Sunday, 18 September 2022

Glorious Govanhill

Over the summer I found myself in Glasgow on a city hire bike grabbing a couple of hours for a look around before a work engagement. My ride took me to the Govanhill neighbourhood to the south of the city.

It's worth acknowledging the history, the diversity and indeed the problems the area has, and those are things one cannot possibly absorb while riding through an area. One of the most interesting things from an urbanism point of view is the neighbourhood is one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland, a feat achieved without the use of tower blocks. 

The secret is the use of 3 and 4 storey homes on a grid street pattern, often referred to as "gentle density". While tower blocks often have large areas of open space around them, developments such as Govanhill don't, instead relying on communcal courtyards and gardens to provide outdoor space as well as the streets themselves and sometimes with small parks (such as Govanhill Park in this case).

Glasgow has a 2011 census car ownership of 0.64 per household and the Southside Central ward (which is much bigger than Govanhill) has 0.38 per household or that's 62% of households in the ward which don't have access to cars. Despite this, Govanhill has plenty of cars that residents wish to park on the street and so this is a pressure on public space. 

Fortunately, in the late 1980s/ early 1990s, there was a forward thinking plan to manage traffic and car parking in the neighbourhood which looking back at from the 2020s still seems quite radical. Some parts of the street network have been filtered and a couple of the connector streets were made one-way. This falls short of what we'd consider to be a Low Traffic Neighbourhood, but it isn't that far away.

A view across a junction protected by bollards towards a 4 storey brown stone block of flats.

The most interesting thing about the area for me is in the oldest streets. The retrofit has quietly brought some order into what could have been a pretty chaotic car parking arrangement. From the junction of Govanhill Road with Langside Road (above), one can survey a range of interesting design details.

Another view through the same junction from a different angle. There are trees on paved buildouts which are also edged with black bollards on the light brown paving.

The first thing to note is that the junctions have been narrowed with fairly tight radii and placed on road humps (speed tables) with some surfaced in block paving (some are asphalt). The kerbs are flush here and bollards stand sentinel keep drivers off the footway and help pick out the "safe area" behind the carriageway edge. These days, we'd be looking at the walking desire lines at the junctions and providing appropriate tactile paving.

The extra space at the often includes space opposite at T-junctions (below) which helps keep car parking away from all parts of the junction as well as releasing public space which is often used for tree planting and in the example below, some of this space could be used for other features such as secure cycle parking. The built-out areas mean that car parking is either arranged in parallel to the kerb or perpendicularly, depending on the location.

A wider shot of the first image showing car parking beyond the buildouts.

The simple junction treatments and the use of small element and block paving give a slightly warmer feel to the footway and built-out areas than asphalt and given its age, things are wearing very well indeed. 

A person riding a bike away from the camera. Junction buildouts can be seen on borth sides of the street with trees and bollards.

There are probably some things I might have liked to see done a little differently such as swapping the car parking bay layouts every so often to interrupt the straight carriageway runs (above) and perhaps angling the perpendicular bays in such a way as it encourages (as far as possible) drivers to reverse in as they have a better view as they emerge. I would also have liked to have narrowed the carriageway a little more to push driver speeds down further.

A view along a large buildout to car parking beyond.

The thing that struck me most as I cycled through the neighbourhood was just how familiar it all seemed. The gentle density, combined with the junction layouts (complete with bollards) felt very familar from my trips around Denmark and The Netherlands where managing car parking in this way is fairly common and it has to leave me wondering if this is where the designers got their inspiration?

A drawing of a cross roads where the junction has been made smaller than the approach roads.

That's not just idle thinking, the techniques used in Govanhill can be found in the Dutch design manual "Recommendations for traffic provisions in built up areas", a huge tome which I love thumbing through for inspiration. Raising junctions is something the UK has done for years, but it appears on the Dutch manual showing the narrowing of the junction complete with bollards and inset car parking bays (above). There's also use made of the perpendicular parking as part of integrated traffic calming which in the image below is used to create a centreline shift at a junction, which is a great technique for breaking a dead straight run.

A drawing showing perpendicualar car parking and buildouts to break straight lines of the roads through a crossroads.

The final piece of interest for me was trying to date when the layout was built. There won't be a traffic order for the build-outs, but the local traffic filtering can be dated with a traffic order which was proposed in October 1992 and made in May 1993, which means this layout has probably been there for about 30 years. As ever, nothing in highways and traffic engineering is new.

I'll leave you with a little video of a cycle through the area and I would like to thank Alistair McCay for being my local guide and given me so much insight into the area.



Saturday, 27 August 2022

Summer CYCLOPS Safaris: Part 2 - Cambridge

In my last post, I had a look at the first and third CYCLOPS junctions built in the UK in Manchester. In this post, I head 200km southeast to look at the UK's fourth, in the City of Cambridge.

This scheme at the junction of the B1049 Histon Road with Gilbert Road and Warwick Road was opened in October 2021 just over a year after the first one in Manchester. It came to fruition thanks to the efforts of the local cycling campaign, CamCycle, which had been pushing Cambridgeshire County Council to go with the design after seeing the original Manchester plans and is part of the Histon Road transport scheme.

A CYCLOPS junction which is a crossroads with a pedestrian crossing island on each of the four corners with an orbital red cycle track running behind them. There are crossings from the footway over the cycle track onto the crossing islands with mini-zebra crossings.

The layout of the junction is simpler and tidier than the Manchester examples because the designers have eschewed the plethora of fiddly islands in favour of corner islands which have pedestrian space set at footway level (above), together with splitter islands for each approach and exit between the carriageway and cycle track (so a total of eight). The footway level corner island means the push buttons for the pedestrian crossings are much easier for wheelchair and mobility scooter users to reach than the Manchester version which sit on islands.

A view towards the junction showing a red cycle lane splitting into two. To the left, the cucle lane peels left behind a pedestrian crossing island. The the right, the cycle lane ends at an advanced stop line for cycle traffic.

Each approach has an Advanced Stop Line (ASL) and for the Histon Road arms, access to the ASL is from a cycle lane. For the northbound direction, a section of stepped cycle track ends and becomes a cycle lane and for the southbound direction (above) this is from a mandatory cycle lane which runs for a significant distance approching the junction and so does offer as much protection. 

The layout is tidy and for those going ahead who see the advantage, reintroduction to traffic is simple, but it does of course put people cycling at left hook risk and if one were turning right, then the CYCLOPS provides a safer option. This "hybrid" approach using ASLs is a symptom of traffic flow being maintained as with the first Manchester example.

A closer view of a red advanced stop line area.

The ASLs on the side roads are fed by advisory cycle lanes and so are the exits. If we ignore the ASLs for a second, these advisory cycle lanes feed into (above) and exit from the junction (below) on the side roads and with the positioning of the splitter islands (in a nice contrasting colour), people cycling have a protected entry to and exit from the junction. This is a really important safety feature and with junctions being the collision risk, investing there with simpler link protection is a pragmatic approach and can be upgraded later,

A red cycle track with grass to the left and a traffic island to the right. The cycle track peels left and ends at a carriageway which heads off left.

The pedestrian arrangements for the junction are very clear. There are mini-zebra crossings onto the corner islands which I prefer and there is a very shallow hump to give a more level crossing experience (below). For some reason, the designers have marked the humps as if it were a two-way cycle track which seems to be a mistake. It's not vital, but I would have quite liked to have seen the corner islands surfaced in the same light colour blocks as the splitter islands to break up the asphalt and to provide some contrast to the carriageway, but it's not vital to the design.

A close up of a mini-zebra crossing over a red cycle track. A child is on a crossing island to the right pressing a crossing push button. A man carrying a child's scooter follows. Behind the man on the mini-zebra crossing, a small child scoots.

One thing which is an issues is the use of tactile paving. Mini-zebra crossings require the use of red tactile paving (almost always) whereas buff is reserved for non-controlled situations. At Histon Road, the designers have used buff with the mini-zebras which is incorrect. They have used red with the signalised crossings which is correct, but the use of the 'L' shaped layout could give the impression that this is the complete crossing.

A diagram of half a CYCLOPS junction showing grey footways and red cycle tracks. The mini-zebra crossings from the footways to the two of the crossing islands is shown. L shaped tactile paving in dark red is shown on the outer edges of the junction with rectangular tactile paving within.

The guidance explains that we should be providing red tactiles at controlled crossings (zebras and signals). It says we should provide the 'L' shaped arrangements at the start/ end of complete crossings (circled blue in the sketch above) and where islands are part of the overall crossing, then the intermediate tactile paving is rectangular (circled pink above). This is important as it is all design to provide information to visually impaired users and I cannot understand why we keep getting this wrong.

A red cycle track with a pair of mini traffic signals either side of a stop line for cycle traffic.

As with Manchester's layout, low level cycle signals have been used in pairs - I would like to see a large signal to be viewable approaching the junction. The cycle demand is from a push button and I am not sure if any other detection is being used because I either pressed the button or others were using the junction.

A view of a red cycle track with a mini zebra crossing between the footway and a crossing island, a man is cycling on the cycle track followed by a small child on a cycle.

I do prefer Cambridgeshire's layout compared with Manchester's, because the island detailing is simply tidier. I also prefer the red surfacing which consistently applied across Cambridge because as well as being a warmer colour than the green of Manchester, it is also inlaid by machine for a superior finish. I also like the cycle crossings surfaced in the same material as it helps explain the orbital nature to users (above).

A woman is cycling on a red cycle track and is turning left just before a mini-zebra crossing between a footway and a crossing island.

There are other nice touches. The designers have kep the kerb heights a little lower than those in Manchester so there is far less risk of catching one's pedals or wheels on them, and the Cambridge scheme has slightly wider cycle space which makes all the difference.

In the final analysis, it's great to see places copying each other, tweaking the design, and delivering safer junctions. As I said in my last post, the official guidance doesn't go into the nuts and bolts detail of this type of junction and so being able to visit schemes is going to help designers going forward. Aside from the tactile paving mistakes and the ASLs, I'd say that so far, Cambridge is the design I would probably copy because it is so much tidier in layout.

There are dozens of these junctions being planned and built in Greater Manchester, a second is under construction in Cambridge at Milton Road and they are appearing in plans all over the country, including several I have helped with the design of in my day job. It's funny really, because despite Waltham Forest bringing the Dutch approach to the UK where cycles are the inside of pedestrians (the "innie" design), it seems the CYCLOPS approach is the one we'll see most with its "outie" design. It seems that having something named allows people to conceptualise what something is, even if they don't understand the details, and because this is all aimed at the user, it's fine by me. I'll leave you with a video of the Histon Road CYCLOPS.



Monday, 15 August 2022

Summer CYCLOPS Safaris: Part 1 - Manchester

At long last, I have manged to get out to go and experience the CYCLOPS junctions which are starting to be rolled out across the UK.

I have covered the Cycle Optimised Protected Signals junction designs before with a comparison with the Dutch approach and I have seen plenty of photographs and videos of the design. However, there's nothing like seeing infrastructure in the flesh and so in this post, I will have a look at the first and third examples of the arrangement which were built in Manchester.

A crossroads junction with grey footways, red cycleways and then a black carriageway. There is a pedestrian island at each corner of the junction with a mini-zebra crossing over the cycle track to get to the corner islands. The cycle crossings of the side roads are outside of the pedestrian crossings.


First, let's have a little recap. The sketch above is a general arrangement of the CYCLOPS junction. The red shows a series of cycle tracks and in this case, they are all with flow. This means that cycle traffic circulates around the junction in a clockwise fashion. The light grey is footway and island areas and the dark grey is the carriageway. You'll notice the mini-zebra crossings over the cycle track which in this case are placed on small speed humps and the dark red is tactile paving. 

The 'L' shaped tactile paving essentially shows the start and end point of a complete crossing of the junction and personally, I prefer this to leaving the cycle track crossings uncontrolled. The little speed humps are not about slowing cycle traffic, they are more around giving a level crossing point. Some visually impaired users do prefer having dropped kerbs as the slopes help show they are entering a crossing area.

In terms of guidance, Local Transport Note 1/20 "Cycle Infrastructure Design" uses a catch-all term of Circulating Cycle Stage Junction in S10.6.21 for signalised junctions where walking and cycling run together orbitally around an entire junction of which CYCLOPS is a style. It is possible to use two-way cycle tracks with the design, but I'll cover that another time.

Probably down to timing of publication, but LTN1/20 doesn't include a CYCLOPS junction, and the section on circulating stage junctions is very brief for what, in my view, is going to become a very important design tool in the coming years - as an aside, LTN1/20 doesn't go into enough detail on design generally, but that's another post. Here's a more detailed technical document explaining the concept.

A CYCLOPS junction with a cyclist crossing one of the side roads on a green cycle track.

The first CYCLOPS junction was delivered in 2020 on the Manchester to Chorlton Cycleway at the junction of the A5067 Chorlton Road and Royce Road (above). In the photograph above you can see one of four pedestrian islands on the left (one at each corner) with the pedestrian crossing in red. On the right of that, there is a the one-way cycle crossing (green) running in parallel.

A CYCLOPS junction with a pedestrian island shown prominently with various islands, kerbs, coloured surfacing and road markings.

Above is a slightly different view of the junction, this time showing more of the corner island and the traffic signals. Transport for Greater Manchester has elected to use a pair of low level cycle signals - personally I like to see a full-sized signal plus a low level sign with the former being more easily seen from a distance back. There is a push button, but that's a back-up because there is detection and it's too close to the stop line for my liking (coming at it from a non-standard cycle user's perspective. It is nice to see the button light up to show you are detected.

Another view of a CYCLOPS pedestrian island.

For pedestrians, there is no priority onto/ off from the island and I personally would have preferred a mini-zebra crossing. The island is quite complicated as it is really three small islands forming a larger space which sits at carriageway level and the further island (in the middle of the three in the photograph above) helps to keep left turning drivers out wide. 

The islands provide a vertical upstand to help cane-users to navigate, but they create a problem for wheelchair and mobility scooter users who cannot get close to the push button. A better approach would have been to place the posts at the same level as the walking surface. 

Because the access to the island is not in line with the signalised crossing of the road, people have to turn through 45° to move between the crossing points. This means that it is less likely that visually impaired people will mistake the crossings as single movement as can be the concern with in-line crossings. This is something DfT worries about in LTN1/20 (10.6.22) where mini-zebras are used with signals over the road, although I think this is overstated to some extent. However, it address some issues, so I am not against it.

Two cyclists crossing a side road. One on the CYCLOPS cycle track and one on the road.

The other design decision was to provide a gap in the approaching cycle track protection to allow cycle traffic to move out of the cycle track into general traffic, complete with an advanced stop line (ASL). This means that some cyclists may elect to move into traffic if the signals are showing in favour if that movement. The photograph above shows someone who has chosen to do this. 

This was the first CYCLOPS and so there was concern that people cycling wouldn't want to wait for a green signal, so the access to the ASL was an adjustment to counter the problem. The real problem of course is how much time we give to general traffic verus how nimble and efficient cycling is given that the CYCLOPS junction is motoring infrastructure. The signals engineers have been tweaking the detection and so it isn't a huge issue and in theory, the all round green for walking and cycling could be run twice per cycle.

225 metres south of the first CYCLOPS, we have the UK's third, which is part of the same scheme, this time at the junction of Chortlon Road with the A5067 Stretford Road

A corner island with a diagnal crossing point surfaced in red.

In many ways, it's the same layout as the first, but an immediate difference is the addition of a diagonal pedestrian crossing between the southeast and northeast islands (above). The junction is skewed which means one of the diagonals is quite short and because walking and cycling run under a single green, the diagonal is easy to accommodate. In fact, had the junction been designed in the Dutch way with the cycles on the inside, then the diagonal wouldn't have been possible.

A wider view of the crossing and orbital cycle tracks.

The walking layout on the diagonal islands is a little more complicated with two crossings of the cycle tack each, but as things are offset as with the first scheme, it all works very intuitively. There are no ASLs on this scheme, but there are gaps in the kerb protection if one feels the need to move out. When I cycled the two junctions I didn't have to wait too long and as you'll see in the video below, a complete U-turn is easily possible within the green which is a very important feature to allow people to change direction if they didn't want to cross the road to turn right at a proceeding junction.

The CYCLOPS junction is interesting because on the face of it, we get fully protected intersections which feels very familiar to anyone who has used such in other places, especially northern europe. However, at the same time, they are very much British and have a look and feel that will be familiar to politicians and designers (including signals engineers) as well as the public and that is why we'll see them all of the UK in the coming months and years.

Overall, I think the cycle tracks are a touch narrow, there are perhaps too many fiddly kerbs and islands, and the colour scheme is a bit garish, but the junctions work well and most importantly, they give a great sense of protected and action protection from traffic.

I'll leave you with a video of a bit of cycling in the general area, including these two new junctions.


Sunday, 31 July 2022

Hare-Brained

I do enjoy discovering highway engineering relics which turn out to be clever little interventions that we have forgotten to do and in this post, we head to Peterborough to look at such a relic.

On the one hand, it's great to see old layouts that make walking, wheeling and cycling easier because it shows that we've always been able to do this stuff. On the other hand, it's also sad, because rather than rolling them out everywhere, it reminds us that the UK chose the wrong path to mass car use which is so difficult to face today.

To the north of the city of Peterborough, the A47 and A15 meet with both roads amusingly called parkways. Just south of this junction we have Harebell Close, part of the larger Dogthorpe part of the city. The suburbs of Peterborough being a product of it becoming a New Town in 1967 with lots of low density development surrounding the historic city centre. 

In common with many New Towns, there is also a network of walking and cycling routes which are separated from the road network, but like the others, it's low density development and where driving was made far easier. Over the years, the quality of the separate networks has been allowed to degrade and it hasn't really been expanded. The 2011 cycling commute mode share was 5.7%, compared to the national 2.7% and so at least being fairly compact, flat and with some cycling infrastructure, it gives the place something to build upon.

Anyway, Harebell Close has an interesting junction where a cycle track meets the road (below). It is a junction because cycles are vehicles and the cycle track is meeting a carriageway.

A view of a street where the road is narrowed at the place a cycle track crosses from each side. there is a footway on both sides with bushes behind those. The paving changes type and colour at the junction.

I'll go through the details shortly, but the the location came to my attention through tweets from the local MP, Paul Bristow (Con, Peterborough). Who had apparently been campaigning for barriers to be placed across the cycle track.

Tweet from Paul Bristow MP sent on 27/7/22 at 6.04PM "A year ago I went to see the residents of Harebell Close in #Peterborough about putting in some kissing gates where the cycle path meets the road 👍  This is about safety. Officers agreed with me and promised action. We have e messed around for year. This is not good enough." The tweet has a photo of the MP standing by the cycle track which runs off into the distance.

As you would expect from Twitter, the MP received a schooling in access issues and the Equality Act 2010, but even when noting comments from the Peterborough Cycle Forum, he doubled down and wrote to the council's chief executive about the issue.

Text from the MP's letter of 29th July 2022. "PAUL BRISTOW MP, PETERBOROUGH  HOUSE OF COMMONS  LONDON SW 1A OAA  Matt Gladstone Chief Executive Officer Peterborough City Council  Sent via email  Dear Mr Gladstone, Re: Harebell Close  29 July 2022  Around a year ago I went and met with residents at Harebell Close regarding the cycle path crossing near the entrance to the close. Residents expressed concern that cyclists can not easily see that a road crossing is coming up and as a result cross the road at speed which creates risks for all road users - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike. There is also a children's play area near by which means many families are using the road in close proximity to the cycle crossing. As a result of my visit last year officers agreed that it was a dangerous situation and some sort of gate or barrier would be installed so that cyclists were aware they were approaching a road crossing. I have been contacted again by residents who are disappointed that no action has been taken for a year. I understand that under Equality Act 2010, Section 20, any physical feature installed should not put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage. I would not support a barrier that would do this and I have been reminded of the law several times in a 'spirited' way by members of the Peterborough Cycle Forum on social media. However, this is an issue of safety and the Act must not be a reason to do nothing. Working with local residents, I am sure a solution can be found that suit cyclists, pedestrians, motorists and disabled people. Furthermore, I understand that there is confusion about whether responsibly for the maintenance of the busies and foliage along the path is the responsibility of Longhurst or the City Council. When overgrown these buses also affect accessibility and viability and it would be if this could also be resolved.  I would be very grateful if you could look into this matter and ensure something is done as soon as possible for the safety of all road/ path users. I am determined to hold the council to their promise to put something in place that will improve the safety of this junction.  Yours sincerely,  Paul Bristow MP Member of Parliament for Peterborough "

This is a fascinating insight into day to day local political campaigning because "road issues" is a great subject to generate a bit of noise given how many politicians only listen to noisy adult drivers with everyone else ignored. 

Like traffic signs and pothole repairs, a campaign for a couple of barriers is also a good tactic because it's pretty cheap, it's something that generates a good photo of Things Getting Done and it plays well to those who are listened to. Within the local authority, a CEO is able to push just a request down the food chain as inevitably, there will be a manager somewhere happy to instruct the work to shut the politician up - it's easier to acquiesce because it takes so little time and effort, compared with actually resisting such nonsense with data, facts and logic.

I don't think I need to explain why barriers across a cycle track is a bad idea, but you can read this post from 2016 for more, even where there might be an issue of compromise (which isn't the case here). Meanwhile, lets look at the details of Harebell Close and try to get under the skin of what the issue really is.

A view of a street where the road is narrowed at the place a cycle track crosses from each side. there is a footway on both sides with bushes behind those. The paving changes type and colour at the junction.

If we go back to the first image (above to save scrolling), there are several points of detail which can be gleaned. The general layout has a 5.5m wide carriageway with a couple of 1.8m wide footways; a layout which can be found all over the UK for estates of this age. 

At the crossing, the carriageway is narrowed to about 3.2m which means drivers have to give way to each other. The narrowing is also asymmetric with the nearside (on each approach) being narrowed far more than on the offside. For drivers, this gives two messages. First it is very obviously that they should slow down, but more subtlety, that oncoming traffic has priority. There are no signs to explain this because the layout is self-explanatory.

The same layout as before, but zoomed in.

The asymmetric narrowing also physically helps to slow drivers because they have to steer to the right fairly abruptly. The area that is narrowed is also paved in a completely different material (above) with bollards to give some visual verticality to the horizontal deflection. The lighting columns on the nearside to each approach make sure the junction is well lit and so further provide verticality. 

The very interesting thing about the asymmetric narrowing is creates a bit of a zig-zag through the junction that you only notice on a closer inspection. Across the junction, kerbs flanking the carriageway continue through and while disappearing into the background, they do add to a suggestion that general traffic has some priority.

We can also note that the junction is actually on a raised hump which provides some vertical deflection for drivers as well as a flatter place for cycle traffic to cross. For the cycle track, there are give way markings before the junction which indicates priority for general traffic and the cycle track ends short of the carriageway on each side to provide tactile paving, perhaps recognising that people may well be walking along the cycle track which is signed for cycles, but over which people have a right to walk.

A view of the tactile paving as described in the main text.

The tactile paving is also interesting. At the edge of the carriageway, there is red crossing blister paving which is actually reserved for zebra crossings and signalised crossings. This should ideally buff, or at least a non-red contrast. 

The grey paving behind is actually a UK rarity - a guidance path surface. This is used to guide visually impaired people along a route when the traditional cues, such as a property line or kerb edge, are not available. This has been deliberately provided here because the arrangement seems to guide people to the crossing point. It's an odd arrangement.

So there we have it. A layout which is a junction, does some clever things with vertical and horizontal deflection and with a change of materials, but which still prioritises the road. Throw in a warning signs for a cycle route crossing ahead on each side of the junction aimed at drivers, we have an interesting layout which generally seems to mitigate the risk of a collision. In terms of data, there haven't been any actually injury collisions here for 20 years and while we should be careful with applying casualty data (as it's only a small part of an overall consideration), the junction seems pretty safe to me.

Let's go back to Bristow's letter and look at the detail.

"Residents expressed concern that cyclists can not easily see that a road crossing is coming up and as a result cross the road at speed which creates risks for all road users - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike." 

This is really a projection. The concern is coming from adults who drive and despite living here and knowing the layout intimately, still have concerns. There are just 50 homes beyond this junction and so this is genuinely a low traffic environment and so it hints that driving residents don't really want to slow down and check the junction. Even if someone cycling didn't slow down, they are still not going to be faster than someone driving through, even with the traffic calming. What the residents actually want is for the state to mitigate any liability they might be carrying into the junction under the veil of "safety".

Throwing in "all road users" is absolutely classic politics. The whole "all road users" trope is used by those trying to suggest that everyone has come to the game on a level playing field with the same power. This is absolutely not the case and argue as they might, physics is the final arbiter. He throws in some more Legitimate Concerns.

"There is also a children's play area near by which means many families are using the road in close proximity to the cycle crossing"

There is a little playground at the end of Harebell Close and because the street curves back on itself, it is directly served by the cycle track. I wonder if by "families using the road" he is worried about locals driving to the playground which would be odd. He goes on.

"I understand that under Equality Act 2010, Section 20, any physical feature installed should not put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage. I would not support a barrier that would do this and I have been reminded of the law several times in a 'spirited' way by members of the Peterborough Cycle Forum on social media. However, this is an issue of safety and the Act must not be a reason to do nothing. Working with local residents, I am sure a solution can be found that suit cyclists, pedestrians, motorists and disabled people."

I'll take this as some progress that he understand that barriers can be discriminatory, but his passive aggression against the local cycle forum shows just how embedded the thinking is that a barrier is a solution per se. Then we're back at a solution that suits everyone - the point is, we are dealing with physics and the second best solution is reducing the energy of the situation which has to be aimed at drivers and it is they who should be made responsible. The best solution is removing general traffic, but that's not an option.

Let's also consider the users a little more. Drivers are trained, licenced and insured. They are adults and have a better developed understanding of their environment and the risks associated with it. Then let's say we have a couple of 10 year old children using the cycle track to get to the playground. They have a less developed idea of risk, speed perception and they certainly haven't been trained in the rules of the road, or at least not to the extent that a driver has. 

I would contend that users of the cycle track might, on balance, be less understanding of the role of the give way markings than drivers, but cyclists can also adjust their speed so they don't need to stop before crossing (which is a time penalty). To a driver approaching the junction at a speed excessive to the situation, a young cyclist going straight across might appear fast, but in reality this isn't the case. Throw in the general proposition that it isn't in cyclists' interest to be in a collision and although we have a good layout, it is still set up to favour and indeed to absolve the driver of responsibility and so in providing a solution to the "problem", we need to go further.

Let's swap the propositions around. Here we have a cycle track which is useful for utility purposes and it is the (car) based route which has to cross it. Cyclists have an energy penalty for every stop and so maintaining momentum is important. We also have users who may not be trained in what traffic signs mean and who might not be the best at judging risk. The answer here is to change the junction to put the absolute responsibility for crossing the space on drivers which is completely appropriate for the conditions.


The image above has the cycle track made continuous across the junction with the kerbs along the carriageway edge removed in favour of kerbs running across a driver's line of travel. These are design cues which require drivers to slow right down and check before crossing. One thing that does need doing, and I am in agreement with Bristow on it, is that the bushes need cutting back to improve visibility between modes. This is not to absolve drivers of responsibility, but to ensure that when they are in the correct position, they can actually see to check before crossing. Some blocking of visibility is helpful as it stops people glancing early and running through.

This approach has been available for decades and it is featured in Local Transport Note 1/20 Designing for Cycle Traffic (see Figure 10.6) - a "cycle priority crossing". Whist I would argue that the design layout is far more important than administrative control through the use of traffic signs (including markings), the minimum requirement is to provide a pair of dotted give way lines (diagram 1003) and the additional of a painted give way triangle and upright give way signs is overkill in my view for this type of situation with low traffic flows. I would even look at omitting the give way lines based on a risk assessment.

A plan drawing of the junction as explained in the main text.

The sketch above shows what an updated version of this layout could look like. Rather than the gentle slopes up to the junction, I have used entrance kerbs to provide both the vertical deflection and the visual cue across the line of travel and I have added give way markings to be explicit. I have also assumed the bushes have been dealt with to provide better visibility at the junction. 

Really, this is the kind of layout which Bristow should be pushing for. One which makes allowances for the knowledge and energy of those cycling and which makes driver responsibility explicit. I am not coming at this from a premise that cycling should be prioritised at all times, but from the premise that this type of situation should very much prioritise cycling and through good design, we require the party with the capacity to do the most harm to have the responsibility for the safety of all road users.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

A Cheeky Monkey

Well Dear Reader, this is my 500th blog post and I can scarcely believe it. My first post was on 28th November 2012 and so this year I shall also be celebrating 10 years of writing this conduit from my brain.

This really *has* been a chronicle of my adventures in space and time in the strange universe of highways and transport both professionally and personally. I think the journey to starting this actually started back in January 2011 because I started cycling to work and this enabled me to see the streets from a lost perspective, having barely cycled since being a child. My conversion wasn't because of any green or health-related ideals, it was the fact that I had just moved offices from the suburban edge to the town centre and got fed up with sitting in traffic jams twice a day. In many ways, journey time predictability and convenience remains a key reason why I still cycle today, but I'm increasingly learning there is more to it than that.

From that point onwards, it started to dawn on me that our approach to urban transport in particular was utterly warped. I could see cycling was part of the solution, although I didn't really grasp just how important it was. I already had a professional interest in walking and so I saw cycling as an natural extension, which in some ways it is. When I started to write this blog, I was working for a London borough and after cycling for 18-months I started to become frustrated with some of my colleagues, certainly management and definitely politicians when they couldn't see the world as I saw it.



I had started to read other people's blogs at the time and one in particular got my brain thinking and that was "Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest." I was reading lots of others, but CC&WIWF got my brain going because of its focus on infrastructural solutions to the problems we had (and still have in many ways). I also need to give a shout out to the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain which really introduced me to how the Dutch design for cycling as well as showcasing the best of the UK. The organisation is currently resting for a variety of reasons and I don't know if it will get going again, but I am indebted to all involved, plus those who took time to lead rides and talk at the Embassy's AGMs - a much missed annual highlight for me.

In 2012, cycling for transport seemed a marginal idea in UK transport terms, at least it was in my own professional circles. Sure, we had places like Cambridge, but they had been dining out on local peculiarities such as being a university town with skint students needing a cheap way to get around. There really wasn't a coherent UK-wide policy approach, although in my London bubble things were starting to change. At the time, Johnson was freshly into his second term as London mayor and there was outcry that his first generation of so-called cycle superhighways had been killing people. These were just painted stripes and in many cases, not even actual cycle lanes.


Cycleway 8 in London. The wands are a Pandemic response. The paint was how Mayor Johnson thought in his first term.

In 2013, I looked at Transport for London's Cycling Safety Innovation Trials 
being undertaken by the TRL and later the same year I actually visited trials twice to see them for myself. First as a cycling participant and second on a professional institution visit. Change to the cycling design approach with regulatory change was on the move, although it took until 2020 for the Department for Trasport to update its design guidance (for England) with LTN1/20 - Cycling Infrastructure Design. While the devolved administrations have their own guidance, LTN1/20 probably just pushes ahead, although I'd say it needs updating already, but that's another post.

I think looking back at the approach to cycling infrastructure design, it has increasingly became a mainstream subject in my profession from a conceptual point of view, but it is still taking time to permeate best practice. That is personally beneficial as almost three years ago, I quit my local authority job for my third private sector role which majors on walking and cycling design, but hopefully I'll end up out of a job one day.


The test roundabout at TRL (long since removed). It's a great pity the "shark's teeth" give way markings didn't make into UK regulations.

Beyond the potted roundup of how we and I got here in 2022 from a cycling design point of view, I think the posts on this blog have broadly crystalised into three themes:
  • In-depth technical posts,
  • Infrastructure Safaris (a term coined by Sally Hinchcliffe), and
  • Rants - subjects which had got my goat and which needed a venting.
The in-depth technical posts have been very enjoyable to write because they have pushed me to undertake some research which in itself has been fascinating because it often showed that many "new" ideas weren't new and we were just rediscovering things lost to a generation or two of designing and managing our streets for cars. For example, my research into traffic orders supporting "Low Traffic Neighbourhoods" (LTNs) earlier this year definitely showed they were nothing new at all.

My infrastructure safaris have been very enjoyable, whether solo or with other people. During the Pandemic lockdowns, they became vital to my wellbeing, but more generally, they have been a great way of looking our how other designers have been working. As I have said, nothing is new and so borrowing (and hopefully improving on) other ideas is as old as time. I also think that as design approaches have matured, I've probably shifted more to safaris in recent because they are a great way to explain design concepts. 



Ranting has been there in the background, although I've probably had it knocked out of me a little bit over the last couple of years because it takes too much energy! One of the subjects which rose to some controversy has been the deployment of LTNs and I am contantly irritated by the bad faith of people who use increasingly contorted arguments against them without admitting that they want the status quo. There's often a suggestion that main roads need treating too (they do), but that's more of a delay tactic than a genuinely held position because in my experience most who oppose LTNs also oppose main road changes. In the summer of 2020 I wrote about this and my post was commended in the Active Travel Media Awards in the blogs cateogory that year. Completely unexpected and very much appreciated.

I don't tend to keep an eye on the statistics generated by this blog (apart from posts like this) and so it's always interesting to see what is popular. The blog itself has passed 875,000 views (whatever that actually means), but more importantly, the most popular post with 10.7k views remains my 2013 "Kerb Your Enthusiasm" piece which was my original attempt at explaining how kerbs are used. I think this truly demonstrates that people are interested in how our roads and streets fit together in detail. I don't know what the least popular post was because Blogger doesn't seem to rank all of them, only the top 20 or so!


The very first deployment of entrance kerbs in the UK on the Coundon Cycleway in Coventry.

Speaking of kerbs, my ramblings have actually helped get the UK a new civil engineering element - the "Dutch Entrance Kerb" which is common outside of the UK (and of course in the Netherlands). It's a simple premise which uses a large ramped kerb to support the use of continuous treatments over side streets where walking (and cycling) space is prioritised over motor traffic accessing the side street.

My writing about the concept led to a meeting with a couple of Charcon's team about four years ago. As ever, ideas are great, but you need someone willing to to put their money where their mouth is and so the first potential customer for the kerb units was Salford City Council which wanted to use them in their Chapel Street scheme. Catriona Swanson was working for the council at the time and was instrumental in getting them included in the proposals and all of a sudden, the idea was a reality. Well actually, it wasn't quite there because the scheme ended up getting delayed. At the end of 2019 I was able to reveal the details of what was happening and at the start of 2021, I was able to talk about the first deployment of the units in Coventry on the Coundon Cycleway.

Although I have written quite a bit about cycling, I have also tried to cover walking, given it was my original point of interest. Walking is harder to talk about because the infrastructure already exists in most people's minds. In fact, given it's 2022, we should be talking about walking and wheeling if we are to be inclusive. In terms of infrastructural tools, there's probably only the side road zebra we need to add to our tool box. On the other hand, the use of infrastructure seeks to reduce the attractiveness of walking with staggered crossings and long wait times.


An experimental side road zebra crossing in Salford.

Back in 2014, I was reminded how important properly constructed dropped kerbs were as a new addition to our family got me back into practice pushing a buggy. This also was a good lesson in remembering that what we do to help one group in society, invariably makes life easier for many other people too. Maybe that's the key to walking and wheeling because it's the mode that requires the most personal effort and every twist, turn and long crossing can be tiring and works against the idea of a 15-minute city.

I think some of the problem with walking and wheeling being the original mode of transport with its (UK) infrastructure just being there is that there is very little research work going on to update practice. At the end of last year, I considered the PV² assessment framework which should have been consigned to the bin in 1995, but still lingers in highways departments today. It was actually a pretty shocking piece of research to undertake because it relies on the number of people crossing now - the fit and the brave. It was therefore nice to propose a different assessment framework, especially as the official one from 1995 which replaced PV² has also been withdrawn.


People don't behave like traffic models.

My writing hasn't always been about this blog, although did have the Silvertown Mole writing about the awful Silvertown Tunnel scheme in 2018, my only guest post so far. In March 2014, my first spin-off column appeared in Highways Magazine and my 84th article will be out in the next week or so. This has enabled me to reach a different audience and one which needs to change its approach in the face of the climate emergency. I started my micro-consultancy, City Infinity, in 2017 because I was frustrated with the direction of my day job (lots of annoying politics) and that has spawned three design guides and some interesting little projects. As it turned out, I didn't end up doing this as my day job because an exciting permanent role came up, but I still take small commissions and who knows what might happen in the future?



As a practical person in terms of learning and doing, I have found the more academic concepts in life challenging and often hard to understand. In the last couple of years I have take some more challenging training courses to try and get out of my comfort zone and it was an absolute revelation to complete the Urban Cycling Institute's Unravelling the Cycling City course in 2020. I think it was this piece of study which finally allowed me to conceptualise the fact that most of the "stuff" we have on our streets is motoring infrastructure. It's an area of thinking which extends to ideas of how people's behaviour responds to the environment you give them and for walking and cycling, rules created for driving often fail because of the way people behave when under their own power. The "how" of unravelling driving from urban areas is a subject which continues to fascinate me and I look forward to learning more.

Talking of unravelling driving, another little piece of my mobility jigsaw changed last August when our aging car died on us just before going on holiday. The hire car we arranged was another opportunity to consider changing technology and 10 months later, the idea of actually another car becomes more distant by the day.


My changing mobility choice.

Luckily, my Christiania tricycle has picked up the slack for local heavy lifting and the train for the odd long trip. There have been some trips we just don't make any more because they were only accessible by car, but to be honest, they're really not missed and there are other things to do. Life moves on and life changes.


My tricycle.

Let's go back to my original blog post where I asked "what do we really want". It was probably a pretty rhetoric question and it probably still is. Maybe it's because I have become immersed in my professional area of interest, but I think the UK in 2022 has become more aware of the importance of streets as places. Whether that has been a general shift in thinking, or whether highlighted by the Pandemic, we have (in some places) rediscovered our neighbourhoods. We have also realised that many places have become very inaccessible through gradual creep of motorisation.

One thing I haven't really written about is the climate emergency. This is mainly because I really don't understand enough to have any sort of authority on it (there are plenty who do), and partly because it's a tough thing to conceptualise. Even within the last few weeks, I heard Professor Glenn Lyons quote the economic anthropologist Jason Hickel who said "The Status Quo is a death march and we must abandon it". We are already beyond the point where we can pretend that business as usual is possible. Professor Lyons' words are going to haunt me going forward (with thanks to Glenn for the link). What I do know is our urban transport future and climate change cannot be solved by betting on a technological solution, it needs a huge reduction in car use and repurposing of streets to enable walking, wheeling and cycling as well as creating countless local responses to heating and flooding.



So what's next? Well, writing a weekly blog post has been hard work and at times it has been very time-hungry with site visits and research. I had been toying with retiring the blog when it hit 500 posts for some time, but it's not something I am ready to give up just yet. What I am going to do is to be less worried about posting weekly and I'll be having some time off. I have some family trips in the next few weeks into which I'll hopefully squeeze a few mini-safaris into and I've other places to visit and revisit on my long list. I've also a pile of books I want to get through, so local campaigning I need to help with and some other ideas at the early stage of thought.

Other than that, thanks for reading, thanks for the feedback and look out for my next post in a few weeks time which will most likely be another safari post. Oh, and where does the cheeky monkey come in? It's apparently Indian slang for the 500 rupee note which used to have a monkey printed on it and it became very familiar in London to mean 500. We're very good at nicking everyone else's ideas you see.