Saturday 16 February 2013

We can rethink the little things to improve walking and cycling

We don't need to accept road layouts which prioritise traffic over people just because that is the way it has always been done. The rules governing UK highway design are actually very flexible and don't let people tell you otherwise.

I was going to include some more examples of unusual, but completely legal highway layouts in my post on Risk, Liability & Designers, but it was getting a bit long and so I thought it would be better to have a post dedicated to a few simple and low cost measures which can help prioritise pedestrians and cycle users over traffic.

Anyhoo, to kick off, this diagram is something I have being playing with for a while after seeing a picture of how they do the junctions of main roads with residential streets in Holland - I am sure someone in Bloggerland has a good photo - I can't remember where I saw it! Please excuse the quality, I have no clever software, just MS Paint!

We have four drawings here of a basic priority junction (a side road going into a main road or a 'T-junction'). The first layout is very familiar and can be found anywhere in the country - here is a link to a random example in the back streets of Ilford, East-London.

The good thing about the layout is that the corner radii are tight which can slow traffic down a bit, but that is about it - drivers know they can easily take priority and at a speed greater than walking pace. If you are using a wheelchair, a stick, a pushchair or you have reduced vision, then the kerbs will be more difficult to cope with, if they are even dropped to meet the road.

The second layout now has dropped kerbs and tactile paving. The kerbs are dropped to meet the road at a flush level and the tactile paving is there to assist people with reduced vision. Now, tactile paving will have urban designers shaking with incandescence as they don't think it is very pretty. But, it was developed as a compromise

Basically, people using wheelchairs (and increasingly mobility scooters) can find it difficult bouncing up kerbs which are not dropped flat with the road surface. When kerbs are dropped flat, blind and partially-sighted people struggle to find the edge of the road which is rather important. Hence, tactile paving was invented. There are loads of types (too many) often poorly detailed and poorly understood and very often poorly installed by contractors - I might write a geeky post on it one day.

So, we have a layout which pedestrians of all abilities can physically negotiate. The third layout shows a "junction entry table" or a "side entry table" or an "entry treatment". Basically a big speed hump which is flat on top is built in the junction to make a more level surface for pedestrians to use. It still has tactile paving where the crossing point is flush with the road surface, but the layout starts to give pedestrians a bit more "presumed" priority over traffic - people will feel more confident asserting their priority (and drivers will have to slow down a bit). On the areas which are not flush, there should still be a small kerb upstand to help people with reduced vision to find the edge.

The fourth layout is weird (for the UK). The footway (pavement if you must) is continued across the junction and vehicles have to drive over it to get between the side road and the main road. I haven't bothered with road markings as there is no legal requirement to provide any. This layout has not got tactile paving as pedestrians have full priority and the footway area extends into the side road (as vehicles need to be able to get up onto the flat area so they don't ground - perhaps 5m/ 6m long). I would also be very tempted to pave the area to properly contrast with the road and make this a continuous colour several metres along the footway in each direction on the main road. But, is it a legal layout? I reckon it is, because if you can pave Exhibition Road as a single surface, why not a little junction?

S66 (1) of the Highways Act, 1980 states;

It is the duty of a highway authority to provide in or by the side of a highway maintainable at the public expense by them which consists of or comprises a made-up carriageway, a proper and sufficient footway as part of the highway in any case where they consider the provision of a footway as necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians; and they may light any footway provided by them under this subsection.

In or by the side of? Well, my layout does both. But (I hear you scream) isn't this a hump for the purposes of the Highways (Road Hump) Regulations 1999? Well, I would argue that this is the footway and not the road and so not subject to the H(RH)R1999, but even if it was, then don't make the "raised" area higher than 100mm, make sure the "hump" is at least 900mm long and it is square to the direction of travel (it would be anyway) - there is no regulation on the gradient of the ramps, but we need to be sensible about cycle users and motorcyclists using it.

If it is a hump, then triangular hump markings are needed unless the hump is in a 20mph Zone and for an entry treatment, you wouldn't need to provide traffic signs unless absolutely necessary. So, why don't we use the fourth layout and is it any different to countless private accesses across the country? 

Now, I am not suggesting that this layout is appropriate in all cases, but it would tell drivers leaving the main road that they are entering an area where perhaps they may not be king and as they turn in, they absolutely need to make sure that nobody is walking along the footway over which they wish to pass. On approaching the main road, drivers would have to check for pedestrians first and perhaps it might make them think before then pulling out onto the main road.

It is not used, because in the main, money is not often spent on treating this type of junction. If the footway is being relaid, then you might get the second layout (in fact, I think the Equalities Act compels a basic upgrade like this when footways are being relaid - again, another story). If the junction is the entry to a residential area which is to be made a 20mph Zone, then the third layout is often used. Beyond that, I am not sure there are many people thinking about such radical (for the UK) changes and certainly, many designers would not want to make a change from conventional thinking. 

I would like to try the layout (I might get the chance in work,who knows). I would record the reasons why I am doing it, I would record a simple designer's risk assessment and do some before and after monitoring. The risk will be that someone gets hit by a car or a car slowing to turn in gets shunted by the idiot driving too close behind. I don't think the risk is particularly different from the entry treatment. I think it is highly unlikely I or my employer would get sued if the design decision was sensibly recorded. I would argue that the driver suddenly has an awful lot of liability in deciding to cross the footway, of course, I can imagine the objections from the army of experts out there (who drive everywhere and have no concept of risk!)

This design could also be easily adapted for a cycle track and suddenly, I think any vestige of an argument about whether there is a hump or not disappears. It is absolutely clear that cars do not have priority here. A cycle track can be built using S65 of the Highways Act 1980, which states;

Without prejudice to section 24 above, a highway authority may, in or by the side of a highway maintainable at the public expense by them which consists of or comprises a made-up carriageway, construct a cycle track as part of the highway; and they may light any cycle track constructed by them under this section. 

This layout suddenly looks rather Dutch. You will notice the grey strip above the green - this is a space between the track and the road - if it is made a sensible width, then all of a sudden, you have a space in which to stick lamp columns and traffic signs. Now one other point. The little quarter circle kerbs are properly known as "quadrants" and informally known as "cheeses" (a hint at Edam?). They are available at 305mm and 455mm as standard kerbs in the UK. trying to ramp from the road to the footway/ track level over such a short distance would be a pain for drivers and certainly cycle users and motorcyclists, so a natural stone version could be used (say 1000mm) which would be bullet-proof (or even a 1m radius kerbs - a ramp would then be more acceptable.

A few years ago (when I didn't cycle, other than on tracks in the forest), I was not particularly a fan of closing roads - the traffic had to go somewhere and why shouldn't all roads take their fair share? My view has changed. I have grown up with the "predict and provide" of road building (I vaguely remember the A12 being dualled out in the far east of London as a kid) and what we have now is not only heavily congested trunk roads in London, but many residential streets are just as bad with people trying to get through at any cost. So, despite spending untold billions building wide and fast trunk roads to deal with traffic, local roads are really horrible.

The widespread use of road closures has the potential to civilise local streets by forcing traffic back onto main roads. Yes, main roads will get busier, bus routes will suffer and the emergency services will be impacted, but unless we are radical, nothing will change. Eventually, a walking and cycling alternative will emerge so people don't need to drive everywhere and congestion on the main roads will drop back.

Road closures are simple to design and build, but need a Traffic Regulation Order (which is subject to consultation) to make them lawful. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 deals with the matter under S1 and S6 (for London) - it is well worth campaigners reading the first few clauses to see just what is possible, but in essence, we can control and prohibit traffic, but still permit cycling.

Here we have another four layouts. The first is a gate put in to close the road. It is cheap and nasty and no use to cycle users. Gates are often put in to "help the emergency services" in case they want to get through. In my experience of consulting with the emergency services, they really don't want the hassle of stopping and opening gates, they will come in from the other end. In fact, it is only the fire brigade which bothers to carry keys as such gates are locked with universal keys. These keys are great as those in the know get a set themselves and use the gate! Some layouts just use a few bollards which is cheap, but they can be knocked out and fold-down ones are also abused. Here is one in Chadwell Heath (with a traffic signal for cycles!).

The second layout sticks a big pedestrian refuge in the junction and it operates like any other junction, but only cycle users can pass through. Motorcyclists might try it on and so it is an enforcement issue, but actually, I doubt most people would be too bothered - the TRO could even permit motorcycles. Bollards can be used to stop cars as well (4x4s will attempt it!).

The third layout is like the footway crossing I explained above and so the square in the middle would legally be a little shared-use cycle track to allow cycle users to pass through and should be declared as such using S65 of the Highways Act 1980 (I have used a corduroy style tactile paving to demarcate the area and to warn people with reduced vision that they are entering an area which might have a hazard - it is not a legal requirement, just a judgement).

The fourth layout is like a little junction for cycle users on a road hump (subject to the H(RH)R1999), and gives a bit of space for a tree to disuade drivers. There are all sorts of combinations and it will often depend on the relative flows of cycle users to pedestrians, but the point is, cars cannot use the route, but cycle users can.

One issue with road closures is refuse collection and deliveries being prevented from turning round. Areas where such vehicles could loop around will be fine or if there is a junction near the closure, then it can be used as a turning area. The problem comes where refuse/ delivery vehicles are expected to reverse long distances which itself can create a safety issue. 
It is possible to have limited access junctions where people can get out of an area in a vehicle, but cannot get in (and vice versa - it depends) - this will solve the refuse/ delivery issue. Such an arrangement would offer no advantage to rat-running traffic as it would be dropped back on the main road before the point where it left. 

This layout shows a residential area between two main roads. The two junctions with the top road can only be used by cycle users. The bottom left junction can be used by all. The bottom right junction can be used in both directions by cycle users but traffic can only go in - to leave, they will need to use the bottom left junction. The bottom road is congested running left to right and so there is no advantage to traffic using the estate to overtake congestion. 

Of course, the bottom right junction may get people attempting to run the wrong way to get past, so this would need to be laid out to make it difficult or feel uncomfortable to do so and may need some enforcement. This is the kind of thing meant when people talk about "filtered permeability".

This layout shows a very basic way of achieving a limited access junction. The layout would have a TRO in place to allow cyclists to leave the area, but make it an offence for traffic to to the same (reinforced by signage). 

Here is another example from Chadwell Heath which stops traffic leaving the often congested A12, although why anyone would want to cycle on this road is beyond me! 

Traffic signals are another area where cycle users can be helped. The best thing (from the cycle user point of view) is not having to stop at them! Here is a layout (stylised I know) which can take a cycle lane behind a traffic signal and so a red traffic signal doesn't apply; they are also protected from traffic turning right out of the side road. Of course, this layout does not address cycle users running left to right and does not deal with pedestrians at all, but gives a flavour of what can be done. Of course, a similar layout can be used to bypass quite a few things such as roundabouts and bus stops. The Alternative Department for Transport has recently shown some examples.

Finally (and I am getting beyond simple and a bit past legal I think) is what I would call advanced cycle bypass and cycle signals combo.

The cycle track at the bottom would allow running right to left all of the time, although pedestrians lose a bit of priority having to cross the cycle track. I reckon the left arm cycle track and top arm cycle track could get a green signal at the same time, although those going from top to left and left to right would have a conflict. Pedestrians would get their own green and traffic would need two phases (main road running together and side road on its own (cycles could go from left to up though). Cycles going from top to left would also have to aim for the gap. Cycles turning right could wait at the gap (probably with another signal) to run with cycles elsewhere - probably a single stage for cycles who would have to use a bit of sense to avoid each other.

The thing which would help with this junction would be for the Department for Transport to permit the use of mini-signals which would be at cycle user eye height, otherwise we are stuck with the full size signals which are confusing at our old friend, the Bow Interchange (photo from London Cycling Campaign).

OK, so another long post and it all got a bit complicated at the end (I was trying to look at a couple of simple ideas), but the point is that things can be done. 

Engineers can certainly design the layouts we need but guess what? Yes, we need the politicians to agree for us to make these changes and if they tweaked a few of the regulations, we could try a few more things. But, if we properly set out what we want to do and why we designed something, we should try it. With a bit of logic, the risk of being sued is tiny and if enough people do something, common practice does become some of the argument if you end up in court (which you won't unless you have been really reckless).


  1. On regulation changes- here in Cambridge we had a few previously entirely one-way streets (that had a high level of illegal contraflow cycling) changed to two-way- this shows one location.

    Of course, those signs are terrible. Whoever invented the "flying motorcycle" was clearly tripping if they thought they'd come up with an unambiguous sign, made worse by it being frequently paired with the even woolier "Except for Access".
    They've now been replaced with far clearer, previously illegal signs- simply a "No Entry" with an "Except Cycles" below it- can't find a photo, if you want I'll snap one. Gives a bit more flexibility, as otherwise I believe you need an island, mainly for an additional sign post.

  2. I have used the stuntman at work sign for a street which had to allow access to a loading bay in a town centre as the shops had no other loading. Aside fro that, the no entry except cycles is newly allowed - in fact, you could just have a "normal" junction with a pair of these and that is enough (no island needed). The trouble is people taking a chance and driving through, hence my island example.

  3. In a fit of boredom I decided to look up what the legal basis is for having traffic that comes out of such an arrangement (Dutch: "uitritconstructie") yield to all other traffic. The IANAL conclusion: the side road is considered an actual driveway. This puts traffic joining the main road at such a junction in the same category as vehicles performing other "extraordinary maneuvers" such as reversing, hitching up a trailer, parking etc. In other words, Dutch law didn't have to be amended for this arrangement to work.

    The offending article can be found here (in Dutch, of course).

  4. Most examples I've seen of raised crossings have too shallow a hump, and deviate behind the desire line. Oxfordshire has developed a simpler/cheaper version: which uses the tactile and imprinted blockwork to give a sense of continuity to the pedestrian, which works brilliantly.

    The steepness of the hump means you don't generally need to tighten up the radius (or at least, not so much that people start worrying about over-running).

    There are one or two examples of footways built across side roads - eg but not on a main road. We discussed doing this on a main road, but opted for the raised crossing / imprinted blockwork instead, on maintenance grounds.

  5. Hi RH,

    The article you were thinking of might have been this one –

    I'm a big fan of continuing the pavement across a minor junction! I wonder, if it turned out that your fourth image isn't legal for some reason, could it be done by turning it into a small "pedestrian zone (except for access)"?

    I think Richard's example of Oxfordshire's simpler/cheaper version looks, well, too simple and too cheap. Unfortunately it just doesn't look to me like the footpath continues across the junction there, the road clearly continues around the corner and disrupts the footpath. What are we to make of those red bricks? What do they even mean? A pedestrian is still "crossing the road" rather than a motor vehicle "crossing the footpath". It looks to me like the usual UK cheap, half-arsed kludge.

    This example in Brixton almost has it right, I feel: – the footpath remains level, the double-red lines on the main road continue past the junction, but unfortunately the pavement material changes giving a 'driveway' effect.

    Also, should you wish to see it, there's a photo of a red-light-cycle-bypass here:

    I really enjoy your blog, by the way!


  6. bz2 - The layout in my first image is not prescribed in law and so it has just evolved. My guess is that roads were dirt tracks covered in horse poo and worse; and over the years became horrible for gentlemen to walk in so we got raised platforms on the side to keep shoes clean. The arrangement stuck. My view is that the Highways Act appears to allow total flexibility, after all, why isn't Exhibition Road in court now over it being footway or carriageway? (This scheme is a debate in itself).

    Richard - Imprinted asphalt is seen as a cheap version of block paving as block paving used in a carriageway must be structurally designed literally from the ground up, whereas imprint can be stuck on the stop. Personally, I am not a fan as it can be uneven for pedestrians and slippery for cycle users/ motorcyclists. If it is not to look like an entry treatment, it would need to be extended a distance wither side.

    SC - yes, that's the photo - thanks! Your drawings are much better than mine. I pedestrian zone would need signs which makes it look like a road - I think my idea is legal, but that is for the courts - the DfT are not enforcers. I guess if your design is so bad and someone is hurt, then the HSE might prosecute under health and safety law.

    The Brixton example is getting close. It does look like a driveway, but this will be the paving flags either side not being able to take traffic loads - block paving on both sides without kerbs in the side street would be better. The red lines carrying on on the main road is the correct way to do it as they apply to the rear of the footway anyway.

    The only problem with the Brixton and Oxford examples is having very steep ramps. If the ground is clay, then anyone driving into them a bit quick will cause vibration which upsets building owners - of course people turning in should be going slow. Also, steep ramps and not great for cycle users and motorcyclists in terms of helping them lose control - care is needed in the design.

  7. Here is an example of a continuous pavement in Sheffield,-1.480858&spn=0.008333,0.022724&sll=53.380809,-1.476394&sspn=0.008384,0.022724&t=m&z=16&layer=c&cbll=53.380071,-1.480728&panoid=xYST4K_F37W3EjjuZdFgSA&cbp=12,202.78,,0,1.44

  8. Here's one from Clapham

    1. Yes, I must get back there for a proper look - saw it when it was being built.

  9. The designs where cars have to drive over the footway are very interesting, but isn't it illegal for a car to drive on the footway? How is this obstacle overcome?

    1. It's no different to people driving over the footway from, say, a car park - i.e. if there is a lawful reason to cross then it's fine. Different to someone driving along the footway (which is endemic with footway parking for example)

    2. But Section 34(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 permits driving on a footway for the purposes of parking provided the distance is less than 15 yards. Equally Highway Act 1835 s.72 permits driving on the footway in situations of necessity (Curtis v Geeves (1930) 94 J.P. 71), but this does not seem to be a case of necessity (presumably there is always a longer way round). So how is it legal?

    3. Well, they are being built everywhere (and there are loads of historic examples) and the approach is in official government guidance (Local Transport Note 1/20)

  10. But Section 34(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 permits driving on a footway for the purposes of parking provided the distance is less than 15 yards. Equally Highway Act 1835 s.72 permits driving on the footway in situations of necessity (Curtis v Geeves (1930) 94 J.P. 71), but this does not seem to be a case of necessity (presumably there is always a longer way round). So how is it legal?