Saturday 2 June 2018

When You Are Right, It Is Easy To Be Consistent

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads.

I've been trotting this out on Twitter for a couple of weeks and unsurprisingly it seems to be resonating with many people, although so people have disagreed with my take (hey, people have opinions, but as I will show, they are wrong).

This week, I thought it might we helpful to expand on these points because a tweet doesn't convey the full picture. Before I continue, I am going to modify what Green London Assembly Member and Islington councillor Caroline Russell called a 280 character transport manifesto (give or take a few letters).

The modification came from Mark Strong of Transport Initiatives who felt it needed a slight addition; "stop building car dependent developments". So, there we have it a really simple statement which can be used to describe what is needed to transform local active travel in the UK and to tackle all of the other problems we have which can either be linked to or influenced by transport choices;

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments.

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads
Even with the clouds of motorisation blocking the view, it is clear that motorised vehicles are here to stay and there will need to be main roads on which we have bus networks, emergency routes and delivery routes operating. We are of course not going to see the end of private cars, but they need to take less of a priority. Yes, we'll still have taxis and minicabs, but numbers need to be controlled with the free for all for the latter being tackled.

Because main roads are still going to convey traffic, we must separate people from it and this has to mean cycle tracks for people cycling and pedestrian crossings (either zebra or signals, depending on location). I accept there will be difficult locations and difficult decisions to be made, but dealing with those shouldn't detract from dealing with the rest of the network - not making perfection the enemy of good and all that.

Copenhagen: Some of the cycling network is a
bit rough and ready, but it is a network and even
in the depths of a snowy winter, people use it.

There is another discussion to be had behind this in terms of what and who we prioritise on main roads in terms of managing kerbspace beyond installing cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings. Good design allows all manner of elements to be 'floated' between cycle tracks and traffic lanes such as bus stops, loading, planting and perhaps even parking (with accessible parking being the priority). 

London: A floating bus stop

Where this all works together is where those kerbside activities can be used to protect cycling space and in fact, a fair bit can be done lightly and on a trial basis, deploying kerbs when layouts are right and money is available - this in turn means target the investment at junctions and other conflict points and work back from there.

Filter through traffic from residential streets
The term 'rat-run' has long settled into English as a shorthand to explain the motor traffic that the user of the term considers should not be using a particular street. When we hear people talk about rat-runs it's often stories of drivers trying to beat traffic on the main road, sometimes at speed. 

Photos of streets used for rat-runs often reveal heavy use of traffic calming (which adversely affect people cycling) and on occasion only space for one vehicle width between rows of parked cars. The counter argument to a rat-run is that it's a convenient route through which one can get to a destination. 

I would suggest (in general), people rat-running are frustrated with sitting in congestion and who could blame them, it's a waste of time. But, it is an issue we must deal with because unless we do, we can never get people safely and comfortably to and from our main roads in creating a walking and cycling network.

From a technical point of view, filtering is the cheapest approach to walking and cycling infrastructure because it removes through traffic. A line of bollards is enough to transform a rat-run back to a quiet street, but we can be far more creative in forming traffic cells and movement plans which maintain full motor access for those who need it, but requires them to use primary routes to go any distance.

London: A few bollards is all that is needed to
filter a street from through traffic, but maintaining
access for residents and visitors.

As with providing protection on main routes, we can spend a minimum to deal with the initial filtering and then gradually update layouts to repurpose the space for pocket parks, rain gardens, long-term residential cycle parking and the like.

In Ghent and other cities, grand circulation plans have been enacted which essentially cellularise the entire area which means people can access each area by car, but they cannot drive between areas; they have to divert out and round by longer routes by the main road network. This removes through traffic from neighbourhoods which makes them safer and more pleasant to walk and cycle through which helps the shift away from cars.

Filtering techniques are numerous and so they need to be though through, but time and again the approach has been shown to work. In London, the first 'Mini-Holland' Village scheme at Walthamstow saw a 56% drop in traffic through the area and even with some increases on some boundary roads, the effect was still a significant reduction. The key here is to carry on rolling out the scheme to other 'villages' (neighbourhoods in effect) and continue with building walking and cycling protection on the primary road network.

Default urban speed limit of 20mph
At the moment, we have two national speed limits; 30mph in urban (and street lit) areas and the National speed limit elsewhere if it is unlit. I won't go into the full details, there's plenty of information out there, but changing the default 30mph limit to 20mph could be done on countrywide basis with a change in legislation (Scotland is looking to do this itself).

This idea has been criticised in terms of cost because it would require highway authorities to assess their road network, decide on which streets and roads should not be subject to a 20mph speed limit and go through a traffic order process accordingly.

Yes, there would be costs, but if the country can afford to spend £15bn on building more large roads, then it can afford to change the speed limit. A cheap fix would be to move from mph to kph, but the frothers would lose it! 

In fact to start with, a local authority would only need to concentrate on changing any 30mph 'terminal' signs to 20. In other words, if a current limit goes from 50mph to 30mph, the default limit change would require the 30mph signs to be changed to 20mph.

Conversely, a local authority could decide on a core primary route network staying at 30mph so they'd need to place 20/30mph signs at every side road leading from the primary routes. In many places, this has already been done where side roads are now 20mph. There are some large roads which have been limited to 20mph, but in my view, they could easily revert back to 30mph if redesigned to provide the protection people walking and cycling need. Such street redesign would encourage lower driving speed anyway, regardless of the posted limit.

Default rural speed limit of 40mph
This is absolutely not an excuse to ignore people walking and cycling because if the road in question is a main road, then protection is going to be needed. If the road in question is a long way from where most people are going to walk, then a cycle track on which people can walk will be enough.

Like the default 20mph limit, this doesn't mean that every rural road should be 40mph. A roads, trunk roads and other wider rural roads might reasonably have higher limits, but these would have to be signed as we would do now if we dropped the limit from the National limit.

It would be a useful opportunity to tweak the National speed limit which does not automatically mean the same for every vehicle type and situation now. The only real general change would be for single carriageway roads as the limit becomes 40mph for everyone. 

If a single carriageway needed a higher limit, then it could be signed at 50mph which is the current National limit for all classes of vehicle other than cars. Interestingly, Scotland kept lower limits on National speed limit roads when England & Wales had theirs raised.

A Dutch single carriageway with a 50mph
speed limit, very similar to a rural UK A-road,
but with a cycle track on which one can walk if
needed (it's a fair distance from town!)

Currently, many places of the UK are dropping limits on rural roads to 40mph (other than the roads designed for higher speeds) and so these has led to lots of clutter with repeater signs. A default 40mph limit would allow this to all be swept away over time.

In villages and hamlets, nothing then stops us dropping the limit to 30mph or 20mph - in fact, this has happened in many places and so signage doesn't need to change.

The reason for change is one of giving drivers more time to think and act on the conditions in front of them. If a route is so important that a speed limit needs to be higher, then the road layout should be changed so that this can be managed safely.

Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction
For a long time, the UK has motorised in pursuance of economic growth. The success of this policy is questionable with mixed outcomes at best. Congestion and dealing with 'pinch points' is a favourite government staple, but in most of our urban places, there isn't room to expand the road network unless we start knocking down the places the network serves. 

Where cities have invested in active travel and transit networks, they have been able to turn the clock back on motorisation somewhat and in doing so, made the surface transport systems more efficient and in many cases, the space is being repurposed from roadspace into more active travel corridors, parks (of a decent size, not parklets) and public plazas.

Amsterdam: Residents parking on side streets
allows the primary streets to be used to move 
people around the city.

This is very much a chicken-and-egg problem because until we give people alternatives, they won't switch from their cars, but at the same time if we are repurposing road space for alternatives we can people up in arms. There is no easy answer other than saying it needs visionary political leadership - but there are cities doing it now.

Manchester: A developing tram network allows
people in the suburbs and city alike to ditch the car

In providing the alternatives, we need to find funding and in my view, destination parking charges could be a good source of revenue. In Nottingham, a workplace parking levy has been in place for some some time and it is helping to pay for the extension to the city's tram network.

In Oslo, the city is removing parking spaces from its streets (although with opposition and modifications to the original plan). The idea here being that taking away parking forces people to confront their travel choices. For my mind, charging for parking (as a local tax or levy) together with the removal of parking spaces from the streets is powerful.

In many parts of the UK, town and city centres have an abundance of on-street parking and it is going to take a lot to wean people off them. I would target main roads and high streets first because we need to reallocate space to walking, cycling and the kerbside activities I have mentioned about. 

Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments
This is essentially an extension to pursuing a policy of motor traffic reduction and captures the link between development, car ownership and usage. Where maximum parking standards prevail we have seen cars dumped all over streets and especially on footways, but you can't blame the people moving in.

The problem is that if our shops are in retail parks, our hospitals out of town, our bus services awful, employment on business parks, there is nothing in walking distance and cycling is horrific, then low parking provision is going to fail. Development in urban areas with good transit and active travel networks will also have parking regulated so low car and car-free development is possible and desirable in terms of maximising residential and retail space.

Suburbs are harder to deal with and where we see edge of town development, we tend to build just housing which means travel to work, school and the doctor become expeditionary undertakings so people grab their car keys. However, nobody is saying we should roll this idea out to every part of the UK, but given that 2/3 of trips (in England) are under 5 miles, it's not a huge leap of the imagination to decide where we could deal with this issue, even in suburbia.

London: Even with relatively dense housing, a
lack of alternative transport options means the
car remains the dominant mode and so it ends
up dominating the streets and so makes walking
for short trips unpleasant.

There has to be a link with planning policies in order to densify some suburban areas as transport options improve. For example, a local shopping centre is never going to have enough parking, but if we can prioritise walking, cycling and buses, then we might have the chance of saving these vital community assets and perhaps they can even be revitalised. Otherwise, people will have to do more shopping at the retail park or drive into town.

Centralisation of medical services has seen the creation of large regional hospitals on edge of town sites with smaller sites given up for redevelopment. Not only does the redevelopment lead to more people, they have to travel (along with existing residents) to the regional hospital. It is not surprise that we then see the stories about parking capacity issues and outrage at parking charges when NHS trusts try to manage the problem.

The current government is utterly wedding to roads for growth - growing congestion means people using the network which means more roads and more growth. It's not just cause and effect, it is stated policy. In previous years, the approach started to change, but since the ConDem government of 2010, the old ways have come right back and we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.

One of the significant issues with the continuation of motorisation (apart from endless growth being essentially beyond the laws of physics) is that when private car trips hit our urban areas, there is little opportunity to expand capacity in terms of road space, junctions and parking. This also plays against attempts to try and reallocate road space and continues our rat-running problem. It is truly a vicious and predictable cycle.

When you are right, it is easy to be consistent
The concepts I have outlined here are not my ideas. They have been successfully deployed all over the world. There is evidence and data out there to support them and experts have written countless books and articles on how it has been made to work.

These concepts all complement each other and on their own, they are not going to deal with the problems we have created for ourselves. It is clear to me that we cannot carry on as we are because we don't have enough urban space to cope with unlimited traffic growth; the road-building-constant growth idea is not sustainable environmentally, socially and physically.

Distilling a transport manifesto into a social media-friendly statement makes it very easy to present a simple and consistent position. The approach is bound to create plenty "whataboutery", but there are no rational arguments to the contrary. The current model is broken and other places are becoming more successful than us because they have grasped the concepts.

Being right about something makes it very easy to be consistent. In the current apparently post-fact world, many people like to give opinions that are not founded in reality. We hear from people that think cycling networks can be developed away from primary streets, but that's where shops are and so we need cycle tracks on main roads.

We hear that cycle tracks impact emergency services, but the same people saying this don't support repurposing a traffic lane for buses that emergency vehicles could use. We hear from shopkeepers that their businesses depend on passing trade by car. While there may be individual cases where this might be true, in the round, there is data to show that this is not the case.

Closing roads cause pollution; except the evidence shows that we are actually reopening the street for people and as a result there are shifts to walking and cycling which in the round reduce pollution. There are plenty of other counter opinions, but the reality shows them to be wrong. So, I am going to continue with the simple message because it is right and hopefully in this post, I have given a flavour of why it is right;

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments.


  1. I'm not convinced that a rural '40' is achievable, but with minimal signs and lines a compromise is practicable: Make default 50 with a centre lines and 40 on roads without. Most roads that currently lack a centre line are clearly unsuited to higher than 40 anyway. In many areas we have '50' on busy A roads with wide verges and sometimes footways, but turn onto a narrow C road with sharp bends,limited visibility and without verges and the limit goes UP to 60! Those roads were 60 is safe can be so posted.

  2. Very good summary. On street parking should be removed wholesale. A few individuals parking their vehicles should not take precedence over the far higher number of users who could use this road space for active travel or public transport.

  3. Interesting to see you state that "rat run " is a standard term. In my city there was recently effort to make some residential roads more pleasant for residents and safer for children but using the term "rat run" was characterised as the pro-quiet and pro-safety people attacking and insulting the pro-drive-where-we-like-when-we-like people.

    In my country there are a few very vocal elected representatives who are claiming that we need to relax our drink driving laws. The idea seems to be that rural people have to go to the pub to socialise and they can't do that without drinking. They can't walk to the pub because the roads have no footpaths. They can't take public transport because there is none, and when it's offered it doesn't suit them as well as driving. They can't cycle because it's too dangerous (possibly because of all the drunk drivers? Better not look in to that). The obvious solution, for me, is to stop building roads with no footpaths. Absolutely no road should be built that doesn't fully account for pedestrians and cyclists. No road should be upgraded without the same. That the solution to roads being too dangerous to walk or cycle on is to allow more drink driving is truly bizarre.

    You can build new roads if, and only if, you also ensure they are pedestrian and cyclst friendly. If you claim that's not possible (we can barely fit in the four lane 100kph road, there's just no space for a footpath!) then you can't have the road at all.

    It's very frustrating how people can claim they'd like to support sustainable transport but there's no way to do it with the current infrastructure, who then turn around and commission new infrastructure that also will never support sustainable transport.

  4. Agree with most of this: make urban areas more liveable by cutting out through traffic, improve public transport and of course cycle routes, and any new housing estates should be designed to make them similar. But let’s not pretend we don’t need new roads. We need to route that through traffic around towns and cities, so we can close them to through traffic. Even in new housing areas let’s not pretend people will do without cars: levels of car ownership are the same, if not higher in Netherlands and Germany compared to UK. But car owners only use their cars if they NEED to. If the distance and route is more easily covered by walking, cycling, or taking public transport, that’s what they will do.

  5. Excellent idea to re-map motor speeding prohibitions MPH → km/h. Hasn't the past two years taught you that frothers, especially the imperial 2.0 types, shall have to be faced down when an important principle is at stake? Filtering doesn't just make cycling more pleasant, it also makes it shorter and quicker than motoring—or the same distance and much faster than walking.

    You can massively further reduce clutter via legislative fiat by requiring all highways to be categorised, compulsorily against a strict deadline to prevent a repeat of s.7 Road Traffic Act 1974, with implied (and obvious from context) largely self-enforcing motor speeding limits, without explicit signage or copious repeaters:

                | Urban          | Rural    | Directions/ nameplates


    Access      | 30 km/h        | 60 km/h  | Black on white

    Distributor | 60 km/h        | 90 km/h  | White on racing green

                | Expressway (†) | Motorway | Directions/ DL markers


    Through    | 90 km/h        | 120 km/h | White on blue

    † :- Albeit not in the sense that the frothers mean. Note absence of differential limits beyond those imposed by tachograph/ class VNE device.

    The Amsterdam motor cars in your picture probably do not belong to immediate locals. It's possible that they are all property of disabled motorists living within a couple of hundred metres or able-bodied motorists who live further away and have been on the waiting list for several decades. Everyone else who insists on owning a motor car without anywhere to store it just has to jump on the tram to the park'n'ride at the city limits. This is not conceptually difficult to achieve; you and your permanent civil service colleagues merely need to develop the testicular fortitude to point out that you administer highway land and that every whining motorist or amateur [salaried] politician does not have a veto over where (and if) the public storage of private motor vehicles is provided.

    The motorisation paradigm isn't even fiscally sustainable. If it ever was, what happened to the proceeds of the supposed growth? More funding for an alternative is not the answer, spending your existing budgets vastly more sensibly than you do now is. Simply stop public subsidies for private motoring, for a start.

    ‘When you are right, it is easy to be consistent’ means that this absolutely should be rolled out to every GB/ UK highway—not everywhere being choked with highways, of course. But this is not as onerous as you seem to assume through your townie blinkers: lightly populated areas might only require at-grade 3.75 m wide 45 km/h red ashphalt cycle tracks across the hedge from the cobbled or unsealed [& filtered/ one-way] rural access carriageway!