Wednesday, 7 August 2013

If you go back to the woods today

well, back to the transport research laboratory this week for a new cycle safety trial: this time, bus stop bypasses (or floating bus stops)

A TfL impression of a cycle bypass/ floating bus stop for Stratford.
As with my post on cycle signals, this is another part of Transport for London 'Safer Cycling Innovations' trials which TRL is undertaking for the Mayor to see how different street arrangements could be installed on London's streets to make cycling easier and safer. You may have seen the floating bus stop idea elsewhere, it is certainly not unique in other parts of Europe and there are some in the UK. 

For TfL, they are building them on the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2X) between Bow and Stratford, so why run a trial? TfL can be a strange beast. In many ways it is a typical old-school organisation which does things by the book and is probably a bit risk adverse, but they do innovate and they well know that non-standard layouts or features often have parts which need approval from the Department for Transport; so they run trials and from what I can see, bully DfT just a little bit.

A rough sketch of the layout. Red is the bus with yellow doors and
black wheels, the orange rectangle is a bus shelter, the white circle
is the bus stop "flag", the dark grey is tactile paving for a crossing
point, the blue is the cycle lane/ track/lane arrangement and the
light grey is the footway/ bus stop island.
So, the current trial essentially is set up with a straight section of road which has a short section of mandatory cycle lane and then this turns into cycle track which bends left into a footway area; at the same time, the floating bus stop island tapers out from nothing. You then straighten up, pass the actual bus stop area and then bend right to rejoin the road with another section of mandatory lane. As you are dropped back on the road, the floating bus stop island tapers back to nothing, but you (in the real world) are protected by it as you rejoin the road.

The relationship between the cycle track and the footway/ bus stop is in the vertical as they are separated by a kerb. To get onto the island, a pedestrian has to step down into the track and back up to the bus stop or use dropped kerbs; in short, pedestrians treat the cycle track as a little carriageway and cycles have priority.. The CS2X design seems to show a speed table to help pedestrians to cross and slow cyclists - kind of suggested pedestrian priority - this was not on the TRL test layout.

A bi-directional cycle bypass, but with a shared area of
footway behind the bus stop on Cycle Superhighway 3
on the A13, near Barking. Footway and cycle track are
at the same level.
The trial was set up to test interaction between cyclists and pedestrians and there were plenty of both! Many runs took place with different amounts and frequency of cyclists and different concentrations/ movements of pedestrians. I think movement was being filmed and cycle speeds were measured. Not always the most riveting session, but for me the interest was in the good range of both cyclists and pedestrians in terms of demographic. In talking to some of the cyclists, there were clearly those happy to be on the road and those less happy and so I think the results will be interesting.

A random Dutch layout of bus stop with cycle track running behind.
Pedestrians have to cross the cycle track to access the stop. In
London (and I hope in the rest of the UK) we would provide dropped
kerbs either side of the cycle track so wheelchair users, people using
pushchairs or with reduced vision/ mobility could access the bus
stop - we can do bus stops better than the Dutch perhaps?
Image from Google Streetview.
So, what are the positives and negatives of the layout? From the cyclists' point of view, one would not have to move out to overtake a stationary bus. In some parts of London, it can feel like playing a game of leapfrog with buses overtaking and then having to overtake them when they stop. Plus, one would not have to move out into traffic also trying to overtake a bus which is not a fun manoever.

Of course, this would mean a bus stop only treatment and one would get dumped back in live traffic afterwards, but still safer than overtaking a bus and where general traffic is slowed or stopped by buses, the bypass allows cyclists to carry on a make progress (which is kind of the reason for cycling in town!). I can also see the benefits for cyclists being magnified when going uphill and there is the protection from the bus stop island when one pops out the other end.

Despite Copenhagen being a pretty cycle friendly city, in very many
places, passengers wait behind the cycle track and then cross it to
get on the bus which is immediate conflict with cyclists, but locals
seem to be used to the layout - see the comments at the end of this

post, but cyclists are prohibited from "undertaking" the bus when it
Image Google Streetview.
However, while the cyclists vs bus/ traffic conflicts are removed, it does create new conflicts with cycles vs pedestrians. 

Where the cycle track has priority, the risk to pedestrians will be where one steps onto the track on which cycles have priority. This could at best be an exchange of words, but at worst, it could injure or even kill a pedestrian. I got the impression that the trial would look at cycle speed/ pedestrian density - I certainly slowed down when the footway and bus stop was busy and despite being under controlled conditions, I felt that someone could step in my way. But, at least the kerb upstand sends out the same cue to a pedestrian as any "road" would. I imagine that for people with reduced vision, the kerb and the upstand will be vital for their safe navigation.

I also think the position of the bus shelter and/or flag is important as passengers will wait near it. I think it is better for people to be waiting on the island and not the footway as when the bus pulls up, people will stream across the cycle track. Of course, this means the island has to be large enough to accommodate people not only waiting for a bus, but those leaving it who need to pause to check it is safe to cross - a large area for footway, cycle track and island will often eat into space currently used by traffic and so there will be the argument over space as ever.

Ultimately, this is an off-street trial and is arranged to help people decide how a new cycle friendly city could work (and not work, which is just as important). This and the other trials allow things to be tried in a safe and controlled way. The bus stop bypass is one thing which could be built, but it still needs to be part of a consistent approach. 

My guess is, that this trial and all of the others will not only inform some of TfL's current work, but form part of the London Cycle Design Standards overhaul which is well overdue its release. People have criticised TfL on spending money on these trials, but they need to go to DfT on some aspects for authority. Compared to the £500,000 being blown in Scotland on the feeble "Nice Way Code", at least TfL is working towards something real - perhaps the Scottish Government and TfL should pool their resources?


  1. It seems TFL only do things "by the book" where it makes cycling or walking easier or safer. Stuff which infringes on cycling or walking is just thrown in randomly. C.F. cyclists dismount signs on Blackfriars Bridge during the roadworks there last year. Not to mention the actual redesign of the bridge itself.

    TFL is still a deeply cycle phobic organisation. C.F. the recent comments by Leon Daniels about knee jerk reactions to the many deaths of cyclists on the roads so far this year. Ask yourself these questions. If there had been a tube crash which killed that number of people, would he have kept his job after a comment like that? Would TFL have been able to do sweet f.a. about tube safety? Why are tube passengers' lives worth saving but cyclists' lives are dispensable?

  2. Dave Lambert - that's a really good question. I couldn't find data online for tube deaths so far this year, but according to this page:

    The number of deaths on the tube was 22 in 2012, which compares to 17 cyclist deaths in London for 2012.

    So the number is broadly similar. So I don't agree that TfL consider tube passengers lives worth saving, but not cyclists'.

    Totally agree with your broader point about TfL being quite happy to use "Cyclist Dismount" signs etc. without properly trialling them, though.

    Blog post excellent as always, Mr. Ranty. I find this stuff absolutely fascinating. Really hoping this research is going to lead to better infrastructure in London as soon as possible.

  3. Dave Lambert - excellent point, perhaps they are "institutionally motorist" like lots of highway authorities.

    The other thing is that TfL is a vast organisation where departments do not talk and often have their own priorities.

    For example, at a recent borough forum with Andrew Gilligan, he was asked that if cycles are being prioritised through a TfL-controlled junction or on the Strategic Road Network (SRN - borough roads, but TfL has some high level broad say on changes) and TfL's "Network Assurance" team kick up a fuss, he would personally "knock heads together".

    Leon Daniels' comments were terrible and I am amazed that he hasn't at least been shifted somewhere else - this all stacks up to show TfL's multiple personalities.

    In terms of getting people to be radical, there are lots of engineers like me who are up for it, our problem is non-technical management who are risk adverse and too politicised and politicians lacking leadership unless it is viewed over a bonnet.

    You may like:

    Charlie - I guess the tube passenger deaths were due to people falling down escalators, suicides and the like, rather than through a fault with the tube system or negligence.

    Compared with collisions/ crashes on the roads (I hate the term "accident") there will most often be a fault with somebody's behaviour (high levels of HGV drivers at the moment, but behind some of the behaviour is road layout; plus where there are conflict points (CS2 anybody) between cycles and vehicles (left hook at classic), then eventually someone is getting hit and the cyclist will come off worse.

  4. Nice blog.

    Just a point about the layout of Danish bus stops where there are bike lanes.

    We have a mix of the "floating" ones and the "normal" ones (as in your photo). The reason why the normal ones work is that it is illegal for bikes to undertake a stationary bus at such a stop. This is for obvious reasons - passengers are dropped directly into the bike lane.

    Any cyclist undertaking a bus which is dropping off passengers will face a fine of 1000kr (about £130) and lots of abuse from alighting passengers. Bikes will therefore stop at the back end of the bus.

    Both designs avoid cyclists from having to overtake buses - an extremely good thing! Even a short wait is preferable.

  5. Anonymous - thanks for the comments, clearly the culture I saw on the streets was backed up by a bit of self-enforcement and a fat fine - I have tweaked the caption.

  6. My comment elsewhere , which i feel needs to be considered by ALL that want to see Cyclists treated with more care on the roads :

    Cheap to do if done RIGHT !

    Buses have that " Give Way sign "!

    NOW add !

    " You can see what is in front of me?" with graphics showing vehicle & 1 1/2m & bike !

    Put this sign on ALL Buses even 10 seaters , Trucks,High side vehicles , even delivery vans . Make it a LEGAL Requirement on any vehicle a normal saloon car CANNOT see through ?

    As with a bus pulling out of a bus stop , people will gradually START to pay attention and respond ?

    Legislation regarding " Safe passing Laws " may also be necessary but this sign will constantly remind Drivers of the dangers they pose to their OWN Licence by an inconsiderate manoevre ?

  7. Readers may be interested in another example of some planned floating bus stops in Manchester, along the very busy Oxford Road corridor.

    A CG video of the proposed infrastructure can be seen here:

  8. parrabuddy - we need protected cycle tracks and not campaigns as they have not increased numbers or safety with any significance.

    Tim - looks interesting, but still some bus stops not treated with floating stops; there are also plenty of left-hook locations - perhaps they could have sorted out protection through the junctions?

  9. Except the numbers from Copenhagen show an increase of cyclist pedestrian collision's of over 1500%. As a vulnerable pedestrian I trust NO vehicle user with my health and safety.

    1. I am not familiar with the data from Copenhagen, but they are gradually removing the design I mention above. It is a product of trying to keep traffic lanes and as soon as you remove them, then you have the space for floating stops.