Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Outer London Junctions

I've ummed and ahhed over the investigation by Caroline Russell AM into walking and cycling at Outer London junctions for the Greater London Authority Transport Committee.

One the one hand, I think it could almost end up in stating the bleedin' obvious. On the other hand, it's fantastic that someone is finally talking about my part of the city when the central area seems to get most coverage. We know there is huge potential for cycling and in places walking has great growth potential if it wasn't for barriers.

The difficulty for me is that I could go through a selected number of junctions and point out what's good or bad about them, but I'm not sure that's helpful. So, I'll answer the specific questions being posed by the investigation and also, to remind you that if you wish to submit evidence, then you've got until the 11th of August. 

I'll try and stick to junctions, but there also needs to be thought about the approaches and indeed, if the links are terrible, then even the best junction scheme may not help. However, junctions are the right place to start because that is where risk to people walking and cycling is highest and where physical barriers can be most significant. My thoughts are a bit rough and ready, but I've a lot on at the moment, so I'm just putting them out there! 


1. What lessons can be learned from previous junction improvements, either in London or in other cities?
"Improvement" is a loaded word and is often taken as shorthand as increasing capacity for motor traffic, rather than something which will also properly take walking and cycling into account. The greatest lesson should be recognising this and thinking about walking and cycling as modes which need proper consideration and integration in junction schemes.

2. How successful have recent junction improvements been in improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists?
There are certainly some great examples being implemented as part of the Waltham Forest and Enfield Mini-Holland schemes which have properly considered cycling. But there have also been schemes which have not considered cycling at all; and walking remains a mode to be fitted in around capacity for motor traffic capacity. Where walking and cycling is properly thought about, then people can move through junctions in experienced and actual safety terms.

Ruckholt Road. Cycling is designed for.

3. How successful have recent junction works been in increasing the take up of walking and cycling?
This is a tricky question to answer. Change to a single junction is unlikely to create conditions which will increase walking and cycling alone - this is a network level issue often needing mass action at junctions and links. Again, the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland scheme leads the way in dealing with all types of junction appropriately. Whether it is the large signalised type such as Ruckholt Road (above) or continuous footways/ cycle tracks across a side roads which have been deployed all over.

4. Are there any examples of low cost solutions that could be rolled out across a large number of junctions?
It's a big "depends on context". With large Outer-London junctions such as those involving TfL trunk roads, then walking and cycling need space and time provided within traffic signal staging - parallel crossings are also preferable to shared Toucan crossings, unless flows are very low and it's just about crossing the road. Signals work is never "low cost", but it's relative - the image below provides a parallel "simultaneous green" crossing treatment for people walking and cycling (at least by UK rules) and this is scalable.

Where side roads meet larger roads, then continuous footways and cycle tracks can be provided (although the rest of the link would need treatment for protected cycling in due course). A good model is for the side road to be one-way out onto the major road.


5. What are the biggest barriers to people walking and 
cycling in Outer London?
People simply don't feel safe interacting with traffic. TfL has shown this in its "Attitudes Towards Cycling" (2015) report where it is stated that;

Cyclists naturally don’t feel as safe when cycling on busy roads. 56 per cent feel unsafe compared with 44 per cent who feel safe.

This is the attitude of existing people who cycle. The British Social Attitudes Survey (2017) states;

In 2015, 64% of respondents agreed that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the road, the same level as in 2014.

We keep asking this question and we keep getting the same answer. We will continue to get the same answer as people do not want to cycle with heavy traffic. This is "experienced safety" and no matter how much we tell people cycling is "safe", unless they feel safe, they won't cycle.

Walking is similar in terms of people feeling safe and it is at junctions where people walking are most likely to interact with drivers. Many junctions are designed for motor traffic capacity and/ or large vehicles. Most junctions are laid out so that people walking have to find a gap in traffic - even in side streets. With larger signalised junctions, people walking sometimes have traffic signals. However, many require crossing to take place in several stages which can take a long time to traverse - especially on the diagonal. The photo below shows a typical Outer-London layout.

6. What would enable people to walk and cycle more in 
Outer London?
I'm pleased to see the word "enable"! We need to make walking and cycling easy and this means treating the modes with proper respect, especially at junctions. In many cases, this will require a rebalancing of road space because the modes have all but been designed out.

7. What changes to roads and paths would make it easier of 

more appealing for people to walk and cycle in Outer 

TfL trunk roads should have (by default) decent footways and cycle tracks along them. The width and method of separation will vary (often by how busy for walking). In some locations, a 3.5m shared-use path might be appropriate if walking flows are very low (bus stops tend to draw more people to them). When flows are higher, then they should be separated. A decent basic standard would be a 1.8m footway, 2.5m (3m is better) cycle track and a verge buffer of a decent width (2m is ideal). 

Parts of CS3 along the A13 show a good minimum standard and the separation between walking and cycling is helpful and there are often busier areas of footway where bus stops are provided.

This approach isn't just needed on TfL trunk roads. There are still dual-carriageway borough roads and also borough A-roads which need similar treatment. Although this investigation is about junctions, we should not lose sight of decent road crossings as from a walking and cycling point of view, these are essentially junctions for those modes.

Outer London high streets are probably the most difficult places to deal with because we often try and run them as shopping streets and strategic roads at the same time. If we are to enable walking and cycling, then it is likely that we will need to decide that these will need to operate for people and not motor vehicles.

At the smaller end of the scale, we need to filter out motor traffic from residential and local streets. People like to walk and cycle in quiet streets (as shown in the TfL report mentioned under question 5).


8. Are there any examples where the needs of pedestrians 
have come into conflict with the needs of cyclists at 

Areas where walking and cycling are lumped together (unless flows are very low) is built-in conflict. Many TfL trunk roads use "sheep pens" at junctions for people walking and cycling to cross which also builds in conflict (and are difficult for some people to use). There are plenty of examples around the Gants Hill area on the A12.

9. How might junction improvements that help pedestrians 
and cyclists affect other road users?
Some schemes can be designed to be neutral to other road users (the term here must mean drivers and bus passengers). If a junction has an all green pedestrian stage, then cycling can easily be accommodated with toucan crossings or parallel signaled crossings. In other situations, rebalacing will mean giving capacity to walking and cycling. 

10. What needs to be in place to support the needs of 
those with disabilities and visual impairments? 
Many signalised crossings have push-buttons placed in hard to reach locations for those using mobility scooters and indeed non-standard cycles. The photo below is a bit of fun, but as the rider of this cargo cycle, I can't reach push buttons without dismounting - many people cannot dismount.

Staggered crossings are also really difficult to use for people using mobility scooters and non-standard cycles because of the awkward turns. If there really is a strong motor traffic capacity issue (which I have to accept in certain places), then the answer might be decently laid out 2-stage non-staggered crossings;

Where continuous footways are being provided across side roads, there is little design guidance or debate on what visually impaired people require. On the one hand, continuous footways (and cycle tracks) can reinforce priority for walking (and cycling) as the footway takes priority. However, some visually impaired people are concerned that despite priority, they feel unsafe walking into an area where they will more likely interact with drivers. This means that tactile paving might be useful such as this arrangement in Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex;

Where walking and cycling space is being provided through junctions, then clear demarcation will be helpful for visually impaired people. Stepped cycle tracks can help with detecting them and if forgiving kerbs are used, then those using adapted cycles can easily leave the track (to enter premises). The photo below shows a footway with a full-height kerb where visually impaired people might need help detecting edge of footway. Beyond, the track is stepped and separated by a forgiving kerb.


11. What would be the main challenges of improving Outer 

London’s junctions for pedestrians and cyclists, and how 

could these be addressed?
There is significant political resistance to schemes which might actually or perceptively seen as reducing motor traffic capacity or the ease of driving. This resistance is extended to many people living in Outer London who see walking and especially cycling as marginal activity; despite many households or those in households not having access to cars (for example a parent may drive to work, but another parent may do the school run and shopping without a car). I would say this is the principal challenge. The resistance to rebalancing streets applies whether we are talking about building infrastructure on main roads or trying to filter side streets.

We also have issues with a shortage of engineering skills and knowledge in London generally, as well as senior officer leadership in the boroughs being vested in non-technical people who can sometimes have similar views as councillors with no desire to enable change.

Funding is also a significant issue for many Outer London boroughs where walking and cycling schemes are funded hand to mouth, rather than as a programme - the Mini-Holland schemes seem to be the exception with Waltham Forest being class leaders.

12. Should spending be prioritised, for instance on certain 

areas of Outer London or certain types of journey?
The Watham Forest Mini-Holland model is definitely the way forward to allow a mass-action deployment of measures. I would advocate looking at areas of perhaps 2 to 3 miles around the Outer London Metropolitan Centres as this will help with commuting (to the centres, plus railway stations within), shopping and leisure facilities plus schools and other community hubs.

13. Is there a need for a bigger overall budget to improve 

junctions in Outer London?
Absolutely. There also needs to be investment in the Transport for London road Network in Outer London which presents a significant barrier in many parts of Outer London.

Sticking with junctions, there are some really large junctions, ring roads (with awful junctions for walking and cycling) and gyratories in Outer London. Some are on TfL roads, some borough roads and some where they meet. Some places which would benefit from review are as follows (and are by no means exhaustive, because they're in the east!) Many are good examples of situations where you might treat people walking and cycling through the junctions better, but the roads around them are just as hostile.

The north side of the junction is passable for walking, but the south side is hard work with multiple crossings. There are some cycle tracks (on footways), but they are indirect and not in any way legible. Cycling through the junction is frankly terrifying.

These town centres have ring-roads (partial in the case of Ilford). Most of the junctions are purely design for traffic flow and so walking routes are convoluted and cycling provision is sporadic. Cycling on the dual carriageways is reserved from the fit and the brave.

There are at least toucan crossings through this junction, but they require crossing many arms and so it can take ages to get through.

This is a standard example where walking and cycling next to a TfL trunk road means stopping to check behind oneself when crossing to check nobody is turning left from it at speed.

Both are large roundabouts with trunk road flyovers. Lodge Avenue is larger and signalised as so there are Toucans available to cross. As is common with many locations, it takes several crossings to get through and some parts build in pedestrian/ cycle conflict. Gallows Corner is smaller, but as only two arms has signalised crossings, it is tricky to get round for people walking and cycling (who are lumped together).

There are quite a few large suburban roundabouts like this. There are some zebra crossings close to the roundabout, but the geometry promotes high driver speeds into and out of the roundabout. There is absolutely no thought given to people who may want to cycle.

This roundabout was signalised some years ago and now has Toucans around it with shared footways. The problem is, the crossings are two stage and frankly, nobody would really want to cycle on the dual carriageways which converge on the roundabout with painted lanes.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Laughing Gas*

The Government released it's plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations last week and rather than critically appraising its content, the media predictable leapt on one tiny aspect and made it the whole story.

What could possibly have got such massive interest? The disconnect between the biggest road building plan since the 1970s and the impact on public health? No. 

The fact that the plan is trying to dump the problem on the very local authorities who have had their funding decimated since 2010 while having more responsibilities increased? A bit closer, but still no.

What the media concentrated on was two words in the entire 103 page document. On page 34 to be precise - "road humps";

Improving road layouts and junctions to optimise traffic flow, for example by considering removal of road humps

The comment is within a section on "Clean Air Zones" which are things which a local authority can put in place (or be made to put in place). It's a specific action which can be taken (in terms of establishing a clean air zone) and is designed to make the quickest impact on NO2 levels. the zones can either use a charging regime (similar to that of the London Low Emission Zone from what I can see) or a non-charging regime; and this is where road humps come in (or not as the case may be).

What causes air pollution. Let me think.
The full text of examples of measures for a non-charging zone is as follows;

107. The Framework provides a range of non-charging measures which local authorities can use, for example:

a. Exploring innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels;

b. Buying ULEVs and encouraging local transport operators to do the same;

c. Encouraging private uptake of ULEVs via ensuring adequate chargepoints;

d. Encouraging use of public transport, cycling, walking, park and ride schemes, car clubs and car sharing;

e. Improving road layouts and junctions to optimise traffic flow, for example by considering removal of road humps; and

f. Working with local businesses and neighbouring authorities to ensure a
consistent approach.

The framework referred to is the one used to set up a Clean Air Zone which is a specific thing for a specific place with high levels of NO2. Let's be honest, this list of actions is so wishy-washy as to be meaningless.

"Innovative retro-fitting technologies and new fuels" - what does that even mean? Unless there is some amazing new fuel-source just waiting to be discovered - it's all just words. Improving road layouts is just short-hand for adding motor-traffic capacity. The non-charging clean air zone approach is just a continuation of the failed idea that technology and encouragement will save us. In fact, it's a blueprint of doing anything other than tackling the car-addicted UK.

Where are the high NO2 levels?
Traffic-calmed estates or main roads?
I digress. In the day job, requests for traffic calming (including road humps) is standard post-bag fare. I have a love-hate relationship with them as they are not the answer to residential streets plagued with speeding drivers, but they have their place. I still think they are useful as "speed tables" at junctions and frankly, sometimes sticking lumps of tarmac in the way is he only language some drivers understand. Of course, I'm more interested in filtered side streets and decent walking and cycling protection on main roads (which allows tight traffic lanes and road geometry to reduce speeds). Population-level interventions rather than encouraging (and subsidising) someone to buy a new car.

I prefer modal filtering to road humps,
but they still have a place.
The problem is people have also read the news headlines and I've had a few enquiries this week saying that the Government is to order the removal of humps because they are proven to "cause" pollution - says so in the Daily Sun Expressgraph. People simply cannot comprehend that "they" are the cause of the pollution, especially those short local journeys which don't even get their car engines warmed up to proper running temperature.

There is a place for technology of course. The car is with us for the foreseeable future and cleaner energy sources (from generation to use) can make a difference. We also need cleaner buses, lorries and public service vehicles. But as someone cleverer than me said "we need fewer cars, not newer cars".

As for the rest of the Air Quality Action Plan, well, it's pushing quite a few things and reannouncing quite a few too;

£1 billion – ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs). This includes investing nearly £100m in the UK’s charging infrastructure and funding the Plug In Car and Plug In Van Grant Schemes.

£290 million – National Productivity Investment Fund. In the Autumn Statement 2016, a further £290 million was committed for reducing transport emissions which includes £60 million for new buses and £40 million for bus retrofits, £50 million for a Plug In Taxi programme and £80 million for ULEV charging infrastructure.

£11 million – Air Quality Grant. We have awarded over £11 million under our Air Quality Grant scheme to help local authorities improve air quality.

£89 million – Green Bus Fund. The UK government has invested a total of almost £89 million via the Green Bus Fund to help bus companies and local authorities in England to put over 1,200 new low carbon buses on the roads.

£27 million – Clean Bus Technology Fund and Clean Vehicle Technology Fund. Since 2013, government has awarded over £27 million to retrofit almost 3,000 of the oldest vehicles (mainly buses) including through the Clean Bus Technology Fund and the Clean Vehicle Technology Fund.

£1.2 billion – Cycling and walking. In April 2017, the UK government published its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy which identifies £1.2 billion which may be invested in cycling and walking from 2016-2021.

£100 million – National road network. Through the Road Investment Strategy, the UK government has allocated a ring-fenced £100 million for an Air Quality Fund available through to 2021 for Highways England to help improve air quality on its network.

The other thing that runs through the plan is that as NO2 is a local issue, it is up to local authorities to take the lead. Presumably this is because people will giving their local council the kicking rather than the Government when they either try and be radical, but upset the locals; or they fail and upset the locals. It's all weak and woolly as usual, but at least they are going to deal with those awful road humps.

*Yeah, I'm not a chemist as you might have guessed.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ride London Freecycle: Beyond The Bicycle Edition

So, that's another RideLondon Freecycle done and as usual, there was a cracking turnout. I'm going to keep it short this week and let the photos do the talking, but first, a few thoughts.

Perhaps it's because I'm getting more attuned to non-standard and adapted cycles because of some research I have been undertaking recently, but I am convinced there were more out for the event this year than ever before. Of course, there's always some crazy cycles, but there were cargobikes, adapted cycles, recumbents - well, you'll see more in a minute.

I say it ever year, but if you give people proper protection from motor traffic, then they will be out in their droves. Where people feel really safe, you'll see all manner of machines being ridden by all manner of people. So, I give you the Beyond The Bicycle Edition of the Freecycle.



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Zone Control

I wrote a blog post on traffic orders quite a while back, but I though it worth returning to the subject to talk about the use of pedestrian and cycle zones which are normally a town centre thing, but it needn't be so.

I'm no fan of the Organised Taxi Lobby™, but some people rely on them and even I must accept that lorries are going to be with us for a while yet, so I though it worth showing how we can use the tools we already have to enable selected access to specific areas;

Actually, I think most of you will have seen some of this in action in pedestrian zones which (at their purest) allow walking and cycling at all times with time-based access for deliveries;

The sign above means that the area beyond is a pedestrian zone which operates all of the time into which no motor vehicles (the circular sign) are permitted unless they are loading between 5am to 10am, Sunday to Friday and 5am to 9am on Sunday. The yellow "at any time" means there is no waiting - in other words, if you're in there, it's just for loading; the sign replaces double yellow lines (with repeaters in the zone). The road is also one-way for motor traffic and two-way for cycling (the separate blue sign at the top).

The circular sign in left blank (i.e. no picture of the car and motorcycle) then it would mean "no vehicles", including cycles. It's daft, but sadly prevalent in the UK where deliveries are allowed (at certain times), but cycling is banned.

The properly up to date sign is a "pedestrian and cycle zone";

There is lots of flexibility with this sign. If the time period in the top panel is omitted (like in the photo above) then the zone operates at all times (we can select the times it operates too. The middle panel provides various exceptions which can be in any combination;

  • the legend “buses” or “local buses”
  • the legend “taxis”
  • the legend “for access”, “for loading”, or “for loading by” and the goods vehicle symbol
  • the legend “permit holders”, “permit holder”, and, if appropriate, a permit identifier or identifiers
  • the disabled badge holder symbol
The middle panel can include a time period (as with the photo above) and the time period in the lower panel can also be varied (more like a single yellow line). The lower panel can also be omitted, plus the middle panel can be omitted when the lower panel is omitted. Let's look at some examples;

The sign above tells us that the pedestrian and cycle zone operates all the time, but anyone can load (not just lorries in this case) and taxis can be driven through. Let's have another;

In this case, the pedestrian and cycle zone operates 7-days a week, but between 8am and 6pm. Outside of these hours, anyone can drive through. The only people allowed to enter the zone during the hours of operation are those with the correct permit. OK, one more;

This would be a part time pedestrian and cycle zone which operates on weekdays for an hour in the morning and afternoon. Blue badge holders and permit holders are excepted. This could very easily be a scheme around a school, although because the times will always be the same, there will be a theoretic disadvantage to those wishing to bring a vehicle into the area during holidays - they couldn't (we can't use "term time" on a traffic sign because dates always change).

Having stated this, Edinburgh have manged to get round the term time issue by have the zone operational when lights flash;

This will have "non prescribed traffic signs" approval (under Scottish rules) and forms part of a bigger scheme of "school streets" in the city which seeks to prevent parents driving their children to the school gate.

Zones should also have an end (so people know they have left);

I think this is a great tool and more should be made of it our of town centres as Edinburgh has done. It's not going to work everywhere and it needs enforcement to be effective (although we can use cameras), but in the quest for lower levels of traffic in those places where people live, work and play, we really could push out those who we don't want to drive through an area without to badly affecting those who might need to get in.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

On Your Bike!

This is straight from the Ministry of Stating The Bleedin' Obvious, but I wonder how many people involved in the design, construction and management of walking and cycling infrastructure actually go out and experience what they build on foot or bike?

I've had the opposite thrown at me where it is suggested that younger engineers who don't drive shouldn't be designing "motoring" infrastructure. The argument might have a sliver of point, but the UK design approach rooted so deeply in motor traffic use that much of the references one can use are concerned with accommodating motor traffic. This certainly applies to standards such as the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges as well as more rounded advice such as the now decade old Manual for Streets. It is therefore not especially difficult to design a road layout (in theory), even if one is not a driver because the geometry in which motor vehicles operate is very well defined in guidance. Of course, engineers are trained and they do gain experience so it's not if we are dropping people in at the deep end.

In contrast, there is little modern "official" UK-wide design guidance for active travel and so local and regional publications have appeared to fill the vacuum as well as guidance coming from the industry. As good as some of this stuff is, it never quite has the gravitas of national standards. Sadly, the government appears to have little interest in active travel and its design and delivery is passed off as a matter for local highway authorities. Engineers like to be able to thumb through design guidance and there are many influenced by what they read. Documents such as "Cycle Infrastructure Design" (9 years old) are out of date and don't really grasp what is required, but designs based on it keep popping up. Walking fares even more poorly - perhaps because it is assumed that everyone does it!

Anyway. My point was about people involved in the design, construction and management of walking and cycling infrastructure experiencing what they build (and I'll extend that to decision-makers and the police). Social media is awash with "crap cycle lanes" and staggered pedestrian crossings so it is easy to get drawn into a fug about how this is all delivered, although I do find the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's "Insert Loved One Here" campaign to be a powerful way of highlighting the inadequacies of cycling infrastructure.

It's important to point out poor layouts, but in many ways I think it is more important to showcase what is good. It is even better to get out and experience it; actually it's vital to get out there and experience it with a technical eye. If people designing a narrow staggered crossing had to go and experience it from a mobility scooter or cycle along a bus lane with buses then we might see a change in approach.