Sunday, 17 September 2017

London KidicalMASSive 2017

You know the sketch. Provide safe infrastructure and families come out to ride. Today was KidicalMASSive 2017.

This time, as well as taking in the east-west Central London cycleway (CS3), we extended the ride to The Mall which was closed to motor traffic and returned to people. This is the power of infrastructure.

The next ride will be Sunday 3rd December - #KidicalXMass!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Vigil for Ardian Zagani

Yesterday evening I joined the vigil for Ardian Zagani, another person who was killed while performing the everyday act of cycling to work. This is the speech I made at the request of Stop Killing Cyclists, the organisers of the vigil.

Between January and September last year, over 25,000 people were killed or seriously injured on UK roads, this is up 6% from the same period in 2015 [1]. The end of year data is not available because the Government delayed publication from June to the end of this month. It's telling because the Department for Transport is blaming the police [2] who we know have suffered and continue to suffer cuts year on year. 

We're very good at putting a cost on a road death. In 2015 [3], the average cost per casualty was £1,783,555 and the average cost per accident was £2,005,664 – a figure often used if we try and put a value on prevention. Accident is not my choice of word, this is from the official Department for Transport data table.

In 2015 [4], just over 400 people died while walking and nearly 5,000 were seriously injured; overall, just over 24,000 people were hurt while walking – this is roughly the population of Rickmansworth. In the same year, 100 people died while cycling and nearly 19,000 were hurt – this is roughly the population of Waltham Abbey. 10% of those people hurt were children and 80% of those hurt were cycling on a 30mph road. It's not just about killing and injuring people using our roads and streets, it's also the costs arising from polluting the air we breathe and the inactivity of the population – this is set to dwarf some of the statistics on direct casualties I have just cited.

There are flaws in the data collection system, from mis-recording, to how modes are compared. It also doesn't show the shift of serious injuries to those outside motor vehicles, nor does it show how people have been pushed off out streets.

The figure of £2 million to prevent a death could easily fund the retrofit of half-a-dozen urban junctions to make them fit for walking and cycling. It would almost fund a world-class “superhighway” style upgrade to a mile of urban road – and that includes junctions. This is, of course, peanuts when we consider what is spent on road building schemes. £1.35 billion pounds has just been spent in Edinburgh on the new Queensferry motor traffic bridge. The Welsh Government is planning to spend a billion pounds bypassing a section of the M4 near Newport. Here in London, Mayor Khan remains committed to spending a billion pounds on the Silvertown Tunnel. Of course, we all know about the Government's ambition to spend £15 billion on English motorway expansion.

In my job, I'm often looking at data which is used to inform or justify changes to our streets and it is very easy to get lost in the statistics. There are people behind the numbers and that is why we stand here this evening to remember Ardian Zagani; a fellow Londoner who, like many of us here this evening, was just trying to get to work on his bike last Tuesday morning; a simple act in which he ended up dead. We also need to pause to consider the people he has left behind – his family, friends and colleagues. We need to pause and think because all too often people getting killed on our streets is taken as a price worth paying to keep our traffic-chocked cities as they are.

A death on our streets is a stark reminder to those working in my industry that despite the effort which has been put into protecting those building our infrastructure, for some reason this often ends at the site gate. If my industry was still killing and maiming its on-site workforce on an industrial scale as it did in the past, there would be calls for regulation, prosecution and systemic changes to how we construct our infrastructure.

I was fortunate to spend some time on holiday in the Netherlands a few weeks ago and I was even more fortunate to be able to experience Dutch cycling infrastructure first hand with my children. Cycling is a pragmatic and practical mode of transport for short distances and the Dutch have catered for it everywhere. Whether it was the crazy bustle of Amsterdam or the rural peace of South Zeeland, we felt safe and we were protected by cycleways on main roads, separation at large junctions or low speed and low traffic streets and country lanes. There are so many things to learn from a country just across the North Sea.

We don't even need to go that far. We are starting to see world-class layouts in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brighton, Leicester and Cambridge to name just a few places. We don't always see perfection, but we certainly see protection and ideas which can be rolled out across the whole country for a fraction of what we are spending on big roads in this country. This remains under threat however, and we must remain vigilant. It is good to see that UK cities are starting to appoint walking and cycling commissioners, it's even better to see them speaking out for active travel and trying to bring people together like Chris Boardman is doing in Manchester even before he starts his new role!

In truth, design and construction is the easy part, it is the leadership in which we are lacking. Unless people with influence speak out and make the case for enabling active travel, we are not going to see the change we want and need. Engineers, planners, health professionals, business people, community leaders and others must speak out against the status quo and indeed the hostile reaction active travel seems to bring out of many.

Ultimately, leadership has to come from those entrusted with making decisions on transport at a national, regional, and perhaps most importantly, at the local level. Leadership on active travel will translate into a shift in culture within local planning and highways departments which are all too often stuck with old ways of thinking, which haven't changed in generations. Good leaders can also bring people together to meet a common aim.

So, as we stand here to remember Ardian Zagani, let us not allow his death and those of so many other people be in vain. Let us use our sadness and anger to demand the change which is so desperately needed for our streets.

I sincerely thank you for coming out this evening and for listening to my words.






Saturday, 2 September 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 2 - Magic Roundabouts

Last week, I introduced a series of posts of highway layouts I saw while on holiday in the Netherlands. This week I'm going to take a look at some roundabouts.

As usual, please remember that there will be context and reasoning behind what I'm writing about which must be an ever present health warning. These are observations from a holiday and not from using layouts on a daily basis for a number of years - David Hembrow makes this very important point here.

Our trip involved driving from Dunkirk to Bruges and then on to Amsterdam and in fact, the first "Dutch-style" roundabout (I think) I encountered was in Belgium, just as we entered East Flanders near the town of Maldegem;

The reason I say "Dutch-style" is that many of the roundabouts I encountered in Flanders (which borders the Netherlands) appear influenced by the Dutch layouts, but they are not quite there - many seemed to enable entry and exit speeds which did not reflect the real Dutch provision. As an aside, the Flanders region is definitely upping its game when it comes to providing for cycling and it's a place which needs a visit in its own right!

Anyhow, back across the border. There isn't a single off-the-peg type of Dutch roundabout (as locations and contexts vary), but there is a high level of consistency, especially at the more rural locations. There are also some poor layouts (one of which I'll cover later). First, I'll introduce you to the Hugo de Grootplein roundabout in Amsterdam in the neighbourhood of Frederik Hendrikbuurt which is just under a mile to the west of the centre of the city.

This roundabout has been given an entire blog post by Mark Wagenbuur on his Bicycle Dutch blog and it is a fascinating piece of urban infrastructure. At first glance, it looks utterly mad, but it's a very neat solution for when two relatively busy roads meet; plus the north-south axis carries a tram just to make life interesting! In fact, the tram issue is easily dealt with as it runs through the centre roundabout with full priority afforded by stopping everyone else with traffic signals and so the tram is actually a distraction in terms of how the junction operates.

Roundabouts are efficient in terms of moving motor traffic and in comparison with a signalised junctions, there are far fewer points of conflict. The problem is, roundabouts don't provide the pedestrian priority which can be incorporated into signalised junctions and they have a poor safety record for people cycling.

As you might expect, the City of Amsterdam have built cycling into this roundabout by providing dedicated (and largely protected) cycle tracks.

One important aspect of the design is that as the cycle tracks reach the roundabout, they form into a larger "cycle roundabout" which means that there is a distance of about a car length between the edge of the "traffic" roundabout and the "cycle" roundabout (or an annular cycle track). Coupled with some fairly tight geometry, this means that drivers turning (right) to leave the roundabout will see people cycling on the outer cycle roundabout and they will cross the cycle track at 90°. Being an urban area, people cycling have priority over those driving and in fact, the crossing of the arms are a series of parallel crossings with people walking having space on the outside of the cycle roundabout and are thus afforded a touch more physical protection.

I've simplified the layout above for clarity, stripping out inset parking bays, landscaping and so on. Of course, the Dutch drive on the right and with the cycle tracks around the roundabout being one-way, so do people cycling. A very important feature of this roundabout is that it is strictly one traffic lane in and one traffic lane out otherwise there is the risk of people being masked where one line of vehicles is slower than the other. The one lane in/ out is reinforced by there being a central island between each traffic direction. Not only does this force drivers to approach the roundabout squarely and so slowly (in contrast to UK roundabouts which help people drive on at speed), the islands help people walking and act as a further buffer.

The circulatory area for drivers falls out from the centre (so drainage is on the outside of the circulatory area). This introduces a little adverse camber which helps to keep circulation speeds down and makes drainage a doddle. The cycle tracks tend to fall towards the centre of the roundabout which also makes drainage easier (as the gullies in the road and track are closer together) and the fall into the roundabout is slightly more comfortable for cycling (rather than feeling pushed outwards).

Those cycling into the annular cycle track must give way to those on it (you can see Dutch give way triangles in the photo above) and for people on foot, the crossings are all marked as zebra crossings, although at least in Amsterdam I found worse compliance from people cycling than in smaller towns and villages. Some of the pedestrian refuge islands are also very narrow so there is always room for improvement. Bearing in mind I was a tourist cycling a cargobike around the city I felt very safe and comfortable using this roundabout. Here's a little video of it in action;

I did ride (and drive) through similar roundabouts during the holiday and those tended to have a narrower circulatory area with an over-run for larger vehicles, but the principles were the same and the road layout was nice and predictable. If you want to see this type of roundabout in operation, then Nigel Shoesmith has suggested watching a live webcam of this roundabout in Purmerend - it really shows the elegance of the design.

The question is whether we could bring this design to the UK? The answer is a qualified yes. In fact, as Mark Wagenbuur explains in his blog post, a test version inspired by the Hugo de Grootplein roundabout was built at the Transport Research Laboratory (above) when TfL was testing various infrastructure ideas. Since these tests, we have the UK parallel zebra crossing layout available in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 which means we can prioritise people cycling as well as walking. The qualification to my yes is that the same principles of tight geometry, adverse camber, set back of a car length and so on must be followed. I would also strongly reinforce the need for the cycle tracks to be one-way as this reduces potential conflict.

However, there is a lot going on and we should appreciate that going through this type of roundabout is pretty tasking in terms of watching for other vehicles, people cycling and people walking; it is therefore not a fail safe design and it is certainly not applicable in out of town/ rural locations (as I will explain). It was a response to a particular location and care should be used in copying it. For example, driving though Maastricht, I had to go through this roundabout which was not tight or slow because of its spiral layout and multiple circulatory lanes. I remember feeling worried that I was not watching for people walking and cycling while I looked for the right road position to exit.

The next roundabout I'm going to cover is just outside the city walls of the beautiful old city of Hulst in South Zeeland. I am not going to spend too much time on it other than to say that the design should not be copied in the UK.

The roundabout replaced an old crossroads (which had one arm splitting into two close by - image below) and was constructed as part of some major drainage works and the local community were very happy to see it built (thanks for the heads up Roger D from last week's blog comments).

The roundabout has similar characteristics as other Dutch roundabouts with geometry, one traffic lane in/ out, zebra crossings, islands etc, but the cycling provision is an annular cycle lane with low profile kerb protection (light-segregation).

For people cycling and leaving the roundabout, the light segregation stops drivers from right hooking and keeps things tight geometry wise.

People on cycles joining the roundabout give way to those already cycling on it as you'd expect.

The issue for me is that those cycling around the annular lane are at risk of right hook by drivers leaving the roundabout (where the black car is) because the one vehicle set back is-missing. I'm told that this is OK in the Netherlands because drivers are used to encountering people cycling, but I don't buy the point that all Dutch drivers always expect people cycling (OK, I'm making a point). A driver leaving a roundabout is the riskiest conflict because it is done so at some sort of speed (whereas a driver joining should be doing so more slowly). The previous example mitigated this by allowing a driver to meet people cycling at 90° and giving space for them to stop.

The final roundabout to talk about can be built in the UK without any major concerns. David Hembrow gives a very detailed account of this approach in this blog post. The elements of tight geometry, camber etc are found on this next type of roundabout, but cycle priority is not given - the convenience of priority gives way to a safer layout where the person cycling decides if it is safe to cross.

The example above is in the rural area to the north-west of Hulst. It is where an east-west section of the N290 (like a UK rural A road) meets some local roads. The A290 has two-way cycle tracks on one side as does the road to the north (which heads towards the coast). Again, a stripped down plan is below.

The road to the south has no cycling infrastructure, but it has a 60kph speed limit (37.5mph) and is part of a local network of very rural lanes. I cycled lanes like this and they were generally very quiet (some are filtered), although you have to watch out for tractors though!

Other than the little rural road, the approaches to the roundabout all had long refuge islands. As well as providing space to cross the road in two parts, the islands meant that drivers approach and leave the roundabout in a straight line. Compare this with the UK roundabout below (Hatfield, very close to where I lived as a student); which despite being one lane in/ out, it has a triangular island and a road which flares to allow faster entry and exit speeds;

As we approach the Dutch roundabout we can see that to turn right, a driver would have to turn the steering wheel far more than with a UK roundabout. The carriageway is fairly tight in order to keep car driver speeds low (no "racing line" driving here"), whilst the large over-run area caters for lorries.

You will also note the roundabout has a grassy mound with hedge planting. As well as being fitting for the location, this stops drivers having too much of a view through the roundabout which is another speed reducing feature.

The photo belows the circulatory area falling out (to create the adverse camber) which helps slow drivers and the distinct over run area which discourages car drivers.

Being a rural location, it would be a very long walk to get to the roundabout and so the layout is for people cycling (no tactile paving for example). In a more urban area, there would be a separate footway and perhaps a formal zebra crossing for pedestrians (but those cycling still give way to motor traffic).

The photo below is of another roundabout in the area (coming out of a bypassed village) which better shows that drivers approach this type of roundabout square on and without a flare.

The photos below show that the drivers of lorries can also cope with the layout. Meanwhile, those cycling are nice and safe!

So there you have it. Three roundabout types. One which can be copied, one which needs care to copy and one which should not be copied. Next week, I'll be looking at junctions more generally.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 1 - Introduction

For those who follow me on Twitter, you will know that I've been out of the UK on a family holiday for the last couple of weeks. We have been mainly in the Netherlands with forays into Belgium and Germany. This is also my 250th Blog Post!

This was a holiday and not an infrastructure safari, but as you might expect, I have managed to get plenty of photos. I have also been lucky enough to get to cycle around Amsterdam (city - photo below and its suburbs) as well as some rural parts of the southern province of Zeeland. I have also driven around and walked in all of the places we visited and so this helps with my perspective as an engineer.

I have been thinking about the best way to recount my travels and so I have decided to run this as a series of blog posts, concentrating on the Netherlands - there is too much to deal with in a single post and so this week will be the first of a series (which might get interrupted by other subjects - you know how it is). 

I am going to be talking about things I have seen in a snapshot. I haven't experienced the layouts and features on a daily basis and so I can't possibly understand the inner workings of the design and operation of non-UK infrastructure, so please bear this in mind. On the other hand, I have experienced infrastructure as a tourist in relatively unfamiliar surroundings and so this is quite interesting from an "experienced safety" point of view (signal-controlled motorway slip road, below);

One of the things we are often told about the Netherlands is that it is a nation of cyclists, that cycling is in the Dutch DNA and other such nonsense. The country is, without a doubt, a fan of the motor car (despite the high fuel prices) and there are some vast roads such as the A1 (motorway) shown here where it runs between Weesp and Muiden;

However the organisation of the country's highway system enables people to easily choose cycling for short journeys - indeed, in the more rural area we stayed, cycling was a useful mode for people travelling to their nearest town such as these two women on their way to Hulst and there's no silliness about asphalt being laid in the countryside for cycling on;

On the myth front, I can confirm that I have cycled up and down Dutch hills (OK, flood defences and bridges in many cases, but there are real gradients to be found, especially on the coast); 

I have also cycled where there is no specific cycling infrastructure (more common than you'd have thought) such as in the town of Muiden, but the filtering of the street system means that the only motor vehicles you will encounter will be those people who need to be there;

I have also cycled on some really poor layouts which should not have been built such as this roundabout with annular cycle lanes in Hulst and so there is the warning about not copying something because it is Dutch and also a message to my hosts that they need to be careful with complacency;

People often say that the Dutch have more space to play with than is the case in the UK. That's utter nonsense of course - there are plenty of old (pre-car) streets where there isn't lots of space (in common with the UK) it is just that it has been used well such as in the narrow streets of Maastricht which have been filtered for motor traffic;

The overarching impression I have taken away is that cycling is pretty much for everyone in the country because the highway system has been designed that way. Nobody is being asked to cycle long distances (you can if you really want) and for local trips, it is quite simply easier than jumping in the car. In fact, you could just park at the station or bus stop and let public transport take the strain as could be seen at the end of the Metro line at Gaasperplas, 25 minutes from central Amsterdam (which has direct access from a cycle track of course);

What I also saw was that the Dutch will invest in decent infrastructure because separating people cycling from fast-moving and heavy traffic is the right thing to do, even if there isn't going to be thousands of people using it each day such as this cycle track provided on this bridge (on a national road which is like a UK A-road) - even at a weekend, the roadies are out as they are in the UK, but they are far more protected!

I wasn't alone in my cycling. I had company from my son and one of my daughters (the other one didn't want to cycle - long story) and for me this is an even greater advert for what the Dutch have done to enable cycling;

So, please join me over the next couple of weeks where I will try and pipe my thoughts into something sensible to give a feel of what has been done just across the North Sea.