Training Day: Planning and Design for Cyclists
Recently I attended a day’s training hosted by Newcastle City Council, and presented by Alex Sully & Ken Spence from Transport Initiatives. Alex was one of the contributors to LTN 2/08, which is the UK’s cycle infrastructure design manual.
The event was pitched at the road design techies from Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and North Tyneside, and covered a huge range of topics.
I particularly liked Alex’s way of getting the point across. Obviously things have moved on a long way since chalk’n'talk was seen as the way to do training, but most people stop at exercises and examples. Alex was at pains to try and put his audience in the mind of a cyclist, building up their level of understanding through the day rather than just saying “this is how it is”.
So when we talked about the widths of cycle lanes, we started with the width of a cyclist, but then brought in elements like the fact that people are “wall shy” (you like a degree of separation between your elbows and a brick wall or other hazard - I’m particularly aware of this when I ride next to a canal!), and that none of us can cycle in a straight line. When you add all these together, you find that the minimum width of a cycle lane on the road is 1.5m.
One of the things that was emphasised again and again was that there are no “parachute solutions” - every road, every junction, every roundabout has to be treated on its own merit. The example given here was the idea of simply importing the cyclist lanes you see on roundabouts in Amsterdam. Fine in theory, but the Dutch detail design also means roundabouts with much steeper angles of approach and exit for motor vehicles, which serve to slow down cars. Let me illustrate, with a couple of screen grabs I’ve taken from the Google spy satellite:
The point was made that the current mess of the Bow roundabout looks a bit like the designers had seen Dutch roundabouts with cycle lanes, and decided that this was the only important feature.
We also covered the hierarchy of provision for cyclists:
- Traffic reduction (consider first)
- Traffic speed reduction
- Junction treatment
- Reallocation of traffic space
- Cycle tracks away from roads
- Conversion of footways / footpaths to be shared use with pedestrians & cyclists (consider last)
What was interesting about this is that it really does make perfect sense, but ONLY if applied rigourously. If you closed large numbers of roads to motorised through traffic, you could end up with some of the benefits seen in Houten, where it’s far quicker to ride across town than it is to drive.
There are two problems though - firstly, as Gateshead’s Neil Frier pointed out, non-cyclists tend to want the reverse of this hierarchy to tempt them onto bikes. Secondly, I noticed a distinct lowering in the room’s temperature when it was suggested that reducing traffic should be the first consideration. We’ll come back to this later.
One of the things I found interesting was the discussion on when to use what sort of infrastructure. The engineering staff present (and I still count myself as an engineer of sorts) wanted a hard and fast set of numbers.
“When traffic volumes are X, and speeds are Y, you do Z.”
Alex’s approach was to say that although such guides exist, we should again be thinking about each situation on it’s own particular merits:
… and that whatever was designed, routes for cyclists should abide by the five core principals of design. Cycle routes need:
- Coherence. They must link all origins and destinations.
- Directness. So use cycle permeable roads that are closed to cars, rather than sending cyclists on the round-the-houses-routes so often favoured.
- Attractiveness. We’re trying to entice people into the public realm - it needs to be inviting and of a suitable quality.
- Safety. Routes need to be safe from traffic and antisocial elements, but they also need to feel safe.
- Comfort. This means building to the highest standards, and not just with whatever was left after the “important” stuff in the budget.
We also covered a whole lot of technical ground, and then as a last exercise looked at how to tackle a problem on the eastern end of Newcastle’s Fenham Hall Drive, which is a busy road linking a well-to-do residential area with a number of schools. They want to increase the number of kids cycling.
I’ll cover the detail of this on another post, which will probably be on the Newcastle Cycling Campaign’s site rather than here.
What was interesting about this exercise was that we were presented with a fairly complete solution that involved shared use paths and cyclists having to cross at toucan crossings to use them. Most of the council staff seemed to think that this was the fairest solution, and initially when you look at it (given that we’ve all - myself included - had decades of indoctrination into this sort of thinking), that seems correct.
Except it’s obviously not - that’s the last thing we should be doing.
When Alex tentatively suggested this at our table, and that maybe a bus and bike only route might be the thing to consider first, the temperature dropped from cool to glacial. As he walked away I got the comment, “Well, you might as well just close all the roads then!”, followed by what can only be described as a distinctly passive approach to the rest of the exercise.
I mention this not to blame the individual. They’ve had 20-30 years of being told that improving motorised traffic flow is what it’s all about, and it takes more than a day’s training to change that. Their reaction demonstrates the scale of change of thinking and belief that Newcastle City Council needs if it is to achieve it’s cycling strategy objective.
The city’s stated objective is to get 20% of all trips to be made by bike. That is necessarily going to mean some tough choices, and to help people do the right thing, you sometimes have to remove some of their choices.