Thursday 2 July 2015

Liveable Leicester Part 1 : Extreme Kerb Nerdery

Last weekend (27th & 28th June) saw the annual general meeting and infrastructure summit of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain held in my current favourite place which is the City of Leicester.

First, a huge shout to the Leicester Cycling Campaign Group for looking after us so well. Elizabeth Barner and Grant Denkinson were our guides and this extended to making sure I was on the right (cycle) track to get back to my hotel on the edge of the city on Saturday evening! Extra thanks to Elizabeth who emailed me a description of the routes we took around the city and provided a Strava map of our route on Saturday.

This post will concentrate on some of the larger interventions we saw and next week's post will look at some of the smaller (but equally effective) stuff. Of course, a weekend isn't the same as living somewhere and so there may be a little of the rose-tinted holiday spirit involved, but I will try and keep it objective and if I get anything wrong, feel free to correct me!

Yours truly involved in some spirit level/ tape measure kerb face
height checking action. Photo, Mark Treasure.
The format for the weekend was a mixture of serious on-site tape-measure kerb action, more relaxed exploration and discussion sessions at the Leicester Secular Hall. Oh, and we managed a pub or two and a curry (well it is Leicester).

I also want to thank one of the City Council highway engineers, Idris, for giving up his Saturday to ride and chat with us; plus Deputy Mayor, Cllr Adam Clarke, who has been part of the political drive to make the Leicester more liveable and who joined us for a while. I also thank the CEoGB for being inclusive and allowing us evil engineers to attend, including the irrepressible Brian Deegan who gave a presentation of engineering tips for cycling infrastructure design which promoted a great deal of debate. OK, gushing over, you want kerbs and tarmac!

I stayed on the southwestern edge of the city which was within easy reach of the M1 (yes, it was the folding bicycle in the car). I had done some research for a car-based trip and I picked my hotel knowing that there was a greenway which I could ride into the city. National Route 6, "The Great Central Way", runs from outside of the city limits broadly in a north-south direction. 

Following the old Great Central Railway route, there are surfaced paths (of fair to good quality) of varying widths which did feel tight in places. The route was lit which was great on the way back to the hotel late on Saturday evening and there seems to be a good amount of direction signage.

There are other routes like this from other parts of the City and they certainly take one from the outskirts to the centre pretty rapidly. Of course, the criticism is that being shared, one does have to slow down for other people (including people with dogs on long extending leads). The Great Central Way is largely a wide corridor and one can see (subject to loads of cash) a true cycle superhighway is possible.

As I left National Route 6, I did get a bit lost as the signage gave up and I had to resort to the map app on my phone, but I got to the Secular Hall eventually. Being an hour early, I invested in a fry up where I bumped into representatives of Cycle Sheffield who had the same idea! As the small crowd gathered, it was pointed out that my rear tyre was going down and I had to repair a puncture from a piece of sharp grit - so much for National Route 6! Still, a repair took me 10 minutes which wasn't too embarrassing. We then went of for a ride.

The first place we visited on Saturday was the St Matthew's area to the north of the city where we passed though an small industrial area into residential streets of terraced houses with yards laid out on a grid, mainly with traffic calmed 20mph Zones and some one way streets before cutting through Cossington Recreation Ground. It was all very relaxed until we headed south onto Belgrave Road which was a typical British High Street which attempted to stuff all uses into one street with the outcome that it is hostile to walking and cycling and not at all fitting as its status as Leicester's "Golden Mile". 

We then reached Belgrave Circus which is a large roundabout which has had a flyover removed (as part of a deal with Sainsbury's which was moving out of town) and is being remodelled to reconnect the Belgrave area back to the city. The roundabout being signalised allowed Toucan crossings on the northern and southern side of the roundabout which pushes a wide path through the middle shared by those walking and riding cycles. 

To be honest, I didn't care for the surface. Although flat, it was covered in 3 - 6mm stone surface dressing which was still losing material (it takes time to bed in). The colour is attractive and a lift compared to black asphalt, but it won't be as hard wearing as bound materials which would have given a better ride quality. The shared path was wide by UK standards, but given the fairly blank slate, a separate cycle track could have been provided. We crossed back towards the city in the centre of the street which had been changed to continue the walking and cycling link.

A wide view of the centre of the roundabout
We headed back to the city, passing under the Burley Flyover and awful roundabout and with the roads being generally awful until we reached the clock tower in the pedestrianised core of the city centre - more on that next week, but suffice to say, cycling is allowed!

We quickly arrived at the western side of the city core (inside the ring road) at Jubilee Square which until recently, was a car park. The square had a level surface shared space area to one side which was relatively traffic free when we were there, providing some access to this part of the city and somewhere for taxis to wait. The "carriageway" area was demarced with tactile paving to assist visually impaired people, although I don't know what the views of local access groups are.

Jubilee Square in October 2012 (image from Google)

Jubilee Square now!

An interesting little point to note is that the square is a restricted parking zone with some loading and access provision, but with minimum signage and no yellow lines (which are not needed in an RPZ). It is a masterclass in how to do RPZs well!

RPZ repeater sign showing no parking or loading - nice!

Loading bay at the edge of the square, the loading area is marked
out by the small element paving and you can see one of two signs
mounted to the wall of the building showing the end of the bay.

We looped around the city edge passing the Richard III Visitor Centre, itself in a very handsome street before heading out to Southgates to look at a new bidirectional cycle track hewn from a paved area next to the ring road.

There were harrowing scenes as kerb nerds started to measure the width of the track (3 metres) and the upstand of the kerb as it was stepped down from the footway. The step down was 40mm and the kerb was a 45 degree splay. This has a splay which is 75mm high and so the surfacing had been laid higher to take the kerb face face down. 

Even on my small wheels, I easily popped up and down the kerb without coming off, but I will admit, it wasn't completely what we would call "forgiving". The track carried on for a bit and we skirted Jubilee Square reaching St. Nicholas Circle (part of the A47).

We continued west on a cycle track taken from a lane of the main road, crossing the River Soar before turning off the main road using a bollard separated cycle lane into Duns Lane and beyond through the edge of De Montford University where we rode a section of the National Route 6 which I first came into the city on.

We looped around some derelict areas on the edge of Bede Park before heading back to the city, stopping to admire the kerbs and tarmac of Newarke Street which had another bidirectional cycle track won from a traffic lane of the ring road. The track was on the north side of the street by intervention of the Mayor because it was the sunny side - serious political interest in my view!

The recently constructed cycle track is 3.4 metres in width (excluding kerbs), it is machine-laid, smooth and induces a grin when one uses it. Sadly it is all too short (although more is planned) and it is let down by toucan crossings which are a bit of a fudge for crossing the roads at junctions. I do recall one 2 stage non-staggered crossing going green on both sides which was enough to cycle across both roads (although I assume pedestrians won't be able to make it across both sides. It does mean lots of tactile paving where separated facilities become shared at the crossings which is a clumsy, but I can only think, pragmatic solution for now. 

The cycle rack is stepped down from the footway and this is ingeniously achieved by laying a standard half-battered kerb on its side with the batter creating a forgiving splay of about 15 degrees. 

The kerb nerds were soon bumping up and down with no fear of being thrown off. Even though there is a rounded edge where the kerb meets the surface of the cycle track, it is negligible and won't catch a wheel. I will stick my neck out and suggest that this is one of the UK's best. Pedestrians have no trouble crossing the kerb, the step up is low and people using wheelchairs or pushing buggies will have no issues with this kerb in my view.

There are a couple of issues with using the half-battered kerb on its back though. First, it can only be laid is straight lines or radii of over 12 metres (no curved units are available). In addition, the kerb will need to be properly bedded on concrete and in turn the bedding founded on a decent base otherwise any overrunning by the odd van (we saw one) or a mechanical sweeper will "pop" them out.

The machine-laid surface (I think) is AC10 (10mm asphaltic concrete), although the stone was a little duller than I expected - it may be a dark stone with a red binder which is being polished off, but I am not entirely sure.

There is a side road (Marble Street) which is a one-way into Newarke Street. The cycle track is continuous across the side road (although the dip down to the road might have been done better). The footway kind of carried on across, but blister tactile paving was provided - I assume because vision from the side road was limited by building lines.

As it turns out, there have been a couple of cycle vs car crashes (drivers are perhaps more interested in looking right for traffic as they enter the one-way road), although we were informed that the road is being planned for closure as access could be taken elsewhere. There are more plans for the area and so time will tell.

I'm not sure about that bollard!
After we had finished admiring Leicester City's handiwork, we cruised back to the Secular Hall where we were well fed with Falafel (a first for me) before getting into the serious business of discussing infrastructure which was kicked off by Brian Deegan's talk on 22 little things and 1 big thing he had picked up designing for cycling - the debate on the interpretation of S65 of the Highways Act 1980 may have been a little too much for some of the campaigners to bear (although I maintain that I was right!)

So, that was Day 1 - there will be a post next week looking at some of the less engineered features we saw, together with some personal views on the weekend. Finally, for this post, I do need to claim some Build a Better World Bingo points (#BaBWBingo):

 I claim a point for volunteering to write this blog post (and next week's!), a rode with a politician and I was in "normal" clothes (hat optional). I have also used my photos as a talking point with some of the people in my team too, so I claim the teaching point, plus followers of this blog might learn something too!

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