Sunday, 21 May 2023

Cycle Streets

I have spoken about cycle streets at the Active Travel Cafe, but it's a subject I think is worth exploring long hand in a blog post.

In fact, there are quite a few subjects I have spoken about there which I will write up here in due course, but let's start with cycle streets. The first question is of course what are they, and to answer this the best source of a definition is the Dutch Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic:

Bicycle street is a functional concept. It is a residential road for motorized traffic that forms part of the main cycle network or bicycle highway, and which is identifiable due to its design and layout, but has a limited volume of car traffic and that car traffic is subordinate to the bicycle traffic.

A blue traffic sign. An image of a red car sits behind a white person cycling to show the cyclist with priority. There is a no through road "T" sign above.

A Dutch bicycle street sign - cars are guests

If we want to pull this together into some key design principles, then a cycle street should be;
  • A main cycle route,
  • Residential (the Dutch do sometimes use them in city centres),
  • Where through motor traffic has been removed,
  • An obvious section of a main cycle route,
  • Where cycle traffic flow is much higher than motor traffic.
In addition, the cycle street's importance as a cycle route should be evident to all users and it should be designed and constructed to a high quality. 

Cycle streets should also be designed so the cycle route has priority, and in the Netherlands this means local right of way rules are changed. In the UK context, this isn't so much of an issue, but priority is more than painting a give way line, it should be design priority which is self-explaining.

What we are trying to achieve as we always should be for cycling networks, is a cycle street that is coherent, direct, comfortable, safe and attractive. In delivering to those five requirements, the Dutch guidance pulls together some important considerations.
  • 30 kp/h (20 mph) speed limit,
  • Residential within or outside of built up areas (e.g. villages),
  • One or two-way for general traffic,
  • Cycle flows are greater than or equal to car flows,
  • Cycle flows are greater than or equal to 1,000 cycles/ 24 hours and/ or if car flows less than 2,500 PCU/ 24 hours,
  • If cycle flows are double that of car flows, then car flows must be less than 2,500 PCU/ 24 hours.
This essentially places an upper limit of 2,500 vehicles per day expressed as Passenger Car Units which weights for larger vehicles. If we want to convert this to a peak hour flow then broadly this might be between 10% and 15% - I say might, because this can vary by location. Essentially this is a maximum peak hour flow of 375 vehicles/ hour which could still feel quite high to some people and so the aim is to get those flows as low as we can.

Another important point to reiterate is a cycle street will be part of a main cycle route which means the approach needs to be appropriately deployed and so we must also be wary of creating what might appear to residents as rat runs for cycles. Although we aren't creating noise and air pollution problems, there is a risk that we make a street harder to cross. This is why we need networks and not sparse routes so that even cycle flows aren't heavily concentrated in one place.

A street with a no through road T-sign and a large blue cycle street logo painted on the road surface.

We'll come back to some examples shortly. There is nothing to stop us using this technique if we follow the principles. Let's pause a second though. The photograph at the start had a Dutch bicycle street traffic sign. In fact it has no legal standing in the Netherlands and so the design response is far more important than a sign. The photograph above is Sch├╝tzenallee, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany which does have legal standing as a cycle street that features a whole list of requirements including having regard for the needs of motor traffic.

Sch├╝tzenallee is a short cul-de-sac which has bollards creating a filter, but apart from traffic signs and large blue blocks of colour on the ground, there really isn't much in the way of the design led approach that is key to the Dutch experience. The UK can and should go the design route rather than the rules route because if traffic signs worked, we'd have no problems with drivers speeding.

A drawing of a street running left to right. There is a red road with grey footways. The road is shown to be 5 metres wide and the junctions are designed to slow drivers.

In terms of actual guidance, the UK experience varies. In Cycling by Design, Scotland has some level of detail which is inspired by Dutch practice (which we'll look at shortly). Page 91 provides the helpful sketch I've reproduced above and it states;

Where cycle volumes are expected to be high on mixed use streets, consideration should be given to the creation of a ‘cycle street’. The purpose of a cycle street is to convey a sense of cycle user priority within a mixed street environment and for motor traffic to be treated as ‘guests’ within this environment.

It also pulls out some key points which echoes the Dutch approach;
  • Cycle traffic volumes are expected to be higher than motor traffic volumes,
  • The street forms a key part of the wider cycle network and is expected to maintain high cycle volumes over time,
  • The street does not form a through-route for motor traffic and is expected to maintain low motor traffic volumes and speeds over time. 
It falls short of putting any numbers forward. On the one hand, prescription can lead to designers deciding not to take something forward if they feel a target can't be met (traffic flow in this case). On the other hand, not having some sort of numerical guidance risks specifying a treatment where it's not appropriate.

Wales does better in the Active Travel Act Guidance, where in Section 9.2.2. it states;

In areas where separation from motor traffic is unfeasible, it may be possible to improve conditions by removal of through traffic along the route or other appropriate traffic calming means, such as via modal filters, quiet street or cycle street provision (see Appendix G, Design Elements DE205 & DE206). 

This can be particularly beneficial for residential areas where access by motor vehicle is still required (e.g. for residents, emergency vehicles and refuse vehicles).  

A plan of a street with a road separated by directions by a strip that can be driven over. There is a footway on both sides. At the top, there is a cross section.

More detail is given in Section 11.10 and drawing DE206 (above);

A cycle street is a quiet street which also serves as a primary cycle route. To succeed it should carry low volumes of motor traffic (under 2,500 AADT), and high volumes of cycling that significantly exceed motor traffic levels, to provide cyclists with a level of comfort comparable to that provided by a traffic free route.

The Welsh guidance also specifically separates the cycle street concept from what might just be a quiet street which is an important distinction as the latter won't be part of the main cycle network.

England is served poorly in guidance terms. Local Transport Note 1/95 Cycle Infrastructure Design in Section 14.3.27. misses the point somewhat:

Although the minor street network should all provide good cycling conditions it may be appropriate to designate some streets as important cycle routes, for example those which lead directly to an off-highway route through a green space. These ‘cycle streets’ could be indicated through changes in paving material, planting or other design changes so that they are understood as being principally for cycling.

Part of a table showing 2000 vehicles an hour at 20mph is appropriate for mixing cycling and traffic.

In theory a green space might be useful, but from a personal safety point of view it's unlikely to be somewhere where everyone would feel safe at all times of the day and year. 

As we will see, design elements are important, but LTN1/20 seems pretty dismissive of what is a very useful technique. It is work looking at Table 4.1 of LTN1/20 however, because this does give us guidance on the conditions where most people will mix with traffic and that's a maximum threshold of 2,000 PCU at 20mph (see the extract above) and is 300 vehicles an hour at peak.

Between the three main pieces of UK guidance we can almost piece together the components we need to design cycle streets, but as you'd expect, the Dutch go into more detail which we'll now look more closely, referring again to their guidance which has three cycle street typologies.

A narrow road with parking left and houses right beyond a footway. There is a canal to the right of the parking.

First is "mixed profile" as can be seen above at Hoekweg, Voorburg (on the edge of Den Haag) which is one-way for motors. The design features given in section V12 of the Dutch guidance are;
  • Asphalt or concrete surface, 
  • 4.5m wide to allow opposing flows or side by side cyclists to pass each other,
  • Car parking off carriageway with a 0.5m buffer to the cycle space,
  • Can have humps.

A red road with narrow black edge strips. There are trees left and right and a property wall to the right too.

Second is "cyclists in the middle of the carriageway" as can be seen above at Verlengde Kerkeboslaan, Wassenaar which is two-way for traffic. It connects a pair of cycle tracks with the route passing through the edge of a very low density residential development. 

The streets in the development are block paved, but the cycle street has smooth red asphalt making it clear that it is the cycle route. It is important to note that the strips at the sides are not cycle lanes, it is intended that people cycle to the left of them. The design features given in section V13 of the Dutch guidance are;
  • Carriageway to to be red asphalt or concrete surface, 3m to 3.5m wide.
  • Edge strips, 0.5m to 0.75m. Block paved preferred, black or grey.
  • Car parking off carriageway with a 0.5m buffer to the cycle space.
  • Side strips can be added.
  • Can have humps.

A narrow street with houses both sides. The red road has a wide grey stripe in the middle. Cycle parking is to the right. There is a no entry except cycles sign.

The third is "carriageway separation and cyclists at the sides" as can be seen above at Havenstraat, Delft which is one-way for traffic. This design uses a central strip to create a pair of narrow strips which encourage cycling in the centre of each of them. The design features given in section V14 of the Dutch guidance are;
  • Cycle lane to to be red asphalt or concrete surface, at least 2m wide.
  • Central strip can be ridden on and 0.8 to 1.5m wide.
  • Car parking off carriageway with a 0.5m buffer to the cycle space.
  • Side strips can be added.
  • Can have humps.
When cycle streets are used as part of a cycle network one can see the Dutch principle of "mix where possible; separate where necessary" in action. In the places I've cycled, cycle streets are just part of the changing scenery as one cycles between places on routes which will also have cycle tracks on main roads and which will also pass through residential streets, but where the route itself is seamless.

A street with flats to the left and a canal to the right. A red road is blocked to traffic by bollards that people can cycle through.

What is clear, is modal filters are very important such as above on Cromvlietkade which is the border between Rijswijk and Den Haag - the filter is the border! This is one of the main cycle routes between Leiden and den Haag. The main road feeding this street from the south only has painted (mandatory cycle lanes), but the turn into the cycle street is protected. 

The cycle street part of this route passes through several modal filters before crossing a cycling (and walking) bridge over canal and which then forms a T-junction with a main two-way cycle track onto which a left turn soon brings one to the centre of Den Haag. It really shows how the motoring and cycling network are different things and how the treatments vary where they coincide.

A red road with flats left and a canal right. There are cycles parked outside the flats and barge is moored in the canal.

Above is Hooikade, Delft, where a cycle street becomes a two-way cycle track. The cycle street is a two-way cul-de-sac for drivers needing to access residential streets. Proceeding ahead takes cycle traffic up a gentle ramp to a large road forming a ring road to the city centre, whereas a right turn drops the cycle track under the ring road to provide an alternative way to access the city, complete with a direct access to Delft Station (below).

A cycle track dips under a bridge. It is next to a canal to the right and a building to the left. There is a little slip road off the cycle track into an entrance.

Below is Noordlandselaan, 's-Gravenzande (near Hoek van Holland). This cycle route follows National Road 211 to the east, but as it approaches the outskirts of the built-up area, it diverts to provide a more direct route which doubles up as a residential access road which is filtered half way along. The greenhouse in the photograph is vast and is accessed separately. The edge strips here allow drivers to safely overtake side by side cyclists.

A red road with a huge greenhouse to the left and houses to the left. People are cycling in the distance.

So, has the UK successfully deployed a cycle street? I only know of one example and that's the Taff Embankment in Cardiff which appears as a photograph in the Welsh Guidance.

A road with a light grey central strip. A car straddles the strip as the driver goes to overtake a group of cyclists. There are trees left and houses to the right.

The photograph above shows the central strip of the Dutch "carriageway separation and cyclists at the sides" (V14) approach with the strip being hard wearing light grey imprinted asphalt. So how does it shape up? On the positives;
  • National Cycle Network Route 8,
  • 20mph,
  • Cycle lane strip 2.1m wide,
  • Central strip 1m wide,
  • Layby parking,
  • Quality surface,
  • Humps (at junctions),
The areas in which it doesn't quite meet the Dutch approach are that there isn't a 0.5m buffer to the car parking, the carriageway surface colour hasn't changed (although the central strip does provide a good visual cue) and there are no edge strips (although these are optional).

A road with a wide grey strip with trees left and then parking and houses to the right.

My understanding that the "cycle street" element was a bit of an add-on to the main purpose of the project which was a surface water flooding alleviation project, so it does perform a good secondary role. I haven't been able to find traffic or cycle flow data, but I suspect motor traffic flows are still a bit high because the area hasn't quite filtered out all of the through traffic which wouldn't be difficult given the parallel A-road.

So there you have it. Cycle streets are definitely a tool for the UK as we can apply a design-led approach, but it must be noted that these are network tools and not really for the delivery of single route treatments because we need secondary networks feeding primary networks.

Sunday, 14 May 2023

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Redux Part 4 - Bendy Hamburger Floating Bus Stop Cycle Track Junction

I obviously enjoy cycling in The Netherlands, but it is always worth getting back on foot to gain other perspectives and in this post, I report on a junction in Leiden that I walked around.

My last two trips have involved cycling between places and so after a few hours in the saddle, it is nice to get off the bike to walk around. While cycling allows lots of ground to be covered at a (quick) human pace, walking allows us to pick up more detail, the nuances and sometimes the atmosphere.

The junction of Koninginnelaan with Herenstraat and Leuvenstraat isn't particularly atmospheric, but it's an interesting place to walk around and to observe. Situated in the Tuinstadwijk neighbourhood, it's just a kilometre south from the centre of Leiden, but is more suburban in nature and it's name is shared with a type of development loosely based on the "garden village".

The junction is actually a crossroads. The eastern arm is a dual carriageway with one lane in each direction with advisory cycle lanes and car parking beyond - just what we wouldn't want to see on a street like this. While it's a dual carriageway, it's more of a suburban boulevard which we can find in many places, include the UK and which has this garden village feel. 

To the west, the area is a filtered neighbourhood. South is a single carriageway road with advisory cycle lanes and parking beyond with left turn pockets within traffic islands which feels similar to the UK. North is street with a local centre feel, but which provides a direct driving route to the city centre and as such is traffic calmed, but probably more of a secondary traffic route as there are easier driving routes elsewhere.

As it stands, the eastern and southern arms are the main drag which changes from the dual to single carriageway, have zebra crossings and which also has to accommodate the quieter northern and western arms. If this were left as a bend in the road, then the two quieter roads would have awkward interfaces and left turns would be across traffic. Throw in the cycle lanes on each side, bus stops in laybys and pedestrian desire lines and we'd have quite a lot going on.

In Dutch style, the junction appears complex, but it actually breaks things down into easy bites for all users. Even before the current layout, the northern arm of Herenstraat required drivers leaving to turn right, although a gap in the central reserve opposite the eastern arm appeared to allow drivers to chance a U-turn. Cycle traffic could turn left with some protection (but not prioritised) in the centre of the road (below, from 2014, being a bit clearer than 2009. From the north looking south). Leuvenstraat did allow left turns, but these would be far fewer.

A Google Streetview image of the junction as it was with the main drag coming from the left and then going into the distance with edge cycle lanes and zebra crossings of the main roads.

I don't know if this is the original layout from when the area was built, but requiring general traffic to turn right means that the quieter streets behind have a level of filtering to make them less about through traffic. This layout objectively creates some problems for cycling on the main road where the fairly tight turn required drivers to give proper space otherwise people cycling would be "pinched", especially north going west (below).

A Google Streetview image of the junction as it was form the south looking north over a zebra crossing. A cyclist on the right bending right is at risk from drivers bending left and cutting the corner.

I've not managed to get to the bottom of it, but from reading about the junction on the sleutelstad.nl website, plans to change the junction in 2019 were controversial. Some citizens and business were concerned that changes meant further to drive because of further restrictions to where drivers could turn. It just shows that even in The Netherlands, drivers are resistant to change and businesses are concerned about changes which make driving to them more awkward which is the mode they overestimate that people use to visit them.

From what I can work out, a redesigned junction opened in stages, but for cycling in the summer of 2020. Since then, the rumblings of discontent have continued with the local residents' association complaining about an increase in collisions and near misses along with damage to cars, and apparently an independent study is being undertaken. I clearly don't know the detail and nuance of this, but there is a pattern here familiar to the UK and perhaps the real issue in part is the new layout prioritising cycling and walking over driving.

A view across the junction showing the bend with separate cycle tracks. A woman in the foreground cycles left to right.

So what does the junction look like? In common with other parts of the country and elsewhere in the Leiden municipality, there is a push to prioritise cycle traffic over motor traffic in many urban circumstances and so the junction now has a fietsrotonde or cycle roundabout anticlockwise around the outside of general traffic with the eastern and southern zebra crossings maintained. The photograph above shows the layout from south looking to the east.

A floating bus stop with a shelter on the passenger island and a mini zebra over the cycle track. There is then a separate zebra crossing of each traffic lane.

Cycling on the main south to east axis now has protected cycle tracks which removes the risk of people cycling being pinched and the bus stops have been floated which both creates space for cycle tracks and means stationary buses will hold following traffic so that there is no need for bus drivers to worry about rejoining the traffic stream. The road running through the middle of the roundabout is reminiscent of a hamburger junction.

A woman on a cargobike swings left over one of the main arms on the priority cycle track.

The other thing is being a roundabout for cycle traffic, the flows crossing the main arms are prioritised as we'd see on a complete urban roundabout with the cycle crossings having priority next to the zebra crossings (above from the north looking south).

End view of a floating bus stop showing the road and cycle lane being split by the passenger island.

The main roads still have their advisory cycle lanes, but the floating bus stops provide the place where the protection through the junction starts and ends with smooth transitions. Given junctions are where most collisions occur, it makes sense to invest there first.

View from a quiet street over ramped kerbs to the footway with the cycle track beyond and the main road beyond that.

For the minor arms, we have very familiar entrance kerb type treatments which are set up to allow people cycling to move from the mixed traffic arrangements of the quieter streets to the cycle tracks (above - view to the east from Leuvenstraat).

View of a driver stopping on a wide paved area between the cycle track behind and road ahead in a white car. A cyclist appears just left of shot.

I spent a bit of time wandering around the junction and watching how people behaved. For my mind, it seemed to be working fine with features such as the paved aprons between the quieter streets and main drag given space for drivers to pause without blocking the cycle track (above). 

The key change for the two side streets the required right turn which could lead to some people driving south and bit and then performing a three point turn to head north and then east again. The only other issue was I saw a few people turn left from Herenstraat into Leuvenstraat on the footway which is problematic given the visibility there. My guess was they were avoiding drivers turning left into Herenstraat who were moving too quickly.

So there we are. A layout which looks quite odd and complex, but which as usual breaks it all down to control how people in the three modes cross each other. When viewed through that lens, it doesn't actually look that complicated.

Saturday, 8 April 2023

Cycle Gates - A Useful Tool

There are lots of tools out there which we can use to make cycling safer and while I can understand that people would love to transform their towns overnight, I'm afraid that we will often have to go for incremental improvements, especially if we are starting from a low base.

There many are urban main roads in the UK which have left us with a legacy of motor traffic movement being prioritised. At best, pedestrians have green men crossings to negotiate the junctions but cycling has never been considered unless bolted on to pedestrian space or people left to mix with traffic. These roads have junctions running at capacity (sometimes over capacity) and so the slightest change will cause an increase in congestion which is often a politically unacceptable position.

The challenge here is how can we add protected cycling infrastructure without immediately destroying junction capacity while not giving up on the protection in the junction. We could take the purist approach and say "tough" and just put in a brilliant new layout for walking and cycling, but in the real world where there is politics at play we just might have to do something now and come back with that great scheme once we have an actual functioning cycling network.

That was a long-winded bit of scene setting for a look at what I think is an underused tool which we can use for that initial/ interim period, and that's the cycle gate. It's a subject I did look at for dealing with pinch points at bridges before, but which needs a more general airing. 

Two sets of traffic lights. The far set apply to the whole road width and are red. The nearest set have red on the right for general traffic and a green cycle signal for the left and is separated by an island.

Above is an example of a cycle gate at Bow, London, which relies on separated cycling and driving space ending at traffic signals which separately control each flow and a stop line further ahead with its own separate signals (often called the reservoir signal). Cycles get a green at the first stop line while traffic is held at its first stop line. Then the far stop line gets a green a few seconds before the first traffic stop line which allows cycles to clear the junction before drivers catch up. I also found a couple of examples down in Lambeth when I went for a mooch about last year.

The problem with the arrangement is when the traffic gets released from the first stop line (and then passes the second which has already a green signal), cycles are stopped at their first stop line which means the arrangement is going to be an "always stop" for cycles whereas in theory, general traffic can encounter a "double green" to pass through.

It's also worth remembering that traffic signals are traffic management rather than safety devices. Cycle gates are going to be safer than cycle tracks just giving up at junctions (on a like for like basis) with the risk of left hooks and difficulty in turning right addressed, but they are clearly not fully separated cycling infrastructure. They also suffer from the usual rules-based problem of they only work properly when everyone follows the rules.

Cars at a signalised junction. There are two traffic signals on the left both showing red. One is before the other. The first also shows a green cycle symbol.

At least from the bit of research I have done and from what my fellow geeks have said on Twitter (thanks Alex Ingram), it seems that cycle gates are a more modern idea, but have their roots in the mid 1980's/ early 1990's when Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) were being trialed. Barnby Gate in Newark is particularly interesting because it used to have separated traffic signals at an advanced stop line (above, from Traffic Advisory Leaflet 8/93). The blue sign in the photograph says "CYCLES when red light shows wait HERE. 

Google Streetview showing the blue sign in the text in the main post.

When you have a look on Google Streetview of the junction, this layout has gone, but there's a tantalising nugget of another sign which says "MOTOR VEHICLES when red light shows wait HERE". The sign was there in 2020, but now appears removed. 

When viewed against the original layout, this very much appears to show that the two stop lines were under separate control and the fact the first signal is showing a green cycle symbol means that cycle traffic could advance to the second stop line and it also means that second stop line could run green before the first which would have allowed cycles to be released before general traffic and be through the junction.

It's not quite a cycle gate as we know them now, because from the first sign and the use of the green cycle symbol at the first stop line, cycles were never stopped at the first signal. It is therefore more likely that this was actually an early release style arrangement which eventually ended up a standard advanced stop line which are less favoured amongst those designing high class cycling infrastructure today.

Whenever I have a dig into the archives it always seems so sad that we were starting to try different things back in those days. Imagine if we had actually developed these ideas to become commonplace. We've lost a generation to carrying on down the motor-traffic first route, but let's wind it forward again to my first photograph which is of the Bow Interchange in East London.

A road with three traffic lanes. Two going away and one coming towards the viewer. There is a large flyover to the right.

Prior to the cycle gate being installed (2008 above), there was no protection for cycling and the environment was hostile to walking and wheeling too. Then came Mayor Johnson who decided that painting blue stripes on busy roads would create the conditions where people would want to cycle. 

A view towards a slip road with the main road entering from the left. There is a blue stripe of paint across the slip road.

On the other side of the junction, a large ASL was painted in along with a nearside blue stripe which crossed a slip road and accessed an island separated cycle track (above). The approach to the ASL also had a blue strip, but no actual cycle lane. On this side of the junction, Brian Dorling was left hooked by a truck driver and killed which led to a rapid rethink and roll-out of cycle gates on both sides of the junction because the layout contributed to Dorling's death.

A plan of a cycle gate. There is a two lane traffic approach with a stop line. A red cycle track with a stop line further right than the traffic lane with an island separating. There is then a general stop line further right.

The cycle gate design was incorporated into the London Cycling Design Standards in Chapter 5 and it started to appear across the Capital and now it features in devolved national guidance and can be considered as a standard treatment. Above is a schematic from Scotland's Cycling by Design guidance.

Transport for London commissioned TRL to undertake a review of cycle gates and the outcome was published in 2018. Two sites were reviewed to see whether and how cyclists used the cycle gate, including compliance with signals at different stages and to see if general traffic was able to clear the reservoir (the area behind the second stop line). The locations were on Lambeth Road and Queen Street Place

The first doesn't take users into protected space, although the ahead movement joins a quiet street which is part of Cycleway 6 and the approach to the cycle gate has no protection. The second leads from the well protected cycle track on Southwark Bridge (actually parapet protection done cleverly) via a short section of mandatory cycle lane. It then allows users to turn left or right onto Cycleway 3 or continue ahead into a quiet street and so is essentially a fairly protected junction for cycling.

Given the two different contexts, the unsurprising result was on Lambeth Road, 38.5% of cyclists used the general traffic lane, whereas on Queen Street Place, just 3% did. This is because with the latter, it forms part of a local network whereas the former is a point treatment and so some people are choosing to grab a general traffic green rather than face the "always stop" nature of cycle gates and that's worth remembering when we deploy them. And of course, yes, there were some cyclists ignoring red signals because this is what happens with motor traffic management when applied to human scale movement. The study is mentioned in passing in TfL's round up of cycling innovations in 2018.

So, back to the use of the technique as an interim tool. We have a fully formed urban motoring network and as I mentioned above we don't often have spare capacity to play with at the junctions unless there is a strong political decision to move it to other modes. It is hard to retrofit a cycling network to such a system because in order to give as many people the option to cycle as we can, we need a good cycling network. Unless an area gets a huge and sustained investment over time, it's not going to happen quickly and so there's the chicken and egg of building stuff that won't be busy to start with because it doesn't form a network.

It is fairly easy to drop in some light protection to give space for cycling on the links (the sections of road between main junctions), even if that loses traffic space or lanes because it's usually the main junctions which create the capacity constraints anyway. Signalised junctions which have been in place for many years will often have utilities woven around them which means a complete rebuild for cycling will be carrying a legacy of utilities which can really add to the costs. We should also remember that so much of the stuff on our roads and streets is motoring infrastructure anyway.

A plan of a two-way road. The road heading right opens into two lanes before a stop line and a pedestrian crossing just beyond.

The good thing about cycle gates is they can usually be fitted in before a lane flares to two or more at the junction, although the immediate disadvantage is lane and destination markings are not permitted in the reservoir. The sketch above is one main road approach to a T-junction roughly based on a junction I cycle through a fair bit. the sketch below is the same basic layout but with a cycle gate added.

Same as above, but road space has been changed to add red cycle lanes. The road heading right has the cycle lane become a cycle track and cycle gate.

The footways are untouched and so all changes made within the existing carriageway with utilities unlikely being impacted. There will be new and adjusted traffic signals, but this is about as low cost as we can get and so should be a very attractive way to deal with signalised junctions as we build networks.

There will be a capacity impact though. Drivers won't be able to get side by side at the first stop line as they can with the untreated junction and so it means the length used for side by side queuing of about 5 car lengths in my example will add to the queue length if usually filled. On the flip side, once drivers get a green they can turn left slightly more quickly as they would be moving by the second stop line. The two won't balance out completely and so additional green time might be needed which itself impacts capacity elsewhere. From a pedestrian point of view, crossings simply run as they did before.

There is a penalty to motor traffic capacity, but it is far smaller than compared with a fully protected junction and it is far cheaper to deliver. For an emerging network, some light protection and cycle gates could help roll something out more quickly and allow adjustments to be made as cycle volumes grow enough to "justify" (in mainly political terms) of a more radical intervention. 

A road goes into a tunnel with traffic signals close and more beyond the tunnel.

So far, I haven't seen or heard any cycle gates being used outside of London and I'd be interested to hear of any that pop up. There are quite a few which have similarities with the Newark example such as the interesting layout spotted by Revchips in Gateshead (above). There are two distinct stopping points, but the first signal doesn't totally separate out cycles and other traffic so that a cyclist arriving on a green is mixing with traffic going into the tunnel, although when red, there is a steady cycle signal showing green to get cycles ahead. There is loads of space here to convert this to a cycle gate if needed.

It's interesting to see the hints of innovation from decades ago, although as is often the case, things didn't really develop. It is good to have another tool in the box, especially one which can be added fairly easily and means rolling out a network far more quickly and cheaply than having to reconstruct everything.

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Cycling In The UK's Motor City - The Coundon Cycleway

At the end of September last year, I headed to Coventry, the UK's motor city to have a look at a project I had been following for some time - the Coundon Cycleway.

The story for me starts back in the Summer of 2020 when I had a chat with Adam Tranter, the Bicycle Mayor for Coventry, about an exciting project which was being developed in the city. I think he is still involved with active travel in the West Midlands

The Coundon Cycleway was a plan to connect the city centre to an area north of the city, via the Coundon local centre and on a route giving direct access to several schools and community facilities with a plan to start at the Hill Street Bridge (over the city's ring road) and end at Norman Place Road by the Bablake Playing Fields which would provide a safe cycling route of some 2.8km.

The reason the project was exciting was both because it was in Coventry, a city with a solid reputation as being car first to the point where it scrapped bus lanes in order to deal with traffic congestion and where it's often referred to Carventry on social media; and that a high quality cycleway was being developed which had the potential to be one of the best schemes in the UK.

I got to look at the plans and was asked if I could provide a bit of a design review. As I am never shy about giving views on design I was happy to oblige and the project manager for the scheme, Peter Howarth, very graciously responded to the feedback and incorporated quite a few suggestions. 

A close up of a 30 degree sloping kerb between a grey footway (left) and a black, unsurfaced cycleway (right)

The council undertook public engagement and decided to proceed with construction which was fantastic news and in April 2021, I had a quick look at work in progress on the way back from a visit to Birmingham where I saw 30 kerbs being installed between the footway and cycle track on Hollyfast Road (above) as well as the very first use of the Charcon Entrance Kerbs being laid outside another entrance to the playing fields (below).

A long view of large kerb units which slope down towards the road to the right. In the foreground, the first kerb is a special shape to transition between a standard road kerb and the sloped kerbs.

I watched the progress of the scheme on social media and was eager to get back for a look, so when my son needed to have a look around Coventry University, I was given a pass to spend a couple of hours exploring.

A green, grey and purple hire cycle sits in front of a bowstring style steel bridge crossing a large road.

I had planned on using West Midlands Cycle Hire and I was pleased to learn that they had some e-bikes in the fleet and so after using one in Manchester a few months earlier, I found a suitable ride and headed to the Hill Street Bridge to start my ride and I have created a map to show the route.
A skinny traffic island set out from the left hand kerb of a street to start a carriageway-level two-way cycle track.

The first 250 metres of the route is still to be completed. The first section in Upper Hill Street is a cul-de-sac and so there's a 175 metre section which is left unprotected for now. It wasn't too busy, but it will be nice to see it complete to give a real sense of protection and continuity. The infrastructure starts just before the junction of Coundon Road with Chester Street and we immediately get a feel for the treatment of the project (above).

The cycle track is a two-way affair on one side of the street which presents opportunities and challenges which is always the issue for debate in setting one's design approach for a project. The the Coundon Cycleway, the two-way approach responds to a localised opportunity and at the higher level it means car parking is largely maintained along the route. While the purist in me would love to tackle car parking, there is a political reality about actually delivering a project.

A side road junction which has a raised area surfaced red over which a shared pavement and cycle track crosses.

At the junction with Chester Street we immediately see the consistent approach taken with side road treatments and accesses with the use of continuous treatments (above) which carry the cycle track and footway across the side street which gives visual priority to walking, wheeling and cycling and which reinforces the Highway Code hierarchy which gives those moving ahead priority (Rules H2 and H3). My message to designers is that this should be your default approach, unless location conditions dictate otherwise.

A side road junction which has a raised area surfaced red over which a shared pavement and cycle track crosses. A white line to split the space has been added as well as a pair of rectangular yellow areas to represent tactile paving.

Personally, I would have preferred the separate walking and cycling space to have been continued across the side streets and for tactile paving to be used on the pedestrian side (above) which could be a simple white line with applied tactiles (which I'll cover later). The ultimate would have been to reconstruct the footway approaching and through the side streets, but investment isn't endless and the treatment does the job fine. Drivers cross someone else's space and the use of the entrance kerbs keeps that space at the walking, wheeling and cycling level.

Close up of a large concrete kerb that transitions between a ramped entrance kerb and a standard kerb.

While we're looking at the continuous treatment, let's pause a minute and admire the kerbs which have made it easy to design and deliver. The Dutch Entrance Kerb by Charcon (part of Aggregate Industries), a unit I have been specifying at every opportunity and which is appearing all over the UK now. Coventry got there first. The photo above shows the special end units which provide a transition between a standard half-battered kerb and the sloping entrance kerbs. Simple and effective.

Another red continuous junction treatment with a grey car leaving the side street over it.

A little further north at Stanier Avenue and I spent a bit of time watching drivers cope perfectly well with the continuous treatments (above). It is almost as if the design principles for this approach which is common in the Netherlands and elsewhere on the mainland are understandable regardless of language.

A footway with a two-way cycle track to the right slopes down into a little arched tunnel.

To the north of Stanier Avenue, there is a railway level crossing which features a tunnel right next to it (above). This is where the two-way cycle track works a treat because the tunnel is now filtered and part of the cycleway. Previously, this tunnel was open to general traffic (subject to the height limit), presumably to bypass the level crossing when the barriers were down.

The arched tunnel made from stone blocks. The surround is marked in yellow and black squares following the arch.

The tunnel itself is compact, but see-through and this is a great example of a bit of opportunism. My only grip here is there are (I assume) original stone setts which are uneven and slippery. They need changing, but that means working by a Network Rail structure and Network Rail are a headache to deal with.

The cycle track with a footway and flats to the left and a planted buffer to the right. There is a pedestrian crossing point with yellowish tactile paving units.

North of the tunnel the street turns from Coundon Road into Barker's Butts Lane and the separation from traffic increases with a tree-lined buffer. It's worth looking more closely at the tactile paving used at the new set of dropped kerbs because it's quite unusual.

A close view of yellowish tactile paving blisters in a grid pattern.

As I suggested earlier, we have "applied" tactile paving on the project which doesn't consist of the traditional concrete tiles, but a clever system that uses a grid of bobbles to form the blisters, over which methyl methacrylate resin surfacing is applied to get the effect above. Supplied and installed as Tac-Grid, the system does away with the need for installing slabs. I've heard good things about the system from a few people and I'll watch with interest to see what it's longevity is like, my guess is when used at junctions, it probably stands up better to any vehicle overrun if laid on a decent surface.

A floating bus stop with a shelter. The road is left and the pavement right with the cycle track between.

A little further on and we have the project's first floating bus stop. I thought the space here was a little tight between the shelter and the crossing point, although the bus doors would stop in line with the crossing point. The shelter with it's back to traffic means alighting passengers have a good view of the cycle track which is edged by the old kerbline. It might have been nice to have forgiving kerbs here, but again, a pragmatic decision was taken to keep costs down and just look at how much space was there waiting to be found!

View of a red continuous treatment from the side road.

Above is the exit of Duckman Court onto Barker's Butts Lane. It's a cul-de-sac, but with quite a lot of of flats and plenty car parking spaces. It's another example of the continuous treatment and because the side street is 7.3 metres wide, it is locally narrowed at the junction to shorten the crossing distance and so physically slow drivers in what widened to some 20 metres at the edge of the main road.

A little T junction in the cycle track with the stem allowing access to the road opposite.

A little further north and we reach the edge of the Coundon local centre at the junction with Thamley Street (above). One of the problems with two-way cycle tracks is they only serve half of a street's frontage. One-way cycle tracks serve both sides, but you need crossing points to allow people to U-turn if they are heading the other way. One way to make access a bit more permeable is to have gaps such as at this location which is opposite the junction.

The cycle track meets a signalised junction with cycle traffic lights.

At the centre of Coundon, the route is crossed by Moseley Avenue and here we see an advantage of two-way cycle tracks because they are easier to thread through signalised junctions unless you are actually rebuilding the whole thing as a protected junction

A floating bus stop with red tactile paving and a rather too small passenger island.

North of the local centre, there's another floating bus stop. I think this one is stingy on space, even though it doesn't have a shelter (the original layout didn't either. Traffic on the other side is actually forming two lanes for the Moseley Avenue junction, so that's where the space is being prioritised. The stop could go further north, but then it would be further away from the shops. It could have been south of the junction, but that would have removed car-parking and sometimes it's about what can pragmatically be built.

A mini crossroads in the cycle track with access to a side road left closed to motors and the main carriageway to the right.

A bit further on and we meet the junction with Pake's Croft and a new modal filter. The filter means that drivers cannot use side streets to bypass the traffic signals at Moseley Avenue through some very narrow streets and as well as creating a new low traffic neighbourhood, it also provides a safe cycling connection to Moseley Avenue Park. Access is provided to the side street opposite and we end up with a tiny cycle track crossroads.

Another red continuous treatment with a large give way marking just before.

Further north still and the junction with Browett Road has been made exit only as part of managing local traffic and keeping through traffic on Barker's Butts Lane.

Cycle traffic lights with the cycle track bending across the road from left to right.

A touch further up and the cycle track crosses from the west side to the east side of Barker's Butts Lane the photograph above shows the signals changing to stop traffic as I approach. The Audi is illegally parked on the buildout, but here you can see car parking has been retained on both sides. I would have liked to have seen a parallel pedestrian crossing here which seems to have been a missed opportunity. It would be fairly simple to add one in.

A steep hill. The two-way cycle track is on the fright hand side of the street with car parking left and a footway with houses beyond to the right.

As the cycle track continued, Barker's Butts Lane gets much steeper (above) and I was very glad to be on an e-bike which was a great combination with the car parking protected space - those using acoustic cycles are going to be wobbling a little bit to get up here!

The cycle track continues up the hill with a gap to the left to access the opposite side road. There are large trees between the cycle track and pavement.

The hill goes on for a while and there are the now familiar gaps to access site streets opposite as we proceed just as here at Laburnum Avenue.

A parallel zebra with a cyclist crossing the cycle side on the left. There are shops beyond.

The cycle track then arrives at a roundabout junction with Scots Lane where Barker's Butts Lane gives way to Westhill Road. The cycle track crosses the Scots Lane arm on a parallel zebra crossing (above), although sometimes drivers were not that attentive and being a linear route, there isn't really cycling connectivity to the other arms.

A floating bus stop with a glass shelter. People are getting on a white bus with a blue cab, including a woman with a buggy.

Just north of the roundabout, there's another floating bus stop with a signalised pedestrian crossing just beyond to create a little local centre interchange for the shops around the roundabout (above).

Same stop. A pair of children scoot past.

As I watched the ebb and flow of people at the bus stop, a couple of children passed me going uphill on their scooters in perfect safety. This is the enabling power of protected cycling space (above).

A two way cycle track with a cycle dock to the right with two cycles and empty spaces.

Just beyond the bus stop, there's a West Midlands Cycle Hire dock outside the Catholic church and school which are more community destinations served by the cycle track and a useful place to pick up or drop off a hire cycle (above).

A red continuous treatment over a vehicle access.

The access to the car park to the complex uses a continuous treatment for consistency (above).

A two way cycle track on the right side of a street with houses far left. The track is protected by a recently planted hedge. There is a grey footeay to the right.

Westhill Road becomes Hollyfast Road and as the route serves and passes the Bablake Playing Fields, I got to see the finished version of what I saw being built in April 2001 (above) which is a really nice to use with a hedgerow protected cycle track (good for catching road spray when wet). Like the rest of the project, the surface was machine-laid smooth and great to ride. The 30° kerb and light grey footway really sets it off as a UK exemplar.


Now the cycle track had it's final surface, I got to test out the kerb by riding up and down it (video clip above). This is why I constantly go on about "forgiving" infrastructure because here the slope meant I wasn't going to get thrown off and the 50mm height meant I wasn't going to catch a pedal. 

Close up of the 30 degree kerb.

The kerb (above) is also going to be detectable to those needing the help and it allows mobility scooter users and others who cannot dismount their cycles to join and leave the cycle track where they want and not where the designer allows them. Perfection.

A parallel zebra crossing over the main road with the cycle track and then pavement to the right.

At the junction with Norman Place (above), the cycle track bends from north to east into Norman Place itself, but a niftily laid out parallel zebra crossing allows people cycling to cross the road to continue north where they are safely reintegrated with traffic (I can't vouch for how much traffic). There is also way to access the cycle track to head south.

A pavement to the left, then the cycle track and a floating bus stop.

The route ends just after another floating bus stop which serves the playing fields (above) and where I had to turn around to head back to the city. And do you know what? When I got back to the Hill Street Bridge, I rode the project again because it is that good.

I have picked up on a few compromises in this write up and one other thing I would have liked to have seen would be a some mid-block gaps in the protection to allow people to cross from the other side to access the cycle track to maximise customer access. But this really is one of my favourite projects and it is both locally useful as well as useful for accessing the city centre. I'll leave you with my second ride because I filmed it!