Thursday, 2 July 2015

Liveable Leicester Part 1 : Extreme Kerb Nerdery

Last weekend (27th & 28th June) saw the annual general meeting and infrastructure summit of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain held in my current favourite place which is the City of Leicester.

First, a huge shout to the Leicester Cycling Campaign Group for looking after us so well. Elizabeth Barner and Grant Denkinson were our guides and this extended to making sure I was on the right (cycle) track to get back to my hotel on the edge of the city on Saturday evening! Extra thanks to Elizabeth who emailed me a description of the routes we took around the city and provided a Strava map of our route on Saturday.

This post will concentrate on some of the larger interventions we saw and next week's post will look at some of the smaller (but equally effective) stuff. Of course, a weekend isn't the same as living somewhere and so there may be a little of the rose-tinted holiday spirit involved, but I will try and keep it objective and if I get anything wrong, feel free to correct me!

Yours truly involved in some spirit level/ tape measure kerb face
height checking action. Photo, Mark Treasure.
The format for the weekend was a mixture of serious on-site tape-measure kerb action, more relaxed exploration and discussion sessions at the Leicester Secular Hall. Oh, and we managed a pub or two and a curry (well it is Leicester).

I also want to thank one of the City Council highway engineers, Idris, for giving up his Saturday to ride and chat with us; plus Deputy Mayor, Cllr Adam Clarke, who has been part of the political drive to make the Leicester more liveable and who joined us for a while. I also thank the CEoGB for being inclusive and allowing us evil engineers to attend, including the irrepressible Brian Deegan who gave a presentation of engineering tips for cycling infrastructure design which promoted a great deal of debate. OK, gushing over, you want kerbs and tarmac!

I stayed on the southwestern edge of the city which was within easy reach of the M1 (yes, it was the folding bicycle in the car). I had done some research for a car-based trip and I picked my hotel knowing that there was a greenway which I could ride into the city. National Route 6, "The Great Central Way", runs from outside of the city limits broadly in a north-south direction. 

Following the old Great Central Railway route, there are surfaced paths (of fair to good quality) of varying widths which did feel tight in places. The route was lit which was great on the way back to the hotel late on Saturday evening and there seems to be a good amount of direction signage.

There are other routes like this from other parts of the City and they certainly take one from the outskirts to the centre pretty rapidly. Of course, the criticism is that being shared, one does have to slow down for other people (including people with dogs on long extending leads). The Great Central Way is largely a wide corridor and one can see (subject to loads of cash) a true cycle superhighway is possible.

As I left National Route 6, I did get a bit lost as the signage gave up and I had to resort to the map app on my phone, but I got to the Secular Hall eventually. Being an hour early, I invested in a fry up where I bumped into representatives of Cycle Sheffield who had the same idea! As the small crowd gathered, it was pointed out that my rear tyre was going down and I had to repair a puncture from a piece of sharp grit - so much for National Route 6! Still, a repair took me 10 minutes which wasn't too embarrassing. We then went of for a ride.

The first place we visited on Saturday was the St Matthew's area to the north of the city where we passed though an small industrial area into residential streets of terraced houses with yards laid out on a grid, mainly with traffic calmed 20mph Zones and some one way streets before cutting through Cossington Recreation Ground. It was all very relaxed until we headed south onto Belgrave Road which was a typical British High Street which attempted to stuff all uses into one street with the outcome that it is hostile to walking and cycling and not at all fitting as its status as Leicester's "Golden Mile". 

We then reached Belgrave Circus which is a large roundabout which has had a flyover removed (as part of a deal with Sainsbury's which was moving out of town) and is being remodelled to reconnect the Belgrave area back to the city. The roundabout being signalised allowed Toucan crossings on the northern and southern side of the roundabout which pushes a wide path through the middle shared by those walking and riding cycles. 

To be honest, I didn't care for the surface. Although flat, it was covered in 3 - 6mm stone surface dressing which was still losing material (it takes time to bed in). The colour is attractive and a lift compared to black asphalt, but it won't be as hard wearing as bound materials which would have given a better ride quality. The shared path was wide by UK standards, but given the fairly blank slate, a separate cycle track could have been provided. We crossed back towards the city in the centre of the street which had been changed to continue the walking and cycling link.

A wide view of the centre of the roundabout
We headed back to the city, passing under the Burley Flyover and awful roundabout and with the roads being generally awful until we reached the clock tower in the pedestrianised core of the city centre - more on that next week, but suffice to say, cycling is allowed!

We quickly arrived at the western side of the city core (inside the ring road) at Jubilee Square which until recently, was a car park. The square had a level surface shared space area to one side which was relatively traffic free when we were there, providing some access to this part of the city and somewhere for taxis to wait. The "carriageway" area was demarced with tactile paving to assist visually impaired people, although I don't know what the views of local access groups are.

Jubilee Square in October 2012 (image from Google)

Jubilee Square now!

An interesting little point to note is that the square is a restricted parking zone with some loading and access provision, but with minimum signage and no yellow lines (which are not needed in an RPZ). It is a masterclass in how to do RPZs well!

RPZ repeater sign showing no parking or loading - nice!

Loading bay at the edge of the square, the loading area is marked
out by the small element paving and you can see one of two signs
mounted to the wall of the building showing the end of the bay.

We looped around the city edge passing the Richard III Visitor Centre, itself in a very handsome street before heading out to Southgates to look at a new bidirectional cycle track hewn from a paved area next to the ring road.

There were harrowing scenes as kerb nerds started to measure the width of the track (3 metres) and the upstand of the kerb as it was stepped down from the footway. The step down was 40mm and the kerb was a 45 degree splay. This has a splay which is 75mm high and so the surfacing had been laid higher to take the kerb face face down. 

Even on my small wheels, I easily popped up and down the kerb without coming off, but I will admit, it wasn't completely what we would call "forgiving". The track carried on for a bit and we skirted Jubilee Square reaching St. Nicholas Circle (part of the A47).

We continued west on a cycle track taken from a lane of the main road, crossing the River Soar before turning off the main road using a bollard separated cycle lane into Duns Lane and beyond through the edge of De Montford University where we rode a section of the National Route 6 which I first came into the city on.

We looped around some derelict areas on the edge of Bede Park before heading back to the city, stopping to admire the kerbs and tarmac of Newarke Street which had another bidirectional cycle track won from a traffic lane of the ring road. The track was on the north side of the street by intervention of the Mayor because it was the sunny side - serious political interest in my view!

The recently constructed cycle track is 3.4 metres in width (excluding kerbs), it is machine-laid, smooth and induces a grin when one uses it. Sadly it is all too short (although more is planned) and it is let down by toucan crossings which are a bit of a fudge for crossing the roads at junctions. I do recall one 2 stage non-staggered crossing going green on both sides which was enough to cycle across both roads (although I assume pedestrians won't be able to make it across both sides. It does mean lots of tactile paving where separated facilities become shared at the crossings which is a clumsy, but I can only think, pragmatic solution for now. 

The cycle rack is stepped down from the footway and this is ingeniously achieved by laying a standard half-battered kerb on its side with the batter creating a forgiving splay of about 15 degrees. 

The kerb nerds were soon bumping up and down with no fear of being thrown off. Even though there is a rounded edge where the kerb meets the surface of the cycle track, it is negligible and won't catch a wheel. I will stick my neck out and suggest that this is one of the UK's best. Pedestrians have no trouble crossing the kerb, the step up is low and people using wheelchairs or pushing buggies will have no issues with this kerb in my view.

There are a couple of issues with using the half-battered kerb on its back though. First, it can only be laid is straight lines or radii of over 12 metres (no curved units are available). In addition, the kerb will need to be properly bedded on concrete and in turn the bedding founded on a decent base otherwise any overrunning by the odd van (we saw one) or a mechanical sweeper will "pop" them out.

The machine-laid surface (I think) is AC10 (10mm asphaltic concrete), although the stone was a little duller than I expected - it may be a dark stone with a red binder which is being polished off, but I am not entirely sure.

There is a side road (Marble Street) which is a one-way into Newarke Street. The cycle track is continuous across the side road (although the dip down to the road might have been done better). The footway kind of carried on across, but blister tactile paving was provided - I assume because vision from the side road was limited by building lines.

As it turns out, there have been a couple of cycle vs car crashes (drivers are perhaps more interested in looking right for traffic as they enter the one-way road), although we were informed that the road is being planned for closure as access could be taken elsewhere. There are more plans for the area and so time will tell.

I'm not sure about that bollard!
After we had finished admiring Leicester City's handiwork, we cruised back to the Secular Hall where we were well fed with Falafel (a first for me) before getting into the serious business of discussing infrastructure which was kicked off by Brian Deegan's talk on 22 little things and 1 big thing he had picked up designing for cycling - the debate on the interpretation of S65 of the Highways Act 1980 may have been a little too much for some of the campaigners to bear (although I maintain that I was right!)

So, that was Day 1 - there will be a post next week looking at some of the less engineered features we saw, together with some personal views on the weekend. Finally, for this post, I do need to claim some Build a Better World Bingo points (#BaBWBingo):

 I claim a point for volunteering to write this blog post (and next week's!), a rode with a politician and I was in "normal" clothes (hat optional). I have also used my photos as a talking point with some of the people in my team too, so I claim the teaching point, plus followers of this blog might learn something too!

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Lazy Post

Look, I will level you, I have run out of steam this week and so this week's post is a lazy bit of navel-gazing.

It's been a bitter-sweet few weeks in London with more people being killed riding their bicycles, but some big schemes starting on site in Central London. There is also something very interesting being proposed for the Whipps Cross Roundabout in Waltham Forest. In London (well some parts at least) it does feel that things might be happening now - certainly far more interesting things than the splurges of blue paint which were passed off as cycling infrastructure when I started this blog.

Normal service will be resumed next week as I will be attending the reinvigorating weekend (tomorrow and Sunday) which is the Cycling Embassy of Great's Britain's AGM and Infrastructure Summit, being held in Leicester. I am looking forward to seeing more interesting UK infrastructure and I am hoping to show that perhaps we do know what we are doing only if we have money and political will. Of course, meeting people will be equally as interesting as will the kerb-nerdery which will take place (yes, my tape measure and spirit level are packed).

So, in the meantime, have a wonderful weekend, whether it riding bicycles or wandering about!

Looking forward to bicycles and cricket being the new definition of
Englishness (sorry rest of the UK!)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Great(ish) Yarmouth

As you may know, I was on my hols the other week and during our time away we went to Great Yarmouth a couple of times. 

The first time was to take the kids to the Pleasure Beach and we enjoyed a glorious day of rides, sun and junk food. On the way back to pick up the car (yes I know, but I have a patient family), I couldn't resist taking a photo of the street outside.

South Beach Parade has been designed as a pay-and-display car park, pure and simple, but even at the end of the day during the school half term it was pretty much deserted. I did scoff and I did tweet my contempt for the layout. The thing is, the Pleasure Beach has a car park which is free to those getting a day ticket to the theme park and just behind where I took the photo, there is plenty of roads without parking controls.

A couple of days later, we decided to go further north to the main beach and town as the Pleasure Beach is some way from the heart of the action. We parked on the outskirts, perhaps 10 minutes walk from the beach. At this stage its stating that Great Yarmouth suffers from awful traffic congestion, a proportion of which must be caused by people like me driving in as a tourist - perhaps park-and-ride is part of the answer for getting people in?

The building and covered area beyond is to rest the horses pulling
carts along the sea front and to pick up fares - very much like a taxi
For those living within a reasonable distance of a town, there is of course another way to get around. I don't know what the network is otherwise like, but there was a surprise to be had. There is a road set back from the main carriageway of Marine Parade and it is marked with a curious sign - shared use by bicycle, horse & cart and trains? I didn't have my bicycle with me, but I did pop off for twenty minutes for a wander while the kids went on some more rides! 

Essentially, this road is about 4.5 metres in width (I didn't have a tape measure with me!), it is two-way, machine laid and contains many of the feature I think makes a good cycle track. I would state that I am looking at this in isolation and being on the beach, it means that there are no side roads to worry about which is an issue for two-way tracks. A series of photos follow which I think give the feel of the layout and I will offer some thoughts at the end.

 First, the general layout. On the left, the main carriageway for traffic (with the odd parking bay and bus stop), a planted buffer zone, the shared-use road, a contrasting footway strip which contains things such as street lighting and benches and then a very wide promenade. Kerbs are low on the buffer side (chamfered would be perfection) and flush on the promenade side - this might be an issue for some visually impaired people, although the strip has colour and texture contrast which helps.

 Most of the pedestrian crossings over the shared-use road and the main carriageway are uncontrolled, but there are some Puffin crossings in key places which will suit some pedestrians. I am not sure that the stagger helps too much and it means pedestrians have to wait twice - perhaps Zebra crossings would be better and humped on the main road.

 Not only do we have a buffer between the main road and the shared-use road, parking is on the outside of the buffer and the planting gives way to a surfaced area so those leaving cars don't affect the shared-use road. You can just see the bicycle-friendly gully.

 An entrance/ exit to the shared-use road which heads over the the closed road beyond. The turn into and out of this access is really tight and with not much waiting space. The crossing of the main road is awful too - no protection and difficult when the traffic is busy.

 An uncontrolled (courtesy, informal) crossing of the shared-use road and the main road (which has a pedestrian refuge). People seems to cope fine with this. The strip between the shared-use road and promenade put to good use to place street furniture and to give pedestrians a buffer from the shared-use road (a bit of experienced safety perhaps?) The crossing point has tactile paving for visually impaired people.

 There are a couple of car parks on the seaward side of the shared-use track and some access to businesses. The accesses are laid out to require drivers to give way to the shared-use road in both directions, although I would like to have seen the first give way set back behind the footway. In the buffer area, the depth is about 4 metres which is too small to store a car - 6 metres would have been a minimum, but there is compromise to be had. Note the grey strip of cobbles between the shared-use road and promenade helps reinforce the visual priority of the shared-use road over drivers leaving the car park. There are also bollards which carry the shared-use signs and also mark the shared-use road for drivers - a good use of bollards in my view.

The "train" running on the shared-use road is a small road train. It doesn't go fast, although might still be intimidating to some cycling - plus at the "stations", one would have to overtake. The "stations" are also floating bus stops for the main road bus stops, although it means people have to cross the shared-use road to get to them if they are using the seating in the shelter. The main road bus stops were in laybys which could so easily be filled in with duplicate shelters and seating. Cycle parking is also provided, although I can't see it being linked to parking up to ride the bus, unless one is going a long way.

As with anything half-decent in the UK, it comes to an end all too soon, although getting back into traffic is with traffic signals and at least one is protected for a few seconds. I don't know how this scheme was developed, but it could have continued, there is loads of space. I didn't really see how things went on from here, but I suspect there wasn't much of a dense cycle network in the town.

Looking back from the other end just shows the space. This could have had the cycle lane to the left with a buffer created by the taxi rank. The cycle lane is provided with flush kerbs which could so easily have been stepped as a track. Oh, and the road train parked in the lane doesn't help.

I don't know why this scheme was built, although I suspect it was perhaps more to do with the tourist draws of the horse & cart rides and land train than cycling, but the layout actually ticks quite a number of boxes for cycling. I could easily imagine this layout picked up and stuck by the Embankment in London for example and indeed, the principles would hold for single-direction tracks on both sides of a road. Someone seems to know what they were doing, but I have yet to track down when this scheme was opened and who designed it.

People often say that we need to learn best practice from overseas and perhaps import Dutch and Danish engineers. I say that schemes like this show that we can do things well in the UK, it is just we are so bad and building networks. Imagine a grid made of cycle routes designed to the principles of Great Yarmouth on main roads, with filtered permeability elsewhere - it would be a pretty fine start!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

#Quaxing Lyrical : Part 1

For those who don't know, I have invested £60 in a trailer for my bicycle and as usual, I have been able to turn the mundane (come on, it is) into a learning experience.

This is the first of two posts about my trailer experiences - I will write the next one when I have used it for a while and when I have had time to look at some of the physical details in terms of the space needed to move around with a trailer. First, what is "quaxing"? Well, the word came into being as a result of comments made by councillor Dick Quax from Auckland, New Zealand who suggested that nobody would lug their shopping home on the train.

As is with these things and the Internet, they gain a life of their own and so was coined the definition;

Quax, [verb; past: quaxed, present: quaxing] — to shop, in the western world, by means of walking, cycling or public transit. 

My new trailer - articulating at the seat stem.
OK, a bit of fun and it gives a name to the mundane act of people getting around while carrying stuff with them. As it happens, I had been toying with the idea of getting a trailer for my bicycle, ostensibly to get Ranty Junior to cricket without having to take the car as our local park is a pain to, well park at (although for some away matches, it will still have to be by car). I didn't want to spend much money and so I plumped for a trailer by Veelar.  

The trailer consists of a metal frame which carries a 70 litre plastic box (which apparently can take 50kg) and is attached by an arm to a ball and socket arrangement via a tow-bar attached to the seat stem of the bicycle. The trailer has a folding stand, a cover and a pair of sturdy 16" wheels. I got mine from Amazon and it is sadly out of stock at the moment, but there are plenty of comparable products out there. 

I first took the trailer out a couple of weeks ago (my first every ride with a trailer) and it was immediately obvious that I had to change my riding style and the limitations of the local cycling infrastructure were thrown into sharper relief. Despite being attached at the seat stem, the trailer turned the bicycle into a mini-articulated vehicle and although I could still manage fairly tight turns, the trailer doesn't quite follow the same line. By that I mean that the rear of the trailer swings out ever so slightly more than the wheels (overhang) and the trailer tracks inside the path of the bicycle (cut-in) - an identical dynamic to that of an articulated lorry. The immediate issue is therefore tight turns where there are also posts to avoid - classic UK cycle track territory! In fact, why have we got tight turns on cycle tracks at all, they are awful for towing a trailer on and that must mean that mobility scooter users have a crap time too,

Ride quality shows up too. The difference between a hand-laid cycle track and machine-laid carriageway is all too apparent with the trailer bouncing along the former. Further evidence (if any where needed) that all cycle tracks should be machine-laid for the comfort of all users. Ramps are another problem. Giving way to each side road is a pain in terms of bumping down and up ramps and this is made so much worse by wretched kerb upstands which are also a nightmare for mobility scooter and wheelchair users as well as those pushing buggies. All together now - "may your kerbs be flush and ramps gentle".

On one of my trailer journeys, I have had to negotiate a staggered Toucan crossing. It is on my usual commute and at the best of times, I do try and time things so I can go around the island (only safe in one direction) to avoid the stagger. I can do the same with the trailer, but when going the other way (where one needs to use the island), I found that having to turn right and then left on the island to the second crossing, I couldn't actually reach the push-button without getting off. Again, a lesson in access for all.

The combination is of course longer than the bike itself!

One other piece of "infrastructure" I have encountered with my trailer is a series of "priority pinch points" along the next street to mine. There are islands in pairs where only one vehicle can pass through the middle and with alternating priority indicated by signs. The idea is that traffic flow along the street is calmed by the priorities. The ones near me have cycle bypasses which I can cope with normally, but the trailer is a different matter. The trailer is slightly narrower than my handlebars, but you don't want to get too close to the kerb and certainly, if your handlebars track over the kerb, you are in trouble with a trailer. The trouble is, some drivers didn't expect me to take the lane to come through, although I think they were more worried than me. For a hand-cyclist, these bypasses would be a no go area.

Door to door service with a biycle and trailer!
My final experience to cover in this post is parking. With many cycle hoops plopped on the footway, those at 90 degrees to the kerb are no good for a bicycle and trailer combo, unless you want to block the footway! Parking hoops parallel to the kerb were best, although one had to get onto the footway to park (again, a major issue for those who cannot do so). Where cycle parking is to be placed on the carriageway, anything at 90 degrees to the kerb is going to be useless (unless really deep) - something for the cycle parking designer to think about. I guess than in any run, put the first hoop in parallel so that the trailer-cyclist can pull left and park and leave plenty of space for the trailer - my set up is 2.8m long and 750mm wide! One other thing, you definitely need a stand when using a trailer, fortunately, my double leg type was a timely purchase a few months ago!

I have enjoyed my first few weeks of advanced quaxing and when looking at it financially, I have so far made 8 trips (i.e. in a single direction). This is 8 trips of under 2 miles avoided by car, but which would not be possible on foot. I could have used the bus (at £1.50 per journey - £12 so far), but I would be subject to a timetable and the bicycle is proper door to door stuff, including being able to park next to the cricket pitch! So, the point to leave you with this week is had the places I cycled with the trailer been properly designed for all, then my trailer exploits would have been second nature and this is another great example of the "beyond the bicycle" concept of inclusivity.

For further insights into cargo cycling, then this blog by Krister Isaksson is well worth a read. Thanks to Dmitri Fedortchenko of Move By Bike for the link.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Holidays On Foot

Well, I am back from my week off and thanks to the patience of my family, I was able to capture a few snaps of some interesting street-type stuff for future posts. But this week, some thoughts on using one's feet when on holiday.

A level surface shared space which works for people. The road goes
nowhere for vehicles (which is only accessed by those needing to
get to their caravans) and it feels very safe for all.
Like thousands of others at half term, we upped sticks and headed for the seaside for a week away. As we have done the last few years, we stayed at a nice little caravan park near Great Yarmouth and like so many people, the attraction of the site for us is there is a good swimming pool and the children get to go a bit more free-range than they are allowed to at home. By free-range, I mean that our 6 year old (nearly 7) is allowed to go to the playground and on-site shop with her 11 year old brother and he can go to the swimming pool on his own.

Why do the conditions permit such free-ranging? Well, one big plus is that the children don't need to go anywhere near any busy roads to get to amenities which are all within a 5 minute walk. This is a similar selling point for other holiday destinations such as Center Parcs and Butlins (hell, even all in leisure resorts!) - cars are seldom being used and the people on foot are in charge of the space. 

A network of well maintained and direct pathways means that it is
easier and quicker to get around this mini-neighbourhood on foot.
Caravan parks still have roads with parking either being next to the caravan or in groups in parking courts. Aside from the odd service vehicle and people going off site for the day, there are few vehicles to be seen; these places are subjectively safe with high levels of experienced safety. Of course, roads in holiday parks don't go anywhere (so no through traffic) and throw in some nice pathways to create extra permeability for pedestrians, we get something quite good for people in my view.

Perhaps not a "pretty" street, but cars are stored conveniently and
out of the way and they are there by invitation into the pedestrian's
The experience of children being able to walk around on their own (perhaps with an older sibling) and parents not having to worry is much rarer when we get back home to our neighbourhoods which are full of rat-running and speeding traffic, footway parking and busy roads which adults find difficult to cross, let alone unaccompanied children! Why more people aren't clamouring for the same at home is beyond me.

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places, but our stay in the caravan proves that we don't need showman designers and expensive materials to make something which has a high sense of place and works for people; this makes me happy!

OK, I have probably over-analysed this (after all I did read Jan Gehl's "Cities for People" last week), but there are countless little examples of how things can be done right and I guess the challenge is to distill this into decent guidance, supported by data - more than holiday anecdotes, I'm sure!