Sunday, 15 January 2017

Experimental

I covered the permanent traffic regulation order process a couple of years back, but I always meant to return to talk a bit about the experimental process.

You might want to go and have a quick read of the post about the permanent process to get up to speed, but as a quick recap, we have the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which allows us to regulate who can use particular highways and how they may use them (as well as lots of other things). It is used to set speed limits, make streets one way, regulate parking, regulate vehicle use on specific streets and to close streets to certain traffic classes (as well as other things).

In order to regulate traffic, we need a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) or in London, a Traffic Management Order (TMO); both are created through a statutory consultation and decision-making process and are essentially little local laws for traffic regulation. The experimental process allows us to do the same kind of things TROs allow, but with a key difference. TROs can only come into force once the statutory process has concluded and therefore the permanent changes can only be made or enforced when the TRO is in place. 

Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs) are part of the decision-making process and therefore allow us to trial things in a "live" situation and is the key part of the consultation process. In short, rather than the consult then decide approach of the permanent process, the experimental process is the implement and see what people think and gather data approach. The powers are contained in S9 of the RTRA1984 and generally mirror those for the permanent TRO/TMO provisions. So, what is the ETO process?

As the traffic authority has the power to simply impose an ETO (without consultation), then a formal decision to impose is required. This will depend on how authority is delegated. For example, in an authority with a cabinet-style administration, then a cabinet member (a councillor) will be responsible for deciding to kick off an ETO process. Equally, the decision might be delegated to a senior member of staff. It just depends how the governance is arranged.

Once an ETO has come into force, there is a statutory 6-month period within which anyone may object and such objections must be written. In common with the permanent process, it is only the objections which must be considered - technically, any expression of support is superfluous to the legally required process. I would also add, an objection only has to be considered, it doesn't mean the scheme has to change (although there will be a test of reasonableness in any context).

As well as the 6-month "objection period", a decision on making the scheme permanent needs to be taken within 18-months of the ETO coming into force, otherwise it lapse and any physical works should be removed. An ETO can be amended within the first 6-months and then the clock starts again in terms of a further 6-month objection period, but the maximum of 18-months us unchanged.

So why use the process if it circumvents public involvement before a scheme goes in? This will depend on the approach of each authority as there is nothing to stop "informal" consultation taking place before an ETO is imposed. Let's remember that we're into "traffic regulation" here, which in many cases will be about reducing the ability of people to drive how they wish. In many ways, the ETO process can sidestep public debate and discussion, but it can also cut through the misinformation and controversy which can surround a scheme. A local authority might publish a vision for an area which is subject to general debate, but then use the ETO process to get things on the ground rather than debate a permanent proposal into the long grass.

There is a fairly large ETO scheme running in the London Borough Camden - the "Torrington Place to Tavistock Place" scheme. The 6-month objection period has concluded and data is being collection. A decision was due to take place in early 2017 and so must be soon I'd guess. The ETO enabled a two-way traffic street with an island-protected 2-way cycle track to be reworked as a one-way traffic street with one-way cycle tracks on each side. The ETO covers making the street one-way for general traffic and the pair of tracks one way (along with various banned turns) as can be seen in this short film. 


The original two-way track is now one way and so effectively twice as wide. The second track is made from a white line and "light segregation" with bollards and orcas. For me this is key. An ETO allows cheap, temporary and reusable materials to used to try things out. In the event the scheme is made permanent, then it can be upgraded with permanent materials (over a number of years if required). If the scheme is changed, it can be done so easily and if removed, this is simple and cheap to do as well.

I've recently been involved with a couple of experimental schemes. One is still running and so I can't comment on it and with the other one, you'll understand if I don't identify it. However, both have involved the use of temporary materials and the photos below show the installation of a modal filter;


The main "closure" was formed with "Legato
concrete blocks weighing around a tonne each



A lockable/ removable post was installed in the centre of
the carriageway to allow cycles to pass and fire engines in
the case of an emergency.



In order to make the edges of the concrete blocks
conspicuous, fluorescent and retroreflective signs
were drilled and riveted onto the blocks.



The experimental layout complete.
(there were also traffic signs warning of the restriction
placed in the area).

I accept that this is far from pretty, but it is cheap - roughly £6k including signage in the wider area, the cost of the ETO process etc. This cost doesn't include design work or dealing with the public; how that is dealt with will vary by authority. This particular scheme will be made permanent and so there will be a final stage where the ETO is "made" permanent
(which is an advertising and governance process). 

In making the decision to make an ETO permanent, the traffic authority (through however decisions are made) will consider the information received from the public together with monitoring data (if appropriate) and the process concluded. If the ETO is abandoned, then as you can see from the Tavistock Place trial and my example, returning the street to it's former layout is relatively simple.

Our ability to use ETOs is not widely known about and I think this needs to change. They represent a really good way to get on with trying different things out and if they don't work, it's not difficult to reverse the changes. The politics of course is the complicated part!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

On The Right Track

The term "cycle track", has as many permutations as you could think of, but this week, I'll try and make a little sense of it and boil them down to what I think the different types are.

The UK legal definition of a cycle track is set out in S329 of the Highways Act 1980 which states;

"cycle track” means a way constituting or comprised in a highway, being a way over which the public have the following, but no other, rights of way, that is to say, a right of way on pedal cycles (other than pedal cycles which are motor vehicles within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act 1988) with or without a right of way on foot.

Don't worry about the RTA1988 reference, this relates to e-bikes which have motors more powerful than is permitted. The Highways Act definition comes from an amendment provided by S1 of the Cycle Tracks Act 1984 which is a little confusing at the CTA84 is actually concerned with the conversion of public footpaths into cycle tracks. Forget that, I'm dealing with normal highways here.

S65(1) of the HA1980 gives highway authorities the powers to build cycle tracks as follows;

Without prejudice to section 24 above, a highway authority may, in or by the side of a highway maintainable at the public expense by them which consists of or comprises a made-up carriageway, construct a cycle track as part of the highway; and they may light any cycle track constructed by them under this section.

Section 24 relates to the same powers the Secretary of State (and indeed Highways England) has to build cycle tracks. Anyway, I write all of this just to reinforce the point that we are allowed to build cycle tracks within our highways, they are for cycles, they can be for people walking and the definition of one is gloriously vague (bear with me).

On the point about people on foot brings me to the first type of cycle track; the shared, unsegregated cycle track;


Essentially (as the photo above shows) we are talking about a path which can be used by people walking and cycling, there is no demarcation and very clearly, width is going to be an issue. If too narrow, we have lots of inbuilt conflict and even if wide, people walking and cycling are not regimented in terms of position so conflict is possible. They work best where there is little pedestrian traffic and so with the example above, we are talking about inter-urban locations.

The next type of provision is the shared, segregated cycled track;


As can be seen above, there are distinct walking and cycling areas. The layout above isn't bad (well, at least this section) as it provides plenty of space for people walking and as cycle traffic flows are relatively light, it is wide enough for two-way (bi-directional) use. The separation is provided by a demarcation kerb in the middle;



The demarcation kerb is forgiving to ride over and provides something along which visually-impaired long cane users can detect. The tactile paving in the previous photo further assists visually impaired people to detect which side of the demarcation kerb to walk.

Unfortunately, much of what we see for shared, segregated tracks, is a painted line down the middle of a footway which may not have been a decent width for pedestrians in the first place! (see below).


Next is the stepped or hybrid cycle track - I prefer stepped as it describes it better, such as the example below.


The stepped track is so called because it is "stepped up" relative to the carriageway level and in turn, the footway is stepped up relative to the cycle track. From what I have used and been involved with from a design point of view, it is preferable (vital some might say) that the kerb between the footway and the track is forgiving. 

By forgiving, I mean the kerb is gently sloped. This allows cyclists to go very close to the kerb (to maximise usable width) and if they catch it, they won't be thrown off. It also allows one to leave the track which is handy if one wants to stop to park up to go into a shop and it's very useful for users of adapted and non-standard cycles who may use their machines for mobility. 

From the point of view of visually impaired people, the kerb can also help demarcate the footway and cycle track, but if they are walking perpendicular to the track (at a junction perhaps), it is possible that the kerb will be missed and so care with the design is needed.


The photo above with the red cycle track us uni-directional (cycle traffic proceeds in the same direction as the vehicles on the carriageway), whereas the photo above with the green track is bi-directional. An issue with the track just above is that the kerb step between the track and the footway is vertical and so would throw a rider if clipped.

With the examples of the shared-use and stepped tracks, they can come with a buffer between them and the carriageway (which increases the protection of a user should they fall off towards the carriageway side) as shown on the photo below;


The next permutation is the kerb-protected cycle track. this arrangement uses kerb units between the carriageway and track which are both at similar levels;


A disadvantage with stepped tracks where the track abuts the carriageway is that it is very tempting for drivers to bounce up the kerb to park on the track. Kerb protected tracks can reduce the risk of encroachment by drivers because the kerbs look less attractive to drive over. From a user point of view, a kerb helps increase the "feeling" of safety as it also provides buffered space from traffic.

There is a risk of cyclists clipping the kerb and falling into live traffic. This can be mitigated by adopting uni-directional use, although people overtaking are exposed to the risk in any case.

Finally, we have median-protected cycle tracks. The provide the highest level of protection to people cycling as in the event they fall off, it might not be pleasant, but it's not into live traffic;


As you can see above, there is a wide median area between the cycle track and carriageway. There is an element of parking and loading provided here and even with the car door being opened, these people cycling are doing so in great safety. A median can also provide passenger waiting space at a bus stop.



There are some variations on the theme such as "parking protected" cycle tracks, although the parking essentially forms a median anyway as can be seen below (and rely on cars being in the spaces to provide protection).


As you can see with the photos, there are many ways we can provide cycle tracks. The good news is that all of these examples are from the UK (some layouts older than others), so the engineering isn't really that tricky.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Predictable & Lazy End Of The Year Roundup: 2016

That's another year almost over and as I recharge the batteries for the start of 2017, I'm taking my annual look back over the last 12-months.

Because painted advisory cycle lanes
removes driver capacity.
January
The year got off to a ranting start with a post-Christmas, well post, which looked how taking an ideological position is far easier than taking an expert position, inspired by Twitter arguments with some long-blocked self-styled alliance representing the drivers of Britain. It was an omen for wider nonsense which has recurred the whole year away from the world of blogging. I then returned to the evergreen subject of barriers being installed on cycle tracks. The month ended as it had started where I looked at an ideological piece of nonsense from the Institute of Economic Affairs which doesn't like traffic regulations.

Vauxhall Walk.
February
First, I tackled the tricky subject of so-called "shared-space" and concluded there is no such thing. Next I looked at making areas suitable for cycling rather than routes (anticipating London's "Quietway" conundrum). I then looked at the death of a child who was crossing the A127 in Essex and asked why we don't invest in removing the severance these roads create. The month ended positively with a mooch around South London looking at some of the North-South cycle superhighway and the wonder piece of public space at Vauxhall Walk.

Raw cider.
March
The month started with a moan about the lack of cycle parking at my local B&Q (which is still non-existent today) and then the looming (and worrying) push for autonomous vehicles. I then debated whether leadership is a political or professional thing (at least for transport). In a departure from my usual writings, I then gave an account of how one can make cider at home before returning to the annual subject of our failure to invest in highway maintenance.

Safari!
April
Kerb-nerdery abounded with a report on a London Cycling Infrastructure Safari first this month, followed by the depressing thought that the London mayoral candidates were generally ignoring the needs of children in their transport policies in favour of noisy adults. Next was a post with photos from my eldest daughter as her "story from the school run", before rounding the month off looking at cost and value.

Protected tracks makes cycling child's play.
May
The month started with the statistic that 66% of trips were below 5 miles and that transport investment should be made to enable shorter trips to be made by walking and cycling, although nobody had told the dinosaurs at the Chelsea Society. Next post on how cycling on the new central London cycle tracks were child's play for my daughter who rode then a week after learning to ride her bike. The month ended with me wondering how people think roadworks should take place by magic.

Kidical Massive!
June
The month started with some early summer reading and some street positivity in Cromer, before a moan about stupidly wide junctions and why engineers cling to old ideas of street design. A summer storm prompted some thought about the old boiling frog and flooding with the month ending with a wonderful Kidical Mass ride in central London, where I paused to thank campaigners and designers alike.

Quietway 1.
July
Another cycling infrastructure safari this month with a ride along London's Quietway 1 where there is some very good and very bad layouts. Next I wondered how spending £60m on a single motorway junction could ever be rational. Then there was a two part write up on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM in Cambridge - Part 1 and Part 2

Australia Road.
August
London's Freecycle left me with mixed feelings at the start of the month. A site visit gave me the next post which showcased a project in west London which had transformed Australia Road into something rather wonderful. A trip to Walton-on-the-Naze saw an accidental discovery of some very well executed continuous footways and then the closure of a street to motor traffic in Clacton-on-Sea actually opened it for people to use.

I was really pleased to be involved with this.
September
First up for this month were some thoughts about transport resilience, following by a post on the concept of "space delusion" from those thinking we can build ourselves out of congestion by building more roads. Cycle To Work Day saw me review my own commute (with recently opened piece of infrastructure), with my 200th post on another Kidical Mass ride (on the International Kidical Massive day). The month ended with my praising the use of map type signs.

October
My first post of the month was back in London looking at a maintenance closure of Tower Bridge and how the space could be rethought and then I considered that change is difficult before considering on the rights of individuals, versus the wider community. Oh yes, I then upset a primary school before celebrating London's orbital car park.

High capacity cycle parking.
November
I revisited the primary school issue at the start of this month with some ideas on what school communities could so to change their local streets before reminding us that the word "enable" is far more important than "encourage". Next was a visit to the Ecocycle cycle parking pod in Southwark and then a post about transport carrots and sticks which was inspired by Stockholm. 

December
First this month, I considered filtered permeability and how we can accommodate service vehicles before shaking my head at another load of politically-motivated nonsense to "deal" with roadworks. I returned to trenches for a post about street works qualifications, before ending the year in lazy fashion.

It's been a busy year for me and with a great deal of frustration as an engineer. 2017 looms in front of us and with what is going on at home and abroad, it's hard to be positive. Local active travel remains poorly funded and poorly supported politically. 

I would like to end this roundup on a positive note, so I will extend a huge thank you to all of the wonderful people I have met this year, many have given their time and insight without wanting or expecting anything in return - this continues to make this blog possible.

Of course, I need to thank my family for putting up with my daft idea of a blog post a week, but at least they have been able to join me for some of the adventures I have written about.

This year, I would like to give a special mention to the people organising and attending our Kidical Mass rides. For me, to see the smile on the kids' faces as they bump along in the cargo-bikes or own their own mini-machines serves as a reminder why we must change our streets for people. Happy New Year!









Thursday, 22 December 2016

Merry Quaxmas!

Christmas means lots of things to different people and indeed, it means nothing at all to many! For me it's family time and a chance to rest, perhaps to contemplate the year passed.

I will be blogging my (predictably lazy) review of 2016 next week; so this week, I'll just keep it simple and wish you all a Merry Quaxmas!


Thursday, 15 December 2016

A View From The Trenches

In a welcome diversion, I was out of the office for a couple of days this week, but it wasn't for leisure it was still work.

I was attending a training centre to re-qualify as a street works supervisor, something which has to be done every five years under the current rules. I realise that this is rather a niche subject, but it directly impacts on how roadworks are managed in the real world.

The "New Roads & Street Works Act 1991" NRSWA1991 is a "double" piece of legislation brought in firstly to provide "new" mechanisms for building and paying for new roads such as the Design, Build, Finance & Operate model (DBFO), tolling provisions and some tidying up. Secondly (and the subject of this post), to regulate street works (England & Wales) and road works (Scotland). Yes, the term "road works" applies only in Scotland if we wish to be pedantic (although it's not important here). For the street/ road works side, the Act was brought in to deal with the poor performance of utility works in terms of how sites were managed and installations/ reinstatements carried out. 

S67 of the Act (England & Wales) and S126 (Scotland) makes it a legal requirement for "undertakers" to ensure that their street/ road works are supervised by somebody with a prescribed qualification and that at least one operative on site (at all times) has a prescribed qualification. These sections also set the level of fines for failing to comply and gives power to the Secretary of State to make regulations on who can confer qualifications and how. There are variations within the UK countries, but again, probably a bit detailed for here.

The term "undertaker" generally applies to utility companies who have powers to "install, inspect, maintain, repair or replace apparatus" and this work is known as street works or road works; curiously, this excludes local authority works which are separately known as "works for roads purposes". Of course, the push for NRWSA1991 was partly about the way utility works were being managed and the impact on the condition of public highways. Anyhoo, back to the qualifications.

There are 16 training units. Unit 1 is for both operatives and supervisors, units 2 to 9 for operatives and units 10 to 16 for supervisors and are as follows;

Units of Competence for Trained Operatives
Unit 001 Location and avoidance of underground apparatus
Unit 002 Signing, lighting and guarding
Unit 003 Excavation in the road/highway
Unit 004 Reinstatement and compaction of backfill materials
Unit 005 Reinstatement of sub-base and road-base on non-bituminous materials
Unit 006 Reinstatement of cold-lay bituminous materials
Unit 007 Reinstatement of hot-lay bituminous materials
Unit 008 Reinstatement of concrete slabs
Unit 009 Reinstatement of modular surfaces and concrete footways

Units of Competence for Trained Supervisors
Unit 001 Location and avoidance of underground apparatus
Unit 010 Monitoring signing, lighting and guarding
Unit 011 Monitoring excavation in the road/highway
Unit 012 Monitoring reinstatement and compaction of backfill materials
Unit 013 Monitoring reinstatement of sub-base and road-base in non-bituminous materials
Unit 014 Monitoring reinstatement of bituminous materials
Unit 015 Monitoring reinstatement of concrete slabs
Unit 016 Monitoring reinstatement of modular surfaces and concrete footways

Combinations of these units give rise to the qualifications; 6 each for operatives and supervisors;

Operative
O1 Excavation in the road/highway 001, 002 and 003
O2 Excavation, backfilling and reinstatement - cold lay 001, 002, 003, 004, 005 and 006
O3 Reinstatement - hot and cold lay bituminous materials 001, 002, 006 and 007
O4 Reinstatement of concrete slabs 001, 002 and 008
O5 Reinstatement of modular surfaces and concrete footways 001, 002 and 009
O6 Signing, lighting and guarding 002

Supervisor
S1 Monitor excavation in the road/highway 001, 010 and 011
S2 Monitor excavation, backfilling and reinstatement - construction layers 001, 010, 011, 012, 013 and 014
S3 Monitor reinstatement - hot and cold lay bituminous materials 001, 010 and 014
S4 Monitor reinstatement of concrete slabs 001, 010 and 015
S5 Monitor reinstatement of modular surfaces and concrete footways 001, 010 and 016
S6 Monitor signing, lighting and guarding 010

You can see that there are combinations available. For example, if you are a company which just provides traffic management (the signs, cones and traffic signals for road works) then your operatives will only need unit 002 to give qualification O6 (and supervisors unit 010 to give S6). In the main, most people will have O1/S1 and O2/S2 with a specialism on the type of road construction. For example, those laying/ supervising asphalt will have O3/S3 and so on. Some people have dual qualification as both an operative and a supervisor which is very cool (and hard work).

Many years ago (!) I worked for a telecoms contractor and because we were involved in laying ducts and building inspection pits in all kinds of situations, I was initially trained up and gained qualifications S1 to S6 and over the years, I kept the qualifications up to date. Originally, there was no re-qualification process, one just sent in a form and paid an administration fee. These days, re-qualification (in England, it varies elsewhere) is required every five years and this involves attending a training centre to refresh knowledge and sit mini-exams for each unit (remembering that groups of units give the 6 qualifications); 8 in total for me.

There are various awarding bodies for the qualifications such as City & Guilds and CABWI (a water industry body). Qualifications are registered with the Street Works Qualifications Register and a card is issued (known as the "street works ticket" in the industry. One needs to carry the card on site as a local highway authority inspector can demand to see it as part of a site inspection and failure to produce can lead to a fine being imposed on the contractor.

Having gone through all of this, it might sound strange when I state that I am not a supervisor. In my day job, the work on site is done by contractors and they have their own supervision, I merely inspect works as a representative of the client and most of the time, we're not laying utilities; public lighting and traffic signals ducts/ pits are as close as it gets. Does having this type of qualification make one competent? The easy answer is "no". But it shows that the individual has a standard level of training and are at least capable of being let loose in the real world!

For those not supervising street works on a day to day basis, this type of qualification still has immense value. I am a firm believer that clients should be informed and therefore it's good practice for their engineers (or consultants) to have an appreciation of the processes involved in turning their designs or programmes into reality (and anything which exposes people to the real world is a good thing).

The other thing about gaining and maintaining the street works qualifications is that supervisors and operatives train together and notwithstanding the Chatham House Rule, there is the opportunity for some discussion (often pretty frank). This week, we got discussing a drainage contractor's current workload whereby he had a scheme of undertaking sewer repairs on pipes 8 metres deep. To get to the pipe, it took a hole 4 metres square and a week of digging and this must be a reminder that we have so many people in this country undertaking hard, physical work to keep our infrastructure maintained.

Street works is one of those areas of my industry which draws complaints about disruption, but we turn on a tap and it works, we flush the loo and it works and we expect the lights to come on at a flick of a switch. As I have often championed through my blog, those involved in street works are unsung heroes and perhaps we should pause for thought once in a while that the people you see out on the street have had to undertake training, they have had to gain and maintain their qualifications before a shovel goes in the ground.

The traditional way of thanking them is to bring out a tray of tea on a cold day or a nice cold drink in the summer. So come on folks, show your appreciation!