Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Traffic Signal Pie: Third Slice - Floating Crossings & Free Left Turns

As we know, for any given arrangement of traffic signals at a junction, there is only so much time to share around; our traffic signal pie if you will (typically 90 to 120 seconds for a complete cycle). In certain places, cyclists and pedestrian numbers outstrip drivers, yet they are only getting a small slice of the pie. What could we do to change that?

This is my third in an occasional series of posts about traffic signals, you can read the first and second posts here and here and the caveat remains that I am not a traffic signal engineer.

I have recently become obsessed with a US website - Protected Intersection - which has a wonderful video of how a junction could incorporate cyclists within a protected environment. There are signal arrangements that we are just not allowed to use in the UK though. In the video, traffic can turn right (as we would left) on a red signal, but having to give way to pedestrians and cyclists crossing - there is a space for vehicles to stop in this regard. In the UK, a red traffic signal always means stop and not having the same flexibility as the US and many European countries means that junction throughput in the UK is not as flexible.

Rather than dwelling on the stuff we cannot do over here (notwithstanding that many would like changes, including me) I have thought how we could adapt the layout to something we could do here and I will float some capacity ideas later. So, last week, I decided to sketch out what a UK version could look like.

Take the cycle crossings away and we have a fairly ordinary junction which allows North-South traffic to run together, then East-West traffic and then pedestrians across all far arms at once. A typical UK layout in East-London can be viewed here. It is a little different on site now as there is pedestrian countdown on each arm, but the set up is the same.

There is also what is known as an "all red stage" at the end of the cycle which allows pedestrians to clear the junction. If we are being a bit cleverer, pedestrian detection can be used to extend the all red a little longer where there are larger numbers of people or slower people. This is used where the pedestrian signals are nearside (puffin-style). With countdown, this can't be extended because of the fixed time countdown clock.

Parallel cycle crossing next to pelican crossing. Westferry, London.
For cycling, we can have the same arrangement, but with toucan crossings, although there is some debate if my layout is absolutely UK legal. Possibly, but with a small gap between the pedestrian crossing and cycle crossing, I think it is fine. I have certainly seen plenty of parallel crossings - that is a pelican crossing running right next to a cycle crossing (cyclists have "normal" signals with an amber and green with a bike logo, although a red logo is coming soon).

I posted the sketch on Twitter and there was a (small!) debate about the layout. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain suggested that a rather than one pedestrian/ cycle green per cycle, two would be great to help move pedestrians and cyclists through the junction.

So, I tweaked the drawing and there you have it. Because cyclists can move on all arms at once, it is known as a "simultaneous green". Although, there are other ways of doing it.

In my sketch, the buff colour is footway and the green is cycle track. The cycle tracks are all one way, perhaps around 2 metres wide at the (rough) scale of the drawing. From a cyclist point of view, left turns are easy (know as "free left turns"), although you will notice a give way just before the left turn point. The idea of this is that any cyclist leaving the carriageway during the green signal time should be given priority to clear the area before traffic is released.

For right turns, if the signals are set up right, it would be possible to cross two traffic arms to complete the movement in one go. This roughly assumes that cyclists can get through the junction about twice as quick as pedestrians. Of course, if a cyclists were to turn up at a green signal, they might get across one traffic arm and then have to stop and wait for the next green. If there was only one pedestrian/cycle green per cycle of the signals, then it would be irritating. With two greens per cycle, then this two stage turn wouldn't be too bad.

Of course, this is not how the Dutch would do it and with a bit of encouragement from David Hembrow, Mark Treasure and others, I had a play around with my sketch. A blog post about Dutch simultaneous greens from David was also extremely helpful and I recommend you have a read for yourself.

Now, my layout is not Dutch, it is a UK-fied (as best I can describe) layout. I have added some red tactile paving to denote controlled (pelican) crossings for pedestrians and buff tactile paving at "uncontrolled" pedestrian crossings of the cycle tracks. With this layout, cyclists have priority over pedestrians. 

Lewes Road. Footway lowered to cycle track.
Giving cyclists priority over pedestrians is an issue because we don't want to design at the expense of pedestrians (in my view anyway). We don't have "mini-zebra" crossings available in the UK. Other countries will paint zebra stripes across the cycle tracks to keep priority with pedestrians. If we were to do this, we would end up with Belisha beacons at every zebra on the cycle tracks. It would look a mess and there is a very real risk of confusion for drivers seeing Belisha beacons and traffic signals used so close together. That is one issue I cannot deal with here, it needs a law change.

A puddled CS2. Crossing point (bottom left) with cycle track raised
to meet footway level.
I have therefore shown uncontrolled crossings over the cycle tracks, not unlike how things are arranged with the cycle track crossings passing behind the bus stop "islands" along Lewes Road in Brighton. Just imagine that the "island" (the "floating" bit) is where pedestrians use a push button for the Toucan crossings over the junction arms after crossing the cycle track. I will call them "floating crossings" (ooh, I just coined jargon!)

In Lewes, the footway is dropped to the cycle track. The alternative UK-compliant layout would be as done along the Stratford High Street section of CS2 where the pedestrian crossing points are on little "humps" - that is, the cycle track is raised to meet the footway level (although drainage is more tricky to design).

A photo of an actual scale drawing, printed on actual paper!
As an academic exercise, I have drawn up a layout based on a real junction using AutoCAD which is pretty much the de facto software for quite a lot of this kind of design work.

Sadly, this is not a real scheme I am working on (at least not yet!), I just wanted to get a feel of the dimensions. The only parameter I set myself was that the layout should wholly fit within the existing highway boundary as land acquisition is a difficult and costly process (although, if it is the "right" answer, we should try, we still do for road schemes after all!)

The drawing has been used in the office to discuss and debate how we could do things. The interesting (and perhaps obvious thing) is even with a colleague who utility-cycles, the concern is that of impacts on motor traffic capacity. The existing layout has two traffic lanes on each arm of the junction (lane 2 right turns in all cases), Advanced Stop Lines for cycles and no green men for pedestrians. In fact, it is the same junction which started this blog post! The concept shown here removes a traffic lane from each arm and the space freed up is used to create the cycle track and floating crossing arrangements. If this was done tomorrow, yes, capacity for motorised vehicles would be significantly reduced.

My design is "real" world. Traffic lanes are all 3.25m in width (so, 6.5m carriageways), the junction radii are 10m (the right hand corner is 8m), the cycle tracks are 2m in width away from the junction and 1.5m on the corners. The footways are no narrower than 2m and the "floating crossings" are at least 2.5m wide (3m where possible). The controlled (Pelican) crossings are all 2.8m wide and the various uncontrolled crossings vary from 2.8m down to 2m (again space is an issue in places). The distance between the traffic stop line and the crossing studs is 2m. The widths of the cycle track "diagonals" are 3m. Looking at the plan in the photo, the top, bottom and left corners work well. The right hand corner is a compromise.

Old Shoreham Road in Brighton - 2.5m Cycle Track shown here.
The white area to the right of the right corner is non-highway land (somebody's garden in fact), the road which runs off to the top-right of the plan is on a curve and the angle between it and the road running bottom right is less than 90 degrees. 

This conspires to make the pedestrian route away from the junction a little more awkward and so the uncontrolled crossing point is well away from the junction on the top side of the road to try and reduce conflict with bikes in a congested area. Bike riders will be tight up against a fence and so at 1.5m, the cycle track will feel tight. Extra land would help so much here.

Please remember, this design was an exercise. We would want wider cycle tracks and more pedestrian space so that it doesn't feel squeezed for walking and cycling. In my example, we are on a major road which has no parallel route available for cycling (lots of railway and river bridges). If a decent cycle route were to be built here, it would need protected infrastructure and my design may well be the type of compromise we end up with. We could make the roads one-way, but all four carry bus routes and again, there are no parallel routes.

So, bringing us back to Traffic Signal Pie. We have around 90 to 120 seconds to play with for a signalised junction. In my example, the current layout gives just under half a slice to the North-South and East-West directions, with a little "all red" slice to drivers turning right time to clear. To get more motorised traffic through, we need more lanes. But, if we are thinking about getting people through, then an all-round green man and simultaneous green for bikes is certainly far more space efficient than for vehicles. If we are serious about developing decent walking and cycling networks for short to medium urban journeys, then the allocation of space and time at junctions is vital.

We must accept that drivers will need to be given a much smaller slice of the pie. Pedestrians and cyclists don't get any pie at in many cases and so motorised traffic remains prioritised by default in many ways.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Sod You David Cameron: Why I Am On Strike Today

I am on strike today (10th July). I belong to one of the unions which have called today's industrial action which is affecting a variety of public sector areas, including mine which is local authority staff.

The soundbite machines on both sides of the dispute have already been running at full tilt. I will leave you to decide if you agree with the strikes or not. If you disagree with them, then there is little point debating the point with me, because I am on strike and therefor will not agree with you. David Cameron has already trotted out the usual Conservative desire to legislate against public sector workers striking.

I work for a highway authority which is just one of the functions local authorities have. Highway authorities are county councils, the London boroughs and other unitary authorities. They have various powers and duties to keep the highway network in a good state of repair, to improve road safety and to keep people moving. 

I am biased, but I think highway authority staff are the unsung local heroes of society. I will pause here, a true hero is not of course somebody who turns up for work every day and gets paid, no matter how stressful it is, how much their terms and conditions are being eroded or how they are suffering staff cuts. I use the term "unsung local hero" in its broadest and jolly sense; it is simply a term. I consider social workers, child protection officers, emergency services people and others like them as being the heroes of the public sector, but they would probably not see themselves that way.

Highways staff do not blow their own trumpets (and for the engineers, this is pretty much par for the course as civil engineers anyway). We are not showmen designers, we do not seek the limelight for personal gratification, we are the people (like most in the public sector) who get on with the day job despite always being understaffed and with never having enough funding. Being paid is nice (important even), but wanting to do a good job is something most of us have in common.

We carry on trying to do a good job whatever the circumstances. Recently, the Government encouraged councils to apply for a share of the politically spun £168m "pothole fund". The money is a woeful drop in the £12bn highway maintenance backlog ocean; but we duly put our bid in as did many highway authorities across the UK because with the state of our budgets, we are quite frankly getting desperate. Besides, our councillors rightly demanded we bid and I am sure our public would have been unhappy if we hadn't. 

Of course, we didn't get any extra staffing to put the bid together, despite the funding being announced part way through the financial year when staff are already working on planned works. No we put in the extra effort. We did quite well with a few hundred thousand pounds extra - a big deal if you saw the state of our maintenance budgets. The funding is politically spun as it has to be spent by March 2015 (just before the general election perhaps?) and the Department for Transport has lots of reporting strings to help the Government brag about what a good job they are doing. (remember £168m vs £12bn!) We have no extra staff around to spend this extra funding and indeed, we lost quite a few staff as a result of the 2010 cuts made by the Coalition. The guys will just get on with it. If we had another year to use the funding, we would really direct it well, but we will do our best to stretch it out to do the maximum good.

Although most people interact with the highways network every day (directly as users, or indirectly when others use it to provide them with a service), they give it no thought. They only become interested if they can't use it for some reason, there is a problem with it or "we" are trying to make changes they disagree with. I have no problem with ours being a service taken for granted. Only this week I received an enquiry from a "customer" who started by stating "what idiot changed the phasing of this junction". If I addressed my response as "Dear Mr Idiot" in return, he probably wouldn't have been too happy. OK, colleagues in other services are subjected to far worse abuse and even violence. But we get on with it as part of the job.

Back to the strike. The public sector has endured huge cuts since 2010, but the general consensus is that this represents perhaps half of the plan. In work, we were pretty slim as a highways department before 2010, we are a skeleton crew now. From a highways point of view, I doubt that the public have really noticed as we have tried to carry on. If we are in for another round of cuts as expected, you will see whole service areas being cut completely. Quite difficult when you have a statutory duty to maintain and operate a highway network!

Many of us in the public sector have the right hump at the moment. We are often made the scapegoat of government policy. We feel like the whipping-boys for the financial crash. We have politicians queueing up to belittle and criticise us (yes Eric, I am looking at you). We have the race to the bottom on pensions with the government calling them "gold plated". I thought they were part of our overall pay package. Oh yes, we are also having the usual crap from the Government about a strike being called on a low turnout by union members. They seem to have forgotten how many people don't bother to vote at general elections and how they are in power on a similarly low turnout.

So, I am sorry if you are disrupted when you go about your business. As someone working for a highway authority, you probably won't notice that I am on strike. Not unless you are trying to contact me to enquire after the latest piece of traffic management idiocy. Yes, you will have to wait an extra day for a polite and professional reply. My dispute is with the Government and its attacks on the public sector which will ultimately lead to a poorer service. Go and work for the private sector you might say. Well I have in the past and it treated me very well thank you. But why should I be forced out of my current job which, despite the moaning, I actually enjoy? No, sod you David Cameron, I am on strike today for reasons far beyond my own pay packet.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Pickles-Powered Political Parking Prejudgement

As usual, I try and do everything in my power to avoid posting about Eric Pickles and Parking. But I can't. It is just not possible.

If you want someone who brings sense and analysis, don't read this post, spend your time with Pedestrian Liberation who sets out the issues in two posts - here and here - which are well researched and reasoned. This post is me letting of a bit of steam.

Recently the Department for Transport consulted (for some reason only known by them) on local authority approaches to parking. 

The consultation wanted to cover;
  • how to limit the use of CCTV for on–street parking enforcement in some or all circumstances
  • whether local communities and businesses should be given the right to require authorities to review aspects of their parking strategies including the level of parking charges, whether parking should be free for a time, and whether double yellow lines are appropriate and necessary at particular locations
  • whether there should be a statutory requirement for local authorities to allow a ‘grace period’ where a driver has over-stayed in a paid for parking place for a short period before issuing a parking ticket
  • updating parking enforcement guidance to emphasise a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement and that parking charges and fines should not be used to subsidise other areas of local government spending

If you re-read those 4 points, the first, third and fourth come from the assumption that local authorities are somehow bunches of madmen, foaming at the mouths in anticipation of sticking more parking tickets on the poor vulnerable not really illegal motorist. The second point essentially gives "rights" to people to "call in" parking arrangements that they disagree with.

Even as the outcome of the consultation was getting ready to be released, Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin were ready to condemn over zealous councils and their spy cars which are hiding on every street corner. For photos of these covert, sneaky and camouflaged horrors, click here.

The outcome of the consultation was published in the form of the government's response to the 481 individuals, 324 organisations and 21 others. The summary of the responses to the various questions asked are as follows, with the government responses following and then my take;

Question 1: Do you consider local authority parking enforcement is being applied fairly and reasonably in your area?
Individuals were 50-50 in agreement whereas organisations were 81-19 in agreement. I wonder if organisations were more thoughtful in their response - individuals must have been sad gits like me (yes I did respond) with clearly more polarised views (it seems fair where I live!). Of course, the DfT spin is that most organisations were local authorities!

Government Response
The Government will amend guidance to make it clear that motorists parking at an out-of-order meter should not be issued a penalty charge where there are no 
alternative ways to pay.

My Take
So the government agrees that everything about the entire set up is totally fair and reasonable other than people getting a ticket when parked otherwise properly in a location with a knackered parking machine? So, are things as bad as made out in the press then?

Question 2: The Government intends to abolish the use of CCTV cameras for parking enforcement. Do you have any views or comments on this proposal?
Well 94% of individuals and 94% of organisation did have comments. Basically nobody supported a ban other than motoring groups and business groups who each had mixed views. Great, looks like CCTV is here to stay. Oh, wait.

Government Response
The government intends to press on and take action to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking contraventions in the vast majority of cases. 

The consultation showed that many respondents argued for some CCTV use to be retained where there are clear safety or serious congestion issues such as outside schools, in bus lanes and on red routes. 

The Government therefore intends to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras with some limited exceptions. At present there are over 40 different parking contraventions, and in future the government intends that CCTV cameras will be banned in all but the following limited circumstances: 
  • When stopped in restricted areas outside a school; 
  • When stopped (where prohibited) on a red route; 
  • Where parked (where prohibited) in a bus lane; 
  • Where stopped on a restricted bus stop or stand; 
The Government will seek to legislate through the Deregulation Bill currently before Parliament.

My Take
Right, so you have basically ignored the views expressed and you are doing what you want anyway. So, local authorities will to employ armies of parking attendants. But they won't. They are skint and an efficient method of enforcement is being completely hamstrung. I do have sympathy with the more general concern about the explosion of CCTV generally, but for traffic and parking enforcement, it is used for that specific purpose.

Round my way at least, there are complaints in the local press that the CCTV car drives down quiet residential streets and "catches" lines of people parked on the footway and it is unfair. What about people trying to walk along that footway? It seems that press is only even given to the poor beleaguered (and illegally parked) driver.

Question 3: Do you think the traffic adjudicators should have wider powers to allow appeals?
61% of individuals and 36% of organisations thought yes.

Government Position
The Government intends to legislate at the earliest opportunity to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking contraventions in the vast majority of cases. If successful, adjudicators can take account of this when determining appeals. 

The Government proposes to widen the powers of parking adjudicators. This could include, for example, measures to protect drivers where adjudicators have repeatedly identified a problem at a specific location (such as inadequate signage) and parking tickets have repeatedly been issued. In such circumstances, potential measures could include the ability for an Adjudicator to direct an authority to stop issuing tickets or direct the authority to change the signage, or indeed both.

My Take
Well, CCTV gets bashed again - clearly issuing a ticket via CCTV will be banned in most places and if issued against you when parked illegally elsewhere, that is your get out. Actually, I like the idea of the Adjudicator being able direct a local authority to sort out a site which is not signed properly, although local authorities do tend to act on problem sites fairly quickly because it is a reputational issue.

Question 4: Do you agree that guidance should be updated to make clear in what circumstances adjudicators may award costs? If so, what should those circumstances be?
This was supported by 84% of individuals and 66% of organisations. The adjudicators did not agree, they said:

"they considered the current cost provisions to be adequate. They pointed out that the costs involved in appealing are low, and that the act of appealing is becoming easier with online appeals. They added that costs are not awarded punitively but to cover costs and expenses reasonably incurred. They suggest that changing the costs provisions would complicate the process and not encourage proportionality."

Government Position
Government promotes transparency and will change the guidance on costs, when the statutory guidance is revised, to make it clearer what provisions there are available to the public.

My Take
Sod what the people who adjudicate said, the views of people actually doing the job don't carry any weight.

Question 5: Do you think motorists who lose an appeal at a parking tribunal should be offered a 25% discount for prompt payment? 
55% of individuals and 25% of organisations agreed,

Government Position
The Department will look to work in partnership with a local authority to assess the impacts of introducing a 25% discount to motorists who lose an appeal at tribunal level on a trial basis, as recommended by the Transport Select Committee. 

My Take
The organisations felt that this discount would lead to more spurious challenges (and believe me, many people do challenge out of some kind of spite rather than being in the right). If you get a ticket and pay up quickly, one can get a prompt payment discount. My view is rather than messing about with discounts, set the charge and that is it. If you don't pay up after 28 days, it goes up and so on.

Question 6: Do you think local residents and firms should be able to require councils to review yellow lines, parking provision, charges etc in their area? If so, what should the reviews cover and what should be the threshold for triggering a review?
71% of individuals and 48% of organisations agreed. I suspect that the local authorities were less in favour because essentially, residents and indeed businesses can already lobby for parking reviews with their local parking authority.

Government Position
The Government wants to encourage councils to review their use of parking restrictions such as yellow lines, and to consider introducing more short stay parking bays. Local authority parking strategies should benefit the efficient operation of the local community, and the Government (under the Department for Communities and Local Government) will change the rules so that local residents and firms will be able to make their council review parking, including the provision of parking, parking charges and the use of yellow lines.

My Take
Local authorities suggested that they already review their areas and of course people can raise issues now. They are also concerned about the trigger or arrangements being such as to allow relatively small lobbying groups to get their issue reviewed and without some sort of gap, they would suffer multiple applications.

As I stated, people can ask for reviews and whether they get taken forward is a matter for the local authority. Imposing some kind of trigger is precisely red tape that is not needed and it is perverse that this bunch of anti-red-tapers want to bring more in. I also understand the need for businesses to have some say, but they are not the electorate and politicians should remember this.

Question 7: Do you think that authorities should be required by regulation to allow a grace period at the end of paid for parking?
Opinion was split on this one for both individuals (52% agreed) and organisations (47% agreed).

Government Position
The Government intends to introduce a mandatory 10 minute free period at the end of paid-for on-street parking either through amendments to statutory guidance or regulations.

My Take
This is total nonsense. If you put your money in the meter or the pay-and-display machine (especially the pay-and-display machine) you know how much time you have or when your ticket runs out. If you are late and you get caught, you get a fine. OK, have 10 more minutes and all people will do is mentally add those minutes and some people will still be late.

Local authorities have a few minutes flexibility now because of the clear arguments which ensure where people have a slightly different time on their watch to that of the ticket machine and they haven't got the resources to argue. If 10 minutes mandatory time is added, there will be the same flexibility at the end to avoid the same argument. This is pure politics with no substance whatsoever.

Question 8: Do you think that a grace period should be offered more widely for example a grace period for overstaying in free parking bays, at the start of pay and display parking and paid for parking bays, and in areas where there are parking restrictions (such as loading restrictions, or single yellow lines?
55% of individuals disagreed, as did 72% of organisations. There was concern about people parking on restrictions in an anti-social way or in a dangerous position because changes would be confusing.

Government Position
To ensure a consistent approach for motorists the Government intends to introduce a 10 minute mandatory grace period at the end of free on-street parking. This will mean that whether motorists pay for their parking, or it is available free for a time, they can have confidence that they will not be penalised for returning a few minutes late. DCLG will also lead on work to extend the same grace period to local authority off-street parking.

My Take
As nonsensical as the previous question for the same reasons. If a single yellow line does come into force until 9am, enforcement would always follow a little later to avoid the "what time is it" argument. If a restriction or bay is so important in terms of time, then local authorities might even change those times to remove any impact of this 10 minutes.

Question 9: If allowed, how long do you think the grace period should be?

"A wide range of views were offered varying between 0-30 minutes."

Government Position
The Government recognises that many local authorities already operate a 5 minute observation period. The Government considers that 10 minutes would be an appropriate period of grace.

My Take
And there you have it, the government knows that there is grace built into local authority procedures. Grace is needed not only for the "what time is it" argument, but also for things like loading. You can load for as long as it is necessary on a yellow line (without blips) and this includes going into a premises to get paperwork signed for example - grace is needed to check that a person is loading and not having a cup of tea!

Question 10. Do you think the Government should be considering any further measures to tackle genuinely anti social parking or driving? If so, what?
"An extremely wide range of ideas were offered. Some common themes included tougher enforcement against offenders, a uniform approach to pavement parking and tackling problems of unregistered vehicles."

Government Position
The Government is not proposing any further measures at this stage but may reconsider the responses to this question when the measures set out above have been implemented.

My Take
OK, the Government have gotten bored now. The consultation outcome doesn't even give a summary of what people said here - presumably much was made about things that Pickles doesn't want to talk about such as footway parking and  making the rules about parking in cycle lanes absolutely clear. It is interesting to read some of the organisation responses which are not hysterical, they are measured and thoughtful.

In its response to the consultation, The British Parking Association said;

"In almost every area referred to in the Consultation there is the risk of serious unintended consequences. Our members have said to us that the Government should be careful what they wish for. Whilst the comments made in our Consultation response are clear, we do urge the Government to undertake a full impact assessment of any proposal to ensure that what they seek to achieve does not have unintended consequences."

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain said;

"The central assumption seems to be that the vitality of urban areas is inextricably tied to cheaper car access, and the ability to park for free at locations most convenient to the individual. Yet there is no evidence of any connection between the availability of extensive and cheap (or even free) on-street parking, and high street vitality. If there is any relationship, it is often entirely masked by other (much more important) variables. There is no clear relationship between footfall (what matters) and the cost and availability of parking."

The Information Commissioner's Office was concerned about the use of CCTV and the privacy of law abiding people. I don't agree with a fair bit expressed in the response, but I provide it for some balance;

"The Commissioner takes the view that the use of CCTV can interfere with the private life of individuals most of who are going about their day to day business and engage no law enforcement concerns. Any use of CCTV needs to be well justified in order to comply with the law. The Commissioner supports the view that CCTV should not be used unless 

it is proportionate to the problem that it is designed to address."

London Councils represents the London Boroughs and it is no surprise that they side with the boroughs and the further measures they would like to see in response to Question 10 is quite interesting;

  • The introduction of nationwide persistent evader legislation.
  • Greater powers to tackle of vehicles not registered at DVLA. 
  • A simplification of the traffic order making process, and the associated costs and required advertisement. 
  • Further consideration of enabling authorities to trace foreign registered vehicles in the EU through their equivalent ‘DVLA’. This was abandoned by the coalition government (SPARKS). 
  • The closing of loopholes allowing motorists to ‘play’ the system and make multiple witness statements and statutory declarations. 
  • A greater consideration on the effects for authority enforcement and the problem of cloned vehicles, with the removal of the requirement to display a tax disc. 
  • The expansion of 20 mph zones .

Finally, Living Streets provided an extensive response to Question 10, one paragraph sums it up for me;

"Poorly parked vehicles can force pedestrians into the road. They can inhibit the independence of many vulnerable people and be particularly dangerous for older people, for families with pushchairs and for those with visual or mobility impairments. Pavement parking is repeatedly highlighted as a major concern for our supporters and the general public. Research undertaken by Living Streets in 2011 revealed that 11% of respondents commented that pavements free of parked cars would make the biggest positive difference to their everyday life and cars parked on the pavement was the biggest issue (41%) when asked about clutter in the streets."

The job of the Department for Transport is:

"We work with our agencies and partners to support the transport network that helps the UK’s businesses and gets people and goods travelling around the country. We plan and invest in transport infrastructure to keep the UK on the move."

The job of the Department for Communities & Local Government is:

"... to create great places to live and work, and to give more power to local people to shape what happens in their area."

From what I can see from this consultation, the Government (i.e. Pickles) wanted to crack down on the local authorities which dare to enforce parking rules efficiently and so pander to the minority (20% according to the British Parking Association's response) of drivers who park so badly or overstay their parking time that they get a parking ticket.

It is a classic case of the squeaking wheel getting the grease with a problem which is not a problem being looked at for political posturing. The majority of drivers and pedestrians, cyclists and bus users will come off worse if all of these changes are made.

The DfT's job should have been to publish the facts of the consultation outcome separately and leave it to the politicians to provide a separate response. But, when you read a consultation document, it reads as a mini political manifesto and where Eric Pickles is concerned, it probably is. Why his department is involved is beyond me (other than to bash local authorities which seems the norm these days).

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Sunny Southern Seaside Safari Part 3: Cycle Track Bliss(ish)

I have had a good load of material from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM and Gathering which took place earlier this month and this week is my third and last post on the infrastructure safari part of the weekend. (Part 1; Part 2)

At the junction with The Drive looking east onto the hybrid track.
I have said before that engineers need to live their designs, but the next best thing is to live other people's designs, or at least ride them. Apart from New Road, the highlight (for me) of the infrastructure we rode was Old Shoreham Road, although it is not without its problems and compromises.

Operational for a couple of years now, the scheme was aimed at improving walking and cycling along a road which although classified (A270) it was bypassed years ago by the A27 which was built to take long-distance and heavy traffic. What was left was a very wide and now firmly suburban road which was still dominated by and for the convenience of motorised traffic.

Passing a bus stop.
The space has been repurposed for hybrid cycle tracks which has some hints of what is done in Copenhagen - there is a one-way (or uni-directional) track on each side of the road. A hybrid track has a kerb upstand between the carriageway and cycle track and then a second upstand between the cycle track and the footway. The tracks run from The Drive to Dyke Road, the former being the end of a route of variable quality from the seafront.

The junction of The Drive and Old Shoreham Road is a crossroads and for cycling, has a four-arm (not staggered) set of Toucan crossings whereby pedestrians and cyclists cross on all arms at the same time. From memory (and I stand to be corrected) traffic runs in two stages north - south and east - west and so the method of control is relatively simple. It did seem a long time to get green on the Toucan though.

The cycle track interrupts vehicle accesses to private homes, but
the stepped arrangement means the vertical alignment changes
remain smooth and comfortable.
To join the cycle track, one is given the two tier approach whereby you use the dropped kerbs to use the Toucan and turning right from The Drive means doing this in two parts (unless you just go diagonally!). Alternatively, one can stay on the carriageway. 

As the footways around the junction have been designated shared-use cycle tracks, left turns can be made without waiting for signals, but 3 of the 4 corners are so narrow, I can see conflict with pedestrians being the issue.

At some side roads, a kerb is carried round into the side road, but
the set back give way line shows that the cycle track has priority
over side roads. The track is 2.5m wide here.
The corners are narrow because although Old Shoreham Road is one traffic lane in each direction, they flare out to multiple lanes at the junctions at each end of the section with the hybrid cycle track and the signalised junction half way along (The Upper Drive). This means that on most arms of the 3 junctions concerned, there are short sections of narrow on-carriageway cycle lanes and two traffic lanes approaching (left lanes being left/ straight on and right lanes being right). 

The scheme could have maintained the cycle track through the signalised junctions and provided cycle signal stages. I don't know if a radical layout was proposed or if Toucans at the signalised junctions was the original concept because of traffic impacts, but they are certainly a blight on the scheme from a cyclist and indeed pedestrian point of view.

Eastbound, approaching The Upper Drive. The wide cycle track drops
down into an increasingly narrow mandatory cycle lane to provide
space for a right turn vehicle lane. Those cycling straight on can
stay on the carriageway or use the Toucan crossing which has little
space for people on bikes and on foot. Right turns would be with
traffic or over two arms using the Toucans.
The cycle tracks are mainly 2.5m wide, going down to 1.8m in places. Where wide, people can easily cycle next to each other and chat, although this would block anyone wanting to overtake. The narrower sections can still take riding two abreast, but the outer person starts to get close to traffic. There is one short section of shared-use, unsegregated track where the route passes over a railway bridge. To have prioritised cycling, traffic could have been taken down to a single lane with traffic signals or "give and take" priority signs. I assume traffic flow made that unpalatable (my second guessing might be a bit unfair of course).

Here is a uni-directional cycle track in Copenhagen by way of a
comparison. It is notable that pedestrians get squeezed in many
places to provide cycle tracks rather than taking traffic lanes.
Side roads either have kerbs continuing into them (with tight radii to keep left turns by vehicles slow) or they are made very tight with quadrant kerbs (we call them "cheeses" in the trade!). In both cases, the give way line in the side road is set back to give priority to the cycle track and the "cycle" area is kept a little higher than the main traffic lane - almost, but not quite a hump. 

Where the cycle tracks pass opposite a side road, there is a section of flush kerb (with the carriageway) to allow riders to turn right into or out of the side road. Turning right off the cycle track would mean stopping on the right hand side and then looking over one's right shoulder to find a gap in the traffic.

The cycle track is dropped flush with the carriageway when passing
a side road opposite. In this view, the dropped area is in the shadow
of the bus.
Bus stops on the route have been made accessible, but passengers board and alight from the cycle track. In response, the layout provides for the area passing the bus stops to be shared. The layouts get messy in my view as the kerb between the footway and the cycle track is maintained, but but the footway and cycle track portions are both marked as shared.

Perhaps it would have bee simpler to accept the compromise and make the sections passing bus stops just shared with (yes I know) a bollard at each end to guide cyclists back to "their" side. Tactile paving is provided to guide blind and partially-sighted people to the "footway" side at each end of the bus stop area anyway. The bus stops weren't busy when we rode the route, but I can see conflict here. This is kind of similar to some (narrow) layouts in Copenhagen where passengers use the cycle track to board and alight although I understand that passengers have priority. Time will tell I guess.

One of the narrower sections. Even at 1.8m, it is pretty good, but
overtaking gets one a bit close to traffic. I must preferred the wider
sections which were 2.5m!
The other feature of note is a zebra crossing at the eastern end of the scheme, outside the Brighton & Hove 6th Form College which is built on a large speed table and seems to act as a link to Chanctonbury Road which is closed to traffic (but not bikes).

Surfacing-wise, the cycle track looked like machine-laid 55/10 HRA for the most part (I may be wrong!) which basically made up of 55% 10mm sized stones with binders and other smaller stones and fine material. In other words a great surface to cycle on.

In conclusion, there are big compromises for cycling at the signalised junctions which are arranged for traffic capacity which does affect user experience, but the cycle tracks are great, especially at 2.5m wide. I might have liked a 45 degree chamfered kerb between the cycle track and the footway, but I think the original kerbs were mainly used (and left in place on the whole) and replacement would have cost a lot. Really, this scheme gives the minimum standard for cycle tracks and as I cycle around, my mind starts to project what cycle tracks like this would look like in places I know. 

Trying to write a post a week is challenging to say the least and so I welcome those days or weekends when I see lots of different stuff, so thanks to CEoGB for the weekend, it has given me plenty to blog about. Perhaps more importantly as a designer, I have some new ideas on how things can be done and I will able to share my photos and experiences with others in my field. I will leave you with a shaky video!


Friday, 20 June 2014

A Sunny Southern Seaside Safari Part 2: Smart Streets & Compromised Confluence

A couple of weekends ago was the Annual General Meeting & gathering of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. We did some riding as well as talking!

In the second of three posts, I want to cover some of the other interesting things we saw cycling around Brighton & Hove. In the cliché of countless travelogues, it was a land of contrasts, but actually, there are all sorts of different road layouts which kind of show experimentation over several decades. So, in no particular order, here is some of what we rode.

Gardner Street
North Laine
This is the area roughly south of Brighton Station (and I apologise if I get it wrong). It is a strange mish mash of tatty old streets and sleek redevelopment. The main thing is many streets are narrow and many are one-way with the area being in a 20mph zone, so there are various bits of traffic calming around.

We saw plenty of contra-flow cycling in the one-ways, even in places which felt quite narrow with oncoming cars, but it was OK and much of the back street traffic was only there for access.

Gardner Street is worthy of mention, not because it has been particularly designed for cycling, but that it seemed a reasonable place to cycle. During the day it is a pedestrian zone which bans motorised vehicles (so cycling is allowed) and out of hours, it can be accessed for deliveries and general driving (although it does seem to be an access street). During the day, pedestrians dominated and with the mix of shops it was buzzing.

Jubilee Street
Next up we have Jubilee Street which has two-way cycling (which a contraflow one-way) and is restricted to access only for motor traffic. It is a little smarter than Gardner Street, but seemed to have little going on. Still, nice to cycle along, even if there are delivery vans to dodge!

Then we have perhaps the nicest street we saw in the area which was New Road. This street is a single-surface shared-space. By single-surface, I mean that the highway is paved at the same level across the whole street and without kerbs. Shared-space means that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all share the area - and this does not always mean a single-surface.

There is often a debate about this kind of scheme and views are often polarised. On the one hand, the hard-core urban designers and architect types enthuse endlessly about them. At the other, access groups worry about the impact on pedestrians, especially blind and partially-sighted people.

The lovely New Road
As is very often the case, it is all about context. Any shared space scheme where motorised traffic is able and allowed to dominate will never be successful. Pedestrians and cyclists cannot ever share the road on equal terms with traffic and so controls and limits are needed. In fact, unless there are controls and limits, it is not shared space - it might be very pretty, but it is flawed.

New Road does shared space well. Traffic can access the street from one end and really, the local road layout means that drivers entering the street are only doing so for loading or to access blue badge parking. Pedestrians dominate the whole space and drivers have to move through on pedestrian's terms. Cycling is allowed both ways and again, share the space on pedestrian's terms.

New Road is also pretty. The surface is laid out in various grey-shade granite blocks. There are some benches, street lighting and a couple of signs and that is it. It is a restricted parking zone (RPZ) which means no yellow lines anywhere. My criticism of the street is that it is only one within an entire city centre and will have cost a fortune (not to mention having some rock-star designers on the project!). It was part of a larger strategy to be fair, but the challenge is to do the same in "normal" materials

As it was (image from Google)
Seven Dials
The Seven Dials is a junction of 7 streets just north-west of Brighton Station. It used to be a tiny roundabout in a sea of tarmac. Pedestrian guardrail was everywhere to push pedestrians to the various pelican crossings in the side roads. Brighton & Hove City Council wanted to transform the area for several reasons and work was undertaken last year. 

We were riding round the city looking at cycling infrastructure and I am afraid the first impressions were not good because traffic still dominates the space. But, compared to how it was before, it is so much better for walking and for cycling I guess there are views either way. As someone used to cycling in pretty grotty places, it wasn't too bad, but not a layout to use as an example to show someone who would like to take up cycling for transport.

The central island of the roundabout has been replaced with a much bigger area, which is more of a long oval. Footways on the edges have also been widened and the arrangement now squeezes traffic and will certainly have reduced speeds through the junction. The guardrail has gone and the crossings on the side roads are now zebras, which are much more flexible than pelicans in use for both pedestrians and drivers.

The central island area also has an over-run strip around it which has been designed to accommodate occasional large vehicles while keeping cars to the main carriageway. The strip has a kerb with a small chamfered edge as not to damage tyres, although I wouldn't want to catch my bike wheel on it.

I did notice some kerb movement in the over-run strip which is often a construction detailing issue which is often found where vehicles are able to drive over paving - tricky to get right.

Over-run area to the left of a kerb with a slight chamfer
It is a nice tidy job by and large, but not successful in traffic volume reduction, although it must be slower - I did jump onto the island to get some snaps and had to dash rather than walk. I did have the weird thought that there needed to be a couple of zebra crossings on each of the long sides of the roundabout to let people cross through the middle.

Kings Road/ Kingsway
These two roads form part of the A259 which runs east-west along the sea front and connects Folkestone with Chichester, although some parts are bypassed at other south coast towns. As for Brighton & Hove, it is not a place for comfortable cycling or crossing the road as much is dual-carriageway with staggered crossings and busy junctions. There is a section of cycle track on the seaward side of the road which has been there for many years. It is better than the road, but not really wide enough. There is no height separation and so pedestrians wander in and out without realising and so intimidating to some on foot.

Grand Avenue/ The Drive
Running away from Kingsway, Grand Avenue is another dual carriageway, but with only one lane in each direction. I assume that years ago there would have been more lanes, but lots of space has been given over to parking bays. In addition, some of the space has been made into an island-protected cycle track (basically a long, skinny traffic island to protect cyclists from traffic).

The parking is on the outside of the cycle track and so it feels really safe. Passengers in cars can also open their doors without swinging them in front of bikes. Although I would have preferred 45 degree chamfered kerbs, the kerb heights either side of the track are low and so not too much risk of catching pedals.

Look mum! No lycra!
Bus stops are treated well with the track going behind them and a gentle ramp bringing the track up to footway level where passengers cross back to the main footways. For people wanting to cross the road on foot, they can, but it means crossing the track, the road and parking bays. Anyone who needs a flush crossing point are at a major disadvantage and they are forced to use crossings at the signalised junctions along the street.

There are gaps in the protection island at accesses and on the approaches to the signalised junctions, the protect goes and we are back to painted cycle lanes (albeit mandatory), and staggered pedestrian crossings. The worst thing at the junctions is that cyclists are placed to the left of left hand turn lanes and so left hook is a big issue (some of our group experienced it first hand). The further north one goes on the route, the more patchy the protection which disappears into a mandatory lane at the junction with Old Shoreham Road - and that will be the subject of next week's post.