" or "priority square". The photograph below is an urban signalised crossroads on a distributor road.

The difference between distributors and through roads can sometimes be difficult to see and things can change over time. The photograph above is on an arterial route into Amsterdam but it doesn't traverse the city and so it's not providing a through function. There are side streets accessing this road directly and it connects to other distributors at signalised junctions; it also carries tram and bus routes. The important thing, however is that the volume and speed of traffic is such that people walking and cycling are protected. Roads can of course change type along their length as uses and needs change.

Access roads have everything going on. They are where people live and they may have local shops and services. There may be a footway provided for walking, but they don't have specific cycling infrastructure. The photograph below is an access road. People can park, they cross the road, there might be deliveries going on - it's clearly a place intended for people rather than through traffic.

Access roads can be created by retrofitting modal filters and by the use of local one-way systems so that the only people needing to take a motor vehicle into them either live there or are visiting for a specific reason. The photograph below shows a simple modal filter.

It's also common to find access roads running in parallel to the other two types of roads with managed connections. This can be seen in built up areas where there is a local parade of shops which allows the exchange activity to be conducted off the main road or in rural areas where the access road provides utility for farmers and cycle routes where traffic volumes are low.

The Dutch have a national policy approach to classify each road or street within this framework and to deploy a strategy to get there if conditions don't already dictate the type. It's a network-level issue because in general, there is a hierarchy to follow. For example, access roads should not connect to through roads and if they do, then there will be a long term plan to unravel the network to change this. 

It's also worth mentioning that this is primarily looking at how motor traffic is managed and so walking and cycling networks will be developed separately with the road classification issue coming into play where there are exchanges. It's also why a main cycle route may be developed on access streets because it allows cycle traffic to dominate traffic, the latter simply being allow access. Sustainable safety still applies, however, because there is a speed differential between people walking and cycling - if there's no footways, then street isn't suitable for a main cycle route.

The Road Safety Manual has a table which provides a rule of thumb for the difference in motor traffic flows for the road types. It is not intended to be a specific measure, just a way of getting an initial feel for the situation;

It's worth considering the fact that some locations can have high flows at peak times which might require other design decisions. It could be that a through road has a high proportion of local traffic and for through traffic, there is a parallel route which is better suited to take it. Engineering controls at a network level could therefore be used to change the road from a through road to a distributor road.

Where a road or a street cannot be classified at the network level or if the intended use isn't reflected by the design, then it will be designated a "grey road". This is recognition that it's not possible to do everything at once, although there will often be interim measures deployed aimed at protecting the most vulnerable person in the system. This tends to be an urban issue where there is a flow function competing with an access function and where there isn't space at the moment to provide protection to become a proper distributor. 

The street may access road in the future because of network changes elsewhere or by some significant redevelopment, but until this happens, measures are deployed to provide protection. So you may see measures deployed to make the street look and feel less attractive as a distributor with a lower speed limit and cycle lanes. 

The photograph below is of a distributor road on the edge of Kloosterzande where the use of cycle lanes only occurs within the town limits where the speed limit is reduced to 50km/h. This has been mis-applied in the UK on roads which are far too busy for mixing, but works here because the wider network approach means this is a relatively quiet street by UK standards (the town is bypassed). There is a tension between the road providing a connection function with the exchange function of an access road. Grey roads are very tricky to deal with and local context is very important.

Bio(mechanics) is about how the human body is affected by a collision and through road and street design to develop a layout which recognises this. The following is a summary of how this looks;

In other words, for each condition, this is the maximum traffic speed appropriate in terms of surviveability if there were a collision. The 50km/h (31mph) speed is interesting because it essentially requires people walking and cycling to be separate from people driving and it's the default Dutch urban speed limit. It also suggests that the road could be a distributor road (non-motorway). The 130km/h (81mph) speed limit is the motorway limit, although in places it's lowered for road layout, congestion or weather reasons.

The other implication of biomechanics is that we generally need to separate walking and cycling space because of the risk which people cycling at any reasonable speed create for people walking. This is a simplified explanation because there are subtleties between urban and rural places, but the principle of separation where speed differentials are high and integration when they are low is a fair summary. Throw traffic flow into the mix and you can see where decisions need to be made.

Psychologics is about is about ensuring that road layouts align with the general competencies of the road user, that they are ”self-explaining”, consistent and that people can adjust their behaviour depending on the prevailing conditions, especially older people. It does include an element of training people and potentially vehicle technology such as intelligent speed assistance.

For example a wide, multi-lane road suggests to someone driving that they can drive quickly, regardless of the posted speed limit or a narrow, confined layout with access for parking, trees and other street features is a place to drive slowly, regardless of the speed limit. 

Here's a UK example (below). This street is 14.9m wide with a 9m wide carriageway tells drivers that this is somewhere where they can drive fast, despite the 30mph speed limit and that non-motorised users will only be people walking, keeping to the footways. The fact that there are houses on both sides is almost lost on the user.

The Dutch street below is roughly the same width, but the carriageway of around 5.5m with cycle tracks on each side tells a different story. In terms network of hierarchy, the UK street should be an access road and the Dutch street is a distributor road. Of course, if we decided that the UK street should also be a distributor road then under sustainable safety, we'd be providing cycle tracks and other features to protect walking and cycling. It all depends on how the network has been thought about and classified.

So we use a street layout to explain to drivers what to expect and we then ensure that all streets of a similar function look broadly similar so that an access road looks like one and a through road looks like one; no matter where we encounter them. The comment about older people is one where we should expect our reactions to be worse as we get older.

Responsibility ultimately sits with decision makers and designers - the people responsible for the road system and the same people responsible for making sure it is safe. It's a concept which should shame many in the UK, especially people who design a road to "standards" and then blame user for crashing. The Dutch approach states that ultimately, it is the national government which has overall responsibility for a casualty-free road system.

The UK approach tends to leave it up to local highway authorities and that is why we don't have decent national standards for highway design (other than for trunk roads and motorways). I think it is a stark comparison and suggests that at a national level, the UK only values people who drive on motorways and trunk roads.

Of course, individual responsibility to behave correctly is part of the equation, but even here, the planners and designers of the system are responsible for ensuring that layouts are forgiving and that people getting things wrong shouldn't die; or people shouldn't die from others getting it wrong. 

Vehicle manufacturers have responsibility for the safety of their vehicles and indeed the idea of responsibility extends into social responsibility. For example, a pub chain should discourage patrons from drink driving (maybe even walking and cycling when drunk) by offering alternatives to alcohol (dare I say by making soft drinks much cheaper). Employers promote safe behaviours through staff development and company culture.

Learning and innovating is around the continuous improvement of organisations and professionals. The sustainable safety approach uses the Deming Cycle of "plan, do, check, act". The process is described as follows;

"It starts with the development of effective and preventive system innovations based on knowledge of causes of crashes and hazards (Plan). By implementing these innovations (Do), by monitoring their effectiveness (Check) and by making the necessary adjustments (Act), system innovation ultimately results in fewer crashes and casualties."

The Dutch investigate all road crashes where someone has died in order to learn lessons and where possible, extend this to crashes where someone has been seriously injured. It includes looking at data for trends or commonalities which can include the road layout, vehicle defects, behaviours or any other relevant issue. The objective is to learn rather than blame.

The dissemination of good practice is vital as well as embedding good practice into organisations so it becomes a core part of "business as usual" for everyone rather than relying on key individuals. This extends to municipalities, consultants, motor manufacturers and indeed anyone who influences the system.

Sustainable safety is a fascinating approach and the more you read about it, the more you can see its benefits. You can also see how badly the UK approaches the management of its roads and streets. The Netherlands and the UK have both built an extensive road network, including the bypassing of villages, towns and cities, but we then diverge. The Dutch have capitalised on this by redesigning their places for people whereas the UK largely hasn't.

The foundations of sustainable safety do have roots in the development and expansion of roads for motorisation and with the decisions on what each road is for. To some extent, it remains an approach coming from a driving point of view. It's probably not a surprise that the country has developed separate cycling and driving networks which just happen to coincide from time to time.

The lesson the UK can take from this is that we should be thinking about our highway networks first before we make changes whereas we often just look at a street or route in isolation. It is a concept which is at the heart of low traffic neighbourhoods where it is no longer acceptable to have local streets performing a distributor or through road function. 

Equally, it forces us to think about those main roads in terms of protecting people walking and cycling. It also shows how difficult it is to deal with high streets because if we want to maintain the flow function, there are implications for how the street looks and feels; plus how easy it is to cross. In many cases, the thing that has to give way in my view is on-street parking, but that's another discussion!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

#LDNCycleSafari Goes Solo: Lea Bridge Road - 400th Post!

Another milestone as the blog I started in November 2012 has reached 400 posts! What could be more fitting than a look at Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest?

I hit my 300th post in August 2018 where I paused for thought and asked "where next?" Well, the blog has had over 660,000 hits which means people are still reading it which is good! I still don't think the UK has any clear transport strategy, but at least we're getting some change at the local and devolved government levels. 

Since I wrote my 300th post, I've left local government and I'm now working as a consultant specialising in walking and cycling design. This blog has turned into a long-term piece of continuing professional development for me. Without it and the conversations it has created, I simply wouldn't be where I am today. You have my sincere thanks for sticking with me. I should also give a shout out to my most popular post of all time which is still Kerb Your Enthusiasm. Clearly, there is an army of kerb nerds out there.

In my head, I have an idea of getting to 500 posts and then maybe doing something else, because a weekly blog does sometimes take a great deal of time and effort, but that's nearly two-years away and let's think about the now. It's very fitting to look at Lea Bridge Road, because as I wrote in my "five years of blogging" post in 2017, one of the inspirations for this blog was "Crap Cycling & Walking In Waltham Forest"; the place has changed beyond all recognition.

I left you last week at the Whipps Cross junction which is at the eastern end of Lea Bridge Road and in my film, I was cycling west away from the junction on a one-way cycle track which is the approach from the main part of the street; I say street because we are moving from the "road" territory of Whipps Cross into a place where people live, go shopping, go to work and basically get about. 

I essentially cycled just over 3km to the junction with Argall Way/ Orient Way and then headed back east on the other side with occasional stops to look at different design features. In fact, it was such a joy to cycle, I had to remember to stop to look around, although I have the whole thing on video (there's a link at the end of this post).

By way of a recap, I'll start at the junction with Wood Street which is where westbound cycle traffic coming from Whipps Cross Road needs to cross Lea Bridge Road to continue west. As you can see in the photograph below, those leaving the crossing have priority to get out of the road.

The A104 Lea Bridge Road forms Cycleway 23 which runs from Whipps Cross to the boundary with Hackney. Lea Bridge Road carries on into Hackney. The westbound cycle track is proposed to continue to the Lea Bridge Roundabout and the eastbound cycle track will connect with an improved cycleway along the edge of Millfields Park. I've no idea what's happening to this, although the consultation ended in December 2019. 

Lea Bridge Road is also one of those streets that we struggle with in the UK. It is an A-road so performs an important movement function, it carries lots of bus traffic, but it's a place where many people live, it has lots of shopping parades as well as local centres and it is a connector to lots of residential streets on either side. It is therefore a very challenging place to change.

Anyway, back to my cycle along the new layout. The footway is stepped above the cycle track and along this section, it is Danish-style with no buffer between the cycle track and the carriageway. The prevailing speed limit for general traffic is 20mph. Personally, I prefer one-way tracks for the simple reason that people need to stop and visit places; 2-way tracks on one side of the street make this more difficult.

The first minor junction is with Halford Road. Just before the junction, the cycle track narrows and it drops slightly at across the junction, but it's continuous as is the footway. The use of elephant feet markings across the junction is unlawful (they are reserved for signalised situations and parallel zebra crossings), but despite the cycle track being continuous, they have been used by Waltham Forest to further give a sense of priority. I would prefer an Entrance Kerb solution, but this style has been adopted across the borough for some years now, so presumably the designers have undertaken an assessment and made this decision (and it seems to work OK!)

Halford Road is 2-way, but it's a no through route for motor traffic and this means that the junction can be dominated by people walking and cycling. This theme will come up along the whole route.

The first signalised junction is with West End Avenue/ Eastern Road which has been redesigned for cycling. The cycle track remains narrow because a right turn lane has been provided for motor traffic. Eastern Road is a bus route and so this will be a compromise for bus reliability. It is all rather squeezed and a bit annoying; but perfectly usable, despite having to press a button to cross (this should have been set well back from the stop line).

Left turns onto West End Avenue are not permitted, so if you lived there, you would need to turn left at the next junction and enter from the other end of the street through a modal filter (officially). Most people will just be careful and turn left anyway.

There is a parallel signalised crossing a little further on which allows people cycling to make a U-turn to access to the area to the north via a modal filter at Western Road. In other words where there are compromises because of motor traffic capacity, there's generally a separate cycle network solution to compensate. It's not perfect but in London, there is a push to ensure that buses are not affected and we see some of this along Lea Bridge Road.

Of course, if only we could significantly reduce motor traffic overall, then there's a chance to go back and reclaim more space. This is, I'm afraid, the reality of these projects and I know there are people who expect utopia, we are very much getting beyond the chicken and egg stage here - we need to give a good quality alternative to driving in order to get traffic down and Waltham Forest has created that opportunity.

A little further west, there's another parallel signalised crossing (below) which provides permeability to more areas which are accessed by car the long way round. I think this is a little squeezed in and lacking height change between walking and cycling space. This also shows another criticism I have and that's the almost complete lack of radius kerbs on the route - you'll see some bus stop bypasses which have angles with the change in direction later rather than smooth curves - it does create the risk that people will catch these corners with their wheels and it's harder to navigate on three or more wheels.

Below shows some retained car parking outside a parade of shops. The space for the cycle tracks has been claimed from the previous hatched centre marking and a very narrow section of the wide footway (the gully would have been at the old carriageway edge). I have seen comments complaining about loss of footway space for the cycle track. It's slightly disingenuous because the compromise is the retention of parking which in turn is to appease those convinced it is needed. 

Again, though, some compromise has meant the scheme is built and this can be revisited. The parking is short term and paid for and ends at a loading bay. You can just see the bus stop in the distance here the cycle track passes behind the waiting area.

The buffer of light paving blocks is another detail which is often seen along Lea Bridge Road and it's designed to push people cycling out of the "dooring zone" where people get out of their cars (but it's at the same level as the cycle track). The photograph below is another compromised situation where the asphalt of the cycle track is down to 1.1 metres wide and the footway and cycle track are on the same level. The layout has swapped a cycle lane in the driver door zone for a cycle track in the passenger door zone.

Soon after the parade of shops, the cycle track is a little wider and there's a section where everything has been squeezed in, but it works OK. You'll see more in my film linked to at the end.

Beyond the Hoe Street/ High Road Leyton junction, we can breathe out because the cycle track is wider. A bit further on and we're running next to a bus lane.

The next major junction is with Markhouse Road/ Church Road. It's a Dutch-style signalised junction where cycle traffic has free left turns from all directions, cycle traffic proceeds around the junction orbitally in a clockwise direction, pedestrian crossing points are floating and people walking and cycling proceed together on an all-round green stage (the Markhouse Lane arm has a little bit of shared space).

The photograph below is the junction with Seymour Road which is one-way for motor traffic into it which creates a part of another set of filtered one-way streets. Unfortunately the streets are not 2-way for cycle traffic, but that could be easily changed. Here we see the continuous footway and cycle track treatment and in this case, there is a buffer to the right of the cycle track having just passed a bus stop. 

I'm aware that there have been concerns raised by visually impaired people on the lack of tactile paving on each side of these continuous footways. On the one hand, it's a standard treatment in many countries, but on the other hand, people are asking for some pretty basic help and the layout makes the addition of tactile paving simple without detracting from the continuous principles. The woman in the pink coat is chatting away on her mobile phone which is a great demonstration of how safe cycling feels here.

The extent of my westbound cycle ended at the junction with Orient Way/ Argall Way which is another Dutch-style junction, although the cycle crossings are two-way because of how they connect to some of the approaching cycle tracks. The woman on her phone continued to feel safe!

I U-turned at the junction, which I could easily do in one green-stage which means right turns are a doddle in one go. I headed back east. For this part of the trip I actually stopped a little more to look at other features after having got into the flow of cycling westbound without stopping enough!

The photograph above shows a bus stop just east of the Orient Way junction and it's similar to many along the route. The cycling area is squeezed by the creation of a "bus stop boarder" which is essentially somewhere for people to step on when they board or alight from the bus. You'll see that in the carriageway there are two traffic lanes which head towards the junction and the bus stop is in a partial layby to allow drivers to overtake buses (preventing queues back into the junction). I can certainly understand why some people will be unhappy with it, but it is very much a compromise from maintaining traffic capacity and that's where the complaints should lie.

The photograph about is at Sanderstead Road looking back at Lea Bridge Road. It another example of thought having been given at the network level which means that in general if all movements of cycle traffic cannot be met at a signalised junction because of motor traffic capacity, there is an alternative. Those riding through the area won't notice this subtlety, but locals will soon create a new mental map in their minds.

This is a real-world application of the Dutch Sustainable Safety principles and it shows that we don't actually need cycling infrastructure everywhere (noting of course that most of this is actually motoring infrastructure). In this case, the real work is being done by the three bollards and the place where I took the photograph from is quiet and so safe to walk and cycling in. Lea Bridge Road still has plenty of motor traffic and so people walking and cycling need protecting.

Here's another filter at Avondale Road (above). It's a bit constrained, but my guess is that this is to encourage people cycling to proceed slowly and the use of tactile paving suggests to me that as it's within a shopping parade, footfall is higher and so this helps visually impaired people. The lack of radius kerbs is yet again a bit annoying.

At little further east and I was back at the junction with Hoe Street/ High Road Leyton. The photograph above is the north side at Hoe Street and for reasons I cannot understand, the cycle route on this corner is picked out in a subtle change of paving. It simply doesn't work. I also couldn't tell if people cycling can access Hoe Street. Perhaps as we've seen before, people cycling will make use of a different route to bypass the junction.

The photograph above is Western Road which runs parallel to Eastern Road which I described earlier. So here's the evidence that we have a separate cycling network here (with a crossing of Lea Bridge Road) to get around the problem of space at the Eastern Road junction.

The photograph below is an example of the bus stop boarder in action here. First, I was watching people get on the bus from the buffer area.

Then, I saw this man cycle through (below). The bus shelter and bus stopping position means people are generally facing traffic. The buffer area is only used for immediate boarding/ alighting rather than waiting and potential conflict remains transient. There probably is a little more space to be grabbed here, but this means getting down to 3 metre wide traffic lanes which in my experience is resisted by TfL Buses.

The last photograph to share with you is Whitney Road where yet another modal filter has been installed, but beyond that, a beautiful pocket park has been created. Yes, a handful of bollards would have done the traffic management job, but it's these little surprises which are found throughout the area which add to the joy of cycling around.

I've pointed some issues and compromises within the Lea Bridge Road scheme, but the powerful thing is that there is nothing which is a critical problem. There may be a few things that need adjusting, but what Waltham Forest has achieved is breathtaking. They have created a fully functioning cycling spine route over 3km in length across a whole section of the borough which is pretty much boundary to boundary. To this spine, they have connected countless residential streets and intersections of routes running north-south - in short, a functioning cycling grid.

I don't know anywhere in the UK which has undergone such a transformation and it allows local people to make short trips by cycle, it has improved the walking experience with additional crossings as well as the filtered streets and it has the potential to allow people to access jobs and services beyond the borough boundary.

People often say the Dutch have gone through steps to get where they are today and that we should simply avoid the early steps to copy them. This is easier said than done because until we give people alternative transport choices they cannot change but people won't change overnight and so they will keep using cars - you'll see glimpses of this in my film with lots of parking in side streets. There are hints of behind the scenes discussions between TfL's bus and signals teams as well as having to reasonable keep traders on-side even though we know they overstate the need for parking.

In the long term, people will be able to give up cars and over time this will allow more space in the side streets to be given back to people and as traffic volumes decreases on Lea Bridge Road, then there's the chance to go back in with small schemes to widen cycle tracks or to convert parking spaces to pocket parks. I really hope Waltham Forest can carry on with its amazing transformation. What a treat for my 400th post!

I'll leave you this week with a film of my visit.