Work in Progress

This week has been a real reward for those of us that ride our bicycles through all seasons. The clocks went forward to usher in British Summertime meaning no need for lights anymore and we had the sort of sunshine and warmth that made you insane if you weren’t on a bicycle.

Continuing on from my earlier post, I’ve taken some movie footage of the works going on just round the corner from my day job which I’d like to share with you. I’ve made some crude annotations using YouTube’s video editing facility as another five minutes with iMovie would have meant me smashing up my laptop whilst giggling like a maniac.

The first film is of the first section heading east to west. Dyke Road to Upper Drive.

You will note that the top section in particular is very much a work in progress and none of the junction works have been carried out yet along the whole route.

Here is the second film from Upper Drive to The Drive which is a very pleasant width.

I will keep stressing how crucial it is to get junctions right for a couple of reasons; firstly because I have yet to see one done correctly in Britain that contains safe motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian movements and also because of the next two films.

Getting segregated infrastructure along the wide sections should be the easy win, particularly when one considers that not one mature tree had to be removed. A bit different to this shocker from Grimsby which should just be placed in the ‘What The Hell Were They Thinking’ category.

Let’s now ride from the Old Shoreham Road down to the sea through Hove on the now infamous segregated path on The Drive/Grand Avenue.

The path here is far narrower with an elevated segregating kerb in places, even stopping for a pinch point (or, to use Council vernacular, ‘Pedestrian Build Out’). The point I’m making here is cyclists at the moment have to indicate and then try to maneuver back into the motorists consciousness across two lanes to make a right turn. I would imagine that this has put many cyclists off using this facility at all – it’s great if you are heading north-south, or wish to make a left turn. It is even worse heading north from the sea as it is uphill and so the speed differential is even greater between motorist and cyclist when a right turn is attempted. This is a critical deal in view of the fact that, for children wishing to get to the new [Old Shoreham Road] path from the old one [The Drive/Grand Avenue], they will have to make a right turn. Forgive the Ford by the way, the driver of which was caught helplessly out-of-place when the Ambulance shot through the junction. Anyway, let’s continue…

Here, we see that not only do cyclists have to move out considerably to make right turn but also from behind parked cars and large refuse bins. Let’s go back to the junction in the Netherlands that we encountered in my last post

Here we see one separate phase for all bicycle movements negating the need for ASL’s or having to move across lanes of traffic. Cyclists in this instance making a right turn (or left turn over here) don’t even have to enter the junction as it’s part of a high quality bicycle network. Many bicycle traffic lights in the Netherlands are triggered by pads so all the cyclist has to do is roll over it on approach to trigger a green light (more on traffic light controlled junctions in the Netherlands here). To do the same at the bottom of The Drive/Grand Avenue would involve the cyclist having to weigh about a ton and may therefore have to wait a considerable time before continuing their journey.

I will of course keep you updated on progress. If at completion, a path has been built that shows continuity of travel for bicycles with priority over side roads and a progressive (dare I say Dutch) attitude to junctions, Brighton & Hove City Council can give themselves a pat on the back. Even if there are niggles, they will be minor as opposed to the path being too narrow which would cost too much money and political will to rectify.

It certainly felt more pleasant cycling the nearly completed sections and it was lovely to see children playing out on the street whilst it’s closed to traffic. At the moment, the people coming to look and try it out are children, experienced cyclists and infrastructure nerds like you and me. Getting the rest of the local population to use it, cherish it and most importantly give feedback on it is the critical bit.

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Brighton Rock

Looking west along Old Shoreham Road

A little while ago, I went for a lunchtime stroll with the always cheery and knowledgable Mark Strong (Professional transport Consultant who tweets at @ibikebrighton). My day job is just round the corner from a new cycle path being constructed in Brighton & Hove and, being unashamed cycle infrastructure nerds, we decided to check it out (I’m going to be 40 this November). Firstly, I’ll show you the plans that formed the consultation.

Here is the Eastern (Brighton) end – BHASVIC is the abbreviation of Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College

And now the Western (Hove) end

Western (Hove) End

You will note that the ‘Scheduled  Junction Improvements’ were missing. Junction solutions are the eternal Holy Grail to British Engineers – Like trying to find a Wetherspoons pub that doesn’t contain someone with an opinion on UK immigration laws. However, it must be reiterated that these were consultation documents so too much detail would have created the Devil indeed.

Here is the artists impression..

I like the impressions above because, unlike other artists impressions I’ve seen, there’s a decent amount of honesty here; the pictures aren’t afraid to contain cars and the width of the cycle path in the diagram is set at 1.5m (which is actually the bare minimum you will encounter and not often). It also doesn’t try to deceive by suddenly showing billions of cyclists and pedestrians, a developing ‘cafe culture’ or a water trough for unicorns.

Old Shoreham Road was the original main east-west thoroughfare for Brighton & Hove until a new bypass was built to the north (A27) demoting the Old Shoreham Road to the A270. Being Britain, no effort was made to reduce traffic flow and as a result, as you head further west, it remains a nasty urban dual carriageway before rejoining the new A27 at Southwick. This means that congestion (particularly at peak) is high, especially with the infamous school run that bedevils all British conurbations. This road might be considered an ‘easy win’ in infrastructure terms being wide, as former trunk roads are. Some [‘expert’ British] cyclists might say that this was an excuse to have no infrastructure at all but, from experience, motorists tended to drive this section of road in an ethereal, vague, ‘wait a moment. Are you sure those brownies contained just chocolate’ way, particularly when it splits again to two lanes for a junction with no need to widen the approach.

This new cycle path is an attempt by the Council to link schools and colleges along the route with the now infamous segregated route on The Drive (where an attempt by the Council to rip it out was made a wee while ago) which links the seafront (NCN2) to the South Downs (I’ve always loved this website about cycling the South Downs Way – well worth a look).

Another remarkable thing about this scheme is that the Council went for a complete instead of partial road closure to speed up the works programme. As you can imagine, the local newspaper comments pages were full of fire and brimstone. I was able to complete my ‘I-Spy Book of Anti-Bicycle Bullshit’ with wondrous ease with such cheeky and rib-tickling gems as ‘why are we wasting taxpayers money?’ (Despite Sustrans putting up £330,000), ‘they are a menace’, ‘I nearly got knocked over by one this morning’, ‘they don’t pay road tax’ etc etc. Really, if these people went for a bike ride to go and buy their Vehicle Excise Duty and poured as much creative vitriol commenting on similar stories involving motorists where people and objects actually do get hit, often with graver consequences, they might realise why ‘they’ do it so much. Here is a plan of what happened next..

IT'S MAYHEM I TELL YOU! APPARENTLY.

Anyway, back to this lunchtime stroll (Heading west from the Dyke Road junction)

Above is where Chanctonbury Road meets Old Shoreham Road. There is already bicycle permeability here. With bollards as standard.

Setting out. At this point, the cycle path is 1.75m

Above is where the cycle path meets a junction to a residential street. Very tight radii to prevent fast cornering. Cyclists will have priority.

Above is a bridge where the road narrows and the cycle path and pavement merge to become shared use. The width of the path at this point is 2.34m. My primary concern is the fact that cyclists speed will be above average as they head down the hill. However, the sight lines are very good and space has been taken away from the main carriageway even at this point.

Work hasn’t started yet on the other side but significant space has been taken from the main carriageway.

Above are two pictures of a junction treatment. There is just a simple bicycle symbol and no other indication that it is a cycle path running across the face. The junction is on a gradient so the kerb is flush for cyclists using the cycle path and is elevated from the main carriageway. Whilst Mark and I were discussing the junction a car pulled out turning left and drove over the raised kerb to cut the corner. Oh well, it’s his suspension.

As usual trees become before people in Britain. As you can see however, there is ample room for Mark.

At this point the path is 2.4m. Bear in mind this is with flow and not bi-directional (I have seen bidirectional cycle lanes this width and narrower in Britain). You can even start to imagine young students riding side by side here when it’s completed.

I think there is much to applaud here. I have said before that when you look at a Dutch streetscape, it tells you exactly what local and national Government thinks of the bicycle as a transport mode – and exactly the same for a British streetscape too with narrow in-the-gutter-where-you-belong cycle paths, circuitous routes, vague signage and a constant feeling for the end-user that the designer and Government clearly hate them.

This scheme however has taken a lion share of space from motorists as opposed to pedestrians and sends out a subliminal message ‘we take the bicycle seriously here’.

I shall update you with more pictures as things progress, focussing on the other bete noir of British designers, ‘The Bus Stop’, as well as junctions as I would love to see what solutions they have in mind. Below is a picture of a junction I took in Assen last September whilst on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Study Tour. It shows a separate bicycle green phase in all directions (and bicycle riders making a right turn don’t even need to enter the junction). Just a hint.

NOTE: This is NOT Brighton & Hove

Which reminds me. For those that still think they can comment on Dutch Infrastructure from Google Streetview, David Hembrow apparently still has places on his Study Tour for May. I severely advise anyone involved in infrastructure design and policy implementation to go and see how it could and should be done.

The Winds of Change

The Future. For Britain. In 1992. And now again, apparently.

I was cycling to work this morning through very thick sea mist. The ‘March winds’ have not really materialised here on the South Coast. The winds of change are definitely picking up however.

At the beginning of March, I went to Portcullis House to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the Labour Cycling Summit, chaired by Ban Bradshaw MP and Maria Eagle MP (Shadow Secretary for Transport). This was triggered by The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign. All the usual suspects were there from safety campaigners, road designers, local government and road users, including HGV operators. It was remarkably cordial and some good points were made such as the need for systemic change in the training of future engineers to stopping thinking car first and foremost. I made the following points:

  • That The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign is an incredible effort that should be acknowledged for, at the very least, taking cycling issues ‘out there’ far, far beyond the realm of Cycling groups and internet chat rooms.
  • That current cycling infrastructure is great if you like ‘abstract art’ (always good to get an early laugh in).
  • If adults need to not only put on body armour to commute to work but also put surveillance measures on that armour, than what hope is there for our nations children wanting to cycle to school?
  • Whilst there’s a lot of incredibly hard work done in the name of Bikeability (which I personally believe should change it’s name back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’. It is a life skill, not a jolly sounding activity) along with Sustrans ‘Safe Routes to School’, there needs to be a quality network of routes to get the 98% considering cycling again through methods with proven success such as those used overseas. Otherwise, parents may indeed ride to school with their children but instead of going on to the shops they nip back and get the car out, due to lack of dedicated ongoing route, lack of subjective safety and the very act of riding a bicycle looking like an overly complicated specialist activity.

What was particularly pleasing was that there was no political point scoring and it was accepted that whatever happens from here on in, it is a cross party issue.

Last week, I went to the House of Commons to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the launch of ‘The Summer of Cycling’ which any organisation, group, shop or magazine can support. All the usual suspects were there in cycling and cycle campaigning. “It’s always the same bloody people” someone quipped (and no, for a change it wasn’t me). It has a shiny new website that will develop as the week’s progress with a facebook page and twitter feed. The premise is simple; if everyone that rides a bicycle pledges to get someone who would not normally ride a bicycle to ride a bicycle then the amount of people riding bicycles would double. Simplest ideas are always the best and all that.

At this point, I would normally write something with distain about promotion being one of usual the soft options we always settle for in campaigning to the detriment of everything else because it’s cheap. However, it would be sheer lunacy to not to get some extra promotional mileage out of the Olympics being held in Britain this year, particularly with the success already achieved on road and track. It helps that Philip Darnton is at the helm. He not only has the uncanny ability to sniff out a fiver in a force nine gale – essential for cycling in Britain as it currently stands, but to amplify the meagre funding that cycling in Britain has come to expect through the years, with Cycling England being the classic example.

Summer of Cycling is run for the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (on which the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain sits) and was created by 23 organisations late last year. It was confirmed at the meeting that Minister for Transport Norman Baker has pledged £20,000 for this venture (slightly less than the list price for a Volkswagen Tigua Crossover 2.0 TDi 140 BlueMotion 5 Door) with another £70,000 going to Bike Week (slightly less than the list price for a BMW 750i 4 Door Saloon).

This lunchtime marked the 2012 Budget delivered by George Osborne. Cycling is mentioned in the official document twice.

  • [The Government] is committed to tackling congestion, improving connectivity and supporting cycling in and around London. The Government will explore the case for using the Planning Act 2008 to streamline the planning process for the proposed additional river crossings in East London, for example at Silvertown, which will reduce peak period delays and congestion in the area……In addition, the Government will grant £15 million to TfL for investments in cycle safety, which will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital under consideration in TfL’s cycle safety junction review’
  • 2.255 London cycle safety grant – The Government will allocate £15 million to TfL for investment in cycle safety. This will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital currently under consideration in TfL’s Cycle Safety Junction Review.

In the same document, £56 million is going to the Bexhill-Hastings link road. Which is slightly more relevant to me as I live in Sussex and not London. I’m not sure what the implications are for the rest of the country.

This very week, the idea of privatising the roads was presented in a speech by David Cameron to the Institute of Civil Engineers. Some commentators were quick to say on Twitter that it was just a smokescreen mainly to detract from the NHS and Social Care Bill and partly because there are many that are convinced that we have reached ‘peak car’. At War with the Motorist believes we shouldn’t worry as cyclists about it anyway as it will only affect Trunk Roads (Motorways in all but name) and Motorways. I personally believe that the Income Tax changes were the smokescreen and what we are actually seeing is a nation three years into a deep recession with a deeply car-centric Government that thinks ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ is a challenge as opposed to a warning.

I can’t help but feel that the proper stuff that will actually succeed in enabling consistent mass cycling is as far away as it ever has been. At least people are starting to listen now and act. High quality cycle infrastructure will cost serious money – nice things generally do. Surely it’s better to get the right measures in now and get to put an end to the well meaning but crap facilities being built in our name as opposed to seeing more roads being made increasingly unusable with no safe, quality alternative. Or new private or publically built roads having the usual dreadful or non-existent provision. It’s always cheaper to get it right at the design stage than to retro fit afterwards.

The winds of change are certainly blowing. But not quite hard enough to clear the mist yet.