Saturday, October 19, 2013

Turret Grove, Clapham - Lambeth Fail

Lambeth have finally got around to resurfacing Turret Grove. This residential street has been a patchwork of potholes for some years now, so cyclists will be looking forward to a nice, smooth ride on billard-table-like tarmac.

Unfortunately, they will be disappointed.

The road surface itself is smooth enough, but they've put new road humps (above) that are even more severe than the ones they replace. They are so upright the effect is like hitting a kerbstone, and the impact at any speed is likely to dislodge your lights, luggage etc.

A cycling-friendly council would have used sinusoidal profile humps, which are effective at limiting motor vehicle speeds but much more comfortable to cycle over.

They also could, and should have taken the opportunity to change the priority at the Rozel Road junction (below).

Rozel Road is a very quiet road but as it currently has priority over the cycle route, you have to slow down and be prepared to give way. I can't see any issues with changing the priority to favour the cycle route.

Above: at the junction with Rectory Grove, if you're turning right into Turret Grove (towards the camera) you have to execute a very sharp right turn to go left of the island into the narrow cycle bypass. This is dangerous because you have to slow down, risking a rear hit as the sight lines at this point are poor. The logical thing to do would be to remove the island. But they didn't

You might remember back in June there was a lot of noise about Lambeth's new Cycling Strategy. In it, they claim: "Work has already been done to change the formula for road resurfacing to give extra priority to roads used by cyclists." That is welcome, but what's happened here is they've resurfaced the road but, almost unbelievably, actually made it worse for cyclists.

So what went wrong? It looks like Lambeth is still a typical council, where cycling is the responsibility of (if you're lucky) one or two under-resourced individuals very low down the slippery pole of the management hierarchy. For everyone else in Highways, cycling is an unwelcome distraction from the day job of getting proper motorized vehicles moving efficiently. Cycling is only something considered on the rare occasions when there's a "Cycle Scheme"; at all other times (road resurfacing, new parking spaces etc.) it's ignored. 

If Lambeth councillors are serious about putting the warm and encouraging words in their Cycling Strategy into action, they have got to make cycling a responsibility of every officer in Transport and Streets.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advance Stop Lines

One of the very, very few commonplace cycle infrastructure features in the UK is the advance stop line.

The principle behind it is as follows. Cyclists are enabled to get to the front of a queue of traffic at a light-controlled junction, and wait in a box in front of the queue, where you're visible to motorists, instead of getting in the blind spots of HGVs, which, as we all know, isn't such a terribly good idea. Simple eh? Not to the UK justice system, which conspires to make it both complex and crap.

It wasn't so bad in the old days when the police didn't bother enforcing them. If there were vehicles in the advance stop box, which there usually were, you would just go ahead over the stop line and wait in front of them. Not that big a deal. Against the letter of the law, yes, but the whole point of ASLs is to enable you to be seen and get a head start rather than be mixed up in HGV blind spots. Your personal safety is a greater moral imperative than a technical breach of the rules, especially bearing in mind that you're forced into this minor infringement (usually) by the motorist breaking the law in the first place.

Unfortunately, such moral considerations seem to butter no parsnips with the Met Police, who ticketed a London cyclist for just such an offence. Unsurprisingly, fellow riders have rushed to contribute to a defence fund to mount a legal challenge.

When you drive a car, you will almost always stay safe if you stick to the letter of the law. That's because the law, and the roads, are designed with you in mind. On a bike, the situation is rather different. You continually have to make potentially life-or-death decisions that balance your safety and your speed against staying legal. You have to think about road positioning, your visibility to other road users, parked vehicles, and of course what other moving road users are doing, or might do, or what might happen if they don't do what they appear to be intending. You have to think ahead and analyze every possible move of every road user in a complex, continuous game of chess. You have to look at every approaching vehicle and try to figure out if they are about to overtake you or turn across you, and whether you are better off taking an assertive position to discourage a dangerous manoeuvre, or just let them get on with it. You also have to consider whether they are actually aware of you, or texting their mate instead.

Now, you might say that breaking the law to expedite your journey is not acceptable, but the fact is that being stationary or slowing down can often put you in considerable danger of a rear hit or a left or right hook. Loss of momentum can be fatal. So cutting a corner or going the wrong side of a bollard can be a better option than waiting in the middle of the road, trusting that drivers in front and behind are paying attention, driving cautiously and aware of the fact that there might be a cyclist in front that they can't yet see.

On this blog, we don't condone stupid cycling that endangers other road users, but we also don't condone stupid laws that endanger cyclists, and the fact is the ASL is governed by an embarrassingly badly-drafted, Friday afternoon-after-a-liquid-lunch piece of legislation. Logic would tell you that the advance stop box should behave like a yellow box junction, but it doesn't: it's legal for a vehicle to wait in the ASL if it crossed the first stop-line when the light was green, which makes it very difficult to enforce. There's also considerable confusion about when and how a cyclist can enter the box. According to the CTC:

"the legal position of ASLs has not been clear in the past, either through legislation or case law. So far, ASL layouts have required an approach cycle lane, long enough for cyclists to bypass the traffic queue (though what that meant was not entirely clear). When the lights are red, cyclists may only enter the reservoir via the cycle lane, not by crossing the stop line. 

This legislation raised a question over the legality of not having a cycle lane - without one, it has been technically illegal for a cyclist to enter the ASL box in the absence of a green light. Several authorities sought to overcome this by leaving a 1.2m break at the nearside end of the main stop line, possibly with a token length of cycle lane, or tapered feeder lane. The legality of this approach, however, has been unclear (see also 3.c. ‘Omitting feeder lanes’ below). 

A question also arose over whether the regulations were too prescriptive on how cyclists are expected to use ASLs with, say, a single feeder lane but two traffic lanes. For example, if a central feeder lane is provided between two lanes of traffic, the legislation requires left turning cyclists to use that lane to access the ASL, even if there is space for them to filter past traffic in the nearside lane, with obvious dangers if the lights change before they get there. "

It seems there should be a fix for this in the upcoming revision of "Traffic Signs and General Direction Regulations" in 2014, but that almost certainly won't fix the problem of what a cyclist is supposed to do if the advance stop box is occupied.

The fundamental problem is with the whole Highway Code, which lumps cyclists in with all other traffic and subjects them mostly to the same laws and regulations. Yet most of the highway code is advisory, so many of the most dangerous driving behaviours are committed on a daily basis with no fear of prosecution. As a result, dangerous driving has become the accepted norm for many: A TRL survey of drivers convicted of careless driving revealed "57% claimed they were driving how they often or normally drove at the time of the incident, and 75% said they were surprised to be convicted".  Furthermore, we have a legal system in which it is very difficult to get a meaningful punishment or even a successful prosecution for dangerous driving (drivers can plead 'momentary inattention'/pressed the wrong pedal/uncharacteristic error/didn't-see-you, etc. etc.), yet very easy to prosecute a cyclist who acts to preserve his/her own safety, endangering nobody else, but happens to contravene the letter of a car-centric law.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Merton High Street

Merton Council have been busy putting cycle facilities on Merton High Street.

Let's see what they've been up to. A word of warning first: don't get your hopes up.

Above, looking east just before the Savacentre, you can see it's not so much cycle lanes as car parking. Why not make the lanes mandatory? Because, as on the CSH7 which starts a little bit further on at Colliers Wood, car parking is deemed more important, so the lanes are only any use for a few hours on weekdays. (Now it is worth pointing out that this is not necessarily all Merton's fault, because this is a TfL route and changes to parking restrictions would be subject to a traffic order and signed off by them. So TfL have some responsibility as do the Coalition for not abolishing this red tape. But ultimately this is Merton's scheme, so in my view the buck stops with them.)

Moving a little further east, just behind the grey car in the first picture there is the bus stop for Savacentre, pictured above. Here, the westbound cycle lane disappears.

East of the Savacentre, at the approach to the dangerous junction at Colliers Wood, there are no cycle lanes at all in either direction. This is actually where you most need them.

Things improve a little at the Haydons Road junction westbound. Here there is an advisory lane that leads into a lane on the pavement and it seems this will enable you to bypass the lights. This is the highlight in an otherwise pretty useless scheme.

Above, on the eastbound side of the same junction though, there is nothing. The twin traffic lanes are retained, and you'll notice there's a guaranteed left-hook if you stay to the left. There's an ASL but no lead-in lane, which is pretty useless.

At Nelson Road, you'll need the courage of the great admiral because the cycle lane swerves around some parking spaces, and the lane is right in the dooring zone so you're best advised 'taking the lane', where you'll no doubt get honked at by motorists who can't figure out why you're not in the perfectly good cycle lane paid for by their taxes.

On the other side, at Pincott Road, the pavement lane gives way to a side street: after all, motor traffic is more important so must get priority.

Above, the pavement lane continues past a crossing. You'll notice the pavement is obstructed here by some street furniture so there's potential for conflict with pedestrians.

Above, a little further west the pavement lane ends, well before the dangerous South Wimbledon junction, requiring you to merge into two lanes of westbound traffic. This really hasn't been thought through.

On the opposite side there is a lane, but it is narrow and alongside car parking, so unless you fancy a 'dooring' you're best off in the main carriageway.

So in summary, there is clearly not much joined-up thinking going on at Merton Council. This scatty, ill-conceived scheme might have been par for the course a decade ago, but given that Merton is bidding for the 'Mini Holland' cash, it simply isn't good enough. Narrow, intermittent, part-time advisory lanes right alongside car parking endangers cyclists and does not help them. Segregated paths are great, but not when they give way to side streets and spit you out into fast-moving traffic.
The only thing to be said for this scheme is the lanes do something to help keep space free for cyclists to pass on the left of the congestion which is commonplace on this road. But it won't attract any new cyclists, or do anything to improve the safety of the junctions. So as such this scheme is a waste of money. Money that could instead have been spent on Dutch-style infrastructure that people will actually use. Instead we've got something from the palette of discredited solutions that is out-of-date as soon as it's been built. Something that doesn't speak well of Merton's understanding of cycling and will do it no favours with the judges of the Mini-Holland bids.