Sunday, 4 February 2018

Planning for cycling

The Mayor of London has undertaken a 'Strategic Cycling Analysis'. He recently announced six 'Strategic cycle routes', one of which is between Lea Bridge and Dalston. However, neither the Mayor, nor anyone else has an informed idea of cyclists' "preferred route(s)”. Nor is a process of calling something a  "preferred route” any basis for making decisions about investment in more and safer cycling, nor does it increase the chances of getting local support for any proposal. 

In this blog I describe why planning cycle routes always disappoints and suggest a better way to plan for more and safer cycling. 

What makes a “route”?

First, a bit of history. Planning cycle “routes” has been around a long time. In 1989, London local government promoted a 1000 mile 'Strategic Cycling Network'. This was followed by the 'London Cycling Network' (LCN) in 1997  which had a target of achieving a 10% cycle mode share by 2012. The target was never achieved and mode share in London is even now barely 3%. The LCN was superseded in 2004 by a variant, the 'London Cycling Network PLUS' (LCN+). The idea behind LCN+ was to focus more on where cyclists wanted to cycle and was considerably shorter (planned to be 900 km by 2009/10). More recently, the Boris / Gilligan 'Cycling Vision' gave us 'Superhighways' (with blue paint and concrete kerb variants), 'Quietways' and  'London Grid' routes.

Why cycle route planning disappoints

The first reason that planning in terms of cycle “routes” fails is graphically illustrated by the output from the Hackney Cycle App This 'App.' records real cycle journeys through Hackney made by real Hackney cyclists with all their different journey purposes and different needs.

From this real data, it is evident that cyclists neither start nor finish from particular identifiable points, nor do they choose any single route. The map below demonstrates that the Mayor of London will be spoilt for choice of “strategic cycle route”, even between the few kilometres between Lea Bridge and Dalston and he is sure to miss many cyclists’ preferred route.

The output from the Hackney Cycle App demonstrates the streets 
actually used by cyclists in Hackney.

Social media campaigns are easy, but building cycle tracks rarely is

The second reason for failure of route planning for cycles is more important than the question of  what makes a route “strategic” or “preferred”. 

The process sounds simple:

1 the cycle bloggers, twitterati and campaigners demand safe routes; 
2 the planners draw the lines on maps; 
3 the designers, who have the toughest job, join up dots with something they hope is useful and safer.
4 the engineering contractors attempt to implement what the designers have drawn

But it never quite works out. The approach takes too little account of what is actually encountered on the ground. Moreover it takes no account of the local politics of transport. 

On the ground the street is sometimes wide then narrow, footfall high and then low. There are bus lanes, bus stops, bus passengers, town centre uses (shops, shopping, deliveries), pedestrians, narrow pavements, wide pavement, busy road intersections, side streets, roundabouts, one-way streets and parked vehicles. There are markets and churches and mosques, blind people, older, less mobile people, trees, pillar boxes, telephone boxes, advertising hoardings and wifi kiosks.  There are all manner of utilities above and below ground. Moving them costs a small fortune. And this is not a comprehensive list of all the contested demands for space in normal city life. 

The roads can be residential or part of London’s Strategic Road Network and used by either 10s of vehicles an hour or tens of thousands. Every road junction is different. But the unachievable demands of the cycle lobby are for the same level of service, end to end, but this will never be possible. 

Waltham Forests mini-Holland design guide was ambitious and strongly suggested cycle tracks and footway would be consistently 2m wide. Below is the result of the design code. Both pavement and cycle track are far too narrow. A two metre wide footway and cycleway is rarely achieved. 

Here Waltham Forest managed to implement a compromised scheme,
but its clearly not appropriate for a local centre.

Every yard of London's streets is contested and compromised. Shoehorning bike lanes into streets that have multiple users and uses is the primary reason for the continual failure of cycle route planning and why it so often disappoints. Often the compromises are worse than doing nothing, even for the cyclist. This happens too often, and continues, because of the ongoing adherence to the concept of “cycle routes”.
Even the politics of places makes a difference. A bike lane was shoehorned into Whitechapel High Street and Mile End. There was no local opposition apart from the stall holders of the historic market who managed to reduce the impact of the cycle track on their access, but that annoyed the cycle campaigners because they lost their kerb protection for a long stretch of road.

The pavement at Whitechapel was narrowed, bus stops designed around the needs of cycles. The end result is a degraded pedestrian environment for the overwhelming majority of the street's users. For cyclists it is a mixed bag of a cycle track that is variously 'protected', but in other locations dangerous, such as at the junction of Commercial Street.

The pavement is far too narrow at Aldgate where the cycle lane with deep, 6 inch, 
kerbs made an already pedestrian unfriendly high street worse

At Aldgate the cycle track is often unusable at peak times because the junction of
Commercial Street is overwhelmed by motor vehicles

But in Chiswick the politics are different. A two-way cycle track is planned even though this is recognised as poor practice because of the additional risks of cycles travelling in an unexpected direction. But the council and TfL will have a much harder fight with the church, the middle classes and the Tory party locally opposing the scheme.

The 3m wide cycle track at Chiswick is proposed through the middle of the 
pavement and is being vehemently opposed.

Finally, cycle route planning is an inefficient use of finite resources.  It focuses far too much on the links (the sections between the junctions) rather than the road intersections where most (80+%) of the collisions that injure cyclists occur. 

The cost of moving the kerb lines of London's streets is astronomical (£1 million to £5 million  a mile) because it can often mean moving underground utilities, water, gas, telecom, etc.  Often these costs are incurred not for any good cycle safety reason, but just to try to introduce a continuous level of service that, it is said, will encourage cycling by improving the perception of cycling. 
"A new forecast of £58.7m against the original pre-construction estimate of £40.3m is therefore now predicted. "
The project originally cost £40m, BUT OVER RAN BY £18! 

The cost benefit analysis that TfL reported to its Board in February 2015 was -£200m. Yes minus £200million, including huge additional annual costs of £8 million pa to the bus network.

The Hackney to Haringey schemes, Superhighway 1, is generally a good scheme through Hackney. It had a positive cost to benefit ratio and didn't damage the bus service, but £17million could have been spent to benefit cycling more wisely.

The results of all this is plain to see, there are so many examples of compromised schemes, too numerous to record. Minimum standards are routinely ignored and poor designs implemented. There are sections of road on so-called segregated “routes” where there is in fact no separation. This is inevitable. 

From the cyclists perspective, the supposed beneficiaries of these “routes” the end result is poor. The rest of us, all other road users, have to put up with all manner of disruption to our daily journeys. The pedestrian environment is degraded and bus services poorer.

At Tottenham, the most bizarre section of the Boris / Gilligan Superhighway 1 is the section on the pavement outside of Seven Sisters Tube. The need for continuity in cycle route planning trumps everything!

The not so superhighway outside Seven Sisters Underground station. 
A bizarre intervention to complete a route
Along Blackhorse Road there is only room to squeeze in a cycle track on one side of the street. On the other side the cycles remain on the carriageway!

A bizarre finished scheme, with cycle lane on only one side of the street!
I've blogged about bus stops before. The fit, young cycle campaigners want to convert thousands of bus stops to suit their needs not the needs of bus passengers, many of whom are quite vulnerable. 

The cycle campaigners will prefer cycle tracks to go around the back of the bus stop, and some do. But this is hardly ever possible because the stop, track and pavement will have to be 6 metres wide.
TfL's accesible bus stop guidance effectively calls for a 6 metre
wide bus stop area which is often not available

The stop below and other inappropriate designs of cycle lanes through the waiting, boarding and alighting areas of a bus stop do not feature in TfL's guidance for accessible bus stop design, but will be used in most locations.

This busy bus stop has a cycle track through the area passengers wait,
board and alight

In Camden there is a strange variant of bus stop / cycle track because there is so little space. 

A busy bus stop, but its on a cycle route and so gets the treatment

At Whitechapel over 30 bus stops have been redesigned for cyclists. Many of them are far too busy or the pavement too narrow for such an intervention, but the demand ifor a cycle route has led to an end cycle route treatment.

Whitechapel is a mess

So what should London's cycle planners be doing?

There aren't sensible answers to the unachievable demands of the cycle bloggers who want networks of cycle routes suitable for 8 year olds to cycle at will. But there are much better, pragmatic, good value for money interventions to enable more and safer cycling by a wider demographic on London's streets. Reading the peer reviewed Road Safety Observatory research synthesis should be required reading for those planning for cycling because it addresses these issues.

Trevor and Oliver previously coordinators of Hackney Cycling, and their predecessor all understood this. They would say the priority should be firstly to consider the network, then the node (or junction). And only then, the links between the junctions. Hackney thus avoided demands for cycle specific infrastructure for years and spent the monies associated with cycle routes wisely. 

If you want to invest wisely in more and safer cycling, then area wide interventions to create genuinely quite streets are best. They achieve far more that planning eye wateringly expensive routes of varying usefulness to cyclists.

Controlled Parking Zones, enforced slower speeds and closing residential and minor streets to through traffic is the most cost effective intervention to improve cycling, without unacceptable impacts on other users.

In addition there should be programmes to address those junctions that are most problematical for cycles and reduce the dangers of main roads for everyone: 
  • wider inside lanes and bus lanes so cycle can pass bus and bus pass cycle;
  • extended operational hours for bus lanes;
  • reduced parking on main roads;
  • side road entry treatments to slow turning movements;
  • road closures to reduce motor vehicles turning into rat runs;
  • bus and cycle only streets;
  • slower speeds initiatives;
  • traffic reduction.

Training is recommended for those taking up cycling, because most of London’s streets will be as they are now in ten years time. And please don't encourage poor cycling with nominal cycle lanes and tracks on the pavement that keep cycles too far left and unprepared for a right turn.

Cycle training will teach you to position yourself behind the bus,
not where the highways engineers paint the lines
Some quick wins for Hackney's main roads for pedestrians, cycles and bus passengers would easily and cheaply be achieved by extending the operational hours of bus lanes on the A10 and the removal of some of the parking on Hackney Road. Taking out the through, non-bus traffic, from Amhurst Road, in Hackney Central would transform the area at a stroke. And these things would finance themselves by savings to the bus network!

If you wanted to do some useful highways engineering in Hackney instead of ‘strategic cycle routes’ you would remodel the Pembury junction, the Hackney Central junctions, Stamford Hill Broadway and Middleton Road at its junction with Kingsland Road. And, of course, revert the Stoke Newington and Victoria gyratories to two-way operation. 

If you wanted to do some useful area wide interventions you would close residential streets to through traffic in already designed schemes for Wenlock Barn, London Fields and Walford Road and create a network of genuinely quiet streets - all Hackney's residential streets should look like De Beauvoir Town. This creates quieter streets, but also safer main roads by reducing turning movements off of main roads into rat runs

If you close residential streets to through traffic you create a great
cycling environment and reduce the number of turning movements
off of the main road network

In conclusion

Planning for cycling should focus on the network, then the junctions and only finally on the links between the junctions.