Tuesday 31 March 2015

Big Picture, Small Details

The Bristol Cycle Strategy says on page 9: "The desired cycle network in Bristol is large and intertwined and can appear quite confusing on a single page, particularly for those unfamiliar with Bristol."

It is worth taking a moment to consider why this map is in fact quite confusing. In the first instance it is because for some people reading a map is actually pretty difficult.

Professor Amy Lobben of the University of Oregon has noted that poor map readers tend to show more activation in the frontal lobe of the brain. (The frontal lobe is associated with attention, short-term memory tasks and planning.) This means to say, if people need to think about it too much, it's likely that they would struggle to read a map well.

People find it easier to turn a map—either in their heads or in their hands—so that it matches their direction of travel ('map rotation'). In addition, the most important map reading skill is the ability to relate where you are in the real world to the corresponding spot on a map (‘self-location’).

An on-street information panel, part of the Bristol Legible City programme.

Being able to shift one's perspective from the street-level view in front of you to the bird's eye view of a map, and being able to read a map whilst keeping north at the top of the page, are two attributes of good map readers. However, people vary in their ability to read maps. The Legible City programme overcomes this, firstly by ensuring that the map is correctly orientated, and secondly by locating the user ('You are here'). Of course, each on-street information panel has to be uniquely designed, but the idea is that if it will work for the first-time user, then it will work for everyone.

As I reported in an earlier blog, there are four stages to navigating a route:

i. Orientation (which is the ability to locate oneself with reference to place).
ii. Route Decision (which is the selection of a course of direction to the destination).
iii. Route Monitoring (which is the checking process to make sure that the selected route is heading towards to the destination).
iv. Destination Recognition (which is when the destination is recognised).

Most people settle upon their destination / decide upon their route at the beginning of a journey (stage 2), not during it (stage 3). Therefore, when you see people reading a map whilst they are out on their bikes, it is most likely that they are checking to see whether or not they are still on track. Route confirmation markers (like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs) would obviously render this practice unnecessary.

The Universal Principles of Design written by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler says: "To improve route decision-making, minimise the number of navigational choices, and provide signs or prompts at decision points." Another reason Bristol's cycle network map may be quite confusing to some people is that it shows too many routes. This problem is compounded by the fact that most of these routes are not waymarked in any way, which means that without the map no one would even know they existed.

Although these maps proved to be relatively quite popular (40,000 issued in the first year), the Bristol Cycle Strategy felt that the network needed to be communicated in a clearer way. Most likely this decision was a response to the Freedom to Ride manifesto advocated by the Bristol Cycling Campaign (BCyC).

It is an established fact that colour coding makes route planning easier, and for this reason, no doubt, BCyC developed the above-shown map. However, there are all sorts of problems with this design.

The main one is that there are not enough distinctive colours to code more than about fifteen routes. This has a number of consequences, such as, the map is relatively quite difficult for colour-blind people to read; maintenance of the scheme becomes increasingly time-consuming as the colours start to fade; a significant proportion of useful cycling routes are not coded, most notably in the centre.

Just recently, as part of Bristol's Cycle City Ambition Grant, Bristol City Council (BCC) published a map showing those routes which they have identified as the most worthy of further investment.

I converted the routes above into a more familiar format, and then set about trying to code as much of this network as possible.

The map above shows the routes identified by BCC.

For a strategic network aimed at utility cycling, it not necessary to code every single route which is useful to cyclists, only those which are the most useful. Please note the highest density of routes appear in that corridor which runs in both directions from the centre at about ten past eight on the clockface.

The map above shows the routes which make up my proposed network

There are obviously some bits of the BCC network which do not feature in the above-shown network, but nearly 80% of it does.

The map above shows the routes identified by BCC (Freeways / Quietways / Greenways) 
which do not feature as part of my proposed design

Finally, the concept of a Legible City is encapsulated in the statement: Big picture, small details (source).

Big picture: "The city is a large and diverse environment of people going about their business, interacting with one another in gatherings, events or simply passing each other on the street. Not one image, symbol or logo can truly represent such a diverse collection. The city is known by its name. What can usefully be unified are certain types of information – to help people get about and find places of interest, by pointing at things or letting people know how and when to use public transport, or by providing a consistent system of visitor information that is used by all."

Bristol Cycling Network (proposed)
View larger map here

Small details: "We all notice the little details. We recognise when a piece of information is incorrect, we get a feeling that a piece of furniture is flimsy or robust, and we react accordingly. When making improvements intended for mass usage, accuracy and attention to detail has to be of a standard to engender a level of trust that gives confidence. Good information in the right place at the right time is used by people. Poor information is ignored and vandalised. Usage is the litmus test of the success of any system."

City Centre map

Monday 9 March 2015

A dead moon of buoyant optimism

David Hembrow has recently reported how, a couple of years ago, Andrew Gilligan said that London's cycling environment was forty years behind that of the Netherlands. This gives the Dutch a start date of 1973.

David explained that what London needs to do now is exactly what the city has needed to do for the last 42 years, that is:

"Quietly get on with building a high quality grid of cycling routes 
to every destination and which absolutely everyone can use." 

David also managed a dig at the National Cycle Network. This seemed somewhat odd to me. Last year almost five million people used this network. Yes, there is a long way to go still, but finding the faults in a network which is being developed by a charity and which is 22,500 km long does not require much in the way of genius, and ought to be beneath someone of David's stature.

The NCN was launched twenty years ago. The SCN (London Cycling Campaign's plans for a strategic cycling network) was launched thirty-seven years ago. I wonder how that's going?

On the very same day that TfL published their plans for the North-South and East-West cycle superhighways, LCC described them "a success" and "a major step forward". Their "main concerns" were that some of the planned new junctions were "not safe enough" and that the width of the new cycle tracks was "too narrow in places". Overall, however, LCC were "really pleased" by the commitment to convert motor vehicle space into cycle space.

LCC regarded the conversion of one of the slip roads at Blackfriars Junction to a two-way cycle-only route as "a great feature". They thought it "the iconic location for the transformation of London into a city with real space for cycling". Clearly, however, they haven't stopped to think how this scheme would fit into the bigger picture.

David Hembrow writes: "This proposal was praised in some quarters as at least 
including some segregation of modes. What it actually demonstrates
is that the designers don't understand that bicycles are not the same as cars."

I am particularly curious to understand why cyclists would go down the slip-road and then double-back on themselves in order to head east (at least two cyclists are in the process of doing this in the publicity shot above). Where have they come from, and where are they going to?

The map above shows what is probably the best route for motor traffic between King's Cross and Parliament Square. The photo shows the approach (from the north) to the soon-to-be-converted slip road, with the bridge straight ahead..

The map above shows some of the main motor vehicle movements through Blackfriars Junction. Motorists wishing to travel to Parliament Square from the City, say, are enabled to avoid Blackfriars Junction altogether and get on to Victoria Embankment via White Lion Hill (pale red-coloured route).

Anyone wishing to travel to Parliament Square from pretty much anywhere south of the river could actually afford to give Blackfriars Junction a fairly wide berth. Indeed, very, very little traffic would cross Blackfriars Bridge south to north and then head west on Victoria Embankment. As the photo above right shows, most of the traffic goes straight on through this junction (from the south).

I am trying to understand why cyclists would come down the soon-to-be-converted slip road and then double back on themselves before heading east. Where would such a journey have started?
If the journey had started to the north of Blackfriars Junction, the more direct route would reduce the journey distance by 37% (map above). If the journey had started to the south of Blackfriars Junction (from Elephant and Castle, for example), the more direct route would reduce the journey distance by 39% (map to the right).
Whichever way I look at this, the answer always seems to be the same: there is almost no journey that cyclists would want to make which requires them to go down the slip road at Blackfriars Junction and then double back on themselves.

In the case of the route described above, the more direct route would reduce the journey distance by (only) 28%.

new csh
The new East-West route from Blackfriars Junction to Southwark Bridge (selected images)

Another thing to bring to your attention is that the section of route between Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark Bridge is not a destination in and of itself (there are no shops, for example). The point being that most of the people who travel along here want to be somewhere else. As the animation sequence shows, the only place that pedestrians are visible in any numbers is at Southwark Bridge.

Of course, there needs to be a way to connect the North-South route with the East-West route, and that slip road is probably the most suitable. But the new road layout would almost certainly better serve the needs of cyclists if it wasn't so massively over-engineered. (Since also one of the lanes on the slip road is pretty much entirely superfluous, why not plant a few trees there as well?)

I have no doubt that when these superhighways come to be built, a lot of kudos will go to Boris Johnson and TfL. But these schemes fall short in my opinion because they don't form part of a bigger whole.

The most effective way to develop an amenable cycling environment is to plan, study and then introduce a network—get it up and running—and thereafter to develop it further on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable. That's what the Dutch started doing in 1973, which means that this, therefore, is the true meaning of Going Dutch.

It seems obvious to me that the Cycle Superhighways are often going where they can be installed without causing too many problems, rather than where they would be most useful.

Why, for example, does the recently-announced CS1 replicate the old LCN10 almost exactly (except for the bits in red) when it was originally proposed to be routed along the main road? Improving the functionality of a couple of the crossings is well and good, but cycling needs density and connectivity, and despite its faults, the old LCN route at least had the advantage that it joined up to other routes (notably CS7). How is CS1 going to fit in with everything else?

Why, as well, does the new North-South route go from Elephant and Castle to King's Cross, rather than, say, from Elephant and Castle to Finsbury Park? It would mean that the North-South route on Farringdon Road would have to be extended by another 500 metres (shown on the map above right in red), but apart from that, there are no major problems with this route.

goo ner
Proposed route to Finsbury Park (selected images)
This route is functional in its entirety save for one regard: it is badly waymarked.

(The CS1 route is going to terminate at White Hart Lane (Tottenham), rather than continue up the A10 as the old LCN route used to do. If the new North-South route went to Finsbury Park, as I have suggested, rather than to King's Cross, as is planned, this would take cyclists past the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal). Perhaps someone at TfL is a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs fan, and this is why the route on Farringdon Road has been cut short by 500 metres? #COYS #UpYoursGooners)

Regarding the two new superhighways, baron samedi on the LCC website thinks the detail is sometimes mediocre and that compromises have been made to mitigate the effects on traffic. "Nevertheless," he continues, "these proposals take a lot of space from traffic, and provide a cycling environment that, at least on the main axis of the route, is suitable for all in most places. As a result, they'll open these routes up to many new cyclists."

Time will tell, but at least in the short-term, I think baron samedi is going to be proved wrong about this.