Saturday 13 February 2016

Quicker By Cycle

I don't get out as much as I would like with the day job, but this week I had a meeting on a site 5 miles away from my office and naturally I cycled.

I say "naturally" because I completely ditched using my own car for work about 3 years ago when parking charges were brought in (£300 a year which is better used as a bike fund). I now use my bike for most of my site visits and meetings, although sometimes the bus if the weather is really bad (and the train for meetings in the centre of London). 

The journey was about 25 minutes and with the exception of a couple of places, it was on some very quiet streets although many do turn into rat-runs at peak times; I'll come back to that in a bit. The point is that the journey time was very reliable. 

If I made the same journey by bus (at the same time of day, about 1.30pm)  it would take 2 buses and be about 35 minutes and that assumes that the interchange is smooth; or one bus and a bit of a walk (about the same journey time). By car, it would be about 20 minutes, although add 5 minutes for the walk from the office to the staff car park. The journey time by bus or car is not reliable because many of the roads on the (driving) route suffer from congestion and at peak times, the uncertainty of travel times increases. For an interesting look at comparative cycle vs car travel times, have a look at this blog post by Mark Treasure.

Anyway, what is natural mode of transport for me is unusual in Outer London where the cycle mode share is less than the London average of 2% (probably around half that where I live) and where car ownership is high (although highly variable across wards) and that remains the challenge where the debate often goes as far as saying nobody cycles, so why invest the funding in enabling it? This is why historically, investment for cycling has remained low for decades with all but isolate dedicated facilities and paint on main roads.

Back to the my journey. The route I mainly took was mainly on a long-established locally signed route between which has the advantage of using a park path which is shared, but lit and always open. This cuts out some pretty awful main roads and gives the time advantage. The route (with some tweaks) is pencilled in as one of the Mayor of London's Quietways (currently unfunded) and this presents big issues for the future which appears to be the case where the routes of being built.

The main problem is that we are still talking about "cycle routes" and that means for any given end-to-end route, it will only ever be as good as its worst section or junction. My route crossed and ran along some busy roads. Crossings should be easy if they pass between side roads, then filter out other traffic crossing between those side roads. Where a route zig-zags between side roads via a busy road, then we need protection on that busy road; this is where I think just looking at routes is failing us - if we need to work on a main road for a short section, then why not the whole of the main road?

Crossing primary streets is straight-forward.

For Central London, the Quietways are meant to be part of a bigger grid picture, but in Outer London they seem to be arranged to connect areas to town centres. This does make sense in terms of trips to those town centres being made in their own right or as journey stages and people are not going to commute into the centre from the edge (unless they are really committed). I think the problem I am seeing is one of funding and ideas being spread to thin and we need a different tack.

I have been using the Cyclenation/ Cambridge Cycling Campaign "Making Space for Cycling" website and guide recently as a reference point in trying to explain the concepts of how we should be looking at out road network; that is, making decisions on what each street is for at a network level which then sets the treatment of each street going forward. The generality is that we are considering 5 types of street (please read the document for a really detailed explanation on wider principles) - there is consideration of off-road leisure routes, but I am more interested in urban cycling here;

Major roads between urban areas
There are basically fast and busy dual carriageways or motorways. In Outer London, these will be the radial roads such as the A12, A13, M11, A10, A1 ,M1, A40, A3, A2 and so on; or roads like the A406 North Circular. Many of these roads have no frontage access and limited junction access. 

For cycling, these could be fast routes and so parallel provision could be dividends, although walk distances mean they would be less useful walking. Where is gets more complicated is where some of the 'A' roads have people living on them, shops and side roads. In this condition, we need protection for walking and cycling, including regular, convenient and safe crossing points.

Primary Streets
These are generally A roads (sometimes B roads) which carry lots of motor traffic and provide direct links between places. They will normally have lots of frontage use and direct access and may or may not be dual carriageways (although single carriageways will predominate). For Outer London, these roads could be some of the big radial roads, but a bit further in. I think speed limits will be down to 30mph as well. 

Protection on Main Streets.

An example could be the A118 which connects with the A12/A127 in the east and the A11/A12 in the west taking in towns such as Romford, Ilford and Stratford. Again, protection and good crossings will be the order of the day. With the A118 example, we only have Stratford High Street doing anything meaningful. Many of these streets are "High Streets" and in the UK we really cannot decide what they are for - shopping or stuffing traffic through.

Secondary Streets
These might still carry high levels of traffic, but might also be quieter off peak. They will likely carry bus routes and have local shops. As with Primary Streets, we need to provide protection for walking and cycling, but these places can often lack highway width (boundary to boundary) for decent protection. This class will be very difficult to deal with and although they often try to be Primary Streets, I think many should be reworked to become local streets.

Local Streets
These are where people live, where kids should be able to play outside and might have the corner shop. Local streets should not be used to convey traffic between areas, should not be used by buses (unless small vehicles are being used on less frequent services) and the speed limit should be 20mph.

Short Links
These are those little routes which are longer than point closures, but are not end-to-end routes in their own right.

Short links - drivers go the long way round.

These are concepts which I will be returning to again and again, but what does this have to do with my 25 minute journey and the route I took? The first thing is that rather than looking at a whole route, I think effort is better spent looking at neighbourhoods around the main destination and building change from there. This brings focus and means that change in one area can be used so sell the idea to the next area; plus, this can help reconnect those neighbourhoods to the town centres for walking as well which can be sold to town centre shops. 

The thing to do is to get a map of the area and to colour code the street according to the 5 classifications above (literally print out the area and get highlighter pens out). What you'll probably find is that there are local streets which have too many through routes for motors and these need to be dealt with through a mixture of closures to motors, one-way streets (for motors) and prohibited turns (so-called "modal filtering"). 

A modal filter splitting two areas into traffic cells. Access for motors
is allowed in each motor cell, but people can't drive between them.

The aim is to break an area down into "traffic cells" which people can access with cars, refuse trucks and deliveries, but they can't use the streets to "beat" primary and secondary streets. The principle here is that people cannot drive between traffic cells. To play with the filters, one can use stickers on the coloured map to try different arrangements (and it can be a headache as an action in one place causes a problem elsewhere). This is something I have been doing quite a bit recently and it allows for rapid prototyping of ideas before going to the time and effort of then producing something professional-looking.

With the route I took in the week, this approach means that as well as creating the "route" the areas around the route will get treated along the way which will make for quiet neighbourhoods and feed the route itself. It also means that one has to confront street uses and the difficult issues on an area by area basis. Starting at the town centre end of a route allows refinement further on and something people can go and see. I have a particular issue on the route I took where I would have classified one street as "secondary" as it connects two other areas. 

The initial classification on this basis showed that not only there were primary streets which motors could be sent on (yes with a distance and time penalty), it showed that the inevitable conclusion being that a future classification had to be to convert the street into a local street with a modal filter. In theory, as no bus traffic is involved it should be easy (at least from a technical point of view). Moving from the page, we can use experimental traffic orders and cheap physical treatments to test layouts in the real world. Reaching some people in terms of consultation is difficult, but trialing layouts for a few months would allow data and better informed views to be collected.
Cheap, temporary and reusable materials for experimental schemes.

I don't know if I have explained myself very well in this post, I'd be grateful for feedback, but the point is that playing with coloured pens and maps is not costly and it allows a street use policy for an area to be set which in turn becomes the focus for investment. While the nominal longer distance cycling route will be improved, we get more "bang for the buck" in civilising the wider area. Indeed, this is less about cycling and more about liveability (and in Outer London, using the word cycling is like a red rag to a bull to some people).

At least in London, the only people doing it on this kind of scale is Waltham Forest with its Mini-Holland project. Cheap filtering pays huge dividends and allows serious money to be spent on big roads. If each borough in Outer London started doing this in a meaningful way, it would really allow limited funding to be focused in making nicer places which felt safe to use and then investing where protection is really needed. Before we know, it will truly be quicker by cycle.


  1. You should classify roads as through roads, roads intended for traffic at medium-high speed at fairly high volumes, access roads, slow traffic at low volumes, and distributor roads, the roads that connect them. This makes it simpler to determine which roads get what treatment.

    Those shortcuts really help, and especially can get rid of side conflicts along distributor and through roads. Make sure they're at least 3 metres wide and there is at least 1.5 metres on either side of the barrier if present, and they will work well.

    And here is something else that people don't realize. By removing more and more traffic lights, and especially creating bypasses around light controlled pedestrian crossings and for the always allowed by bike left turn and single stage simultaneous green intersections and low waiting time two stage protected junction right rights, this improves your average speed hugely. Add in bus stop bypasses assuming you have the right geometry, and boom, another major improvement to your average speed and more efficient use of your energy. Add in the cycle track or sometimes wide cycle lane that lets you filter through traffic safely, so you don't get stuck in the congestion that motor traffic does. And by providing these safe and pleasant and fewer stop journeys, it makes you feel like the ride is shorter than it is. 1 km of riding in Assen let's say is very pleasant, while 1 km of riding with the heavy motor traffic is very scary and feels like it lasts ages, kind of like school tests.

    Don't forget about urban roundabouts. If you add a protected cycle track around it in the non annular style, you get safety and another set of traffic lights removed.

  2. Just been on a group looking at the best route for a quietway. The problem is Teddington High Street - a secondary route with buses and a fair amount of traffic but it also has shops, library , pool etc that people might want to cycle to. Ideal solution - move the traffic elsewhere - but there is no suitable road to displace it onto failing knocking down a lot of houses.

    1. Twickenham centre's a lot trickier. "Just" get rid of the on-road parking along the A313 & there's loads of room.

      But a quietway in the Teddington area? What on earth for? People cycle where they want to cycle on an already quiet network off the High Street. Sure, find out where you can put in more filters etc on a borough/ward basis (as Garmon says), but please don't imagine people will bother with the routes. Too many won't find them convenient to use. Didn't work with the LCN, won't work here."We'll *make* it work this time"? Meh. Good luck. PS I'm not getting at you -for me at least, quietways are some sort of bizarre unproven chimera of unravelling modes and access road treatment.

    2. I think there are lots of places where really tough decisions need to be taken. I'm glad I'm not a politician!

  3. Great post. Hackney are currently consulting on just such a scheme that would bring benefits and improving the liveability on numerous streets around London Fields area (rather than having the focus exclusively on one 'quietway' street.

    Usual arguments against from car owners, mixed in with completely spurious scare stories that pollution would increase and that streets with no through traffic are dangerous.

    Need ppl to reply to the consultation choosing Option 1 as the more examples of successful schemes, the more likely similar new schemes will be introduced elsewhere. Details here :

    1. Yes, I think area-wide schemes like this will show the value of opening up quiet "grids" for cycling. I really hope this experiment goes in.

  4. Hey Ranty, have you ever gotten yourself an omafiets? It's the kind of bicycle that the Dutch ride each day, 95% of them in fact use one. Enclosed gears, brakes, chain, lights, dyanmo powered, bolted to the frame, upright position, rear rack that if you get panniers with and a front rack and crate, could hold around 70-100 litres of volume and up to maybe 50-100 kg of mass, and is very visible in the dark? 300 pounds sterling per year will easily pay off such a bike in 2 or 3 years.

    1. That kind of bike will be my next day to day model. I have a really big Specialized which is nice and upright, rack, mudguards, chain-guard, double stand, 7 gears (twist) and city tyres; of course it has that spec because I customised it! I couldn't justify changing it at the moment as it runs pefectly; mind you that's just *one* of my bikes. I have a folder (luggable rather than refined) for the train/ car boot, a Christiania box-trike and an old (but perfect) steel racer which I am going to tinker with in the summer (a swap with a friend for my old hybrid). Yes, bikes!

  5. This is an exercise I regularly do with the town I live in in my head.particularly when I can't sleep...

    I think the key point is that it could be really easy and cheap to trial and refine really quite big projects in cones, paint and concrete barriers. Then "permanise" them when the design is right.

    For example, Big roads where cycle infrastructure doesn't actally remove road capacity (just makes vehicle lanes narrower) could have segregated lanes put in with bolt down kerbs in a matter of hours. But in theory even complex junctions could be trialled.

    The attractive thing about this approach for councils is that they could follow the New York model and promise that the changes are 100% reversible if they don't work or people really hate it.

    It needs a really switched on Councillor in the local council to put the correct team together for this.

    1. I've been reading about trial layouts in the US and they really can pay quick dividends; plus if there are issues, they are easy to tweak!

  6. I was interested in your comment about Waltham Forest's Mini-Holland project. I haven't looked at it before now, and naturally I was curious to see if this was a model that is worth replicating in other London boroughs.

    You mentioned that you would talking about this some more, so I'll be interested to read what you have to say. In the meantime, I have prepared a map for you (here).

    1. That is a fascinating map; certainly shows how things are starting to fit together in WF. I think the area approach rather than individual routes seems to be working in WF (an early stage of course); I could see main road protection being the big scale grid with neighbourhoods filtering our traffic, but providing cycling grids. I'll be back at WF later in the year.

  7. Thanks for the kind comment - much appreciated.

    I have just been reminded that one of the things I am trying to do is to find routes which extend from one side of the page to the other. This is why the boundary area I identified on the map is somewhat larger than the one served by Waltham Forest's Mini-Holland scheme. The average journey distance in Copenhagen is 1.5km, it is true; but the Danish cycling culture is much more evolved than ours is. For the time being, people cycling to work are, I would argue, the most likely to give a more immediate return on investment.

    It says here in Cycling: the way ahead, "According to its specific features and its resources, each town will have to choose its priorities or specific actions to take. Reproducing apparently effective action taken elsewhere could have negative consequences if the concerted and coherent programme on which such actions have been based is not taken into account. On the contrary, it is preferable to draw inspiration from known examples with due caution."

    At the last count, the modal share for cycling in Waltham Forest was 0.8%. Probably the number of people cycling there would increase as a result of the Mini-Holland scheme, but for me that is somewhat beside the point. It ultimately comes back to the idea that high-engineered solutions are best undertaken within the framework provided by a functioning cycling network.

    The case is, it wouldn't take that much more work. To give you an example, this cycle path is a little bit further on than the Ruckholt Road route.

    Regards, Simon