Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brazil - Developing World Cycling Infrastructure?

Brazil isn't all about football. With the blanket coverage of the World Cup, on some of the on-beach punditry footage in Rio de Janiero, you may have been able to see in the background some half-decent cycling infrastructure:



Above: cycle crossing at Av. Atlantica

 
Above: Semi-segregated lane on Rua Figueiredo de Magalhaes


 
Above: Segregated beachfront track, Copacapana Beach (Av. Atlantica)

You can even get from an airport to downtown on a segregated path.

According to riouncovered: "There is a decent network of bike lanes connecting the various neighbourhoods. The Mayor’s office has been keen to highlight Rio’s green credentials before the World Cup and the Olympics so new cycle lanes have been sprouting up all over the place. They are all pretty well connected and are strategically placed to enjoy some of the most famous locations and spectacular scenery."

Of course Rio is not Amsterdam - much of it is traffic-choked, hostile and dangerous if you're on a bike. But there seems to be a will to change this, although there is the usual lineup of motorized opponents.

In London, we can only aspire to have developing-world cycling infrastructure. Head over to voleospeed for a summary of London's almost complete lack of cycle infrastructure that is our Olympic legacy.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Traffic Signs Consultation

I was feeling a bit bad about not posting on this blog for a while. But then I thought about how long it takes UK governments to get even simple cycle-related issues resolved, and then I didn't feel so guilty.

A traffic signs policy review was first launched under the previous government, back in 2008. Getting rid of traffic sign clutter along with some of the sillier regulations around road signage (no shortage of those) and the associated red tape has been an ambition of the current government. So, in 2011 a Policy Paper was released by the then minister, Norman Baker. But it's taken until May 2014 for the publication of a draft "Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions". You will notice - this is still just a consultation document. You'll have to wait even longer before the new regulations actually see the light of day.

Given that it's taken this long, you'd expect all the stupidity that prevents decent cycling infrastructure to be swept away in one go. So what exactly are the changes that favour cycling proposed by the document ?

  • 'Trixi' mirrors 
  • 'No Entry Except Cycles' signing 
  • Cycle filter signals 
  • Use of a red cycle aspect on cycle-only traffic lights 
  • Cycle route branding - for example, wider national use of Transport for London's Cycle Superhighways branding, and the new 'Quietways' signing 
  • 7.5m deep Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs), to provide more capacity for cyclists 
  • New road markings to help indicate cycle routes through junctions 
  • Wider cycle lane markings 
  • The use of the square white 'elephant's footprints' markings to indicate the route for cyclists through a traffic signal controlled junction 
  • Greater flexibility in designing 20mph zones and limits 
  • Advanced Stop Lines covering only part of the width of the road - for example, across one lane only 
  • The removal of the requirement for a lead-in lane or gate at ASLs. This will permit cyclists to cross the first stop line at any point, allowing them to position themselves where they feel it is most appropriate 
  • ASLs at crossings as well as at junctions 
  • Removing the requirement for signs indicating off-road cycle routes to be lit 
  • Allowing smaller signs for off-road cycle routes
  • Allowing zig-zag markings at pedestrian crossings to be offset from the kerb by up to 2m, to allow cycle lanes to continue through the controlled area 
  • Where pedestrian zone signs include the “no motor vehicles” sign, the zone will now be referred to as a “pedestrian and cycle zone”. This will help people's understanding of the difference between the “no vehicles” and “no motor vehicles” signs 
  • Remove the need for a traffic order from various cycle facilities where possible. These could include with-flow and contra-flow cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists where an existing restriction is in place (e.g. adding 'except cycles' to an existing 'no entry' restriction).
Not exactly earth-shattering, is it?

Some of these changes are already being used, but it is safe to say that none of the above represent any more than tinkering with discredited approaches or slowly adopting measures that have been common on the Continent for a decade or more. ASLs, for example, are no longer regarded as good practice in European countries with high levels of cycling. To give you an idea how far behind the game the UK is, 'No Entry Except Cycles' signs are everywhere in Brussels, which is near the bottom of the international cycling league table with 2.5% modal share.

Before you get too despondant and try to hang yourself with an old inner tube, there are a couple of more promising changes:
  • Shared-use pedestrian/cyclist crossing...a new form of crossing, similar to a zebra crossing, which would allow cyclists to ride across it.

Unfortunately, the design doesn't look very good - the zebra stripes only cover the pedestrian part of the crossing, not the cycle part, so you can imagine dozy motorists failing to stop at the intended stop line. But it does follow a Continental pattern, so maybe it'll work.
However, the regulations still seem to require belisha beacons. This makes such crossings expensive to install; in France and elsewhere crossings do not require expensive electrical work. Plus, the zig-zag markings clutter the street and displace the crossing from where people actually want to cross. The document really should have got rid of zig-zags altogether - which is a pretty damning indictment of the lack of vision or ambition displayed. (For a detailed survey of what is wrong with British zebra crossings, head to AsEasyAsRidingABike). The document later states, confusingly: "zig-zag controlled areas will still be a requirement...however, the requirements for zig-zag layouts at crossings will be simplified where possible". What that means in practice is anybody's guess, and it doesn't change the fact that Europe seems to do crossings that work just fine without zig-zags.
And finally - almost unbelievably - the document states "we have been unable to authorise a trial of such a [shared-use] crossing". Is it really that hard to trial what has worked on the Continent for many years? And why is it even necessary? This is the familiar "not invented here" attitude that seems to pervade highway engineering in this country.

Next up, we have low-level lights for cyclists. "The off-street trials carried out last year proved the concept and gave us sufficient evidence to agree to authorise a limited on-street trial". Again, why is it necessary to waste taxpayers' money trialling something that is already commonplace in Europe, thus delaying the introduction of potentially lifesaving improvements?

Lastly, and potentially the highlight:

"We will be taking forward the opportunity to trial the 'Cycle Streets' concept within the revised TSRGD. This is a bold initiative, which is being considered by some of the Cycle Cities and London, possibly including a ban on overtaking on lightly trafficked roads where cycle flows are high. Subject to any scheme trial, this prohibition could be accompanied by an advisory speed limit of 15 mph"

The problem with this is it is all a bit wishy-washy: "possibly including...could be accompanied by an advisory speed limit..." What on earth is an advisory speed limit? Is it the same as an unenforceable speed limit that no-one will take notice of? And the problem with applying an overtaking ban only on "lightly trafficked roads where cycle flows are high", is that cycle flows are generally not high because dangerous overtaking of cyclists is endemic - and that of course leads to high motor traffic levels as would-be cyclists retire to the safety of their cars even for short journeys. It could be argued that we need overtaking bans anywhere dangerous overtakes are happening.

This government has taken 4 years to come up with this document. 4 years? It looks like it should have taken 4 months maximum, even if you had a 3 month break in the middle. There is nothing innovative; nothing that hasn't been done elsewhere, and usually better, already. And worst of all, this is just a document. Given this government is fond of leaving it up to local authorities to decide to promote cycling (something they are generally ill-qualified and ill-motivated to do), it could be many years before any of the more significant measures make it onto highways.

It seems that while in time the Rockies may tumble, Gibraltar may crumble, but crap cycling is here to stay. You've been a lovely audience, thank you, and goodnight.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Burghley Road Ballsup - How Not to Do Traffic Calming

Burghley Road in the affluent Wimbledon Common area of Merton is usually a quiet road. There is some through traffic but generally speaking it's as quiet as most of the surrounding streets, which is pretty quiet. It's usually a nice peaceful neighborhood in which to ride your bike. However, word has it that at school run rush hour time, it gets a lot busier with local parents dropping their straw-boater-clad Jocastas and Ptolemys off at the local prep schools. Some drivers are a little, shall we say, enthusiastic, with the 85th centile average speed at a scarcely-credible 39MPH.

So Merton have put in some pinch-points to try to restrict "excessive traffic speeds and safety".



At the top of the hill at the Wimbledon Common end, there is a reasonably well-constructed sinusoidal road hump. This is a good, cycle-friendly start. The road slopes downhill with a considerable although not Alpine gradient.

Above: Near the bottom of the hill, there is a pinch-point with a cycle bypass. Motor traffic must give way to oncoming traffic approaching the camera's viewpoint. Nothing too much wrong with this at first glance, you might think. Now look closer at that cycle bypass.


You'll notice that it's already starting to accumulate a lot of debris, but let's look even closer and see what's under that particularly dense accumulation of crud:


Yes, it's a cast-iron rainwater drain, the kind that will throw you off if you ride over it with your front brake on in the wet. And your brakes will almost certainly be on, given that you've just come down a steep hill. What is less obvious from the picture is that at the edge of the drain is a fairly wide groove that could also play havoc. So the safe area to the right of the drain is only about 2 1/2 feet (750mm) wide. The separating island by contrast is a generous 6 feet (2m) or so. There's also a significant camber in the narrow cycle lane to complicate the rider's life still further.



This arrangement has introduced another potentially lethal hazard. Above you see the end of the cycle lane and on the right, the junction with Calonne Road. If you're planning to turn right into Calonne Road, the site of the pinch point (whether the camera is positioned) is about where you'd be signalling and moving into the centre of the lane to position yourself to make the turn. Which, by the way, is a tricky manoeuvre, because of the adverse camber: take it too fast in the wet and you could end up unstuck. But anyway, because the pinch point forces you left at exactly the wrong point, you now have to signal, do a rear observation, slow down and position right, all in a distance that really doesn't allow for it. The alternative of course is to take the lane early, exactly at the point where motorists will be expecting you to take the cycle lane, which puts you at risk of a rear hit from a yummy mummy in a Range Rover. There's a lot of them round here.

Now onto the final hazard.


Ignore the pool of water, that's not relevant. Look instead at the buildout of the left pavement, which narrows the pinch point to a width making it impossible for a car to safely pass a cyclist. But of course that won't stop some drivers from trying. And that is exactly what happened when I was taking these photos. A motorist in a large BMW SUV approached two cyclists from behind just as they entered the pinch-point. Luckily one of them had the presence of mind to take the lane in time, forcing the driver to brake, and probably avoiding a dangerously-close pass. While many drivers will react to the traffic calming in the way the designers intended, there is a small but significant number who won't be able to cope with the combination of road humps, give-ways and their own impatience, and will simply put their foot down to try to beat an oncoming driver to the pinch-point, then realize (too late) that there's a road hump in the middle of it and brake unexpectedly. And cyclists are by design forced into conflict with this kind of driver.

So, once again in Merton we have engineers who have spent a lot of money trying to control motor traffic, but because of their lack of understanding of the dynamics of cycling, they've unwittingly created new hazards for cyclists. It doesn't fill you with confidence in Merton's competence to create a Mini-Holland, should the borough win funding for their bid.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Fix the Northern Line

I have a friend John (not his real name) who has a bike (or had, until it got nicked a few months back). He's talked in the past about cycling to work but never quite got round to it.

John lives in Tooting. A couple of weeks back, he was walking back from the tube station, and happened upon the aftermath of a cycle collision, on CSH#7. An ambulance was in attendance. "The guy wasn't moving", he told me. "It didn't look good".

John is exactly the kind of person TfL are desperately trying to encourage to get on a bike to relieve congestion on the Northern Line. The BBC reported "Travellers are being asked to avoid getting on the Northern Line between Tooting Bec and Clapham North between 0800 GMT and 0845."  They are advised to walk or cycle instead.

Unfortunately for TfL, their advice to cycle might be heeded more if they hadn't made such a mess of implementing CSH#7 - which closely follows the Northern Line for much of its route. CSH#7 is exactly the wrong way to encourage anyone to cycle: almost everyone I know who uses CSH#7 has witnessed a collision on it.

CSH#7 follows the same basic design principles as the first phase of CSH#2, recently described "as an accident waiting to happen". Those principles can be summed up as follows. "Paint a blue stripe, and don't worry too much about major or minor junction safety, and don't do anything that might impact car parking or traffic flow. (Motor traffic,of course, is there any other kind?)"

The cheapest way to increase Northern Line capacity is to get people off it and onto other transport modes. Unfortunately, the most obvious alternative - buses - are already creaking at the seams. Val Shawcross wrote in the Guardian:

"Over the past 10 years, London's population grew by 80,000 a year and the number of bus kilometres by 109m. But over the coming decade, the population is forecast to grow by 100,000 a year while bus kilometres covered will increase by just 20m. This means more overcrowding on buses, and more people left behind at bus stops. London's buses are already frequently overcrowded. A quarter of those responding to our passenger survey said their bus was overcrowded and yet TfL has no plans to significantly increase services."

The underlying problems are twofold:
1. Failure to manage road congestion. Congestion slows down buses, making them an unattractive, slow, unreliable option, and forcing people to take the tube.
2. Failure to prioritize cycle safety. Failure to prioritize cycle safety ensures that most people don't consider cycling as a transport option.

What this all boils down to is that on the roads, TfL treats every road journey with equal priority: the least necessary journeys and the least efficient transport modes in terms of passengers per square metre of roadspace (private cars and taxis) have the same priority as the most important journeys and the most efficient modes. In the congestion charge zone the incentives are a little more logical but the fact that taxis and private hire vehicles are exempt from the congestion charge means that those vehicles are prevalent, and congestion is still widespread.

TfL also treats every road user as if they had equal safety requirements. TfL behave as if there were no such thing as a vulnerable road user, and as a result would-be cyclists are scared off the roads. (And it's not cycle campaigners or bloggers scaring people off cycling: surveys have been listing fear of traffic as the #1 reason people don't cycle for many years.)

So if people felt safe cycling, how many bikes could you accommodate on roads if you actually tried? Studies show the saturation flow for a single 1-m (3.3 ft) to 1.2-m (4-ft) bicycle lane appears to be between 1,500 and 5,000 bicycles/hr with a majority of the observations falling between 2,000 and 3,500 bicycles/hr. So for two-way flows based on a 10-hr day at maximum capacity, that works out at about 18M journeys per year. The London Underground Major Regeneration Scheme aims to add capacity of 500M extra journeys per year, at a cost of £39bn (2008). The pro-rata cost of 18M journeys per year (our nominal numbers for a 2-way cycle lane) works out at about £1.5bn. The segregated CSH#2 extension cost £2M/mile, and the refurbished, segregated CSH#2 about £20M. CSH#2 currently only carries about 400 cyclists/hour at peak times, which works out at maybe 1M journeys/year, but that's because it's currently unsegregated and therefore reflects the London-wide 2% cycling modal share. Continental infrastructure should bring Continental levels of riders: 2% modal share could turn into 20%, so you can see how levels of 10M journeys/year are not out of reach on CSH#2.  And at costs per journey getting on for 2 orders of magnitude lower than the tube upgrade. As a side benefit, more people would use London's under-used cycle hire scheme, bringing more revenue to TfL.

Now, you'll notice that the above numbers are very rough indeed, but even if you water the assumptions down to very conservative levels, they still indicate that cycling capital investment is incredibly cheap compared with upgrading train capacity. They also indicate the opportunity cost associated with the lack of investment in cycling in London. The Mayor is proposing to spend £913M over the next 10 years on cycling, averaging £91M/year. That is nowhere near enough to built a significant amount of infrastructure to the standard required to actually attract significant numbers of users, and as a result, London will have to spend far more accommodating those users on other forms of transport. Additionally, health experts recently told a parliamentary enquiry that "the NHS spent about £5 billion a year on obesity-related conditions...health services could make £4 of savings for every £1 invested in cycling".

Instead of forecast numbers, lets instead consider some real ones. Since 2006 Seville has increased the number of daily cycling journeys from 5000 to 72,000, bringing modal share from  0.5% to around 7%. The cycle network cost €32m. Compare that with the city's underground system which cost €600 million and carries 40,000 people daily. It's interesting that Seville appears to have spent so little ( €400K/mile) building 80 miles of decent-quality infrastructure in so little time (the first 50 miles built in less than a year), compared with the CSH cost of £2M-£4M per mile, for what can charitably be described as dangerous crap.

If ever there was a cast-iron business case, it is to invest in cycling. Unlike the shaky, wildly-optimistic and naive economic cases that are used to justify road and rail investments. On the plus side, Boris seems now to understand that segregated, decent-quality, Continental-style infrastructure (as opposed to blue paint) is needed to get cycling modal share out of the doldrums, and is finally proposing and planning such routes. Unfortunately, London government (and here the blame falls partly on local government and City Hall, but mainly on central government) have not collectively realized that the massive benefits to be had from cycling - including health-related savings, air pollution reduction, displacement from far more expensive transport alternatives, a more liveable city - cannot be done on a shoestring. Until they realize this, we'll instead be spending far more on massive taxpayer subsidy of public transport that also has some of the highest fares in the world.





Friday, November 29, 2013

Operation Safeway - Waste of Money ?

In the wake of the recent cluster of cycling fatalities the Met Police - accountable to Mayor Boris Johnson - has launched Operation Safeway, which involves the deployment of up to 2500 officers at the capital's most dangerous junctions (not supermarkets, despite the name). It will be reviewed at Christmas.

When I see a bunch of public servants standing around not doing much, which is what I've witnessed so far during this "safety" operation, my first instinct is to wonder to what benefit my road tax is being put. Oh I forgot - I'm a cyclist, so I don't pay road tax. Except I do because I have a car. But it's a low emission car so I don't pay much more than it costs the Government to collect it. Oh, but the Met isn't paid for out of road tax, it's council tax and I do pay a lot of that. Well, anyway...paying highly-skilled crime-fighters to hang around on street corners like a bunch of high-visibility hookers doesn't strike me as a particularly good use of public funds.



Apparently, they've dished out 2000 fines in three days, which is a bit less than 700 a day. That is less than 1 ticket a day per officer. If the intent is to deter, this operation is clearly failing. But maybe finding lawbreaking road users is harder than we expect. To test this theory yesterday, I went for my usual lunchtime stroll around the West End, and in 15 minutes I saw 2 drivers entering an advance stop box illegally, 3 drivers using handheld mobile phones, and one cyclist on the pavement. So maybe my comparison with hookers was a bit unfair - there's clearly plenty of business out there to be done, but the police are unaccountably shy. According to some reports, they've been acting a bit like Gok Wan, advising people on what not to wear.

The Met budget is £4bn/year, and employs around 32000 sworn police officers. So the cost of 2500 officers half-time for 4 weeks works out at around £13M. They don't seem to be doing this full-time, but even for 2 hours in the morning, another 2 hours in the evening, plus the logistics of getting them to and from the relevant locations still adds up to a good chunk of a working day. The Met claim the operation isn't costing extra money, but that's false economics - if they weren't doing this, they would be doing other things, which presumably do have value. The question is, whether this operation has significant value. In my opinion it doesn't, because it is starting from the position that the main cause of cyclist casualties is lawbreaking, which is a false premise. There is nothing uniquely lawless about British drivers or cyclists. People have an equal tendancy to break road laws in other European countries, but the Continental approach has been to build quality cycling infrastructure - infrastructure that removes incentives for cyclists to break the law, and keeps them away from lawbreaking drivers. If all drivers and cyclists respected the law all the time and never made mistakes, the roads would be safer, but I cannot see how a short, localized operation with little deterrent effect is going to reverse the effects of decades of complacent tolerance of motoring offences. With the exception of drink-driving, we simply don't regard traffic violations as "real crime". According to the RAC, 21% of drivers admit to using mobile phones at the wheel, 65% break the motorway speed limit, 36% break 20MPH limits, yet 92% of us consider ourselves to be law abiding drivers!

So I doubt very much if this operation will have any lasting effect. There is clearly no real appetite at any level of government to permanently ensure better compliance with traffic laws. Whereas, if you were to spend that £13M cost on decent segregated infrastructure or quality junctions...you would permanently protect cyclists from the consequences of bad driving and cycling.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vauxhall St Lane Blocked - Lambeth Fail Yet Again

Yes, another story in my Lambeth Fail series. Sorry to other London boroughs for favouring Lambeth again, you'll just have to try less hard.

Now, you really couldn't make this one up. Up until recently, the contraflow lane on Vauxhall St (which is one of the few examples in London of that critically endangered species, the segregated cycle facility) was blocked along with the pavement, and there was a "pedestrians please use other footpath" sign.

At that time, my fearless and redoubtable fellow-blogger Charlie (Kennington People on Bikes) sent a pic of the blocked lane to Lambeth's cycling officer. who responded thusly:

I have been sent the attached photos of Vauxhall Street. They show that the contraflow cycle lane is completely  fenced off, forcing people on bikes into the narrow lane of oncoming traffic. Not only is it dangerous, especially to children using the route,  it is also inconvenient and increases journey times for people cycling.
Given our road user hierarchy, our approach in this situation should be to maintain the pedestrian and cycle routes and close the road to motor vehicles except for access to the supermarket and estate. 
We've been criticised in the past for our lack of consideration of cyclists at roadworks (Akerman Road; Baylis Road; Greyhound Lane) but I thought we had begun to remedy that. There are lots of examples of good practise regarding cycling at roadworks  across London which we could learn from, for example recently on Union Street outside Palestra.
Will you look into this urgently? It is important that we sort it out quickly as the current situation is unacceptable and I expect we will receive many more complaints.




A week later, the lane's still blocked, and - get this - a "cyclists dismount" sign has been added. So, Lambeth's idea of remedying danger and inconvenience to people cycling is...to stop them cycling. Perfect. No doubt soon they'll have a police officer ticketing cyclists having the temerity to ignore the dismount sign and ride around the obstruction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Roads Crackdown - If Only...

The head of traffic enforcement for London's police defended an operation in which officers have been stopping dozens of highway engineers and politicians to advise them on safety, in the wake of a recent cluster of cyclist casualties.

"If I'm truly honest, what we're trying to do here is our best to save lives and keep people safe, both from serious and more minor injuries. Quite honestly, some of these traffic engineers haven't got a clue. They have no idea how to design safely. It's high time they were registered and made to take a test. "

"Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that politicians have taken decisions that really did put road users' lives in danger. While deaths are not always the designer's fault, if they don't follow the rules there's no amount of good behaviour by cyclists that is going to save people's lives".

In the operation, 2,500 officers are being deployed to enforce good road and junction design in the capital's most notorious accident blackspots.

There is evidence of a high level of offending by highways engineers in terms of design defects. In one previous operation, 99% of designs were found to have at least one serious defect, including the failure to separate HGVs from cyclists.

Politicians are also being warned not to wear headphones. "This kind of behaviour can only isolate you from the reality of the road environment in a dangerous way...Call me illiberal, but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along completely unaware of Continental good practice and disconnected from reality."