Traffic Light Controlled Junctions

20 Sep

Repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – September 2014

Video:

Junctions are one of the most neglected areas in cycling infrastructure. Many cycle routes, no matter how safe and well protected they are, vanish completely on the approach to a junction. Throwing bicycle users straight into the general flow traffic (often directly into merging conflicts) or segregate them to a series of pedestrian crossings around the outskirts of the junction. The Dutch style junction design allows cycle routes to proceed through the junction while still being kept safely separated from motor traffic. Junctions like the one above have been proven safe and usable for all ages and abilities of bicycle user, eliminating turning, merging and space conflicts.

Protected space along main roads is a key campaign aim for both the Solihull Bicycle and the Space4Cycling campaigns. However without appropriate junction design, large junctions will continue to be the barrier they are today. Which is why it is necessary for councils to receive a steady stream of funding and for the Department for Transport to take the lead in providing the regulation changes to allow safe junction designs to be built on UK roads.

Public Spaces

29 Aug

Repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – August 2014

Video:

The key to successful public spaces that attract people is having car – free spaces, people enjoy being able to walk freely through places like shopping centers, without the worry of a car speeding or passing through. It’s a good way of bringing the local neighbours and people around the city together, sit around in beautiful surroundings, with pretty flowers or fountains where children can play or people can get fresh water to drink. Having a place to sit where you’d like to, in the sunshine or in the shade, chatting or playing friendly games or just enjoying the company of others. The current approach however, revolves around creating barren and lifeless concrete plazas to showcase buildings, rather than providing a pleasant spaces for people.

Cycling in Cambridge

20 Jul IMG_8650

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As part of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Annual General Meeting, I was privileged enough to travel down to Cambridge and take part in an organised infrastructure safari in Cambridge. Cambridge is a particularly special city when it comes to cycling as Cambridge boasts the highest cycle usage rate in the entirety of the UK with a recorded 58% of the population cycling at least once a month. This extremely high usage rate is largely because of Cambridge’s large student population who are prevented from keeping cars within the city limits and create a more progressive political atmosphere as a whole (in UK terms anyway), rather than comparatively high cycle infrastructure levels.
Edit: it has been pointed out to me that the high cycling rate is only due in part to student numbers and the figure of 58% may be exclusive of student numbers and people who use bicycles for only a short section of their journey (see this twitter conversation ). As a whole Cambridge benefits from unusually high numbers of permanent residents that cycle. For more information, visit: https://www.camcycle.org.uk/resources/cyclinglevels/

To aid in reducing car use within the city Cambridge has a number of cheap car parks around the periphery of the city with regular bus services and decent cycle provision leading into the city centre.

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Trumpington Park and Ride

As we were travelling by car we used the South Park and Ride centre which also happens to be the end of Cambridge’s famous guided busway. The busway consists of two wheel tracks enclosed with concrete walls, which guide the bus via two small wheels installed on the side of the busway busses.

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Guided busway ‘tracks’

While the busway offers fast traffic-free travel for bus passengers into the city centre, the busway also hosts an adjacent shared-use bicycle and pedestrian path. This path provides safe and pleasant access to the city centre from the South. This is also the reason for the high numbers of bicycles locked at the Park and Ride centre, as commuters are able to drive and park at the Park and Ride and then use their city bike to cycle into their place of work within Cambridge.

However, once within the city centre the cycling infrastructure became more sporadic and of a similar quality to much of what is present in the rest of the country. Despite this it is clear that within Cambridge, cycling is clearly seen as a viable transport option with a variety of ages, abilities and genders to be seen criss-crossing the city by bicycle. IMG_8585IMG_8623IMG_8676IMG_8587.JPG

While a decent amount of infrastructure was not of the highest quality, there were patches of provision that clearly demonstrated that Cambridge is beginning to take it’s role as a cycling city seriously. Particularly along Hills Road on which a high quality Dutch-style protected cycle track is being built, complete with separation from traffic, forgiving kerbs, priority across side roads, and bus stop bypasses.

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One-way cycle track separated from both pedestrians and drivers.

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Sloped kerbs that don’t catch wheels and allow easy access on and off the cycle track.

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Cycle track bypasses a bus stop.

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Priority over side road.

In addition to the new infrastructure the dense core of Cambridge is filled with a network of quiet traffic calmed streets in which rat-running is restricted and few people drive, creating a pleasant environment to live and cycle in.

As well as this, the pedestrianised streets at the centre of the city shopping districts are open to cycling, ensuring that bicycle routes are not severed.

What really sets Cambridge apart on a UK level is that there is so much that caters to those on bicycles and a real culture of cycling abounds.

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Roundabout with tight geometry which slows vehicle speeds and increases capacity

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Cycling routes through parks

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Cycle route signage is extremely common

All in all stepping into Cambridge gives you a glimpse of what the rest of the UK (and indeed Solihull) could look like with effort and political will. If you have never visited Cambridge I thoroughly recommend a trip and I feel that in between London and Cambridge much can be learned to help make travelling by bicycle more viable across the country.

Cycling in Austria

15 Sep

(well almost)
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Last month I was lucky enough to be able to tear myself away from life under grey clouds and visit sunny Austria and of course I had to get some pictures of cycling and cycling infrastructure while I was there. Unfortunately with the schedule we had and having to fly in, we weren’t able to do any cycling while we were there but we were still able to appreciate the cycling as spectators.

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We stayed in a small a village called Pressbaum which is about 30 minutes away from Vienna by train and from there traveled in and out of Vienna by train. The first thing we noticed when walking through the village centre was a hire bike stand set up next to the town hall. The price for using the bicycles was 1 Euro for an hour or 10 Euros for 24 hours and you could pay for and unlock the bike through the internet, text or phone, indicating that they were intended for the use of residents primarily (who would have a usable phone etc…). Accompanying the bike hire information was a map of the nearby cycle route which extended all the way to the boundary of Vienna.

Unfortunately I forgot to get a photo of the cycle route as it wasn’t exactly awe inspiring but a quick internet search found this photo on Wikipedia:
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https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressbaum#/media/File:Pressbaum_Abzw._Pfalzau.JPG

The paved strip that can be seen on the left here is the cycle lane with periodic painted cycles that have been worn off over time. While the lane offers very little protection it works because despite this being the high street there are very few cars. Even though this road links directly to Vienna and all of the towns along the valley the majority of people use either the train or the raised motorway (below), thereby eliminating the majority of the through traffic. This, as well as the low traffic speeds and population density result in a very quiet and pleasant high street, which can seem utterly alien from a British standpoint.
IMG_7247However, the lack of traffic included cyclists as well and we saw a total of five cyclists during our time in Pressbaum, consisting of two sports cyclists on mountain bikes and three people on hybrids with shopping crates attached to racks.

Vienna on the other hand had a bit more to show on the cycling scene.The first place we visited was Mariahilfer Strasse which is widely known as biggest shopping street in Vienna. It Runs from the Volkstheather (Folks theater) all the way to Westbahnhof (the main west train station in Vienna) and is pedestrianised for roughly half of its length with crowds of people, cafe seating and cycling a regular part of the scene.
IMG_7239Motor vehicles were routed on and off and across in sections using a series of road closures and signs, meaning that only cyclists and pedestrians could travel the full length of the street uninterrupted.

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These signs mark the start of a pedestrianised section of the high street, with the small bicycle signs (ausgen.) creating an exception to the no entry and blue pedestrian sign. Further along, the pedestrian space comes to an end and the signs inform the users that it is a shared space with a 20 kph speed limit (12 mph):IMG_7240

As there is plenty of space and very few motor vehicles travel along the street, a very relaxed atmosphere is created which spawns many different social interactions. Like this group of friends that met each other traveling by foot, bicycle and skateboard (skateboards and scooters are popular among all ages in Vienna):

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Also seen quite often along the route and around the city were the brightly coloured bicycles from the Citybike hire stands:
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Which all had hub gears and disc brakes:IMG_7238

In other areas around Vienna, particularly the museum quarter, the standard cycle infrastructure was painted lanes on the pavement, however these were generally of a decent width and on already wide pavements.

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and had priority across side roads and turning traffic in the usual continental style (marked out with elephant’s feet markings).

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Cyclists also had dedicated crossing across junctions alongside pedestrian crossings and with dedicated lights (amber meant you could cross if it was clear).

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That is not to say that other modes weren’t catered for, many of the main roads consisted of 2/3 car lanes (often one-way), 2 tram lanes,  2 bicycle lanes and 2-5 pedestrian sections.

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Vienna also had quiet a few special pedestrian crossings with couples on the crossing signals in various gender pairings.
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While we did see a lot of bicycle infrastructure during our trip, such this cycle garage at the main station (of which most was quite decent by UK standards)…
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.. we saw few cyclists considering the size of Vienna. While Vienna still easily outclasses Britain in number and variety of cyclists, from what I saw they are still lagging far behind the established cycling nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark (with only between 3 and 6% mode share) . The majority of the cycling infrastructure we spotted was still just tinkering around the edges of motor traffic and there are still plenty of areas where cyclist would be forced back onto the road.
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However, those that do cycle appear to enjoy it and cargo bikes can be spotted here and there, which I take as an indicator of a shift towards cycling.
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Also cycling tourism appears to be a booming business with heavily laden bikes to be spotted all around Vienna.
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Which is no doubt aided by the bicycle friendly rail system many of which have dedicated carriages with seatbelts, or guards vans in the case of longer journeys.
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All in all it proved to be an eye opening trip and I feel that there is much we can learn from how Austria supports cyclists. However Vienna also represents a warning that without significant change to infrastructure massive changes to modal shift will not happen and 10 years down the line you will still only have a single digit mode share.

Lastly, if you are interested in seeing what else we got up to during our trip, keep an eye out for upcoming videos on our channel: Laura and I. Thanks for reading and happy cycling.

B

A Campaigner’s Conundrum

24 Jul

When I first got started in campaigning everything seemed to be black and white; Dutch infrastructure is the answer and all politicians were the obstruction. However as I have become more involved with campaigning and working with councils and other groups, a series of logically, morally and practically challenging decisions have been consistently thrown at me.

As an example of one of these decisions let us take a typical British high street and the kind of redevelopment that seems to be all too common. The high street consists of a couple of rows of shops, a small car park to the rear of the shops, narrow pavements and a large single-carriageway road straight through the middle. The local council decides that the street is in need of regeneration in order to compete with the out of town superstores (which are naturally a more pleasant option if you can only get about by car) and draws up plans to widen the pavements and narrow the carriageway in an effort to increase pedestrian footfall and reduce traffic speeds.

Naturally your first reaction as a campaigner is to go “Where is the space 4 cycling? How are you going to get people out of their cars if the narrow lanes make cycling through the high street terrifying?” Now the average council would respond to this with either a “Get lost you hippies!” or attempt to placate these angry campaigners by tossing a small amount of money on the table for ‘cycling’. This money is only typically enough for a some cycle parking stands, a toucan crossing or the conversion of a stretch of pavement for shared use.

Now this is where things start to get a little tricky, the council is adamant that that is all the money they can spare for cycling (bugging them may get you a few more stands or slightly different design of shared-use pavement, but little else) and they are extremely unlikely to torpedo the entire scheme based on a few cyclists. So you are pretty much left with the options of either a) accepting a slightly modified version of the scheme or  b) roundly dismissing the entire scheme on the basis of it not being Dutch enough. Let’s have a look at what each of these options entails.

If you go ahead and accept something like a shared-use pavement extension (even with noted objections) then you have just handed the council a big ‘cyclist approved’ rubber stamp and are extremely likely to see similar designs and pittances for infrastructure again. As well as this you now have a sub-standard piece of infrastructure that the vast majority of the population as well as at least a third of bicycle users will avoid and is also a far cry from the type of infrastructure that would deliver any sort of meaningful shift to bicycle transportation. However you now have a safe (for bicycle users at least) and legal, albeit slow and poor quality, cycle way alongside a fast and busy 35 mph traffic route. That 7 year old that cycles to school with his mother on the pavement, that teenager that feels uncomfortable with traffic and those one or two people that live on the route itself now have a place to cycle. When I first got my girlfriend into cycling we rode practically everywhere on the pavements as she felt uncomfortable around any sort of motor traffic and a shared-use pavement was always a welcome alternative to what is seen by many as a profoundly anti-social activity.

Looking at the other side of the picture, refusing to support and even opposing the plans would mean denting the council’s cycling credibility, sending a clear message that what is being done is not good enough and eventually setting the stage for the infrastructure that is needed for a cycling shift. However unless you have the backing of a pretty large campaign organisation your protests are likely to fall on deaf ears and without a doubt the council will find some group somewhere to approve their plans (mentioning no names here). As well as this constant opposition risks burning quite a few bridges along the way and damaging relations with the very people that could actually affect change. Even if the cycling aspect is blocked by campaigning it is unlikely that the council will be able to bank the money for a future scheme, particularly if the funding was achieved through a section 106 agreement or is part of a government grant. This means that the alternative to those small sections of good-ish infrastructure, is often nothing at all for cycling.

As you can see the answer is far from straightforward, do you abandon those cycling already and refuse money for cycling (provided it is for cycling and not a completely different beast: see Turbogate and the New Forest car parks) or do you accept that you are unlikely to get better schemes until proper funding arrives and just work with what you have?

It should be noted that much of this is a product of lack of funding and political will, which can only be rectified by enough people standing together and demanding better. Until that time I guess it is up to us to keep dancing through the moral minefield.

Thanks for reading, would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on how we can keep moving towards proper Space4Cycling.

Regards
Bracken

Random Thoughts 1

26 Dec

This post is intended as a collection of my thoughts on cycling and campaigning in the past month (my mind wanders quite a bit when I ride). In no particular order and with no particular theme:

  • Road schemes seem to fall into two rough categories: ‘relieving congestion’ whereby motor traffic capacity of an area is increased, or ‘encouraging sustainable travel’ where an attempt is made to encourage cycling or walking provided that motor traffic capacity and pedestrian space  remain the same or are increased. Both however have the same fundamental flaw in that the belief is that maintaining the status quo can be achieved at the same time as meaningful behavioural change; councils want more people to cycle but at the same time the same amount of people need to be able to drive through the area. A whole idea of ‘you can have your cake and eat it’ and “why on earth would building more runways mean more air travel. They’re quite happy with grassy strips.”. This fundamental issue with not looking at the bigger picture consistently puts campaigners in the difficult position of being consulted on schemes where only minor pieces can be changed and the choice is often down to “Would you like to have the path end at a 90* angle or 45*?”. This allows councils to tick the ‘consulted cyclists’ box while campaigners have been forced into the choice of which rotten fruit to choose from (“Well both the apple and pear are rotten but at least the apple smells slightly better.”). While there is a bull in the china shop, councils would like to know what colour to paint the walls.

 

  • Arguing against cycling and walking infrastructure on the basis that it makes it more inconvenient to get around by car is tantamount to telling your children and the future generations that their future is not worth your personal indulgence. How many parents are willing to move home just to ensure that their children land in a school that is a few more steps up the league tables, yet balk at measures that would improve their children’s lives and futures above and beyond which school they land in.
  • The usual requirement for putting in speed cameras is at least two deaths, which avoids them being placed anywhere else than accident black-spots (mobile speed cameras are moved at the discretion of the police force). If they were set up in a location to create a profit, then it would clearly need to have a significant number of people driving at above the speed limit to justify running costs. Therefore indicating a need for enforcement. Speeding is a crime, it’s ubiquity and current social acceptance does not change that. Plain and simple it is gambling with others lives.The easiest way to opt out of any ‘money collecting schemes’ is to drive at or below the speed limit, park only where it is legal and keep any electronic devices safely stowed away.

Life and Cycling

7 Dec

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Hi all

I am aware that it has been a while since my last post. When I first started up this blog in late 2012 I was college student with almost 4 days a week of spare time on my hands and very little to channel it into, since then I have become much more busy. Beginning with the founding of the Solihull Bicycle Campaign and the start of my university course in 2013, the launching of the SBiC monthly newsletter and my registration as a CTC Right to Ride rep earlier this year (resulting in me joining the Solihull Cycling Steering group earlier this month). All this together with a rapidly increasing university workload and various campaign and consultation meetings, has very quickly made me a busy person. Which brings me back to the blog, due to the time required to research and write posts for this blog it will regrettably be shifting to an as-and-when basis. I may down-shift to random small posts on a periodic basis but I still intend to complete the route review series.

All of this work seems to arrive and disappear in cycles, there will be times where I have to schedule my waking hours down to the half an hour just to get half of the things done that I need to, waking up at 5 am and getting my first down-time at 8 at night, 6 days a week. The are other weeks, especially during the summer, where it seems like I have all the time in the world to channel into the important things in my life. Thinking about these lows and highs, made me consider the other areas in which I experience similar changes.

As a cycle campaigner there are plenty: there are always those times when the council makes the right noises, support appears to be gathering or funding is announced and then you hit the brick wall. Comprising of government regulations, hamstrung funding, cycle behaviour filibusters and general lack of vision, consideration and forethought. Like when the government announces a ‘cycling revolution’ on the backs of a couple of million and then proposes billions of pounds for motoring in almost the same breath. Or when a visionary cycle scheme turns out to be nothing more than narrow shared-use pavements. Meaningful infrastructure is proposed, which is then either hamstrung or binned due to a few very vocal (or very rich) people. This is usually mirrored by cycles within cycling (excuse the pun). You get days where the sun shines, all drivers give you more than enough room, and cycling in the UK doesn’t seem like a bad thing it all, and then autumn hits and the grey drudgery and frustration of life in transportation limbo returns Faced by these constant cycles of depression it is no surprise that campaigners in the UK very quickly lose motivation and are ready to celebrate every advance no matter how small.

However it is also important not to forget what it is that we’re campaigning for. My drive is to make the world a better, happier and more sustainable place not just for me, but for my family and everyone else around me. And I will keep on working towards that ideal no matter what. So even if things look bleak remind yourself of your reasons,  ever lose hope that things can be better and don’t stop fighting just because someone tells you it’s impossible. Remember:
The night is darkest

So never give up!