Anything which challenges UK dogma on what or who highways are for is often met with derision and in our current post-fact thinking of the world, emotive nonsense travels far more quickly than rational facts or critical thinking.
This week, I came across a website which concentrates on plans in London to build a so-called cycle superhighway through Chiswick in West London with the rally cry "ditch it or switch it". The consultation for the scheme closed in October last year, but one of the boroughs involved, Hounslow, has said that decisions will be put off until the summer, partly because of the London elections in May and partly because of issues raised about the Chiswick High Road section.
Anyway, that will have to run its course and I want to respond to the comments made on the "ditch it or switch it" website, although in truth, you can copy and paste this kind of sentiment into any scheme where streets are being proposed for rebalancing. It doesn't matter if you are talking about a single zebra crossing which "takes away people's parking" or a transformative scheme such as CS9. The key claim which caught my attention was this;
"The way things are currently, CS9 will destroy Chiswick High Road. It will make it far less pleasant to shop. Buses will be delayed. Traffic will crawl along spewing fumes. We will lose trees and the tables and chairs outside cafes. Pedestrians won’t be able to cross the road very easily. Our local independent shops will lose business. Exactly who in Chiswick will benefit from cyclists whizzing past at 25mph."
How was this particular speed picked - was it from design guidance? In design terms, we will be talking about a "design speed" which then (through mathematics and physics) translates into things like stopping sight distances, the radii of curves and bends, traffic signal timings and so on. The design speed is not going to be the speed at which most people will be cycling. Perhaps we can look at it more like a "maximum safe speed", or a speed within which most people will be accommodated safely.
The Design Manual for Roads & Bridges in Interim Advice Note 195/16 suggests;
Well, 40kph is is 25mph, but a 3% gradient is 1 in 33 - for every 33 metres travelled, one drops 1 metre - that is a pretty steep hill. The other figures range between 12.5mph and 18.75mph. Remember, this is a design standard for trunk roads and motorways and therefore anything designed to this will probably be rural.
These design speeds provide lots of margin for error and will rarely be applicable in an urban situation. Chickwick High Road does not have a gradient of 3%, it's not rural and so 25mph is never going to be a sensible or even an achieveable design speed. Of course, the carriageway of Chiswick High Road is 30mph, but driver speed never seems to feature in the concerns of those who are against providing cycle tracks.
In the creaky and out of date Local Transport Note 2/08, we are provided with some design speed advice;
So, the guidance talks about a design speed of 20mph with an average speed of 12mph. The point about momentum is an interesting one because with the "traditional" UK approach of bolting on cycling to walking space, we end up with side roads and obstructions impacting on the flow which one would otherwise cycle at. It also reinforces the margin of safety I mentioned about.
|They look the part of "fast cyclists", but they are simply|
not going to be able to maintain a Tour de France speed.
OK then, who exactly cycles at 25mph? In 2014, I completed the RideLondon London-Surrey sportive. It was the year which got cut back to 86 miles because of a storm. Including stops, my average speed for the 86 miles was 11.12 miles per hour. On the first 17 mile stage from Stratford through Central London, my average speed was 16.19mph. Anyone who has ridden this will be able to confirm that the first part is downhill and the rest is mainly flat, so a top speed isn't going to be getting over 20mph very often, unless one is riding a full-on racing bike and knows how to use it!
|Racing bikes, training and closed roads are still not going|
to be able to get most people cruising at 25mph.
25mph for people using cycling for every day transport is demonstrably nonsense. It doesn't happen and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise, although it does rather suit a particular style of narrative. Personally, I cruise (average speed) at about 10mph on my commuter bike which is a big heavy, upright hybrid. If I am on my tricycle, my cruising speed is about 8mph. It is a long, long way from 25mph.
There may be fears about how cycling may change an area because of the way in which highway space needs to be rebalanced. If people stuck to that, then they would perhaps be a little bit more honest about their fears. Perhaps some people who don't cycle can only see the young white male cycling on their streets at the moment. This small group of people will be more likely to be moving towards the higher end of the design speed, but being on the carriageway, it's a defensive tactic. This is what you get if you design for cycling as a bolt-on to driver space.
As with designing streets for driving, we can influence the speed and behaviour of people cycling through design, especially where we need to give clear instructions on how people should deal with the interaction of others such as the approach to a bus stop. However, the key difference between cycling and driving is that the strength, power and endurance of people cycling varies hugely, whereas the motorised transport essentially levels these differences.
What this leads to is where cycling infrastructure is well designed and attractive, then everyone can use it and above a minimum flow (which will depend on location), the "slower cyclists" will help influence the speed and behaviour of those who are more capable of nudging the higher end as they ride. In short, good infrastructure creates the conditions to enable a wide demographic to cycle and in turn speed and behaviour is moderated.
|People feeling safe won't have to worry about keeping|
up with drivers. They can relax and take it a little easier.
|A group of tourists on a safe cycle track. They are seeing|
the sights, they're not a racing team.
|A sedate commute, enabled by the protection. This chap|
might be your target customer on a rebalanced high street,
rather than the people driving through at 30mph.