Thursday, 31 October 2013

Around the houses

The most commonly-cited barrier to cycling, particularly amongst non-cyclists, is a fear of injury. Generally, then, the idea seems to be that by removing this negative, this would encourage a positive (i.e. more people to cycle).

Whilst this idea has a great deal of validity, particularly in large towns and cities, my strongly-held view is that this approach should never be pursued to the detriment of the acknowledged benefits of cycling. People cycle for all sorts of reasons: because it's cheap, yes of course, and because by so doing their mental, physical and spiritual well-being is improved; but significantly, I believe, the main reason people cycle in the built-up area is because it is very often quicker and more convenient than the alternative forms of transport. A strategy which fails to take regard of this is extremely likely to fail, in my opinion. Indeed, as Jim from Drawing Rings has noted: "If people have to go around the houses to feel safe on a bike, many of them will just take the car instead."

A snapshot of the Connect London network. To read a critique of this
project, please refer to this blog from Mark Treasure.

Jim continues: "If we can make the quick and direct routes safe and comfortable to cycle, then many people will find that cycling suddenly makes sense for them. This is what happens in the Netherlands, where people are not expected either to brave unpleasant conditions on main roads, or to work out a convoluted but quiet route on back roads. By making cycling safer, they have made it quicker too, and that's the key."

I wholeheartedly agree. The question is, of course, how to bring about this happy state? One option would be to heed Carlton Reid's advice, whose "stance," he says, "is one of pragmatism, and lots of little actions."

This is my stance, as well. The difference is that I would just try to do as many little actions as possible as quickly as possible, and I would do them to a plan (top-down). Carlton, however, seems to see things in a different way, thus:
How about pushing for lots of smaller goals? This is a stealth tactic that can work. For instance, in your locality, campaign for a certain road to be closed to traffic with bollards. Just one road. Not much to ask for. But then, after this success, pick another road and work hard on getting that closed to cars, too. Do this lots of times and, eventually, there will be a permeable network for cyclists.
Eventually? Well, okay, but as Frank Lloyd Wright has noted: "Eventually I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world."

Sure, sure, you keep hammering away, and eventually the nail will sink. But if the only tool available to you is a hammer, then pretty soon you will start to see every problem as a nail.

A bruised thumb

In a recent blog entitled Resistance to change, Mark Treasure makes the strikingly good point that where there genuinely isn’t enough road-space, it is all the more important to make more space-efficient modes of transport attractive and obvious.
Number of people crossing a 3.5 metre-wide space in an urban
environment during a one-hour period. 

Cycling: the way ahead writes: "The mobility that we associate with the private car has merged with apocalyptic images of towns that have come to a complete standstill. A reduction in car use has become necessary if mobility in cars is to be maintained. This is also a condition for maintaining accessibility to the major centres of interest and activity in our towns. The majority of people in all European countries recognise this fact."

Now, this last sentence is telling, because for the last few years, the UK has officially been the worst place to live in Europe, with people getting a "raw deal" both on quality of life and life expectancy.

I would like to draw your attention to Professor J.E. Gordon, and his book Structures, or Why things don't fall down. I have quoted from it before (here).
Nowadays, whether we like it or not, we are stuck with one form or another of advanced technology […]. However, man does not live by safety and efficiency alone, and we have to face the fact that, visually, the world is becoming an increasingly depressing place. It is not, perhaps, so much the occurrence of what might be described as ‘active ugliness’ as the prevalence of the dull and the commonplace. Far too seldom is the heart rejoiced or does one feel any better or happier for looking at the works of modern man.
Museums, theatres and galleries, and other “such forms of ‘fine art’ can only operate occasionally in the ordinary person’s life. They may provide an escape, but they are really no substitute for an environment which is satisfying in itself and is continually present. Most of us find some sort of refreshment in the countryside, but we are pretty well resigned to the dreariness of towns and factories and filling stations and airports and most of the things with which we have to spend our day. Possibly fish which have to live permanently in dirty water may get more or less used to it—but human beings who are conditioned in this way ought to rebel.
Professor Gordon asks why people react as they do to some inanimate objects. He’s talking about artifacts, actually, but his point carries across. He explains:
Within the subconscious mind there lies an enormous store of potential reactions and ‘forgotten’ memories. This material is partly inherited genetically from a remote past (Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’) and partly acquired by the individual himself during the course of his own life, mainly from apparently forgotten experiences—sometimes unpleasant ones. Now our physical senses—sight, hearing, smell and touch—continually pass to our brains far more information about our surroundings than our conscious mind can accept or be aware of. But the subconscious is monitoring this information all the time and it is full of receptors and trip-wires which are liable to be influenced by every shape and every line, every colour and every smell, every texture and every sound. We may be totally unconscious of this, but it is happening all the same and it is building up subjective emotional experiences within us—be the effects good or bad.
Professor Gordon suggests that our ancestors would be horrified that we should suffer many millions of people to experience every day the beastliness of London or New York. “Therefore many of us seek some kind of relief or consolation in ‘Nature’ and we escape, when we can, to the country, because we find the countryside more agreeable than towns and roads.”

But it wasn’t always so, he says. Before the eighteenth century, when most of the landscape was much wilder, ‘Nature’ implied “not only physical discomfort, but Pan in the raw. To these people it was the towns which were habitable and attractive, the country which was inhospitable and ugly.”

“To that extent,” he says, “people—all people—in the eighteenth century lived richer lives than most of us do today. This is reflected in the prices that we pay nowadays for period houses and antiques. A society which was more creative and self-confident would not feel so strong a nostalgia for its great-grandfathers’ buildings and household goods.”

Anthony Gormley has pointed out that the Parisians treat their city as you would a communal living room, that is, with respect. (France, incidentally, routinely tops the Quality of Life Index, despite the average household annual net income being £7,000 below that of the UK.) We need to understand, then, why it is that our towns and cities are being designed and developed in the way they are. The short answer is that they are the product of the designer’s own character and his own values. “Nowadays,” Professor Gordon opined, “when we deplore English towns and factories we are deploring the product of philistine reformers and engineers and architects and businessman and the little grey men who sit in council offices and the bigger grey men who sit in Parliament. Of these people’s sins, it is not enough to say they know not what they do; for we do that which is inherent in our natures—as Plato well knew.”

Hitting the nail on the head

In terms of what this means for developing a mass cycling culture, there needs to be a recognition that we have a long way to go. Indeed, as I see it, if we want to climb to the top of the ladder, say, then one of the first things to be done is to ensure the ladder has a secure footing.

As you'd expect, all the hard-to-deliver bits are left to the end. But look how far down the list we can get before things start to become difficult! Look at all of those positive features in the top half of the table!

I thought that a recent comment posted on the Connect London petition was very telling: "Car traffic is one of the biggest problems in most cities, and also in London. It is rarely that easy to tackle issues of public health, CO2 emissions, the quality of public space with one simple and cheap measure."

Just so. The problem is, however, that the Connect London network would not seem able to tackle these issues. Whatever else the routes are, they are not currently—and never will be, by the looks—meaningful and direct.

Routes which are not meaningful and direct are not in any way useful to regular cyclists—other than for leisure purposes, of course. If there is any evidence that such routes would be useful to more occasional cyclists, I have yet to see it.

So anyway, as I have said before, we need to make the best use of the resources which are available to us, and we need to take on board the fact that not everything can be done all in go, which means to say, we need to prioritise. Moreover, it is an important principle to obtain a proper yield for the work that we put in. I very much hope, then, that we do not allow ourselves to be persuaded that the development of a few exemplar schemes here and there would actually represent a significant step forward.

What I mean by this is that the hardest step—sayeth the eastern philosophers—is to go from zero to one. There clearly must be some truth in this, because there is not one town or city in the UK which has a functioning, comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. If it was easy to develop such a network, it is reasonable to suppose that the authorities would already have done this.

The usual way of things here has been to try to cultivate an amenable cycling environment from the bottom-up (i.e. piece by piece). And yet, despite the inescapable conclusion that this approach doesn't work very well, we appear to be stuck with it. As Ambrose Bierce suggested, habit is "the shackles of the free".

However, it ought to be possible to break free from these shackles, so to speak, and cast aside this insensible habit, simply by accepting the prudence of "introducing" the network—all of it—to a minimum level of functioning first, and then developing it further on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable. This is the tried and tested method, and all the evidence from the continent is that it works.

I very much welcome the development of exemplar routes. This is what the Mayor of London is planning with his so-called 'Crossrail' route, of course, and seems to be what Manchester, Leeds, Norwich, etc, are planning to do with the funding from their Cycle City Ambition Grant.

Clearly there a certain routes which are more useful to cyclists than others. Old Shoreham Road in Brighton is a very good case in point.

But this work done, this one route developed, then what happens? They'll do another exemplar route, will they? And then another one after that, I suppose, and keep going until eventually—oh yes, until eventually. But if this is the plan, then why not carry out this work within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network?

Pardon? Sorry, my mistake. I thought you actually said something.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Networks and Risks

I am taking a closer look at the introductory section of LTN 2/08. I have already reviewed the Underlying Principles; now to consider the most important of the remaining elements.


Signed cycle route networks can help to encourage walking and cycling. Pedestrians and cyclists need direct access to commercial, retail, education and employment areas. Non-­motorised users are particularly affected by indirect routes because of the additional physical effort required and the sometimes considerable increase in journey time. Having an advantage over private car users in terms of distance and / or journey time will also help to encourage people to walk or cycle (in preference to using the car) for short trips.

The network of routes for non-­motorised users needs to be planned at a finer scale than the highway network, so that walk and cycle distances are minimised. However, it is important to avoid creating long, narrow routes that are not overlooked by adjacent properties, as these can give rise to anti-­social behaviour.

Signed cycle routes can offer “fine grain” networks, with greater accessibility than for motor traffic, by using quiet residential roads, contraflow schemes, paths alongside rivers and canals, disused railways, vehicle restricted areas and parks. Opening up paths for cycle use, such as when implementing a Rights of Way Improvement Plan, may benefit pedestrians too. The upgraded surface of the Thames River Path (photos below) provides a good example.

Route improved by removing a gate and providing a wider, sealed surface

Cycle routes on back streets and off-road routes need to be clearly signed, and changes in direction should be kept to a minimum. However, a balanced approach to signing is required to avoid clutter. Designers should investigate options for modifying existing signs, or mounting new signs on existing poles or other street furniture. Creating a smooth physical interface between different elements of a route by using, say, dropped kerbs also helps to create a continuous, legible and coherent network that is easy to follow.

Consultation with local cyclists both before and after scheme implementation will tap into local knowledge to help to identify and prioritise the development of a cycle route network.

Detailed route design entails development of a series of site-­specific solutions. It can be difficult to apply a standard solution to the kind of issues that arise when designing for pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists and pedestrians may, for example, ignore formal crossing points. One way to consider the process of infrastructure design is through a behavioural approach. Essentially this involves observing how users interact, and then formulating a solution that accommodates the main movements of each mode, while minimising the potential for conflict. This may be preferable, less unsightly and more practicable than installing an arrangement that attempts to divert people from their desire lines through the use of guard railing, signs and road markings. Such an approach may require a move away from the idea of fully segregated areas for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Risk and liability

The Manual for Streets acknowledges the reluctance of some authorities to implement innovative schemes or schemes that do not meet all safety criteria, for fear of litigation. However, the vast majority of claims against highway authorities relate to maintenance defects rather than deficiency in design. An authority should not be exposed to claims if there are robust design procedures in place where the resulting decisions are recorded in an audit trail. The Manual for Streets suggests the following approach:
•set clear and concise scheme objectives;
•work up the design against these objectives; and
•review the design against these objectives through a quality audit. 
A risk assessment may be undertaken as part of the design review process to determine the scale and likelihood of any perceived hazard, and it can be beneficial to involve user groups in this process. It is essential that the risk assessor fully understands the relative risks of various options. A common decision on cycle route provision involves choosing whether to take cyclists off the carriageway by providing a cycle track. Making such a decision is rarely as straightforward as it might seem at first. A cycle track frequently interrupted by side roads can have a significantly worse potential for accidents than the equivalent on-carriageway facility.

The assessor should determine if the proposal improves upon the existing situation and whether any risk is justified when compared with alternative solutions.

In the shell of a nut


"A cohesive and direct bicycle network ensures that a bicyclist will be able to take the easiest and shortest route between destinations. This makes biking quicker, more convenient, and more enjoyable."
Burns and Blasko, 2012


“In my view, regulation and safety standards in this country are not designed on the basis of evidence as to road user conduct, and what is needed to reduce risk given observable behaviour and events; rather, they are designed as abstract engineering exercises with the principal purpose of making it harder for road accident victims to bring successful litigation against highway authorities (and engineers).”

Daniel Moylan, 2003

Photo credit: Pete Owens



I could point you to dozens of cycle networks in the UK that fall short of the criteria indicated above, but not one that meets them all.

In Darlington, for example, which has the unique distinction of having been both a Sustainable Travel Demonstration Town and a Cycling Demonstration Town, the emphasis was on developing the quietest—not the most direct—routes to destinations. Indeed, as the local cycle campaign group noted in 2007: "A potpourri of recorded cycling situations in Darlington shows a town that is trying to build a series of cycle routes, some comfortable at times, some provisional, most never quite getting from A to B in any meaningful sense."

Perhaps I will take a closer look at Darlington some time. The Guardian suggested in an article from 2006 that Darlington is "the crucible of a grand experiment". There's a lot riding on it, they pointed out, before quoting Philip Darnton from Cycling England: "If we're wrong," he said, "we've blown it completely."

The local authority had set relatively modest targets for its work, hoping to increase the number of people cycling by 200% (that is, to raise the modal share of cycling from 1% to 3%). Sadly, according to the BBC, the increase was just 27% (that is to say, a shortfall of 173%).

Now, I have spoken recently to the Local Motion team in Darlington, and it is not all bad news. About seven or eight per cent of school children ride their bikes to school, for example. But even so, if the UK is to develop a successful cycling culture, it is obviously important that we profit from these "mistakes" by trying again in a different way.


During a recent telephone conversation with a Cycling Officer somewhere, I made the point to him that engineers like to see things written down. The idea of "introducing" a cycle network so that it functions—albeit at a minimum level to begin with—has been written down. Indeed, it is regarded as "a prudent course to follow" by the only publication out of Europe to answer the question, How to begin? Conversely, a refutation of this idea is not written down anywhere (except by the London Cycling Campaign and their followers).

The following is taken from Manual for Streets:

A major concern expressed by some highway authorities when considering more innovative designs, or designs that are at variance with established practice, is whether they would incur a liability in the event of damage or injury.

This can lead to an over-cautious approach, where designers strictly comply with guidance regardless of its suitability, and to the detriment of innovation. This is not conducive to creating distinctive places that help to support thriving communities. In fact, imaginative and context-specific design that does not rely on conventional standards can achieve high levels of safety.

Most claims against highway authorities relate to alleged deficiencies in maintenance. The duty of the highway authority to maintain the highway is set out in section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, and case law has clarified the law in this area.

The most recent judgement of note was Gorringe v. Calderdale MBC (2004), where a case was brought against a highway authority for failing to maintain a ‘SLOW’ marking on the approach to a sharp crest. The judgement confirmed a number of important points:
• the authority’s duty to ‘maintain’ covers the fabric of a highway, but not signs and markings;
• there is no requirement for the highway authority to ‘give warning of obvious dangers’; and
• drivers are ‘first and foremost responsible for their own safety’.
Some claims for negligence and/or failure to carry out a statutory duty have been made under section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which places a general duty on highway authorities to promote road safety. In connection with new roads, section 39 (3)(c) states that highway authorities ‘in constructing new roads, must take such measures as appear to the authority to be appropriate to reduce the possibilities of such accidents when the roads come into use’.

The Gorringe v. Calderdale judgment made it clear that section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 cannot be enforced by an individual, however, and does not form the basis for a liability claim.

Most claims against an authority are for maintenance defects, claims for design faults being relatively rare.

Advice to highway authorities on managing their risks associated with new designs is given in Chapter 5 of Highway Risk and Liability Claims. In summary, this advises that authorities should put procedures in place that allow rational decisions to be made with the minimum of bureaucracy, and that create an audit trail that could subsequently be used as evidence in court.

Suggested procedures (which accord with those set out in Chapter 3 of MfS) include the following key steps:
• set clear and concise scheme objectives;
• work up the design against these objectives; and
• review the design against these objectives through a quality audit.

A Case Study

Let us consider how the foregoing is being applied in that city which, as has been said, is "very much addicted to the flowery part".

This map is identical to the official network map [pdf], except that the signed (primary) routes are coded in red, and the recommended (secondary) routes are in blue.

What can we say about it? Well, the primary routes are arranged a little bit in the form of a wagon wheel, which seems sensible. However, whilst I was copying out these routes, my constant thought was that their course was informed by the same principles which guided the architects of, say, the Darlington Cycling Network.

In other words, the quietest routes were chosen in preference to the most direct routes, in order to "ensure they appealed to less experienced cyclists, who might be less likely to cycle if it meant cycling on road" (Cycling England). In the case of Darlington, this meant that they embarked on a strategy which focused on the reason people do not cycle—because it's "dangerous"—without doing very much to build on the reason people do cycle—because it is quicker and more convenient than the alternatives.

To quote LTN 2/08: "The underpinning principle is that measures for [...] cyclists should offer positive provision that reduces delay or diversion and improves safety [my emphasis]."

The map above shows those sections on the primary network which have been routed along A and B roads (i.e. the primary network without the back street routes, the routes alongside rivers, through parks, etc).

The dark-green sections indicate that some form of segregation from the traffic is in place (typically this means a shared-use path, though not exclusively). The light-green sections indicate a cycle lane. The light-blue sections indicate a cycle lane, but which is not shown on the official network map (for some reason). The orange sections indicate a route which has been signed (sometimes with stickers). The red sections we're going to look at now, beginning in the centre of the map.

Heigham Street (A1024), Norwich

As I was thinking about what to write for the section of route shown in the two photos above, I was minded to look at the relevant guidance in the Mayor of London's Vision for Cycling:
Where directness demands the Quietway briefly join a main road, full segregation and direct crossing points will be provided, wherever possible, on that stretch.
The Mayor has a thousand million pounds to spend on cycling over the next ten years, and with that sort of money available, clearly he is going to be able to afford to do things like this. However, for those authorities in the rest of the country which are keen to develop an amenable cycling environment, but which do not have access to such abundant resources, what are the options? Bearing in mind that a solution which cannot be paid for is not a solution, is it in fact the case that less sophisticated, more immediate solutions would be appropriate, for the time being at least?

Heigham Street (A1024), Norwich

The photo above left is looking back towards the southbound continuation of this route. It's difficult to see, but there is actually a sticker on the back of that post in the bottom left of the picture (the one supporting the traffic warning sign). Assuming the pavement on the left isn't a shared-use path—there is nothing to indicate that it is—this is the full extent of the "infrastructure" on this section of route—which means to say, that not even a dropped kerb has been installed.

To quote LTN 2/08 again: "Dropped kerbs are particularly beneficial to [cyclists ... because] even a very small step can be uncomfortable and irritating for users."

Regular readers of this blog will know that I often write about the "prudence" of "introducing" the cycling network by doing as much as possible at least bureaucracy first; but putting up stickers on posts is not really what I had in mind. Something like the picture on the right is more like it, but even having said this, I have to make clear—because some people bend over backwards to misunderstand me—that there are certain aspects of this layout which I don't much care for; and in any case, I am talking here about where to start, and not where to end up.

Sprowston Road (A1151), Norwich

Here is another section which features a standard road layout. In the photo above left, you can just about make out a direction sign (in between the parked cars). In the photo above right, there are no signs around the junction that I could see.

Thorpe Road (A1242), Norwich

Before we consider the "infrastructure" shown in the photos above, I would like for us to be reminded of the procedures "that allow rational decisions to be made with the minimum of bureaucracy", to wit:
• set clear and concise scheme objectives;
• work up the design against these objectives; and
• review the design against these objectives through a quality audit.
Firstly, to set clear and concise scheme objectives. Very briefly, it's a top-down (holistic or global) approach that I am advocating, so network first and then a separation of functions.

Secondly, to work up the design against these objectives. There is more to it than simply laying down repeat markers on the road surface, but the purpose of doing so is threefold:

1. They enable the network to be "introduced", relatively quickly and relatively cheaply. Thereby, this serves to establish the network, ensuring that more highly-engineered solutions can be developed within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network.
2. They help to reduce potential conflict by raising the awareness of drivers. As Sam Saunders explains: "The development of a settled culture of city transport will depend on consistency, predictability and regular physical cues. Consciously wondering what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation, while trying to find a route or deal with an immediate problem overloads the attention span, increases anxiety and increases errors—for all."
3. Adapted, they can also function as route confirmation markers. As the Mayor of London's Vision for Cycling remarks in connection with the Quietways: "They will be clearly signed, mostly on the road itself, making it impossible to lose your way."

BBC Radio Norfolk finds out how easy it is to cycle in Norwich

Lastly, to review the design against these objectives. This means (to quote LTN 2/08 again): "The assessor should determine if the proposal improves upon the existing situation and whether any risk is justified when compared with alternative solutions."

The feeder lane on Thorpe Road (at the junction with Harvey Lane)

In the Summer 2012 newsletter from the Norwich Cycling Campaign, the following comment appeared "from the Chair's office":
Thorpe Road – we had been asked to comment on the cycle symbols and other changes. The general feeling of the meeting was that the symbols were not helpful, and that the feeder lane at Harvey Road (i.e. running between two motor traffic lanes) is not safe. This response was fed back to the City Council’s cycling officer.
In the Spring 2012 newsletter, the following comment appeared "from the Chair's office":
Norwich Cycling Campaign members have expressed concern about the cycle waiting area that has been installed at Dereham Road inbound at the bottom of Grapes Hill. While the creation of the advanced stop line (ASL) for cyclists is welcome, the lack of any sort of feeder lane to reach it (preferably between the second and third parallel lane of queuing traffic) creates difficulties and potentially intimidating cycling conditions for people on bikes heading for St Benedict’s Street. Apparently another cop-out by the design engineers in the quest for ever more road space for motor vehicles.
Dereham Road near the junction with Grapes Hill

Thus, when the council install a feeder lane running between two lanes of motor traffic on Thorpe Road, this is deemed "not safe". But when the council fail to install a feeder lane between two lanes of motor traffic on Dereham Road, this "creates difficulties and potentially intimidating cycling conditions."

Photo credit: Bicycle Dutch

I wouldn't mind so much, but when I suggested to the Cycling Officer in Norwich that laying down repeat markers on the road surface would be an effective way forward—zero to one being the hardest step to take, with zero being where we are now, and one being a functioning, comprehensive, city-wide cycle network—he replied that they had tried these repeat markers once before, but given the strength of feeling from the local Cycling Campaign group, he said that they wouldn't be making that mistake again.

Because the fact of the matter is, as Mark Ames recently reminded us, campaigning works. The authorities listen to campaigners. They listened to those campaigners who advocated the Hierarchy of Provision, for example.

It is written in the Mayor of London's Vision for Cycling: "Timid, half-hearted improvements are out—we will do things at least adequately, or not at all." All I would say about this is that campaigners need to be very careful indeed about what they wish for.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Transport Hierarchy

In my last blog, I took a look at the Underlying Principles contained within LTN 2/08. It is also written therein:
The Manual for Streets adopts a hierarchy of users to assist in design, planning and development control decisions. This places pedestrians at the top (including the access requirements of people with disabilities), followed by cyclists, then public transport, with unaccompanied private ­car users last. The aim is to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable road users are fully considered in all highway schemes, but not necessarily to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists in every circumstance.
Helpfully, the Manual for Streets displays this information in a more easily digestible format:

There are a number of variations on this theme, but the general idea remains the same: the needs of more vulnerable users should be considered before the needs of those who travel by (either public or private) motor transport.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming impression is that this type of road user hierarchy is regarded with very little seriousness, which has the effect of rendering it largely meaningless. Given that CTC's Hierarchy of Provision is also perceived as something of a busted flush, there is every advantage to considering a strategy which is likely to be more widely-respected.

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers write: "In the UK we have an insatiable appetite for mobility—we view it as a human right. Yet the transport sector is damaging our environment—transport produces over a quarter of UK CO2 emissions. These policy statements discuss possible engineering solutions to the dual requirements of increased mobility and lower emissions."

At the top is the Transport Hierarchy, which "takes a focused engineering look at system design, addressing how we can change our approach to meet the demanding targets across our transport modes. It has been developed using robust engineering tools to allow the prioritisation of multiple measures to improve the complex system known as our transport network."

It continues: "The Transport Hierarchy sets objectives that ensure resilience and adaptability in the energy requirements of our transport network, with a focus on delivering societal needs. It pulls together policy proposals that demonstrate a consensus for this type of approach. The combination of cross-modal consensus and sound engineering makes this a powerful tool to achieve the step change needed to deliver a sustainable transport network. The Institution believes that this Hierarchy should be used by all governmental departments and businesses when making decisions on their transport choices in terms of both use and planning activities."

The Underlying Principles of Cycle Infrastructure Design (LTN 2/08)

I would like to start with a few statements which, I think, most right-minded people would agree with:
Pedestrians and cyclists will use high­ quality, well­-maintained, traffic-­free routes away from the carriageway if they are more direct than the equivalent on-­road alternative and there are no personal security issues.
The needs of people with various types and degrees of disability should be taken into account through consultation and design. 
Hearing­- and sight­-impaired pedestrians have problems sensing the presence of cyclists. 
Pedestrians and cyclists benefit from even, well-­maintained and regularly swept surfaces with gentle gradients. 
Safe access for pedestrians and cyclists should be provided during road works.
Surface defects should not be allowed to develop to the extent that they become a hazard, and vegetation should be regularly cut back to preserve available width and sight lines.
Routes should be unimpeded by street furniture, pavement parking and other obstructions. 
An area cycle route network may be achieved through a combination of measures to manage the impact of motorised traffic as well as cycle­-specific infrastructure.  
New­-build situations provide good opportunities for creating attractive, high ­quality infrastructure for cyclists, either in the form of quieter roads or direct cycle routes away from motor traffic.
"Routes should be unimpeded by street furniture, pavement parking
and other obstructions."
In addition:
Measures that reduce the volume and / or the speed of motor traffic benefit other road users by making the roads safer and more pleasant.
Reducing traffic speeds may enable the junction geometry to be tightened.
And also:
Reducing the volume of traffic may release carriageway space.
Planning and designing high ­quality infrastructure involves developing individual, site­-specific solutions, but there are some common requirements that need to be satisfied. The underpinning principle is that measures for pedestrians and cyclists should offer positive provision that reduces delay or diversion and improves safety.
For most utility cyclists, convenience—in terms of journey time and distance—and an acceptable degree of traffic safety and personal security are most important. 
The preferred way of providing for cyclists is to create conditions on the carriageway.

As things currently stand:
The road network is the most basic (and important) cycling facility available.

Photo credit: The Times

But even so: 
Where the speed and volume of traffic is high, it may be appropriate to consider an off­-carriageway option for cyclists.
Bearing in mind that the:
Conversion of existing footways to permit cycle use should only be considered when on­-carriageway options have been rejected as unworkable. 
Because the case is:
The potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is greatest where width is restricted, flows are heavy and their respective routes cross each other, such as where a cycle track passes a busy bus stop. The speed differential between cyclists and pedestrians can exacerbate this.
Creating space for cyclists by taking existing footway space from pedestrians is generally the least acceptable course of action.
Indeed, it is a very high priority that:
The potential for conflict between pedestrians and cyclists should be minimised.
Now, it is stated that:
There is seldom the opportunity to provide an off-­carriageway route within the highway boundary that does not compromise pedestrian facilities or create potential hazards for cyclists, particularly at side roads.

Photo credit: Accelebrate

But then again, it is also stated that:
Opportunities for redistributing space within the highway should be explored, including moving kerb lines and street furniture.
[Note: "A highway consists of the carriageway, the footway and the verge, but it can also incorporate a footpath, bridleway or cycleway."]
So who knows what to make of that? (Probably this is more like it: "There is seldom the opportunity to provide an off-carriageway route within the highway boundary on the cheap etc, etc, ...")

Of course:
In vehicle-restricted areas, where the whole street width is available, cyclists can usually mix safely with pedestrians, especially outside the main retail trading hours.
Routes should be provided into and through areas normally inaccessible to motor vehicles, such as parks and vehicle-restricted areas.
The journey purpose is important in defining the value attached to attractiveness. There are situations where walking or cycling for pleasure may be the only reason for the journey. These include rural leisure routes, parks, urban squares and tourist destinations. There are also multi-­function environments, such as shopping arcades, market places and public transport interchanges, where people may wish to meet, relax or trade, but which also serve as through-­routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thus far, it has been established that pavements are for pedestrians and roads are for cyclists. This is not simply a statement of the way things are, by the way, but rather, it is actually considered that this is the way things ought to remain (that is, cycling should not be treated as a means of transport in its own right).

There is a very clear suggestion that cycling should be allowed in those places which are normally inaccessible to motor vehicles (e.g. parks and—outside the main retail trading hours—high streets). Moreover, new-build situations present a golden opportunity to develop good cycling and walking routes. But where is all of this taking us? What is the destination? What is the shared vision?
There are five core principles which summarise the desirable design requirements for cyclists.
The first one is:
Which means:
Networks should serve all the main destinations, and new facilities should offer an advantage in terms of directness and / or reduced delay compared with existing provision.
And also:
Routes and key destinations should be properly signed, and street names should be clearly visible. Route maps should be made available, and on-­street maps can be helpful.
Trip ­end facilities should be clearly marked, conveniently located and appropriate for the likely length of stay.
The second one is:
Which means:
Cycling networks should link trip origins and key destinations, including public transport access points.
And also:
The routes should be continuous and coherent.
The third one is:
Which means:
Not only must infrastructure be safe, but it should be perceived to be safe.
And also:
Traffic volumes and speeds should be reduced where possible to create safer conditions for cycling and walking. Reducing traffic can sometimes enable the introduction of measures for pedestrians and cyclists that might not otherwise be viable.
The fourth one is:
Which means:
Infrastructure should meet design standards for width, gradient and surface quality, and cater for all types of user, including children and disabled people.
And also:
Dropped kerbs are particularly beneficial to users of wheelchairs, pushchairs and cycles, and tactile paving needs to be provided to assist visually-impaired people. Dropped kerbs should ideally be flush with the road surface. Even a very small step can be uncomfortable and irritating for users, especially if there are several to be negotiated along a route.
The last one is:
Which means:
Public spaces need to be well-­designed, finished in attractive materials and be such that people want to stay.
And also:
The surfaces, landscaping and street furniture should be well-maintained and in keeping with the surrounding area.

It is not exactly clear to me what the difference is between 'Convenience' ("Networks should serve all the main destinations") and 'Accessibility' ("Cycling networks should link trip origins and key destinations"). But that aside, it is not a bad list, and I was naturally curious to see how it tallied up with what I had written.

There are a couple of things which are substantially different between the two lists.

The first is that, with the LTN 2/08 list, there is no reference to the view that getting the network up and running would be a smart thing to do. If the prudence of doing this to a minimum level of functioning was accepted, it would be possible to achieve quite a lot, relatively quickly and relatively cheaply. But it won't happen this way, I am sure of it. As George Orwell noted, we are not a particularly practical people. Indeed, says he, one has only to look at our methods of town planning to see how little we care about "mere efficiency".

The second is that, to quote David Arditti: "We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations [...] that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety."

LTN 2/08 takes a very different view:
These principles are useful when designing for the differing priorities assigned to various aspects of a route (for example, perceived safety versus directness) for users with different requirements resulting from their journey purpose, level of experience or ability. The design of the most appropriate infrastructure needs to take account of the type(s) of cyclist expected to use it.
This is because:
Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others. In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to combine measures or to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority. Such dual networks may be considered analogous to a busy main road carrying through­-traffic and a service road catering for access to homes and shops at lower speeds.
In his assessment of LTN 2/08, Joe Dunckley wrote: "I would have hoped that “dual networks” could have been the one thing that might be able to unite cyclists in opposition."

Market Street, San Francisco (Photo credit: Mark Dreger)

But no! Consider what Chris had to say in a recent comment posted on aseasyasriding's blog:

"This is exactly why I fear the introduction of segregated bike lanes [...]. They might be ideal for other places, but for CS7 I fear the infrastructure would be overloaded to the point of breakdown from day one, which would then have exactly the opposite of the desired effect and force me and others riding longer distance commutes onto more dangerous routes if we want to keep commuting within a reasonable amount of time.

"I can justify 75 minutes each way, as this is only 10 minutes or so slower than the train, but what if it starts creeping up to 90, 100 or more? Then I’d have to be back on the train on days where I have to take the kids to Cubs and the like. I don’t mind thinking of others as well, as has been suggested above, but if doing so prevents me from riding my own bike, then I’m afraid I’m going to be as selfish as possible!"

Before closing, a few more of what LTN 2/08 describes as "underlying principles":
The ability for people to window shop, walk or cycle two abreast, converse or stop to rest or look at a view makes for a more pleasant experience. 
Issues of light pollution should be considered, in addition to personal security in rural and semi­-rural routes. 
There should be provision for crossing busy roads and other barriers, and in some areas there should be a positive advantage over private motor traffic. 
Delays for cyclists at signalled crossings should be minimised. 
The risk of crime can be reduced through the removal of hiding places along the route, provision of lighting and the presence of passive surveillance from neighbouring premises or other users. 
Cycle parking should be sited where people using the facilities can feel safe. 
The needs of pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians should be considered where their routes cross busy roads, especially in rural areas.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Self-help books

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking famously wrote: "Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is still just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?"

Reading a recent blog from The Ranty Highwayman, I was left wondering, What is it that breathes fire into traffic models? Why do engineers go to all the bother of producing them? As Ranty himself suggested, when a traffic authority already has in place a policy of prioritising motorised traffic, producing these models "is often an utter waste of time". (Ranty later supposes that this is part of the game that they play: "Do loads of work, write a technical report and go with the charade of explaining the implications to committee.")


In order to address the various competing political demands associated with town planning, the Department for Transport have, over the years, produced a number of guidance documents that tell council officers and consultants how they would like roads and streets to be built. One such document, published in October 2008, is entitled Cycle Infrastructure Design. (This is more commonly known by its serial number, LTN 2/08, where LTN stands for Local Transport Note.)

Joe Dunckley from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has written about this publication here:

"The introductory section of LTN 2/08 is the most widely endorsed. It contains a series of underlying principles for designing for cycling. Some of it is very good—the need for “convenient, accessible, safe, comfortable and attractive” space for cycling, for example, and the need to think at the level of the network, not just streets and routes. There is something of a disconnect between these principles and the rest of the guidance, however, and the good principles rarely shine through in the built designs. But it is also far from the case that the underlying principles are all good.

"The first problem that leaps out while reading the Introduction is [the inclusion of] the Hierarchy of Provision. [...] The second fundamental problem is that LTN 2/08 endorses “dual networks”. It correctly identifies that different cyclists have different needs and abilities, but from this fact it draws some very wrong and damaging conclusions. “Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others,” the report says. “In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority.” That is, new, nervous and child cyclists will be grateful for a crap facility that gives way to every side road, or a winding back street route, while confident cyclists will want to be in their natural place—on the road, with the traffic, riding in the vehicular style. Indeed, the former category are expected to eventually cast off their training wheels and graduate into the latter category.

A new housing development in Chichester, West Sussex
"The effect of the “dual networks” principle in LTN 2/08 is that neither “network” is satisfactorily designed. The low-traffic “network” can be designed down: it can concede priority, take circuitous routes, [etc ...]. And when it then comes to fixing the main roads and busy junctions, engineers will “take into account the type(s) of cyclist expected to use it”, conclude that the inexperienced and nervous cyclists will be using the other “network”, and design the roads and junctions accordingly."

[To read my own critique of dual networks, please click here.]

More guidance

In order to define the link between planning and policy, the UK Government developed Planning Policy Guidance Notes, which were statements of the Government's national policy and principles towards certain aspects of the town planning framework, such as green belts, housing, telecommunications and transport. In March 2012 these were replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), this being a key part of Government reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible. As the Minister for Planning, The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, wrote in the Foreword:

"Planning must be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which we live our lives. This should be a collective enterprise. Yet, in recent years, planning has tended to exclude, rather than to include, people and communities. [...] In part, people have been put off from getting involved because planning policy itself has become so elaborate and forbidding—the preserve of specialists, rather than people in communities. This National Planning Policy Framework changes that. By replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, written simply and clearly, we are allowing people and communities back into planning."

The NPPF is in fact a material consideration in the determination of planning applications, and at its heart is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. As the report puts it, "sustainable development should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking." Thus, the transport system "needs to be balanced in favour of sustainable transport modes, giving people a real choice about how they travel." Therefore, says the report, developments should be located and designed to:
• accommodate the efficient delivery of goods and supplies;
• give priority to pedestrian and cycle movements, and have access to high quality public transport facilities;
• create safe and secure layouts which minimise conflicts between traffic and cyclists or pedestrians, avoiding street clutter and, where appropriate, establishing home zones
Yet more guidance

In March 2007, the Government published Manual for Streets. This provided guidance to a range of practitioners on effective street design, with the intention that they would be thereby enabled to increase the quality of life for people through the development of more people-oriented streets. Although the detailed guidance in the document applies mainly to residential streets, the overall design principles apply to all streets within urban areas.

In the Foreword, it is written:

"In 2003, we published detailed research * which demonstrated that the combined effect of the existing policy, legal and technical framework was not helping to generate consistently good quality streets. Without changes, this framework was holding back the creation of the sustainable residential environments that communities need and deserve."

* Better Streets, Better Places - Delivering Sustainable Residential Environments.

An Action Plan

In June 2004, the Department for Transport published Walking and Cycling: An Action Plan, "a collection of practical actions and good practice studies to support and encourage more walking and cycling". In the Ministerial Foreword, Dr Kim Howells writes:

"Around 60% of men and 70% of women are currently not physically active enough to benefit their health. Walking and cycling offer the opportunity to build moderate, pleasant exercise into people's routines. [...] Walking and cycling are also vital means of travel. In themselves, they are viable modes of transport for many of our trips. Nearly a quarter of all our trips are one mile or less—a generally walkable distance. And 42% are within two miles—less than the average length of a cycling trip. [...]

"Increasing walking and cycling levels will also improve our public space and the social interactions we have. Both modes allow us to stop and chat or just say ‘hello’ in a way which it is difficult to do when closeted in the car. As such, they improve our sense of community. They also provide for more pleasant and sustainable public spaces and serve to support local facilities.

"Nobody in Government would claim that it will be easy to reverse the long-term decline in walking and cycling. But this action plan sets out the shorter-term, practical steps which Government and its partners will now take with the aim of increasing levels of cycling and walking. The plan is the result of a wide-ranging consultation within Government and with cycling and walking groups. [...]

"The barriers to walking and cycling have developed over a long period of time and we want to work towards long-term changes to overcome those barriers. For walking and cycling, this action plan marks a beginning, rather than an end."

Concluding comments

It has been said of self-help books, that if they worked, then why does there need to be so many of them? Did I even mention The Future of Transport: a network for 2030, published in July 2004? Or what about Towards a Sustainable Transport System: Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World, published in October 2007? And who could forget Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists, published in September 2012?

I am going to take a closer look at a couple of these publications over the next few weeks, specifically LTN 2/08 and Manual for Streets. Before closing this blog, I want to quickly respond to Joe Dunckley's point about LTN 2/08 that it "largely consists of guidelines rather than strict rules". Now, this is a problem only inasmuch as the guidance "frequently goes unheeded" (to quote Cyclenation). Even so, rather than impose "strict rules", I think it is more preferable to change the guidelines, for
“It is more important to have a clear understanding of general principles without, however, thinking of them as fixed laws, than to load the mind with a mass of detailed technical information which can readily be found in reference books or card indexes.”
(W.I.B. Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigations)