Sunday, 16 July 2017

On Your Bike!

This is straight from the Ministry of Stating The Bleedin' Obvious, but I wonder how many people involved in the design, construction and management of walking and cycling infrastructure actually go out and experience what they build on foot or bike?

I've had the opposite thrown at me where it is suggested that younger engineers who don't drive shouldn't be designing "motoring" infrastructure. The argument might have a sliver of point, but the UK design approach rooted so deeply in motor traffic use that much of the references one can use are concerned with accommodating motor traffic. This certainly applies to standards such as the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges as well as more rounded advice such as the now decade old Manual for Streets. It is therefore not especially difficult to design a road layout (in theory), even if one is not a driver because the geometry in which motor vehicles operate is very well defined in guidance. Of course, engineers are trained and they do gain experience so it's not if we are dropping people in at the deep end.

In contrast, there is little modern "official" UK-wide design guidance for active travel and so local and regional publications have appeared to fill the vacuum as well as guidance coming from the industry. As good as some of this stuff is, it never quite has the gravitas of national standards. Sadly, the government appears to have little interest in active travel and its design and delivery is passed off as a matter for local highway authorities. Engineers like to be able to thumb through design guidance and there are many influenced by what they read. Documents such as "Cycle Infrastructure Design" (9 years old) are out of date and don't really grasp what is required, but designs based on it keep popping up. Walking fares even more poorly - perhaps because it is assumed that everyone does it!

Anyway. My point was about people involved in the design, construction and management of walking and cycling infrastructure experiencing what they build (and I'll extend that to decision-makers and the police). Social media is awash with "crap cycle lanes" and staggered pedestrian crossings so it is easy to get drawn into a fug about how this is all delivered, although I do find the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's "Insert Loved One Here" campaign to be a powerful way of highlighting the inadequacies of cycling infrastructure.

It's important to point out poor layouts, but in many ways I think it is more important to showcase what is good. It is even better to get out and experience it; actually it's vital to get out there and experience it with a technical eye. If people designing a narrow staggered crossing had to go and experience it from a mobility scooter or cycle along a bus lane with buses then we might see a change in approach. 

1 comment:

  1. Good idea! Our local advocacy group for people with disabilies sets up a tour for all the councillors to go out in wheelchairs and experience for themselves the difficulties the regular wheelchair users have identified. It's set up by the advocacy group and the council chairman as an excursion that all the councillors are expected to participate in at least once in every election cycle, as a hands-on experience of what they will be making their decisions on. As there are several things organised each election cycle to get newly-elected councillors up to speed, this has become part of that program; the street designers sometimes go on the excursion too, but not always. Something like that might work in England too (I'm in Holland so biking is less of an issue). In our case it's expected the elected officials will judge plans differently based on that experience, which makes sure the department people who design those plans are more attentive to the disability access aspects as well.

    Also, the yearly departmental teambuilding excursion for the town's civil servants has twice been to a regional centre that's set up to let sighted people experience the world as a blind person. There's a streetscape set up in a blacked-out old (formerly unused) building, complete with soundscape; you get handed a cane and given some instruction and practice, and then you have to try to walk a short route, following sidewalks, crossing streets (one with stoplights that tick and one zebra with a sloping curb/kerb), past a "building site" (with building noises and a pile of sand on the sidewalk) and some very usual street furniture like lamp posts and garbage bins. It is very enlightening as a sighted person to experience the trouble caused by some very standard design choices!