Friday, 22 August 2014

The Relevance Of Road Safety Audit

I am sure many of you will have at least heard the term "Road Safety Audit", even if you haven't the faintest idea what it is (although the clue is in the name!)

You may have even heard people referring to schemes as either "passing" or "failing" a Road Safety Audit (RSA) - well put that straight out of your mind, there is no such thing. A RSA does not approve or reject a scheme, that is the job and the responsibility of the highway authority and those making the decisions. Put simply, a Road Safety Audit (or RSA) is an independent assessment of the road safety impacts of a highway scheme on all users, including those maintaining the asset and is a useful independent check on the safety implications of a scheme.

As is often the case, the standards (and guidance) stems from the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) and is covered in HD19/03. The DMRB is mandatory on Highways Agency operated trunk roads and motorways and as such does not always translate well to local roads. As far as RSA goes, many authorities have their own versions and procedures in place such as Transport for London (linked to without endorsement or judgement); but the principles remain the same. If you are really interested in the detailed mechanics of RSA, I recommend reading HD19/03 as it is full of the definitions and structure of the audit process - far more detail than I will be boring you with here!

I also recommend you visit the Road Safety Audit interactive website developed by CIHT, TMS, Lancashire CC and DfT. The site has pretty comprehensive checklists of things for auditors to consider. I have to praise TMS here - they are a consultant which aside from many things, has undertaken over 11,000 RSAs. They are also skilled at auditing highway schemes from the point of view of vulnerable users. I have read many of their audits and they are always thorough.

Competency of Auditors I am not a road safety auditor. To call myself one, I would need to be able to demonstrate a track record of safety auditing, have a relevant set continuing professional development (CPD) activities and experience in road safety engineering. I do maintain my CPD as a matter of course and could demonstrate the background required, but as I don't undertake RSA myself, I cannot call myself an auditor - I know what to look for in terms of auditor competency and content of a RSA; and in my day job, I do review quite a lot put forward by developers.

The requirement for auditors to be competent comes from Article 9 of EU Directive 2008/96/EC which is concerned about the safety of the Trans-European Road Network (TERN), itself part of a wider set of transport networks. For the UK, this trickles down to a fair bit of our motorway and trunk road network. For RSA, this Directive meant that by and after December 2011, those undertaking audits must have relevant training and hold a certificate of competence - of course, only mandatory for those working on the Trans-European road network and therefore motorways and trunk roads (mandatory under HD19/03 as mentioned above). The TERN is very much for long-distance road transport and this probably shines through the DMRB in terms of the priority afforded to walking and cycling in the design standards.

The UK Government was pretty useless in sorting out auditor standards and so in practice, the industry reacted to make sure people were (and are) qualified, whether or not local procedures are in place to vary the policy or details of the RSA process  The Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), through its Society of Road Safety Auditors (SoRSA) seeks to coordinate and disseminate best practice and for those meeting various training and experience requirements, they issue professional qualifications and a Certificate of Competency for practitioners. For example, I am an Associate Member of SoRSA which shows I have the basic training and road safety engineering background. A full Member would be able to show more detailed training and a track record of performing RSAs. A Fellow would be a leading specialist in RSA. The Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) also runs a similar arrangement for its members.

The other interesting thing to note is the more wider experience of an auditor. There is such a wide range of layouts and design options on the road network, it is simply not possible to be an expert in all of them. Like me, many highway engineers are generalists and so for certain schemes, the advice of experts might be needed when a design is being developed. It is no different for safety auditors. For example, while an auditor will have a working knowledge of traffic signal operation, for a complicated junction, additional advice will be required from a signals engineer. For issues affecting blind and partially-sighted people, the auditor may wish to discuss a scheme with a local support organisation.

Of course, this does start to lead us down the debate as to whether auditors need to have had specific training or at least demonstrable experience in cycling, walking and disabled user issues - in my view yes. In fact, auditors will need to have had experience in design to be able to understand how things fit together. My argument could extend to driving of course, but from any user point of view, it is important that the auditor understands the issues without necessarily being a "driver" or "cyclist" or "pedestrian". Actually, auditors should also have an appreciation of issues for powered two-wheelers.  Yes, I have spent a bit of time on the competency of safety auditors, but my general point is that they should understand the design process and the issues facing all road users - they need to be rounded and experienced engineers foremost.

The Audit Process Audits are rarely undertaken by an individual (expect for simple Stage 1 audits) and would normally be two people for most audits, with more as required. The team would comprise of a "Audit Team Leader" who should be very experienced, "Audit Team Members" and sometimes "Audit Team Observers" who are essentially auditors gaining experience and who are expected to contribute to the process. We also have "Specialist Advisors" as required (such as the signals example given above). Another important thing to note is that those involved in audit must be completely separate from those involved in design because of the clear conflict of interest. It doesn't necessarily mean people must be from different organisations, just that things are separated to maintain objectivity.

There are 4 general stages to the RSA process, unsurprisingly, Stages 1 to 4. A Stage 1 RSA is at initial design stage, really before much of the detail is worked up. It can help the designer to get another view from a pure road safety point of view before too much detailed (and costly) work is undertaken. Generally speaking for most highway authorities, the larger schemes only will be subject to Stage 1 along with developers submitting a planning application. With developers, some see RSA as one item on a long list of things to do when making a planning application, but that is no bad thing.

Stage 2 is at detailed design stage and for smaller schemes, Stages 1 and 2 are often combined. For example, if a RSA was being done on a stand along zebra crossing, a combined Stage 1/2 might be done as the difference between initial and detailed design is often quite small. It doesn't stop a crossing location being subjected to Stage 1 based on a quick plan, but this doesn't happen much in practice (of course it would on a Highways Agency scheme where RSA is mandatory).

Stage 3 is at completion of construction and ideally before the road is opened. In practice, where the scheme is an addition to a live road, a Stage 3 cannot be done before "opening" and so HD19/03 requires within 1 month of "opening". Individual highway authorities may have their own process. 

Stage 4 is not always used, especially where developers are concerned as it deals with monitoring which is pretty much the job of the local highway authority anyway. HD19/03 suggests monitoring during the first year of operation and then a formal accident review at 1 and 3 years after opening. In my experience, not often done. (accident is used throughout the standard - I prefer collision).

As mentioned above, the RSA is a process where the safety aspects of a highway scheme are assessed. It is not a check on design standards, it is not an opportunity for an auditor to redesign a scheme (more on that later) and it is certainly not a process to endorse or condemn a scheme. It is also not the role of the auditor to redesign the scheme or to make design changes - apart from taking on design responsibility (which is another whole area of legislation and liability), designers are employed to design the scheme. I would suggest, however, that training designers in road safety audit is very valuable as they will often spot things and make changes which designers not trained in RSA will miss.

The RSA (at whichever stage) is a formal process which ends in a report set out in a standard way which seems a little strained to the casual observer, but is designed to be a consistent approach. Before the RSA takes place, it is vital for the correct brief to be provided to the audit team. For me, this is probably as important as having competent auditors as if the brief is crap, the audit will be crap and of little value.

The audit brief will provide the audit team the scope of the scheme to be audited along with full details and relevant supporting information. I have seen audit reports submitted where the scantest information has been provided to the auditor - little more than a plan in many cases and no wonder the audit team struggle. At Stage 1, it might just be a sketch on a plan, but it would greatly help if information such as traffic flow and speeds could be provided. Perhaps for my zebra crossing example, a map of the area showing schools or shops might help.

Despite what some consultants working for developers would have you believe, the whole audit team should visit the site. Yes, it is obvious, but some try and get away with sending one person, especially at Stage 1, to try and save a few quid on site visits. This is not right as how can one comment on the issues without visiting the site - that is almost as bad as me commenting on sites I haven't been to (oh, wait!). You cannot design without visiting the site and you certainly cannot audit without visiting either. At Stage 3, the standard requires a night visit (to look for any issues not apparent during the day) and again, some people try and skip that because of the cost (worse hanging around for dark in the summer of course).

So, to the audit report. The format will broadly be as follows (from the standard):

  • A brief description of the proposed scheme;
  • Identification of the audit stage and team membership as well as the names of others contributing;
  • Details of who was present at the site visit, when it was undertaken and what the site
  • conditions were on the day of the visit (weather, traffic congestion, etc.);
  • The specific road safety problems identified, supported with the background reasoning;
  • Recommendations for action to mitigate or remove the problems;
  • A3 or A4 location map, marked up and referenced to problems and, if available, photographs of the problems identified;
  • A statement, signed by the Audit Team Leader in the format given at Annex D [of the standard]; and
  • A list of documents and drawings considered for the audit.

The road safety problems which are identified should also be presented individually with a recommendation. The standard has a series of checklists for Stages 1, 2 and 3 which try and make all audits consistent. The report would also consider previous audits (if undertaken) and any recommendations or changes made. Each problem will be set out with its location, a summary (including the type of collisions which could occur) and a recommendation. It is bad practice for an auditor to recommend "monitoring" unless the issue is really minor - he or she needs to get off the fence.

London Road roundabout, Clacton-on-Sea.
Image adapted from Google Maps.
So, let's have an example. The image here is of a roundabout junction on the A133 as it enters Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. I have circled a staggered zebra crossing and so let's just assume the proposal is to change an existing uncontrolled pedestrian crossing to this one with the zebra crossings to make things safer for pedestrians.

The A133 as it approaches the area is a wide single carriageway road subject to the National speed limit which steps down to 30mph around 100 metres before the roundabout. As the road approaches the roundabout, it opens up from one lane to two lanes for about 25 metres before the give way point on the roundabout. The design is for a staggered zebra crossing (i.e. people cross two, distinctly separate crossings) and although there may well be lots to mention in the RSA for the roundabout as a whole, I will concentrate on this one arm for this example.

So, in the format of the RSA (normally section 3 of a report) and assuming a Stage 1 RSA, here are a couple of problems which could be identified:



North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Excessive traffic speeds approaching crossing/ roundabout. Site observations suggest speeds above 30mph speed limit which could result in vehicles overshooting zebra crossing when being used by pedestrians.

Provide measures to ensure approach speeds to ensure they are low enough for drivers to be able to stop when the crossing is being used.


North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Visibility of pedestrians crossing. The two lane approach to the crossing could create conditions whereby one lane is free flowing and one with queues. The queueing lane could mask pedestrians crossing from the free flowing lane putting them at risk of being hit by a vehicle in the free-flowing lane.

Consider suitability of multi-lane approach to zebra crossing or consider alternative method of control.

OK, I could go on and do a whole report, but this is a long enough post as it is. You will note that although the process is laborious, it is designed to be logical and consistent which allows the issues raised to be considered logically. The auditor does not add any weight to an issue, does not rank the issues or undertake any design work. With the first problem, it would now be up to the designer to consider the approach speeds and decide whether to make changes. It could be that as this is a Stage 1 RSA, no traffic data has been gathered and when speeds are checked, they are appropriate for the provision of a zebra crossing.

The second issue is harder for the designer to deal with as the auditor has highlighted a pretty fundamental potential issue with multi-lane approaches to zebra crossings. On further thought, the designer may decide that the layout is acceptable (as traffic data shows queueing unlikely) or might decide that a traffic signal controlled option is better. In real life, there is a cycle track around this roundabout and perhaps a Toucan crossing which can be used by cyclists might be more appropriate? A Toucan crossing would also have traffic speed detection which could deal with the first problem (if it is a problem).

At Stage 1, it should be relatively simple to make changes to a scheme. It might be that a layout or part of it might not be appropriate and the recommendation is to change it as above. But what if the zebra crossing remains the favoured design and the scheme is subjected to a Stage 2 RSA with no changes? The auditor is not there to design the scheme and can only raise safety issues at this stage which makes life tricky for the auditor if the issues are still fundamental.

The difficulty at Stage 2 is that the design has crystallised after a lot of effort and the danger is that the designer and indeed the scheme promoter have a "pride of authorship" or perhaps have their heads stuck in the sand - a fair bit of money might have been spent by this stage. A good auditor will need hold their nerve and remain objective. In my example, the same issues should be restated unless evidence has been provided to deal with the issues.

So, what happens at Stage 3? In my example, let's assume the zebra crossings went in as designed and the concerns raised in the audit where not dealt with. It may be that no problems ever materialise and the audit is accused (perhaps not openly) of being over cautious. Having at least two people auditing gives some quality control as they are expected to debate the issues and only include them if they are real road safety issues. It might happen, but I would rather be cautious than cavalier.

When the site is reviewed at Stage 3, it may be that approach speeds are still too high. It would still be possible to recommend speed reduction measures as they could be installed (it might cost of course). If the pedestrian masking is still a problem, it is probably not helpful for the audit to recommend a different type of crossing and so it is hard to make useful recommendations in many cases when things have been built. Often, an audit will recommend warning signs in a situation like this which is a bit of a cop out, but one caused by the designer/ scheme promoter.

Once an audit has been completed an the report issued to the project sponsor (i.e. the person responsible for the project, not the designer), then it is usual practice for the designer/ design team to formally respond to the issues raised (known as a designer's response), although the person with overall responsibility for the project is the one to ultimately decide if the issues raised by the audit are significant. Any items not considered significant should be formally recorded as such (and with reasons) in an exception report - although it is ultimately the decision of the highway authority what gets built.

Limitations & Issues
The process to HD19/03 is more extensive and detailed than I have set out and is predicated on a decent level of resource for schemes, including staff. For a small highway authority working on small schemes, they are unlikely to have the resources of the Highways Agency or a large county council and it means that the person responsible for the scheme might be the highway authority representative and the designer - in this situation, people need to be open and record their thoughts and decisions as it is the only way to remain objective.

It might also mean that many schemes don't get subjected to a safety audit on cost grounds. For example, a straight-forward zebra crossing might cost £20k and a three stage RSA might cost another 15% of that budget. I am not suggesting this is right or wrong, just a reality of budgets.

What of innovative, dare I suggest radical schemes? There should be no difference to the process. It might be the auditor is not familiar wit the concepts involved and they need to be properly explained in the audit brief - perhaps with a statement provided by the designer on how the scheme is intended to work. 

Take this image of a bus stop bypass on Lewes Road, Brighton. I can imagine an audit raising safety problems with people crossing away from the dropped kerbs, on the far side of the bus shelter and not being seen by cyclists. Yes, this is a valid safety issue, but could an auditor recommend anything sensible to deal with the issue - guard rail on the far side of the shelter perhaps? 

Actually, this kind of "problem" would be a sign that the audit team perhaps didn't understand the scheme or might be over-cautious. The dropped kerbs are provided for people with reduced vision or mobility. There is nothing "wrong" with people crossing elsewhere - they have the cues around them of needing to step down into the cycle track. Had the dropped kerbs not been provided, then that might be raised as a problem. This goes back to the designer(s) explaining the scheme at the audit brief stage and perhaps (in my opinion) the auditor needing to have had experience of this kind of design or consulting with someone who does.

Another example. Bromells Road at Clapham, which has the footway of the main road ("The Pavement") continuing across the junction. The point of the scheme is to give reinforced priority to pedestrians over traffic leaving the side road. This would need to be explained in the audit brief otherwise the auditors might be concerned about blind and partially sighted people not knowing where the extents of the carriageway are (there are none, it is all footway which vehicles have to cross).

The other pitfall is where different layouts are subjected to a RSA and this is used by scheme promoters to pick the "safest" one. This is very bad practice because of the lack of weight given by the auditors. In my example, a Toucan crossing and a zebra crossing might throw up different issues and so suggest one is safer than the other is wrong - it depends on so many variables, it wouldn't be comparing like with like.

There are other audits which can be used to complement RSA such as a Quality Audit (see 3.7 of Manual for Streets). A Quality Audit (QA) might contain a wide range of elements and it will be for the decision makers to decide on how thing are weighed up in the final analysis. MfS suggests that a QA may include all or some of the following;

  • an audit of visual quality;
  • a review of how the streets will be used by the community;
  • a road safety audit, including a risk assessment;
  • an access audit;
  • a walking audit;
  • a cycle audit;
  • a non-motorised user audit;
  • a community street audit (in existing streets); and
  • a Placecheck audit.

Other people being involved in reviewing schemes from the point of view of various users or from an architectural point of view can add value to a scheme, but as with the RSA, the responsibility for the scheme remains with the designer(s) and those making the decisions and any audit process shuld be reviewed with the scheme objectives as a benchmark. Beware of any highway authority (or indeed developer or designer) who suggests that a scheme is fine because it "passed its safety audit" or "the safety audit didn't raise that issue" - the auditor might have missed something or wasn't given the full details.

Final Thoughts
Returning back to my starting point. I have often heard people say "how did that scheme pass a safety audit". Well, assuming it was subjected to a RSA, it is not a pass or fail and I hope that this post has given you some insight as to why. What people examine is how the design process was progressed and how the decision was made. If a RSA was undertaken, what was picked up by it? What was the designer's response? What weight did the person responsible for the scheme give the issues? Did the decision maker know all of the issues? Sometimes, there might be potential safety issues with a scheme, but in the final analysis, the decision is taken to build it. 

Road Safety Audit is just one of the tools highway engineers can use to help them design a scheme. It is not the auditor's job to design the scheme, merely point out potential road safety issues. If you are reading a RSA as a campaigner, it won't be enough. You need to be reading it in conjunction with the audit brief, a designer response and an exception report to get the full picture.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Bridge Too Far? East London River Crossing Consulation.

Transport for London is currently running a consultation on options for river crossings in East London.

Yes, another London-centric post I am afraid, but it has relevance everywhere of course, as bridges are perhaps the one of the most long-practiced set pieces of civil engineering - long before civil engineering was set as a profession. Those who have been with me since the start of this blog will know that I like a bridge and so what could I object to with TfL's plans?

Whether for trade or military purposes, bridges have always played an important part of city life and even in the modern age where tunneling become possible, some bridges have an air of romance to them, even the most utilitarian. A fixed link between two banks which can be used in (almost) all weathers has seen the demise of ferrymen, but free movement across rivers has always been seen as vital for the economy of a city.

The QEII Bridge (Dartford Crossing).
I have had an on and off relationship with the River Thames during by career, sometimes working near it, sometimes needing to cross it. During my time as a developer, I had the "pleasure" of using the Dartford Crossing twice a day for many years. 

The crossing allowed me to live in one part of London and work in another, although as I drove to work back then, the opportunity would have been denied to me if I didn't have a car - the public transport option would have taken me hours at each end of the day and so my transport choice was essentially take a job where I drove to and from work or don't take the job.

Provision for motor traffic is the fixation for the Mayor's current consultation, pure and simple. There is this concern that growth in the east and south-east boroughs is stifled because of a lack of road crossings of the River Thames. Indeed, between the Woolwich Ferry (connecting Greenwich and Newham), there is nothing until Dartford and the Government is also looking at more (traffic) capacity in that general area too.

TfL is concerned that there is a lack of road capacity across the river in East London because businesses have apparently told them as much and the population is growing. The Blackwall Tunnel also regularly has more traffic using it than its design capacity and so this is why another tunnel at Silvertown is being separately looked at.

The options currently being proposed are:
  • A new ferry at Woolwich
  • A new ferry at Gallions Reach
  • A bridge at Gallions Reach
  • A bridge at Belvedere
The Woolwich Ferry.
As far as the ferries go, I have fond memories being taken on the Woolwich Ferry as a child and I recently took my bike over on a training ride. That would have been the first time in well over ten years with the last crossing made when the whole of East London ground to a halt when there were problems at both Dartford and Blackwall and it took me over 4 hours to drive home for what was usually a 40 minute journey.

The good things about ferries is that they have a relatively low capital cost and they don't need vast approach ramps to clear shipping lanes. The problem with them is that they cost a lot of money to run and maintain and are not always available - this part of the Thames suffers from fog at certain times of the year and the ferry has to be stopped.

The Woolwich Ferry has vessels over 50 years old and so this option would be (larger) replacements which would operate pretty much as now. The consultation suggests that over time the costs of the option would be more than a bridge, but in terms of (motor) traffic impacts, things would be the same because the link is fixed. In my view, larger vessels could mean a slight increase in traffic use, although the traffic queues at some times are off putting and so will not always be a popular driver choice anyway. From a walking and cycling point of view, the ferry is easy to use and there are no steep ramps to deal with.

Next we have a proposal for a Ferry at Gallions Reach (connecting Greenwich and Newham, but closer to Bark & Dagenham and Bexley than the Woolwich Ferry). It has the same pros and cons as Woolwich, but would put more people in reach of the Thamesmead area supporting jobs and housing (apparently). TfL's consultation document shows that this option would perhaps increase (motor) traffic on the A2016 through Thamesmead and also on the A406 North Circular (could any more fit on?). They suggest a decrease might be experienced at Blackwall, Woolwich and Docklands.

An older proposal for the Thames Gateway Bridge.
Then we have a bridge proposed at Gallions Reach. Yes, this is the same as Ken Livingstone's Thames Gateway Bridge which was cancelled by Boris Johnson and the East London River Crossing which was first mooted in the 1960s as the urban motorways proliferated. Indeed, the land needed on either side of the river remains safeguarded to this day and some construction at Beckton took place. A bridge in this location would be very high to clear shipping lanes and for walking and cycling, I am not sure it would be as simple as a ferry in terms of the ramps and being open to wind, fog and rain coming in from the North Sea! 

Traffic-wise, the prediction is for increases through Thamesmead and well out east to the edge of Bexley, the A406 and parts of the A13. Reductions in traffic are expected on the Havering section of the A13, Blackwall, Woolwich and Docklands. The implication is that rather than using the A13, drivers getting to the south would come along the A2016 rather than A13. Doesn't look good for the A406 though! Again, the document cites better access for jobs and homes, but this clearly means better access by car.

Finally, we have a bridge at Belvedere (connecting Bexley with Havering/ Barking & Dagenham). This idea has come out of the blue for me and I don't yet know who has pushed for this behind the scenes. The consultation documents suggest an increase in traffic on the A13 through Havering/ Barking & Dagenham and most of Thamesmead/ Belvedere. Reductions would be expected At Blackwall, Woolwich, the A406 and the western end of the A13. Again (traffic) access to jobs and homes is cited as the advantage. Bexley Council has blown hot and cold over bridges because of traffic fears, but two bridges seems to be favoured to spread the traffic around.

The consultation documents also give some detail various indications of timescales (although who really knows with large projects), costs and (motor) traffic impacts. There is also a suggestion of charging drivers to use the crossings, although the document is silent on Blackwall. There is also commentary on environmental impacts in terms natural habitats, pollution and so on.

In my view, the consultation is flawed. If you fill in the online form, you are asked which schemes you do or do not support and at the end which you think should be taken forward. There are no other options, although you can stick comments in as you go. My own view is that any increase in cross river motor traffic capacity will undoubtedly lead to traffic congestion on the main routes either side and more seriously, the associated local streets. I do think that links are needed for public transport and for walking/ cycling, but not necessarily over the Thames.

For crossings over the Thames, clearly the ferries are best for walking as they don't need one to walk the distance of a bridge and for many people, they are part of a longer journey using buses. Cycling across the Thames might be an option for some people, but it won't be at all attractive unless the cycle routes are fully enclosed from the weather and they connect to proper cycle tracks either side rather than the free for all dual carriageways there are now.

A quiet route over Rotherhithe New Road.
Actually, I think the funding (which is by no means certain) would be better spent on many small bridges. There are plenty of local places where there are significant barriers to walking and cycling which could be overcome with relatively modest bridges. I have been looking at some potential Quietway routes recently and every time there is a railway, major road or river, busy roads converge on often narrow bridges and there is no space for protected cycling.

Other cities spend money on these kinds of bridges, but here, it only seems a worthy investment if it for traffic. Cleverly located bridges can make walking and cycling direct and safe and from the point of view of city and population growth, could negate the perceived need to keep building more roads as these Thames crossings actually are. So, please respond to the TfL consultation and point this out and if you have a missing link which would benefit from a modest bridge for walking and cycling, let me know as these are interesting little projects in their own right.

Friday, 8 August 2014

110 Miles, Minus 14 Miles, Hurricane Bertha & The Hybrid Hero

OK, I know I have gone on about it and to be honest, I needed an easy post this week as things have been hectic. So, over the next few days, this post will be updated with a little coverage of the weekend of cycling happening in London.

Those in London on Saturday (tomorrow) will be able to enjoy the Prudential RideLondon FreeCycle which will see a 10 mile traffic free route through the centre of the city. It will be great fun and a wonderful way to see the sights. 

It will be on many roads which normally operate as urban trunk roads and will give many people the only chance they get this year to feel like a first class citizen when it comes to cycling.

There will be commentary about legacy and all of the usual waffle. This event is a fun bit of leisure, not day to day transport and so enjoy it for what it is. This year, it will be me, Ranty Junior and my father who has recently got back on a bike (my folder!) for the first time in decades and I hope he enjoys it - it was good fun last year. I will probably dust off the #space4cycling posters for the bike again for a bit of a protest!

What will be apparent to many is that getting to and from the route will still be on horrible roads. Last year, Ranty Junior and drove to River Road at Barking and came into Town on CS3. Partly because I am riding 100 miles on Sunday and partly because Pater is only recently back in the saddle it will be the train in and back.

And yes, Sunday. Last night (Thursday), I blasted over to the Excel Centre in Docklands to complete my registration for the London Surrey 100 which is quite simply a ride from London to Surrey and back again - more here. When I finally found my way into the place with a fellow lost rider, registration took no time at all. Interestingly, there are some reasonable off road routes in the area, but they seem to be stuck in a 20 year time warp with awful maintenance and variable signage (another post perhaps). Still, looking forward to the ride, even though the forecast isn't too clever and I am a little intimidated about the whole thing!

Makes a change from having trucks flying around!
Saturday 9th August - FreeCycle
The three of us got up to The City by train for a 9am start to try and avoid the crowds. After a chilly start, we got going and then stopped at the Green Park Festival Zone where Ranty Junior had a bit of a race on the British Cycling mountain bike circuit. We then wandered over to the Lea Valley VeloPark tent where he had a go on the Watt Bikes for a sprint (I was saving my legs of course). We then stuck our heads into the London Cycling Campaign tent where there was a track stand competition (1' 30" when we were there - didn't even attempt to beat that!).

Aw, even the smallest got out on two wheels in complete safety.
And then, back onto the route heading along The Mall with its usual congestion to keep Trafalgar Square open and then things got going again for a gentle ride back to The City where we had lunch and watched people go by. Then, we picked our way back to get the train home. 

A great morning out and if I wasn't riding tomorrow, we could have gotten another lap in. I now have a few hours before bed to decide what I am going to take tomorrow as the forecast is interesting to say the least, plus I need to make sure I have enough provisions!

Approaching Westminster Bridge - is the protected cycle track on
its was yet Boris? If not, just leave it like this!

Parliament Square - normally traffic hell. Cycling bliss today.

Ranty Junior takes the flag!

Relaxation in the Green Park Festival Zone.

Rush hour as it should be - The Queen's driveway.

Cycling in The City.

Battle of the sound systems.

Plenty of bikes of different shapes and pretty much every hire bike
could be seen on the route.

At the start.
Sunday 10th August - London Surrey 100

The day of the big ride started with rain and news early in the morning that the remnants of Hurricane Berther were about to hit the UK and specifically the ride. The organisers rightly called before the start, so Box and Leith Hills were out of the route which knocked off 14 miles. I was a little disappointed, but as the day unfolded, not altogether unhappy!

My wave was due to leave at 8.20am and after being dropped off (yes by car) at Stratford Town Centre, I rode with lots of others to the start. After hanging round in the drizzle, we finally rolled up to the start line and I felt a little under dressed sitting on my armchair of a hybrid (Specialized Crossroads if you need to know) as I was surrounded by road bikes (although quite a few of us were not "chiseled whippets").

Hurricane Bertha hitting the crowd at Richmond Park.
And then we were off into a mad hour or so blasting through London. Starting on the wrong side of the A12 we headed south to the river and turned west, taking in the Limehouse Tunnel (which is normally off limits to riding bikes!) We continued off through The City and out west on the A4 before crossing the river and heading into Richmond Park. By now, Bertha was ramping up and with rain stinging our skin, we came to a grinding halt. After some time, we moved off with small rivers running along the road edge.

Floody Hell!
Eventually, we emerged from the park and continued off into Surrey. The weather continued to beat down on us and just when we thought it would clear, down the rain came again. We did miss out the two big hills, but the Surrey Hills still had some summits to beat and yes, I did walk on a couple of occasions (as did people on their road bikes). I tried to make up time on the downhill sections and being sat atop my hybrid with its (relatively) chunky grooved tyres, I would an awful lot more stable than some of the other people I saw - I just had to avoid the cat's eyes and manhole covers otherwise I would have been off. People were cheering us on in pockets as we went through the towns and villages and that was a real boost.

Lots of puddles.
The A24 section saw sunshine and the wind drop (it had felt like a headwind all day so far). The road was newly surfaced and I upped my pace. Towards the end of Surrey (I cannot remember where) I did flag a bit and so after a brief stop for food I felt better and pushed on. I should say that my aim was to keep stops to a minimum as I find my legs seize after to long a stop (the training definitely paid off in terms of how my body works on a long ride). Seeing the signs back to London was a boost and apart from another quick downpour, the sun was out at last.

A quick stop.
Heading back through the towns on the edge of London there were more and more people out on the street watching us pass by giving us plenty of encouragement - it is quite amazing how a crowd can push you along. Many times I had to pull to the side of the road to get a high-five from kids watching and I think the interaction with the riders made their days - it certainly made mine!

Of of a sudden, we were over the half-rebuilt Putney Bridge and there were some of the contractors staff on it (working I guess) and they shouted encouragement (thanks FM Conway). And then CS8 appeared - its blue paint giving a smooth riding surface (and actually nice to use in the absence of traffic). Somewhere along this section, there was a small crowd at a pub watching the ride and one guy shouted encouragement to "The Hero on a Hybrid" - not sure if he was drunk or taking the mickey or both. I gave a wave anyway!

Punctures galore (but not with my tyres - heh!)
At 5km to go, the end was in sight and I pushed on apace. Parliament Square was packed with tourists who didn't seem to understand what the fuss was about and then to Trafalgar Square which was the last turn into The Mall. The riders were really strung out and I couldn't believe the roar they gave each one as we passed. A couple of snaps and then a sprint to the end to collect my medal.

I didn't hang around long afterwards, eager to get home to my family who couldn't get to London, although they followed my progress online (as we had transponders on our bikes triggered every so often at key places). The route back to The City was business as usual through the traffic and on getting back to my home station, the smell of the local curry house was too much and Britain's favourite dish was my reward.

The open road.
Final Thoughts
Build it and they will come. Well, for two days, a huge amount of road closures were "built" and thousands of people got onto their bikes to experience traffic-free riding and make no mistake, there were all type of people on all types of bike. The London - Surrey event was not a taste of everyday cycling, but there was quite a cross-section of the population on the ride and the closed conditions made the event possible.

Nearly there!
But, as I write this, the closures are gone and London (and Surrey!) returns to "normal" life. For travelling, the cars will dominate the routes I rode over the weekend once more and cycling (and walking for that matter) will be back at the margins. It is said every time there are events like this that people want to be out travelling actively - why do the decision makers struggle with this? Perhaps the medals should go to the people travelling by bike every day despite the conditions!

On The Queen's driveway a second time this weekend.

Below is a page I updated during my training and I place here so I don't lose it!

This is a temporary page providing (very) occasional updates on my progress training for the RideLondon-Surrey 100 which is taking place on 10th August.

I am no competitive cyclist, but in 2012, I rode the London to Brighton for the British Heart Foundation. I did it because of a school reunion the year before where a group of us (slightly drunkenly) agreed to enter as a team.

The ride was one of the best days I have ever had in the saddle and I have blogged about it here. My father ran the London Marathon in the early eighties which is my inspiration for doing something physically difficult. As my knees are on the creaky side, running is not for me and so this summer, my personal challenge is the London to Surrey 100.

I have decided that people are getting a little sponsored out and as this ride was primarily a personal challenge.

So, perhaps I can inspire you instead. I am not a sports cyclist, just someone who travels by bike, often for short journeys (not 100 milers!). To help campaign for the day to day utility cycling infrastructure we desperately need, perhaps you could join your local cycling campaign (such as the London Cycling CampaignNewcastle Cycling Campaign and the many others across the UK. You could also join the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and perhaps give them a donation.

22nd March 2014
A 46 mile slog to Clapham and back, taking in CS2, CS7 and CS3 with breakfast at Borough Market.

24th April 2014
A short 22 mile pootle around my area taking photos of infrastructure, getting pannier rack put on my new bike and a fry-up. Hmm, need to get some long rides in soon!

27th April 2014
Dropped Ranty Junior at his St. George's Day parade for scouts and picked him up after a short ride. He did 5 miles, I did 14.

17th May 2014
28 miles today along CS3 and back with Ranty Junior via the #Space4Cycling #BigRide London. He had a bike with bigger wheels than me!

22nd May 2014
38 miles from work to the #StopKillingCyclists protest at the Elephant & Castle and home again after.

21st June 2014
Longest run for me ever at 58 miles taking in the edge of Barnes and going through lots of riverside. CS2, CS8, CS7 and CS3 today as well as part of NCN4 (which has truly awful signage). Breakfast at Borough Market as usual!

13th July 2014
A sedate 33 miles today on the Chelmsford Cycle Swarm with Ranty Junior. Not as long as I would have liked, but plenty of hill training and we managed a respectable 9 mph average. Yes, I know I need to go faster in August.

26th July 2014
70 miles today through 17 London Boroughs and only a very short stop mid-way for a quick (but light) breakfast. I have been reading the training suggestions coming from the Ride London organisers and so this ride, I was drinking sports drinks for hydration and I must admit, they worked far better than water on such a long (for me) ride.

I did take a couple of photos of interesting things along the way, but tried not to as I was interested in the time. Got bogged down along the Thames path in the Greenwich area and I cannot recommend it for anything other than a slow leisure ride. This and a few diversions during the day because of poor (or no) signage conspired to slow my progress. 

7 hours in the saddle had me a little slower than I would have liked, but the Thames path, diversions and traffic signals makes it hard to be accurate.

So, two weeks to rest (with some cycling) and then the big event on Sunday 10th August. A bit nervous, but really looking forward to it!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Boozy Floating Unloading

It turns out that the British Pub & Beer Association is concerned about protected cycle infrastructure because of the effects on HGV deliveries.

In its written evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee Cycling Safety Report 2014-15 it states (among other things);

Segregated cycle lanes already cause particular issues for pub deliveries. Manual handling of bulk beer containers such as kegs and casks (as specified in current Health & Safety Regulations) ideally requires the delivery vehicle to be sited at the kerb-side outside the premises. Physically segregated lanes prevent this access and in some circumstances, bulk containers must be wheeled across the cycle lane which poses a further risk to both cyclists and delivery drivers.
There are already significant restrictions imposed on delivery vehicles, including the enforcement of permitted delivery times (night time deliveries are not allowed), access routes and parking restrictions. Whereas it may be desirable to separate road users to protect those considered more vulnerable, further restrictions could seriously hinder the ability to deliver to pubs, particularly if this were to prevent deliveries during busy trading periods, i.e. lunchtimes. Imposing such restrictions could also lead to increased, inefficient journey times as all deliveries would be squeezed into a shorter time window. This in itself would lead to wider congestion issues.

First, thanks to Carlton Reid for posting the link on Twitter which got my brain working! Now, people delivering beer are not the only ones to have to shift heavy weights and I am not going to single out the BPBA. I am a beer fan and so I would hate to see the flow of the amber stuff stemmed, so what can be done?

At the time this popped up on Twitter, I posted a couple of sketches. First, we have a layout which is very similar to our (now) old friend the floating bus stop, which I referred to as a "floating loading bay" - remember where you read this term first!

Like the bus stop, the cycle track bends behind an "island" which can be used by the delivery driver to offload goods onto. In my sketch I have thoughtfully provided a reinforced pad onto which a beer barrel can be dropped (onto a portable cushion carried on the lorry. For a pub, this of course only works if the barrels can be rolled into the basement doors.

The thing that makes me smile is that the BPBA is worried about stuff being wheeled across a cycle track - well, with a floating loading bay, those delivering can pause and think before they roll. Presumably, the drivers check for pedestrians before rolling a barrel across the footway into gaping opening in the ground? Of course, everyone else uses a tail lift and delivery cages and of course a floating loading bay would work there too.

What if there is less space available? Well, where there is a narrow kerbed protection strip, the simple answer is a gap and a dropped kerb up onto the footway behind. In fact, there are various permutations of both which will do the job.

So, a physically-segregated cycle track does not prevent deliveries, it all goes back to good design and thought. There is of course the debate to be had about times of day for deliveries, size of vehicles and direct vision lorry cabs. However, in terms of the compatibility of deliveries and protected cycling, it is a red herring and can be designed for. Of course, a traffic lane may have been taken away to provide a cycle track and a loading bay might be an issue at peak times, but loading bays can operate at whatever times we decide.

King Street, Hammersmith. Image from Google Streetview.
I was going to leave it there, but last weekend, I was on a long training ride in a loop around London and lo and behold, I saw something very interesting on King Street, Hammersmith, where my second sketch had been built!

A funny location as the main road has been made one way with a protected contraflow cycle track. But, the principle is there and certainly deals with the problem. So, another excuse ticked off then!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

1,500 Metres Of Pure, Visceral, Horror

I am going to recount a recent conversation I had about traffic congestion. It left me utterly astounded, but on reflection, not that surprised.

In common with most people working in local government, our contract of employment has a catch all which basically states "and undertake other duties from time to time as I may be reasonably required."

This doesn't mean that I have to wash the mayor's car or sweep the Chief Executive's car park space. Despite being an engineer, it essentially means that I don't do enough engineering, but too much dealing with the public (joke!). Most MOPs (Members of the Public) are reasonable and rational people, it is just that I do come into contact with unrepresentative proportion of utterly unreasonable, ill-informed, needy and self-centred fools. And that's coming from me.

There are colleagues who have a far more difficult job than me in dealing with the MOPs such as colleagues in social care or enforcement. Wherever vulnerable people are being helped or protected, then those guys are OK by me. In my area of work, I have to politely and objectively deal with people who, when all is said and done, probably need to have someone scream back at them at the top of their voice so they might have a glimmer of realisation that they are in fact talking cobblers.

There are two types of complainer. First, we have those who have been inconvenienced in some way or have a genuine concern about safety in their community. The response they get may explain why the road is being dug up or why we can't afford to traffic calm their street, but even if they don't agree with the answer, they accept it and hopefully go on their way with a reasonable view of how their complaint was dealt with. Then we have the others. These other people will not accept any answer which doesn't accord with their world view. They often use a scatter-gun approach to complaints, drawing as many people as possible into their web of dissatisfaction and won't rest until they get the answer they want.

Yes, when things get like this, they need mending.
That is what "roadworks" are. Things aren't changed
while you sleep by the asphalt fairies!
So, this person. From the "other" group. They called our office to start with to complain about the amount of roadworks going on in the area. Yes, I work in a highways office and so it would be reasonable to expect the odd moan about the roads being dug up. In this case, the ire of their issue was a bit of our work and a bit of the power company's work. The call was taken by one of our streetworks officers who is often the person of choice because it is streetworks! The person was very concerned about the amount of roadworks disrupting their journey to work and wanted to know what we were going to do about it.

My colleague explained that in the need to maintain the highway network and utilities, it is inevitable that the roads would be dug up, but that we did coordinate the works within the framework provided by legislation, but from time to time, yes, journeys would be affected. The answer was not satisfactory and the person started adding other non-roadwork traffic issues. My colleague took the details and said someone would call back in due course. Over to me then. Actually, we are in an open plan office and we talk to each other, so I was fully briefed before I made the call.

Yes, on the bus at rush hour!
It all started quite politely with the person recapping their concerns about roadworks. The person couldn't understand why "our" job was taking so long and so I tried to explain what was involved (it is a scheme which is completely reconstructing footways and strengthening a carriageway - it take a while you know). The person felt we should be working more quickly because it was affecting their drive to the station. Hang on. Drive to the station? I fired up Google Maps.

They went on to explain that they often used a busy signalised junction, but "it" caused traffic to queue up and that "we" should rephase the lights. The person then went on to say that there was also another junction nearby which was always snarled up and blocked the first junction they mentioned. I gave my traffic signal pie description. You know the one - for any given junction size, there is a corresponding size of pie and we need to give everyone a slice. If we give you, the person concerned about sitting in a traffic jam a bigger slice, then there is less to go round. Need a bigger slice? Well you need a bigger junction which means knocking down some buildings. The person said that they understood, but they hadn't and they were getting frustrated.

I did mention that Transport for London looked after the signals in London and were gradually rolling out SCOOT which (in motorised) traffic terms could optimise the operation of junctions, but of course if traffic grew or switched routes, then it would be a short-lived improvement and it must lead to the inevitable political conclusion that either traffic needs restraining or roads and junctions need to be expanded. I suggested that the later is extremely unlikely in a built up borough where people's homes would be knocked down for the space (although this was done in the 60's and 70's of course).

Another lane needed here?
As as I mentioned "politics", my customer the enlightened me about all of the recent poor planning decisions made in the area which had further snarled up their journey to work. A new school and housing developments were a particular issue. I tried to explain that decisions are made at the end of a chain of national, regional and local planning rules and policies and the answer to the complaint was clearly to stop all development in the area. I was then told about the chaos caused by the school run. Actually, I kind of agreed!

I steered the conversion back to the person's main problem and that was driving to the station. I asked if the bus was an option. It wasn't as the buses are stuck in the same traffic jams. I asked if they knew how long the walk would be - they said about 20 to 25 minutes. I said, according to Google, it was 17 minutes and I had found Google journey planning quite good. I was informed in no uncertain terms that walking leaves one sweaty and who wants to get on a train sweaty. I asked if the person was dropping off someone at the station (or being dropped of themselves). This often happens when one person drops off others at the station and drives on to work. Then the bombshell. My customer informed me that they drove to the station and parked nearby (as they had access to a parking space) and then got their train to Central London.

According to Google, the journey is 0.9 miles. 1500 metres of pure horror. Forget the junctions, forget the sweaty walking, forget the developments. This person could not link their congested drive over 1500 metres to the fact that their neighbourhood suffered traffic congestion; that the buses (and all of the passengers) were stuck in traffic because people were choosing to drive stupidly short distances. The conversation ended friendly enough. I was thanked for my time, but because I had no answer to the problem, the person would be taking it further and would be writing to their MP. I wonder if the MP will have any sympathy that this person sits in traffic to drive 0.9 miles or will point out the desperate stupidity at play here. It will probably be the former.

Are we having fun yet?
I cannot totally blame my customer for their attitude. They said that they had commuted into Central London for 25 years and so they will have had experience of how busy our urban areas can be. But, over the same period, we have moved to the point where personal choice is everything, where we have been told and seduced into thinking that private motoring is the ultimate expression of freedom, where the streets have been changed to facilitate easy driving. All of this might be fine out on the trunk roads and motorways, but for short urban trips at peak journey times, driving 0.9 miles is positively antisocial. Of course, we need to be sympathetic to our customers if they have a genuine problem, but in this case, they are the problem.

If only there was another way to help people make short journeys.