Friday, 6 December 2013

A Bicycle Is A Vehicle Capable Of Speed

not my sage words, but those of john parkin, professor of transport engineering at the university of the west of england.

My blog is a year old and as is tradition, I have been thinking what has been the highlight of the year for me. I did do an end of summer round-up and so not wishing to repeat myself, I thought I would share these words as being something a little different from a round up.

Prof. Parkin was presenting at an Urban Design London "London Cycling Design Standards" seminar a few weeks back (along with Brian Deegan and  Phil Jones) where the assembled were eagerly anticipating snippets of the forthcoming guidance. 

He said whatever we remembered from the seminar we should remember this;

"A bicycle is a vehicle capable of speed"

Closing a road to through traffic? You can still allow cycles to pass.
The reason this is sticking in my mind is that it rather elegantly sets out how we should design for cycling, but it warns about the impacts on people walking.

A bicycle is a vehicle for a fair bit of of highway law and when we are formulating Traffic Regulation Orders (Traffic Management Orders in London), we need to remember that people on bikes are also subject to them. 

So, when looking to manage motorised traffic, the default position should include an exemption for pedal cycles at road closures, banned turns, one-way streets, no entries and so on.

Red signals (lights). Whatever the wider views on red vehicular traffic signals and the debate which I may stumble into, the fact is that people on bikes must obey them. This does not extend to toucan crossings where the red man/ bike is an indication that people should not cross and the green man/ bike is when people may cross (the language used is not "must not cross" on a red man/ bike). Even where vehicular signals are used within a cycle stage (which is not a toucan) they must be obeyed. 

I know, a red light to an argument!
If we can, perhaps we should design bypasses to avoid signals altogether, but we must remember how the law is applied to the user. When the small cycle signals are approved for use in the UK (I reckon early 2014) I imagine that they will be regulated in the same way as for vehicular signals and so they will have to be obeyed.

Bikes are capable of speed. I probably bumble along at about 12mph on average, depending on the conditions. Compare this with people walking at perhaps between 2mph and 4mph and the speed differential can be an issue on shared facilities. Pedestrians can feel intimidated by bikes and cyclists annoyed by pedestrians in their way - is it really an appropriate way to design things? Perhaps an interurban link with very low pedestrian use is an acceptable situation for people to share.

With speed there is a need to make sure we provide intervisibility between various users. It also takes time and space to slow a bike to a halt, so forward visibility is needed. Putting in crazy metalwork to stop cars and motorbikes getting access only serves to hinder people on bikes, people using wheelchairs/ mobility scooters and people pushing buggies. The faster one goes round a corner, the wider the turn will be and so it is no good expecting people riding bikes to be able to turn on a pin head.

When making trips, it would be good to be able to park the bike securely at the journey end, the shops, school, work or whatever. While Eric Pickles MP goes on about "aggressive parking policies" yet again, perhaps some of his energy could be put into helping people provide cycle parking as a far greater capacity can be provided for bikes in the same place as for cars.

Things have moved on a bit in the last year, but some things stay the same! I shall take Prof. Parkin's words that a bicycle is a vehicle capable of speed as a fundamental design principle and with it, I don't think we can go too far wrong.


  1. Poorly designed shared space is certainly a problem. I have seen some examples which are actually quite good, and work quite well, where there is enough space for both pedestrians and cyclists and a natural boundary between the areas designated for each – say a slight difference in level and a kerb – but most are too narrow, or littered with lampposts and other street furniture which somehow are always arranged to be on the cycling side of the line.

    One slightly different example which I particularly dislike is the shared path on the Waterloo Station approach. This used to be explicitly and exclusively for cycles, used only a little by pedestrians, but then a cycle hire station was installed alongside it. The path was widened but became shared-use with pedestrians. I suspect that this was necessary simply because no-one has yet devised a means for hire cyclists to reach their bikes other than by walking to them, and it wasn’t intended that the path should be extensively used as a footpath, but that is what has happened. Now my everyday experience is that pedestrians spread out across the entire width of the path, often groups of 4 walking abreast and leaving no safe space for cyclists to pass through. Cue a lot of bell-ringing or even “buzzing” which no doubt irritates the pedestrians but they have only themselves to blame, they are supposed to share and they are not sharing. It also doesn’t help that the path is on an incline so cyclists can pick a bit of speed going down.

    I don’t understand those barriers and gates which just about allow a standard bike to pass, but are hopeless for trailers, cargo bikes, trikes and – most importantly – wheelchairs etc. I suppose the excuse trotted out is to prevent cars or motorbikes getting through but how often in practice does this actually happen?

    Turn radii however I can understand – as cyclists/pedestrians we object to corners of roads being smoothed out to wider radii precisely because it allows cars to take the bend at excessive speed. IN a cycle/pedestrian shared context surely the same objection should apply?

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  3. WRT the low-level cycle-specific traffic signal shown in the picture (and which you saw at TRL), in a queue of cyclists, how far back from the stopline would you estimate it would still be visible?