Friday, 20 March 2015

Traffic Signal Pie: So Near, Yet So Far

I have covered stand alone signalised crossings before, but an issue popped up over the last few days which is worth airing in its own right.

Our story starts with a video posted by Matt Turner of the Great Gas Beetle blog showing a Puffin crossing within a large signalised junction in Sheffield which had recently been reworked (Streetview variously shows the old layout and works in progress). Before we proceed, watch the video for yourself;

When I first watched it, I couldn't work quite what the problem was, but clearly, people crossing ahead could see a green man shown on the Puffin display - a "near side" display (known as a Pedestrian Display Unit - PDU). The issue is that the green man is actually for the people using the crossing to the left (from where the video starts) with the ahead signal being on the right hand side of the crossing.

Puffin crossings, whether stand alone or within a junction have the PDU above the push button. When a green man is shown, you can cross - my earlier post went into more technical detail as there is pedestrian detection involved too. The push button is normally (but not mandatorily) on the right hand side as you face the crossing which is there for consistency for visually impaired people, but in terms of the PDU, it will normally be placed so it is on the side the traffic is approaching from and they are turned to if one looks at them, one kind of sees the traffic in the background.

In the Sheffield example, the crossing point in question has the PDUs on the approaching traffic side. The side the video is taken has the push button under the display (on the right), but for people crossing back, the PDU is in the left (as you cross) which is on the traffic approach side. For people crossing back, there is a push button on the right (for consistency), but also another on the left. Yes, it does all seem a bit confusing already. 

The video is taken standing on a triangular island from which three crossing emanate, all with various posts, PDUs and push buttons which, on the face of it, are kind of set out correctly with at least a push button on the right and PDUs facing traffic (where displays are on the left, there is also a push button). 

The underlying issue with the layout is that the triangular island is very small and so in terms of the "wrong" green man which is the subject of the video, it is positioned about the same (but mirror image) as the "right" display. Granted it is turned to face traffic, but as that traffic is coming through a central reservation, the "wrong" display is still very easily seen.

The original junction was laid out pretty much the same from what I can make out in Streetview, but the important difference is that it used to have far-sided signals (known as PedX crossings);

In the image above, pink blob and arrow shows where the video was taken. The yellow circles show the push buttons (both on the right) and the green circles show the old far-sided signals. The red circle is the push button for the crossing to the left as shown in the video.

With the old layout, the implication of someone pushing the "wrong" button is that they will never get a green man at the far-sided signal they are looking at. They might think there is a fault and cross in a traffic gap, although given that traffic will be stopped at some point (to let other traffic movements go), a green man would come in automatically. The "wrong" push button might still be an issue for a visually impaired people who may not appreciate the button being on the left. 

With the old layout, the triangular island is still small and so the "wrong" button is still in reach. The junction is very much laid out (was and still is) to maximise the throughput of motorised traffic and as is pretty much always the case with road layouts like this, pedestrians are given several crossings to negotiate, with very small islands to wait on. There are other layout issues, but I will stick to the signals issue.

Of the two layouts, although both poor for pedestrians, the old far-sided signal layout does not create the additional risk of someone mistaking the green man on the wrong signal as theirs. This issue has been debated on Twitter (well so far as you can) and it has been suggested that people should have been taught how to cross and where "their" green man is. I think that is nonsense because we are dealing with people who are fallible and besides, people don't always see official training on such things!

One of the big problems with Puffin crossings is that when they are busy, people not standing immediately next to the display simply cannot see the green man. Imagine this location is busy, some people won't see the red man, but they might see the green and assume they can walk out into live traffic. Where high numbers of people are expected, then a second, high level display can be provided, but it will never be as good as the visibility afforded by a far-sided signal.

There are good reasons to use near-sided signals and that is where far-sided signals could be confusing. The layout on the left is a two stage non-staggered crossing - essentially two separate crossings (Toucans in this case). 

If far-sided signals were used then there is the possibility (perhaps remote in this example) that someone crossing could mistake a green man in the distance on the second crossing as theirs. We can add louvres to the green men (so they can only be seen from the right position), but it is another maintenance issue and they just don't give the same clear view.

This example has a second set of higher level displays, but in reality it never gets that busy and so all in all, I think the right choice has been made in terms of the near-sided signals.

In this next photo (a 2-stage cycle crossing running parallel to a PedX crossing) it is possible to confuse the signal in the distance (circled) red as the signal for the first crossing. There is a signal for those cycling immediately at the crossing point, but it is up on a pole and so you are relying on the secondary signal circled in green. If the far away signal goes green, then again, we have a serious issue. 

The lesson from all of this is that we must always take care that the right signal can only be seen by the right people and this follows for those driving too - there is a phenomenon whereby people's eyes can settle into a particular focus where things further away get noticed before things closer, with signals and PDUs this is called "see through".

What do users think about near side and far side signals? There is some research from 2005 by Transport for London which looked at the views of people using Pelican (far-sided signals) and Puffin (near-sided signals). The conclusion (of quite a detailed study) was;

In summary, Puffin crossings are slightly more likely than Pelican crossings to engender a sense of safety among pedestrians. While neither type of crossing could reasonably be described as presenting any fundamental difficulties of use, Puffin crossings might benefit from a general review of the visibility of pedestrian signals. At some sites, provision of additional signals would solve the problem of obstruction by other pedestrians. Where this is not possible, it will be important to make sure that all Puffin crossings have audible signals as well as visual ones. 

The study was only looking at stand alone crossings; as Pelicans use flashing green men/ amber traffic signals, they are never used at junctions, but it is a useful piece of research in terms of user experience. For a while, TfL was quite interested in using near-side signals for new schemes and upgrades of existing kit and even back then, they were years behind other parts of the country which seemed to have embraced near-sided signals already. Of course, TfL are now more interested in "Countdown" which goes back to far-sided signals with an additional signal which counts down the time left to cross when the green man goes out and before the red man is displayed and they have produced a study showing people like that system too! (a whole other discussion)

The DfT published (now archived) guide to Puffin crossings (near-sided signals). Appendix D sets out some of the other research and the flavour of the document as a whole was in favour of Puffins. Interestingly, there is a section on PDU positioning (p22) and it discusses using "reduced angle of view" PDUs where see through could be an issue. The photo demonstrating the point is from Sheffield City Council! Reduced angle of view is all about the optics in the PDU which can only be see from a narrow angle. From what we understand, Sheffield is looking to rotate the pole of the offending PDU. I am not sure if there is a reduced angle PDU or not, but clearly something needs to be done. I don't know if this will work or not, we shall see.

So, what can we learn from this? For me, it is all about using the right tool for the job and not having a rigid policy one way or another because each site we look at will have its own issues to consider. It is also about checking signal installations at every stage and especially when they have been switched on to make absolutely sure that nobody gets confused. We all need to remember that if there is any confusion, then it is the people outside of the vehicles who will always come off worst.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Have A Pop If You Must

As a local government worker you need a thick skin; working in a highways department, it needs to be like a rhino; and as an engineer, you may want to have a word with Tony Stark about an upgrade.

I have had to deal with some very unhappy "customers"* over the last couple of weeks who were annoyed with the service they were getting (or not which may be more the point for some). I have had shop keepers who hadn't bothered to respond to a consultation and were now upset that we had started on a scheme which included stopping people (potential customers) parking at a bus stop and them driving over the footway (where are we meant to park they cried - tons of space literally round the corner I said). 

I have had the resident who wouldn't accept that I wasn't there to complain to another transport authority on their behalf - they managed to email me to moan about the other authority, but couldn't use the email address I provided to moan direct. Then we have Mr Scattergun who emails everyone he can think of and when he doesn't get an answer the same day, sends another email complaining and we end up with multiple departments and people trying to answer when they really need to butt out and let me respond within ten working days.

Then I had the councillor who wanted to raise (on behalf of a constituent) concern that there was a signalised junction where people found it hard to cross because of a lack of green man, a narrow refuge and lack of gaps in the traffic. The answer of course is a redesign and green men on all arms, but the concern evaporated when the impact on drivers was also explained.

Next up was the complaint by email with a press cutting attached reporting on a collision with the person asking for my comments before they took it further. The complainant disagreed with a decision made a couple of years ago (bus stop again) and clearly wanted to make a fuss. I think my answer will be that they should take it further because that is their intention anyway.

Away from the the day job, the continual whining on Twitter about UK traffic engineers, well, continued (yes, I know there is an off button and I know a lot is probably justified). What would have crowned the fortnight would have been one of my neighbours having a moan about potholes, but at least I was saved from that!

OK, I will put my fortnight into perspective. People continue to get killed and injured on our streets because we have let them be engineered for cars. People still can't travel independently because there are no green men at junctions, buses cannot pull into the stop and people are scared to ride bikes - you know the list as well as I do.

So, have a pop if it makes you feel better, group-blame highway engineers if you must; but remember that underneath the exoskeleton of officialdom, there lies ordinary people and many of them are frustrated as you are.

At least I get to escape on two-wheels from time to time,
even if it is just putting up official notices!

*perhaps people are customers, but it is still a stupid term. As if there is a choice.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Back To The Barriers

I have covered barriers before, but there has been some more discussion on Twitter over the last couple of weeks and so I thought it might be worth revisiting the issue by way of a live scheme, warts and all.

My thoughts stem from a little job we did at work to build a short path from a quiet residential street to a shared-use unsegregated cycle track along a Transport for London trunk road. The scheme was a little bit of sideways thinking, coming from a request made by a local school for children with learning difficulties (many relying on motorised wheelchairs). The school often takes small groups of children to the local superstore to improve their life skills, but the route was quite long and the dropped kerbs in the wider estate poorly laid out or non-existent.

The problem we had (as usual) was a lack of funds and correcting many pairs of dropped kerbs just couldn't be done (of course, it is a sad state of affairs when money is always found for a parking scheme, but I will leave it there). One of my colleagues surveyed the area to see what was needed so we could make a funding bid, but it turned out there was a short cut over a grassed area to a hole in the fence separating the estate from the main road. We had an answer to the problem; remove a section of fence and build a proper path as it would provide a great short cut for the children, plus the cost of the path was a fraction of upgrading lots of dropped kerbs.

To give credit to TfL, they agreed to fund half of the scheme as it would improve access to a bus stop on their main road and we found the rest by nicking little bits from lots of other schemes. Yes, that is what our budgets are like now. We had to get permission from our housing department to build the path as it was on their land which might be developed in the future for housing, although (with agreement) the path is being dedicated as public highway using S228 of the Highways Act 1980 (a handy little piece of legislation!)

We decided from the start that we would allow people to ride bicycles along it as it would connect the residential road to the cycle track on the main road. Although not a state of the art layout (i.e. not a separate track) it would do a fair job given the space we were allowed to use and the meagre funds available. One other issue was that of safety (subjective really). We had this little issue gnawing at us and that was the potential for someone to overshoot the path and end up in the 50mph main road. There is no evidence that people actually do this of course (people don't go lemming on us at side roads for example) but look, we are trying to unlearn decades of thinking.

We were going to put a very short (3m) section of guardrail kerbside on the main road to allay our own worries and we were going to put some signage on it to direct people to local destinations. However, TfL decided against it (their network) but they wanted us to slow people on bikes down because of existing complaints about behaviour on the main road path. The compromise was a pair of staggered barriers. 

The reason TfL has complaints about the main road is that the cycle track is shared-use (unsegregated) and quite narrow. The main road has two lanes in each direction and a proper cycle track in this case would require the loss of a traffic lane or acquisition of land. It is not at all busy with riders or pedestrians, but I can see how people would feel intimidated. The barriers are 2.5m from each other and 0.5m apart (as you look directly at them), as well as being set back from the edge of the main road path. In practice, I have no problem getting through with my bike and I was delighted to see (at a distance) a group of pupils passing without apparent problem today (all using wheelchairs); although we will still be seeking feedback when the scheme is complete (we are waiting for a new lighting column to be connected and the highway process to complete).

Yes, the barriers are perhaps there more to satisfy the concerns of those of us involved in the scheme and this continues to play on my mind. We will keep it under review and perhaps they can come out in the near future; a central bollard might be the answer here (there is one to the right of the path in the first photo we could shift). 

It's one thing to put in barriers to slow people down (I think our scheme is accessible to all despite the barriers), it is another thing to deny people access completely. If I cannot get through on my bike (the handlebars are touching the barrier in the photo to the right), then mobility scooter users and most wheelchair users will not get through (not to mention hand cycles and other bespoke bicycles). This style of barrier is often used as an attempt to stop motorbikes getting through, although it denies many people access completely. If the issue is anti-social use of motorcycles, then the police need to be brought in to deal with the problem.

We don't need to block everything up, we can stick in the odd bollard which will deal with the main issue and that is people taking cars through those places we have built for walking and cycling. Our collective designer brains need to change and we need to let go of these long held "solutions" to problems which probably didn't exist and open things up properly, our little path included. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Tricky Tactiles

It's been an interesting and varied week for me (that's why I like being an engineer), but I am posting about one thing on my mind; the tricky subject of tactile paving.

Blister tactile paving - this one at a zebra crossing.
Tactile paving is ubiquitous on our streets, although those of us in the game and some users are the only people who know what it is for. I was at a workshop with Urban Design London earlier this week where we spent the day talking about tactile paving (living the dream!). 

We were fortunate to have Dr Kit Mitchell with us who was involved in the original research into using tactile paving when at the Transport Research Laboratory - specifically blister paving which is the square grid pattern of "bumps". It was proposed as a way of dealing with the important issue of providing flush kerbs at pedestrian crossing points. Of course, with flush crossings comes a significant safety risk for visually impaired people and so something was needed to show that people were at the edge of the footway. The blister paving was born. It is not a panacea as the blisters can be painful or uncomfortable for some people to walk on - the I'DGO information sheet on the subject is well worth a read.

Theory and practice are often different.
These days we have managed to land ourselves with 7 types of tactile surface/ paving which are often used incorrectly and potentially dangerously! "Guidance on the use of tactile paving surfaces" is the current design guidance which has been in place since 1998 and I would recommend that it is read and digested by designers and campaigners alike as it gives far more detail than I will here. 

The guidance is not without its problems as the layouts tend to be "perfect world" with "real world" examples of how one should cut tactile paving flags properly to fit curves. Maintenance is mentioned, but there is no practical information on how tactile paving should be laid - this would be good for designers, installers and maintainers (more on that later).

There is no legal duty to provide tactile paving, but given the need to ensure our streets are accessible to all as implied by the Equality Act 2010, it should definitely be used where visually impaired people are likely to be walking towards dropped and other flush kerbs at a road edge. There are other layouts in the guidance each giving a slightly different message and certainly, some uses are also of real benefit in terms of the safety of visually impaired people.

I have mentioned the square-grid blister paving which is used wherever people might be crossing the street and the kerb is flush with the road - it could be at a dropped kerb (ramp) or where the road (or a cycle track) is brought up to footway level. Blister paving should always be provided in pairs as we are sending the message to people with reduced or no vision that they are about to enter a road. For zebra crossings and signalised crossings, red blister paving is normally used and normally in an 'L' shape as in the first photo to indicate the push button being on the right for a signalised crossing. The "stem" which runs away from the crossing at right angles is to assist people in locating the crossing position. At other crossings (uncontrolled), a colour contrasting with the surround paving (other than red) is recommended, although people often use buff or light grey. 

Corduroy paving used at steps by the Cutty Sark in
Greenwich, London. The row in the foreground is at the
top of the steps, but there is none at the bottom which
leads into the road. In the distance, there is corduroy top
and bottom. In this layout, there should be two rows
(800mm) as people can miss them when stepping over.
Next we have the "corduroy hazard warning surface" which is a series of "bars" with round tops. It is intended to mean "proceed with caution" and is best used at the top and bottom of steps, but is also used at the bottom of a ramp leading up to on on-street "light rapid transit system" (trams etc), to warn that people are about to walk onto a railway platform, at railway level crossings and where a footpath joins a shared-use (unsegregated) cycle track. You can see why blister paving would be dangerous here!

Off-street platform edge at Cannonbury Overground
station. It is the single line of buff paving.
We then have platform edge (off street) blister paving (to be complicated) which is used to warn of the platform edge at railway stations. The blisters are offset in each row to form a triangular grid (rather then the square grid used for crossings). Only laid in a single line, this paving is used a white platform edge line and often a yellow line back from the edge. There is less risk of people stepping over this type of paving (so 800mm not needed) as people in a station will be taking care to find the edge.

From inside the tram, we can see the row of lozenge-
shaped bumps for the LRT tactile surface.
Following the rail theme, we next have a similar approach for railway stations, but this time we have "lozenge" shapes for on street LRT stops (trams etc). It is different from the off street blister paving because these stops are on the street and the railway blister could confuse people into thinking they are about to cross a road. However, as with railway stations, visually impaired people will be there by choice and so one row is needed.

Old Shoreham Road, Hove. Ladder is to the left for the
pedestrian side and tram to the right for cycling. A bit
confused here as people are entering a bus stop area

which is nominally going to be shared.
The 5th type of tactile paving has a series of flat-topped "bars" on them (similar to corduroy) and is used on shared-use, segregated cycle tracks. When the bars are laid across the line of travel (known as "ladder"), this shows the "side" for pedestrians, giving a rumble to people cycling over them. When laid with the direction of travel (known as "tram", this indicates the cycling "side", although the bars can catch bicycle tyres, worse when they are wet. The paving is used at the start and end of these segregated tracks and as repeaters.

A raised delineator strip on CS3 at Beckton.
The ladder and tram paving is used with the 6th type of tactile paving - the raised "delineator strip". It is essentially a small kerb or even a raised road marking (to the same dimensions) used to help visually impaired people to keep to the pedestrian "side". Of course with protected cycle tracks (stepped, or kerb-separated) the ladder/ tram and delineator are not needed at all!

Guidance path surface - from the
We finally have the "guidance path surface". Used in the line of travel, this paving type is easily confused with tram and indeed corduroy; but the shape is slightly different. It is intended to help visually impaired people navigate open spaces where building lines or kerb lines are not available by either following the paving or for cane users, using the ridges to follow with their canes. It doesn't often get used, but could be useful to guide people at public transport interchanges for example.

I have briefly set out the "official" advice on using the different types of tactile paving, and clearly, there is lots of room for confusion. As I mentioned at the start that I was at a workshop and it was to discuss in general terms what people thought was good and bad about tactile paving. Having engineers, urban designers and visually impaired people (plus some groups representing them such as Guide Dogs) was a great idea as I think everyone learnt a bit that day. 

There was some discussion on "non-standard" use of tactile paving for level surface (shared space schemes) which mark a nominal edge of footway to assist visually impaired people. For example, Exhibition Road in London uses corduroy paving. Of course, being a shared space scheme, one questions the need to demarcate anything as all users are meant to be sharing, right?

I will be blogging about shared space in the future and so in the case of Exhibition Road, I will simply state that groups such as Guide Dogs were extremely concerned about the concept (and remain concerned more generally), although the Royal Borough of Kingston & Chelsea belatedly engaged with those with concerns and did some testing. Personally, I am not convinced.

Oxford Circus, London. Note the tactile paving cut to
follow the curve of the kerb.
There was also discussion about some proposed changes to the guidance which the Department for Transport will consult formally on soon. This included the following points;

  • Flexibility to allow the back of a row of blister tactile paving to follow the curve of the dropped kerb (for crossings), rather than being straight, although the paving would need to be 800mm deep to make sure visually impaired people don't step over it.
  • Replacement of the requirement for blister paving at a controlled crossings (zebras, signalised) to be red, with a requirement for at least a 50% contrast ratio with the surrounding paving
  • Introduce a requirement for the boundary between carriageway and footway to be demarcated with tactile paving wherever they are at the same level

The first point in theory reduces the amount of paving area needed and in terms of how a street looks, follows the less is more idea without impacting on visually impaired people. I suppose this is fine if the paving is well-detailed and installed, but it will introduce more cut pieces of paving which are notorious for failing - a view expressed by quite a few people.

The second point is driven by aesthetics to some extent, although red tactile paving surrounded by red paving doesn't give contrast. Many people (including users) felt that contrast and the 'L' shape (when it should be used) was more important than the colour; frankly, if users are happy, then so am I.

The third point would cover any flush kerb situation. I suspect it was primarily driven by shared space schemes not providing some kind of demarcation between the "footway" and "carriageway" (which is oxymoronic), but would apply to speed tables and dropped kerbs more generally. I sometimes see speed tables which are poorly designed or installed which are flush, but with only a small area covered by blister paving (not necessarily on the desire line). Shared space issues to one side, this is a good idea.

An Israeli push button - note the arrow on the top
showing the direction of travel.
There was also a discussion on a suggestion to add a tactile arrow to the push button boxes to show the crossing direction with an example from Israel being given. Finally, there was a suggestion to provide a rotating tactile cone on push button boxes when used on both sides of signalised crossings (convention is only to provide on the right hand side). Although users are using the 'L' shape to find the push button, on wide crossings, if people found the push button on the left, why not have a cone. Seems to make sense to me. These part of the discussion prompted concerns that too many staggered signalised crossing are difficult to navigate by visually impaired people and straight through crossings were preferred.

We then spent some time debating how tactile paving is used with cycling schemes. Many people felt that mixing people walking and cycling was not desirable and separated infrastructure was required which was a bit difficult to get away from when the discussion was about using tactile paving to deal with segregated and non-segregated shared-use cycle tracks. There was less consensus here and probably not worth going into detail about to be honest.

I will be looking out for the consultation by the DfT as I want to raise the need to provide some design guidance on detailing and construction to avoid some of the poorly built layouts which require constant maintenance. By this I mean giving practical drawings showing how to properly cut tactile paving units, how to avoid diagonal cuts (which get used when ramp gradients are not properly set up) and how to bed the paving units to stop them breaking up (lay on concrete or mortar on concrete, never sand). Happy paving!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Motorways, Metrolink & Manchester

OK, it's the modern equivalent of sitting through someone's holiday snaps, but a recent trip to Manchester had me thinking - much to the irritation of my family!

No, I cannot switch off and to be honest who wants to when it comes to how our infrastructure works (or doesn't). Or it might just be me that finds it all so interesting. We had a long weekend in Manchester to see people and to see some of the city where part of my family once lived. I am not going to give you the full account you'll be pleased to know, just some transport thoughts.

A spookily empty M1, north of the crash.
We took the car and it was an awful morning on the way out. With fatal crashes on both the M1 and M40, we switched to the 'A' roads and ended up going through the city of the roundabouts which is Milton Keynes before rejoining the M1 further north. The M1 crash involved a coach hitting a car stopped on the hard shoulder. As the coach driver was arrested, one does wonder if the driver was confused about whether or not the hard shoulder was in use as a running lane at the time under the "smart motorways" project. I have never been a fan of the concept, especially as in some locations, it is hard shoulder running and in others, all lane running with no hard shoulder - one could see the confusion.

I don't have to drive all that often, but for long journeys with all 5 of us, it is the only economic solution. Trains are crazily expensive and cannot compete with the £60 in fuel for the round trip (yes I know, insurance, tax, depreciation etc). There was the usual congestion around Birmingham, complete with the M6 set up to encourage use of the M6 toll (we didn't). We went round Manchester on the M60 to visit a friend just outside Rochdale and then we headed to our hotel near Manchester Airport and got hopelessly lost in the city.

Avoiding the left hook. Image from Google Streetview.
As we found our bearings, I recognised a little bit of cycling infrastructure at the junction of the Mancunian Way and Fairfield Street. The layout is on the eastbound (Fairfield Street) approach to the junction where people riding bikes can leave the main carriageway and go into a little protected pocket (known as a "jug handle" due to its shape) and then on their own green signal (parallel to a pedestrian crossing) cross a two lane left turn slip road to avoid left hook. Once across, people are deposited into their own little protected "ahead" pocket where they continue east along Fairfield Street.

The reason I (very geekily) recognised the layout is that it appears in a very old "Traffic Advisory Leaflet" - TAL8/89, the earliest available online (I am not sure if it was the first one ever though). From what I briefly saw, the layout is identical today as it was in 1989 (aside from new bollards). The advantage to the layout is clearly that left turning traffic can be avoided. The staging of the signals has the cycle green coming in automatically when left turning traffic is held. The disadvantages are that there is never a clear run through the junction and the turns are a little tight. Of course, the main issue is that this is a single item in a location which is completely hostile to mass cycling anyway and so will probably remain an interesting historic curiosity.

The junction of Sir Alex Ferguson Way and Trafford
Wharf Road. No signals here for people on foot or bike.
Anyway, that was the journey there. The next day, we took in the Trafford Centre and dropped Ranty Junior off for a trip around Old Trafford with his grandad. The rest of us walked from Old Trafford to Salford Quays which was quite pleasant (although I imagine match days get a bit busy). We walked along Sir Alex Ferguson Way and onto Trafford Wharf Road. The area is a business/ industrial park with wide roads to match. There were cycle tracks on both sides of the roads here, but they had breaks at every little access point and mixed with pedestrians at crossing points. 

At 1.6m wide, the footway on the left is a bit narrow as is
the cycle track on the right at 1.9m. With the carriageway
as wide as this, it could have been very good.
The footways and cycle tracks were paved in contrasting materials and were in fair condition, but they were let down by poor dropped kerbs (often not flush) and there were signs of tree root damage. It was a Sunday lunchtime and we didn't see many people, so I can't say what it was like during the week. The layout could be tweaked (through maintenance) to give a stepped cycle track and to improve crossings - it could be really good.

On our third day, we wanted to leave the car at the hotel and get into the city centre by tram. Other than a ride on a tram in a living museum, none of us had actually been on a tram proper and we had the perfect chance. The first problem was getting to the tram stop closest to our hotel which was at Manchester Airport Station - about two miles away. This was not a journey we could make on foot with children (one in a baby sling) and we didn't really want to pay for a cab. Luckily there was a bus and even more lucky we got picked up close to the hotel (although even luckier than that, frequent was not a word to describe the service!).

A tram. Nice.
We bought a combined bus/ tram ticket on the bus using cash (remember that London?) and as we arrived at the airport bus stand, the driver told us which stop we should use for the return journey - yes, Arriva's chap was excellent. 

We then found our way to the Metrolink station (or is that stop) and hopped aboard a modern tram at a brand new station which only opened at the end of last year.

The signal to the left of the green means that a tram
may proceed ahead. 
As we headed towards the city we went through back land areas (some of which were old, long closed railways) and along streets, the tram did its job. On-street, traffic signals were set up to detect oncoming trams to give priority accordingly and progress was as you would expect from good public transport.

Cycle parking at a tram stop.
I did note that bicycles were not permitted on the trams, not even folders, although parking hoops and secure lockers (for a fee I assume) were provided by tram stops. We found the trams crowded in the evening peak (it was a Monday after all) and so full-sized bikes would be a pain for other passengers, but I would have thought that folders could be accommodated and full-sized off peak as with the Docklands Light Railway and some of the Underground in London.

Informal shared crossing of the tram line.
One other thing I noticed on the newer sections we travelled on was the amount of shared-use cycle tracks and Toucan crossings which had been built along the line.

On the sections between residential cores, they probably worked fine because of the lack of pedestrians, but in the busier areas, there wasn't enough space provided. A great deal of money has been spent on building this network and on the airport section, relief roads have also been built and so sadly, cycling has been given its usual bolt on which doesn't suit walking or riding a bike. There are also on-road sections where cyclists are advised to run between parked cars and the trams - certainly not for mass cycling.

As a service, we found the Metrolink system to be wonderful, even to the point where a I tweeted a smashed window on our tram which got an almost instant reply with staff on scene very quickly. We swapped lines a few times and rode up and down which is great entertainment for the kids and gave the adults a rest from walking round the shops. We also went back to Salford Quays on the tram and it was rather reminiscent of the experience in London's Docklands. We eventually went back to the airport and our bus was a 5 minute wait. This was also lucky as the next bus wasn't for another hour!